The Anabaptists and their Stepchildren - by F.N. Lee
The development of the paidobaptist Calvin's anti-Anabaptist views
When Calvin was suddenly converted to recognizing the Lordship of Christ -- around the age of twenty-four -- he saw this as his own yielding to the Triune God Who had previously sealed him at his infant baptism many years earlier in 1509. It was only in 1533 that he underwent the internal crisis of sudden conversion to Christ. That was followed, three years later, by the first edition of his great work: The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Later, in 1557, Calvin first published the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms. There, he furnished it with an account of some of the events leading up to his earlier "sudden conversion" (and then to his production of the Institutes) --about a quarter of a century earlier.
Already at the front of the first edition of his Institutes, in his 1536 Preface to Francis King of France, Calvin was defending himself against the Romish charge that the Calvinists were Anabaptists. Together with the Romanists, Calvin too opined that the "tumults and disputes" of Anabaptism "ought to be ascribed to the malice of Satan...by means of his Catabaptists and other portentous miscreants."243
Accordingly, Calvin had written his Institutes of the Christian Religion. He had done so, precisely to persuade the Romish King Francis that the Calvinists stood with the Romanists against those Satanic Anabaptists.
Later yet, the Reformer wrote in the 1557 Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms244 that around 1533 "God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame." At that time, however, "certain wicked and lying pamphlets were circulated" by the persecuting French Romanists. They cruelly assailed the true Protestants -- only obliquely, yet very effectively.
They did so, explained Calvin, by "stating that none were being treated with such cruelty -- except Anabaptists and seditious persons who by their perverse ravings and false opinions were overthrowing not only religion but also all civil order....
"It appeared to me, that unless I opposed them to the utmost of my ability -- my silence could not be vindicated from the charge of cowardice and treachery. This was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institutes of the Christian Religion" -- in 1536.
The mature Calvin's commitment to infant faith before baptism
In his Institutes, Calvin repudiated245 the above-mentioned Romish allegations that the Biblical Protestants -- those who witnessed for the purity of Christ's Gospel -- were "Anabaptists and seditious persons." Indeed, the very actions of the revolutionary Anabaptists themselves -- even toward the Calvinists -- clearly indicated the untruthfulness of the above anti-Calvinistic allegations of the Romanists.
As Calvin next stated, also "the Anabaptists began to assail us." Understandably so. For the Calvinists had opposed the revolutionism of the Anabaptists -- including their revolutionary repudiation of infant baptism for covenant children. Clearly, the revolutionary Anabaptists had broken with the Historic Church in a very major way.
In his Institutes, Calvin therefore attacked246 the "madness" of these "certain giddy men...who while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit..., deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they [the Anabaptists] call 'the dead and deadly letter.' But I wish they would tell me what 'spirit' it is whose 'inspiration' raises them to such a 'sublime' height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture!"
Against Scripture, "the Anabaptists...condemn all [oaths] without exception."247 Indeed, added Calvin,248 "some Anabaptists in the present age mistake some indescribable sort of frenzied excess for the regeneration of the Spirit, holding that the children of God...need give themselves no anxiety about curbing the lust of the flesh....
"It would be incredible that the human mind could proceed to such insanity.... There would be no difference -- then -- between whoredom and chastity; [between] sincerity and craft.... They say the Spirit will not bid you do anything that is wrong --provided you sincerely and boldly leave yourself to His agency.
"Who is not amazed at such monstrous doctrines? And yet, this philosophy is popular with those who -- blinded by insane lusts -- have thrown off common sense. But what kind of Christ, pray, do they fabricate? What kind of Spirit do they belch forth?
"We [Protestant Christians] acknowledge one Christ, and His one Spirit -- Whom the prophets foretold and the Gospel proclaims as actually manifested. But we hear nothing of this kind [from the Anabaptists], respecting Him. That Spirit is not the patron of murder, adultery, drunkenness, pride, contention, avarice and fraud -- but the Author of love, chastity, sobriety, modesty, peace, moderation and truth.
"He is not a Spirit of giddiness, rushing rashly and precipitately, without regard to right and wrong -- but full of wisdom and understanding, by which He can duly distinguish between justice and injustice. He instigates not to lawless and unrestrained licentiousness, but -- discriminating between lawful and unlawful -- teaches temperance and moderation.
"But why dwell longer in refuting that brutish frenzy [of the Anabaptists]? To Christians, the Spirit of the Lord is not a turbulent phantom which they themselves have produced by dreaming -- or received ready-made by others. But they religiously seek the knowledge of Him -- from Scripture."
Calvin then noted249 that "certain frenzied spirits have raised and even now continue to raise great disturbance in the Church on account of paedobaptism.... The practice which we have of baptizing little children, is impugned and assailed by some malignant spirits....
"It will be very seasonable to...refute the lying objections which such seducers might make.... Should it [infant baptism] appear to have been devised merely by human rashness -- let us abandon it.... But should it be proved to be by no means destitute of His sure authority -- let us beware of discarding the sacred institutions of God, and thereby insulting their Author!"
Unitarian Anabaptist Servetus versus Trinitarian Reformer Calvin
Calvin the consistent Trinitarian defended his own baptismal views especially against those of the antitrinitarian and antipaidobaptistic heretic Servetus the Unitarian Anabaptist. Those defences are very instructive.
To Calvin, "Servetus was both an Anabaptist and the worst of heretics."250 For Servetus and his followers repudiated not only the triune baptisms of covenant children -- but even the Triune God Himself. Nevertheless, Calvin still gave even Servetus every opportunity to put his case.
