On Tuesday, I wrote about what an an apparent contradiction within Calvinism: namely, trying to harmonize “perseverance of the saints,” the view that nobody falls away from the faith, with the Calvinist belief in a Great Apostasy, that the entire Church fell away from the faith. In response, I’ve seen two attempts to harmonize these two ideas. Neither of them, in my view, succeeds.
|Mary Solari, The Cardinal (1900)|
The first is that perseverance of the saints applies only to individuals, and that it wasn’t the individuals who went bad, but the institution. I see the distinction being drawn here, but I’m not sure I see how it solves the problem. How can the institution fall away without the individuals within the institution falling away? Even if you want to blame everything on Church leadership, the problem remains. Did these individual Church leaders fall away from the faith or not?
Additionally, this view doesn’t seem to address the breadth of Calvin’s criticisms of the Church. Calvin argued that the Mass itself was “a reprobate and diabolical ordinance subverting the mystery of the Holy Supper.” If this is true, it’s not just Church leaders who are to blame, but everyone who participates in the Mass, priests and laity alike. Blaming just Church leadership is a bit of a cop-out. After all, a believing Christan can’t participate in a “a reprobate and diabolical ordinance” just because someone else tells them to, right?
The last problem with this view is that, if it if it’s true, we should have seen immediate schisms from the Church, and we don’t. That is, Calvin claims that at some point in history (he’s necessarily vague as to when, since this isn’t true), the Church went from holding to a Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper to an evil Catholic view of the Eucharist. If this was simply a case of the Church institution being co-opted by non-Christians, where did the Christians go?
If the Church had been taken over by non-Christians, why didn’t we see immediate schism, or at least some sort of organized resistence? When the Anglican Communion started permitting the ordination of women and practicing homosexuals, there was push-back from the conservative quarters, and even the creation of new denominations, like the Anglican Church in North America. But we see nothing of the sort within the Catholic Church regarding the Eucharist, prior to the Reformation. Even the proto-Reformers, like Jan Hus, believed in impanation, which would is no less idolatrous from a Calvinist perspective.
The second attempt to harmonize comes from David Bates, a Catholic trying to give Calvinism the benefit of the doubt. He asks:
Could the Calvinist affirm that those early Christians were elect and did persevere, but then after a while, fake Christians entered the Church? The elect persevered but eventually died, leaving only the fake Christians, who were not part of the elect. This situation then continued for many centuries until the Gospel was “recovered” in the 16th Century. With the Gospel recovered, new elect were born, became Christians and persevered to the end.
This is similar, by the way, to the view that Mormons take. They argue that there were believing Christians, but that they failed to make devout converts, so the Church quickly fell into Apostasy.
But in both cases, the problem is the same. Christ prophesies that just as seed that falls on good soil will produce a thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and even hundred-fold crop, so too will those who hear the word and accept it (Mark 4:20).
So the view that the Church founded by Jesus Christ produced no crop, no second generation of true Christians, runs directly counter to the promises of Jesus. It requires believing that the good tree bore no fruit, while the evil Catholic tree bore all of the fruit that Jesus had promised to the good tree (see Luke 6:43).