(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 2)

Institutions Of The Christian Religion 
Prefatory Address 
To his most Christian Majesty, the most mighty and illustrious 
Monarch, Francis, King of the French, his Sovereign; 
John Calvin prays Peace and Salvation in Christ. 
    Sire, - When I first engaged in this work, nothing was farther 
from my thoughts than to write what should afterwards be presented 
to your Majesty. My intention was only to furnish a kind of 
rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might 
be trained to true godliness. And I toiled at the task chiefly for 
the sake of my countrymen the French, multitudes of whom I perceived 
to be hungering and thirsting after Christ, while very few seemed to 
have been duly imbued with even a slender knowledge of him. That 
this was the object which I had in view is apparent from the work 
itself, which is written in a simple and elementary form adapted for 
    But when I perceived that the fury of certain bad men had risen 
to such a height in your realm, that there was no place in it for 
sound doctrine, I thought it might be of service if I were in the 
same work both to give instruction to my countrymen, and also lay 
before your Majesty a Confession, from which you may learn what the 
doctrine is that so inflames the rage of those madmen who are this 
day, with fire and sword, troubling your kingdom. For I fear not to 
declare, that what I have here given may be regarded as a summary of 
the very doctrine which, they vociferate, ought to be punished with 
confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and flames, as well as 
exterminated by land and sea. 
    I am aware, indeed, how, in order to render our cause as 
hateful to your Majesty as possible, they have filled your ears and 
mind with atrocious insinuations; but you will be pleased, of your 
clemency, to reflect, that neither in word nor deed could there be 
any innocence, were it sufficient merely to accuse. When any one, 
with the view of exciting prejudice, observes that this doctrine, of 
which I am endeavouring to give your Majesty an account, has been 
condemned by the suffrages of all the estates, and was long ago 
stabbed again and again by partial sentences of courts of law, he 
undoubtedly says nothing more than that it has sometimes been 
violently oppressed by the power and faction of adversaries, and 
sometimes fraudulently and insidiously overwhelmed by lies, cavils, 
and calumny. While a cause is unheard, it is violence to pass 
sanguinary sentences against it; it is fraud to charge it, contrary 
to its deserts, with sedition and mischief. 
    That no one may suppose we are unjust in thus complaining, you 
yourself, most illustrious Sovereign, can bear the witness with what 
lying calumnies it is daily traduced in your presence, as aiming at 
nothing else than to wrest the sceptres of kings out of their hands, 
to overturn all tribunals and seats of justice, to subvert all order 
and government, to disturb the peace and quiet of society, to 
abolish all laws, destroy the distinctions of rank and property, 
and, in short, turn all things upside down. And yet, that which you 
hear is but the smallest portion of what is said: for among the 
common people are disseminated certain horrible insinuations - 
insinuations which, if well founded, would justify the whole world 
in condemning the doctrine with its authors to a thousand fires and 
gibbets. Who can wonder that the popular hatred is inflamed against 
its when credit is given to those most iniquitous accusations? See, 
why all ranks unite with one accord in condemning our persons and 
our doctrine! 
    Carried away by this feeling, those who sit in judgement merely 
give utterance to the prejudices which they have imbibed at home, 
and think they have duly performed their part if they do not order 
punishment to be inflicted on any one until convicted, either on his 
own confession, or on legal evidence. But of what crime convicted? 
"Of that condemned doctrine," is the answer. But with what justice 
condemned? The very essence of the defence was, not to abjure the 
doctrine itself, but to maintain its truth. On this subject, 
however, not a whisper is allowed! 
    Justice, then, most invincible Sovereign, entitles me to demand 
that you will undertake a thorough investigation of this cause, 
which has hitherto been tossed about in any kind of way, and handled 
in the most irregular manner, without any order of law, and with 
passionate heat rather than judicial gravity. 
    Let it not be imagined that I am here framing my own private 
defence, with the view of obtaining a safe return to my native land. 
Though I cherish towards it the feelings which become me as a man, 
still, as matters now are, I can be absent from it without regret. 
The cause which I plead is the common cause of all the godly and 
therefore the very cause of Christ - a cause which, throughout your 
realm, now lies, as it were, in despair, torn and trampled upon in 
all kinds of ways, and that more through the tyranny of certain 
Pharisees than any sanction from yourself. But it matters not to 
inquire how the thing is done; the fact that it is done cannot be 
denied. For so far have the wicked prevailed, that the truth of 
Christ, if not utterly routed and dispersed, lurks as if it were 
ignobly buried; while the poor Church, either wasted by cruel 
slaughter or driven into exile, or intimidated and terror-struck, 
scarcely ventures to breathe. Still her enemies press on with their 
wonted rage and fury over the ruins which they have made, 
strenuously assaulting the wall, which is already giving way. 
Meanwhile, no man comes forth to offer his protection against such 
furies. Any who would be thought most favourable to the truth, 
merely talk of pardoning the error and imprudence of ignorant men. 