As Calvin wrote in his Last Admonition of Westphal (in 1557): "I have not taught in word anything that I have not confirmed by act. For when Servetus was, by nefarious blasphemies, overthrowing whatever piety exists in the world -- I, nevertheless, called him to discussion; and not only came prepared to give an account of my own doctrine, but chose rather to swallow the reproaches of that vilest of men, than furnish a bad example by enabling anyone afterwards to object that he was crushed without being heard."
Explained Calvin:251 "In our day have arisen certain frantic men, such as Servetus and others who by new devices have thrown everything into confusion.... The name of Trinity was so much disliked, nay detested, by Servetus - - that he charged all whom he called 'Trinitarians' with being atheists." For to Servetus, they were 'polytheists' and hence unbelievers in one God alone.
Continued Calvin regarding Servetus: "The sum of his speculations [about God] was that a threefold deity [alias a compound of three separate gods] is introduced wherever three Persons are said to exist in His essence.... He [Servetus] sometimes cloaks his absurdities in allegory, as when he says that the eternal Word of God was the Spirit of Christ with God.... He at last reduces the divinity of both to nothing; maintaining that...there is a part of God as well in the Son as in the Spirit -- just as the same spirit substantially is a portion of God in us, and also in wood and stone."
Of his several serious errors, it was the antitrinitarianism of the Anabaptist Servetus which was by far the worst. Explained Calvin:252 "Out of many, let the one example of Servetus suffice. For this man who was already puffed up with Portuguese pride and is now even more swollen with his own arrogance, made up his mind that the best way to make a name for himself was to overthrow all the principles of religion. Accordingly, not only does he repudiate as absurd all that was taught by the Fathers ever since the apostolic age itself and accepted by all believers all down the course of the ages -- but he also criticizes it, and tears it to pieces with the cruelest of insults....
"He imagines that the Word of God [alias the Eternal Son] did not exist before Moses introduces God speaking in the creation of the world." To Servetus, "when God put forth such great power as He did, it is as if He [the Word] actually began to exist only then -- rather than that He [thus] gave evidence of His eternal being..... [To Servetus, Christ] is the 'Son of God' only by the right that He was conceived in the womb of the virgin.... Servetus collects many wagonloads of speculations, which are so meaningless that it is easy for any sensible man to see that only someone bewitched by a blind love of himself can be so foolish."
Calvin further observed253 that "Servetus, not the least among the Anabaptists," also wrongly assumes that "infants...are unable to believe." To Servetus, for that reason, all infants still "lie under condemnation."
Replied Calvin: "Seeing it is certain that [covenantal] infants are blessed by Him [Christ], it follows that they are freed from death.... Servetus cannot show that by divine appointment several years must elapse before the new spiritual life begins. Paul's testimony is that...the children of believers are holy by supernatural grace....
"Servetus [himself] afterwards adds that no man becomes our brother, unless by the spirit of adoption -- which is only conferred by the hearing of faith." Calvin answered: "Who will presume from this, to give [or prescribe] the law to God -- and say that He may not ingraft infants into Christ by some other secret method" than by hearing the Word physically through one's ears?
Servetus, continued Calvin, "objects that Cornelius was baptized after receiving the Holy Spirit.... He objects that infants cannot be regarded as new men.... But what I have said again and again, I now repeat.... From non-age...God takes His own methods of regenerating."
In a letter to Servetus, Calvin made an even more pertinent remark. "We say that Christ extends His hand to the children of holy parents as soon as they are born or conceived ('simul ac nascitur') -- in order to liberate them from the general guilt of sin."254
We cannot here deal with Calvin's minor role in the final trial of Servetus -- before the then still non-Calvinistic magistrates of Geneva. Harvard's Dr. G.H. Williams was sympathetic toward that heretic. Yet even Williams wrote255 "that Servetus the anti-Nicene anti-Chalcedonian Anabaptist was not a pacifist. He expressly recognized the state as ordained by Christ, and he legitimated as proper to a Christian magistrate the punishment of obstinate or blasphemous heretics by death....
"As the trial ran its course Servetus was variously --headstrong, truculent, and plaintive.... He demanded that Calvin be imprisoned likewise, with death to one or the other under the poena talionis.... Bullinger of Zurich...asked for the death penalty.... The condemnation of Servetus' doctrine was unanimous.... The public prosecutor Claude Rigot -- himself a Libertine! -- accused Servetus of subverting the social order, of a dissolute life, and of affinity with Jews and Turks....
"The court found Servetus guilty..., and condemned him to be burned at the stake.... Calvin intervened to secure an execution more merciful than death by burning, but the judgment was not changed. It was Farel who conducted Servetus to the place of execution..., urging him to recant. Servetus rejected all entreaties.... In his extremity, he was explicit in his belief -- still refusing to ascribe eternity to the person of Jesus Christ."
Calvin's wife and babies and his many contacts with Anabaptists
Some four years after first publishing the Institutes, Calvin married a converted Anabaptist widow in 1540. Of course, she herself was never rebaptized on becoming a Presbyterian. Indeed, Rev. and Mrs. Calvin's subsequently- born eldest child was baptized in infancy. Their subsequent children were never baptized at all -- because dying shortly after birth.256
These examples of the baptisms in Calvin's own immediate family, are most instructive. Calvin was baptized by sprinkling -- while yet an infant (in the Church of Rome) -- and was never rebaptized. Nor was his wife -- after having previously been affused as an adult in the Name of the Triune God by Anabaptists in the Netherlands.
Their eldest child, expected to live, was baptized at Geneva in the Swiss Presbyterian Church. Their other children, even at birth, were seen to be dying already. Expected next to be seen only in glory, they were deliberately left unbaptized. For baptism is only for the viable. Romans 6:1-5.
