(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 11)
Chapter 10. Of the power of making laws. The cruelty of the pope and 
his adherents, in this respect, in tyrannically oppressing and 
destroying souls. 
    This chapter treats, - I. Of human constitutions in general. Of 
the distinction between Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws. Of 
conscience, why and in what sense ministers cannot impose laws on 
the conscience, sec. 1-8. II. Of traditions or Popish constitutions 
relating to ceremonies and discipline. The many vices inherent in 
them, sec. 9-17. Arguments in favour of those traditions refuted, 
sec. 17-26. III. Of Ecclesiastical constitutions that are good and 
lawful, sec. 27-32. 
1. The power of the Church in enacting laws. This made a source of 
    human traditions. Impiety of these traditions. 
2. Many of the Papistical traditions not only difficult, but 
    impossible to be observed. 
3. That the question may be more conveniently explained, nature of 
    conscience must be defined. 
4. Definition of conscience explained. Examples in illustration of 
    the definition. 
5. Paul's doctrine of submission to magistrates for conscience sake, 
    gives no countenance to the Popish doctrine of the obligation 
    of traditions. 
6. The question stated. A brief mode of deciding it. 
7. A perfect rule of life in the Law. God our only Lawgiver. 
8. The traditions of the Papacy contradictory to the Word of God. 
9. Ceremonial traditions of the Papists. Their impiety. Substituted 
    for the true worship of God. 
10. Through these ceremonies the commandment of God made void. 
11. Some of these ceremonies useless and childish. Their endless 
    variety. Introduce Judaism. 
12. Absurdity of these ceremonies borrowed from Judaism and 
13. Their intolerable number condemned by Augustine. 
14. Injury thus done to the Church. They cannot be excused. 
15. Mislead the superstitious. Used as a kind of show and for 
    incantation. Prostituted to gain. 
16. All such traditions liable to similar objections. 
17. Arguments in favour of traditions answered. 
18. Answer continued. 
19. Illustration taken from the simple administration of the Lord's 
    Supper, under the Apostles, and the complicated ceremonies of 
    the Papists. 
20. Another illustration from the use of Holy Water. 
21. An argument in favour of traditions founded on the decision of 
    the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem. This decision explained. 
22. Some things in the Papacy may be admitted for a time for the 
    sake of weak brethren. 
28. Observance of the Popish traditions inconsistent with Christian 
    liberty, torturing to the conscience, and insulting to God. 
24. All human inventions in religion displeasing to God. Reason. 
    Confirmed by an example. 
25. An argument founded on the examples of Samuel and Manoah. 
26. Argument that Christ wished such burdens to be borne. Answer. 
27. Third part of the chapter, treating of lawful Ecclesiastical 
    arrangements. Their foundation in the general axiom, that all 
    things be done decently and in order. Two extremes to be 
28. All Ecclesiastical arrangements to be thus tested. What Paul 
    means by things done decently and in order. 
29. Nothing decent in the Popish ceremonies. Description of true 
    decency. Examples of Christian decency and order. 
30. No arrangement decent and orderly, unless founded on the 
    authority of God, and derived from Scripture. Charity the best 
    guide in these matters. 
31. Constitutions thus framed not to be neglected or despised. 
32. Cautions to be observed in regard to such constitutions. 
    1. We come now to the second part of power, which, according to 
them, consists in the enacting of laws, from which source 
innumerable traditions have arisen, to be as many deadly snares to 
miserable souls. For they have not been more scrupulous than the 
Scribes and Pharisees in laying burdens on the shoulders of others 
which they would not touch with their fingers (Matth. 23: 4; Luke 
11: 16.) I have elsewhere shown (Book 3 chap. 4 sec. 4-7) how cruel 
murder they commit by their doctrine of auricular confession. The 
same violence is not apparent in other laws, but those which seem 
most tolerable press tyrannically on the conscience. I say nothing 
as to the mode in which they adulterate the worship of God, and rob 
God himself who is the only Lawgivers of his right. The power we 
have now to consider is, whether it be lawful for the Church to bind 
laws upon the conscience? In this discussion, civil order is not 
touched; but the only point considered is, how God may be duly 
worshipped according to the rule which he has prescribed, and how 
our spiritual liberty, with reference to God, may remain unimpaired. 
