Blog 111: 3.4.36 - 3.5.2
More attacks on man's perennial problem of a works-righteousness mentality, this time by medieval Catholic insistence that "love covers a multitude of sins" - that is, with God. Calvin correctly interprets misinterpreted passages of Scriptures viewed as suggesting that works of pity, love and kindness on the part of those wishing to be received back into communion in the church following some grievous sin "satisfy" for sin in God's sight, claiming the support of Church Father's - a suggestion that is like a red-rag to a bull to the Reformer who variously describes this shoddy scholarship as "twisted," and the work of "unwashed hands."
From this arises (3.5.1) the "mad" Catholic doctrine of "indulgences" - "the distribution of the merits of Christ and the martyrs, which the pope distributes by his bulls," according to which salvation could be bought at the price of "a few coins ... which were filthily spent on whores, pimps, and drunken revelries." Calvin's language reaches new heights of expressive anger and disgust: Traffickers in "the treasury of the church" engage in "tricks, deceit, thefts, greediness," and are "a profanation of the blood of Christ, a Satanic mockery."
Why the vitriolic language? Because, for Calvin, they deny what is at the heart of the gospel: that sin is forgiven by the shed blood of Christ alone and made effectual in us by faith alone. "The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin " (1 John 1:7).
Salvation, Calvin insists, is by Christ alone, without any other mediating agent. The doctrine and practice of indulgences is unbiblical, a gross-violation of the principle that salvation belongs to God alone and not to some cooperative agency of angels, saints or virgin.