(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 9)
Chapter 8. Of the power of the church in articles of faith. The 
unbridled license of the papal church in destroying purity of 
    This chapter is divided into two parts, - I. The limits within 
which the Church ought to confine herself in matters of this kind, 
sec. 1-9. II. The Roman Church convicted of having transgressed 
these limits, sec. 10-16. 
1. The marks and government of the Church having been considered in 
    the seven previous chapters, the power of the Church is now 
    considered under three heads, viz., Doctrine, Legislation, 
2. The authority and power given to Church-officers not given to 
    themselves, but their office. This shown in the case of Moses 
    and the Levitical priesthood. 
3. The same thing shown in the case of the Prophets. 
4. Same thing shown in the case of the Apostles, and of Christ 
5. The Church astricted to the written Word of God. Christ the only 
    teacher of the Church. From his lips ministers must derive 
    whatever they teach for the salvation of others. Various modes 
    of divine teaching. 1. Personal revelations. 
6. Second mode of teaching, viz., by the Law and the Prophets. The 
    Prophets were, in regard to doctrine, the expounders of the 
    Law. To these were added Historical Narratives and the Psalms. 
7. Last mode of teaching by our Saviour himself manifested in the 
    flesh. Different names given to this dispensation, to show that 
    we are not to dream of any thing more perfect than the written 
8. Nothing can be lawfully taught in the Church, that is not 
    contained in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, as 
    dictated by the Spirit of Christ. 
9. Neither the Apostles, nor apostolic men, nor the whole Church, 
    allowed to overstep these limits. This confirmed by passages of 
    Peter and Paul. Argument a fortiori. 
10. The Roman tyrants have taught a different doctrine, viz., that 
    Councils cannot err, and, therefore, may coin new dogmas. 
11. Answer to the Papistical arguments for the authority of the 
    Church. Argument, that the Church is to be led into all truth. 
    Answer. This promise made not only to the whole Church, but to 
    every individual believer. 
12. Answers continued. 
13. Answers continued. 
14. Argument, that the Church should supply the deficiency of the 
    written word by traditions. Answer. 
15. Argument founded on Matth 18: 17. Answer. 
16. Objections founded on Infant Baptism, and the Canon of the 
    Council of Nice, as to the consubstantiality of the Son. 
    1. We come now to the third division, viz., the Power of the 
Church, as existing either in individual bishops, or in councils, 
whether provincial or general. I speak only of the spiritual power 
which is proper to the Church, and which consists either in 
doctrine, or jurisdiction, or in enacting laws. In regard to 
doctrine, there are two divisions, viz., the authority of delivering 
dogmas, and the interpretation of them. Before we begin to treat of 
each in particular, I wish to remind the pious reader, that whatever 
is taught respecting the power of the Church, ought to have 
reference to the end for which Paul declares (2 Cor. 10: 8; 13: 10) 
that it was given namely for edification, and not for destruction, 
those who use it lawfully deeming themselves to be nothing more than 
servants of Christ, and, at the same time, servants of the people in 
Christ. Moreover, the only mode by which ministers can edify the 
Church is, by studying to maintain the authority of Christ, which 
cannot be unimpaired, unless that which he received of the Father is 
left to him, viz., to be the only Master of the Church. For it was 
not said of any other but of himself alone, "Hear him," (Matth. 17: 
5.) Ecclesiastical power, therefore, is not to be mischievously 
adorned, but is to be confined within certain limits, so as not to 
be drawn hither and thither at the caprice of men. For this purpose, 
it will be of great use to observe how it is described by Prophets 
and Apostles. For if we concede unreservedly to men all the power 
which they think proper to assume, it is easy to see how soon it 
will degenerate into a tyranny which is altogether alien from the 
Church of Christ. 
