Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 6
(...continued from part 5)
Chapter 5. 
5. Of the modes of supplementing satisfaction, viz., indulgences and 
    Divisions of the chapter, - I. A summary description and 
refutation of Popish indulgences, sec. 1, 2. II. Confutation by Leo 
and Augustine. Answer to two objections urged in support of them, 
sec. 3, 4. A profane love of filthy lucre on the part of the Pope. 
The origin of indulgences unfolded, sec. 5. III. An examination of 
Popish purgatory. Its horrible impiety, sec. 6. An explanation of 
five passages of Scripture by which Sophists endeavor to support 
that dream, sec. 7, 8. Sentiments of the ancient Theologians 
concerning purgatory, sec. 10. 
1. The dogma of satisfaction the parent of indulgences. Vanity of 
    both. The reason of it. Evidence of the avarice of the Pope and 
    the Romish clergy: also of the blindness with which the 
    Christian world was smitten 
2. View of indulgences given by the Sophists. Their true nature. 
    Refutation of them. Refutation confirmed by seven passages of 
3. Confirmed also by the testimony of Leo, a Roman Bishop, and by 
    Augustine. Attempts of the Popish doctors to establish the 
    monstrous doctrine of indulgences, and even support it by 
    Apostolical authority. First answer. 
4. Second answer to the passage of an Apostle adduced to support the 
    dogma of indulgences. Answer confirmed by a comparison with 
    other passages, and from a passage in Augustine, explaining the 
    Apostle's meaning. Another passage from the same Apostle 
    confirming this view. 
5. The Pope's profane thirst for filthy lucre exposed. The origin of 
6. Examination of the fictitious purgatory of the Papists. 1. From 
    the nature of the thing itself. 2. From the authority of God. 
    3. From the consideration of the merit of Christ, which is 
    destroyed by this fiction. Purgatory, what it is. 4. From the 
    impiety teeming from this fountain. 
7. Exposition of the passages of Scripture quoted in support of 
    purgatory. 1. Of the Impardonable sin, from which it is 
    inferred that there are some sins afterwards to be forgiven. 2. 
    Of the passage as to paying the last farthing. 
8. 3. The passage concerning the bending of the knee to Christ by 
    things under the earth. 4. The example of Judas Maccabaeus in 
    sending an oblation for the dead to Jerusalem. 
9. 5. Of the fire which shall try every man's work. The sentiment of 
    the ancient theologians. Answer, containing a reduction ad 
    absurdum. Confirmation by a passage of Augustine. The meaning 
    of the Apostle. What to be understood by fire. A clear 
    exposition of the metaphor. The day of the Lord. How those who 
    suffer loss are saved by fire. 
10. The doctrine of purgatory ancient, but refuted by a more ancient 
    Apostle. Not supported by ancient writers, by Scripture, or 
    solid argument. Introduced by custom and a zeal not duly 
    regulated by the word of God. Ancient writers, as Augustine, 
    speak doubtfully in commending prayer for the dead. At all 
    events, we must hold by the word of God, which rejects this 
    fiction. A vast difference between the more ancient and the 
    more modern builders of purgatory. This shown by comparing 
    1. From this dogma of satisfaction that of indulgences takes 
its rise. For the pretence is, that what is wanting to our own 
ability is hereby supplied; and they go the insane length of 
defining them to be a dispensation of the merits of Christ, and the 
martyrs which the Pope makes by his bulls. Though they are fitter 
for hellebore than for argument, - and it is scarcely worth while to 
refute these frivolous errors, which, already battered down, begin 
of their own accord to grow antiquated, and totter to their fall; - 
yet, as a brief refutation may be useful to some of the unlearned, I 
will not omit it. Indeed, the fact that indulgences have so long 
stood safe and with impunity, and wantoned with so much fury and 
tyranny, may be regarded as a proof into how deep a night of 
ignorance mankind were for some ages plunged. They saw themselves 
insulted openly, and without disguise, by the Pope and his 
bull-bearers; they saw the salvation of the soul made the subject of 
a lucrative traffic, salvation taxed at a few pieces of money, 
nothing given gratuitously; they saw what was squeezed from them in 
the form of oblations basely consumed on strumpets, pimps and 
gluttony, the loudest trumpeters of indulgences being the greatest 
despisers; they saw the monster stalking abroad, and every day 
luxuriating with greater license, and that without end, new bulls 
being constantly issued, and new sums extracted. Still indulgences 
were received with the greatest reverence, worshipped, and bought. 
