Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Abuses and Greed in the Church

We touched on this in the last reading, but Calvin gets deeper into the problem of absenteeism. So many bishops had flocks placed in their care, but they never stepped foot into that church. Even though they take no care of their people and turn their responsibilities over to others, they still wish to be known as pastors. Calvin compares this to a money lender who has never been outside of the city gate wanting to be known as a plowman or a soldier who has never been inside of a court of law wanting to be known as a lawyer. He writes, "Many throughout life devour the revenues of the churches without ever coming to the point of even taking a look at them." At that time, it was exceedingly rare for a bishop to actually be in the church assigned to him. Calvin says that natural sense "repudiates the notion that he how has never seen a sheep of his flock is the shepherd of it."

Almost one thousand years before Calvin, this practice of absenteeism had already begun. Pope Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great, spoke out about this abuse. He said, "The world is full of priests, but in the harvest a worker is rarely found; for we indeed take upon us the priestly office but do not fulfill the work of that office." By the time of St. Bernard in the 11th-12th centuries, the practice of absenteeism had gotten even worse so he rebuked those who did not properly care for their flocks. Calvin suggests that the practice of absenteeism had grown even worse in his own day.

Calvin becomes even more critical of the Roman church government, saying that it is worse than a robber's den. "Surely everything there is so unlike, indeed, so alien to, Christ's greater injury can be done to Christ than when they put forward his name to defend such a disordered government." The Roman church's leaders claim to be "vicars of Christ" and that apostolic power has been passed down to them, but really they have nothing in common with the apostles. In his humorous way, Calvin lets his readers know what he really thinks about these bishops, "...bishops are for the most part rude asses who do not grasp even the first and commonplace rudiments of faith, or sometimes big boys fresh from their nursemaid..."

And not wanting the Roman priests to feel left out, he writes, "Today there is no order of men more notorious in excess, effeminacy, voluptuousness, in short, in all sorts of lusts; in no order are there masters more adept or skillful in every deceit, fraud, treason, and treachery; nowhere is there as great cunning or boldness to do harm. I say nothing about their arrogance, pride, greed, and cruelty. I say nothing about the dissolute license of their entire life." He declares that not even one in a hundred bishops would not be excommunicated from the church and not just deposed from their office if they were judged according to the standards and canons of the early church. "The order that they have, it is clear, is neither from Christ, nor from his apostles, nor from the fathers, nor from the ancient church."

Deacons were created by the very early church (as Luke records in Acts) to collect and distribute alms to the poor. By Calvin's time they were no longer doing this. They were charged with "ministering at the altar, reading or chanting the gospel, and goodness knows what other trifles." Being a deacon at this point was seen more as a stepping stone to the priesthood rather than an important office in the church. Deacons were the "stewards of the poor" and charged with distributing alms. "Today the poor get nothing more of those alms than if they were cast into the sea." He says that these deacons "mock the church with a false diaconate."

The clergy was growing rich off the collections from the congregation and the poor received nothing. The poor should have received at least one half according to the ancient canons. One quarter of the collections were to go directly to the poor and another quarter were to be given to the bishops to "distribute in hospitality and other offices of generosity." Instead, they were keeping it all for themselves and for the building of fancy churches.

The clergy claimed that "the dignity of the church is decently sustained by this magnificence." This was their excuse for spending so much on making the church downright ostentatious and for spending so much on themselves. Times had changed since the days of Ambrose who presided over the Synod of Aquileia. Out of this synod there came the statement, "Glorious is poverty in the priests of the Lord." No longer were the priests impoverished, but instead they were often quite wealthy.

Still on the subject of excesses by the church, Calvin writes, "Nothing at all pleases except what savors of excess and the corruption of the times. Meanwhile, so far are they from taking due care of living temples that they would rather let many thousands of the poor die of hunger than break the smallest cup or cruet to relieve their need." The offerings given to the church are dedicate to Christ. Since they are dedicated to Christ, they should be distributed according to His will, and not hoarded by the clergy and the church.

The last section is almost a summary of everything covered in this chapter. There is no real church order in the Roman church. The early church fathers lived simple lives and met in simple buildings (usually houses). By Calvin's day the clergy lived lives of excess and assembled the people in large, opulent churches. Jerome wrote, "the glory of the bishop is to provide for the poor; the disgrace of all priests, to seek after their own riches." Once again, Calvin declares that the diaconate has disappeared from the Roman church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.6.1-4.6.7

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