    2. Therefore, it is here necessary to remember, that what ever 
authority and dignity the Holy Spirit in Scripture confers on 
priests, or prophets, or apostles, or successors of apostles, is 
wholly given not to men themselves, but to the ministry to which 
they are appointed; or, to speak more plainly, to the word, to the 
ministry of which they are appointed. For were we to go over the 
whole in order, we should find that they were not invested with 
authority to teach or give responses, save in the name and word of 
the Lord. For whenever they are called to office, they are enjoined 
not to bring anything of their own, but to speak by the mouth of the 
Lord. Nor does he bring them forward to be heard by the people, 
before he has instructed them what they are to speak, lest they 
should speak anything but his own word. Moses, the prince of all the 
prophets, was to be heard in preference to others, (Exod. 3: 4; 
Deut. 17: 9;) but he is previously furnished with his orders, that 
he may not be able to speak at all except from the Lord. 
Accordingly, when the people embraced his doctrine, they are said to 
have believed the Lord, and his servant Moses, (Exod. 14: 31.) It 
was also provided under the severest sanctions, that the authority 
of the priests should not be despised, (Deut. 17: 9.) But the Lord, 
at the same time, shows in what terms they were to be heard, when he 
says that he made his covenant with Levi, that the law of truth 
might be in his mouth, (Mal. 2: 4-6.) A little after he adds, "The 
priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at 
his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." Therefore, 
if the priest would be heard, let him show himself to be the 
messenger of God; that is, let him faithfully deliver the commands 
which he has received from his Maker. When the mode of hearing, 
then, is treated of, it is expressly said, "According to the 
sentence of the law which they shall teach thee," (Deut. 17: 11.) 
    3. The nature of the power conferred upon the prophets in 
general is elegantly described by Ezekiel: "Son of man, I have made 
thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at 
my mouth, and give them warning from me," (Ezek. 3: 17.) Is not he 
who is ordered to hear at the mouth of the Lord prohibited from 
devising anything of himself? And what is meant by giving a warning 
from the Lord, but just to speak so as to be able confidently to 
declare that the word which he delivers is not his own but the 
Lord's? The same thing is expressed by Jeremiah in different terms, 
"The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has 
my word, let him speak my word faithfully," (Jer. 23: 28.) Surely 
God here declares the law to all, and it is a law which does not 
allow any one to teach more than he has been ordered. He afterwards 
gives the name of chaff to whatever has not proceeded from himself 
alone. Accordingly, none of the prophets opened his mouth unless 
preceded by the word of the Lord. Hence we so often meet with the 
expressions, "The word of the Lord, The burden of the Lord, Thus 
saith the Lord, The mouth of the Lord has spoken it." And justly, 
for Isaiah exclaims that his lips are unclean (Isa. 6: 5;) and 
Jeremiah confesses that he knows not how to speak because he is a 
child, (Jer. 1: 6.) Could anything proceed from the unclean lips of 
the one, and the childish lips of the other, if they spoke their own 
language, but what was unclean or childish? But their lips were holy 
and pure when they began to be organs of the Holy Spirit. The 
prophets, after being thus strictly bound not to deliver anything 
but what they received, are invested with great power and 
illustrious titles. For when the Lord declares, "See, I have this 
day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, 
and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and 
to plant," he at the same time gives the reason, "Behold, I have put 
my words in thy mouth," (Jer 1: 9, 10.) 
    4. Now, if you look to the apostles, they are commended by many 
distinguished titles, as the Light of the world, and the Salt of the 
earth, to be heard in Christ's stead, whatever they bound or loosed 
on earth being bound or loosed in heaven, (Matth. 5: ]3, 14; Luke 
10: 16; John 20: 23.) But they declare in their own name what the 
authority was which their office conferred on them, viz., if they 
are apostles they must not speak their own pleasure, but faithfully 
deliver the commands of him by whom they are sent. The words in 
which Christ defined their embassy are sufficiently clear, "Go ye, 
therefore, and teach all nations, teaching them to observe all 
things whatsoever I have commanded you," (Matth. 28: 19, 20.) Nay, 
that none might be permitted to decline this law, he received it and 
imposed it on himself. "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent 
me," (John 7: 16.) He who always was the only and eternal counsellor 
of the Father, who by the Father was constituted Lord and Master, 
and yet because he performed the ministry of teaching, prescribed to 
all ministers by his example the rule which they ought to follow in 
teaching. The power of the Church, therefore, is not infinite, but 
is subject to the word of the Lord, and, as it were, included in it. 
