Calvin’s Institutes Chapter 13 (670-706)

July 19, 2020

Reading Report on Chapter 13: The Five Ceremonies Falsely Called Sacraments: Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ecclesiastical Orders, and Marriage

This chapter engaged me more than I had been in a while. The fact that I am coming off of a week of vacation might have something to do with that. Calvin’s name calling bothered me again in this chapter [1]. I know this may seem absurd to some of you, but as I read his name calling in this chapter my mind was presented with a parallel to our current sitting U.S. President (only in the matter of name calling) [2]. Concerning the five sacraments covered in this chapter, part of the reason I think I was more engaged, is because I actually have done very little reading on them as such and my exposure is next to none. Thus, the topic was fairly fresh for me. This was noteworthy to me because Calvin opens up his discussion on these by saying that the belief in them is “so common among men” (669) whereas today, that can no longer be said.

The Basis for the Interpretation of These Five Sacraments

I was surprised the Scripture passages that Calvin cites as being used to justify these sacraments (Acts 8 - Confirmation - pg 671, Matthew 18:18 - Penance, pg 679). Then after thinking about it, I wasn’t so surprised. The Gospels and Acts have been used extensively to build teachings on that Christ himself never intended. On this matter of the interpretation of the Gospels and Acts, it seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church and the Charismatic Movement are similar although with different resulting interpretations. Perhaps that is a gross oversimplification.

Old is Not Necessarily Right

I appreciated Calvin’s point on pages 676-677 that just because something has been done for a very long time does not mean that it is correct. Calvin rightly points back to the need to see God as the one instituting things.

James on Anointing with Oil

I have studied the James 5 passage a few times, and I look forward to studying it more. I don’t remember connecting Mark 6:12-13 to James 5 as Calvin does on 681. That was an interesting point.

The Criteria for Making a Sacrament

Calvin asked the helpful question,

“Now for what weightier reason do they make a sacrament out of this anointing than out of all the other signs or symbols mentioned in Scripture? Why do they not designate some pool of Siloam in which at certain times the sick my bathe (John 9:7)?” (682).

This is a powerful challenge from Calvin for us to consider with any tradition or common way of doing things. What is our criteria? Who gets to say?

Priests and Bishops

I was fairly surprised that, as I understand it, allowed for the use of Priest alongside the use of bishop. Did anybody else get something different? I consider this to be an important lost opportunity.

Calvin and Modern Slang

On 693, Calvin uses the phrase “tricked it out,” which is also a modern slang phrase (I guess it depends on where you grew up). Did anybody else pick up on that. I found it humorous.

The Selection of Church Leadership

I found this section especially interesting. I have studied Ordination and thought about it rather extensively in the past along with how a church should select a pastor. Calvin does not hold a high view of congregational decision making (695), and I consider this mostly due to the time frame he wrote in. That said, I am personally in favor of limited (but still present) congregational decision making in most situations.


  • I never thought I would read “pimping and fornicating” (697) while reading Calvin!

[1] charlatans, monkeys, stupid willful monkey tricks (679), Greasers (673), chrismators, half-christians, careless (674), plainly mad (675), imposters (676), horned prelates (696), monkeys, horses, donkeys, fools, lunatics (698)

[2] The apostle Paul under inspiration called people names, and so Calvin may feel as he deals with the purity of doctrine that it is appropriate here. And, perhaps it is. It just seems quite a bit overdone which is why the comparison to the current U.S. Presented came to my mind.

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