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Calvin’s understanding of the Church and its relevance for the ecumenical movement

When I received the invitation to speak at this consultation on “Calvin’s understanding of the Church and its relevance for the ecumenical movement”1, I was a little surprised. To be sure, being Waldensian by birth and conviction, Calvinism has been the most sizable theological influence on my life and thought. It is true that by profession I’m a Reformation historian, and it is equally true that having spent ten years of my life as secretary of the World Student Christian Federation I have formed a vivid interest in the ecumenical movement. But over the past decade I have turned my attention partly to the field of the Italian Reformation with special reference to Peter Marty Vermigli, and partly to Heinrich Bullinger and the Zurich Reformation. Your invitation led me to engage in a reflection which tries to tie together various stages of development in my own life. I hope that these semi autobiographical remarks will not be quite off-key with respect to the subject assigned to me.

Before turning to the sixteenth century, let us first address briefly two methodological questions. It is always a chancy affair to resort to authorities of the past for advice on things which they could possibly have known in a better way then we do. There are questions we must raise for ourselves and answer by ourselves, to which the voices of other generations are irrelevant. Nobody would dream of quoting Zwingli in favour of, or against, nuclear warfare. No neurobiologist would rely on Melanchthon’s Liber de Anima for the study of the nervous system. On the other hand, certain questions—and these are the most profound—touch all human experience, and involve us in a dialogue in which perhaps Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and countless other eminent Christian theologians may freshly intervene. Calvin’s teaching on the church and its significance for the ecumenical movement is a case in point. It is true that all the founders of Protestantism wrestled with this very issue. In the first period of the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Melanchthon came along with their vigorous challenges to sacramental practice and papal authority, and they laid the foundations of Protestant ecclesiology by asserting the inextricable link between church, word and sacraments. Subsequently, Bucer, Bullinger, à Lasco, Knox, Vermigli, Zanchi, and Beza modified the formulations of the previous generation through a series of refined distinctions2 or even added discipline to the notae ecclesiae. Others like Schwenckfeld and Hubmeier came to the conclusion that holiness of life belonged among the marks of the true church. It is no disparagement of his predecessors and contemporaries to assert that Calvin has produced the most comprehensive and influential reflection on the church. It is therefore worth taking a long look at his ecclesiology. However, we owe him, as to other past thinkers, not to put our own questions and preoccupations in his mouth, thus making him a mere sounding board for our own ideas. If we really seek a genuine dialogue, it seems quite reasonable that we should find out first of all what he says and allow him to intervene, even if disconcertingly, in our debates. On the other hand, of course, if we are not content with what he says, it is perfectly possible to disagree with him.

My next remarks address the usage of the sources. Many have attempted to trace Calvin’s conception of the church. Earlier studies3 have tended to focus mostly on the Calvin’s doctrinal thought in the Ecclesiastical Ordinances and the final edition of the Institutes. In recent years we have become increasingly aware that if we want to know the range of his thought on this topic we must consult nearly his entire work, considering also the controversial writings, the catechisms4, the biblical commentaries and the sermons5, as well as the correspondence.6 Furthermore efforts to clarify the practice of the ministry of Word and sacraments in Calvin’s Geneva7 as well as new sociological inquiries in popular religious life have given colour to the picture of this part of the reformer’s work.8 These sources are exceptionally fruitful, but must here be excluded. The purpose of this present paper is to examine the relevance of Calvin’s ecclesiology for the ecumenical movement, and this will best be served if we rely chiefly upon the locus classicus of his teaching about the church, namely Book IV of the 1559 edition of the Institutes, which extends through twenty chapters, if one includes, as one surely must, the question of the Civil Government.

With these two cautions in mind, and without losing sight of our specific purpose, I suggest that we now approach a few of the central themes of Calvin’s ecclesiology by adopting three headings: 1) The Church as Mother and School ; 2) The marks of the Church in Word and sacraments; 3) The Church and the godly Magistrate

1. Church as Mother and School

In the thought of the Reformers, Lutheran and Reformed alike, there is a vivid awareness of the double aspect of the church as the invisible or holy and spiritual society of the truly faithful and the visible or earthly and imperfect organisation of professed Christians. Already in the First Zurich Disputation (1523) Zwingli set the “Church of the pontiffs” in contrast with the true church, “the spotless bride of Jesus Christ governed and refreshed by the Spirit of God.”9 Bullinger in his Decades (1549-1551) clearly distinguished between the “inward and invisible Church” which we profess in the creed and the “visible and outward church” which is “outwardly known by men for a church, by hearing God’s word and partaking of his sacraments, and by public confession of their faith.”10 In common with the other Reformers Calvin never relaxed the tension between visible and invisible church, but beset by a resurgent Catholicism and a proliferating Anabaptism he laid more emphasis upon the church as an external institution recognizable as true by certain distinguishing marks. He held the two poles together, frequently in the same sentence, but turned his attention more and more to the visible church and affirmed the necessity of communion with it: “Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, the visible church.”11 Although by definition it is imperfect and contains numerous hypocrites, Calvin insistently stresses the sinfulness of schism: “For the Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments.”12