For so those modest personages' speak; giving the name of error and 
imprudence to that which they know to be the infallible truth of 
Gods and of ignorant men to those whose intellect they see that 
Christ has not despised, seeing he has deigned to entrust them with 
the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom. Thus all are ashamed of the 
    Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears 
or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: 
how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how 
the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of 
Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is 
worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your 
    The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, 
in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He 
who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts 
the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself 
who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by 
the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly 
oracle is infallible which has declared, that "where there is no 
vision the people perish," (Prov. 29: 18.) 
    Let not a contemptuous idea of our insignificance dissuade you 
from the investigation of this cause. We, indeed, are perfectly 
conscious how poor and abject we are: in the presence of God we are 
miserable sinners, and in the sight of men most despised - we are 
(if you will) the mere dregs and offscourings of the world, or 
worse, if worse can be named: so that before God there remains 
nothing of which we can glory save only his mercy, by which, without 
any merit of our own, we are admitted to the hope of eternal 
salvation: and before men not even this much remains, since we can 
glory only in our infirmity, a thing which, in the estimation of 
men, it is the greatest ignominy even tacitly to confess. But our 
doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and 
invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the 
living God and his Anointed, whom the Father has appointed King, 
that he may rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the 
ends of the earth; and so rule as to smite the whole earth and its 
strength of iron and brass, its splendour of gold and silver, with 
the mere rod of his mouth, and break them in pieces like a potter's 
vessel; according to the magnificent predictions of the prophets 
respecting his kingdom, (Dan. 2: 34; Isaiah 11: 4; Psalm 2: 9.) 
    Our adversaries, indeed, clamorously maintain that our appeal 
to the word of God is a mere pretext, - that we are, in fact, its 
worst corrupters. How far this is not only malicious calumny, but 
also shameless effrontery, you will be able to decide, of your own 
knowledge, by reading our Confession. Here, however, it may be 
necessary to make some observations which may dispose, or at least 
assist, you to read and study it with attention. 
    When Paul declared that all prophecy ought to be according to 
the analogy of faiths (Rom. 12: 6,) he laid down the surest rule for 
determining the meaning of Scripture. Let our doctrine be tested by 
this rule and our victory is secure. For what accords better and 
more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all 
virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all goodness that we 
may be filled by Him, the slaves of sin that he may give us freedom, 
blind that he may enlighten, lame that he may cure, and feeble that 
he may sustain us; to strip ourselves of all ground of glorying that 
he alone may shine forth glorious, and we be glorified in Him? When 
these things, and others to the same effect, are said by us, they 
interpose, and querulously complain, that in this way we overturn 
some blind light of nature, fancied preparatives, free will, and 
works meritorious of eternal salvation, with their own 
supererogations also; because they cannot bear that the entire 
praise and glory of all goodness, virtue, justice, and wisdom, 
should remain with God. But we read not of any having been blamed 
for drinking too much of the fountain of living water; on the 
contrary, those are severely reprimanded who "have hewed them out 
cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water," (Jer. 2: 13.) 
Again, what more agreeable to faith than to feel assured that God is 
a propitious Father when Christ is acknowledged as a brother and 
propitiator? than confidently to expect all prosperity and gladness 
from Him, whose ineffable love towards us was such that He "spared 
not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all"? (Rom. 8: 32,) 
than to rest in the sure hope of salvation and eternal life whenever 
Christ, in whom such treasures are hid, is conceived to have been 
given by the Father? Here they attack us, and loudly maintain, that 
this sure confidence is not free from arrogance and presumption. But 
as nothing is to be presumed of ourselves, so all things are to be 
presumed of God; nor are we stript of vain-glory for any other 
reason than that we may learn to glory in the Lord. Why go farther? 
Take but a cursory view, most valiant King, of all the parts of our 
cause, and count us of all wicked men the most iniquitous, if you do 
not discover plainly, that "therefore we both labour and suffer 
reproach because we trust in the living God," (1 Tim. 4: 10;) 
because we believe it to be "life eternal" to know "the only true 
God, and Jesus Christ," whom he has sent, (John 17: 3.) For this 
hope some of us are in bonds, some beaten with rods, some made a 
gazing-stock, some proscribed, some most cruelly tortured, some 
obliged to flee; we are all pressed with straits loaded with dire 
execrations, lacerated by slanders, and treated with the greatest 
    Look now to our adversaries, (I mean the priesthood, at whose 
beck and pleasure others ply their enmity against us,) and consider 
with me for a little by what zeal they are actuated. The true 
religion which is delivered in the Scriptures, and which all ought 
to hold, they readily permit both themselves and others to be 
ignorant of, to neglect and despise; and they deem it of little 
moment what each man believes concerning God and Christ, or 
disbelieves, provided he submits to the judgement of the Church with 
what they calls implicit faith; nor are they greatly concerned 
though they should see the glory of God dishonored by open 
blasphemies, provided not a finger is raised against the primacy of 
the Apostolic See and the authority of holy mother Church. Why, 
then, do they war for the mass, purgatory, pilgrimage, and similar 
follies, with such fierceness and acerbity, that though they cannot 
prove one of them from the word of God, they deny godliness can be 
safe without faith in these things - faith drawn out, if I may so 
express it, to its utmost stretch? Why? just because their belly is 
their God, and their kitchen their religion; and they believe, that 
if these were away they would not only not be Christians, but not 
even men. For although some wallow in luxury, and others feed on 
slender crusts, still they all live by the same pot, which without 
that fuel might not only cool, but altogether freeze. He, 
accordingly, who is most anxious about his stomach, proves the 
fiercest champion of his faith. In short, the object on which all to 
a man are bent, is to keep their kingdom safe or their belly filled; 
not one gives even the smallest sign of sincere zeal. 
