Calvin's Critique of the Papacy: a historical and theological study
Fung, Darren Chung Keung
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The objective of this dissertation is to clarify Calvin's thought and attitude towards the papacy by tracing the development of his critique of the bishop of Rome throughout his career. Chapter One introduces the state of research on Calvin's critique of the papacy in the last century. This brief examination reveals that studies on Calvin's critique are hampered by a lack of historical treatment of the development of Calvin's thought as well as biased by the ecumenical assumptions of some of the researchers. Our thesis is that Calvin did reject the pope's primacy absolutely and this is based on the pope's relation to the true doctrine of the gospel and to Christ. This apparently simple conclusion, however, can only be arrived at by studying Calvin's thought in its historical development, exploring his attitude and the themes and reasons of his criticism of the papacy in each phase. Upon reading and rereading of Calvin' s works relating to his critique of the papacy the thesis organises Calvin's critique into five phases in which his conflicts with the papacy progresses from one stage to another. Chapter Two explores the earliest period of Calvin's reform career. It confirms not only that there were already latent conflicts in Calvin' s mind against the papacy, but also that the chief concerns evident in his later critique of the papacy were already present. Chapter Three studies how Calvin came into open conflicts with the papacy through his correspondence with his friend du Tillet and Cardinal Sadoleto. It also recounts how Calvin reshaped the purpose of his 1536 Institutio to enable editions from 1539 onwards to become a theological platform against his opponents. Chapter Four investigates how Calvin's conflicts with the papacy intensified. It demonstrates the importance of Calvin's participation in the colloquies of 1540-41 for leading the reformer to concentrate his effort to refute the primacy of the Roman see. This reaches its fulfilment in his publication of the highly important 1543 Institutio in which Calvin rejects the primacy of the pope comprehensively. Chapter Five examines a stage of climactic conflicts. It culminates in his unforgiving rejection of the pope in his Antidote to the Council of Trent. But this stage also reveals surprising information about Calvin's 'concessions' to the papacy, yet without compromising his consistent rejection of papal primacy. Chapter Six delineates the limits of Calvin's ecumenical vision and recounts the unbending attitude of the reformer towards the pope at the end of his life. In all these chapters we find consistent reasons explaining Calvin's absolute rejection of the primacy of the pope. At the same time we also detect that there is a form of papacy that could have been acceptable to Calvin. Therefore in the last chapter, apart from linking up the connections of Calvin' s criticism of the papacy in its historical development, a theological interpretation is given of the complexities of these seemingly incompatible ideas, and we also attempt to draw out the ecumenical implications of Calvin's criticism.