It is noteworthy that the very first images Calvin uses for his discussion of the visible church are those of motherand school, which he frequently combines.13 A few telling sentences must here be quoted, which have many parallels in the commentaries on the Pastoral epistles14 and in the sermon 30 on Galatians (1557/58).15

…I shall start, then, with the Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his children, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry so long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly careuntil they mature and at last reach to the goal of faith. For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder [Mark 10: 9], so that, for those to whom he is Father the Church may also be Mother.16

…But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible Church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother”, how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like angels [Matth 22: 30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [37:32] and Joel [2:32] testify. Ezekiel agrees with them when he declares that those whom God rejects from heavenly life will not be enrolled among God's people [Ezekiel 13:9]. On the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true godliness are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem [Isaiah 56:5; Psalm 87:6]… By these words God's fatherly favour and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.17

Let me point out in passing that the usage of these ancient metaphors is not peculiar to Calvin.18 Luther uses similar language in his Large Catechism: “Outside the Christian Church, that is, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, and hence no holiness...The church is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the word of God.”19 Bullinger has also a careful discussion of the church as mother in his Decades20and he frequently applies the image of the school to the Church in his commentaries.21 Both insist that the church as “mother of the believers” and “God’s school” fulfils a unique and indispensable function in the work of salvation. More specifically, Calvin says that before the fall God intended that nature should be a school in which we might learn piety,22 but now the fallen state of humanity requires a kind of remedial education. The instructor, or alternatively, the classroom, is no longer nature, but rather the maternal Church. While his emphasis does not lie upon the church as an extension of the incarnation,23 Calvin nonetheless ascribes to the church a significant role in the economy of redemption. While the incarnation of Christ forms the primary and unique medium through which God accommodates himself to us24, the church is a subordinate means God also uses to approach us and make himself accessible to us. And while Calvin leaves God the freedom to communicate his grace otherwise than through the church,25 the church ordinarily serves as the society within which faith is born, nourished and strengthened. The specific manner in which this occurs is through the ministry of Word and sacraments, as the following paragraphs and even more the sermon on Gal. 4: 26-31 clearly indicate.

There is no need to retrace here Calvin’s clear and distinctive doctrine of the four orders or offices of ministry. What is at stake is not the existence of the four offices but their status. While the tone is fairly restrained, the picture that emerges from these sentences is significantly different from traditional Catholic teaching about the offices in the Church. This had tied the authority of the office bearer to the office itself. A bishop or a priest has certain powers granted by God which are inherent in his office, regardless whether he uses those powers judiciously or abuses them blatantly. The Church Calvin envisions is one in which God reserves to himself all authority26, though he chooses to exercise this authority through the church’s ministers. Just as God is heard in Christ and in his gospel, so Christ himself communicates with us through his ministers. Such a high function Calvin assigns to the ministry of the Church that in Com. on Gal. 4:26 he can say:

…certainly he who refuses to be a son of the Church in vain desires to have God as his Father; for it is only through the instrumentality of the Church that we are "born of God," [1 John 3:9] and brought up through the various stages of childhood and youth, till we arrive at manhood. This designation, "the mother of us all," reflects the highest credit and the highest honor on the Church.27

This brief synopsis of Calvin’s conception of the church as mother of believers invites to two short remarks. First, contrary to some subsequent developments in Protestantism, according to Calvin there is a genuine centrality of the church and a primacy of the corporate dimension of faith in the purpose of God’s gracious condescension to us. It is a case, I believe, that urgently needs to be made, because many Reformed churches are in a state of cognitive dissonance about it, affirming the centrality of community life yet retaining an individualistic understanding of faith. Why then do Reformed Christians, strong as they are on individuality in Christ, often appear weak when it comes to the corporate awareness that should flow from seeing the church as central in the plan of God? To be sure, the gospel message individualizes, and faith is always an individual, personal matter, and within Christian community, each person’s individuality is deepened and enhanced. At the same time, however, through the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, the self-sufficient individualism should be snuffed out step by step, and through the community’s life the glory of God in should increasingly become the focus of each believer’s longings and prayers.