    Nevertheless, they cease not to assail our doctrine, and to 
accuse and defame it in what terms they may, in order to render it 
either hated or suspected. They call it new, and of recent birth; 
they carp at it as doubtful and uncertain; they bid us tell by what 
miracles it has been confirmed; they ask if it be fair to receive it 
against the consent of so many holy Fathers and the most ancient 
custom; they urge us to confess either that it is schismatical in 
giving battle to the Church, or that the Church must have been 
without life during the many centuries in which nothing of the kind 
was heard. Lastly, they say there is little need of argument, for 
its quality may be known by its fruits, namely, the large number of 
sects, the many seditious disturbances, and the great licentiousness 
which it has produced. No doubt, it is a very easy matter for them, 
in presence of an ignorant and credulous multitude, to insult over 
an undefended cause; but were an opportunity of mutual discussion 
afforded, that acrimony which they now pour out upon us in frothy 
torrents, with as much license as impunity, would assuredly boil 
    1. First, in calling it new, they are exceedingly injurious to 
God, whose sacred word deserved not to be charged with novelty. To 
them, indeed, I very little doubt it is new, as Christ is new, and 
the Gospel new; but those who are acquainted with the old saying of 
Paul, that Christ Jesus "died for our sins, and rose again for our 
justification," (Rom. 4: 25,) will not detect any novelty in us. 
That it long lay buried and unknown is the guilty consequence of 
man's impiety; but now when, by the kindness of God, it is restored 
to us, it ought to resume its antiquity just as the returning 
citizen resumes his rights. 
    2. It is owing to the same ignorance that they hold it to be 
doubtful and uncertain; for this is the very thing of which the Lord 
complains by his prophets "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his 
master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not 
consider," (Isaiah 1: 3.) But however they may sport with its 
uncertainty, had they to seal their own doctrine with their blood, 
and at the expense of life, it would be seen what value they put 
upon it. Very different is our confidence - a confidence which is 
not appalled by the terrors of death, and therefore not even by the 
judgement-seat of God. 
    3. In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we 
have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth 
of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the 
apostles ever wrought. But they have a peculiarity which we have not 
- they can confirm their faith by constant miracles down to the 
present day! Nay rather, they allege miracles which might produce 
wavering in minds otherwise well disposed; they are so frivolous and 
ridiculous, so vain and false. But were they even exceedingly 
wonderful, they could have no effect against the truth of God, whose 
name ought to be hallowed always, and everywhere, whether by 
miracles, or by the natural course of events. The deception would 
perhaps be more specious if Scripture did not admonish us of the 
legitimate end and use of miracles. Mark tells us (Mark 16: 20) that 
the signs which followed the preaching of the apostles are wrought 
in confirmation of it; so Luke also relates that the Lord "gave 
testimony to the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to 
be done" by the hands of the apostles, Acts 14: 3.) Very much to the 
same effect are those words of the apostle, that salvation by a 
preached gospel was confirmed, "the Lord bearing witness with signs 
and wonders, and with divers miracles," (Heb. 2: 4.) Those things 
which we are told are seals of the gospel, shall we pervert to the 
subversion of the gospel? what was destined only to confirm the 
truths shall we misapply to the confirmation of lies? The proper 
course, therefore, is, in the first instance, to ascertain and 
examine the doctrine which is said by the Evangelist to precede; 
then after it has been proved, but not till then, it may receive 
confirmation from miracles. But the mark of sound doctrine given by 
our Saviour himself is its tendency to promote the glory not of men, 
but of God, (John 7: 18; 8: 50.) Our Saviour having declared this to 
be the test of doctrine, we are in error if we regard as miraculous, 
works which are used for any other purpose than to magnify the name 
of God. And it becomes us to remember that Satan has his miracles, 
which, although they are tricks rather than true wonders, are still 
such as to delude the ignorant and unwary. Magicians and enchanters 
have always been famous for miracles, and miracles of an astonishing 
description have given support to idolatry: these, however, do not 
make us converts to the superstitions either of magicians or 
idolaters. In old times, too, the Donatists used their power of 
working miracles as a battering-ram, with which they shook the 
simplicity of the common people. We now give to our opponents the 
answer which Augustine then gave to the Donatists, (in Joan. Tract. 