In ordinary language, the name of human traditions is given to all 
decrees concerning the worship of God, which men have issued without 
the authority of his word. We contend against these, not against the 
sacred and useful constitutions of the Church, which tend to 
preserve discipline, or decency, or peace. Our aim is to curb the 
unlimited and barbarous empire usurped over souls by those who would 
be thought pastors of the Church, but who are in fact its most cruel 
murderers. They say that the laws which they enact are spiritual, 
pertaining to the soul, and they affirm that they are necessary to 
eternal life. But thus the kingdom of Christ, as I lately observed, 
is invaded; thus the liberty, which he has given to the consciences 
of believers, is completely oppressed and overthrown. I say nothing 
as to the great impiety with which, to sanction the observance of 
their laws, they declare that from it they seek forgiveness of sins, 
righteousness and salvation, while they make the whole sum of 
religion and piety to consist in it. What I contend for is, that 
necessity ought not to be laid on consciences in matters in which 
Christ has made them free; and unless freed, cannot, as we have 
previously shown, (Book 3 chap. 19:,) have peace with God. They must 
acknowledge Christ their deliverer, as their only king, and be ruled 
by the only law of liberty, namely, the sacred word of the Gospel, 
if they would retain the grace which they have once received in 
Christ: they must be subject to no bondage, be bound by no chains. 
    2. These Solons, indeed, imagine that their constitutions are 
laws of liberty, a pleasant yoke, a light burden; but who sees not 
that this is mere falsehood? They themselves, indeed, feel not the 
burden of their laws. Having cast off the fear of God, they securely 
and assiduously disregard their own laws as well as those which are 
divine. Those, however, who feel any interest in their salvation, 
are far from thinking themselves free so long as they are entangled 
in these snares. We see how great caution Paul employed in this 
matter, not venturing to impose a fetter in any one thing, and with 
good reason: he certainly foresaw how great a wound would be 
inflicted on the conscience if these things should be made necessary 
which the Lord had left free. On the contrary it is scarcely 
possible to count the constitutions which these men have most 
grievously enforced, under the penalty of eternal death, and which 
they exact with the greatest rigour, as necessary to salvation. And 
while very many of them are most difficult of observance, the whole 
taken together are impossible; so great is the mass. How, then, 
possibly can those, on whom this mountain of difficulty lies, avoid 
being perplexed with extreme anxiety, and filled with terror? My 
intention here then is, to impugn constitutions of this description; 
constitutions enacted for the purpose of binding the conscience 
inwardly before God, and imposing religious duties as if they 
enjoined things necessary to salvation. 
    3. Many are greatly puzzled with this question, from not 
distinguishing, with sufficient care, between what is called the 
external forum and the forum of conscience, (Book 3 chap. 19 sec. 
15.) Moreover the difficulty is increased by the terms in which Paul 
enjoins obedience to magistrates, "not only for wrath, but also for 
conscience sake," (Rom. 13: 5;) and from which it would follow, that 
civil laws also bind the conscience. But if this were so, nothing 
that we have said of spiritual government, in the last chapter, and 
are to say in this, would stand. To solve this difficulty, we must 
first understand what is meant by conscience. The definition must be 
derived from the etymology of the term. As when men, with the mind 
and intellect, apprehend the knowledge of things, they are thereby 
said to know, and hence the name of science or knowledge is used; 
so, when they have, in addition to this, a sense of the divine 
judgement, as a witness not permitting them to hide their sins, but 
bringing them as criminals before the tribunal of the judge that 
sense is called conscience. For it occupies a kind of middle place 
between God and man, not suffering man to suppress what he knows in 
himself, but following him out until it bring him to conviction. 
