Calvin claims that the Romanists must agree with this logical statement: "what is not a church cannot be the mother of churches; he who is not a bishop cannot be the prince of bishops." A church is recognized by these two marks - the preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments. Calvin details the tasks of the bishop: "The first task of the bishop's office is to teach people from God's Word. The second and next is to administer the sacraments. The third is to admonish and exhort, also to correct those who sin and to keep the people under holy discipline." The pontiffs no longer performed these tasks, therefore they were not fulfulling their duties for the office of bishop. If they were not acting like a bishop, the question becomes can someone who is not performing the duties of a bishop be the prince of bishops? And, can a church headed by a bishop who is not fulfilling his duties still be a church and the head of all churches?
A king is king whether or not he fulfills his responsibilities as king. The church is different than an earthly kingdom. Bishops are called by Christ to perform certain functions. When a bishop ceases performing his duties, then he should be rebuked and eventually deposed from his position. Calvin plainly states, "I deny that their pontiff is the chief of bishops, since he is no bishop." He states that the gospel of Christ is surpressed within the Roman church because if it were to become the focus of the church the pontiff and other high-ranking officials in the church would lose their power. As these greedy people gained power, the gospel was more and more neglected in the Roman church. "Of old, Rome was indeed the mother of all churches; but after it began to become the see of Antichrist, it ceased to be what it once was."
Calvin uses the term "Antichrist" to reference the pope a number of times. Some may be shocked by this accusation. Calvin takes some time to explain why he feels just in using this term. Much of his reasoning comes from II Thessalonians 2. It is there that we read that the Antichrist will sit in God's temple (v4). The Antichrist will "deprive God of his honor in order to take it upon himself." Calvin also uses imagery from Daniel and Revelation to show the pontiff for who he really was. He concludes, "Since, therefore, it is clear that the Roman pontiff has shamelessly transferred to himself what belonged to God alone and especially to Christ, we should have no doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of that impious and hateful kingdom."
He then attacks the idea that the primacy must be tied to a location. He looks back at church history through the records of Eusebius. The church that was in Jerusalem was moved to Pella by God. If this could happen once, it can surely happen again. Calvin does not hold back when he attacks the pope and the Roman see when he writes, "Therefore, so to bind the honor of primacy to a place, that he who is Christ's most hateful enemy, the supreme foe of the gospel, the greatest waster and scatterer of the church, the cruelest slaughterer and butcher of all the saints, should be considered nonetheless Christ's vicar, Peter's successor, the first bishop of the church, merely because he occupies the see which was once the first see of all - this, indeed, is utterly ridiculous and stupid." Calvin then makes a declaration that the papacy is "directly contrary to church order." It gives the illusion of order, but in effect it destroys the order within the church.
Popes and cardinals throughout the ages have often held heretical beliefs that are total opposite of what they state they believe. How Calvin knows of this, I do not know. The editor of this translation has a footnote which is a quote from a letter that Erasmus wrote. In it Erasmus confirms that he has directly heard some of these blasphamies in Rome. Erasmus was a 16th century theologian who debated against Martin Luther, especially over the topic of free will. Calvin writes about the faith of these popes and cardinals, "This is the first article of that secret theology which reigns among them: there is no God. The second: everything written and taught about Christ is falsehood and deceit. The third: the doctrines of a life to come and of a final resurrection are mere fables."
The Roman church teaches that the pope cannot err in his faith. Calvin points out an example of where a pope believed one thing, then under pressure took up an opposite stance. Pope John XXII believed that souls are mortal and that they die along with the body until the day of resurrection. The University of Paris leaned on the king of France to force John XXII to change. The king forbade his subjects to communicate with John XXII until he recanted. The pope then recanted. This claim by the Roman church is based on Luke 22:32 where Christ said to Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." Since this was said to Peter, the Romanists claim that it applies to all the popes. In his humorous way, Calvin contends, "For if they wish to apply to Peter's successors everything that was said to Peter, it will follow that they are all Satans, since the Lord also said this to Peter: 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me' [Matthew 16:23]."
To limit the church to a place is placing limits on God. Calvin writes, "To bind Christ, the Spirit, and the church to a place, so that whoever may rule there, even if he be a devil, is still considered the vicar of Christ and head of the church because it was once Peter's see - this, I say, is not only impious and insulting to Christ, but extremely absurd and alien to common sense! ...Therefore, they no more become vicars of Christ because of the see which they occupy than an idol, when it is set in God's temple, is to be taken for God." He then points out how morally corrupt the Roman church leaders have become, so much so that if the Roman church was once the head, it is now no longer worthy of being "among the smallest toes of the church's feet."
During Gregory's day, cardinals were nothing but bishops. In fact, at one time cardinals were less than bishops, however, over time they became more powerful than bishops. Deacons in the Roman church were once assistants to the bishops, but "now their lot is so changed that they have become the cousins of kings and emperors." Calvin's whole point in demonstrating these changes is that the Roman see as it was in his day is very different from the historical church.
Tomorrow's reading: 4.8.1-4.8.9