23,) "The Lord put us on our guard against those wonder-workers when 
he foretold that false prophets would arise, who, by lying signs and 
divers wonders would, if it were possible deceive the very elect," 
(Matth. 24: 24.) Paul, too, gave warning that the reign of 
antichrist would be "with all power, and signs, and lying wonders," 
(2 Thess. 2: 9.) 
    But our opponents tell us that their miracles are wrought not 
by idols, not by sorcerers, not by false prophets, but by saints: as 
if we did not know it to be one of Satan's wiles to transform 
himself "into an angel of light," (2 Cor. 11: 14.) The Egyptians, in 
whose neighbourhood Jeremiah was buried, anciently sacrificed and 
paid other divine honours to him, (Hieron. in Praef. Jeremy.) Did 
they not make an idolatrous abuse of the holy prophet of God? and 
yet, in recompense for so venerating his tomb, they thought that 
they were cured of the bite of serpents. What, then, shall we say 
but that it has been, and always will be, a most just punishment of 
God, to send on those who do not receive the truth in the love of 
it, "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie"? (2 Thess. 2: 
11.) We, then, have no lack of miracles, sure miracles, that cannot 
be gainsaid but those to which our opponents lay claim are mere 
delusions of Satan, in as much as they draw off the people from the 
true worship of God to vanity. 
    4. It is a calumny to represent us as opposed to the Fathers, 
(I mean the ancient writers of a purer age,) as if the Fathers were 
supporters of their impiety. Were the contest to be decided by such 
authority (to speak in the most moderate terms,) the better part of 
the victory would be ours. While there is much that is admirable and 
wise in the writings of those Fathers, and while in some things it 
has fared with them as with ordinary men; these pious sons, 
forsooth, with the peculiar acuteness of intellect, and judgement, 
and soul, which belongs to them, adore only their slips and errors, 
while those things which are well said they either overlook, or 
disguise, or corrupt, so that it may be truly said their only care 
has been to gather dross among gold. Then, with dishonest glamour, 
they assail us as enemies and despisers of the Fathers. So far are 
we from despising them, that if this were the proper place, it would 
give us no trouble to support the greater part of the doctrines 
which we now hold by their suffrages. Still, in studying their 
writings, we have endeavoured to remember, (1 Cor. 3: 21-23; see 
also Augustin. Ep. 28,) that all things are ours, to serve, not lord 
it over us, but that we are Christ's only, and must obey him in all 
things without exception. He who does not draw this distinction will 
not have any fixed principles in religion: for those holy men were 
ignorant of many things, are often opposed to each other, and are 
sometimes at variance with themselves. 
    It is not without cause (remark our opponents) we are thus 
warned by Solomon, "Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy 
fathers have set," (Prov. 22: 28.) But the same rule applies not to 
the measuring of fields and the obedience of faith. The rule 
applicable to the latter is, "Forget also thine own people, and thy 
father's house," (Ps. 45: 10.) But if they are so fond of allegory 
why do they not understand the apostles, rather than any other class 
of Fathers, to be meant by those whose landmarks it is unlawful to 
remove? This is the interpretation of Jerome, whose words they have 
quoted in their canons. But as regards those to whom they apply the 
passage, if they wish the landmarks to be fixed, why do they, 
whenever it suits their purpose, so freely overleap them? 
    Among the Fathers there were two, the one of whom said, "Our 
God neither eats nor drinks, and therefore has no need of chalices 
and salvers;" and the other, "Sacred rites do not require gold, and 
things which are not bought with gold, please not by gold." They 
step beyond the boundary, therefore, when in sacred matters they are 
so much delighted with gold, silver, ivory, marble, gems, and silks 
that unless everything is overlaid with costly show, or rather 
insane luxury, they think God is not duly worshipped. 
    It was a Father who said, "He ate flesh freely on the day on 
which others abstained from it, because he was a Christian." They 
overleap the boundaries, therefore, when they doom to perdition 
every soul that, during Lent, shall have tasted flesh. 
    There were two Fathers, the one of whom said, "A monk not 
labouring with his own hands is no better than a violent man and a 
robber;" and the other, "Monks, however assiduous they may be in 
study, meditation, and prayer, must not live by others." This 
boundary, too, they transgressed, when they placed lazy gormandising 
monks in dens and stews, to gorge themselves on other men's 
    It was a Father who said, "It is a horrid abomination to see in 
Christian temples a painted image either of Christ or of any saint." 
nor was this pronounced by the voice of a single individual; but an 
Ecclesiastical Council also decreed, "Let nought that is worshipped 
be depicted on walls." Very far are they from keeping within these 
boundaries when they leave not a corner without images. 
    Another Father counselled, "That after performing the office of 
humanity to the dead in their burial, we should leave them at rest." 
These limits they burst through when they keep up a perpetual 
anxiety about the dead. 
    It is a Father who testifies, "That the substance of bread and 
wine in the Eucharist does not cease but remains, just as the nature 
and substance of man remains united to the Godhead in the Lord Jesus 
Christ." This boundary they pass in pretending that, as soon as the 
words of our Lord are pronounced, the substance of bread and wine 
ceases, and is transubstantiated into body and blood. 