This is what Paul means when he says that conscience bears witness, 
"our thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing each other," 
(Rom. 2: 15.) Simple knowledge, therefore, might exist in a man, as 
it were, shut up, and therefore the sense which sists men before the 
judgement-seat of God has been placed over him as a sentinel, to 
observe and spy out all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried 
in darkness. Hence the old proverb, Conscience is a thousand 
witnesses. For this reason, Peter also uses the "answer of a good 
conscience towards God," (1 Pet. 3: 21;) for tranquillity of mind; 
when, persuaded of the grace of Christ, we with boldness present 
ourselves before God. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews 
says, that we have "no more conscience of sins," that we are freed 
or acquitted, so that ain no longer accuses us, (Heb. 10: 2.j 
    4. Wherefore, as works have respect to men, so conscience bears 
reference to God; and hence a good conscience is nothing but inward 
integrity of heart. In this sense, Paul says, that "the end of the 
commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, 
and of faith unfeigned," (1 Tim. 1: 5.) He afterward, in the same 
chapter, shows how widely it differs from intellect, saying, that 
"some having put away" a good conscience, "concerning faith have 
made shipwreck". For by these words he intimates, that it is a 
living inclination to worship God, a sincere desire to live piously 
and holily. Sometimes, indeed, it is extended to men also, as when 
Paul declares, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a 
conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men," (Acts 24: 
16.) But this is said because the benefits of a good conscience flow 
forth and reach even to men. Properly speaking, however, it respects 
God alone, as I have already said. Hence a law may be said to bind 
the conscience when it simply binds a man without referring to men, 
or taking them into account. For example, God enjoins us not only to 
keep our mind chaste and pure from all lust, but prohibits every 
kind of obscenity in word, and all external lasciviousness. This law 
my conscience is bound to observe, though there were not another man 
in the world. Thus he who behaves intemperately not only sins by 
setting a bad example to his brethren, but stands convicted in his 
conscience before God. Another rule holds in the case of things 
which are in themselves indifferent. For we ought to abstain when 
they give offence, but conscience is free. Thus Paul says of meat 
consecrated to idols, "If any man say unto you, This is offered in 
sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for 
conscience sake;" "conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the 
other," (1 Cor. 10: 28, 29.) A believer would sin, if, after being 
warned, he should still eat such kind of meat. But however necessary 
abstinence may be in respect of a brother, as prescribed by the 
Lord, conscience ceases not to retain its liberty. We see how the 
law, while binding the external work, leaves the conscience free. 
    5. Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the 
purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of 
them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on 
the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men 
but with God only. Hence the common distinction between the earthly 
forum and the forum of conscience. When the whole world was 
enveloped in the thickest darkness of ignorance, it was still held 
like a small ray of light which remained unextinguished) that 
conscience was superior to all human judgements. Although this, 
which was acknowledged in word, was afterwards violated in fact, yet 
God was pleased that there should even then exist an attestation to 
liberty, exempting the conscience from the tyranny of man. But we 
haven't yet explained the difficulty which arises from the words of 
Paul. For if we must obey princes not only from fear of punishment 
but for conscience sake, it seems to follow, that the laws of 
princes have dominion over the conscience. If this is true, the same 
thing must be affirmed of ecclesiastical laws. I answer, that the 
first thing to be done here is to distinguish between the genus and 
the species. For though individual laws do not reach the conscience, 
yet we are bound by the general command of God, which enjoins us to 
submit to magistrates. And this is the point on which Paul's 
discussion turns, viz., that magistrates are to be honoured, because 
they are ordained of God, (Rom. 13: 1.) Meanwhile, he does not at 
all teach that the laws enacted by them reach to the internal 
government of the soul, since he everywhere proclaims that the 
worship of God, and the spiritual rule of living righteously, are 
superior to all the decrees of men. Another thing also worthy of 
observation, and depending on what has been already said, is, that 
human laws, whether enacted by magistrates or by the Church, are 
necessary to be observed, (I speak of such as are just and good,) 
but do not therefore in themselves bind the conscience, because the 
whole necessity of observing them respects the general end, and 
consists not in the things commanded. Very different, however, is 
the case of those which prescribe a new form of worshipping God, and 
introduce necessity into things that are free. 
    6. Such, however, are what in the present day are called 
ecclesiastical constitutions by the Papacy, and are brought forward 
as part of the true and necessary worship of God. But as they are 
without number, so they form innumerable fetters to bind and ensnare 
the soul. Though, in expounding the law, we have adverted to this 
subject, (Book 3 chap. 4, 5,) yet as this is more properly the place 
for a full discussion of it, I will now study to give a summary of 
it as carefully as I can. I shall, however omit the branch relating 
to the tyranny with which false bishops arrogate to themselves the 
right of teaching whatever they please, having already considered it 
as far as seemed necessary, but shall treat at length of the power 
which they claim of enacting laws. The pretext, then, on which our 
false bishops burden the conscience with new laws is, that the Lord 
has constituted then spiritual legislators, and given them the 
government of the Church. Hence they maintain that every thing which 
they order and prescribe must, of necessity, be observed by the 
Christian people, that he who violates their commands is guilty of a 
twofold disobedience, being a rebel both against God and the church. 
