Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
TO THE MOST RENOWNED PRINCE, THE LORD NICOLAS RADZIWILL, DUKE IN OLIKA,
COUNTY PALATINE OF VILNA, CHIEF MARSHAL, AND HEAD CHANCELLOR OF THE GREAT DUKEDOM OF LITHUANIA, ETC.,
HIS LORD HIGHLY TO BE REVERENCED,
WHEREAS I have made mention of the names of those kings unto whom I had dedicated these my Commentaries, lest the change incur the crime of lightness among certain unskillful men, I must briefly render some reason thereof. For although both the remembrance of the father, who is dead, doth retain that reverence with me which it deserveth, and I do also, as becometh me, reverence the son; yet the importunities of certain did enforce me to put out 1 their names in this second edition, who, being incensed against me with a furious hatred and fear, lest the majesty of kings do purchase some favor to my writings, do boast abroad that they did conceive sore displeasure, that their name was mixed with the doctrine of the sacraments which they themselves disallow. I leave it indifferent whether that be true or no, neither do I pass; 2 forasmuch as I did neither hunt after any private gain, nor yet seek to win favor. But because it seemed to me an indecent and filthy thing to enforce those books upon men which are unwilling to entertain them, which do find willing readers enough, it was worth the declaring now, that I never did think any thing less; but that I did hope for more courtesy than I found. In that truly there can be no offense, if withdrawing myself from the contempt of those who loathe my dutifullness, I suffer them to enjoy those delights of theirs which they desire, and wherein they delight.
Of you, most famous prince, have I made choice, not without good cause, whom I might put in the place of two; both because I think you most worthy to have your name appear in the spiritual building of Christ’s temple; neither do I fear but that my book shall find the same friendship at your hands, which you did vouchsafe to declare towards me in your most gentle letters. But, omitting at this time the respect of private good-will, I will stay in another thing. Moreover, I may full well apply unto you that speech which I had before with another. Neither am I determined in this place to commend those most excellent virtues wherewith you have purchased great authority and singular favor with the King 3 of Polonia; I am rather bent unto an exhortation, the sum whereof shall be this, that with the like readiness and joyfulness wherewith you have at the beginning received the pure doctrine of the Gospel, that with the like stoutness of courage wherewith you have hitherto endeavored to maintain the true worship of God, you do with the same constancy prosecute this course unto the end.
It was surely a point of rare virtue, that whereas you did know that many did hate nothing more than the frank profession and free study of godliness, yet, so soon as the truth of the Gospel of Christ did once shine and appear unto you, you did not fear by giving your name to provoke their hatred against you. Neither do those offices and good turns deserve small praise, which you did not cease to bestow upon the cherishing and increasing of the first beginnings of the Church; although this your diligence did purchase unto you great envy amongst many noblemen, which did not allow the same. But, because you have no less hard straits to pass through, you must oftentimes stir up and encourage yourself to overcome them all, until you have finished the last act; and, so much the more carefully, because many princes, although they see the estate of the Church filthily corrupt, yet dare they attempt no remedy; because that danger which they fear will proceed from innovation, when evils must be driven out of their old and quiet possession, doth hinder and keep them back from doing their duty. Other some think it to be an absurd and foolish thing to touch (or set hand to) diseases which are incurable. Other some (I cannot tell through what forwardness) do flee from and abhor all manner of reformation. But to intreat of those lets wherewith you are environed on every side, it were superfluous, especially seeing you know them well enough. Yet, howsoever Satan doth assault you, and with what combats soever he doth exercise you, you cannot, without great wickedness, be weary of this holy warfare, which you have professed under Christ his banner. Furthermore, although you be forward enough of yourself, yet I hope it will neither be troublesome, nor yet unprofitable for you, to have your prosperous course of your earnest study, holpen and furthered with this help which God doth offer unto your hands by me. 4
