The Institutes (19)

Book 1 Chapter 12

Calvin moves from images of God to images of other “gods.” It may seem harmless to ascribe veneration to an image, or to use them in worship, but what is really insidious is that the images often used in worship are not even representative of God. Instead, they are used for saints or angels. Calvin believes that this is nothing but idolatry, however subtle:

… as often as Scripture asserts that there is one God, it is not contending over the bare name, but also prescribing that nothing belonging to his divinity is to be transferred to another.

Calvin is in full battle mode in this chapter, specifically pointing out honor given to angels and saints in worship cannot be

… a few centuries ago the saints who had departed this life were elevated into copartnership with God, to be honored, and also to be invoked and praised in his stead. Indeed, we suppose that by such an abomination God’s majesty is not even obscured, while it is in great part suppressed and extinguished, except that we retain some sterile notion of his supreme power; meanwhile, deceived by the trappings, we are drawn to various gods.

This is something that always concerned me about Catholicism; it’s resemblance to pagan Romanism in the veneration of multiple lesser “gods” that can aid and help their followers who offer them prayers. Thus we have a patron saint of this, or of that, etc. When closely examined, the connection between paganism and Catholicism becomes obvious. Calvin moves on to address the distinction previously mentioned (latria and dulia… worship and service). The Catholic insistence that they are not worshipping the saints (latria), but merely only serving them (dulia), quickly disappears as Calvin brings the Scriptures to the table.

In Galatians 4:8, Paul describes those who have dulia towards those who are not gods, and he condemns it. In Matthew 4, Satan demanded of Christ dulia, but this was clearly a case of worship, not mere service. John is rebuked for performing dulia to the angel in Revelation 22. Similarly, Cornelius in Acts 10:25 is told not to give dulia to Peter. Thus, the reverence that each of these individuals wished to give to someone less than God was forbidden.

Calvin concludes:

… if we wish to have one God, we should remember that we must not pluck away even a particle of his glory and that he must retain what is his own.

The true worship of God cannot be sustained when “veneration” is given to anything less. Honoring anything else is at best a distraction and at worst blasphemous.


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