    5. But though the rule which always existed in the Church from 
the beginning, and ought to exist in the present day, is, that the 
servants of God are only to teach what they have learned from 
himself, yet, according to the variety of times, they have had 
different methods of learning. The mode which now exists differs 
very much from that of former times. First, if it is true, as Christ 
says, "Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to 
whomsoever the Son will reveal him," (Matth. 11: 27,) then those who 
wish to attain to the knowledge of God behaved always to be directed 
by that eternal wisdom. For how could they have comprehended the 
mysteries of God in their mind, or declared them to others, unless 
by the teaching of him, to whom alone the secrets of the Father are 
known? The only way, therefore, by which in ancient times holy men 
knew God, was by beholding him in the Son as in a mirror. When I say 
this, I mean that God never manifested himself to men by any other 
means than by his Son, that is, his own only wisdom, light, and 
truth. From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and 
others, drew all the heavenly doctrine which they possessed. From 
the same fountain all the prophets also drew all the heavenly 
oracles which they published. For this wisdom did not always display 
itself in one manner. With the patriarchs he employed secret 
revelations, but, at the same time, in order to confirm these, had 
recourse to signs so as to make it impossible for them to doubt that 
it was God that spake to them. What the patriarchs received they 
handed down to posterity, for God had, in depositing it with them, 
bound them thus to propagate it, while their children and 
descendants knew by the inward teaching of God, that what they heard 
was of heaven and not of earth. 
    6. But when God determined to give a more illustrious form to 
the Church, he was pleased to commit and consign his word to 
writing, that the priests might there seek what they were to teach 
the people, and every doctrine delivered be brought to it as a test, 
(Mal. 2: 7.) Accordingly, after the promulgation of the Law, when 
the priests are enjoined to teach from the mouth of the Lord, the 
meaning is, that they are not to teach anything extraneous or alien 
to that kind of doctrine which God had summed up in the Law, while 
it was unlawful for them to add to it or take from it. Next followed 
the prophets, by whom God published the new oracles which were added 
to the Law, not so new, however, but that they flowed from the Law, 
and had respect to it. For in so far as regards doctrine, they were 
only interpreters of the Law, adding nothing to it but predictions 
of future events. With this exception, all that they delivered was 
pure exposition of the Law. But as the Lord was pleased that 
doctrine should exist in a clearer and more ample form, the better 
to satisfy weak consciences, he commanded the prophecies also to be 
committed to writings and to be held part of his word. To these at 
the game time were added historical details, which are also the 
composition of prophets, but dictated by the Holy Spirit; I include 
the Psalms among the Prophecies, the quality which we attribute to 
the latter belonging also to the former. The whole body, therefore, 
composed of the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and Histories, formed 
the word of the Lord to his ancient people, and by it as a standard, 
priests and teachers, before the advent of Christ, were bound to 
test their doctrine, nor was it lawful for them to turn aside either 
to the right hand or the left, because their whole office was 
confined to this - to give responses to the people from the mouth of 
God. This is gathered from a celebrated passage of Malachi, in which 
it is enjoined to remember the Law, and give heed to it until the 
preaching of the Gospel, (Mal. 4: 4.) For he thus restrains men from 
all adventitious doctrines, and does not allow them to deviate in 
the least from the path which Moses had faithfully pointed out. And 
the reason why David so magnificently extols the Law, and pronounces 
so many encomiums on it, (Ps. 19, 119,) was, that the Jews might not 
long after any extraneous aid, all perfection being included in it. 
    7. But when at length the Wisdom of God was manifested in the 
flesh, he fully unfolded to us all that the human mind can 
comprehend, or ought to think of the heavenly Father. Now, 
therefore, since Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, has arisen, we 
have the perfect refulgence of divine truth, like the brightness of 
noon-day, whereas the light was previously dim. It was no ordinary 
blessing which the apostle intended to publish when he wrote: "God, 
who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto 
the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us 
by his Son," (Heb. 1: 1, 2;) for he intimates, nay, openly declares, 
that God will not henceforth, as formerly, speak by this one and by 
that one, that he will not add prophecy to prophecy, or revelation 
to revelation, but has so completed all the parts of teaching in the 
Son, that it is to be regarded as his last and eternal testimony. 