Secondly, there is a whole realm of possibility for beautiful imagery and even poetry in these metaphors of the church as mother and school, provided that we do not interpret them in the sense of “Mater et Magistra”, that is as a magisterium vested in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as in the Professio fidei Tridentina of 1564 28, but rather recover Calvin’s view of the faithful teaching of the Word of God.  Yes, language in the Church has been too masculine. We have ignored the truth that the Church is the bride of Christ, and the Mother of all believers. By eliminating the Mother from the doctrine of the new birth, we have forced women to try to find some new place for feminine language. Even worse, by denying the necessity of the visible Church in the soteriology, we have ignored the Mother - and now she is dying, being excluded from our understanding as God’ tool through which souls are revivified and sanctified. Yes, God alone is our Father, but it is the Church who is our Mother, by whom we are nurtured through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This image has largely been lost in the Reformed theology over the last 350 years. The only exception I know is Jan Amos Comenius, with his most touching work, The Bequest of the Dying Mother (1650).29 Yet, the indications are suggestive. At the very least, recovery of the mother/school imagery would reflect a return to a biblical way of thinking about the church in her relationship with Christ, and would hopefully recapture one of the most fruitful images for understanding the role of the church in salvation.30

2. The marks of the Church: Word and Sacraments

How is the visible church to be recognized? It is well known that Calvin slightly modified the Augsburg Confession to give us the classical Reformed statement on the Church: “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 Godexists.”31 Noteworthy in this formula is the explicitness of language: the word of God is not only “purely preached” but also “heard”. For example, Bullinger, the other father of the Reformed tradition affirms in the first sermon of the Decades: “…there are two special and principal marks, the sincere preaching of the Word of God, and the lawful partaking of the sacraments of Christ”.32 Calvin’s addition emphasizes the importance of people actually hearing what was preached and applying this to their lives, both collectively and individually.

Of course, this is not a formal definition, but rather a way of discerning where a church is. There may be a lot of other aspects attached to the notion of church that are incidental to the fulfilment of its essential purpose, says Calvin, but as long as there is faithful preaching and hearing of the Word of God and a right administration of the sacraments, there is the church. According to Calvin, preaching must ordinarily be accompanied by the administration of the sacraments which, as “appendices” of the gospel, serve to confirm and to sustain us in the faith.33 Speaking of this relation between preaching and sacraments, Calvin notes that communion belongs to the fullness of worship:

it was not instituted to be received once a year, and that perfunctorily, (as is now commonly the custom;) but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying towards each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ.34

The awareness of the infirmity of our faith should lead us to experience the power of the aids and helps that God has provided for us in the church, especially in the preaching and the sacraments, so that our faith might be confirmed and strengthened thereby. This argument can lead him to the emphatic statement:

…Let us therefore carefully keep these marks imprinted upon our minds and esteem them in accordance with the Lord's will. For there is nothing that Satan plots more than to remove and do away with one or both of these. Sometimes he tries by effacing and destroying these marks to remove the true and genuine distinction of the church. Sometimes he tries by heaping contempt upon them to drag us away from the church in open rebellion.35

Significantly, Calvin did not follow Bucer and Oecolampadius, as did the Reformed tradition generally, in considering the church discipline as nota ecclesiae, nor did he accept the Anabaptist view of the church, imbued as it was with the conviction of the necessity of perfect sanctity. Indeed, to insist on holiness of life as a mark of the true church is for Calvin a delusory pretension. Conscious as he is of the problem and importance of holy living to follow from the gospel, imperfections of life ought not to be made a pretext for abandoning the church. In a strong passage he argues that to condemn wickedness in the church is one thing; to judge that no church exists on account of its lack of perfect purity of life is quite another. It is vain to expect the church on earth to be completely purified. Perfection of life is not itself a characteristic note of the church. The marks of the true church are the Word of God and the sacraments.36

There are several aspects of this lucid description of the marks of the church that would require special comment, but at least one must be pointed out, namely the relation between preaching and the sacraments. The ecumenical exchanges of the past century have brought an awareness of the sense of churchly reality that lay at the heart of these sentences and at same time of that singular phenomenon of logo-centrism which so often undergirds present-day Reformed ecclesiology. Starting from these well-known passages of the Institutes Martha L. Moore–Keish,37 a North American Presbyterian theologian who finds her home in the worldwide Reformed church family, has raised some perceptive and challenging questions: Does Reformed ecclesiology really look to Word and sacraments as marks of the church? It does indeed affirm that Word and Sacrament are the marks by which we know where the church is, but practice does not fully reflect this affirmation. Reformed theology has emphasized the centrality of the Word, but what about sacraments? Has it focused sufficient time and energy to due consideration of baptism and the Lord's Supper as marks of the church?