So often as we see things tossed to and fro, and, as it were, turned topsy-turvy in the world, there can no more fit and sure prop be found to establish and stay our weak consciences, than when as setting before our eyes the kingdom of Christ, as it doth now appear, we consider what hath been 5 the estate and condition of the same from the beginning. When we speak of the kingdom of Christ, we must respect two things; the doctrine of the gospel, whereby Christ doth gather unto himself a church, and whereby he governeth the same, being gathered together; secondly, the society of the godly, who being coupled together by the sincere faith of the gospel, are truly accounted the people of God. Both which things, how lively they are expressed by Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, it is better to know by the reading of the whole book, than to believe either my commendation, or the commendation of any man else. For although the Son of God hath always reigned, even from the first beginning of the world, yet after that, being revealed in the flesh, he published his gospel, he began then to erect a more famous tribunal-seat than before, whence he doth now appear most plainly, and to be also most glorious. If we turn our eyes hither, they shall be fed, not with a vain picture, (as Virgil saith of his AEneas) but with the sound knowledge of those things from which we must fetch life. And to the end I may return unto that whereof I determined to speak, this is the best refuge for the conscience of men, where they may quietly rest amidst these troublesome tempests wherewith the world is shaken. Finally, this meditation alone shall bring to pass, that that shall never befall us, which too too many experiments do prove to have been truly spoken by Ennius in times past of the more part of men, that wisdom is driven away so often as the matter is handled by violence. For if, in the greatest and most vehement heat of combats, the sweet harmony of instruments was of such force amongst the Lacedemonians, that it did assuage that furiousness and fierceness which was engendered in that warlike people, and did temper that violence which doth then out of measure rage in those natures which are otherwise impatient, how much more shall the kingdom of Christ do this by the heavenly pleasant tune of the Holy Ghost, which doth not only tame most cruel beasts, but maketh also lambs of wolves, lions, and bears; which turneth spears into hooks, and swords into ploughshares?
Therefore, seeing that, most noble prince, I offer unto you such kind of temperature as the necessity of times requireth, I hope that this duty of mine shall not be unwelcome to your highness; so that, indeed, you shall perceive this kind of confirmation to be very profitable and fit to look into the beginning of the Church, as it is described of Luke, wherein appeareth both wonderful power of God under the reproach of the cross, and also most valiant patience of the servants of God, under the huge burden of troubles, and the success itself incredible to the judgment of the world, bringeth forth most plentiful fruit of both. But that I may omit other things which you had better set [seek] out by reading of Luke himself, I will touch one thing which is proper to earthly princes, and the chief governors of kingdoms and countries; to wit, that seeing that (the power of the whole world gainsaying, and all men which were then in authority being armed to oppress the gospel) a few men, obscure, unarmed, and contemptible, trusting only to the aid of the truth and the Spirit, did labor so stoutly in spreading abroad the faith of Christ, did refuse no pains nor danger, did stand stoutly against all assaults, until at length they got the victory; there remaineth no excuse for Christian nobles, who are of any dignity, seeing God hath furnished them with the sword to defend the kingdom of his Son, unless they be at least as constant and bold to take upon them such an honorable office.
Furthermore, it is not my part to declare how faithfully and uprightly I have behaved myself in interpreting this history. I hope, surely, my labor shall be fruitful to all men. And as for you, most worthy prince, I must again request and beseech you, that you do both privately addict yourself wholly unto Christ his government, as you have of late happily begun; and that you would also become not only a faithful helper, but also a most stout and valiant standard-bearer in furthering the kingdom of Christ unto so many noble men, whom not only the renown of their stock and lineage, but also the excellency of their virtues, doth commend. God hath vouchsafed to bestow upon the realm of Polonia a singular privilege of honor, that the better part of the nobility, bidding adieu to wicked superstitions, which are as many corruptions and pollutions of the worship of God, should desire with one consent a true form of godliness, and a well framed and reformed order of the Church. It is well known that these men were not a little aided by your authority. But there remain more combats both for you and also for them, than that, like overworn 6 soldiers, you should give yourselves to idleness and rest.
