(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 6)
Chapter 5. The ancient form of government utterly corrupted by the 
tyranny of the papacy. 
    This chapter consists of two parts, - I. Who are called to the 
ministry under the Papacy, their character, and the ground of their 
appointment, sec. 1-7. II. How far they fulfil their office, sec. 
1. Who and what kind of persons are uniformly appointed bishops in 
    the Papacy. 1. No inquiry into doctrine. 2. In regard to 
    character, the unlearned and dissolute, boys, or men of wicked 
    lives, chosen. 
2. The right of the people taken away, though maintained by Leo, 
    Cyprian, and Councils. It follows, that there is no Canonical 
    election in the Papacy. Two objections answered. Papal 
    elections, what kind of persons elected. 
3. A fuller explanation of the answer to the second objection, 
    unfolding the errors of people, bishops, and princes. 
4. No election of presbyters and deacons in the Papacy. 1. Because 
    they are ordained for a different end. 2. Contrary to the 
    command of Scripture and the Council of Chalcedony, no station 
    is assigned them. 3. Both the name and thing adulterated by a 
    thousand frauds. 
5. Refutation of those corruptions. Proper end of ordination. Of 
    trial, and other necessary things. For these, wicked and 
    sanguinary men have substituted vain show and deplorable 
6. Second corruption relating to the assignation of benefices which 
    they call collation. Manifold abuses here exposed. Why the 
    offices of priests are in the Papacy called benefices. 
7. One individual appointed over five or six churches. This most 
    shameful corruption severely condemned by many Councils. 
8. Second part of the chapter, viz., how the office is discharged. 
    Monks who have no place among Presbyters. Objection answered. 
9. Presbyters divided into beneficiaries and mercenaries. The 
    beneficiaries are bishops, parsons, canons, chaplains, abbots, 
    priors. The mercenaries condemned by the word of God. 
10. The name of beneficiaries given to idle priests who perform no 
    office in the church. Objection answered. What kind of persons 
    the canons should be. Another objection answered. The 
    beneficiaries not true presbyters. 
11. The bishops and rectors of parishes, by deserting their 
    churches, glory only in an empty name. 
12. The seeds of this evil in the age of Gregory, who inveighs 
    against mercenaries. More sharply rebuked by Bernard. 
13. The supreme Popish administration described. Ridiculous 
    allegation of those so-called ministers of the Church. Answer. 
14. Their shameful morals. Scarcely one who would not have been 
    excommunicated or deposed by the ancient canons. 
15. No true diaconate existing in the Papacy, though they have still 
    the shadow of it. Corruption of the practice of the primitive 
    Church in regard to deacons. 
16. Ecclesiastical property, which was formerly administered by the 
    deacons, plundered by bishops and canons, in defraud of the 
17. Blasphemous defence of these robbers. Answer. Kings doing homage 
    to Christ. Theodosius. A saying of Ambrose. 
18. Another defence with regard to the adorning of churches. Answer. 
19. Concluding answer, showing that the diaconate is completely 
    subverted by the Papacy. 
    1. It may now be proper to bring under the eye of the reader 
the order of church government observed by the Roman See and all its 
satellites and the whole of that hierarchy, which they have 
perpetually in their mouths, and compare it with the description we 
have given of the primitive and early Church, that the contrast may 
make it manifest what kind of church those have who plume themselves 
on the very title, as sufficient to outweighs or rather overwhelm 
us. It will be best to begin with the call, that we may see who are 
called to the ministry, with what character, and on what grounds. 
Thereafter we will consider how far they faithfully fulfil their 
office. we shall give the first place to the bishops; would that 
they could claim the honour of holding the first rank in this 
discussion! But the subject does not allow me even to touch it 
lightly without exposing their disgrace. Stills let me remember in 
what kind of writing I am engaged and not allow my discourse, which 
ought to be framed for simple teaching, to wander beyond its proper 
limits. But let any of them, who have not laid aside all modesty, 
tell me what kind of bishops are uniformly elected in the present 
day. Any examination of doctrine is too old-fashioned, but if any 
respect is had to doctrine, they make choice of some lawyer who 
knows better how to plead in the forum than to preach in the church. 
This much is certain, that for a hundred years, scarcely one in a 
hundred has been elected who had any acquaintance with sacred 
doctrine. I do not spare former ages because they were much better, 
but because the question now relates only to the present Church. If 
morals be inquired into, we shall find few or almost none whom the 
ancient canons would not have judged unworthy. If one was not a 
drunkard, he was a fornicator; if one was free from this vice, he 
was either a gambler or sportsman, or a loose liver in some respect. 
