Calvin’s Complex Ecumenism

NOTE: this piece was first published in the Summer 2021 edition of Ad Fontes.


The concept of catholicity has recently experienced a renaissance among Reformed Christians in North America.[1] This is salutary, for although American evangelicals and conservative Reformed Christians often regard the church as a spiritual unity, they have generally lacked commitment to visible catholicity.[2] Those who consider themselves John Calvin’s (1509–1564) heirs—i.e., Reformed and evangelical Christians—have exhibited a reticence regarding ecumenical activity that goes beyond parachurch collaboration or ad hoc participation in public declarations on contemporary moral issues (“Evangelicals and Catholics Together” exemplifies both tendencies). And it is a tragic fact that the Reformed tradition has in recent history been marked by division.[3] 

Calvin’s concern for visible church unity was a complex synthesis of commitment, clarity, and charity. As will be demonstrated, Calvin believed that visible unity was a matter of great importance. He also believed that the only appropriate ground for union is the truth and therefore was not willing to pursue unity at any cost. His understanding of what constitutes a true church, however, was charitable. He held to a limited core of essential doctrines, was willing to compromise on secondary issues, and was flexible in his formulations.

Calvin’s approach to church unity provides a constructive challenge to contemporary Christians who consider themselves his heirs. Those who wish to honor Calvin—i.e., “Reformed” Christians—must care deeply about the visible unity of the church and resist complacency in the face of ecclesial division. To be faithful to the Reformed tradition, at least as it has been shaped by Calvin, necessarily includes a concern for catholicity. Our context today differs from Calvin’s, but we would be wise to consider those opportunities according to Calvin’s catholic convictions, particularly by focusing upon how Calvin worked for visible unity with fellow Reformers and how he wrote about visible unity in his Institutes. In short, Calvin will not permit us to sacrifice truth on the altar of unity, but neither will he countenance neglecting unity in the name of truth.

Those newly initiated to Calvin’s thought might assume that, due to his famous teachings on predestination, he would place primary emphasis on what is commonly referred to as the “invisible church.” And, to a degree, this did mark much of his early ecclesiological thought. In the first version of the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), the Genevan Catechism (1537 and 1542), and his two Genevan Church Orders (1537 and 1541), Calvin defined the church largely in terms of predestination, and launched his ecclesiological reflections from the invisible church. At that earlier stage, Calvin argues that the question of the church’s visibility or invisibility marked the primary difference between Rome and the Reformation.[4] But even in thisstage, although clarifying that no human is able to perceive with perfect accuracy who will ultimately endure as the elect, Calvin already argues that there are no elect outside the communion of the faithful. Membership in the visible church is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for membership in the invisible church of those predestined to salvation.

As Calvin’s theology matured, his focus shifted to the visible church.[5] This was likely informed by his efforts to build up the Reformation churches and his altercations with various radical groups which downplayed, if not denied, the institutional character of the church.[6] Calvin still maintained that the church is composed of the elect and that God alone is able to perfectly perceive it; yet Calvin expanded on this to argue that the word “church” also has another sense—an entity that is visible to human eyes. In the final version of the Institutes (1559), Calvin’s discussion of the invisible church is quite brief,[7] and he quickly turns to devote most of his attention in his massive fourth book to matters related to the visible church.[8]

As certain scholars have argued, the Reformed distinction between the visible and invisible church can be helpfully understood in eschatological terms.[9] According to this conception, the visible church should be understood as the church in history—what is often referred to as the church “militant”—while the invisible church would be the church “triumphant,” seen from the perspective of the consummated kingdom at Christ’s return. The “External Means” of grace which are the focus of book four of the Institutes are to be understood as tangible instruments accommodated to temporal existence that enable believers to participate in the eschatological kingdom.[10] So emphasis is on the visible, historical church as a reflection and means of participation in the eschatological reality. It is thus imperative that the visible resemble and anticipate the invisible (i.e., eschatological) reality as much as possible.