Even those who saw more clearly than others deemed them pious 
frauds, by which, even in deceiving, some good was gained. Now, at 
length, that a considerable portion of the world have begun to 
rethink themselves, indulgences grow cool, and gradually even begin 
to freeze, preparatory to their final extinction. 
    2. But since very many who see the vile imposture, theft, and 
rapine, (with which the dealers in indulgences have hitherto deluded 
and sported with us,) are not aware of the true source of the 
impiety, it may be proper to show not only what indulgences truly 
are, but also that they are polluted in every part. They give the 
name of treasury of the Church to the merits of Christ, the holy 
Apostles and Martyrs. They pretend, as I have said, that the radical 
custody of the granary has been delivered to the Roman bishop, to 
whom the dispensation of these great blessings belongs in such a 
sense, that he can both exercise it by himself, and delegate the 
power of exercising it to others. Hence we have from the Pope at one 
time plenary indulgences, at another for certain years; from the 
cardinals for a hundred days, and from the bishops for forty. These, 
to describe them truly, are a profanation of the blood of Christ, 
and a delusion of Satan, by which the Christian people are led away 
from the grace of God and the life which is in Christ, and turned 
aside from the true way of salvation. For how could the blood of 
Christ be more shamefully profaned than by denying its sufficiency 
for the remission of sins, for reconciliation and satisfaction, 
unless its defects, as if it were dried up and exhausted, are 
supplemented from some other quarter? Peter's words are: "To him 
give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever 
believeth in him shall receive remission of sins," (Acts 10: 43;) 
but indulgences bestow the remission of sins through Peter, Paul, 
and the Martyrs. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us 
from all sin," says John, (1 John 1: 7.) Indulgences make the blood 
of the martyrs an ablution of sins. "He has made him to be sin (i. 
e. a satisfaction for sin) for us who knew no sin," says Paul, (2 
Cor. 5: 21,) "that we might be made the righteousness of God in 
him." Indulgences make the satisfaction of sin to depend on the 
blood of the martyrs. Paul exclaimed and testified to the 
Corinthians, that Christ alone was crucified, and died for them, (1 
Cor. 1: 13.) Indulgences declare that Paul and others died for us. 
Paul elsewhere says that Christ purchased the Church with his own 
blood, (Acts 20: 28.) Indulgences assign another purchase to the 
blood of martyrs. "By one offering he has perfected for ever them 
that are sanctified," says the Apostle, (Heb. 10: 14.) Indulgences, 
on the other hand, insist that sanctification, which would otherwise 
be insufficient, is perfected by martyrs. John says that all the 
saints "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of 
the Lamb," (Rev. 7: 14.) Indulgences tell us to wash our robes in 
the blood of saints. 
    3. There is an admirable passage in opposition to their 
blasphemies in Leo, a Roman Bishop, (ad Palaestinos, Ep. 81.) 
"Although the death of many saints was precious in the sight of the 
Lord, (Ps. 116: 15,) yet no innocent man's slaughter was the 
propitiation of the world. The just received crowns did not give 
them; and the fortitude of believers produced examples of patience, 
not gifts of righteousness: for their deaths were for themselves; 
and none by his final end paid the debt of another, except Christ 
our Lord, in whom alone all are crucified - all dead, buried, and 
raised up." This sentiment, as it was of a memorable nature, he has 
elsewhere repeated, (Epist. 95.) Certainly one could not desire a 
clearer confutation of this impious dogma. Augustine introduces the 
same sentiment not less appositely: "Although brethren die for 
brethren, yet no martyr's blood is shed for the remission of sins: 
this Christ did for us, and in this conferred upon us not what we 
should imitate, but what should make us grateful," (August. Tract. 