Assuredly, if they were true bishops, I would give them some 
authority in this matter, not so much as they demand, but so much as 
is requisite for duly arranging the polity of the Church; but since 
they are any thing but what they would be thought, they cannot 
possibly assume any thing to themselves, however little, without 
being in excess. But as this also has been elsewhere shown, let us 
grant for the present, that whatever power true bishops possess 
justly belongs to them, still I deny that they have been set over 
believers as legislators to prescribe a rule of life at their own 
hands, or bind the people committed to them to their decrees. When I 
say this, I mean that they are not at all entitled to insist that 
whatever they devise without authority from the word of God shall be 
observed by the Church as matter of necessity. Since such power was 
unknown to the apostles, and was so often denied to the ministers of 
the Church by our Lord himself, I wonder how any have dared to 
usurp, and dare in the present day to defend it, without any 
precedent from the apostles, and against the manifest prohibition of 
    7. Everything relating to a perfect rule of life the Lord has 
so comprehended in his law, that he has left nothing for men to add 
to the summary there given. His object in doing this was, first, 
that since all rectitude of conduct consists in regulating all our 
actions by his will as a standard, he alone should be regarded as 
the master and guide of our life; and, secondly, that he might show 
that there is nothing which he more requires of us than obedience. 
For this reason James says, "He that speaketh evil of his brother, 
and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the 
law:" "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy," 
(James 4: 11,12 ) We hear how God claims it as his own peculiar 
privilege to rule us by his laws. This had been said before by 
Isaiah, though somewhat obscurely, "The Lord is our judge, the Lord 
is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us," (Isa. 33: 
22.) Both passages show that the power of life and death belongs to 
him who has power over the soul. Nay, James clearly expresses this. 
This power no man may assume to himself. God, therefore, to whom the 
power of saving and destroying belongs, must be acknowledged as the 
only King of souls, or, as the words of Isaiah express it, he is our 
king and judge, and lawgiver and saviour. So Peter, when he reminds 
pastors of their duty, exhorts them to feed the flock without 
larding it over the heritage, (1 Pet. 5: 2;) meaning by heritage the 
body of believers. If we duly consider that it is unlawful to 
transfer to man what God declares to belong only to himself, we 
shall see that this completely cuts off all the power claimed by 
those who would take it upon them to order any thing in the Church 
without authority from the word of God. 
    8. Moreover, since the whole question depends on this, that God 
being the only lawgiver, it is unlawful for men to assume that 
honour to themselves, it will be proper to keep in mind the two 
reasons for which God claims this solely for him self. The one 
reason is, that his will is to us the perfect rule of all 
righteousness and holiness, and that thus in the knowledge of it we 
have a perfect rule of life. The other reason is, that when the 
right and proper method of worshipping him is in question, he whom 
we ought to obey, and on whose will we ought to depend, alone has 
authority over our souls. When these two reasons are attended to, it 
will be easy to decide what human constitutions are contrary to the 
word of the Lord. Of this description are all those which are 
devised as part of the true worship of God, and the observance of 
which is bound upon the conscience, as of necessary obligation. Let 
us remember then to weigh all human laws in this balance, if we 
would have a sure test which will not allow us to go astray. The 
former reason is urged by Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians 
against the false apostles who attempted to lay new burdens on the 
churches. The second reason he more frequently employs in the 
Epistle to the Galatians in a similar case. In the Epistle to the 
Colossians, then, he maintains that the doctrine of the true worship 
of God is not to be sought from men, because the Lord has faithfully 
and fully taught us in what way he is to be worshipped. To 
demonstrate this, he says in the first chapter, that in the gospel 
is contained all wisdom, that the man of God may be made perfect in 
Christ. In the beginning of the second chapter, he says that all the 
treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, and from 
this he concludes that believers should beware of being led away 
from the flock of Christ by vain philosophy, according to the 
constitutions of men, (Col. 2: 10.) In the end of the chapter, he 
still more decisively condemns all "ethelothreskeias", that is, 
fictitious modes of worship which men themselves devise or receive 
from others, and all precepts whatsoever which they presume to 
deliver at their own hand concerning the worship of God. We hold, 
therefore, that all constitutions are impious in the observance of 
which the worship of God is pretended to be placed. The passages in 
the Galatians, in which he insists that fetters are not to be bound 
on the conscience, (which ought to be ruled by God alone,) are 
sufficiently plain, especially chapter 5. Let it, therefore, suffice 
to refer to them. 