Calvin was baptized, as an infant, by Romanists; his wife, as an adult, by Anabaptists. He himself, when a Presbyterian, baptized one of their babies. The others died unbaptized. Not a single member of the entire family was ever rebaptized, and still less submersed, since becoming Protestants.
Why not? The Baptist Hulse has offered us an incorrect explanation:257 "Calvin did not have...much contact with the Anabaptists."
Here, Hulse was oblivious to the fact that Servetus (with whom Calvin had much contact) was an Anabaptist. Indeed, Hulse also minimized the contact Calvin had with Pastor and Mrs. Jan Stordeur -- especially when they were both still Anabaptists.
Moreover, blissfully, Hulse here seems to be unaware of Calvin's role in protestantizing the Anabaptists Herman of Gerbehaye and Count John Bomeromenus. Further, Hulse here seems to be unfamiliar with Calvin's several works about the Anabaptists and their doctrines. He seems unfamiliar also with Calvin's references to Anabaptists like Muentzer and Quintin.
Yet Hulse did concede that Calvin indeed "married Idolette de Bure, widow of John Stordeur." By 'Idolette de Bure' -- Mrs. John Calvin's name at the much earlier time of her birth -- Hulse here means Idelette Stordeur. According to Hulse, the former Anabaptist Pastor "Stordeur had confessed 'his crime' of Anabaptism, and had gone over to the Reformed party."
Continued Hulse: "We have only Calvin's description to go by, but he mockingly caricatures [the Anabaptist] Belot as: 'giving himself, with raised head and rolling eyes, the majestic aspect of a prophet.' We can well understand how an unfortunate impression of Belot confirmed Calvin's bad impression of Anabaptists, to whom he refers in his Institutes as 'furious madmen.'"
Here, Hulse omitted to mention that Belot had 'invaded' Geneva precisely in order to distribute Anabaptist tracts advocating perfectionism and denouncing the civil oath -- and that he had obnoxiously and falsely accused the humble Calvin of living in luxury. In his own customary way, Calvin had spoken politely to Belot. However, that Anabaptist then defiantly snubbed the great Reformer.258
Hulse also seemed oblivious to the fact that it was Calvin the soul-winner himself who won both Jan and Idolette Stordeur --from the errors of Anabaptism, and for the Protestant Reformation. With similar patience, Calvin lovingly won over also the Anabaptist Leaders Herman of Gerbehaye and Count John Bomeromenus.
For, writing to Farel on 6th February 1540, Calvin exulted259 that "the Lord from time to time bestows something which refreshes us. Herman, who disputed against us at Geneva, besought me to appoint a day for conferring with him. In regard to infant baptism, the human nature of Christ, and some other points, he now acknowledges that he had fallen grievously into error....
"This affords good hope.... [His companion] Count John has at length presented his boy, rather big for his age, to be baptized. I have long borne with his [the Count's] weakness, since he told me that he thought he had good reasons for delaying. At length, he said that he no longer cared for those [the Anabaptists] whose perverseness could by no means be worn out or subdued."
Then, on 27th February 1540, Calvin again wrote260 to Farel: "Herman has, if I am not mistaken, in good faith come to the fellowship of the Church.... He accepted instruction on the freedom of the will, the deity and humanity of Christ, rebirth, infant baptism, and other things. Only on the question of predestination did he hesitate.... He asked that this might not prevent his being received into the communion of the church with his children. I received him with fitting readiness.... I gave him my hand in the name of the church. Then I baptized his little daughter, who was over two years old.... He is a pious man. When I admonished him to lead others to the right way, he said: 'That is the least that I can do -- to exert myself no less in building up than I did before in tearing down!'"
Calvin's opposition to the Anabaptists' soul-sleep theory
Calvin's Psychopannychia is especially important. He wrote it in 1534, and published it in 1542 -- against the Anabaptist doctrine261 of soul-sleep. This is still taught today by certain neo-Anabaptist groups, such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the so-called Jehovah's witnesses.
"These babblers have so actively exerted themselves," wrote Calvin in the Forward to his book about the soul- sleep theory of the Anabaptists,262 "that they have already drawn thousands into their insanity. And even the error itself has, I see, been aggravated. At first, some only vaguely alleged that the soul sleeps -- without defining what they wished to be understood by 'sleep.' Afterwards arose those psucho-ktonoi, who 'murder souls' -- though without inflicting a wound. The error of the former, indeed, was not to be borne.... The madness of the latter ought to be severely repressed....
"The evil...makes far too much progress..., gaining ground daily and eating in like a cancer. Nor does it now appear for the first time. For we read that it originated with some Arabs, who maintained that 'the soul dies with the body and that both rise again at the Day of Judgment.' Eusebius: Church History VI:36[ff]....
"It lay smouldering for some ages, but has lately begun to send forth sparks -- being stirred up by some dregs of Anabaptists. These, spread abroad far and wide, have kindled torches.... Would that they were soon extinguished by that voluntary rain which the Lord hath set apart for His inheritance! ... Amid those tumults of vain opinions..., giddy spirits disturb the peace."
Calvin next explained263 that he was "referring to the nefarious herd of Anabaptists, from whose fountain this noxious stream did...first flow.... It was certainly much more my intention to bring all back into the right way, than to provoke them.... Those err who, when the Word of God is brought to light which had been laid aside though perverse custom or sloth, charge it with novelty." Others, however, "err in the opposite direction." For such [others] are like reeds driven by the wind -- nay, [such] nod and bend at the slightest breeze."