in Joann. 84.) Again, in another passage: "As he alone became the 
Son of God and the Son of man, that he might make us to be with 
himself sons of God, so he alone, without any ill desert, undertook 
the penalty for us, that through him we mighty without good desert, 
obtain undeserved favor," (ad Bonif. Lib. 4, cap. 4.) Indeed, as 
their whole doctrine is a patchwork of sacrilege and blasphemy, this 
is the most blasphemous of the whole. Let them acknowledge whether 
or not they hold the following dogmas: That the martyrs, by their 
death, performed more to God, and merited more than was necessary 
for themselves, and that they have a large surplus of merits which 
may be applied to others; that in order that this great good may not 
prove superfluous, their blood is mingled with the blood of Christ, 
and out of both is formed the treasury of the Church, for the 
forgiveness and satisfaction of sins; and that in this sense we must 
understand the words of Paul: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings, and 
fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my 
flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church," (Col. 1: 24.) What 
is this but merely to leave the name of Christ, and at the same time 
make him a vulgar saintling, who can scarcely be distinguished in 
the crowd? He alone ought to be preached, alone held forth, alone 
named, alone looked to, whenever the subject considered is the 
obtaining of the forgiveness of sins, expiation, and sanctification. 
But let us hear their propositions. That the blood of martyrs may 
not be shed without fruit, it must be employed for the common good 
of the Church. Is it so? Was there no fruit in glorifying God by 
death? in sealing his truth with their blood? in testifying, by 
contempt of the present life, that they looked for a better? in 
confirming the faith of the Church, and at the same time disabling 
the pertinacity of the enemy by their constancy? But thus it is. 
They acknowledge no fruit if Christ is the only propitiation, if he 
alone died for our sins, if he alone was offered for our redemption. 
Nevertheless, they say, Peter and Paul would have gained the crown 
of victory though they had died in their beds a natural death. But 
as they contended to blood, it would not accord with the justice of 
God to leave their doing so barren and unfruitful. As if God were 
unable to augment the glory of his servants in proportion to the 
measure of his gifts. The advantage derived in common by the Church 
is great enough, when, by their triumphs, she is inflamed with zeal 
to fight. 
    4. How maliciously they wrest the passage in which Paul says, 
that he supplies in his body that which was lacking in the 
sufferings of Christ! (Col. 1: 24.) That defect or supplement refers 
not to the work of redemption, satisfaction, or expiation, but to 
those afflictions with which the members of Christ, in other words, 
all believers, behave to be exercised, so long as they are in the 
flesh. He says, therefore, that part of the sufferings of Christ 
still remains, viz., that what he suffered in himself he daily 
suffers in his members. Christ so honors us as to regard and count 
our afflictions as his own. By the additional words - for the 
Church, Paul means not for the redemptions or reconciliations or 
satisfaction of the Church, but for edification and progress. As he 
elsewhere says, "I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that 
they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with 
eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2: 10.) He also writes to the Corinthians: 
"Whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, 
which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we 
also suffer," (2 Cor. 1: 6.) In the same place he immediately 
explains his meaning by adding, that he was made a minister of the 
Church, not for redemption, but according to the dispensation which 
he received to preach the gospel of Christ. But if they still desire 
another interpreter, let them hear Augustine: "The sufferings of 
Christ are in Christ alone, as in the head; in Christ and the Church 
as in the whole body. Hence Paul, being one member says, 'I fill up 
in my body that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ.' 
Therefore O hearers whoever you be, if you are among the members of 
Christ, whatever you suffer from those who are not members of 
Christ, was lacking to the sufferings of Christ," (August. in Ps. 
16.) He elsewhere explains the end of the sufferings of the Apostles 
undertaken for Christ: "Christ is my door to you, because ye are the 
sheep of Christ purchased by his blood: acknowledge your price, 
which is not paid by me, but preached by me," (August. Tract. in 
Joann. 47.) He afterwards adds, "As he laid down his life, so ought 
we to lay down our lives for the brethren, to build up peace and 
maintain faith." Thus far Augustine. Far be it from us to imagine 
that Paul thought any thing was wanting to the sufferings of Christ 
in regard to the complete fulness of righteousness, salvation, and 
life, or that he wished to make any addition to it, after showing so 
clearly and eloquently that the grace of Christ was poured out in 
such rich abundance as far to exceed all the power of sin, (Rom. 5: 
15.) All saints have been saved by it alone, not by the merit of 
their own life or death, as Peter distinctly testifies, (Acts 15: 
11;) so that it is an insult to God and his Anointed to place the 
worthiness of any saint in any thing save the mercy of God alone. 
But why dwell longer on this, as if the matter were obscure, when to 
mention these monstrous dogmas is to refute them? 
