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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Lecture One Hundred and Seventy-fifth

Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Lecture One Hundred and Seventy-fifth

We said yesterday, that the priests of the ancient Church were made its guides on the condition that they faithfully discharged their office, and further, that when wicked priests who acted perfidiously in their office boasted of their dignity, this false pretense was to be deemed as nothing, the title being claimed without the reality. These two things we have explained.

We must now see whether this applies to the state and discipline of the Christian Church. The Papists deny this, for they wish to rule freely and with unbridled license, and to perform nothing to God, as though their very dignity nullified his authority; but they cannot shake off the yoke, except they deprive God of all his right. Nor is it a wonder that they act in this way; for even under the law the Prophet had a hard contest with ungodly priests, who had fallen away from the duties of their office, their calling being ever in their mouths, though they very far departed from the law which God had prescribed to them. There is therefore nothing new in the case of the Papists, who seek to be free from every law, that they may do whatever they please and despise all reproofs; for they indeed possess power, and that tyrannical and barbarous. But what they say we ought to disregard, for God declares from above what we here read in the Prophet's words, -- that he so rules the Church, that he is supreme above all mortals. It was not God's will, most surely, after Christ's coming in the flesh, to abandon the care and government of his Church, nor was it his will to be forced to submit as a private individual. If then the authority of God remains at this day safe and secure, it follows that nothing is changed in this respect as to his right over the priesthood. Whatever authority they pretend, who would be deemed pastors of the Church, they must necessarily so continue in their station as faithfully to perform the office which has been committed to them from above; for as God has raised them to that great honor, so he has also stipulated with them, that they should faithfully rule the Church.

But if the Papal clergy compare themselves with the Levitical priests, they will find that the latter had the advantage; for God, as it is well known, instituted an hereditary priesthood under the law. His purpose was, that after the coming of Christ pastors should be made by the suffrages of the Church; but the Levitical tribe claimed this honor as their own right under the law; for God had deposited the right and honor of the priesthood in that tribe. If then the Papists contend that more is due to them than to the Levitical priests, their claim is absurd; for there is no hereditary right, so that sons succeed their fathers in the ministry or pastoral office. We hence see that if a comparison be in this respect made, the priesthood under the law was as to succession far more important. And we know also what God had promised to Aaron and to his successors. From Aaron the dignity passed to the posterity of Phinehas, and he seems to have been favored, and also his descendants, with an unalienable right. But God here expostulates with the priests, because they had violated the compact; and hence he says that he was no longer bound to them, because they had become covenant-breakers and apostates. Let now the Pope, with all his party, pretend what they please, most certain it is, that all they can allege vanish into nothing compared with the lofty claims which the Levitical priests might have apparently made.

The Pope says that the apostolic seat was fixed at Rome, because it was said to Peter, |Thou art Peter,| etc. (Matthew 16:18.) I will not stop here to refute trifles of this kind; for there is no need of many words in discussing this point -- whether this ought to be confined to the person of Peter, or whether it is to be extended to others; as it is not there stated. He says that Peter was a Roman bishop. Though this be conceded, (which yet can be easily disproved by history,) it does not follow that the primacy by a sort of hereditary right was transferred to all Roman bishops. Hence the succession, of which they proudly boast, is a mere fume. But were we to grant all they require, we must make this exception, -- that the priesthood was not fixed to the place, so that every one called the bishop of the Roman Church should at the same time obtain the primacy, and be reputed head of the whole Church.

We must also in the second place see what sort of thing is the Papal priesthood; for though that beast appoints his own priests, it follows not that it is the ordination of Christ: nor is it anything like it. For what is a priest under the Papacy? even one who sacrifices Christ, that is, who robs Christ of that honor which the heavenly Father has confirmed to him by a solemn oath. Christ was called a priest; and this honor, as I have just said, was confirmed to him by an oath. All the Papal priests are inaugurated into their office, it at they may sacrifice: |We give to thee power to offer appeasing sacrifices;| for thus they inaugurate them: and such words are suitable to the Papists; for those magical superstitions, which the Romans formerly used, continue still under the Papacy. We hence see, that when we examine the Papal priesthood according to the rule of Christ, it is altogether profane, nay, wholly sacrilegious.

But were their calling lawful, were we to grant that they are pastors of the Church, by a continued succession from the apostles, we must yet deny that they are to be allowed to claim all kinds of liberty and to tyrannize over the Church without being reproved; for whence do they derive such a privilege?

We therefore in short draw this conclusion -- that what we read here of the Levitical priests not only applies to the Papal priests, but also bears with much more force against them; for they have no hereditary honor, their calling is not true nor legitimate, and they cannot be counted the pastors of the Church; on the other hand, they deprive Christ of his honor, yea, they daily sacrifice and slay him. We hence conclude, that they ought by no means to be suffered in the Church, for the covenant of God ought to remain inviolable; and what is it? that they keep the law of God in their mouth, and be his messengers and interpreters. When we see that these are dumb idols, yea, when we see that they turn the whole truth of God into falsehood, how can this barbarity be suffered? God is excluded, and the devil himself in the persons of men adulterates the whole worship of God, perverts, demolishes, and even reduces to nothing the whole of religion! and he also fills with lies the Church, which ought to be the sanctuary of truth!

These things might have been more fully handled; but it is enough briefly to show how foolishly the Papal clergy boast that they possess the honor of the priesthood, when yet it is evident that there is no right, no authority, when faith is not kept with God and with his Church. Let us now proceeds

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