Budding with Bucer

As early as the first edition of the Institutes (1536), the principle of unity was present in Calvin’s thought, but it was during his years of exile from Geneva in Strasbourg (1538-1541) that it became an explicit agenda in his writings.[11] Already in the works published during this time,[12] one can see the clarity of Calvin’s convictions on church unity, the ground of which he understood to be a fundamental and submissive commitment to the Word of God.[13]

These convictions come into clear expression in his response to the letter written to the Genevans by Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547), who intended to draw them back to the Roman Church. He accused the Genevans of defecting from the truth and deserting the church.[14] Calvin’s letter displays, even at this nascent stage of his career, his conception of what constitutes the church, and why he and the Genevans could not be justly charged with schism. He argued that Protestants revere the church “as our mother, [and] so we desire to remain in her bosom.”[15] He described the marks of a true church: true doctrine, true use of the sacraments, and faithful execution of church discipline. He argued that Roman leaders were the schismatics since they had rejected Christ’s authority through the Word by inventing deleterious doctrines and practices.[16] Through their disregard for and distortion of the doctrine of justification by faith, they had diminished the glory of Christ, overthrown the hope of salvation, and ceased to be a true church.[17] But Calvin was careful to state that there remained elect persons within the Roman Church and that his war was with the leaders who had rejected the truth and usurped Christ’s authority over the church.[18] He explained that he never wished to leave the party of Rome and that he had always manifested, in word and deed, an eager desire for unity.[19] Here he provides one of the clearest statements of his views on church unity, the components of which would play out in the remainder of his life and ministry: “My conscience told me how strong the zeal with which I burned for the unity of thy Church, provided thy truth were made the bond of concord.”[20]

During his time in Strasbourg, particularly under the influence of Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Calvin’s views on church unity matured and were enacted in his reforming program. He studied Bucer’s actions in the world of imperial religious politics[21] and began to make small efforts at achieving Protestant union himself.[22] While he was in Frankfurt for the meeting of the Schmalkaldic League, he met Phillip Melanchthon (1497-1560). Soon after, Calvin sent him twelve articles on the Eucharist which Melanchthon received with approval. This relationship “encouraged Calvin to believe that Protestant unity was achievable.”[23]

Calvin increasingly distinguished his views on unity from Bucer after the series of colloquies between Rome and Protestant churches in 1540-1541.[24] Calvin criticized Bucer’s excessive eagerness for reunion with Rome for resulting in an over-willingness to compromise.[25] The colloquies ultimately proved ineffective in terms of their original objectives. These would be the last of such efforts before the Council of Trent made permanent the division, and Calvin, thereafter, abandoned Rome and focused his attention exclusively on unity with Protestants[26]—who at least shared a core commitment to the lordship of Christ over the church, which Christ governs by his Word.[27]

Messy in the Middle: Mediating Luther and Zwingli

When Calvin was reinstalled as pastor of Geneva, he returned with a more robust vision for Protestant unity despite remaining embroiled in controversy with other Protestants. The Swiss and German Reformed sharply disagreed over the Eucharist, and the Marburg Colloquy (1529) had not alleviated the tension.[28] The Wittenberg Concord (1536)—a document drafted by Melanchthon and supported by Bucer—provided a glimmer of hope. But those hopes were dashed when, in that same year, Swiss Reformed theologians wrote the First Helvetic Confession in which they declared themselves against the Wittenberg Concord, thereby renewing the hostilities. These were Calvin’s “first lessons in the self-destructive nature of disunity within the Reformation.”[29]

Calvin realized that this disagreement was crippling the Reformation, and he also believed that reconciliation was possible, committing himself to that end. From his vantage-point, the failure at Marburg was due to a mutual misunderstanding of the respective parties’ views.[30] Calvin himself did not fully align with either Ulrich Zwingli’s (1484-1531) or Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) formulations.[31] He persisted in believing, however, that the root of the truth was found in each and that his own formulation might be a resource for unity.

Calvin, as one seeking to define the boundaries of Reformed catholicism, offered a mediating position on the Eucharist which was consistent with the views he had already expressed. In his expositions of the Eucharist in the second edition of the Institutes (1539) and the Little Treatise on the Lord’s Supper (1540) one can see his sensitivity to these issues and willingness to be flexible. He engaged in sustained communication with Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) to articulate a formula that would satisfy the Swiss and do justice to the Lutheran view.[32] There were reasons to be hopeful until Luther’s rejoinder in his Short Confession of the Lord’s Supper (1544) which attacked Zwingli and his associates.[33] This tragically reignited the tensions between Swiss and German Reformed that Calvin had hoped to ameliorate.

