Reflections on Calvin, part 11

Chapter 13, “On the Five Other Ceremonies Falsely Called Sacraments,” Calvin is at his worst. Not, that is, in his arguments for his arguments are sound. Sound because he has defined a sacrament in such a narrow way that only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper can fit in. This makes me wonder if his opponents defined a sacrament in the same way. My guess is no, since they had five more. No, Calvin is at his worst in that he is just plain mean. He has insulted his opponents before, but in this chapter he sounds more vile than Luther! Either he was in a very grumpy mood when he wrote it, or he considers a sacrament to be such an important thing in the Christian life that any perversion of it is like a perversion of the Gospel. My 21st century attitude is to say, “Okay, Mr. Attitude, we won’t call them ‘sacraments,’ but they still have an important function in piety and can indeed be a means by which God gives his grace and matures us (especially marriage).” To my hard ears, calling them sacraments is no big deal, but Calvin cannot think so flippantly. Sacraments are God’s promises to us, so to call another thing a sacrament is to put words in God’s mouth.

In the reading, Against the Libertines, it became clear that this is what has become of our culture today. One’s calling is the standard of all moral actions, and this calling is whatever your heart tells you. The only sin in the modern age is to go against your “heart.” Seriously, the main plot of every Disney movie is that the protagonist goes on an adventure only to find that the answer was within him/herself all along. Truly, these people are more Platonist than the Early Church—at least the Early Church sought truth outside of their own heart. That is, the Libertines and modern Americans believe that the human predicament is forgetfulness and one need only remember what is already there. I wonder what Calvin would think to see his opponent’s ideas become the dominant way of thinking of the Western world.

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