Now the soulsleep-Anabaptists "with the greatest confidence, as if from a tripod, give forth decisions upon all things.... This is the head of the evil, while they proceed obstinately to defend whatever they have once rashly babbled.... What do they not pervert? What do they not adulterate and corrupt -- that they may (I do not say bend but) distort it to their own view?"
Consequently: "Is this the way of learning -- to roll the Scriptures over and over, and twist them about in search of something that may minister to our lusts or to force them into subjection to our senses? Nothing can be more absurd than this -- O pernicious pest, O tares certainly sown by an enemy's hand for the purpose of rendering the true seed useless! ... It is certainly no trivial matter to see God's light extinguished by the devil's darkness."
Anabaptist soul-sleep refuted in Calvin's Psychopannychia
In the main text of his Psychopannychia itself, Calvin insisted264 that the [expanding] human "breath of life is distinguished from the [limited] souls of brutes.... Whence do the souls of...animals arise? God says, 'Let the earth bring forth the living soul' etc. [Genesis 1:24]. Let that which has sprung from earth, be resolved into earth! But the soul of man is not from the earth." It come s directly from God. Genesis 2:7 cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7.
"God created man, and made him after His own image [Genesis 1:26].... The image of God extended [and would keep on expanding].... Man [is] inexterminable -- because created in the image of God.... God created the great whales and every living soul (Genesis 1:21).... A 'living soul' is repeatedly attributed to the brutes, because they too have their own life. But they live after one way; man after another.... The soul of man possesses reason, intellect, and will.... It subsists without the body, and does not perish like the brutes which have nothing more than their bodily senses....
"Man, if he had not fallen, would have been immortal.... The elect now are such as Adam was before his sin.... He was created inexterminable. So, now, have those become who have been renewed by Christ....
"As their most powerful battering ram, they [the soulsleep-Anabaptists] urge against us...the passage in...Ecclesiastes: 'I [viz. Solomon] said in my heart, of the children of men, that God would prove them to shew that they were like the brutes; as man dies, so do they also die.' But God then declares that "the spirit of the sons of Adam ascends upwards, and the spirit of beasts descends downwards." Stated Calvin: "The wisdom of God explains -- assuring us that the spirit of the sons of Adam ascends upwards!" Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 cf. 12:7; Second Peter 2:12; Revelation 6:9f & 20:12f.
Thus, the Anabaptists' soul-sleep doctrine is thoroughly unbiblical. Concluded Calvin:265 "I again desire all my readers...to remember that the Catabaptists -- whom, as embodying all kinds of abominations, it is sufficient to have named -- are the authors of this famous dogma. Well may we suspect anything that proceeds from such a forge -- a forge which has already fabricated, and is daily fabricating, so many monsters!"
Calvin's anti-revolutionary 1544 Treatise Against the Anabaptists
Not just in the Church, but also in the Family and in the State these Anabaptists sowed revolution. Exclaimed Calvin:266 "Fanatics indeed delighting in unbridled license, insist and vociferate that...it is unworthy of us and far beneath our dignity to be occupied with those 'profane' and 'impure' cares which relate to matters 'alien' from a Christian man."
In his 1544 Brief Instruction...Against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptists, Calvin gave a detailed discussion of the various heresies of Anabaptism. There, he formally refuted the communism of their 1527 Schleitheim Articles.
Of the Anabaptists, Calvin declared267 that "on several principal points of Christianity they agree closely with the papists, holding a view directly repugnant to all the holy Scripture -- as with free will, predestination and the cause of our salvation. It is therefore with deception that they abuse this pretext, making the simple believe that they wish to be governed totally according to the Scripture. For they do not hold to it whatsoever, but only to the fantasy of their brain."
The First Article of the Schleitheim Anabaptists declared that "baptism...ought to be administered to those who request it for themselves, not for infants as is done in the pope's kingdom." Here, Calvin responded:268 "Infant baptism is not a recent introduction, nor are its origins traceable to the papal church.... It has always been a holy ordinance observed in the Christian Church.... They [the Anabaptists] will not accept this similitude that we acknowledge between circumcision and baptism [Colossians 2:11f etc.].... Nevertheless, God did not fail to command little children to be circumcised." Genesis 17:7f.
The Second Article of the Schleitheim Anabaptists declared that "the ban ought to be used." Here Calvin simply responded269 that even where the application of the ban might have lapsed, "we do not...persist in its necessity for communion. Nor do we hold that it is lawful for people [as the Anabaptists had done] to separate themselves from the Church" just because its discipline might be lax. First Corinthians 1:2 & 5:1f.
The Third Article of the Schleitheim Anabaptists declared that "the sword [is]...outside the perfection of Christ.... [There,] the ban is the heaviest penalty -- without corporal death." This Calvin refuted -- by stressing the Biblical teaching regarding the holy office of the magistrate -- and of capital punishment. Genesis 9:5f; Psalm 82:6f; John 10:34f; Romans 13:1-7.
"If this calling to fulfil the office of the sword or of temporal power is repugnant to the vocation of believers" -- observed Calvin270 -- "then how is it that...especially good kings like David...and Josiah, and even a few prophets like Daniel, made use of it?" Anabaptists are not like good kings!
Yet, spurning these Old Testament examples, the 'New Testamentistic' Anabaptists had a quick response. It was this: 'Our Lord Jesus did not order that the woman who was caught in adultery be stoned to death, as the law of God requires.'271 Lawless Anabaptists ungraciously rejected God's Law.
So Calvin then responded:272 "They say that the ban has replaced the temporal sword in the Christian Church -- so much so that in place of punishing a crime by death as was formerly done, we must punish the delinquent by depriving him of the fellowship of believers.... I ask them how do they excuse Jesus Christ for what He has done? For He did not observe their rule. For He neither condemned the woman by banishing her from the fellowship of believers, nor condemned her to death [John 8:3-11]....