For which reason, the whole period of the new dispensation, from the 
time when Christ appeared to us with the preaching of his Gospel, 
until the day of judgement, is designated by the last hour, the last 
times, the last days, that, contented with the perfection of 
Christ's doctrine, we may learn to frame no new doctrine for 
ourselves, or admit any one devised by others. With good cause, 
therefore, the Father appointed the Son our teacher, with special 
prerogative, commanding that he and no human being should be heard. 
When he said, "Hear him," (Matth. 17: 5,) he commended his office to 
us, in few words, indeed, but words of more weight and energy than 
is commonly supposed, for it is just as if he had withdrawn us from 
all doctrines of man, and confined us to him alone, ordering us to 
seek the whole doctrine of salvation from him alone, to depend on 
him alone, and cleave to him alone; in short, (as the words 
express,) to listen only to his voice. And, indeed, what can now be 
expected or desired from man, when the very Word of life has 
appeared before us, and familiarly explained himself? Nay, every 
mouth should be stopped when once he has spoken, in whom, according 
to the pleasure of our heavenly Father, "are hid all the treasures 
of wisdom and knowledge," (Col. 2: 3,) and spoken as became the 
Wisdom of God (which is in no part defective) and the Messiah, (from 
whom the revelation of all things was expected,) (John 4: 25;) in 
other words, has so spoken as to leave nothing to be spoken by 
others after him. 
    8. Let this then be a sure axiom - that there is no word of God 
to which place should be given in the Church save that which is 
contained, first, in the Law and the Prophets; and, secondly, in the 
writings of the Apostles, and that the only due method of teaching 
in the Church is according to the prescription and rule of his word. 
Hence also we infer that nothing else was permitted to the apostles 
than was formerly permitted to the prophets, namely, to expound the 
ancient Scriptures, and show that the things there delivered are 
fulfilled in Christ: this, however, they could not do unless from 
the Lord; that is, unless the Spirit of Christ went before, and in a 
manner dictated words to them. For Christ thus defined the terms of 
their embassy, when he commanded them to go and teach, not what they 
themselves had at random fabricated, but whatsoever he had 
commanded, (Matth. 28: 20.) And nothing can be plainer than his 
words in another passage, "Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your 
Master, even Christ," (Matth. 23: 8-10.) To impress this more deeply 
in their minds, he in the same place repeats it twice. And because 
from ignorance they were unable to comprehend the things which they 
had heard and learned from the lips of their Master, the Spirit of 
truth is promised to guide them unto all truth, (John 14: 26; 16: 
13.) The restriction should be carefully attended to. The office 
which he assigns to the Holy Spirit is to bring to remembrance what 
his own lips had previously taught. 
    9. Accordingly Peters who was perfectly instructed by his 
Master as to the extent of what was permitted to him, leaves nothing 
more to himself or others than to dispense the doctrine delivered by 
God. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God," (1 
Peter 4: 11;) that is, not hesitatingly, as those are wont whose 
convictions are imperfect, but with the full confidence which 
becomes a servant of God, provided with a sure message. What else is 
this than to banish all the inventions of the human mind, (whatever 
be the head which may have devised them,) that the pure word of God 
may be taught and learned in the Church of the faithful, - than to 
discard the decrees, or rather fictions of men, (whatever be their 
rank,) that the decrees of God alone may remain stedfast? These are 
"the weapons of our warfare," which "are not carnal, but mighty 
through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down 
imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the 
knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the 
obedience of Christ," (2 Cor. 10: 4, 5.) Here is the supreme power 
with which pastors of the Church, by whatever name they are called, 
should be invested, namely, to dare all boldly for the word of God, 
compelling all the virtue, glory, wisdom, and rank of the world to 
yield and obey its majesty; to command all from the highest to the 
lowest trusting to its power to build up the house of Christ and 
overthrow the house of Satan; to feed the sheep and chase away the 
wolves; to instruct and exhort the docile, to accuse, rebuke, and 
subdue the rebellious and petulant, to bind and loose; in fine, if 
need be, to fire and fulminate, but all in the word of God. 