This critique is not new. Roman Catholic, Lutherans, high Anglicans and even leading ecumenists often remark that Reformed Christians have a somewhat inadequate view of the visible church, and the same inkling is involved. Is that justified? In theory no, but in practice the answer often is yes. And if so, what are the sources? Is it a reaction against sacramentalist modes that hinders us from developing a fully churchly life with both preaching and sacraments? But above all: what are the remedies? Assuming a tendency to undervalue the inextricable link between preaching and sacrament in Calvin’s thought, Moore-Keish goes on to suggest ways in which our understanding of the church might be enriched by the re-integration of sacramental theology into ecclesiology. Let me summarize them:

  1. Sacraments present and join us to Christ, and therefore their frequent practice aids in understanding the church as the body of Christ.
  2. Sacraments draw us into community, and therefore helps to value the church as the covenant people.
  3. Sacraments call us to acknowledgment of sin, and also call the church to confess its sinfulness and shortcomings.
  4. Sacraments remind us of our dependence, and so too the church remembers that it is a dependent reality, founded on the gifts and actions of God.
  5. Sacraments acknowledge both our full humanity and Christ's full humanity, and so the church too is reminded to be a fully human institution with responsibilities for the bodies as well as the souls of its members.
  6. Sacraments are ethical acts, and thus call the church to become a community of holy living, both in the private and in the public arena.
  7. Sacraments point toward God's coming reign, and likewise the sacramental church is an eschatological community, a living dress rehearsal for the reign of God.

On the whole, Moore-Keish seems to believe that “for Calvin, sacraments consist of divine gift and human reception: Jesus Christ comes to us in and through the bread and wine and water, but we must have faith to receive that gift….This may be the most valuable and the most challenging thing we can learn from Calvin's ecclesiology today: that the church is not something that we form of our own accord. It is not a product of our reaching out to God, but a gift of God reaching out to us.” 

I would have nothing major to add to that, except to underline how far is our practice of the sacraments from Calvin’s understanding of them.38 To be sure, this does not imply fault to the Reformed churches for valuing Scripture and doctrine and preaching in the way that they do—or, at least, used to do, for even these aspects of his legacy are currently in eclipse among us, to our own great loss. Nonetheless, it must be said that the stress on text and talking has marginalized and depreciated the sacraments, so that their message about the crucified and living Lord as the life of the church is muffled, and the Eucharist thus becomes a mere extra tacked onto a preaching service, rather than the congregation’s chief act of worship, as Calvin thought it should be. The word-sacrament antithesis adumbrated by Moore and other critics, most certainly, is overstress, but the disproportionate logo-centrism of Reformed ecclesiology is a fact, and may even be a significant cause of an enfeebled Reformed churchliness.

3. The Church and the godly Magistrate

In the Institutes, book IV, chap. 20 Calvin clearly elucidates his views on the relationship between the Church and the Magistrate.39 These were in marked contrast with a number of other positions. He firmly rejected the papal hierocracy of the late Middle Ages. He was equally opposed to the Erastian subordination of the Church to the political authority, be it in Lutheran or Zwinglian fashion. Although he refused, like the Anabaptists, any confusion between the spiritual and the temporal orders, he did not hold with them that a Christian ought to remain apart from all offices.40 His ideal was not the separation of the spiritual and temporal powers but rather their mutual aid and reciprocal collaboration, each being free in its own sphere. However, the lines of demarcation were not clear, as a large part of scholarly criticism tends to indicate. In various provocative and lively surveys of this theme, William C. Naphy refers to the relationship between the two institutions in Calvin’s Geneva as “incredibly interlocking”, “extremely complex but largely consensual.”41

Let us be perfectly clear on this point, if only to avoid older inaccuracies and spreading around a romantic picture of the Genevan Reformer as harbinger of the formula “free Church in free State”. Like all his fellow-reformers and almost everyone in the sixteenth century, except the Anabaptists, Calvin held firmly to the concept of a State Church to which all must belong.42 The hallmark of their contention was that Church and civic community were not two entirely separate bodies based on fundamentally different principles, but rather two elements of the same organism. The magistrate was not to usurp the spiritual function of the Church. The Church, on the other hand, was not to presume any kind of supremacy over secular authority. Although their tasks were distinct, both bodies were founded on common principles and both had to accept the principle of scriptural authority. Following these premises, close State involvement in Church life was built, for example, into both the Genevan OrdonnancesEcclésiastiques and the Zurich Prediger- und Synodalordnung. In Geneva the elders, who together with the pastors formed the disciplinary body known as the Consistory, were drawn from the ranks of all three Genevan councils—the Petit Conseil, the Conseil des Soixante, and the Conseil des Deux Cents, while the chairman was the Syndic. InZurich all ministers and seven members of the council attended the synod which was chaired jointly by the senior pastor and the incumbent Bürgermeister.43 The Genevan rulers like the Zurich magistrates maintained steady pressure to uphold the state’s jurisdiction over the Church. Over the obligations of pastors towards the state, the state’s oversight of pastors, and the relative roles of the clergy and the civil government there were large areas of consent as well as potential for recurrent discord both in Geneva and in Zurich. Specifically unique to Geneva was the involvement of magistrate-elders in the consistorial discipline and in the sanction of excommunication.

