Blog 177: 4.4.11 - 4.5.1

Paul Helm

Another aspect of ecclesiastical order is the election of bishops. (Calvin shows considerable knowledge of the early church, perhaps reflecting the days when his father had him trained as a canon lawyer?)  Once more, his aversion to disorder disturbs the mind of the aristocratically-minded Reformer. The problem with the popular election of bishops is that 'it scarcely ever happens that so many heads can unanimously settle any matter'. (4.4.12) The  'excellent remedy' for such a potentially disorderly state of affairs was that the bishops and clergy first took their candidate-Bishop to the magistrates or senate and leading citizens, and then presented their 'approved candidate' to the people. Bingo! (Do magistrates and leading citizens never disagree?)

This combined clergy-laity model of election continued until Gregory and probably beyond that time. Then begins the descent to the corruption of the Roman See, and the establishment of a hierarchy.

So much for the bishops of the ancient church and their election. Now Calvin's mood changes, and the reader is prepared for his account of the decline and fall of the Roman Church. What of the Roman Catholic bishops of Calvin's own day? Bishops are no longer ministers of the word ('Scarcely one man in a hundred has been elected who has comprehended anything of sacred learning' ( 4.5.1))  No longer ministers of the word, but the ignorant, the dissolute, the playboy - even a ten year old boy - these are now the Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ. These are to depths to which, under the corrupting influence of the See of Rome, the office of bishop has sunk!