First, although no foreign enemy trouble you, you shall have business enough to withstand those evils which are at home with you. You have sufficiently tried with how many sleights Satan is furnished, that he may work some policy to overthrow that holy concord amongst brethren, wherein consisteth the safety of the Church; that befalleth you which is common everywhere, for troublesome men to thrust in themselves when things are out of order; who, whilst they see a few, and those weaklings troubled by a great multitude, and that they do with much ado defend the truth, which is covered with the thick clouds of false accusations, they do more easily come upon them unawares 7 And by this subtlety doth that chief worker of all deceit and guile seek the ruin of the Church, not only by cutting, mangling, and pulling in pieces the unity of the faith, but by burdening the name of Christ with false envy; because the companies of the godly, amongst whom these wicked knaves mix themselves, seem to be certain receptacles and sinks of all filthiness.
So, whilst that Stancarus, a man of a troublesome nature, doth, through that ambition wherewith he is wholly set on fire, spread abroad amongst you his dotings, hereupon brake out that contention which threateneth some scattering abroad; and you were laid open unto the slanders of many, because it was thought that his sect did spread itself farther. Behold, on the other side, a certain physician, called George Blandrata, worse than Stancarus, because his error is more detestable, and because he hath in his mind more secret poison. For which cause these also are the more worthy to be reproved, at whose hands the ungodliness of Servetus hath found such favor of such a sudden. For although I am persuaded that they are far from those perverse and sacrilegious opinions, yet they should have taken better heed, and not have suffered this fox craftily to creep into their company. Because such plagues will never be wanting, neither will Satan ever cease to bring abroad into the forefront such champions as have given over themselves to serve him, that he may trouble the beginnings of the gospel, it is for you to be continually in a readiness; and to the end you may prevent greater evils, you must set down right and godly manner of government, which is the faithful keeping of holy peace. For as it is manifest that purity of doctrine is the soul of the Church, so we may full well compare discipline unto the sinews, wherewith the body being bound and knit together, doth maintain his [its] strength.
Now, on the other side, the ungodliness of other enemies ought to sharpen your study (and earnestness,) I mean the preachers of Antichrist of Rome, who, to the end they may deceive the ignorant, do continually, with shrill voice, sound out the name of the Church. There is no controversy amongst us about the Church, but all grant that the authority thereof ought to be reverenced of all the children of God; save only that they, under false color of honor, do make the shadowish name of the Church subject to their lusts; we do so reverence the Church from our heart, that we account it great wickedness to profane the sacred name thereof. That I may omit other godly ministers of pure and sound doctrine, I myself have again and again heretofore in many places handled this question. When mention is made of the Church, whose head is the Son of God, and which he, who is the fountain of life eternal, doth always quicken by his Spirit, how ridiculous a thing it is to bring forth a body without a head, and, secondly, a dead carcass.
The hireling flatterers of the Pope do cry out that they have the Church; but we can know by no means better, whether this be true or no, than when we look unto the head. As for that, it is manifest that it is cut off by their sacrilegious violence. For how shall Christ retain the place of the head, being despoiled of all his power, thrown down from his government, deprived of his dignity? Upon this condition hath the heavenly Father made him the head of the Church, that he may govern all men from the greatest to the least, by the doctrine of his gospel; that he may be the only priest to reconcile the Father continually, as he hath once appeased his wrath by the sacrifice of his death; that his death may continually purge our sins; that his blood may be the only washing; that his obedience may be a perfect satisfaction; that he may be a (continual and) sole intercessor, through whose means our prayers may be heard; that he may be a faithful defender and tutor, that he may, by his aid, defend us; that (the vices of our flesh being tamed) he may reform us unto righteousness and holiness; that he alone may begin and finish in us a blessed life. If the Papists have left him any of these things, let them have the Church on their side. But if the Pope, oppressing men’s consciences with his fierce and more cruel tyranny, have disannulled and taken away Christ his government; if he have brought in a form of government altogether contrary to the gospel; if he have invented a new and strange priesthood, that he may thrust-in himself, being but a mortal man, to be the mediator between God and the world; if he have forged daily sacrifices, that he may trot them in Christ’s place; if he have invented a thousand satisfactions for sins; if he have brought reigned washings from the lake of hell, to make dry the blood of the Son of God; if he have put in his place infinite patrons; if he have torn in a thousand pieces that righteousness which must be set [sought] wholly from him; if, instead of the Holy Ghost, he have erected man’s free-will; it is, without all question, that the true Christ is banished far from Papistry. For this cause have I said that the Papists make boast of a dead carcass instead of the lively body of Christ, because, though they have extinguished the doctrine of the gospel, (which is the true soul of the Church, and which duly doth quicken the same,) yet they do greatly boast of a shadowish and trifling kind of Church.