    They were Fathers, who, as they exhibited only one Eucharist to 
the whole Church, and kept back from it the profane and flagitous; 
so they, in the severest terms, censured all those who, being 
present, did not communicate. How far have they removed these 
landmarks, in filling not churches only, but also private houses, 
with their masses, admitting all and sundry to be present, each the 
more willingly the more largely he pays, however wicked and impure 
he may be, - not inviting any one to faith in Christ and faithful 
communion in the sacraments, but rather vending their own work for 
the grace and merits of Christ! 
    There were two Fathers, the one of whom decided that those were 
to be excluded altogether from partaking of Christ's sacred supper, 
who, contented with communion in one kind, abstained from the other; 
while the other Father strongly contends that the blood of the Lord 
ought not to be denied to the Christian people, who, in confessing 
him, are enjoined to shed their own blood. These landmarks, also, 
they removed, when, by an unalterable law, they ordered the very 
thing which the former Father punished with excommunication, and the 
latter condemned for a valid reason. 
    It was a Father who pronounced it rashness, in an obscure 
questions to decide in either way without clear and evident 
authority from Scripture. They forgot this landmark when they 
enacted so many constitutions, so many canons, and so many 
dogmatical decisions, without sanction from the word of God. 
    It was a Father who reproved Montanus, among other heresies, 
for being the first who imposed laws of fasting. They have gone far 
beyond this landmark also in enjoining fasting under the strictest 
    It was a Father who denied that the ministers of the Church 
should be interdicted from marrying and pronounced married life to 
be a state of chastity; and there were other Fathers who assented to 
his decision. These boundaries they overstepped in rigidly binding 
their priests to celibacy. 
    It was a Father who thought that Christ only should be listened 
to, from its being said, "hear him;" and that regard is due not to 
what others before us have said or done, but only to what Christ, 
the head of all, has commanded. This landmark they neither observe 
themselves nor allow to be observed by others, while they subject 
themselves and others to any master whatever, rather than Christ. 
    There is a Father who contends that the Church ought not to 
prefer herself to Christ, who always judges truly, whereas 
ecclesiastical judges, who are but men, are generally deceived. 
Having burst through this barrier also, they hesitate not to suspend 
the whole authority of Scripture on the judgement of the Church. 
    All the Fathers with one heart execrated, and with one mouth 
protested against, contaminating the word of God with the subtleties 
of sophists, and involving it in the brawls of dialecticians. Do 
they keep within these limits when the sole occupation of their 
lives is to entwine and entangle the simplicity of Scripture with 
endless disputes, and worse than sophistical jargon? So much so, 
that were the Fathers to rise from their graves, and listen to the 
brawling art which bears the name of speculative theology, there is 
nothing they would suppose it less to be than a discussion of a 
religious nature. 
    But my discourse would far exceed its just limits were I to 
show, in detail, how petulantly those men shake off the yoke of the 
Fathers, while they wish to be thought their most obedient sons. 
Months, nay, years would fail me; and yet, so deplorable and 
desperate is their effrontery, that they presume to chastise us for 
overstepping the ancient landmarks! 
    5. Then, again, it is to no purpose they call us to the bar of 
custom. To make every thing yield to custom would be to do the 
greatest injustice. were the judgements of mankind correct, custom 
would be regulated by the good. But it is often far otherwise in 
point of fact; for, whatever the many are seen to do, forthwith 
obtains the force of custom. But human affairs have scarcely ever 
been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the 
greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have 
generally resulted in public error, or rather that common consent in 
vice which these worthy men would have to be law. Any one with eyes 
may perceive that it is not one flood of evils which has deluded us; 
that many fatal plagues have invaded the globe; that all things rush 
headlong; so that either the affairs of men must be altogether 
despaired of, or we must not only resist, but boldly attack 
prevailing evils. The cure is prevented by no other cause than the 
length of time during which we have been accustomed to the disease. 
But be it so that public error must have a place in human society, 
still, in the kingdom of God, we must look and listen only to his 
eternal truth, against which no series of years, no custom, no 
conspiracy, can plead prescription. Thus Isaiah formerly taught the 
people of God, "Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this 
people shall says A confederacy;" i. e. do not unite with the people 
in an impious consent; "neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. 
Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and 
let him be your dread," (Is. 8: 12.) Now, therefore, let them, if 
they will, object to us both past ages and present examples; if we 
sanctify the Lord of hosts we shall not be greatly afraid. Though 
many ages should have consented to like ungodliness, He is strong 
who taketh vengeance to the third and fourth generation; or the 
whole world should league together in the same iniquity, He taught 
experimentally what the end is of those who sin with the multitude, 
when He destroyed the whole human race with a flood, saving Noah 
with his little family who, by putting his faith in Him alone, 
"condemned the world," (Heb. 11: 7.) In short, depraved custom is 
just a kind of general pestilence in which men perish not the less 
that they fall in a crowd. It were well, moreover, to ponder the 
observation of Cyprian, that those who sin in ignorance, though they 
cannot be entirely exculpated, seem, however, to be, in some sense, 
excusable; whereas those who obstinately reject the truth, when 
presented to them by the kindness of God, have no defence to offer. 