Although, as I have observed, there is this difference between the 
apostles and their successors, they were sure and authentic 
amanuenses of the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, their writings are to 
be regarded as the oracles of God, whereas others have no other 
office than to teach what is delivered and sealed in the holy 
Scriptures. We conclude, therefore, that it does not now belong to 
faithful ministers to coin some new doctrine, but simply to adhere 
to the doctrine to which all, without exceptions are made subject. 
When I say this, I mean to show not only what each individual, but 
what the whole Church, is bound to do. In regard to individuals, 
Paul certainly had been appointed an apostle to the Corinthians, and 
yet he declares that he has no dominion over their faith, (2 Cor. 1: 
24.) Who will now presume to arrogate a dominion to which the 
apostle declares that he himself was not competent? But if he had 
acknowledged such license in teaching, that every pastor could 
justly demand implicit faith in whatever he delivered, he never 
would have laid it down as a rule to the Corinthians, that while two 
or three prophets spoke, the others should judge, and that, if 
anything was revealed to one sitting by, the first should be silent, 
(1 Cor. 14: 29, 30.) Thus he spared none, but subjected the 
authority of all to the censure of the word of God. But it will be 
said, that with regard to the whole Church the case is different. I 
answer, that in another place Paul meets the objection also when he 
says, that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, 
(Rom. 10: 17.) In other words, if faith depends upon the word of God 
alone, if it regards and reclines on it alone, what place is left 
for any word of man? He who knows what faith is can never hesitate 
here, for it must possess a strength sufficient to stand intrepid 
and invincible against Satan, the machinations of hell and the whole 
world. This strength can be found only in the word of God. Then the 
reason to which we ought here to have regard is universal: God 
deprives man of the power of producing any new doctrine, in order 
that he alone may be our master in spiritual teaching, as he alone 
is true, and can neither lie nor deceive. This reason applies not 
less to the whole Church than to every individual believer. 
    10. But if this power of the Church which is here described be 
contrasted with that which spiritual tyrants, falsely styling 
themselves bishops and religious prelates, have now for several ages 
exercised among the people of God, there will be no more agreement 
than that of Christ with Belial. It is not my intention here to 
unfold the manner, the unworthy manner, in which they have used 
their tyranny; I will only state the doctrine which they maintain in 
the present day, first, in writing, and then, by fire and sword. 
Taking it for granted, that a universal council is a true 
representation of the Church, they set out with this principle, and, 
at the same time, lay it down as incontrovertible, that such 
councils are under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, and 
therefore cannot err. But as they rule councils, nay, constitute 
them, they in fact claim for themselves whatever they maintain to be 
due to councils. Therefore, they will have our faith to stand and 
fall at their pleasure, so that whatever they have determined on 
either side must be firmly seated in our minds; what they approve 
must be approved by us without any doubt; what they condemn we also 
must hold to be justly condemned. Meanwhile, at their own caprice, 
and in contempt of the word of God, they coin doctrines to which 
they in this way demand our assent, declaring that no man can be a 
Christian unless he assent to all their dogmas, affirmative as well 
as negative, if not with explicit, yet with implicit faith, because 
it belongs to the Church to frame new articles of faith. 
    11. First, let us hear by what arguments they prove that this 
authority was given to the Church, and then we shall see how far 
their allegations concerning the Church avail them. The Church, they 
say, has the noble promise that she will never be deserted by Christ 
her spouse, but be guided by his Spirit into all truth. But of the 
promises which they are wont to allege, many were given not less to 
private believers than to the whole Church. For although the Lord 
spake to the twelve apostles, when he said, "Lo! I am with you 
alway, even unto the end of the world," (Matth. 28: 20;) and again, 
"I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, 
that he may abide with you for ever: even the Spirit of truth," 
(John 14: 16, 17,) he made these promises not only to the twelve, 
but to each of them separately, nay, in like manner, to other 
disciples whom he already had received or was afterwards to receive. 