For there are lighter faults which, according to the ancient canons, 
exclude from the episcopal office. But the most absurd thing of all 
is, that even boys scarcely ten years of age are, by the permission 
of the Pope, made bishops. Such is the effrontery and stupidity to 
which they have arrived, that they have no dread even of that last 
and monstrous iniquity, which is altogether abhorrent even from 
natural feeling. Hence it appears what kind of elections these must 
have been, when such supine negligence existed. 
    2. Then in election, the whole right has been taken from the 
people. Vows, assents, subscriptions, and all things of this sort, 
have disappeared; the whole power has been given to the canons 
alone. First, they confer the episcopal office on whomsoever they 
please; by and by, they bring him forth into the view of the people, 
but it is to be adored, not examined. But Leo protests that no 
reason permits this, and declares it to be a violent imposition, 
(Leo, Ep. 90, cap. 2.) Cyprian, after declaring it to be of divine 
authority, that election should not take place without the consent 
of the people, shows that a different procedure is at variance with 
the word of God. Numerous decrees of councils most strictly forbid 
it to be otherwise done, and if done, order it to be null. If this 
is true, there is not throughout the whole Papacy in the present day 
any canonical election in accordance either with divine or 
ecclesiastical law. Now, were there no other evil in this, what 
excuse can they give for having robbed the Church of her right? But 
the corruption of the times required, (they say,) that since hatred 
and party-spirit prevailed with the people and magistrates in the 
election of bishops more than right and sound judgement, the 
determination should be confined to a few. Allow that this was the 
last remedy in desperate circumstances. When the cure was seen to be 
more hurtful than the disease, why was not a remedy provided for 
this new evil? But it is said that the course which the Canons must 
follow is strictly prescribed. But can we doubt, that even in old 
times the people, on meeting to elect a bishop, were aware that they 
were bound by the most sacred laws, when they saw a rule prescribed 
by the word of God? That one sentence in which God describes the 
true character of a bishop ought justly to be of more weight than 
ten thousand canons. Nevertheless, carried away by the worst of 
feelings, they had no regard to law or equity. So in the present 
day, though most excellent laws have been made, they remain buried 
in writing. Meanwhile, the general and approved practice is, (and it 
is carried on as it were systematically,) that drunkards, 
fornicators, gamblers, are everywhere promoted to this honour; nay, 
this is little: bishoprics are the rewards of adulterers and 
panders: for when they are given to hunters and hawkers, things may 
be considered at the best. To excuse such unworthy procedure in any 
way, were to be wicked over much. The people had a most excellent 
canon prescribed to them by the word of God, viz., that a bishop 
must be blameless, apt to teach, not a brawler, &c. (1 Tim. 3: 2.) 
Why, then, was the province of electing transferred from the people 
to these men? Just because among the tumults and factions of the 
people the word of God was not heard. And, on the other hand, why is 
it not in the present day transferred from these men, who not only 
violate all laws, but having cast off shame, libidinously, 
avariciously, and ambitiously, mix and confound things human and 
    3. But it is not true to say that the thing was devised as a 
remedy. We read, that in old times tumults often arose in cities at 
the election of bishops; yet no one ever ventured to think of 
depriving the citizens of their right: for they had other methods by 
which they could either prevent the fault, or correct it when 
committed. I will state the matter as it truly is. When the people 
began to be negligent in making their choice, and left the business, 
as less suited to them, to the presbyters, these abused the 
opportunity to usurp a domination, which they afterwards established 
by putting forth new canons. Ordination is now nothing else than a 
mere mockery. For the kind of examination of which they make a 
display is so empty and trifling, that it even entirely wants the 
semblance. Therefore, when sovereigns, by faction with the Roman 
Pontiffs, obtained for themselves the right of nominating bishops, 
the Church sustained no new injury, because the canons were merely 
deprived of an election which they had seized without any right, or 
acquired by stealth. Nothing, indeed, can be more disgraceful, than 
that bishops should be sent from courts to take possession of 
churches, and pious princes would do well to desist from such 
corruption. For there is an impious spoliation of the Church 
whenever any people have a bishop intruded whom they have not asked, 
or at least freely approved. But that disorderly practice, which 
long existed in churches, gave occasion to sovereigns to assume to 
themselves the presentation of bishops. They wished the benefice to 
belong to themselves, rather than to those who had no better right 
to it, and who equally abused it. 
