A Reformation Debate

A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto, Edited by John Olin with a historical forward by Lester DeKoster ★★★★

This book is constructed as follows. DeKoster provides a historical overview of the current debate, followed by the letter that Jacopo Sadoleto wrote to the people of Geneva, and then followed by a rebuttal by John Calvin. The appendix then contains a review (extracted from Calvin’s Institutes) of Calvin’s theology of justification, followed by statements from the Council of Trent regarding justification by faith. The historical setting is 1539, and Calvin is in Strasbourg, having been ousted from Geneva. Knowing of the absence of Calvin and Feril in Geneva, the Catholic Cardinal writes a letter appealing to the folk in Geneva to return to the Roman Catholic church. Geneva, realizing Calvin’s literary skills, appeals to him to write a rebuttal, which he does. Soon afterward, Calvin returns to Geneva to continue a ministry there until the end of his life.

Both Calvin and Sadoleto write eloquently, though both debaters would be labeled a touch prolix by today’s standards. Sadoleto appeals to the absence of salvation outside of the Roman Catholic church, while Calvin rebuts how the Catholic Church has turned itself into a corrupt institution that preaches a false “gospel”.

The appendix is of great value in reminding the reader as to what is at stake in this argument. The vast divide between Roman Catholic thinking on justification versus Reformed/Lutheran thinking on justification will be noted by simply reading the two statements, that of Calvin in the Institutes compared to that as found in the output of the Council of Trent. In the church where I was saved, the doctrine of justification would have fit quite well with the Council of Trent. Over time and much reading of Scripture, my leaning has turned very strongly in favor of the Reformed view of justification. I believe that Luther and Calvin got the essentials of justification correct. Still, there are canons (anathemas) of the Council of Trent which I (and most Protestants) would favorably agree with. There are a few canons that the Protestant Church has not adequately addressed. I refer as an example to canon 21 “If anyone says that Christ Jesus was given by God to men as a redeemer in whom to trust, and not also as a legislator whom to obey, let him be anathema”. This statement rings loud as a parallel to the Auchterarder creed which was bitterly fought over in Scotland a century later. It reads “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we are to forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in our covenant with God”. Perhaps the Auchterarder creed was written in the light of and to counter canon 21, perhaps not, yet both statements need much clarification before deeming them most consistent with Biblical teaching.

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