    9. But that the whole matter may be made plainer by examples, 
it will be proper, before we proceed, to apply the doctrine to our 
own times. The constitutions which they call ecclesiastical, and by 
which the Pope, with his adherents, burdens the Church, we hold to 
be pernicious and impious, while our opponents defend them as sacred 
and salutary. Now there are two kinds of them, some relating to 
ceremonies and rites, and others more especially to discipline. Have 
we, then, any just cause for impugning both? Assuredly a juster 
cause than we could wish. First, do not their authors themselves 
distinctly declare that the very essence of the worship of God (so 
to speak) is contained in them? For what end do they bring forward 
their ceremonies but just that God may be worshipped by them? Nor is 
this done merely by error in the ignorant multitude, but with the 
approbation of those who hold the place of teachers. I am not now 
adverting to the gross abominations by which they have plotted the 
adulteration of all godliness, but they would not deem it to be so 
atrocious a crime to err in any minute tradition, did they not make 
the worship of God subordinate to their fictions. Since Paul then 
declares it to be intolerable that the legitimate worship of God 
should be subjected to the will of men, wherein do we err when we 
are unable to tolerate this in the present day? especially when we 
are enjoined to worship God according to the elements of this world 
- a thing which Paul declares to be adverse to Christ, (Col. 2: 20.) 
On the other hand, the mode in which they lay consciences under the 
strict necessity of observing whatever they enjoin, is not unknown. 
When we protest against this, we make common cause with Paul, who 
will on no account allow the consciences of believers to be brought 
under human bondage. 
    10. Moreover the worst of all is that when once religion begins 
to be composed of such vain fictions, the perversion is immediately 
succeeded by the abominable depravity with which our Lord upbraids 
the Pharisees of making the commandment of God void through their 
traditions, (Matth. 15: 3.) I am unwilling to dispute with our 
present legislators in my own words; - let them gain the victory if 
they can clear themselves from this accusation of Christ. But how 
can they do so, seeing they regard it as immeasurably more wicked to 
allow the year to pass without auricular confession, than to have 
spent it in the greatest iniquity: to have infected their tongue 
with a slight tasting of flesh on Friday, than to have daily 
polluted the whole body with whoredom: to have put their hand to 
honest labour on a day consecrated to some one or other of their 
saintlings, than to have constantly employed all their members in 
the greatest crimes: for a priest to be united to one in lawful 
wedlock, than to be engaged in a thousand adulteries: to have failed 
in performing a votive pilgrimage, than to have broken faith in 
every promise: not to have expended profusely on the monstrous, 
superfluous, and useless luxury of churches, than to have denied the 
poor in their greatest necessities: to have passed an idol without 
honour, than to have treated the whole human race with contumely: 
not to have muttered long unmeaning sentences at certain times, than 
never to have framed one proper prayer? What is meant by making the 
word of God void by tradition, if this is not done when recommending 
the ordinances of God only frigidly and perfunctorily, they 
nevertheless studiously and anxiously urge strict obedience to their 
own ordinances, as if the whole power of piety was contained in 
them; - when vindicating the transgression of the divine Law with 
trivial satisfactions, they visit the minutest violation of one of 
their decrees with no lighter punishment than imprisonment, exile, 
fire, or sword? - When neither severe nor inexorable against the 
despisers of God, they persecute to extremity, with implacable 
hatred, those who despise themselves, and so train all those whose 
simplicity they hold in thraldom, that they would sooner see the 
whole law of God subverted than one iota of what they call the 
precepts of the Church infringed. First, there is a grievous 
delinquency in this, that one condemns, judges, and casts off his 
neighbour for trivial matters, - matters which, if the judgement of 
God is to decide, are free. But now as if this were a small evil, 
those frivolous elements of this world (as Paul terms them in his 
Epistle to the Galatians, Gal. 4: 9) are deemed of more value than 
the heavenly oracles of God. He who is all but acquitted for 
adultery is judged in meat; and he to whom whoredom is permitted is 
forbidden to marry. This, forsooth, is all that is gained by that 
prevaricating obedience, which only turns away from God to the same 
extent that it inclines to men. 