"These poor fools in this passage follow that exposition with which the papal priests feather their nests. For since marriage was prohibited them, they wanted as a recompense a license to commit adultery. Thus they borrowed the wives of their neighbours. Now, in order for it not to appear that adultery was such a great sin -- they said that we should be under the 'law of grace' with respect to it. And, hardly recognizing the grace of Jesus Christ in anything -- they said adulterers should go unpunished.....
"Let us understand the office of our Lord Jesus.... His office is to forgive sins.... To mete out corporal punishments, is not His task.... He leaves these to those to whose authority it belongs, and to whom the charge has been commissioned - -according to what He says in another text: 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's!'"
Magistrates are also to protect against the theft of private property (the very existence of which the Anabaptists deprecate). Observed Calvin: "The miserable fanatics have no other goal than to put everything into disorder -- to undo the commonwealth of property in such a way that whoever has the power to take anything, is welcome to it....
"I thus put in opposition to the Anabaptists -- Moses, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Joseph, Daniel, and all the kings and judges of Israel. See if they [the Anabaptists] can support their cause by asking whether these kings were banished from the Kingdom of God -- for having had charge of the sword in this world.... Isaiah [60:3] certainly contradicts them -- promising that earthly kings will serve in the heavenly and spiritual Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul also says the same (First Timothy 2:2).... He shows that the chief end of magistrates is...to ensure that God is served and honoured in their countries, and that each person leads a good and honest life.
"Thus we see with respect to this matter how false and perverse the Anabaptists' allegations are, by which they condemn the vocation of magistrates which God has so highly approved.... For they make war against God, in wanting to revile what He has exalted. And we could not imagine a better way of trying to ruin the world and ushering in brigandage everywhere, than in seeking to abolish the civil government or the power of the sword --which indeed is thrown down, if it is not lawful for a Christian man to exercise it."
The Anabaptist doctrine of 'flesh' refuted by Calvin
Coming now to the Anabaptist doctrine of the flesh, Calvin has declared:273 "It is not good for me to close my eyes to these two gravely persistent and spiteful views, since they are so common among them. What some among them have held concerning property in common, or that a man may have several wives, even compelling some to take more who were content with one, and a thousand other absurdities, I refrain from mentioning. For even they, being confounded in their madness, have for the most part retracted these....
"Concerning the body or the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must note that there were two ancient heresies that conform to or approach what they [the Anabaptists] say about it. For the Manichees fantasized that Jesus Christ brought a heavenly body into the womb of the virgin His mother. The Marcionites [too] had a...delusion that He did not have a truly substantial body....
"The end of both [heresies] has been to deny that Jesus Christ was descended from human seed.... The Anabaptists in this way only stir up errors that the devil has kept alive for one thousand four hundred years [since Marcion's till Calvin's time] and that were refuted by the Word of God.... From the beginning of the world, [however,] our Lord promised Eve that her Seed would be victorious over the serpent. Genesis 3:15!" Thus: Christ is the woman's Seed -- and the woman's Seed.
Calvin refutes the Anabaptist denial of postmortal consciousness
Continued Calvin:274 "The second issue...is that the Anabaptists in general all hold that souls, being departed from the body, cease to live until the day of the resurrection.... This was the error of the Sadducees, which was expressly reproved in Scripture [Acts 23:6f].... Let the Anabaptists [then] hold to the quarrel of the Sadducees their predecessors - - and maintain it against Saint Paul" and even against Jesus Himself! Luke 16:23-28 & 20:27f.
"We have reproved the error of the Anabaptists, who make believe that souls sleep as if dead and without any consciousness.... The unfaithful person's soul, [however] -- being departed from the body -- is like a malefactor who has already received his sentence of condemnation and now awaits only the hour when he shall be led to the gallows for execution.... They are in extreme agony, awaiting the execution of their sentence....
"Faithful souls, after death, we can say...are at rest. Not because they are in a perfect state of blessedness or glory, but because they are content with the joy and consolation that God grants them while awaiting the day of their final redemption.... The Anabaptist's delusion concerning the sleep of souls was never advocated by anyone, save by a heretical sect called the 'Arabs' -- and by Pope John of Rome some [two] hundred and thirty years ago."
Pseudo-glossolaly of the Anabaptists refuted by Calvin
John Calvin also seemed to reprehend the pseudo-pentecostalism of the Anabaptists. Declared the great Reformer: "I should warn all the truly faithful, of their malice. For the Anabaptists cannot make their cause appear good, except by muddling everything to the extent that their entire teaching is a confused mess. For like a body without a head or arms or feet, they often use forms of speech that are absurd and outlandish."275
In 1545, Calvin published his Against the Fantastic and Furious Sect of the Libertines Who Are Called 'Spirituals.' Here, as its modern editor Rev. Prof. Dr. Farley has pointed out,276 one encounters "the concept of 'spiritual marriage' also observed among other groups." Indeed, one also encounters "a radical application of the Anabaptist principle of the 'community of goods'...associated with the excesses of the Anabaptist movement at St. Gall in Switzerland.... Polygamy was practiced by a variety of groups."
One such Libertine Anabaptist group, the Quintinists, seem to have been pseudo-pentecostalistic. For, explained Calvin, like "wandering beggars, as they are called, they possess a unique jargon which is only understood by their brotherhood.... The Quintinists possess an unbelievable tongue in which they banter, to the extent that one understands it about as little as a bird's song." On the pseudo-patristic and truly-pagan roots of such phenomena, see Francis Nigel Lee's Pentecostalism: New Outpouring or Ancient Heresy?