As everybody knows, the Zurich Reformation was, in contrast to the Genevan Reformation, very reluctant to develop its own church discipline, and left it totally – or at least to a large extent – to the City council. Even if the Church was to police itself through measures of self government exercised in the biannual meetings of the Synod, at no time did Bullinger argue - as Calvin did in Geneva - that excommunication be placed in the hands of clerical authority instead of those of the magistrates. Essentially the Zurich model, characterized by Pamela Biel as “reciprocal relationship”44, consisted in a modus vivendi which took account of the concerns of both parties. While the final authority over the Church lay in the hands of temporal rulers, the prophetic function (Wächteramt) of the Church, with regard to the whole society, magistrates included, was maintained by the clergy. In addition, through the person of the Antistes the ministers had direct access to the city council and could raise their voice whenever they felt it important to make their opinions known to the government.45 With this opinion Bullinger obviously rejected the Anabaptist position, often more vigorously, but never less so than Calvin. In contrast, Bullinger spoke at times in a manifestly supportive tone about the Geneva model, although the confrontation between the two visions in the Palatinate, in what later was to be known as the Erastian controversy, exacerbated the differences between Zurich and Geneva.

The overriding impression that emerges from the reading of the weighty chap. 20 of the book IV of the Institutes is that Calvin, like Bullinger46, was anxious to impress on the secular authority the weighty responsibility of the cura religionis; but above all he was zealous to preserve the autonomy of the church from confusion with the jurisdiction of the “godly Magistrate.” The characteristic of his model is a relative autonomy and independence from the civil authority within the framework of a State Church, in particular over the social and political implications of the imposition of Church discipline. To use anachronistic terminology, we might say that Calvin’s view stresses the role of checks and balances in a system in which Church and State worked as “a single, national unit, comprising much of the same personnel and the same space.”47 One cannot label the struggle about excommunication as a constitutional clash for the independence of the Church from State, since there was no separation between Church (Company) and State (Petit Conseil), but merely a “disagreement between one institution of the State, the Consistory, and another, the Petit Conseil.” 48 In other words, it was “a question of jurisdiction and place in the institutional structure of the state between one bureaucratic body, the Consistory, and another, the Petit Conseil.”49

This, let it be it said, is a tall achievement. Calvin’s strongly held views rouse our admiration, because they have become the source of pulsating energies constantly adjusting to the various political cultures. His model of church organization was certainly more biblical and less dangerous than Bullinger’s model of the relationship between religious and temporal sphere and, in the long run, more influential both spiritually and politically.

It must also be said that Calvin was dealing with a Christian society and Christian rulers. The Genevan Reformation started in a distinct geographical area, northern Europe, where the Constantinian pattern had been imposed, and would not have survived without State support. There remains the basic question of our attitude to the medieval and early-modern pattern of a Christian society emerging from the Constantinian settlement. Some regard it as the greatest victory of the Church and would argue that we are still reaping the benefits from it, while others - and as a Waldensian heretic I count my self among them - have seen it as a false trail. As a Reformation historian, however, I would be the last to criticize Calvin or Bullinger for not having challenged the idea of the corpus christianum.

Yet another problem lurks here. We now face a pluralistic society and a secular state. To debate about the duties of “godly Magistrate” is fast becoming an irrelevance. In this respect Calvin's Geneva may be of historical interest to us but it is of little immediately practical consequence. If at all comparable, our present situation is analogous not to that of the Church in the early-modern period, but to that of the latter part of the third century, when the Church was still a tiny minority within the Roman Empire. And the perennial trouble of minorities is that, by a process as understandable as it is regrettable, their care is for their own survival, and thus concern for the quickening and renewing of society is considerably reduced. Such a narrowing of care for society is a seedbed of sectarianism and ought never to occur. We must not react against Constantinian politics into an inward, private spirituality. The Church can and should influence society as a whole, not to dominate but to serve as innovative ferment. Bullinger’s Fürträge and Calvin’s unpretentious system of checks and balances both involve much more than defending the interests of the Church. They believed and practised what we have to re-learn time and time again, namely that the Christian message of salvation becomes futile unless its implications are extended throughout the whole of human life, into political, social and international structures. Perhaps here lies Calvin’s - and let me add also Bullinger’s - greatest contribution in the field of political ethics, a contribution which exceeds by far the confessional borders and their own time and which embraces the whole Christian church.50

Prof. Dr. Emidio Campi, Zürich

1 The theme has been addressed recently by Lukas Vischer, Pia Conspiratio. Calvin’s Commitment to the Unity of Christ’s Church, Geneva 2000; Aladair Heron, The relevance of the Early Reformed Tradition, particularly of Calvin, for an Ecumenical Ecclesiology Today, in The Church in Reformed Perspective. A European Reflection, Geneva 2002, 47-74; Gottfried W. Locher, Signs of the advent. A study in Protestant ecclesiology, Fribourg 2004.

2 For example: visible and invisible church, true and false church, local and universal, unity in doctrine und diversity in organization etc.

