Monday, October 11, 2010

Corruption of Church Offices

The Roman church during the Reformation was totally corrupt. There were so many issues with the ordination of ministers. Few were qualified at all to serve. Calvin writes, "for a hundred years scarcely one man in a hundred has been elected [to a church office] who has comprehended anything of sacred learning... If their morals are appraised, we shall find few or almost none whom the ancient canons would not have judged unworthy." The most egregious cases according to Calvin involved children as young as ten years old being made bishops.

One reason for the lack of qualified people being made bishops was that the people's right to elect a bishop had been taken away by the church and given to a handful of people within the church. This had gone on for hundreds of years. Pope Leo I and Cyprian both were opposed to this practice, but it continued anyway. Those who were choosing bishops and priests declared that the times were so corrupted that the decisions should be made by just a few select persons. Calvin argues that these new traditions go against instruction found in Scripture. "The people once had an excellent canon, I say, to whom the Word of God prescribed that a bishop ought to be above reproach, a teacher, not contentious, etc. Why, then, has the responsibility of choosing been removed from the people to such fellows?"

Those who claim that the right to choose was taken away from the people as a remedy to the issues are lying according to Calvin. He reminds the reader that there were plenty of situations before where there was controversy over who was elected in cities, but no one dared to take away this right from the people. There have always been remedies prescribed in Scripture for dealing with unqualified bishops and none have included having a handful of people selecting bishops. Calvin notes that this practice came about in part because the people became lazy when electing bishops. They somewhat gave the responsibility to the presbyters and went along with their recommendation. The presbyters used this opportunity to gain too much control by issuing new canons so the people were excluded. Then, in many cities, princes were able to weasel their way into the process so they had a right to nominate who was selected. Calvin writes that this "caused no new loss to the church, because the election was taken away only from the canons, who had seized it without right or had actually stolen it."

At some point, bishops declared that is was their right alone to select presbyters and deacons for the church. This was just further corruption of the church. Plus, some of these presbyters served no function for they were free of any pastoral obligation. The Council of Chalcedon had already declared that this was wrong, because a church should not be burdened with the expense of having a presbyter who does nothing and it is wrong to thing of this election as being an honor rather than an office with solemn duties to preform.

Presbyters should not be elected just to "perform a sacrifice". They are charged with governing the church. Similarly, deacons are charged with gathering and distributing alms. Calvin claims that the examination process of presbyters is not relevant. The questions of the exam have nothing to do with spiritual maturity, but "whether they can read their masses, whether they can decline some common noun that occurs in the lesson, whether they can conjugate a verb, whether they know the meaning of one word; for it is not necessary that they even know how to render the meaning of a single verse."

There were several truly corrupt practices that went on at this time and Calvin was not the first to speak out about them. One of them was the practice of simony. Simony is basically a bribe given by someone to church officials in order to be made a bishop or other church position. This was common during this period of the church. Another abuse was pluralism which went along with absenteeism. Pluralism was managing to become the bishop for multiple cities or being the priest for multiple churches. Absenteeism was the practice of being over a church or city and never being there to actually govern. This was common for priests who had multiple churches (especially when those positions were bought to begin with). Calvin writes, "But I say these are both monstrous abuses, which are utterly contrary to God, nature, and church government - that one robber occupy several churches at once, and that a man be named pastor who, even though he wish to, is unable to be present with his flock."

Calvin then complained about monks being pastors. The Roman church had two classes of priests: monks and seculars. Through much of history, having a monk be a pastor was not allowed. "For he [Pope Gregory] wishes those who have been made abbots to leave clerical office, on the ground that no one can properly be both a monk and a cleric, since the one would be a hindrance to the other." Calvin uses more historical evidence to prove that these two offices are incompatible with each other, therefore no one should be both a monk and a priest at the same time.

Of the seculars, some of them receive their income from the church, but do absolutely nothing for their pay. They are known as "benefices". They hire out the duties that they are charged with to hired priests. These hired priests perform masses and the like for fees. Calvin writes about these priests, "I say briefly: if it be the presbyter's office (as God's Word prescribes and the ancient canons require) to feed the church, and administer the spiritual Kingdom of Christ, all such sacrificers who have work or wages only in the hawking of masses not only fail in their office, but have no lawful office to exercise. For no place is given them for teaching; they have no people to govern."

These benefices "have cast off as burdens too troublesome the preaching of the Word, the care of discipline, and the administering of the sacraments." They are performing no ministry for the church. By ignoring their called duties, they are going against Christ's commands and the commands from the church. They are refusing to conform to the examples set before them by the early church. They should have no place within the government of the church and their titles should be taken away.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.5.11-4.5.19

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