Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Which is more relevant?

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, I believe these two quotes consist of the main disagreement between Protestants and Catholics:

"...unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 11.1, A.D. 1559).
(yes I stole that from Jay's blog)


"Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?" - Martin Luther

Which is more important? The Existential (what must I do to be saved? - the question asked of Our Lord) or the Systemic (how can I know unless someone shows me - Ethiopian Eunuch). How does one choose between Aristotle and Kierkegaard?


  1. I can clearly see where Luther is coming from. Most of our experience of Christ comes from connecting with believers. Talking to them, debating them, loving them, worshiping with them, praising with them, sharing our joys and sorrows with them. As human beings we have a need to be reassured by physical appearance. Christ achieves this by making his presence in other believers and religious authorities.If somebody is holy our conscience and Holy Spirit enables us to recognize that. But if we don't understand the basis which God judges us by reading scripture and logical reasoning, our faith may lack a firm foundation. We can learn this foundation,his omnipotence, and his laws not only in scripture, but by looking at science, astronomy, and nature. Having a good understanding of all these subjects and our firm faith therefore obedience and dedication of trying who matter how much we fail is I think what God gives us credit for. The answer is the combination of the two with a greater emphasis on the Existential.

  2. Is that second quote really Luther? I only ask because it's rather odd to set about contrasting Protestantism and Catholicism by using a quote from Calvin and a quote from Luther. That's a little like explaining the difference between Communism and Capitalism by using a quote from Lenin and a quote from Marx.

    How do you read Calvin as "existential" here? Calvin is trying to avoid talking about doing. What mattered to him was faith. (And it is precisely because of his hard insistence that faith is not a matter of doing that all Calvin's arguments end up leading to predestination.)

  3. I stole it from Calvin's blog. :-)

    By the way, I (and Calvin) agree with Luther on the necessity of the church as well. The church is the body of Christ. How can one claim to be united to the head without being united to the body?

    Of course, where we'd differ with Roman Catholicism is on the nature of church unity. We do not believe agreement with the supposed holder of Peter's apostolic office is the basis of our unity. We believe agreement with the apostolic teaching is the basis of our unity.

  4. ah so do you want to find Christ or do you want to be saved? I think the better question is why do I want to find Christ and/or be saved? It makes little sense to implement a solution if you haven't yet scoped out the problem...

  5. Julie it doesn't matter that Luther was the source of the Catholic position, it's the genetic fallacy to attribute a position solely to the author and not the content of what is said. You should also take care to note the nuances between Calvin and Luther.

    Calvin is saying here: what matters is whether you are saved or not, that is the priority. In the first part of the sentence (omitted from the quote) he was discussing justification. So for Calvin the existential is relevant first : what about me?

    For Luther (in this quote) and Catholicism, the questions are much more grandiose: what is reality? How do I understand what Christ taught? What is the nature of the Church? etc.

    As for Calvin and predestination - any person holding to a view of an omnipotent and omniscient deity has a view of predestination. St. Thomas taught a very strong doctrine of God's sovereign predestination, and St. Augustine's was even bolder.

    Calvin is also the spiritual father of the Puritans, so I don't think you can say he was 'light' on sanctification. The Lutherans view the Reformed/Calvin's position as "legalistic" because it so emphasized the obligation of the true believer to follow the law.

  6. Your genetic fallacy argument is irrelevant here. My point is simply that if the position above really is the Catholic one, then you ought to find a Catholic saying it. Imagine that someone else decided to highlight your views on another blog and instead of quoting you, decided that something your harshest critic said was the best way to represent your views.

    On Calvin, look at your own words (with emphasis):

    "The Existential (what must I DO to be saved? - the question asked of Our Lord)

    Well, No! Calvin doesn't give a hoot about what you do. He cares about whether you are saved and whether you can know that. (Calvinism doesn't go to predestination because it is difficult to reconcile an all powerful, all knowing God with free will. It goes to predestination because that is the only place his understanding of justification can go.)

    A further note: I'm not sure the word "existential" is helping you here. It has a history and that history derives from Aquinas. In its historical use it is a word that naturally fits in the Catholic context and sharply contradicts the Calvinist view.