3 Willhelm Niesel, Die Theologie Calvins, München 1938 (Engl. The Theology of Calvin, 1956); Alexandre Ganoczy, Calvin, théologien de l’ Eglise et du ministère, Paris 1964; Otto Weber, Calvins Lehre von der Kirche, in Id., Die Treue Gottes in der Geschichte der Kirche, Neukirchen 1968, 19-104; Léopold Schümmer, L’Ecclésiologie de Calvin à la lumière de l’Ecclesia Mater, Bern 1981; Harro Höpfl, The Christian Polity of Jean Calvin, Cambridge 1982; Stefan Scheld, Media salutis. Zur Heilsvermittlung bei Calvin, Stuttgart 1989; Richard C. Gamble, Calvin’s Ecclesiology: Sacraments and Deacons, NewYork & London 1992.

4 Robert M. Kingdon, Catechesis in Calvin’s Geneva, in John van Engen (Ed.), Educating People of Faith, Grand Rapids 2004, 294-313; John Hesselink, Calvin’s Use of Doctrina in His Catechisms (unpublished paper given at the International Calvin Congress, Emden , August 2006).

5 Peter Opitz, Calvins theologische Hermeneutik, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1994; Max Engammare, Sermons sur la Genèse, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 2000; Id., W. H. Th. Moehn, God calls us to His Service, Geneva 2001 H. J. Selderhuis, Church on Stage: Calvin’s Dynamic Ecclesiology, in David Foxgrover (Ed.), Calvin and the Church, Grand Rapids, 2002, 46-64.

6 Jean-Daniel Benoit, Calvin and His Letters: A Study of Calvin's Pastoral Counselling Mainly from His Letters, Oxford 1986; William G. Naphy, Calvin’s Letters: Reflections on Their Usefulness in studying Geneva History, in “Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte” 86 (1995), 67-89.

7 Elsie A.McKee, Calvin and his colleagues as pastors: some new insights into the collegial ministry of word and sacraments, in Herman J. Selderhuis (Ed.), Calvinus Praeceptor Ecclesiae, Geneva 2004, 9-42;

8 William G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation, Manchester-New York, 1994; Id., Church and State in Calvin’s Geneva, in David Foxgrover (Ed.), Calvin and the Church, Grand Rapids, 2002, 13-28. Since 1987 a team of scholars (Thomas A. Lambert, Isabella M. Watt, Jeffrey R. Watt) under the supervision of Robert M. Kingdon is publishing the Registres du Concistoire de Genève au temps de Calvin and examining important aspects of church life and popular religious practice. See for a bibliographical overview Jeffrey R. Watt, Childhood and youth in the Geneva Consistory minutes, in H. J. Selderhuis (Ed.), Calvinus Praeceptor Ecclesiae, Geneva 2004, 43-64, here 42.

9 Huldreich Zwingli, Sämtliche Werke [= Z], vol. I, 538.

10 H. Bullinger, Decades, ed. Parker society, Cambridge 1852, vol. IV, 17. On Bullinger’s ecclesiology, see Peter Opitz, Heinrich Bullinger als Theologe. Eine Studien zu den “Dekaden”, Zürich 2004, 417-461.

11 Inst. IV.1.7. (herafter in quotations from the Institutes in English is used Ford Lewis Battles’ translation).

12 Inst. IV.1.10.

13 Cfr. Raymond A. Blacketer, The School of God. Pedagogy and Rethorik in Calvin’s interpretation of Deuteronomy, Dordrecht 2006, 40-42.

14 Com. on 1. Tim. 3:15, CO 52, 288. The church is the mother of all believers “because she brings them the new birth by the Word of God, educates and nourishes them all their life, strengthens them and finally leads them to complete perfection.”; Com. on 1. Tim.5:7, CO 52, 308. The church is “ God’s school”, the “ pillar and ground of the truth”, because instructs “in the study of a holy and perfect life.”Com. on 1. Tim. 4:6, CO 52, 298.

15 Com. on Gal. 4: 26-31: “… In the same way, we must be careful today when we speak of ‘the church’, to ensure that we ourselves are not of that illegitimate seed; for if we have hypocritically uttered God’s name before men, he will surely reject us and banish us from his family. God bestows great honour upon the church here, when he calls her the mother of all believers. It reminds us of the words of Paul in another place, where he says that the church is the pillar which upholds God’s truth in this world [1 Tim. 3:15]. It does not mean that the truth needs to be maintained by sinners like ourselves, inclined as we are to fickleness and inconsistency, and prone to falsehood. How could the truth of God rest upon the shoulders of men, unstable as we are? Yet, through his unfailing kindness, he desired that his Word should be proclaimed here below, and committed that responsibility to those whom he has called. It is for this reason that the church is referred to here as ‘the mother of us all’. As the Lord Jesus Christ declares, God alone is our Father [Matt. 23:9]. God is our spiritual Father, and must have no rival. It is he that brings us the hope of eternal life by means of his true church, in which he has placed his incorruptible seed. As the prophet Isaiah says, ‘my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever’ [Isa. 59:21]. Thus, God governs his people through his Word. It is this message which he has bestowed as a deposit and priceless treasure for the salvation of his church, to bring us regeneration and nourish our spiritual lives.

