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 TO THE SENATE AND PEOPLE OF GENEVA
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.
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
REPLY BY CALVIN TO CARDINAL SADOLET'S LETTER.
JOHN CALVIN TO JAMES SADOLET, CARDINAL, - HEALTH.
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 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.