    6. Their dilemma does not push us so violently as to oblige us 
to confess, either that the Church was a considerable time without 
life, or that we have now a quarrel with the Church. The Church of 
Christ assuredly has lived, and will live, as long as Christ shall 
reign at the right hand of the Father. By his hand it is sustained, 
by his protection defended, by his mighty power preserved in safety. 
For what he once undertook he will undoubtedly perform, he will be 
with his people always, "even to the end of the world," (Matth. 28: 
20.) With the Church we wage no war, since, with one consent, in 
common with the whole body of the faithful we worship and adore one 
Gods and Christ Jesus the Lord, as all the pious have always adored 
him. But they themselves err not a little from the truth in not 
recognising any church but that which they behold with the bodily 
eye, and in endeavouring to circumscribe it by limits, within which 
it cannot be confined. 
    The hinges on which the controversy turns are these: first, in 
their contending that the form of the Church is always visible and 
apparent; and, secondly, in their placing this form in the see of 
the Church of Rome and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, maintain, 
both that the Church may exist without any apparent form, and, 
moreover, that the form is not ascertained by that external 
splendour which they foolishly admire, but by a very different mark, 
namely, by the pure preaching of the Word of God, and the due 
administration of the sacraments. They make an outcry whenever the 
Church cannot be pointed to with the finger. But how oft was it the 
fate of the Church among the Jews to be so defaced that no 
comeliness appeared? What do we suppose to have been the splendid 
form when Elijah complained that he was left alone? (1 Kings 14: 
14.) How long after the advent of Christ did it lie hid without 
form? How often since has it been so oppressed by wars, seditions, 
and heresies, that it was nowhere seen in splendour? Had they lived 
at that time, would they have believed there was any Church? But 
Elijah learned that there remained seven thousand men who had not 
bowed the knee to Baal; nor ought we to doubt that Christ has always 
reigned on earth ever since he ascended to heaven. Had the faithful 
at that time required some discernible form, must they not have 
forthwith given way to despondency? And, indeed, Hilary accounted it 
a very great fault in his day, that men were so possessed with a 
foolish admiration of Episcopal dignity as not to perceive the 
deadly-hydra lurking under that mask. His words are, (Cont. 
Auxentium,) "One advice I give: Beware of Antichrist; for, unhappily 
a love of walls has seized you; unhappily, the Church of God which 
you venerate exists in houses and buildings; unhappily, under these 
you find the name of peace. Is it doubtful that in these Antichrist 
will have his seat? Safer to me are mountains, and woods, and lakes, 
and dungeons, and whirlpools; since in these prophets, dwelling or 
immersed, did prophesy." 
    And what is it at the present day that the world venerates in 
its horned bishops unless that it imagines those who are seen 
presiding over celebrated cities to be holy prelates of religion? 
Away, then, with this absurd mode of judging! Let us rather 
reverently admit, that as God alone knows who are his, so he may 
sometimes withdraw the external manifestation of his Church from the 
view of men. This, I allow, is a fearful punishment which God sends 
on the earth; but if the wickedness of men so deserves, why do we 
strive to oppose the just vengeance of God? It was thus that God, in 
past ages, punished the ingratitude of men: for after they had 
refused to obey his truth, and had extinguished his light, he 
allowed them, when blinded by sense, both to be deluded by lying 
vanities and plunged in thick darkness, so that no face of a true 
Church appeared. Meanwhile, however, though his own people were 
dispersed and concealed amidst errors and darkness, he saved them 
from destruction. No wonder; for he knew how to preserve them even 
in the confusion of Babylon and the flame of the fiery furnace. 
    But as to the wish that the form of the Church should be 
ascertained by some kind of vain pomp, how perilous it is I will 
briefly indicate, rather than explain, that I may not exceed all 
bounds. What they say is, that the Pontiff, who holds the apostolic 
see, and the priests who are anointed and consecrated by him, 
provided they have the insignia of fillets and mitres, represent the 
Church, and ought to be considered as in the place of the Church, 
and therefore cannot err. Why so? because they are pastors of the 
Church, and consecrated to the Lord. And were not Aaron and other 
prefects of Israel pastors? But Aaron and his sons, though already 
set apart to the priesthood, erred notwithstanding when they made 
the calf, (Exod. 32: 4.) Why, according to this view, should not the 
four hundred prophets who lied to Ahab represent the Church? (1 
Kings 22: 11, &c.) The Church however stood on the side of Micaiah. 
He was alone, indeed, and despised, but from his mouth the truth 
proceeded. Did not the prophets also exhibit both the name and face 
of the Church, when, with one accord, they rose up against Jeremiah, 
and with menaces boasted of it as a thing impossible that the law 
should perish from the priest, or counsel from the wise, or the word 
from the prophet? (Jer. 18: 18.) In opposition to the whole body of 
the prophets, Jeremiah is sent alone to declare from the Lord, (Jer. 