    4. Such is the famous call, on account of which bishops boast 
that they are the successors of the apostles. They say, moreover, 
that they alone can competently appoint presbyters. But herein they 
most shamefully corrupt the ancient institution, that they by their 
ordination appoint not presbyters to guide and feed the people, but 
priests to sacrifice. In like manner, when they consecrate deacons, 
they pay no regard to their true and proper office, but only ordain 
to certain ceremonies concerning the cup and paten. But in the 
Council of Chalcedony it was, on the contrary, decreed that there 
should be no absolute ordinations, that is, ordinations without 
assigning to the ordained a place where they were to exercise their 
office. This decree is most useful for two reasons; first, That 
churches may not be burdened with superfluous expense, nor idle men 
receive what ought to be distributed to the poor; and, secondly, 
That those who are ordained may consider that they are not promoted 
merely to an honourary office, but intrusted with a duty which they 
are solemnly bound to discharge. But the Roman authorities (who 
think that nothing is to be cared for in religion but their belly) 
consider the first title to be a revenue adequate to their support, 
whether it be from their own patrimony or from the priesthood. 
Accordingly, when they ordain presbyters or deacons, without any 
anxiety as to where they ought to minister, they confer the order, 
provided those ordained are sufficiently rich to support themselves. 
But what man can admit that the title which the decree of the 
council requires is an annual revenue for sustenance? Again, when 
more recent canons made bishops liable in the support of those whom 
they had ordained without a fit title, that they might thus repress 
too great facility, a method was devised of eluding the penalty. For 
he who is ordained promises that whatever be the title named he will 
be contented with it. In this way he is precluded from an action for 
aliment. I say nothing of the thousand frauds which are here 
committed, as when some falsely claim the empty titles of benefices, 
from which they cannot obtain a sixpence of revenue, and others by 
secret stipulation obtain a temporary appointment, which they 
promise that they will immediately restore, but sometimes do not. 
There are still more mysteries of the same kind. 
    5. But although these grosser abuses were removed, is it not at 
all times absurd to appoint a presbyter without assigning him a 
locality? For when they ordain it is only to sacrifice. But the 
legitimate ordination of a presbyter is to the government of the 
Church, while deacons are called to the charge of alms. It is true, 
many pompous ceremonies are used to disguise the act, that mere show 
may excite veneration in the simple; but what effect can these 
semblances have upon men of sound minds, when beneath them there is 
nothing solid or true? They used ceremonies either borrowed from 
Judaism or devised by themselves; from these it were better if they 
would abstain. Of the trial, (for it is unnecessary to say anything 
of the shadow which they retain,) of the confident of the people, of 
other necessary things, there is no mention. By shadow, I mean those 
ridiculous gesticulations framed in inept and frigid imitation of 
antiquity. The bishops have their vicars, who, previous to 
ordination, inquire into doctrine. But what is the inquiry? Is it 
whether they are able to read their Missals, or whether they can 
decline some common noun which occurs in the lesson, or conjugate a 
verb, or give the meaning of some one word? For it is not necessary 
to give the sense of a single sentence. And yet even those who are 
deficient in these puerile elements are not repelled, provided they 
bring the recommendation of money or influence. Of the same nature 
is the question which is thrice put in an unintelligible voice, when 
the persons who are to be ordained are brought to the altar, viz., 
Are they worthy of the honour? One (who never saw them, but has his 
part in the play, that no form may be wanting) answers, They are 
worthy. What can you accuse in these venerable fathers save that, by 
indulging in such sacrilegious sport, they shamelessly laugh at God 
and man? But as they have long been in possession of the thing, they 
think they have now a legal title to it. For any one who ventures to 
open his lips against these palpable and flagrant iniquities is 
hurried off to a capital trial, like one who had in old time 
divulged the mysteries of Ceres. Would they act thus if they had any 
belief in a God? 
    6. Then in the collation of benefices, (which was formerly 
conjoined with ordination, but is now altogether separate,) how much 
better do they conduct themselves? But they have many reasons to 
give, for it is not bishops alone who confer the office of priests, 
(and even in their case, where they are called Collators, they have 
not always the full right,) but others have the presentation, while 
they only retain the honourary title of collations. To these are 
added nominations from schools, resignations, either simple or by 
way of exchange, commendatory rescripts, preventions, and the like. 
But they all conduct themselves in such a way that one cannot 
upbraid another. I maintain that, in the Papacy in the present day, 
scarcely one benefice in a hundred is conferred without Simon, as 
the ancients have defined it, (Calv. in Art. 8: 21.) I say not that 
all purchase for a certain sum; but show me one in twenty who does 
not attain to the priesthood by some sinister method. Some owe their 
promotion to kindred or affinity, others to the influence of their 
parents, while others procure favour by obsequiousness. In abort, 
the end for which the offices are conferred is, that provision may 
be made not for churches, but for those who receive them. 
