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More About John Calvin, Jacopo Sadoleto & John Olin
John C. Olin was Professor Emeritus of History at Fordham University.
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A Window into the Roman Catholic/Protestant Divide of the 16th Century That Still Affects Christianity Today May 14, 2008
A Reformation Debate collects a March 1539 letter from Roman Catholic Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, bishop of Carpentras (France), to the residents of Geneva, Switzerland, and an August 1539 response from Geneva Protestant reformer John Calvin to Sadoleto. Geneva had become a Protestant city, and Sadoleto wrote to urge the citizens to return to the Roman Catholic faith. Calvin responded with a lively defense of the Protestant faith. Both letters provide helpful windows into the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide that has shaped Christianity ever since. The book also contains two valuable appendixes, the first one collecting sections in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on justification by faith alone, and the second one printing the Council of Trent's decree on justification.
Sadoleto constructs his argument almost as an apologetic in which he moves toward the Genevans as far as he can without compromising the Roman Catholic Church's position. He begins his correspondence by conveying his concern for the Genevans with deliberate allusions to letters of the apostle Paul. These Pauline echoes provide only a few of the Scripture quotes and allusions found throughout letter. Sadoleto also takes the major controversies of the Reformation and agrees with the Protestant positions as much as possible before explicating where Rome differs. It is an oversimplification to say that he essentially makes an appeal to human self-interest in obtaining salvation, as Lester DeKoster (following Calvin) concludes in the book's introduction. Sadoleto's final (and therefore arguably more important) appeal used to conclude his letter is one urging Protestants to return to the Roman Catholic Church for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ.
Calvin's letter is more than twice the length of Sadoleto's correspondence and not only reacts to the bishop's arguments, but defends Protestant viewpoints. The Geneva reformer charges Sadoleto with steering Christians to self-concern for their salvation rather than concern for God's glory. Calvin goes on to sound the distinctive themes of the Reformation while mostly arguing that the reformers are returning to the early church fathers. (On two points, discipline and confession, he admits they have departed from the fathers.) The reformer declares that the Roman Catholic Church is a true church but has been overrun with false shepherds. In doctrine and practice, it has in some cases has gone beyond Scripture (e.g., in requiring confession to a priest) while in other cases has limited Christ (e.g., transubstantiation limits Christ to the elements when Christ cannot be bound to them). As to the unity of the body of Christ, Calvin argues that church splits have been occurring since the start of the Church, and that the reformers are only leaders attempting to unite the Christians who have been scattered by the Roman Catholic Church's apostasies.
The two writers differ markedly in the way they make their appeals. Sadoleto comes across as calm and measured in his tone, humble, and sometimes even nuanced in his beliefs. (He had less than a decade earlier published a commentary on Romans that the Roman Catholic magisterium believed emphasized human freedom too much!) Calvin, in contrast, is generally blunt in expressing his strong opinions and always unafraid to paint stark pictures of the gap between the two camps. He does not come across as proud per se, but he is concerned to defend his ministry. As a result, Calvin is often fiery in tone.
A Reformation Debate has historic value for those seeking to understand the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide, but be aware that the texts in this book are not for the novice and do not provide a full understanding of this complex subject. Modern Christian history survey texts such as Justo Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity are recommended for beginners, while a more focused book on the Reformation (e.g., Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation) would be better for those who want a deeper understanding. This book is useful, rather, for the already familiar students of the Reformation who want to read primary documents from the time period.
And those texts are useful because the Reformation continues to greatly shape the church. Anglicans such as myself may be struck by how, at least to a limited degree, some in the worldwide body have concerns similar to Calvin, while other Anglicans come across like Sadoleto. Such observations can be made across the Christian divides, as new churches (both denominational and non-denominational) continue to form and Christian unity today seems to be most expressed in networks of autonomous churches rather than churches reuniting under one visible body.
A Reformation Debate Feb 16, 2007
Excellent and very promt service. The book arrived in excellent condition as advertized, and well ahead of schedule.
Great primary source - real Jewel Jul 21, 2005
This very helpful book is really two letters from two highly qualified church leaders, Cardinal Sadoleto for the Catholics and John Calvin for the Reformers. The editor writes a very fair and balanced introduction giving biographic background to both men and why they wrote.
Cardinal Sadoleto, having heard that Calvin and Farel have left Geneve, writes to encourage the city fathers to return to the Roman Catholic fold. From his letter you will get a Catholic's view of the causes and reasons for the reformation. You will also gain insight into the Catholic view of salvation, religious authority, and the nature of the church from one of their finest theologians of the day.
Calvin is asked to write a response to Cardinal Sadoleto's letter. He answers the Cardinal's charges, counters his position and gives a clear defense of the reformation.
The beauty of a book like this is it gives the opinions, insights, and positions of men who were there. Rome and the Reformers get to speak for themselves. There is no comment by the editor beyond setting context. This book will be equally helpful to Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Great gift for pastor, student, or anyone who desires to know more about the Reformation. Enjoy!
Good perspective on Reformation polemics. Dec 22, 1997
This books is a tremendous introduction to the polemics of the Reformation. Sadoleto challenges the new "heresies" of the church, resting on the history of Catholic dogma. Calvin, with humor and theological insight, responds.