4: 9,) that a time would come when the law would perish from the 
priest, counsel from the wise, and the word from the prophet. Was 
not like splendour displayed in that council when the chief priests, 
scribes, and Pharisees, assembled to consult how they might put 
Jesus to death? Let them go, then, and cling to the external mask, 
while they make Christ and all the prophets of God schismatic, and, 
on the other hand, make Satan's ministers the organs of the Holy 
    But if they are sincere, let them answer me in good faith,  - 
in what place, and among whom, do they think the Church resided, 
after the Council of Basle degraded and deposed Eugenius from the 
popedom, and substituted Amadeus in his place? Do their utmost, they 
cannot deny that that Council was legitimate as far as regards 
external forms, and was summoned not only by one Pontiff, but by 
two. Eugenius, with the whole herd of cardinals and bishops who had 
joined him in plotting the dissolution of the Council, was there 
condemned of contumacy, rebellion, and schism. Afterwards, however, 
aided by the favour of princes, he got back his popedom safe. The 
election of Amadeus, duly made by the authority of a general holy 
synod, went to smoke; only he himself was appeased with a cardinal's 
cap, like a piece of offal thrown to a barking dog. Out of the lap 
of these rebellious and contumacious schismatic proceeded all future 
popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, and presbyters. Here they are 
caught, and cannot escape. For, on which party will they bestow the 
name of Church? Will they deny it to have been a general Council, 
though it lacked nothing as regards external majesty, having been 
solemnly called by two bulls consecrated by the legate of the Roman 
See as its president, constituted regularly in all respects, and 
continuing in possession of all its honours to the last? Will they 
admit that Eugenius, and his whole train, through whom they have all 
been consecrated, were schismatical? Let them, then, either define 
the form of the Church differently, or, however numerous they are, 
we will hold them all to be schismatic in having knowingly and 
willingly received ordination from heretics. But had it never been 
discovered before that the Church is not tied to external pomp, we 
are furnished with a lengthened proof in their own conduct, in 
proudly vending themselves to the world under the specious title of 
Church notwithstanding that they are the deadly pests of the Church. 
I speak not of their manners and of those tragical atrocities with 
which their whole life teems, since it is said that they are 
Pharisees who should be heard, not imitated. By devoting some 
portion of your leisure to our writings, you will see not obscurely, 
that their doctrine - the very doctrine to which they say it is 
owing that they are the Church - is a deadly murderer of souls, the 
firebrand, ruin, and destruction of the Church 
    7. Lastly, they are far from candid when they invidiously 
number up the disturbances, tumults, and disputes, which the 
preaching of our doctrine has brought in its trains and the fruits 
which, in many instances, it now produces for the doctrine itself is 
undeservedly charged with evils which ought to be ascribed to the 
malice of Satan. It is one of the characteristics of the divine 
word, that whenever it appears Satan ceases to slumber and sleep. 
This is the surest and most unerring test for distinguishing it from 
false doctrines which readily betray themselves, while they are 
received by all with willing ears, and welcomed by an applauding 
world. Accordingly, for several ages, during which all things were 
immersed in profound darkness, almost all mankind were mere jest and 
sport to the god of this world, who, like any Sardanapalus, idled 
and luxuriated undisturbed. For what else could he do but laugh and 
sport while in tranquil and undisputed possession of his kingdom? 
But when light beaming from above somewhat dissipated the darkness - 
when the strong man arose and aimed a blow at his kingdom - then, 
indeed, he began to shake off his wonted torpor, and rush to arms. 
And first he stirred up the hands of men, that by them he might 
violently suppress the dawning truth; but when this availed him not, 
he turned to snares, exciting dissensions and disputes about 
doctrine by means of his Catabaptists, and other portentous 
miscreants, that he might thus obscure, and, at length, extinguish 
the truth. And now he persists in assailing it with both engines, 
endeavouring to pluck up the true seed by the violent hand of man, 
and striving, as much as in him lies, to choke it with his tares, 
that it may not grow and bear fruit. But it will be in vain, if we 
listen to the admonition of the Lord, who long ago disclosed his 
wiles, that we might not be taken unawares, and armed us with full 
protection against all his machinations. But how malignant to throw 
upon the word of God itself the blame either of the seditions which 
wicked men and rebels, or of the sects which impostors stir up 
against it! The example, however, is not new. Elijah was 
interrogated whether it were not he that troubled Israel. Christ was 
seditious, according to the Jews; and the apostles were charged with 
the cringe of popular commotion. What else do those who, in the 
present day, impute to us all the disturbances, tumults, and 
contentions which break out against us? Elijah, however, has taught 
us our answer, (1 Kings 18: 17, 18 ) It is not we who disseminate 
errors or stir up tumults, but they who resist the mighty power of 
    But while this single answer is sufficient to rebut the rash 
charges of these men, it is necessary, on the other hand, to consult 
for the weakness of those who take the alarm at such scandals, and 
not infrequently waver in perplexity. But that they may not fall 
away in this perplexity, and forfeit their good degree, let them 
know that the apostles in their day experienced the very things 
which now befall us. There were then unlearned and unstable men who, 
as Peter tells us, (2 Pet. 3: 16,) wrested the inspired writings of 
Paul to their own destruction. There were despisers of God, who, 
when they heard that sin abounded in order that grace might more 
abound, immediately inferred "We will continue in sin that grace may 
abound," (Rom. 6: 1;) -  when they heard that believers were not 
under the law, but under grace, forthwith sung out, "We will sin 
because we are not under the law, but under grace," (Rom. 6: 15.) 