When they interpret these promises, which are replete with 
consolation, in such a way as if they were not given to any 
particular Christian but to the whole Church together, what else is 
it but to deprive Christians of the confidence which they ought 
thence to have derived, to animate them in their course? I deny not 
that the whole body of the faithful is furnished with a manifold 
variety of gifts and endued with a far larger and richer treasure of 
heavenly wisdom than each Christian apart; nor do I mean that this 
was said of believers in general, as implying that all possess the 
spirit of wisdom and knowledge in an equal degree: but we are not to 
give permission to the adversaries of Christ to defend a bad cause, 
by wresting Scripture from its proper meaning. Omitting this, 
however, I simply hold what is true, viz., that the Lord is always 
present with his people, and guides them by his Spirit. He is the 
Spirit, not of error, ignorance, falsehood, or darkness, but of sure 
revelation, wisdom, truth, and light, from whom they can, without 
deception, learn the things which have been given to them, (1 Cor. 
2: 12;) in other words, "what is the hope of their calling, and what 
the riches of the glory of their inheritance in the saints," (Eph. 
1: 18.) But while believers, even those of them who are endued with 
more excellent graces, obtain in the present life only the 
first-fruits, and, as it were, a foretaste of the Spirit, nothing 
better remains to them than, under a consciousness of their 
weakness, to confine themselves anxiously within the limits of the 
word of God, lest, in following their own sense too far, they 
forthwith stray from the right path, being left without that Spirit, 
by whose teaching alone truth is discerned from falsehood. For all 
confess with Paul, that "they have not yet reached the goal," (Phil. 
3: 12.) Accordingly, they rather aim at daily progress than glory in 
    12. But it will be objected, that whatever is attributed in 
part to any of the saints, belongs in complete fulness to the 
Church. Although there is some semblance of truth in this, I deny 
that it is true. God, indeed, measures out the gifts of his Spirit 
to each of the members, so that nothing necessary to the whole body 
is wanting, since the gifts are bestowed for the common advantage. 
The riches of the Church, however, are always of such a nature, that 
much is wanting to that supreme perfection of which our opponents 
boast. Still the Church is not left destitute in any part, but 
always has as much as is sufficient, for the Lord knows what her 
necessities require. But to keep her in humility and pious modesty, 
he bestows no more on her than he knows to be expedient. I am aware 
it is usual here to object, that Christ has cleansed the Church 
"with the washing of water by the word: that he might present it to 
himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle," (Eph. 5: 26, 
27,) and that it is therefore called the "pillar and ground of the 
truth," ( 1 Tim. 3: 15.) But the former passage rather shows what 
Christ daily performs in it, than what he has already perfected. For 
if he daily sanctifies all his people, purifies, refines them, and 
wipes away their stains, it is certain that they have still some 
spots and wrinkles, and that their sanctification is in some measure 
defective. How vain and fabulous is it to suppose that the Church, 
all whose members are somewhat spotted and impure, is completely 
holy and spotless in every part? It is true, therefore, that the 
Church is sanctified by Christ, but here the commencement of her 
sanctification only is seen; the end and entire completion will be 
effected when Christ, the Holy of holies, shall truly and completely 
fill her with his holiness. It is true also, that her stains and 
wrinkles have been effaced, but so that the process is continued 
every day, until Christ at his advent will entirely remove every 
remaining defect. For unless we admit this we shall be constrained 
to hold with the Pelagians, that the righteousness of believers is 
perfected in this life: like the Cathari and Donatists we shall 
tolerate no infirmity in the Church. The other passage, as we have 
elsewhere seen, (chap. 1 sec. 10,) has a very different meaning from 
what they put upon it. For when Paul instructed Timothy, and trained 
him to the office of a true bishop, he says, he did it in order that 
he might learn how to behave himself in the Church of God. And to 
make him devote himself to the work with greater seriousness and 
zeal, he adds, that the Church is the pillar and ground of the 
truth. And what else do these words mean, than just that the truth 
of God is preserved in the Church, and preserved by the 
instrumentality of preaching; as he elsewhere says that Christ "gave 
some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, 
pastors and teachers;" "that we henceforth be no more children, 
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by 
the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait 
to deceive; but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in 
all things, who is the head, even Christ?" (Eph. 4: 11, 14, 15.) The 
reason, therefore, why the truth, instead of being extinguished in 