Accordingly, they call them benefices, by which name they 
sufficiently declare, that they look on them in no other light than 
as the largesses by which princes either court the favour or reward 
the services of their soldiers. I say nothing of the fact, that 
these rewards are conferred on barbers, cooks, grooms, and dross of 
that sort. At present, indeed, there are no cases in law courts 
which make a greater noise than those concerning sacerdotal offices, 
so that you may regard them as nothing else than game set before 
dogs to be hunted. Is it tolerable even to hear the name of pastors 
given to those who have forced their way into the possession of a 
church as into an enemy's country? who have evicted it by forensic 
brawls? who have bought it for a price? who have laboured for it by 
sordid sycophancy? who, while scarcely lisping boys, have obtained 
it like heritage from uncles and relatives? Sometimes even bastards 
obtain it from their fathers. 
    7. Was the licentiousness of the people, however corrupt and 
lawless ever carried to such a height? But a more monstrous thing 
still is, that one man (I say not what kind of man, but certainly 
one who cannot govern himself) is appointed to the charge of five or 
six churches. In the courts of princes in the present day, you may 
see youths who are thrice abbots, twice bishops, once archbishops. 
Everywhere are Canons loaded with five, six or seven cures, of not 
one of which they take the least charge, except to draw the income. 
I will not object that the word of God cries aloud against this: it 
has long ceased to have the least weight with them. I will not 
object that many councils denounce the severest punishment against 
this dishonest practice; these, too, when it suits them, they boldly 
condemn. But I say that it is monstrous wickedness, altogether 
opposed to God, to nature, and to ecclesiastical government, that 
one thief should lie brooding over several churches, that the name 
of pastor should be given to one who, even if he were willing, could 
not be present among his flock, and yet (such is their impudence) 
they cloak these abominations with the name of church, that they may 
exempt them from all blame. Nay, if you please, in these iniquities 
is contained that sacred succession to which, as they boast, it is 
outing that the Church does not perish. 
    8. Let us now see, as the second mark for estimating a 
legitimate pastor, how faithfully they discharge their office. Of 
the priests who are there elected, some are called monks, others 
seculars. The former herd was unknown to the early Church; even to 
hold such a place in the Church is so repugnant to the monastic 
profession, that in old times, when persons were elected out of 
monasteries to clerical offices, they ceased to be monks. And, 
accordingly, Gregory, though in his time there were many abuses, did 
not suffer the offices to be thus confounded, (Gregor. Lib. 3 Ep. 
11.) For he insists that those who have been appointed abbots shall 
resign the clerical office, because no one can be properly at the 
same time a monk and a clerk, the one being an obstacle to the 
other. Now, were I to ask how he can well fulfil his office who is 
declared by the canons to be unfit, what answer, pray, will they 
give? They will quote those abortive decrees of Innocent and 
Boniface, by which monks are admitted to the honour and power of the 
priesthood, though they remain in their monasteries. But is it at 
all reasonable that any unlearned ass, as soon as he has seized upon 
the Roman see, may by one little word overturn all antiquity? But of 
this matter afterwards. Let it now suffice, that in the purer times 
of the Church it was regarded as a great absurdity for a monk to 
hold the office of priest. For Jerome declares that he does not the 
office of priest while he is living among monks, and ranks himself 
as one of the people to be governed by the priests. But to concede 
this to them, what duty do they perform? Some of the mendicants 
preach, while all the other monks chant or mutter masses in their 
cells; as if either our Saviour had wished, or the nature of the 
office permits, presbyters to be made for such a purpose. When 
Scripture plainly testifies that it is the duty of a presbyter to 
rule his own church, (Acts 20: 28,) is it not impious profanation to 
transfer it to another purpose, nay, altogether to change the sacred 
institution of God? For when they are ordained, they are expressly 
forbidden to do what God enjoins on all presbyters. For this is 
their cant, Let a monk, contented with his cell, neither presume to 
administer the sacraments, nor hold any other public office. Let 
them deny, if they can, that it is open mockery of God when any one 
is appointed a presbyter in order to abstain from his proper and 
genuine office, and when he who has the name is not able to have the 
    9. I come to the seculars, some of whom are (as they speak) 
beneficiaries; that is, have offices by which they are maintained, 
while others let out their services, day by day, to chant or say 
masses, and live in a manner on a stipend thus collected. Benefices 
either have a cure of souls, as bishoprics and parochial charges, or 
they are the stipends of delicate men, who gain a livelihood by 
chanting; as prebends, canonries, parsonships, deaneries, 
chaplainships, and the like; although, things being now turned 
upside down, the offices of abbot and prior are not only conferred 
on secular presbyters, but on boys also by privilege, that is, by 
common and usual custom. In regard to the mercenaries who seek their 
food from day to day, what else could they do than they actually do, 
in other words, prostitute themselves in an illiberal and 
disgraceful manner for gain, especially from the vast multitude of 
them with which the world now teems? Hence, as they dare not beg 
openly, or think that in this way they would gain little, they go 
about like hungry dogs, and by a kind of barking importunity extort 
from the unwilling what they may deposit in their hungry stomachs. 