    5. Moreover, to say nothing of these abominations, who taught 
the Pope to enclose the grace of Jesus Christ in lead and parchment, 
grace which the Lord is pleased to dispense by the word of the 
Gospel? Undoubtedly either the Gospel of God or indulgences must be 
false. That Christ is offered to us in the Gospel with all the 
abundance of heavenly blessings, with all his merits, all his 
righteousness, wisdom, and grace, without exception, Paul bears 
witness when he says, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as 
though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be 
ye reconciled to God. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew 
no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," (2 
Cor. 5: 20, 21.) And what is meant by the fellowship (koinonia) of 
Christ, which according to the same Apostle (1 Cor. 1: 9) is offered 
to us in the Gospel, all believers know. On the contrary, 
indulgences, bringing forth some portion of the grace of God from 
the armory of the Pope, fix it to lead, parchment, and a particular 
place, but dissever it from the word of God. When we inquire into 
the origin of this abuse, it appears to have arisen from this, that 
when in old times the satisfactions imposed on penitents were too 
severe to be borne, those who felt themselves burdened beyond 
measure by the penance imposed, petitioned the Church for 
relaxation. The remission so given was called indulgence. But as 
they transferred satisfactions to God, and called them compensations 
by which men redeem themselves from the justice of God, they in the 
same way transferred indulgences, representing them as expiatory 
remedies which free us from merited punishment. The blasphemies to 
which we have referred have been feigned with so much effrontery 
that there is not the least pretext for them. 
    6. Their purgatory cannot now give us much trouble, since with 
this ax we have struck it, thrown it down, and overturned it from 
its very foundations. I cannot agree with some who think that we 
ought to dissemble in this matter, and make no mention of purgatory, 
from which (as they say) fierce contests arise, and very little 
edification can be obtained. I myself would think it right to 
disregard their follies did they not tend to serious consequences. 
But since purgatory has been reared on many, and is daily propped up 
by new blasphemies; since it produces many grievous offenses, 
assuredly it is not to be connived at, however it might have been 
disguised for a time, that without any authority from the word of 
God, it was devised by prying audacious rashness, that credit was 
procured for it by fictitious revelations, the wiles of Satan, and 
that certain passages of Scripture were ignorantly wrested to its 
support. Although the Lord bears not that human presumption should 
thus force its way to the hidden recesses of his judgments; although 
he has issued a strict prohibition against neglecting his voice, and 
making inquiry at the dead, (Deut. 18: 11,) and permits not his word 
to be so erroneously contaminated. Let us grant, however, that all 
this might have been tolerated for a time as a thing of no great 
moment; yet when the expiation of sins is sought elsewhere than in 
the blood of Christ, and satisfaction is transferred to others, 
silence were most perilous. We are bound, therefore, to raise our 
voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly 
device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that it 
offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that it undermines 
and overthrows our faith. For what is this purgatory but the 
satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? 
Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is 
forthwith completely overturned. But if it is perfectly clear, from 
what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only 
satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, 
what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy, horrid 
blasphemy against Christ? I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it 
is daily defended, the offenses which it begets in religion, and the 
other innumerable evils which we see teeming forth from that 
fountain of impiety. 
    7. Those passages of Scripture on which it is their wont 
falsely and iniquitously to fasten, it may be worth while to wrench 
out of their hands. When the Lord declares that the sin against the 
Holy Ghost will not be forgiven either in this world or the world to 
come, he thereby intimates (they say) that there is a remission of 
certain sins hereafter. But who sees not that the Lord there speaks 
of the guilt of sin? But if this is so, what has it to do with their 
purgatory, seeing they deny not that the guilt of those sins, the 
punishment of which is there expiated, is forgiven in the present 
life? Lest, however, they should still object, we shall give a 
plainer solution. Since it was the Lord's intention to cut off all 
hope of pardon from this flagitous wickedness, he did not consider 
it enough to say, that it would never be forgiven, but in the way of 
amplification employed a division by which he included both the 
judgment which every man's conscience pronounces in the present 
life, and the final judgment which will be publicly pronounced at 
the resurrection; as if he had said, Beware of this malignant 
rebellion, as you would of instant destruction; for he who of set 
purpose endeavors to extinguish the offered light of the Spirit, 
shall not obtain pardon either in this life, which has been given to 
sinners for conversion, or on the last day when the angels of God 
shall separate the sheep from the goats, and the heavenly kingdom 
shall be purged of all that offends. The next passage they produce 
is the parable in Matthew: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, 
whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary 
deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the 
officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou 
shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost 
earthing," (Matth. 5: 25, 26.) If in this passage the judge means 
God, the adversary the devil, the officer an angel, and the prison 
purgatory, I give in at once. But if every man sees that Christ 
there intended to show to how many perils and evils those expose 
themselves who obstinately insist on their utmost right, instead of 
being satisfied with what is fair and equitable, that he might 
thereby the more strongly exhort his followers to concord, where, I 
ask, are we to find their purgatory? 