There were some who charged the apostle with being the minister of 
sin. Many false prophets entered in privily to pull down the 
churches which he had reared. Some preached the gospel through envy 
and strife, not sincerely, - (Phil. 1: 15,) - maliciously even, - 
thinking to add affliction to his bonds. Elsewhere the gospel made 
little progress. All sought their own, not the things which were 
Jesus Christ's. Others went back like the dog to his vomit, or the 
sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Great numbers 
perverted their spiritual freedom to carnal licentiousness. False 
brethren crept in to the imminent danger of the faithful. Among the 
brethren themselves various quarrels arose. What, then, were the 
apostles to do? Were they either to dissemble for the time, or 
rather lay aside and abandon that gospel which they saw to be the 
seed-bed of so many strifes, the source of so many perils the 
occasion of so many scandals? In straits of this kind, they 
remembered that "Christ was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of 
offence," "set up for the fall and rising again of many," and "for a 
sign to be spoken against," (Luke 2: 34;) and, armed with this 
assurance, they proceeded boldly through all perils from tumults and 
scandals. It becomes us to be supported by the same consideration, 
since Paul declares that it is a never-failing characteristic of the 
gospel to be a "savour of death unto death in them that perish" (2 
Cor. 2: 16,) although rather destined to us for the purpose of being 
a savour of life unto life, and the power of God for the salvation 
of believers. This we should certainly experience it to be, did we 
not by our ingratitude corrupt this unspeakable gift of God, and 
turn to our destruction what ought to be our only saving defence. 
    But to return, Sire. Be not moved by the absurd insinuations 
with which our adversaries are striving to frighten you into the 
belief that nothing else is wished and aimed at by this new gospel, 
(for so they term it,) than opportunity for sedition and impunity 
for all kinds of vice. Our God' is not the author of division, but 
of peace; and the Son of God, who came to destroy the works of the 
devil, is not the minister of sin. We, too, are undeservedly charged 
with desires of a kind for which we have never given even the 
smallest suspicion. We, forsooth, meditate the subversion of 
kingdoms; we, whose voice was never heard in faction, and whose 
life, while passed under you, is known to have been always quiet and 
simple; even now, when exiled from our home, we nevertheless cease 
not to pray for all prosperity to your person and your kingdom. We, 
forsooth, are aiming after an unchecked indulgence in vice, in whose 
manners, though there is much to be blamed, there is nothing which 
deserves such an imputation; nor (thank God) have we profited so 
little in the Gospel that our life may not be to these slanderers an 
example of chastity, kindness, pity, temperance, patience, 
moderation, or any other virtue. It is plain, indeed, that we fear 
God sincerely, and worship him in truth, since, whether by life or 
by death we desire his name to be hallowed; and hatred herself has 
been forced to bear testimony to the innocence and civil integrity 
of some of our people on whom death was inflicted for the very thing 
which deserved the highest praise. But if any, under pretext of the 
Gospel, excite tumults, (none such have as yet been detected in your 
realm,) if any use the liberty of the grace of God as a cloak for 
licentiousness, (I know of numbers who do,) there are laws and legal 
punishments by which they may be punished up to the measure of their 
deserts, - only, in the meantime, let not the Gospel of God be evil 
spoken of because of the iniquities of evil men. 
    Sire, That you may not lend too credulous an ear to the 
accusations of our enemies, their virulent injustice has been set 
before you at sufficient length; I fear even more than sufficient, 
since this preface has grown almost to the bulk of a full apology. 
My object, however, was not to frame a defence, but only with a view 
to the hearing of our cause, to mollify your mind, now indeed turned 
away and estranged from us - I add, even inflamed against us - but 
whose good will, we are confident, we should regain, would you but 
once, with calmness and composure, read this our Confession, which 
we desire your Majesty to accept instead of a defence. But if the 
whispers of the malevolent so possess your ear, that the accused are 
to have no opportunity of pleading their cause; if those vindictive 
furies, with your connivance, are always to rage with bonds, 
scourgings, tortures, maimings, and burnings, we, indeed, like sheep 
doomed to slaughter, shall be reduced to every extremity; yet so 
that in our patience, we will possess our souls, and wait for the 
strong hand of the Lord, which, doubtless, will appear in its own 
time, and show itself armed, both to rescue the poor from 
affliction, and also take vengeance on the despisers, who are now 
exulting so securely. 
    Most illustrious King, may the Lord, the King of kings, 
establish your throne in righteousness and your sceptre in equity. 
    Basle, 1st August 1636. 

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 3...)

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