Were I here to attempt to describe how disgraceful it is to the 
Church, that the honour and office of a presbyter should come to 
this, I should never have done. My readers, therefore, must not 
expect from me a discourse which can fully represent this flagitous 
indignity. I briefly say, that if it is the office of a presbyter 
(and this both the word of God prescribes (1 Cor. 4: 1) and the 
ancient canons enjoin) to feed the Church, and administer the 
spiritual kingdom of Christ, all those priests who have no work or 
stipend, save in the traffic of masses, not only fail in their 
office, but have no lawful office to discharge. No place is given 
them to teach, they have no people to govern. In short, nothing is 
left them but an altar on which to sacrifice Christ; this is to 
sacrifice not to God but to demons, as we shall afterwards show, 
(see chap. 18 sec. 3, 9,14.) 
    10. I am not here touching on extraneous faults, but only on 
the intestine evil which lies at the root of the very institution. I 
will add a sentence which will sound strange in their ears, but 
which, as it is true, it is right to express, that canons, deans, 
chaplains, provosts, and all who are maintained in idle offices of 
priesthood, are to be viewed in the same light. For what service can 
they perform to the Church? The preaching of the word, the care of 
discipline, and the administration of the sacraments, they have 
shaken off as burdens too grievous to be borne. What then remains on 
which they can plume themselves as being true presbyters? Merely 
chanting and pompous ceremonies. But what is this to the point? If 
they allege customs use, or the long prescription, I, on the 
contrary appeal to the definition by which our Saviour has described 
true presbyters, and shown the qualities of those who are to be 
regarded as presbyters. But if they cannot endure the hard law of 
submitting to the rule of Christ, let them at least allow the cause 
to be decided by the authority of the primitive Church. Their 
condition will not be one whit improved when decided according to 
the ancient canons. Those who have degenerated into Canons ought to 
be presbyters, as they former1y were, to rule the Church in common 
with the bishop, and be, as it were, his colleagues in the pastoral 
office. What they call deaneries of the chapter have no concern with 
the true government of the Church, much less chaplainships and other 
similar worthless names. In what light then are they all to be 
regarded? Assuredly, both the word of Christ and the practice of the 
primitive Church exclude them from the honour of presbyters. They 
maintain, however, that they are presbyters; but we must unmask 
them, and we shall find that their whole profession is most alien 
from the office of presbyters, as that office is described to us by 
the apostles, and was discharged in the primitive Church. All such 
offices, therefore, by whatever titles they are distinguished, as 
they are novelties, and certainly not supported either by the 
institution of God or the ancient practice of the Church, ought to 
have no place in a description of that spiritual government which 
the Church received, and was consecrated by the mouth of the Lord 
himself. Or, (if they would have me express it in ruder and coarser 
terms,) since chaplains, canons, deans, provosts, and such like lazy- 
bellies, do not even, with one finger, touch a particle of the 
office, which is necessarily required in presbyters, they must not 
be permitted falsely to usurp the honour, and thereby violate the 
holy institution of Christ. 
    11. There still remain bishops and rectors of parishes; and I 
wish that they would contend for the maintenance of their office. I 
would willingly grant that they have a pious and excellent office if 
they would discharge it; but when they desert the churches committed 
to them, and throwing the care upon others, would still be 
considered pastors, they just act as if the office of pastor were to 
do nothing. If any usurer, who never stirs from the city, were to 
give himself out as a ploughman or vine-dresser; or a soldier, who 
has constantly been in the field or the camp, and has never seen 
books or the forum, to pass for a lawyer, who could tolerate the 
absurdity? Much more absurdly do those act who would be called and 
deemed lawful pastors of the Church, and are unwilling so to be. How 
few are those who in appearance even take the superintendence of 
their church? Many spend their lives in devouring the revenues of 
churches which they never visit even for the purpose of inspection. 