    8. They seek an argument in the passage in which Paul declares, 
that all things shall bow the knee to Christ, "things in heaven, and 
things in earth, and things under the earth," (Phil. 2: 10.) They 
take it for granted, that by "things under the earth," cannot be 
meant those who are doomed to eternal damnation, and that the only 
remaining conclusion is, that they must be souls suffering in 
purgatory. They would not reason very ill if, by the bending of the 
knee, the Apostle designated true worship; but since he simply says 
that Christ has received a dominion to which all creatures are 
subject, what prevents us from understanding those "under the earth" 
to mean the devils, who shall certainly be sisted before the 
judgment-seat of God, there to recognize their Judge with fear and 
trembling? In this way Paul himself elsewhere interprets the same 
prophecy: "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. 
For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow 
to me, and every tongue shall confess to God," (Rom. 14: 10, 11.) 
But we cannot in this way interpret what is said in the Apocalypse: 
"Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the 
earth, and such as are in the sea, heard I saying, Blessing, and 
honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the 
throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever," (Rev. 5: 13.) This I 
readily admit; but what kinds of creatures do they suppose are here 
enumerated? It is absolutely certain, that both irrational and 
inanimate creatures are comprehended. All, then, which is affirmed 
is, that every part of the universe, from the highest pinnacle of 
heaven to the very centre of the earth, each in its own way 
proclaims the glory of the Creator. 
    To the passage which they produce from the history of the 
Maccabees, (1 Maccab. 12: 43,) I will not deign to reply, lest I 
should seem to include that work among the canonical books. But 
Augustine holds it to be canonical. First, with what degree of 
confidence? "The Jews," says he, "do not hold the book of the 
Maccabees as they do the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, to which 
the Lord bears testimony as to his own witnesses, saying, Ought not 
all things which are written in the Law, and the Psalms, and the 
Prophets, concerning me be fulfilled? (Luke 24: 44.) But it has been 
received by the Church not uselessly, if it be read or heard with 
soberness." Jerome, however, unhesitatingly affirms, that it is of 
no authority in establishing doctrine; and from the ancient little 
book, De Expositione Symboli; which bears the name of Cyprian, it is 
plain that it was in no estimation in the ancient Church. And why do 
I here contend in vain? As if the author himself did not 
sufficiently show what degree of deference is to be paid him, when 
in the end he asks pardon for any thing less properly expressed, (2 
Maccab. 15: 38.) He who confesses that his writings stand in need of 
pardon, certainly proclaims that they are not oracles of the Holy 
Spirit. We may add, that the piety of Judas is commended for no 
other reason than for having a firm hope of the final resurrection, 
in sending his oblation for the dead to Jerusalem. For the writer of 
the history does not represent what he did as furnishing the price 
of redemption, but merely that they might be partakers of eternal 
life, with the other saints who had fallen for their country and 
religion. The act, indeed, was not free from superstition and 
misguided zeal; but it is mere fatuity to extend the legal sacrifice 
to us, seeing we are assured that the sacrifices then in use ceased 
on the advent of Christ. 