    11. There are other two grave vices which we disapprove in 
these constitutions. First, They prescribe observances which are in 
a great measure useless, and are sometimes absurd; secondly, by the 
vast multitude of them, pious consciences are oppressed, and being 
carried back to a kind of Judaism, so cling to shadows that they 
cannot come to Christ. My allegation that they are useless and 
absurd will, I know, scarcely be credited by carnal wisdom, to which 
they are so pleasing, that the Church seems to be altogether defaced 
when they are taken away. But this is just what Paul says, that they 
"have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and 
neglecting of the body," (Col. 2: 23;) a most salutary admonition, 
of which we ought never to lose sight. Human tradition,, he says, 
deceive by an appearance of wisdom. Whence this show? Just that 
being framed by men, the human mind recognises in them that which is 
its own, and embraces it when recognised more willingly than 
anything, however good, which is less suitable to its vanity. 
Secondly, That they seem to be a fit training to humility, while 
they keep the minds of men grovelling on the ground under their 
yoke; hence they have another recommendation. Lastly, Because they 
seem to leave a tendency to curb the will of the flesh, and to 
subdue it by the rigour of abstinence, they seem to be wisely 
devised. But what does Paul say to all this? Does he pluck off those 
masks lest the simple should be deluded by a false pretext? Deeming 
it sufficient for their refutation to say that they were devices of 
men, he passes all these things without refutation, as things of no 
value. Nay, because he knew that all fictitious worship is condemned 
in the Church, and is the more suspected by believers, the more 
pleasing it is to the human mind - because he knew that this false 
show of outward humility differs so widely from true humility that 
it can be easily discerned; - finally, because he knew that this 
tutelage is valued at no more than bodily exercise, he wished the 
very things which commended human traditions to the ignorant to be 
regarded by believers as the refutation of them. 
    12. Thus, in the present day, not only the unlearned vulgar, 
but every one in proportion as he is inflated by worldly wisdom, is 
wonderfully captivated by the glare of ceremonies, while hypocrites 
and silly women think that nothing can be imagined better or more 
beautiful. But those who thoroughly examine them, and weigh them 
more truly according to the rule of godliness, in regard to the 
value of all such ceremonies, know, first, that they are trifles of 
no utility; secondly, that they are impostures which delude the eyes 
of the spectators with empty show. I am speaking of those ceremonies 
which the Roman masters will have to be great mysteries, while we 
know by experience that they are mere mockery. Nor is it strange 
that their authors have gone the length of deluding themselves and 
others by mere frivolities, because they have taken their model 
partly from the dreams of the Gentiles, partly, like apes, have 
rashly imitated the ancient rites of the Mosaic Law, with which we 
have nothing more to do than with the sacrifices of animals and 
other similar things. Assuredly were there no other proof, no sane 
man would expect any good from such an ill-assorted farrago. And the 
case itself plainly demonstrates that very many ceremonies have no 
other use than to stupefy the people rather than teach them. In like 
manner, to those new canons which pervert discipline rather than 
preserve it, hypocrites attach much importance; but a closer 
examination will show that they are nothing but the shadowy and 
evanescent phantom of discipline. 
    13. To come to the second fault, who sees not that ceremonies, 
by being heaped one upon another, have grown to such a multitude, 
that it is impossible to tolerate them in the Christian Church? 