Calvin called these followers of the libertine Anabaptist Quintin, "loud-mouthed boasters" -- like the "scum and froth" mentioned in Second Peter 2:18 and Jude 16. "They babble," observed Calvin of these Quintinists.
"I remember once in a large group how Quintin...told me that I found his ideas unacceptable -- owing to a lack of understanding. To which I replied that I understood better than he -- since he knew nothing that he was saying, and I at least recognized that he wanted to seduce the world by means of absurd and dangerous follies....
"God created the tongue for the purpose of expressing thought, in order that we might be able to communicate with each other. Consequently, it is a perversion of God's order to pommel the air with a confused sound that cannot be understood.... The Scriptures ought to be our guide with respect to how God's mysteries are handled. Therefore let us adopt the language that it uses, without being lightheaded.... He [the Lord] uses toward us an unrefined way of speaking, in order to be understood.
"Whoever therefore reverses this order -- only succeeds in burying God's truth.... We must labour to unravel their [Quintinistic] obscurities, in order to drag them if necessary by force into the light -- so that their abominations, which they make a point of hiding, might be known to all the world.
"Similarly, every Christian must be warned that when he hears them garbling as they do -- he must cut them off immediately at the spigot and say to them: 'Either speak the language that the Lord has taught us and which He uses in His Scriptures -- or go speak to the rocks and trees!'"
Yet, added Calvin, it is before men that Quintinists still "speak with a doubtful tongue -- a practice that even pagans condemned." Indeed, "Jesus Christ...did not..babble unintelligently...after the example of their predecessors the Priscillianists" alias the pentecostalistic Montanists.
As to the Anabaptist Quintinists, continued Calvin, "they pursue a double purpose" (sic). They say "one should not be content with what is written or acquiesce in it at all -- but one should speculate higher, and look for new revelations.... This sect is certainly different from the papists' -- inasmuch as it is a hundred times worse and more pernicious." Anabaptists, said Calvin, are a hundred times worse than Papists!
Calvin continued: "We must note to what end our Lord has promised us His Spirit. Now He did not promise the Spirit for the purpose of forsaking Scripture, so that we might be led by Him and stroll amid the clouds [away from Scripture] -- but in order to gain its true meaning and thus be satisfied.... After His resurrection, when He opened the understanding of His two disciples (Luke 24:27-32), it was not in order to inspire them with strange subjects not found in Scripture -- but in order to help them understand Scripture itself....
"Spirit and Scripture are one and the same.... We choke out the light of God's Spirit, if we cut ourselves off from His Word.... Preaching and Scripture are the true instruments of God's Spirit. Therefore, let us consider anyone a devil who wants to lead us astray from it, whether directly or indirectly -- and let us flee from them as we would a poison!"277
Calvin refutes the denial of the soul's immortality
It is clear that these libertines also denied the immortality of the human soul. Declared Calvin:278 "Let us listen to their grand arguments -- 'there is only one God who [truly] ex-ists.' I admit that," conceded Calvin. "But we do not cease to sub-sist in Him.... He created us...and upholds us by His power." Genesis 1:26f; 2:7; 5:1-5; Psalm 8:1-8; Ecclesiastes 3:21 & 12:7.
"Saint Paul, they argue, calls God alone immortal (First Timothy 6:16). I certainly agree with Saint Paul. But he means that God alone has this privilege in Himself and by virtue of His own nature, so much so that He is the Source of immortality. But what God has in Himself, He has communicated to our souls by His grace when He formed them in His image> [James 3:9]....
"Besides, the teaching of Scripture is simple and clear.... God has made our souls after His likeness.... They so indwell our bodies that when they depart from them, each goes to the place which it has prepared for itself [by virtue of how it lived while yet] in this world -- some to consolation and rest; others to the anguish and torments of hell.... I have dealt with that so amply [in my tract] Against the Anabaptists, that it would be superfluous to mention it any further." See too: Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2; Second Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:23; First Peter 3:19f; Jude 6f; Revelation 14:11-13; 20:10-15; 22:4-5.
Anabaptism's sexual immorality refuted by Calvin
On the sexual practices of the Anabaptists, Calvin has stated279 that "they permit a man and a woman to unite with each other in whatever form seems good to them. They call it a 'spiritual marriage' when anyone is content with the other. Hence, if a man takes no pleasure in his wife -- in their view he may provide for himself elsewhere, to solve his problem.
"At the same time, lest the woman remain destitute, they also grant her permission to meet her need and to accept it wherever it is offered to her.... If the day after tomorrow, should a bawd become angry with her pimp, she can make an exchange --provided he can offer her someone new who pleases her better. Similarly, a philander[er] can flirt about in order to acquire new 'spiritual wives' and take them as he finds them....
"What order, loyalty, integrity or assurance will remain if marriage -- which is the holiest covenant, and the one which ought to be kept the most faithfully -- can thus be repudiated? For marriage, I say -- as God instituted...and blessed it -- transcends all natural unions....
"The Scripture says that 'the two shall become one flesh!' It does not say 'three' or 'four' but only 'two' -- adding that 'man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife' (Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7). As if our Lord gave His Law in vain, when He forbids the coveting of another's wife (Exodus 20:14-17)! As if He had condemned without purpose adulterers and lechers! As if Saint Paul had spoken in vain, when he exhorts every man to be content with his wife (First Corinthians 7:2)!
"For this reason...I have shown above that this wretched sect has a license to commit every form of brigandage and murder against the body -- to steal, pillage and plunder the goods of others as being so much prey. We also see at the present how it constitutes an opening for defiling every bed and home, exterminating every form of chastity in the world....