Some once a year go themselves or send a steward, that nothing may 
be lost in the letting of them. When the corruption first crept in, 
those who wished to enjoy this kind of vacation pleaded privilege, 
but it is now a rare case for any one to reside in his church. They 
look upon them merely in the light of farms, over which they appoint 
their vicars as grieves or husbandmen. But it is repugnant to common 
sense to regard him as a shepherd who has never seen a sheep of his 
    12. It appears that in the time of Gregory some of the seeds of 
this corruption existed, the rulers of churches having begun to be 
more negligent in teaching; for he thus bitterly complains: "The 
world is full of priests, and yet labourers in the harvest are rare, 
for we indeed undertake the office of the priesthood, but we perform 
not the work of the office," (Gregor. Hom. 17.) Again, "As they have 
no bowels of love, they would be thought lords, but do not at all 
acknowledge themselves to be fathers. They change a post of humility 
into the elevation of ascendancy." Again "But we, O pastors! what 
are we doing, we who obtain the hire but are not labourers? We have 
fallen off to extraneous business; we undertake one thing, we 
perform another; we leave the ministry of the word, and, to our 
punishment, as I see, are called bishops, holding the honour of the 
name, not the power." Since he uses such bitterness of expression 
against those who were only less diligent or sedulous in their 
office, what, pray, would he have said if he had seen that very few 
bishops, if any at all, and scarcely one in a hundred of the other 
clergy, mounted the pulpit once in their whole lifetime? For to such 
a degree of infatuation have men come, that it is thought beneath 
the episcopal dignity to preach a sermon to the people. In the time 
of Bernard things had become still worse. Accordingly, we see how 
bitterly he inveighs against the whole order, and yet there is 
reason to believe that matters were then in a much better state than 
    13. Whoever will duly examine and weigh the whole form of 
ecclesiastical government as now existing in the Papacy, will find 
that there is no kind of spoliation in which robbers act more 
licentiously, without law or measure. Certainly all things are so 
unlike, nay, so opposed to the institution of Christ, have so 
degenerated from the ancient customs and practices of the Church, 
are so repugnant to nature and reason, that a greater injury cannot 
be done to Christ than to use his name in defending this disorderly 
rule. We (say they) are the pillars of the Church, the priests of 
religion, the vicegerents of Christ, the heads of the faithful, 
because the apostolic authority has come to us by succession. As if 
they were speaking to stocks, they perpetually plume themselves on 
these absurdities. Whenever they make such boasts, I, in my turn, 
will ask, What have they in common with the apostles? We are not now 
treating of some hereditary honour which can come to men while they 
are asleep, but of the office of preaching, which they so greatly 
shun. In like manner, when we maintain that their kingdom is the 
tyranny of Antichrist, they immediately object that their venerable 
hierarchy has often been extolled by great and holy men, as if the 
holy fathers, when they commended the ecclesiastical hierarchy or 
spiritual government handed down to them by the apostles, ever 
dreamed of that shapeless and dreary chaos where bishoprics are held 
for the most part by ignorant asses, who do not even know the first 
and ordinary rudiments of the faith, or occasionally by boys who 
have just left their nurse; or if any are more learned, (this, 
however, is a rare case,) they regard the episcopal office as 
nothing else than a title of magnificence and splendour; where the 
rectors of churches no more think of feeding the flock than a 
cobbler does of sloughing, where all things are so confounded by a 
confusion worse than that of Babel, that no genuine trace of 
paternal government is any longer to be seen. 
    14. But if we descend to conduct, where is that light of the 
world which Christ requires, where the salt of the earth, where that 
sanctity which might operate as a perpetual censorship? In the 
present day, there is no order of men more notorious for luxury, 
effeminacy, delicacy, and all kinds of licentiousness; in no order 
are more apt or skilful teachers of imposture, fraud, treachery, and 
perfidy; nowhere is there more skill or audacity in mischief, to say 
nothing of ostentation, pride, rapacity, and cruelty. In bearing 
these the world is so disgusted, that there is no fear lest I seem 
to exaggerate. One thing I say, which even they themselves will not 
be able to deny: Among bishops there is scarcely an individual, and 
among the parochial clergy not one in a hundred, who, if sentence 
were passed on his conduct according to the ancient canons, would 
not deserve to be excommunicated, or at least deposed from his 
office. I seem to say what is almost incredible, so completely has 
that ancient discipline which enjoined strict censure of the morals 
of the clergy become obsolete; but such the fact really is. Let 
those who serve under the banner and auspices of the Romish See now 
go and boast of their sacerdotal order. It is certain that that 
which they have is neither from Christ, nor his apostles, nor the 
fathers, nor the early Church. 