16 Inst. IV. 1.1

17 Inst. IV.1.4. Cfr. also Inst. 4.1.20. and Com. on Isa. 33:24.

18 The metaphor of the church as mother goes back to Cyprian, De ecclesiae unitate 6, in PL 4, 519: “Habere non potest Deum patrem, qui ecclesiam non habet matrem”, and Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 88, serm. 2, in PL 39, 1512. See Joseph C. Plumpe, Mater Ecclesia. An Inquiry into the Concept of the Church as Mother in Early Christianity, Washington 1943.

19 Martin Luther, Large Catechism, part 2, The Creed, third article.

20 Heinrich Bullinger, Decades, vol. IV. 90-92

21 For example Heinrich Bullinger, Daniel Sapientissimus Dei Propheta…, Zürich 1565, 3a-5a.

22 Inst. II.6.1.

23 Against Schümmer, L’Ecclésiologie de Calvin, 50-53, and Scheld, Media salutis, 128.

24 For the concept of „accomodation“ in Calvin’s thought see John Balserak, Divinity Compromised. A Study of Divine Accomodation in the Thought of John Calvin, Dordrecht 2006.

25 Inst. IV.1.5.

26 Inst. IV.3.1.

27 Com. on Gal. 4:26.

28 Denzinger, Enchyridion Symbolorum[…], Freiburg i. Br. 371991, 1868: “Sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Romanam Ecclesiam omnium ecclesiarum matrem et magistram agnosco; Romanoque Pontifici, beati Petri Apostolorum principis successori ac Iesu Christi vicario, veram oboedientiam spondeo ac iuro.”

29A tract born of despair at the terms of the Peace of Westphalia, discussing whether the Unity of Brethren in exile should dissolve itself. English translation: The bequest of the Unity of Brethren, translated and edited by Matthew Spinka. Chicago 1940.

30See Is. 49; 50; 54; 66:7ff; Jer. 3,4. The book of Revelation depicts the Church as a mother giving birth to the Messiah (Rev. 12). Similarly, the Apostle Paul glories that the "Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26). D. G. Hart, Rediscovering Mother Kirk . Is High-Church Presbyterianism an Oxymoron?, in“Touchstone”, 13 (2000), issue 10, in a generally useful overview, though with orthodox Presbyterian pathos, outlines the implications of these two metaphors for worship, ethics and church life.

31 Inst. IV.1.9. In the Confessio Augustana, art. 7, the church is defined as “congregatio sanctorum, in qua evangelium pure docetur et recte administrantur sacramenta ", in BSLK, Göttingen 61967, 61.

32 Heinrich Bullinger, Decades, vol. IV,18.

33 Inst. IV.14.3.

34 Inst. IV.17.44.

35 Inst. IV.1.11.

36Inst. IV.1. 13.: “In bearing with imperfections of life we ought to be far more considerate. For here the descent is very slippery and Satan ambushes us with no ordinary devices. For there have always been those who, imbued with a false conviction of their own perfect sanctity, as if they had already become a sort of airy spirits, spurned association with all men in whom they discern any remnant of human nature. The Cathari of old were of this sort, as well as the Donatists, who approached them in foolishness. Such today are some of the Anabaptists who wish to appear advanced beyond other men. There are others who sin more out of ill-advised zeal for righteousness than out of that insane pride. When they do not see a quality of life corresponding to the doctrine of the gospel among those to whom it is announced, they immediately judge that no church exists in that place. This is a very legitimate complaint, and we give all too much occasion for it in this most miserable age. And our cursed sloth is not to be excused, for the Lord will not allow it to go unpunished, seeing that he has already begun to chastise it with heavy stripes. Woe to us, then, who act with such dissolute and criminal license that weak consciences are wounded because of us! But on their part those of whom we have spoken sin in that they do not know how to restrain their disfavor. For where the Lord requires kindness, they neglect it and give themselves over completely to immoderate severity. Indeed, because they think no church exists where there are not perfect purity and integrity of life, they depart out of hatred of wickedness from the lawful church, while they fancy themselves turning aside from the faction of the wicked. They claim that the church of Christ is holy [Ephesians 5:26]. But in order that they may know that the church is at the same time mingled of good men and bad, let them hear the parable from Christ's lips that compares the church to a net bin which all kinds of fish are gathered and are not sorted until laid out on the shore [Matthew 13:47-58]. Let them hear that it is like a field sown with good seed which is through the enemy's deceit scattered with tares and is not purged of them until the harvest is brought into the threshing floor [Matthew 13:24-3-]. Let them hear finally that it is like a threshing floor on which grain is so collected that it lies hidden under the chaff until, winnowed by fan and sieve, it is at last stored in the granary [Matthew 3:12]. But if the Lord declares that the church is to labor under this evil -to be weighed down with the mixture of the wicked- until the Day of Judgment, they are vainly seeking a church besmirched with no blemish.”