"These wretches profane marriage, mingling men and women like dumb animals according to the lusts that drive them.... Under the name of 'spiritual marriage' they disguise this churlish corruption, labelling as a 'spiritual movement' that wild impetuosity that goads and inflames a man like a bull and a woman like a dog [or bitch] in heat.
Calvin refutes Anabaptism's community of goods
"Now in order not to leave any order among men," explained Calvin of the Anabaptists, "they create a similar confusion with respect to goods -- saying that 'the communion of the saints' exists where no one possesses anything as his own but each may take whatever he is able to get. At the beginning, there were indeed a few giddy Anabaptists who spoke like this. But because such an absurdity was repudiated by everyone as repugnant to human intelligence..., even the[ir] first authors became ashamed of it."
However, neither the Anabaptists Sattler nor Stadler mitigated their views.280 The Hutterites too did not soften their communism. Nor did the Muensterite Anabaptists; nor the Davidjorists; nor the Batenburgers.
"They also cite what is written in Acts 4:32ff," wrote Calvin281 of the Anabaptists. "They are doubly mistaken. First of all, Saint Luke does not say that everyone sold [his possessions]. And as for those who did sell, he does not say that they sold everything without leaving themselves something....
"Saint Luke...gave us two examples [Barnabas and Ananias], of whom one was even a hypocrite.... Are we to believe that among the six thousand believers or thereabouts who were present then, that all who had possessions sold them -- and that Saint Luke only produced one [Barnabas] as an example? In the second place, I reply that even the believers who sold their possessions at that time in order to aid their poor brothers, did not so effectively sell everything as to have had nothing left. For each did not cease owning his house, or feeding his family, or using the goods which God had given him.
"In any case, it is said afterward that Tabitha...gave great alms (Acts 9:36). Whence could she have made them [and only now given those goods] -- if she [already previously] had given up all her goods? It is said that Saint Peter lodged at the home of Simon the tanner (Acts 10:6). This could not have been possible, if Simon had not [then still] had a house and a family. The same holds true for what is said next of Mary [Acts 12:12]. The same for Lydia (Acts 16:15).... The apostle...returned to her house....
"The Christians...did not practise a confused 'community of goods' among themselves.... It would be a superfluous matter...to collect all the specific examples in order to show that when the believers brought their goods together, they did not mix into a pile [like the Muensterite and Hutterite Anabaptists] what they had. But, each retaining what was his in his own hands -- they distributed them [only] according as demand necessitated....
"There is Philemon.... He continues to possess not only his estate and his household goods, but also his serfs and servants --who in those days were like slaves. For they were not servants whom one hires. But one owned them in order to be served by them all one's life -- or in order to sell them and transfer them....
"Paul does not require him to cast aside whatsoever he has. But he begs him to receive [back] Onesimus his serf, who had fled from him. If a man [Philemon] who is like a mirror of perfection for others, enjoyed his possessions in good conscience thus, and is approved by Saint Paul for doing so -- who will dare impose a completely different law on Christians?" Only the mediaeval monks; or their Anabaptist offspring; or their socialistic stepchildren! See Francis Nigel Lee: Biblical Private Property Versus Socialistic Common Property.
Calvin then concluded:282 "Thus let us learn to participate with decency and order in the fellowship which believers exercise concerning goods, and consequently to reject and hold in abomination this diabolical delusion of wanting to heap all goods into a pile in order to introduce not only a labyrinth into the world but a terrible brigandage.... As for Saint Luke's passages cited above, it appears that they no more serve these fantastics than they do monks who want to feather their own nests in order to found [or otherwise to firm up] their lovely communities of swine, such as we find in their cloisters.... The doctrine in itself is wicked, and damnable."
Anabaptism's superspiritualistic ecstasy refuted by Calvin
The genius of Geneva then took one last swing283 -- this time at the pseudo-pentecostalistic Anabaptist Pocquet. Wrote Calvin: "I have decided to inform the reader more amply, by inserting here the ramblings of Monsieur Anthony Pocquet.... He begins to 'froth at the mouth' -- as Saint Jude says (verse 16).... On the surface, Monsieur Anthony Pocquet has become a demi-angel -- hearing him speak in such a lofty manner, as if he no longer had sensations of anything except heavenly matters....
"He pretends to save the world from the simple and pure teaching of the Scripture. As if it were the wisdom of Christians to search after new revelations! And he now calls it 'a double [portion of] spirit' -- to pass beyond the contents of Scripture!
"Still, whenever it suits them, they interpret Scripture in a totally different sense.... What he calls 'the natural law of growing and multiplying'; and what he adds about our having to return to that, in order to experience original innocence --follows from their [Anabaptist] doctrine of 'spiritual' marriage. I.e., that each should unite with the other -- wherever it suits....
"These serpents twist the terms.... 'Spirit' to them is not derived from the grace of regeneration. Rather is it the fantasy that God is in us, and that we must permit Him to do whatever 'He' wants. We also see what they mean by the life which we have in Jesus Christ. I.e., that everything is lawful -- and there is no evil, provided we are not conscious of it....
Monsieur Anthony Pocquet...is a wolf in sheepskin.... We should not allow this wicked man to bring such shame on a Christian people.... He says...we are under the law of 'love'.... I ask him, whether Moses and the judges did not hear the people's disputes and decide them? What sort of a scatterbrained man is it who plunges across [the] country on the basis of badly-founded speculations? ... His daydreams are so silly and absurd, that among sane intelligent people it is enough to have pointed them out -- so that one can be on guard....
"He says that medicine came into the world through the suggestion of the evil spirit. I say...that it came from God, inasmuch as it is a knowledge of carefully using the gifts of creation which He gives us.... He [Pocquet] says we are not obligated to do God's Commandments.... This loathsome teaching...is not only repugnant to God, but so full of detestable errors as to make one's hair stand on end!"