the world, remains unimpaired, is, because he has the Church as a 
faithful guardian, by whose aid and ministry it is maintained. But 
if this guardianship consists in the ministry of the Prophets and 
Apostles, it follows, that the whole depends upon this, viz., that 
the word of the Lord is faithfully preserved and maintained in 
    13. And that my readers may the better understand the hinge on 
which the question chiefly turns, I will briefly explain what our 
opponents demand, and what we resist. When they deny that the Church 
can err, their end and meaning are to this effect: Since the Church 
is governed by the Spirit of God, she can walk safely without the 
word; in whatever direction she moves, she cannot think or speak any 
thing but the truth, and hence, if she determines any thing without 
or beside the word of God, it must be regarded in no other light 
than if it were a divine oracle. If we grant the first point, viz., 
that the Church cannot err in things necessary to salvation, our 
meaning is, that she cannot err, because she has altogether 
discarded her own wisdom, and submits to the teaching of the Holy 
Spirit through the word of God. Here then is the difference. They 
place the authority of the Church without the word of God; we annex 
it to the word, and allow it not to be separated from it. And is it 
strange if the spouse and pupil of Christ is so subject to her lord 
and master as to hang carefully and constantly on his lips? In every 
well-ordered house the wife obeys the command of her husband, in 
every well-regulated school the doctrine of the master only is 
listened to. Wherefore, let not the Church be wise in herself, nor 
think any thing of herself, but let her consider her wisdom 
terminated when he ceases to speak. In this way she will distrust 
all the inventions of her own reason; and when she leans on the word 
of God, will not waver in diffidence or hesitations but rest in full 
assurance and unwavering constancy. Trusting to the liberal promises 
which she has received, she will have the means of nobly maintaining 
her faith, never doubting that the Holy Spirit is always present 
with her to be the perfect guide of her path. At the same time, she 
will remember the use which God wishes to be derived from his 
Spirit. "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you 
into all truth," (John 16: 13.) How? "He shall bring to your 
remembrance all things whatsoever I have said unto you." He 
declares, therefore, that nothing more is to be expected of his 
Spirit than to enlighten our minds to perceive the truth of his 
doctrine. Hence Chrysostom most shrewdly observes, "Many boast of 
the Holy Spirit, but with those who speak their own it is a false 
pretence. As Christ declared that he spoke not of himself, (John 12: 
50; 14: 10,) because he spoke according to the Law and the Prophets; 
so, if any thing contrary to the Gospel is obtruded under the name 
of the Holy Spirit, let us not believe it. For as Christ is the 
fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, so is the Spirit the 
fulfilment of the Gospel," (Chrysost. Serm. de Sancto et Adorando 
Spiritu.) Thus far Chrysostom. We may now easily infer how 
erroneously our opponents act in vaunting of the Holy Spirit, for no 
other end than to give the credit of his name to strange doctrines, 
extraneous to the word of God, whereas he himself desires to be 
inseparably connected with the word of God; and Christ declares the 
same thing of him, when he promises him to the Church. And so indeed 
it is. The soberness which our Lord once prescribed to his Church, 
he wishes to be perpetually observed. He forbade that any thing 
should be added to his word, and that any thing should be taken from 
it. This is the inviolable decree of God and the Holy Spirit, a 
decree which our opponents endeavour to annul when they pretend that 
the Church is guided by the Spirit without the word. 
    14. Here again they mutter that the Church behaved to add 
something to the writings of the apostles, or that the apostles 
themselves behaved orally to supply what they had less clearly 
taught, since Christ said to them, "I have yet many things to say 
unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," (John 16: 12,) and that 
these are the points which have been received, without writing, 
merely by use and custom. But what effrontery is this? The 
disciples, I admit, were ignorant and almost indocile when our Lord 
thus addressed them, but were they still in this condition when they 
committed his doctrine to writing, so as afterwards to be under the 
necessity of supplying orally that which, through ignorance, they 
had omitted to write? If they were guided by the Spirit of truth 
unto all truth when they published their writings, what prevented 
them from embracing a full knowledge of the Gospel, and consigning 
it therein? But let us grant them what they ask, provided they point 
out the things which behaved to be revealed without writing. Should 
they presume to attempt this, I will address them in the words of 
Augustine, "When the Lord is silent, who of us may say, this is, or 
that is? or if we should presume to say it, how do we prove it?" 