    9. But, it seems, they find in Paul an invincible support, 
which cannot be so easily overthrown. His words are, "Now if any man 
build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, 
stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall 
declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall 
try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work shall be 
burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so 
as by fire," (1 Cor. 3: 12-l5.) What fire (they ask) can that be but 
the fire of purgatory, by which the defilements of sin are wiped 
away, in order that we may enter pure into the kingdom of God? But 
most of the Fathers give it a different meaning, viz., the 
tribulation or cross by which the Lord tries his people, that they 
may not rest satisfied with the defilements of the flesh. This is 
much more probable than the fiction of a purgatory. I do not, 
however, agree with them, for I think I see a much surer and clearer 
meaning to the passage. But, before I produce it, I wish they would 
answer me, whether they think the Apostle and all the saints have to 
pass through this purgatorial fire? I am aware they will say, no; 
for it were too absurd to hold that purification is required by 
those whose superfluous merits they dream of as applicable to all 
the members of the Church. But this the Apostle affirms; for he 
says, not that the works of certain persons, but the works of all 
will be tried. And this is not my argument, but that of Augustine, 
who thus impugns that interpretation. And (what makes the thing more 
absurd) he says, not that they will pass through fire for certain 
works, but that even if they should have edified the Church with the 
greatest fidelity, they will receive their reward after their works 
shall have been tried by fire. First, we see that the Apostle used a 
metaphor when he gave the names of wood, hay, and stubble, to 
doctrines of man's device. The ground of the metaphor is obvious, 
viz., that as wood when it is put into the fire is consumed and 
destroyed, so neither will those doctrines be able to endure when 
they come to be tried. Moreover, every one sees that the trial is 
made by the Spirit of God. Therefore, in following out the thread of 
the metaphor, and adapting its parts properly to each other, he gave 
the name of fire to the examination of the Holy Spirit. For, just as 
silver and gold, the nearer they are brought to the fire, give 
stronger proof of their genuineness and purity, so the Lord's truth, 
the more thoroughly it is submitted to spiritual examination, has 
its authority the better confirmed. As hay, wood, and stubble, when 
the fire is applied to them, are suddenly consumed, so the 
inventions of man, not founded on the word of God, cannot stand the 
trial of the Holy Spirit, but forthwith give way and perish. In 
fine, if spurious doctrines are compared to wood, hay, and stubble, 
because, like wood, hay, and stubble, they are burned by fire and 
fitted for destruction, though the actual destruction is only 
completed by the Spirit of the Lord, it follows that the Spirit is 
that fire by which they will be proved. This proof Paul calls the 
day of the Lord; using a term common in Scripture. For the day of 
the Lord is said to take place whenever he in some way manifests his 
presence to men, his face being specially said to shine when his 
truth is manifested. It has now been proved, that Paul has no idea 
of any other fire than the trial of the Holy Spirit. But how are 
those who suffer the loss of their works saved by fire? This it will 
not be difficult to understand, if we consider of what kind of 
persons he speaks. For he designates them builders of the Church, 
who, retaining the proper foundation, build different materials upon 
it; that is, who, not abandoning the principal and necessary 
articles of faith, err in minor and less perilous matters, mingling 
their own fictions with the word of God. Such, I say, must suffer 
the loss of their work by the destruction of their fictions. They 
themselves, however, are saved, yet so as by fire; that is, not that 
their ignorance and delusions are approved by the Lord, but they are 
purified from them by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. All 
those, accordingly, who have tainted the golden purity of the divine 
word with the pollution of purgatory must necessarily suffer the 
loss of their work. 
    10. But the observance of it in the Church is of the highest 
antiquity. This objection is disposed of by Paul, when, including 
even his own age in the sentence, he declares, that all who in 
building the Church have laid upon it something not conformable to 
the foundation, must suffer the loss of their work. When, therefore, 
my opponents object, that it has been the practice for thirteen 
hundred years to offer prayers for the dead, I, in return, ask them, 
by what word of God, by what revelation, by what example it was 
done? For here not only are passages of Scripture wanting, but in 
the examples of all the saints of whom we read, nothing of the kind 
is seen. We have numerous, and sometimes long narratives, of their 
mourning and sepulchral rites, but not one word is said of prayers. 
But the more important the matter was, the more they ought to have 
dwelt upon it. Even those who in ancient times offered prayers for 
the dead, saw that they were not supported by the command of God and 
legitimate example. Why then did they presume to do it? I hold that 
herein they suffered the common lot of man, and therefore maintain, 
that what they did is not to be imitated. Believers ought not to 
engage in any work without a firm conviction of its propriety, as 
Paul enjoins, (Rom. 14: 23;) and this conviction is expressly 
requisite in prayer. It is to be presumed, however, that they were 
influenced by some reason; they sought a solace for their sorrow, 
and it seemed cruel not to give some attestation of their love to 
the dead, when in the presence of God. All know by experience how 
natural it is for the human mind thus to feel. 