Baptistic misallegations that Calvin favoured submersionism
Certain Baptistic persons delight in quoting from Calvin's Commentary on John's Gospel (3:22) that "John and Christ administered baptism by total immersion...." Yet they neglect to add that such 'im-mersion' (or 'putting into') is not the same as sub-mersion (or 'putting under'). For all Presbyterian Ministers 'im-merse' (but never sub-merse) their fingers in baptismal water, before sprinkling babies therewith.
Such Baptistic persons also neglect to complete Calvin's above sentence. For it went on to say that "we must not worry overmuch about the outward rite, so long as it accords with the spiritual truth and the Lord's institution and rule." Indeed, three paragraphs later, Calvin added: "The Law appointed various baptisms for the Jews.... A new rite of purifying is introduced by Christ and by John" the baptizer, by way of sprinkling. John 3:25 and 1:25-33 cf. First Kings 18:33f and Matthew 11:12f & 17:10f.
Interestingly, Calvin made it clear that such baptismal purifyings practised by the Israelites -- were always accomplished by pouring or sprinkling! Thus, commenting on Hebrews 9:10-20, he explained: "When there was a sprinkling of hyssop and scarlet wool, there is no doubt that this represented the mystical sprinkling that comes by the Spirit.... Christ uses His Spirit in place of sprinkling, to wash us with His blood." Indeed, even in John chapters 1 to 4, we see the same teaching in respect of water baptism.
Thus, in his comment on the words of John the baptizer in John 1:31f ('I came baptizing with water' and 'I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove'), Calvin had said just previously that Christ had been "consecrated with a solemn ceremony.... When He wished to make Himself known to the world, He began with baptism. He therefore received the Spirit on that occasion -- not so much for Himself, as for His people. And the Spirit descended."
Commenting on John 3:5, Calvin added: "We sometimes hear of Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit.... It is as if Christ had said that no one is a son of God, until he has been renewed by water -- and that this water is the Spirit Who cleanses us anew and Who, by His power poured upon us, imparts to us the energy of the heavenly life." Again, commenting on John 3:34, Calvin declared "that God the inexhaustible Fount of all good does not at all exhaust Himself when He bountifully and plentifully pours out His gifts on men."
Also on John 4:2, Calvin commented: "Not only does Christ baptize inwardly by His Spirit, but the very [baptismal] symbol that we receive from a mortal man should be regarded in the same light as if Christ Himself had put forth His hand and stretched it out to us.... This suffices to refute the Anabaptists, who maintain that baptism is vitiated by the vice of the Minister, and disturb the Church with this madness!" Compare too Calvin's comments on Acts 1:5 and 2:17,33,38f (for which see later below).
Some Baptistic persons also delight in quoting Calvin's Institutes IV:15:19. There, they tell us, Calvin declared: "It is evident that the term 'baptize' means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the ancient Church."
Such persons here again confuse immersion with submersion, and are quoting only the last part of Calvin's sentence. In its entirety, it states: "Whether the person baptized is to be wholly immersed and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence. Churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climate, although it is evident that the term baptize means to immerse and that this was the form used by the ancient Church."
Here, the word 'ancient' is not the same as the word 'apostolic.' Baptistic persons omit to add that (in the original French) Calvin here actually wrote "that the custom of thus entirely immersing, was anciently observed in the Church." Our English word 'anciently' here translates the original French word anciennement. That latter word in this context hardly means specifically 'during apostolic times' -- but certainly refers particularly to the mid-patristic period, especially after the rise of the heresy of baptismal regenerationism.
Regarding baptism during the apostolic period, Calvin has commented at Acts 8:37f on Philip's baptism of the eunuch: "Fanatics stupidly and wrongly attack infant baptism.... The children of the godly are born sons of the Church, and are numbered among the members of Christ from birth.... Christ initiates infants to Himself.... The practice that has now become dominant, is for the Minister only to sprinkle the body or the head."
Indeed, Rev. Prof. Dr. John Calvin also wrote: "We maintain...that in baptism...the forehead is sprinkled with water."284 Further: "The meaning of baptism...is set before us, when the water is poured upon the head.... The blood of Christ...was shed, in order to wipe away all our stains.... We receive the fruit of this cleansing, when the Holy Spirit sprinkles our consciences with that sacred blood. Of this, we have a seal in the Sacrament."
Finally, the above applies also to the babies of believers. Concluded Calvin: "We baptize infants.... God, under the Old Testament, in order to show Himself [to be] the Father of infants, was pleased that the promise of salvation should be engraven on their bodies by a visible sign.
"It were unbecoming to suppose that, since the advent of Christ, believers [now] have less to confirm them.... The force and...the substance of Baptism are common to children. To deny them the sign, which is inferior to the substance, were manifest injustice.... Children are to be baptized.... They are heirs of the blessing promised to the seed of believers."285
Return to Index
243 J. Calvin's 1536 Preface to Francis King of France, para. 7, in the Reformer's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Clarke, London, ed. 1957, I p. 17.
267 J. Calvin: Brief Instruction for Arming All the Good Faithful Against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptists, in his Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines, Baker, Grand Rapids, ed. 1982, p. 43.
Return to Index
This material may be reproduced and circulated, providing written credit is given to its author, Rev. Prof. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, of the Queensland Presbyterian Theological Hall in Australia. (within Emmanuel College, Upland Road, St Lucia, QLD, Australia 4067). Phone: Intl. +61 7 3266 1688.
The right of (re)publication by the author in any different way is hereby reserved.