Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sanctam Ecclesiam: Clement vs. Calvin on the Church’s Holiness

The four marks of the church, according to the Nicene Creed, are its unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity (“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”). As we continue to take our discussion of Catholicism and Protestantism ad fontes (back to the sources), we turn in this post from the church’s unity to her holiness. Representing the Catholic position will be Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, c. 210 A.D.), and representing the Protestants will be John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.1.17, 1559).

"There is one true Church, the really ancient Church into which are enrolled those who are righteous [holy] according to Gods ordinance.... In essence, in idea, in origin, in preeminence we say that the ancient Catholic Church is the only Church. The Church brings together [the faithful] by the will of the one God through the one Lord, into the unity of the one faith...."
Since Clement basically combines all four marks without giving much attention to that of holiness, I will supplement him with the entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"When the Church points to sanctity as one of her notes, it is manifest that what is meant is a sanctity of such a kind as excludes the supposition of any natural origin. The holiness which marks the Church should correspond to the holiness of its Founder, of the Spirit Who dwells within it, of the graces bestowed upon it. A quality such as this may well serve to distinguish the true Church from counterfeits. It is not without reason that the Church of Rome claims to be holy in this sense. Her holiness appears in the doctrine which she teaches, in the worship she offers to God, in the fruits which she brings forth."
And now Calvin:

"Because they also allege that the church is not without basis called holy, it is fitting to examine in what holiness it excels lest, if we are not willing to admit a church unless it be perfect in every respect, we leave no church at all.… The Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots. From this it follows that the church's holiness is not yet complete. The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached its goal of holiness…. And although there are oftentimes few evidences of this sort of sanctification among men, still we must hold that from the creation of the world there was no time when the Lord did not have his church; and even until the consummation of the age, there will be no time when he will not have it. For even though the whole human race has from the very beginning been corrupted and vitiated by Adam's sin, from this polluted mass, as it were, He ever sanctifies certain vessels unto honor."
In Calvin’s view, it seems, the holiness of the church is seen in the holiness of her members, while Clement’s position is that the church’s holiness is manifested in her doctrine and ancient pedigree.

OK, opine away....