We make it full well known how corrupt the purity of doctrine is amongst them, yea, with what monstrous errors it is polluted. They do not only cover all their corruptions under the shadow of the Church, but also complain that we do great injury to the Church, because we say that the same doth err. But they should first have examined the doctrine, that the Church might thereby be known. These just and honest judges will have the reigned title of doctrine to have sufficient force of prejudice to cover and suppress the difference, and that not to deceive men. For with what sleights and legerdemain would they assay to blear even dazzling eyes in so great light? But because they account this liberty of lying a part of their tyranny, they think they reign not as they would, unless they reproachfully mock miserable souls.
That we may set an example no farther, we have seen in our times, sometimes the Tridentine Fathers, sometimes the Fathers of Bononia, who, although they were even at daggers drawing among themselves, yet did they foam out their vain canons on both sides. And surely if men assent to their principles, the triumph shall be prepared on both sides. There sit there I cannot tell how many bishops and abbots, peradventure an hundred horned beasts. If the most fine flower of all the nation should shine there, yet should it be nothing else but a wicked conspiracy against God. And now after that the Pope hath gathered together the bran and chips of his unclean and filthy rotten flock, shall the representative Church suddenly appear there? And are they not yet ashamed to call that an holy, general, and lawful Council, which doth not deserve so much as to be called a vain and comical visor of a Council? But as for us, to whom the promise is made, that Antichrist, who sitteth in the temple of God, shall be destroyed with the breath of the Lord’s mouth; let not us (I say) cease to refute this filthy and whorish impudency, with that most sacred word which they so boldly mock, that all men may see what difference there is between the chaste spouse of Christ and the stinking whore of Belial; between the sanctuary of God and the brothel-house of Satan; between the spiritual house of the godly and the stye of hogs; and, finally, between the true Church and the court of Rome. There can no more certain or plain demonstration be brought concerning this matter either by Euclid, either yet by Archimedes, than if the Church, as Luke describeth it, be compared with the Popish synagogue. Neither am I so strait that I would have that confused lump, being altogether repugnant unto the order of nature and manner of humanity, to be agreeable in all points to the rule of the Apostles, which is angelical and heavenly. If they can show any thing wherein they are like unto them, 8 they may triumph for me; but forasmuch as all things are contrary, and although the more part of men become blind willingly, at least wise, [still] seeing the whole heavens do allow 9 us, we may not only contemn their brain-sick pride without any fear, but also freely speak evil of the same.
In the mean season, we have no small consolation to support us, that howsoever the Papists do set against us with stern countenance 10 the name and title of the Church, yet we know that we fight only against the professed enemies of Christ. We ought above all things to desire, that the most renowned king, who, according to his wisdom, hath long ago spied out the subtle sleights of the Romish court, commanding those vain bulls to avoid, 11 wherein the council boasteth afar off, may at length more freely apply his mind unto the earnest and perfect restoring of the Church; yet ought no lingering to keep you back, but every one of you must, with might and main, endeavor to enlarge and spread abroad those beginnings which are begun to arise so happily.
Farewell, most excellent lord and right renowned prince. The Lord always govern you with his Spirit, amplify by all means your dignity, and bless your godly enterprises even unto the end.
At Geneva, the 1st of August, 1560.
“Expungere,” to expunge.
“Neque vero mea interest,” indeed, I have no interest in it.
“Serenissimum regem,” most serene king.
“Tibi per manum meam,” to you by my hand.
“Ratio ejus et natura,” the nature and method, omitted.
“Emeriti,” discharged veterans.
“Quasi per cuniculos,” as by burrowing.
“Sibi affine,” have an affinity with them.
“Superciliose,” superciliously, haughtily.
“Evanescere,” to vanish, disappear.