3737Martha L. Moore –Keish , Calvin, Sacraments and Ecclesiology: what makes a Church a Church, in http://reformedtheology.org/SiteFiles/PublicLectures/Moore-KeishPL.html

38 See Inst. IV.17.38.: The Lord intended it [i.e. the Lord’s Supper] to be a kind of exhortation, than which no other could urge or animate us more strongly, both to purity and holiness of life, and also to charity, peace, and concord. For the Lord there communicates his body so that he may become altogether one with us, and we with him. Moreover, since he has only one body of which he makes us all to be partakers, we must necessarily, by this participation, all become one body. This unity is represented by the bread which is exhibited in the sacrament. As it is composed of many grains, so mingled together, that one cannot be distinguished from another; so ought our minds to be so cordially united, as not to allow of any dissension or division. This I prefer giving in the words of Paul: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread," [1 Cor. 10: 15, 16] We shall have profited admirably in the sacrament, if the thought shall have been impressed and engraven on our minds, that none of our brethren is hurt, despised, rejected, injured, or in any way offended, without our, at the same time, hurting, despising, and injuring Christ; that we cannot have dissension with our brethren, without at the same time dissenting from Christ; that we cannot love Christ without loving our brethren; that the same care we take of our own body we ought to take of that of our brethren, who are members of our body; that as no part of our body suffers pain without extending to the other parts, so every evil which our brother suffers ought to excite our compassion. Wherefore Augustine not inappropriately often terms this sacrament the bond of charity. What stronger stimulus could be employed to excite mutual charity, than when Christ, presenting himself to us, not only invites us by his example to give and devote ourselves mutually to each other, but inasmuch as he makes himself common to all, also makes us all to be one in him. For the ethical implications of Calvin’s sacramental theology see Brian A. Gerrish, Grace and gratitude, Minneapolis 1993.

39 See Josef Bohatec, Calvin und das Recht, Freudingen i. Westfalen 1934; Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation; Höpfl, The Christian Polity of Jean Calvin.

40 Hans Scholl, Der Geist der Gesetze. Die politische Dimension der Theologie Calvins dargestellt besonders an seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Täufern, in Peter Opitz (Ed.), Calvin im Kontext der Schweizer Reformation. Historische und theologische Beiträge zur Calvinforschung, Zürich 2003, 93-125. For a comprehensive treatment of the Anabaptist view, see Michael Driedger, Anabaptists and the Early Modern State: A Long-Term View, in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. by John D. Roth & James M. Stayer, Leiden – Boston 2007, 507-544.

41 Naphy, Church and State in Calvin’s Geneva, in Calvin and the Church, 20 and 27.

42 See the useful overview by Otto Weber, Kirchliche und staatliche Kompetenz in den Ordonnances ecclésiastiques von 1561, in Id., Die Treue Gottes, 119-130.

43 Bruce Gordon, Clerical Discipline and Rural Reformation. The Synod in Zürich, 1532-1580, Bern 1992.

44 Pamela Biel, Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness. Heinrich Bullinger and the Zurich Clergy 1535-1575, Bern 1991, 20.

45 I refer to the he peculiar custom of the Fürträge, the formal memoranda to the city authorities inaugurated by Bullinger and kept well into the 17th century Zurich. See Hans Ulrich Bächtold, Heinrich Bullinger vor dem Rat. Zur Gestaltung und Verwaltung des Züricher Staatswesens in den Jahren 1531 bis 1575, Bern 1982. Most of the Fürträge are now available in a modern German translation in Heinrich Bullinger, Schriften, vol.6, ed. by Emidio Campi et al., Zürich 2006.

46 See for the relationship of Church and State in Bullinger’s Zurich, Emidio Campi, Bullingers Rechts- und Staatsdenken, in “Evangelische Theologie” 64 (2004), 116-126; Id., Bullinger’s Early Political and Theological Thought: Brutus Tigurinus, in Bruce Gordon and Emidio Campi, Architect of the Reformation. An Introduction to Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575, Grand Rapids 2004, 181-199.

47 Naphy, Church and State in Calvin’s Geneva, in Calvin and the Church, 22.

48 Ibid., 26.

49 Ibid.

50 See the standard work by André Biéler, La pensée économique et sociale de Calvin, Geneva 1959 (tr. Calvin’s economic and social thought, Geneva 2005), Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until, justice and peace embrace, Grand Rapids 1983; Id., The Wounds of God: Calvin’s theology of social justice, in “The Reformed Journal” 37 (1987), 14-22. See also the public statement on “The economic and social witness of Calvin for Christian life today” issued by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the John Knox Center and the Faculty of Theology of the University of Geneva, in “Reformed World” 55 (2005), 5 ff.