Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements.

-          C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Ryan Reeves, while discussing Calvin in Strasbourg, offers some commentary on the letters between a Catholic cardinal, Sadoleto, and John Calvin.   The timing is after Calvin has been banished from Geneva; the cardinal considers this a good opportunity to bring the Christians of Geneva back into the Catholic fold.  The letter is addressed to the leaders of Geneva.  You got in bed with the wrong people; you have rightly banished them.  Now come back to the true Church.

Reeves describes Sadoleto as somewhat reformist.  He was not a Protestant and was not going to become one, but he saw things in the revolt that he could appreciate: issues of doctrinal conformity to the Scriptures, the abuses of the papacy, etc.  It’s just that the Protestants had gone too far.

Sadoleto, in fact, was even suspect in the Catholic Church – too reformist.  He had later written an expository on Romans which subsequently was banned by the Church.  So, it seems, he was not Protestant, but he was coming close to a line.

As Calvin had been banished, why would he thereafter be the one to reply on the account of Geneva?  None in Geneva had the skill to answer the letter, so from Geneva the letter was forwarded to Bern.  From here, Calvin was pushed to the fore.  Of course, there were others who could easily have written a response, but it was decided that Calvin had reconciled himself sufficiently with the other Reformers, and that this was a chance for him to return to the fore and to the good graces of the church in Geneva.

Calvin’s response is perhaps three times as long as Sadoleto’s letter.  The focus is primarily the nature of the Church; if an example of reasonably good nature in Calvin was necessary (it was, given his past) this letter offers it.  Calvin’s response brings him back into the lead rank of Reformers. 

I offer excerpts from the two letters – only something from each introduction and each concluding paragraph.  These sections are quite cordial; the rest, not as much.  However if compared to some of the exchanges between Luther and the Church, you would say that this was merely a friendly squabble. 

If you have time, these letters in their entirety make for good Sunday reading.  The issues are quite plainly laid out, and in a manner, perhaps, as respectful as possible given the situation.  I read them and find validity in both arguments.  Am I lukewarm, to be spit out?  Maybe.  Or maybe I just find that the disagreements are, in most cases, so nuanced, that 99% of the adherents to one side or the other cannot really put into simple words the significance of the differences (except, maybe, regarding Mary – not even mentioned by either party in this exchange).


Sadolet's Letter and Calvin's Reply



James Sadolet, Bishop Of The Holy Roman Church At Carpentras, Cardinal, Presbyter Of The Order Of St. Calixtus, To His Dearly Beloved Brethren, The Magistrates, Senate, And Citizens Of Geneva

From the Introducing paragraphs:

VERY DEAR BRETHREN IN CHRIST, - Peace to you and with us, that is, with the Catholic Church, the mother of all, both us and you, love and concord from God, the Father Almighty, and from his only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, together with the Holy Spirit, perfect Unity in Trinity; to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

…For, dearest brethren, this my affection and good-will towards you is not new, but ever since the time when, by the will of God, I became Bishop of Carpentras, almost twenty- three years ago, and in consequence of the frequent intercourse between you and my people, had, though absent, learned much of you and your manners, even then began I to love your noble city, the order and form of your republic, the worth of its citizens, and, in particular, that quality lauded and experienced by all, your hospitality to strangers and foreigners; and since vicinity often tends in no small degree to beget love, so, in a city, contiguous houses, as well as in the world, adjacent provinces lead to regard among neighbors.

The conclusion:

It only remains to beg of you to receive the messenger, who bears this letter to you, with the civility and kindness which your own humanity and the law of nations, and, above all, Christian meekness, require and demand. While this will be honorable to you, it will also be extremely agreeable to me. God guide and mercifully defend you, my dearest brethren.

Carpentras, XV. Cal Apr. (18th March) 1539




The opening paragraph:

IN the great abundance of learned men whom our age has produced, your excellent learning and distinguished eloquence having deservedly procured you a place among the few whom all, who would be thought studious of liberal arts, look up to and revere, it is with great reluctance I bring forward your name before the learned world, and address to you the following expostulation. Nor, indeed, would I have done it if I had not been dragged into this arena by a strong necessity. For I am not unaware how reprehensible it would be to show any eagerness in attacking a man who has deserved so well of literature, nor how odious I should become to all the learned were they to see me stimulated by passion merely, and not impelled by any just cause, turning my pen against one whom, for his admirable endowments, they, not without good reason, deem worthy of love and honor. I trust, however, that after explaining the nature of my undertaking, I shall not only be exempted from all blame, but there will not be an individual who will not admit that the cause which I have undertaken I could not on any account have abandoned without basely deserting my duty.

The conclusion:

The Lord grant, Sadolet, that you and all your party may at length perceive, that the only true bond of Ecclesiastical unity would exist if Christ the Lord, who hath reconciled us to God the Father, were to gather us out of our present dispersion into the fellowship of his body, that so, through his one Word and Spirit, we might join together with one heart and one soul.

Basle, September 1, 1539


I conclude with Lewis, regarding the different “rooms” that Christians find themselves in:

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house.


  1. Mr. M.,

    That goes BOTH ways. None should persecute the other.

    1. Ron, I am confused about the meaning in your comment. Did I write something about persecuting one side or the other? If anything came across this way, it was not my intent.

    2. Mr. M.,

      My apologies for being vague, I answered hastily while preparing for church. I was responding to the C.S. Lewis quote at the end of the article.

    3. Thanks, Ron. I try my best to be as neutral as possible when it comes to dealing with topics that cross theological lines - between Catholics, Protestants (of all stripes), etc. Especially as I try to keep my focus on the historical ramifications of the issues, and not the issues themselves.

      I am sure I fail at this often, so I always appreciate feedback in such cases.


  2. I think the best to hope for is that Catholic and Protestant find specific issues where we can work together and do so, without trying to convince the other side to become "us".

    The theological differences may be nuanced, but I don't think either side will budge on the perpetual virginity of Mary, Papal authority, the infusion of grace through sacrament, purgatory, etc.

    I know I wouldn't ever consider it. But I would undoubtedly work with Catholics to protect religious freedom, end abortion, criticize war, support racial equality, teach the Trinity, teach Jesus as God, etc.

    1. I agree. I would also support always continuing ecumenical dialogue, as I believe many (not all) of the disputes are due to not understanding each other well - instead, the disputes are driven by the desire to hold on to earthly power.

    2. "...driven by the desire to hold on to earthly power."

      Exactly. It's pride above all that drives the wedge into Christendom.

  3. I understand you prefer not to write about contemporary culture and politics. But... I'm so interested to hear your thoughts on covid, the riots, and the election. I miss your influence in my thinking.

    1. Patrick, on covid I believed (and continue to believe) that the initial lockdowns and destruction of the economy were for the purpose of flooding the financial system with liquidity - a pretext.

      Since then, this event has allowed tyrants in all branches of all governments to be tyrannical in many ways.

      Further thoughts here:

      There is more. Apparently you have not visited for some time.

      As to the riots and election, all three events are connected - I touch on this some in the above post.

    2. I have not visited in some time. Mostly just my own obsession with having a steadfast argument to support my stubborn refusal to go along with the narrative. It's time consuming, really. Thanks for the links!

  4. "When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

    Amen. C.S. Lewis was a great man.