(August. in Joann. 96.) But why do I contend superfluously? Every 
child knows that in the writings of the apostles, which these men 
represent as mutilated and incomplete, is contained the result of 
that revelation which the Lord then promised to them. 
    15. What, say they, did not Christ declare that nothing which 
the Church teaches and decrees can be gainsaid, when he enjoined 
that every one who presumes to contradict should be regarded as a 
heathen man and a publican? (Matth. 18: 17.) First, there is here no 
mention of doctrine, but her authority to censure, for correction is 
asserted, in order that none who had been admonished or reprimanded 
might oppose her judgement. But to say nothing of this, it is very 
strange that those men are so lost to all sense of shame, that they 
hesitate not to plume themselves on this declaration. For what, 
pray, will they make of it, but just that the consent of the Church, 
a consent never given but to the word of God, is not to be despised? 
The Church is to be heard, say they. Who denies this? since she 
decides nothing but according to the word of God. If they demand 
more than this, let them know that the words of Christ give them no 
countenance. I ought not to seem contentious when I so vehemently 
insist that we cannot concede to the Church any new doctrine; in 
other words, allow her to teach and oracularly deliver more than the 
Lord has revealed in his word. Men of sense see how great the danger 
is if so much authority is once conceded to men. They see also how 
wide a door is opened for the jeers and cavils of the ungodly, if we 
admit that Christians are to receive the opinions of men as if they 
were oracles. We may add, that our Saviour, speaking according to 
the circumstances of his times, gave the name of Church to the 
Sanhedrin, that the disciples might learn afterwards to revere the 
sacred meetings of the Church. Hence it would follow, that single 
cities and districts would have equal liberty in coining dogmas. 
    16. The examples which they bring do not avail them. They say 
that paedobaptism proceeds not so much on a plain command of 
Scripture, as on a decree of the Church. It would be a miserable 
asylum if, in defence of paedobaptism, we were obliged to retake 
ourselves to the bare authority of the Church; but it will be made 
plain enough elsewhere, (chap. 16) that it is far otherwise. In like 
manner, when they object that we nowhere find in the Scriptures what 
was declared in the Council of Nice, viz., that the Son is 
consubstantial with the Father, (see August. Ep. 178,) they do a 
grievous injustice to the Fathers, as if they had rashly condemned 
Arius for not swearing to their words, though professing the whole 
of that doctrine which is contained in the writings of the Apostles 
and Prophets. I admit that the expression does not exist in 
Scripture, but seeing it is there so often declared that there is 
one God, and Christ is so often called true and eternal God, one 
with the Father, what do the Nicene Fathers do when they affirm that 
he is of one essence, than simply declare the genuine meaning of 
Scripture? Theodore relates that Constantine, in opening their 
meeting, spoke as follows: "In the discussion of divine matters, the 
doctrine of the Holy Spirit stands recorded. The Gospels and 
apostolical writings, with the oracles of the prophets, fully show 
us the meaning of the Deity. Therefore, laying aside discord, let us 
take the exposition of questions from the words of the Spirit," 
(Theodore. Hist. Eccles. Lib. 1 c. 5.) There was none who opposed 
this sound advice; none who objected that the Church could add 
something of her own, that the Spirit did not reveal all things to 
the apostles, or at least that they did not deliver them to 
posterity, and so forth. If the point on which our opponents insist 
is true, Constantine, first, was in error in robbing the Church of 
her power; and, secondly, when none of the bishops rose to vindicate 
it, their silence was a kind of perfidy, and made them traitors to 
Ecclesiastical law. But since Theodore relates that they readily 
embraced what the Emperor said, it is evident that this new dogma 
was then wholly unknown. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 10...)

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