Strategic Through Switzerland

            When Luther’s invective dashed any immediate dreams for unity over the Lord’s Supper, Calvin strategically invested his energies foremost in Zurich as the first step toward eventual union among the wider Reformed communities. His “plan was to make unification between Geneva and Zurich the first stage in general agreement.”[34]

Beyond restating his commitments to unity in his commentaries written during this period      (especially in the relevant passages in 1 Corinthians,[35] Ephesians,[36] and the Gospel of John[37]), the most significant unifying activity during this time involves Calvin’s collaboration with Bullinger.[38] Though Calvin had significant disagreements with Bullinger about the Eucharist, he prioritized assuaging Bullinger’s concerns and was willing to compromise with him. After Calvin had made five trips to Zurich, they reached an agreement on the Lord’s Supper in 1549. The final version of the document, which would be later called the Consensus Tigurinus, consisted of twenty-six articles which, though they did not contradict Calvin’s views, reflected little of his other writings on the Lord’s Supper. This displays once again Calvin’s flexibility for the sake of unity. This was a remarkable achievement, and a rare display of theological statesmanship for the time.[39]

Although the Consensus appeared to be a hopeful harbinger for greater future union among Protestants, it did not result in such positive developments with the Lutherans. After Luther died, Joachim Westphal (1510-1574) carried the torch of Luther’s indignation toward these eucharistic agreements.[40] Calvin responded to Westphal and other Lutheran rigorists with a series of controversial tracts on the Lord’s Supper. Though trenchant in tone, these tracts also display Calvin’s consistent exposition of his mediating sacramental doctrine and desires for Protestant unity.[41] The unfortunate result of this affair, despite Calvin’s best efforts, was that the divisions known since Marburg perdured and the antagonisms continued to calcify.

Enigmatic With England

One of the more enigmatic elements of Calvin’s catholic efforts is his engagement with the reform in England during the final years of his life. His theological flexibility was demonstrated in his regard for many liturgical matters as adiaphora[42]and his openness to episcopal polity.[43] But ambiguity emerges as one observes his communication with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). In light of the meetings of the Council of Trent, Cranmer sent correspondence in 1552 inviting Calvin to attend a meeting with Melanchthon, Bullinger, and himself. Cranmer’s desire was for them to arrive at agreement on doctrine, especially over the Eucharist, so that they might refute the errors of Rome and strengthen the church in unity. Calvin responds with a letter in which he reiterates his concerns for unity and his despair over the divisions in the church, but he regretfully declines due to his inability to participate.[44] He exhorts Cranmer to proceed with this endeavor and commits to pray. In this letter, Calvin appears hopeful and sympathetic to Cranmer’s reforms.

A mere three months later, though, his tone shifts completely. He rebukes Cranmer for mishandling the reformation in England.[45] Calvin remarks that Cranmer should be ashamed that aspects of the Mass were retained in English worship and informs him that Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) was the reformer he trusted most in England. This is a jarring and perplexing shift of perspective on Calvin’s part in such a short period of time. The following year Cranmer was jailed for his Protestant faith and burned at the stake. Cranmer’s reforming career was over, having concluded without much direct assistance from Calvin.

Summary from the Final Form of the Institutes

            The convictions concerning catholic church unity which remained constant throughout Calvin’s career are expressed clearly in the final version of the Institutes (1559), particularly in book four, which is referred to with Calvin’s title: “The External Means or Aims by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Within”; which is then abbreviated with the editorial title: “Of The Holy Catholic Church.” The importance of this topic is evident in the fact that not only is it the subject of an entire book in Calvin’s major work, but the lengthiest book at that. Calvin’s concern for the catholic church stamped itself onto the structure of his magisterial Institutes.

In the opening paragraph of the opening chapter, Calvin makes multiple statements which explicitly convey his commitment to the church. To begin with, the chapter is titled: “The True Church with Which as Mother of all the Godly We Must Keep Unity.” The church is the institution “into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children.” Therein, Christians are welcomed, nourished, and guided until they mature into spiritual adulthood. Fellowship in the church is a great gift of God’s grace; therefore, it should not be treated lightly. Calvin proceeds with the comment: “What God has thus joined, let no man put asunder. To those to whom God is a father, the church must also be a mother.” With this comment, Calvin mixes marital and maternal metaphors by conflating a statement from Jesus about the comprehensive and permanent union involved in marriage (Mark 10:9) with the famous quote from Cyprian (200-258) about the absolute necessity of membership in the visible church for one’s salvation. In Calvin’s view, since the church is the bride of Christ and mother of believers, concrete membership within her is essential to the being, and not merely the well-being, of Christian life. An implication of the visible church’s maternal nature, Calvin argues, is that Christians must glean from her nurture their whole lives. “[It] is always disastrous to leave the church.”

