Blog 180: 4.5.16 - 4.6.3

In critiquing the Roman Catholic Church for pursuing earthly riches, Calvin employs an interpretive principle that holds the Old Testament and the New Testament in proper relationship.

Calvin was critical of the Catholics for the magnificence of their churches and opulence of their living arrangements. Part of the Catholic rejoinder was that the worldly splendor of the church fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of a glorious kingdom: "kingly magnificence is beheld in the priestly order."

Calvin demurred because he saw the prophecies of glory fulfilled in spiritual--not material--realities. "We know," he said, "that the prophets sketched for us under the image of earthly things God's heavenly glory, which ought to shine in the church" (IV.v.17). For further support, Calvin also pointed to the example of the apostles, who established the kingdom of God in their poverty. Thus the true glory of a bishop "is to provide for the poor" (IV.v.17).

Chapter vi addresses the capstone of the Catholic argument for the supremacy of its hierarchy, namely, the primacy of the Roman see. Because Rome was the foremost church in the world, its bishop (i.e. the pope) held exclusive authority over the catholic and universal church.

Calvin denied that the primacy of Rome was originated by Christ or practiced by the ancient church, and thus believed that Rome was attempting to hold the church captive. Catholics pointed to Israel's high priest as an example of the need for a spiritual body to have a single head, but Calvin denied that what held true for one nation should or even could be extended to the whole world. Nor did Calvin accept that Christ's command to Peter--"Feed my sheep" (John 21:15)--gave that apostle (or his so-called successors) any exclusive claim to govern the worldwide church.