Hence it is, that in ceremonies a strange mixture of Judaism is 
apparent, while other observances prove a deadly snare to pious 
minds. Augustine complained that in his time, while the precepts of 
God were neglected, prejudice everywhere prevailed to such an 
extent, that he who touched the ground barefoot during his octave 
was censured more severely than he who buried his wits in wine. He 
complained that the Church, which God in mercy wished to be free, 
was so oppressed that the condition of the Jews was more tolerable, 
(August. Ep. 119.) Had that holy man fallen on our day, in what 
terms would he have deplored the bondage now existing? For the 
number is tenfold greater, and each iota is exacted a hundred times 
more rigidly than then. This is the usual course; when once those 
perverse legislators have usurped authority, they make no end of 
their commands and prohibitions until they reach the extreme of 
harshness. This Paul elegantly intimated by these words, - "If ye be 
dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though 
living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? Touch not, taste 
not, handle not," (Col. 2: 20, 21.) For while the word "haptesthai" 
signifies both to eat and to touch, it is doubtless taken in the 
former sense, that there may not be a superfluous repetition. Here, 
therefore, he most admirably describes the progress of false 
apostles. The way in which superstition begins is this; they forbid 
not only to eat, but even to chew gently; after they have obtained 
this, they forbid even to taste. This also being yielded to them, 
they deem it unlawful to touch even with the finger. 
    14. We justly condemn this tyranny in human constitutions, in 
consequence of which miserable consciences are strangely tormented 
by innumerable edicts, and the excessive exaction of them. Of the 
canons relating to discipline, we have spoken elsewhere, (supra, 
sec. 12; also chapter 12.) What shall I say of ceremonies, the 
effect of which has been, that we have almost buried Christ, and 
returned to Jewish figures? "Our Lord Christ (says Augustine, Ep. 
118) bound together the society of his new people by sacraments, 
very few in number, most excellent in signification, most easy of 
observance." How widely different this simplicity is from the 
multitude and variety of rites in which we see the Church entangled 
in the present day, cannot well be told. I am aware of the artifice 
by which some acute men excuse this perverseness. They say that 
there are numbers among us equally rude as any among the Israelitish 
people, and that for their sakes has been introduced this tutelage, 
which, though the stronger may do without, they, however, ought not 
to neglect, seeing that it is useful to weak brethren. I answer, 
that we are not unaware of what is due to the weakness of brethren, 
but, on the other hand, we object that the method of consulting for 
the weak is not to bury them under a great mass of ceremonies. It 
was not without cause that God distinguished between us and his 
ancient people, by training them like children by means of signs and 
figures, and training us more simply, without so much external show. 
Paul's words are, "The heir, as long as he is a child," - "is under 
tutors and governors" (Gal. 4: 1, 2.) This was the state of the Jews 
under the law. But we are like adults who, being freed from tutors 
and curators, have no need of puerile rudiments. God certainly 
foresaw what kind of people he was to have in his Church, and in 
what way they were to be governed. Now, he distinguished between us 
and the Jews in the way which has been described. Therefore, it is a 
foolish method of consulting for the ignorant to set up the Judaism 
which Christ has abrogated. This dissimilitude between the ancient 
and his new people Christ expressed when he said to the woman of 
Samaria, "The hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall 
worship the Father in spirit and in truth," (John 4: 23.) This, no 
doubt, had always been done; but the new worshipers differ from the 
old in this, that while under Moses the spiritual worship of God was 
shadowed, and, as it were, entangled by many ceremonies, these have 
been abolished, and worship is now more simple. Those, accordingly, 
who confound this distinction, subvert the order instituted and 
sanctioned by Christ. Therefore you will ask, Are no ceremonies to 
be given to the more ignorant as a help to their ignorance? I do not 
say so; for I think that help of this description is very useful to 
them. All I contend for is the employment of such a measure as may 
illustrate, not obscure Christ. Hence a few ceremonies have been 
divinely appointed, and these by no means laborious, in order that 
they may evince a present Christ. To the Jews a greater number were 
given, that they might be images of an absent Christ. In saying he 
was absent, I mean not in power, but in the mode of expression. 
Therefore, to secure due moderation, it is necessary to retain that 
fewness in number, facility in observance, and significance of 
meaning which consists in clearness. Of what use is it to say that 
this is not done? The fact is obvious to every eye. 