In leaving the whole, one loses some element which is vital to Christian nurture. Therefore, Calvin states that Christians are under obligation “to cultivate the communion” of the universal visible church.[46] But the stakes are even higher—the Christian’s hope for her future inheritance is tied to her unity “with all other members under Christ, our Head.”[47] Calvin goes on to argue that God’s commitment to unity in his church is so strong that “he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of the Word and sacraments.”[48] The consequence for schismatics is a “separation from the church [which is simultaneously] the denial of God and Christ.”

Calvin also communicates his clarity regarding the grounds of the unity which is sought. Again, he identifies what he considers the constitutional elements of a true church. First he restates the essential marks: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”[49] In order to determine whether the Word and sacraments are handled properly, Calvin returns to the theme of Christ’s lordship. In the section supplied with the editorial title, “The Church is Founded upon God’s Word,”[50] Calvin asserts that the Word is the instrument through which Christ executes his lordship over the church.[51] This emphasizes once again Calvin’s conviction about the fundamental submission to Christ through his Word. Unless this characterizes a church, there can be no true union with it.

He elaborates on this theme in a section discussing schism and heresy.[52] There he argues that “this communion is held together by two bonds, agreement in sound doctrine and brother love. . . . [Apart] from the Lord’s Word there is not an agreement of believers but a faction of wicked men.” Unity without submission to Christ who rules through his Word is not true catholicity. To remain in union with a fellowship which has abandoned Christ as its lord is, effectively, to abandon Christ.                                            

Though Calvin’s statements about the Roman Catholic Church and the pope in his day are harsh, he nevertheless calls for significant charity in ecclesial recognition. He argues for “charitable judgment whereby we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us.”[53] A practical application of this is that there must be an acknowledgment of varying levels of magnitude in doctrine. Calvin declares that the doctrines of absolute necessity are: “God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like.”[54] These are essential to Christian faith and take ultimate priority in ecclesial unity. This allows for significant variance regarding other theological disputes, “which still do not break the unity of the faith.” Division over such “nonessential” issues, Calvin argues, constitutes a thoughtless “[forsaking] of the church” for “petty dissensions.”[55] Calvin opposes rash dissociation from faltering Christians for the sake of purity. He describes such purists as “evil persons” who forsake the call to love one’s fellow believers by tolerating their vices while gently guiding them in truth.[56] To predicate reunion upon comprehensive theological concord will render catholicity impossible. But, even worse, to require doctrinal purity for ecclesial recognition will resign the church itself to oblivion. Thus, Calvin says: “[If] we are not willing to admit a church unless it be perfect in every respect, we leave no church at all.”[57]

The emphasis on visible catholic unity and the condemnation of schism pervaded the church theory of Calvin. As those united to Christ, Christians are forbidden from severing themselves from his body. They are implored to seek the bonds of fellowship with his whole body as long as the marks of a true church are maintained and essential doctrines are not distorted or neglected. Nevertheless, however desirable and necessary unity may be, it must never come at the expense of truth—found in fundamental submission to Christ’s rule as the head of the church through his Word. This is why, for Calvin, the separation from the contemporary church of Rome was not schism. He was willing neither to mandate agreement on every doctrine nor to endorse the divisions among Christian bodies and leave union to the invisible, “spiritual” plane. He worked tirelessly in unifying efforts and was willing to make concessions on nonessential points of doctrine. 

Moving beyond Calvin’s day to ours, we have witnessed significant development along catholic lines within the previous century as a result of the modern ecumenical movement and post-conciliar Roman Catholicism. Though there is much to celebrate, there is much left to be done. There remain two major obstacles to catholicity relevant to the topic of this essay. First is the fact that Rome has not abandoned its positions on papal authority. In fact, in some areas the power of the pope has only increased since the time of Calvin.[58]