    Received custom too was a kind of torch, by which the minds of 
many were inflamed. We know that among all the Gentiles, and in all 
ages, certain rites were paid to the dead, and that every year 
lustrations were performed for their manes. Although Satan deluded 
foolish mortals by these impostures, yet the means of deceiving were 
borrowed from a sound principle, viz., that death is not 
destruction, but a passages from this life to another. And there can 
be no doubt that superstition itself always left the Gentiles 
without excuse before the judgment-seat of God, because they 
neglected to prepare for that future life which they professed to 
believe. Thus, that Christians might not seem worse than heathens, 
they felt ashamed of paying no office to the dead, as if they had 
been utterly annihilated. Hence their ill advised assiduity; because 
they thought they would expose themselves to great disgrace, if they 
were slow in providing funeral feasts and oblations. What was thus 
introduced by perverse rivalship, ever and anon received new 
additions, until the highest holiness of the Papacy consisted in 
giving assistance to the suffering dead. But far better and more 
solid comfort is furnished by scripture when it declares, "Blessed 
are the dead that die in the Lord;" and adds the reason, "for they 
rest from their labors," (Rev. 14: 13.) We ought not to indulge our 
love so far as to set up a perverse mode of prayer in the Church. 
Surely every person possessed of the least prudence easily 
perceives, that whatever we meet with on this subject in ancient 
writers, was in deference to public custom and the ignorance of the 
vulgar. I admit they were themselves also carried away into error, 
the usual effect of rash credulity being to destroy the judgment. 
Meanwhile the passages themselves show, that when they recommended 
prayer for the dead it was with hesitation. Augustine relates in his 
Confessions, that his mother, Monica, earnestly entreated to be 
remembered when the solemn rites at the altar were performed; 
doubtless an old woman's wish, which her son did not bring to the 
test of Scripture, but from natural affection wished others to 
approve. His book, De Cura pro Mortals Agenda, On showing Care for 
the Dead, is so full of doubt, that its coldness may well extinguish 
the heat of a foolish zeal. Should any one, in pretending to be a 
patron of the dead, deal merely in probabilities, the only effect 
will be to make those indifferent who were formerly solicitous. - 
The only support of this dogma is, that as a custom of praying for 
the dead prevailed, the duty ought not to be despised. But granting 
that ancient ecclesiastical writers deemed it a pious thing to 
assist the dead, the rule which can never deceive is always to be 
observed, viz., that we must not introduce anything of our own into 
our prayers, but must keep all our wishes in subordination to the 
word of God, because it belongs to Him to prescribe what he wishes 
us to ask. Now, since the whole Law and Gospel do not contain one 
syllable which countenances the right of praying for the dead, it is 
a profanation of prayer to go one step farther than God enjoins. 
But, lest our opponents boast of sharing their error with the 
ancient Church, I say, that there is a wide difference between the 
two. The latter made a commemoration of the dead, that they might 
not seem to have cast off all concern for them; but they, at the 
same time, acknowledged that they were doubtful as to their state; 
assuredly they made no such assertion concerning purgatory as 
implied that they did not hold it to be uncertain. The former 
insist, that their dream of purgatory shall be received without 
question as an article of faith. The latter sparingly and in a 
perfunctory manner only commended their dead to the Lord, in the 
communion of the holy supper. The former are constantly urging the 
care of the dead, and by their importunate preaching of it, make out 
that it is to be preferred to all the offices of charity. But it 
would not be difficult for us to produce some passages from ancient 
writers, which clearly overturn all those prayers for the dead which 
were then in use. Such is the passage of Augustine, in which he 
shows that the resurrection of the flesh and eternal glory is 
expected by all, but that rest which follows death is received by 
every one who is worthy of it when he dies. Accordingly, he declares 
that all the righteous, not less than the Apostles, Prophets, and 
Martyrs, immediately after death enjoy blessed rest. If such is 
their condition, what, I ask, will our prayers contribute to them? I 
say nothing of those grosser superstitions by which they have 
fascinated the minds of the simple; and yet they are innumerable, 
and most of them so monstrous, that they cannot cover them with any 
cloak of decency. I say nothing, moreover, of those most shameful 
traffickings, which they plied as they listed while the world was 
stupefied. For I would never come to an end; and, without 
enumerating them, the pious reader will here find enough to 
establish his conscience. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 6

(continued in part 7...)

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