The Blasphemous Arrogance of John Calvin

If the early Protestant Reformers all have one thing in common—it is questionable that we should take the doctrine of sola scriptura as something in common, since it led each of them to go his own individual way—it is their arrogance, specifically, the arrogance that led each of them to proclaim that he and he alone, since the time of the Apostles, knew what Christianity and the true teachings of Christ and the Apostles are.  Indeed, some seem in practice to subordinate the words of the Apostles to their own ideas, and some even the teachings of Christ Himself.  Needless to say, the thoroughgoing arrogance of the Reformers stands in marked contrast to the Christian humility of the Saints.

Fr. Josiah Trenham has some words about the arrogance of John Calvin in particular.  Traditionalist liturgical Christians should feel this words keenly. I ask my Protestant readers to consider whether they are fair:


John Calvin

Calvin read and quoted many Holy Fathers. He admired St. John Chrysostom’s biblical commentaries and once had resolved to translate them into French. He was a devotee of St. Augustine, and quoted Ss. Cyprian and Athanasius and others frequently. However, his attitude towards them was not an Orthodox one. Here are his words,

Certainly, Origen, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom and others like them would never have spoken as they do, if they had followed what judgment God had given them. But from desire to please the wise of the world, or at least from fear of annoying them, they mixed the earthly with the heavenly. That was a hateful thing, totally to cast man down, and repugnant to the common judgment of the flesh. These good persons seek a means more in conformity with human understanding: that is to concede I know not what to free will, and allow some natural virtue to man; but meanwhile the purity of the doctrine is profaned.

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments.

These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks. Chrysostom and Basil were ascetic monks who were other-worldly, and show Calvin as still quite fixed to the earth by comparison. Who was the one who rejected tonsure and married? And that a widow? Who was the one so irascible that he could not bear to be contradicted? Who was the one who determined eucharistic practice by the judgment of civil powers? Who was the one who received a large salary from the state? Who was the one complicit in the execution of heretics? Who was the one who died in the comfort of his own home with the approbation of the wise of Geneva, instead of in harsh exile with the opposition of the emperor? That the Holy Fathers refused to articulate Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is hardly a sign of complicity with worldly men, but rather a refusal to articulate what does not have the support of the Holy Scriptures and the consensus patrum.

On the issue of authority Calvin, as the other Reformers, posited a vacuous doctrine of sola scriptura which provided insufficient hermeneutical authority to insure even the agreement of those who claimed to believe the same things. Calvin fought with the Anabaptists, the Zwinglians, the Lutherans, and the Roman Catholics, while claiming the Scriptures were clear. And, though he read the Holy Fathers extensively, Calvin judged them all by their level of agreement with him, imputing moral depravity where none objectively existed in order to justify their universal disagreement with him. This is self-serving and contradictory theology.

Whatever the excesses of Rome, a “reformation” that subjects the truth of the Christian faith to endless schisms based on the wildly variable opinions of human beings is not a reformation at all, but a deadly poison.  Is it any wonder, given this ruinous and unscriptural principle of sola scriptura, that Protestant Christianity has steadily “reformed” Christianity further and further away from itself and finally out of existence? Once you allow the deposit of faith to be changed to please the world, changed it will be; and once changed, it will no longer be the deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to His Holy Apostles.

As St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3-4:

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths and fables.

Have any words ever described our own times so well?


11 comments on “The Blasphemous Arrogance of John Calvin

  1. Dean Esmay says:

    While Eastern Orthodox can — with some arrogance I might note — claim that the Protestant disaster was caused by Vatican mismanagement, the truth is they were never, ever in the position that the Church in Rome was. While the in the East (as well as Alexandria and Assyria) Christians had to give up having the ear of the Emperor early on, when Rome fell apart in the West, the Church was asked to pick up the pieces and do the best it could. So while I am normally very warm and embracing of the other Orthodox, let me point out that it’s easy to judge when you weren’t in those shoes, and didn’t have Martin Luther and John Calvin and the cultural factors driving them that Rome did. Say what you will about this or that Vatican screwup–you guys weren’t in this position, and rather arrogant to not acknowledge it.

    (By “you” I don’t mean Eve in general, just all other orthodox confronting Protestantism.)

    While, like Rod Dreher (himself Eastern Orthodox) I would rather see Presbyterians and Lutherans returning strong to what is “orthodox” in their tradition, even moreso I want to see Protestants finally admit that, at minimum, Rome WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOME THINGS TOO. We don’t have to get into every fine detail to say it: the Vatican screwed up, but was that justification for centuries of war and hate? I don’t think so.

    Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide have to be the most pernicious heresies confronting Christianity since the Manichees. Really. Real the book yourself and it will all be plain to you if your heart’s in the right place? Pull the other one. The Bible was NEVER meant for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Political Tragic says:

    I was raised Calvinist Protestant myself, although my family left the Presbyterian denomination 15 years ago for, of all things, being insufficiently Calvinist. I’m not terribly learned beyond the 5 points of Calvinism everyone knows, but I’m inclined to say that this is not an unfair criticism.


  3. Bonsai says:

    I find this very interesting and am now pondering your thoughtful questions. We attend a non-denominational church that, from my lay person view, follows the scriptures. There is no condoning of lifestyles or actions against God’s word– but at the same time there is a strong message that we are all flawed and sinners and by that token need to love all people regardless of their particular sin problem.


    • Eve Keneinan says:

      Those are certainly core Christian teachings, but I have found the full Christian life flourishes only as a part of the living liturgical community. Those Christians not in communion with the apostolic church (it seems to me) are like plants living on a bare minimum of nourishment in an inhospitable soil; that is, the fullness of the Christian life only flowers within the shelter of Holy Tradition—of which the Holy Scriptures are a great part, but without the living tradition of the apostles and saints .. well, you get not much people can agree on. And there is so much more than this bare minimum!


      • Political Tragic says:

        Christianity without the saints, the arts, and the histories seems to me like Christianity on Expert Difficulty. There is still the Truth in the Scriptures, but rather than being more readily accessible to the average man, it is almost exponentially harder to internalize. I know I didn’t really feel a connection to the faith on any level but the shallowest until I started my rudimentary study of church history last year.


        • Eve Keneinan says:

          Protestantism’s anti-rationalism and anti-traditionalism has really deracinated many Christians. Some feel Holy Tradition to be “the dead hand of the past” but to me it is a beautiful living thing. The saints are not gone. They are here, with us.

          When we celebrate the divine liturgy, ALL Christians past, present, future, are ALL present, all one in the body of Christ. All our brothers and sisters, together in Christ, who is God, who is everywhere.

          What experience could be more profound?


  4. elisowen says:

    As an evangelical I find that I am distancing myself away from Sola Scriptura and other Calvinist ideas. Not that I was ever a full TULIP guy anyhow. Though while I am coming closer to Rome in my studies I come across various apologists for it and it seems to be almost two churches within it. So, it’s hard to see at times what is actually church teaching without two (or three) very different interpretations. Leaving out the Orthodox church since I have done even less studying on that sadly. I’m just ranting at this point, so I’ll pipe down.


  5. larryzb says:

    One must wonder at how Jesus’ message can be sliced and diced so many ways. At last count, something on the order of 28,000 denominations or sects of Christianity.


    • Eve Keneinan says:

      That is probably a bit high. The estimate of 30,000 comes from a source that counted every group with in a nation as “a denomination” so you would have to multiply groups like the Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Church by 220 or however many countries there are in the world. It was a very silly way to count denominations.

      Still, there are probably at least 6,000-9,000 variant Christian groups.


  6. Is it fair to say that the variety and number of protestant denominations is becoming irrelevant in a post-christian era? So much of what differentiates them is being pruned away with time, especially as Christians are facing an increasingly secular world. Is it possible, then, to agree to a sort of “mere” Christianity based on historic creeds, beliefs and sacraments? Eve, I am unsure what you think of “Touchstone” magazine, but I feel that it does a good job by bringing together Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant writers, with the assumption that there is enough common ground in the three branches to make some progress towards actual unity.

    As I read Patrick Henry Riordan and other writers, I get the sense that there are really only two branches of Christianity nowadays — modernist and orthodox (ortho with a small “o”). Liberal, mainline protestantism feels like a separate religion altogether, when compared to actual protestant Christians, and liberal Catholicism versus the real article makes me think the same thing. Could there be an emerging consensus between confessing, historic christians from the three branches, which would effectively render the 9,000 “variant groups” label as, well, meaningless?

    And besides that, is it really useful to lament all those denominations, when so many of them were formed at a time when much of the west was nominally Christian, and it was possible to thus form a whole denomination based on one punky little article.?I am protestant, but today I notice little, if any difference between the different kinds of protestants who actually believe. On the other hand, when I speak with liberal mainline protestants, I feel as if I am speaking to someone from a community college social science department.

    Thoughts? Thank for your blog; I really enjoy it.



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