But another major problem in modern catholicity is the reticence of those who consider themselves Calvin’s heirs to privilege visible unity. Such persons should consider Calvin’s catholic convictions and the manner by which they were expressed in his life and ministry. It is all too common for Reformed parties to fall into rigorism, believing that unity can only be achieved by agreement on a vast list of doctrines. Furthermore, many Evangelicals are simply complacent about visible catholic unity, defaulting to a view in which the invisible church is the only church. But as Calvin demonstrates, Reformed catholics should commit to unity and exhibit a certain flexibility regarding formulations in doctrine and ecclesial practice—particularly in terms of church government, liturgy, and sacraments. Representatives of particular ecclesial bodies need to remain open to elucidation, enhancement, and correction in dialogue with one another in hopes of reunion. This means that catholic efforts will not necessarily entail a dilution of doctrine. Rather, commitment to union, by bringing together true churches which foreground various aspects of truth under God’s Word, will function to mature the whole body.

Prof. James R. Wood is Lectuer in Ministry at Redeemer University. Previously, he worked as an associate editor at First Things Magazine, a PCA pastor in Austin, TX, and a campus evangelist and team leader with Cru Ministries at the University of Texas at Austin. His writings focus on political theology, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology and have appeared in the Journal of Reformed Theology, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Public Discourse, Mere Orthodoxy, Theopolis, Covenant, and Providence.