    15. Let the deacons now come forward and show their most sacred 
distribution of ecclesiastical goods, (see chap. 19 sec. 32.) 
Although their deacons are not at all elected for that purpose, for 
the only injunction which they lay upon them is to minister at the 
altar, to read the Gospel, or chant and perform I know not what 
frivolous acts. Nothing is said of alms, nothing of the care of the 
poor, nothing at all of the function which they formerly performed. 
I am speaking of the institution itself; for if we look to what they 
do, theirs in fact, is no office, but only a step to the priesthood. 
In one thing, those who hold the place of deacons in the mass 
exhibit an empty image of antiquity, for they receive the offerings 
previous to consecration. Now, the ancient practice was, that before 
the communion of the Supper the faithful mutually kissed each other, 
and offered alms at the altar; thus declaring their love, first by 
symbol, and afterwards by an act of beneficence. The deacon, who was 
steward of the poor, received what was given that he might 
distribute it. Now, of these alms no more comes to the poor than if 
they were cast into the sea. They, therefore delude the Church by 
that lying deaconship. Assuredly in this they have nothing 
resembling the apostolical institution or the ancient practice. The 
very distribution of goods they have transferred elsewhere, and have 
so settled it that nothing can be imagined more disorderly. For as 
robbers, after murdering their victims, divide the plunder, so these 
men, after extinguishing the light of God's word, as if they had 
murdered the Church, have imagined that whatever had been dedicated 
to pious uses was set down for prey and plunder. Accordingly, they 
have made a division, each seizing for himself as much as he could. 
    16. All those ancient methods which we have explained are not 
only disturbed but altogether disguised and expunged. The chief part 
of the plunder has gone to bishops and city presbyters, who, having 
thus enriched themselves, have been converted into canons. That the 
partition was a mere scramble is apparent from this, that even to 
this day they are litigating as to the proportions. Be this as it 
may, the decision has provided that out of all the goods of the 
Church not one penny shall go to the poor, to whom at least the half 
belonged. The canons expressly assign a fourth part to them, while 
the other fourth they destine to the bishops, that they may expend 
it in hospitality and other offices at kindness. I say nothing as to 
what the clergy ought to do with their portions or the use to which 
they ought to apply it, for it has been clearly shown that what is 
set apart for churches, buildings, and other expenditure, ought in 
necessity to be given to the poor. If they had one spark of the fear 
of God in their heart, could they, I ask, bear the consciousness 
that all their food and clothing is the produce of theft, nay, of 
sacrilege? But as they are little moved by the judgement of God, 
they should at least reflect that those whom they would persuade 
that the orders of their Church are so beautiful and well arranged 
as they are wont to boast, are men endued with sense and reason. Let 
them briefly answer whether the diaconate is a license to rob and 
steal. If they deny this, they will be forced to confess that no 
diaconate remains among them, since the whole administration of 
their ecclesiastical resources has been openly converted into 
sacrilegious depredation. 
    17. But here they use a very fair gloss, for they say that the 
dignity of the Church is not unbecomingly maintained by this 
magnificence. And certain of their sect are so impudent as to dare 
openly to boast that thus only are fulfilled the prophecies, in 
which the ancient prophets describe the splendour of Christ's 
kingdom, where the sacerdotal order is exhibited in royal attire, 
that it was not without cause that God made the following promises 
to his Church: "All kings shall fall down before him: all nations 
shall serve him," (Ps. 72: 11.) "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, 
O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city," 
(Isa. 3: 1.) "All they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold 
and incense, and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord. All 
the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee," (Isa. 60: 
6, 7.) I fear I should seem childish were I to dwell long in 
refuting this dishonesty. I am unwilling, therefore, to use words 
unnecessarily; I ask, however were any Jew to misapply these 
passages, what answer would they give? They would rebuke his 
stupidity in making a carnal and worldly application of things 
spiritually said of Christ's spiritual kingdom. For we know that 
under the image of earthly objects the prophets have delineated to 
us the heavenly glory which ought to shine in the Church. For in 
those blessings which these words literally express, the Church 
never less abounded than under the apostles; and yet all admit that 
the power of Christ's kingdom was then most flourishing. What, then, 
is the meaning of the above passages? That every thing, which is 
precious, sublime, and illustrious ought to be made subject to the 
Lord. As to its being said expressly of kings, that they will submit 
to Christ, that they will throw their diadems at his feet, that they 
sill dedicate their resources to the Church when was this more truly 
and fully manifested than when Theodosius, having thrown aside the 
purple and left the insignia of empire, like one of the people 
humbled himself before God and the Church in solemn repentance? than 
when he and other like pious princes made it their study and their 
care to preserve pure doctrine in the Church, to cherish and protect 
sound teachers? But that priests did not then luxuriate in 
superfluous wealth is sufficiently declared by this one sentence of 
the Council of Aquileia, over which Ambrose presided, "Poverty in 
the priests of the Lord is glorious." It is certain that the bishops 
then had some means by which they might have rendered the glory of 
the Church conspicuous, if they had deemed them the true ornaments 
of the Church. But knowing that nothing was more adverse to the duty 
of pastors than to plume themselves on the delicacies of the table, 
on splendid clothes, numerous attendants, and magnificent palaces, 
they cultivated and followed the humility and modesty, nay, the very 
poverty, which Christ has consecrated among his servants. 