1 There is a burgeoning movement of theologians under the label “Reformed catholicity/catholicism,” including the Davenant Institute. A surge of books and articles has surfaced that includes that description in the respective titles or addresses the relevant topics in the body of the works. A representative sampling includes: W. Bradford Littlejohn, The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009); Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015); Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, editors, Church Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016); Peter J. Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016); and James R. Wood, “Christ’s Body is One: Resources for Reformed Catholicity in John W. Nevin’s Incarnational Ecclesiology,” Journal of Reformed Theology 14, no. 1-2 (2020): 73-99.
2 See Eddy Van der Borght, “Reformed Ecclesiology,” chap. 10 in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, ed. Gerard Mannion and Lewis S. Mudge (New York: Routledge, 2008), 189.
3 See Martien E. Brinkman, A Reformed Voice in the Ecumenical Discussion, Studies in Reformed Theology 31 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 15.
4 See Dorothea Wendebourg, “The Church in the Magisterial Reformers” in The Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology, ed. Paul Avis ( Oxford: Oxford, 2018), 231f.
5 For Calvin’s identification of the visible church as the true church, see Wilhelm Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, trans. Harold Knight (London: Methuen, 1956), 191-193.
6 See Wendebourg, “The Church in the Magisterial Reformers,” 233.
7 Calvin really only engages this theme in the first three sections of chapter one of book four.
8 See Edward A. Dowey, “Calvin on Church and State,” Reformed and Presbyterian World 24 (1957): 247; Wendebourg, “The Church in the Magisterial Reformers,” 233ff.
9 See John Tonkin, The Church and the Secular Order in Reformation Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 129-130. This logic is echoed by Peter Leithart in various works. See especially the chapter, “The ‘Body of Christ’ is the Body of Christ,” in Peter Leithart, The Baptized Body (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007).
10 See Dowey, “Calvin on Church and State,” 248.
11 See John T. McNeill, Unitive Protestantism: A Study in Our Religious Resources (New York: Abingdon, 1930), 182.
12 During this time Calvin published, among other things, the second version of the Institutes (1539) as well as his commentary on Romans (1539).
13 See Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven: Yale, 2009), 103-105.
14 See John Calvin, “Letter to Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto,” republished in A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto, ed. John C. Olin (Grand Rapids,: Baker, 1966), 57.
15 Ibid., 63.
16 Ibid., 69-73. He lists and discusses the Mass, the law of Innocent, intercession of the saints, and purgatory.
17 Ibid., 64-66.
18 Ibid., 75, 85.
19 Ibid., 55, 85.
20 Ibid., 86.
21 Calvin accompanied Bucer to meetings such as the Leipzig Disputation and the imperial diet of Frankfurt in 1539.
22 See McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, 180, 184. “Early in his career as a Reformer, Calvin began to make proposals of Protestant union. . . . It is safe to conjecture that the influence of Bucer was among the most potent factors in deepening his concern for union.”
23 Gordon, Calvin, 99. His views of German Lutheranism became increasingly positive, so much so that he signed Melanchthon’s Variataof the Augsburg Confession in 1540.
24 See ibid., 99-102.
25 See Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Mediaeval and Reformation Europe (New Haven: Yale, 1981), 364.
26 See Gordon, Calvin, 104-105. “Having witnessed at first hand the divisions among the Protestants, Calvin offered a distinctive perspective as a basis for unity. For the Catholics, there was nothing to be said, as he fully endorsed Melanchthon’s repudiation of reconciliation with the Roman church. For the Protestants, however, he wished to make a very different point: there was room for differences of theology and method as long as it was among those whose primary commitment was to the Word of God.” See also McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, 180. “His union effort is primarily directed toward the consolidation of Protestantism. . . . His desire for the visible unity of the Church of God did not lead him to concede a place in that church to official Rome.”
27 See John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford: Oxford, 1981), 229. “Calvin was capable of considerable forbearance toward those suspected of heterodoxy who were not dangerously hostile to his system. He argued against narrow definitions of the doctrinal terms of communion so as to exclude diversity of opinion on nonessentials. . . . He favored a liberal practice of intercommunion between churches, even where minor divergences existed in doctrine, discipline, and worship. . . . Along with Bucer, he cultivated . . . an interconfessional toleration . . . His passion for ecumenical unity induced an ecclesiastical tolerance that was unusual in his day. ”
28 See Ozment, Age of Reform, 337.
29 Gordon, Calvin, 54.
30 See McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, 186.
31 See Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (New York: Penguin,2004), 248-250.
32 See Selderhuis, John Calvin, 154.
33 See McNeill, Unitive Protestantism, 189-190.
34 Ibid., 196.
35 See John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Volume 1, trans. John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 51. “[As] the object of the gospel is, that we be reconciled to God through him, it is necessary . . . that we should all be bound together in him. . . . For we must be one body, if we would be kept together under him as our head. . . . Hence to glory in his name amidst strifes and parties is to tear him in pieces.”
36 See John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 268-282. In support of flexibility, Calvin argues that Paul recommends forbearance as the means to promote unity, which would result in a “harmony of views.” This forbearance only goes so far, though. Staying true to his convictions about the clarity with which unity must be sought, Calvin makes multiple statements in his comments on 4:4-12 in which he explains that the grounds for such efforts is the truth/the Word/true doctrine.
37 John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Volume 2, trans. John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 182-189. “[Let] us remember that the Son of God . . . does not approve of any other faith than that which is drawn from the doctrine of the apostles, and sure information of that doctrine will be found nowhere else than in their writings…But woe to the Papists, whose faith is so far removed from this rule.”
38 For more in-depth discussion of these events and Calvin’s complex relationship with Bullinger, see Ozment, Age of Reform, 196ff; MacCulloch, Reformation, 251ff; and Gordon, Calvin, 176ff.
39 See Ozment, Age of Reform, 339. According to Ozment, the Consensus “established theological agreement on disputed doctrines and prepared the way for the more comprehensible and definitive union of the two bodies.” This would manifest in the compilation of the Second Helvetic Confession in 1566.
40 See MacCulloch, Reformation, 252.
41 See McNeill, Character of Calvinism, 206-207.
42 See Hesselink, “Calvinus Oecumenicus,” 87. See also Gordon, Calvin, 260. According to Gordon, the “externals of worship” were consistently treated with a “charitable spirit.”
43 See McNeill, Character of Calvinism, 217.
44 See John Calvin,“First Letter to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,” April, 1552; reprinted in Letters of John Calvin, Volume 2, ed. Jules Bonnet, trans. David Constable (University of Toronto Library, 2012), 2:330-333.
45 See John Calvin, “Second Letter to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,” July, 1552; reprinted in Letters of John Calvin, Volume 2, ed. Jules Bonnet, trans. David Constable (University of Toronto Library, 2012), 2:341-343.
46 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.7.
47 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.2.
48 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.10.
49 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.9.
50 Calvin, Institutes, IV.2.4.
51 “[The] church is Christ’s Kingdom, and he reigns by his Word alone.”
52 Calvin, Institutes, IV.2.5.
53 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.8.
54 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.12.
55 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.13.
56 See Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.16. Such purists “prostitute [this] to the sacrilege of schism.”
57 Calvin, Institutes, IV.1.17.
58 This is especially true in terms of the doctrine of papal infallibility, which became official dogma at Vatican I and was reasserted at Vatican II. See Mark E. Powell, Papal Infallibility: A Protestant Evaluation of an Ecumenical Issue (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) and Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.


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