    18. But not to be tedious, let us again briefly sum up and show 
how far that distribution, or rather squandering, of ecclesiastical 
goods which now exists differs from the true diaconate, which both 
the word of God recommends and the ancient Church observed, (Book 1 
chap. 11 sec. 7, 13; Book 3 chap. 20 sec. 30; supra, chap. 4 sec. 
8.) I says that what is employed on the adorning of churches is 
improperly laid out, if not accompanied with that moderation which 
the very nature of sacred things prescribes, and which the apostles 
and other holy fathers prescribed, both by precept and example. But 
is anything like this seen in churches in the present day? Whatever 
accords, I do not say with that ancient frugality, but with decent 
mediocrity, is rejected. Nought pleases but what savours of luxury 
and the corruption of the times. Meanwhile, so far are they from 
taking due care of living temples, that they would allow thousands 
of the poor to perish sooner than break down the smallest cup or 
platter to relieve their necessity. That I may not decide too 
severely at my own hand, I would only ask the pious reader to 
consider what Exuperius, the Bishop of Thoulouse, whom we have 
mentioned, what Acatius, or Ambrose or any one like minded, if they 
were to rise from the dead, would say? Certainly, while the 
necessities of the poor are so great, they would not approve of 
their funds being carried away from them as superfluous; not to 
mention that, even were there no poor, the uses to which they are 
applied are noxious in many respects and useful in none. But I 
appeal not to men. These goods have been dedicated to Christ, and 
ought to be distributed at his pleasure. In vain, however, will they 
make that to be expenditure for Christ which they have squandered 
contrary to his commands, though, to confess the truth, the ordinary 
revenue of the Church is not much curtailed by these expenses. No 
bishoprics are so opulent, no abbacies so productive, in short, no 
benefices so numerous and ample, as to suffice for the gluttony of 
priests. But while they would spare themselves, they induce the 
people by superstition to employ what ought to have been distributed 
to the poor in building temples, erecting statues, buying plate, and 
providing costly garments. Thus the daily alms are swallowed up in 
this abyss. 
    19. Of the revenue which they derive from lands and property, 
what else can I say than what I have already said, and is manifest 
before the eyes of all? We see with what kind of fidelity the 
greatest portion is administered by those who are called bishops and 
abbots. What madness is it to seek ecclesiastical order here? Is it 
becoming in those whose life ought to have been a singular example 
of frugality, modesty, continence, and humility, to rival princes in 
the number of their attendants, the splendour of their dwellings, 
the delicacies of dressing and feasting? Can anything be more 
contrary to the duty of those whom the eternal and inviolable edict 
of God forbids to long for filthy lucre, and orders to be contented 
with simple food, not only to lay hands on villages and castles, but 
also invade the largest provinces and even seize on empire itself? 
If they despise the word of God, what answer will they give to the 
ancient canons of councils, which decree that the bishop shall have 
a little dwelling not far from the church, a frugal table and 
furniture? (Conc. Carth. cap. 14, 15.) What answer will they give to 
the declaration of the Council of Aquileia, in which poverty in the 
priests of the Lord is pronounced glorious? For, the injunction 
which Jerome gives to Nepotian, to make the poor and strangers 
acquainted with his table, and have Christ with them as a guest, 
they would, perhaps, repudiate as too austere. What he immediately 
adds it would shame them to acknowledge, viz., that the glory of a 
bishop is to provide for the sustenance of the poor, that the 
disgrace of all priests is to study their own riches. This they 
cannot admit without covering themselves with disgrace. But it is 
unnecessary here to press them so hard, since all we wished was to 
demonstrate that the legitimate order of deacons has long ago been 
abolished, and that they can no longer plume themselves on this 
order in commendation of their Church. This, I think, has been 
completely established. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 7...)

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