    15. I here say nothing of the pernicious opinions with which 
the minds of men are imbued, as that these are sacrifices by which 
propitiation is made to God, by which sins are expiated, by which 
righteousness and salvation are procured. It will be maintained that 
things good in themselves are not vitiated by errors of this 
description, since in acts expressly enjoined by God similar errors 
may be committed. There is nothing, however, more unbecoming than 
the fact, that works devised by the will of man are held in such 
estimation as to be thought worthy of eternal life. The works 
commanded by God receive a reward, because the Lawgiver himself 
accepts of them as marks of obedience. They do not, therefore, take 
their value from their own dignity or their own merit, but because 
God sets this high value on our obedience toward him. I am here 
speaking of that perfection of works which is commanded by God, but 
is not performed by men. The works of the law are accepted merely by 
the free kindness of God, because the obedience is infirm and 
defective. But as we are not here considering how far works avail 
without Christ, let us omit that question. I again repeat, as 
properly belonging to the present subject, that whatever 
commendation works have, they have it in respect of obedience, which 
alone God regards, as he testifies by the prophet, "I spake not unto 
your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out 
of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but 
this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice," (Jer. 7: 22.) 
Of fictitious works he elsewhere speaks, "Wherefore do you spend 
your money for that which is not bread?" (Isa. 55: 2; 29: 13.) 
Again, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the 
commandments of men," (Matth. 15: 9.) They cannot, therefore, excuse 
themselves from the charge of allowing wretched people to seek in 
these eternal frivolities a righteousness which they may present to 
God, and by which they may stand before the celestial tribunal. 
Besides, is it not a fault deservedly stigmatised, that they exhibit 
unmeaning ceremonies as a kind of stage-play or magical incantation? 
For it is certain that all ceremonies are corrupt and noxious which 
do not direct men to Christ. But the ceremonies in use in the Papacy 
are separated from doctrine, so that they confine men to signs 
altogether devoid of meaning. Lastly, (as the belly is an ingenious 
contriver,) it is clear, that many of their ceremonies have been 
invented by greedy priests as lures for catching money. But whatever 
be their origin, they are all so prostituted to filthy lucre, that a 
great part of them must be rescinded if we would prevent a profane 
and sacrilegious traffic from being carried on in the Church. 
    16. Although I seem not to be delivering the general doctrine 
concerning human constitutions, but adapting my discourse wholly to 
our own age, yet nothing has been said which may not be useful to 
all ages. For whenever men begin the superstitious practice of 
worshipping God with their own fictions, all the laws enacted for 
this purpose forthwith degenerate into those gross abuses. For the 
curse which God denounces, viz., to strike those who worship him 
with the doctrines of men with stupor and blindness, is not confined 
to any one age, but applies to all ages. The uniform result of this 
blindness is, that there is no kind of absurdity escaped by those 
who, despising the many admonitions of God, spontaneously entangle 
themselves in these deadly fetters. But if, without any regard to 
circumstances, you would simply know the character belonging at all 
times to those human traditions which ought to be repudiated by the 
Church, and condemned by all the godly, the definition which we 
formerly gave is clear and certain, viz., That they include all the 
laws enacted by men, without authority from the word of God, for the 
purpose either of prescribing the mode of divine worship, or laying 
a religious obligation on the conscience, as enjoining things 
necessary to salvation. If to one or both of these are added the 
other evils of obscuring the clearness of the Gospel by their 
multitude, of giving no edification, of being useless and frivolous 
occupations rather than true exercises of piety, of being set up for 
sordid ends and filthy lucre, of being difficult of observance, and 
contaminated by pernicious superstitions, we shall have the means of 
detecting the quantity of mischief which they occasion. 
    17. I understand what their answer will be, viz., that these 
traditions are not from themselves, but from God. For to prevent the 
Church from erring, it is guided by the holy Spirit, whose authority 
resides in them. This being conceded, it at the same time follows, 
that their traditions are revelations by the Holy Spirit, and cannot 
be disregarded without impiety and contempt of God. And that they 
may not seem to have attempted anything without high authority, they 
will have it to be believed that a great part of their observances 
is derived from the apostles. For they contend, that in one instance 
they have a sufficient proof of what the apostles did in other 
cases. The instance is, when the apostles assembled in council, 
announced to all the Gentiles as the opinion of the council, that 
they should "abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, 
and from things strangled, and from blood," (Acts 15: 20, 29.) We 
have already explained, how, in order to extol themselves, they 
falsely assume the name of Church, (Chap. 8 sec. 10-13.) If, in 
regard to the present cause, we remove all masks and glosses, (a 
thing, indeed, which ought to be our first care, and also is our 
highest interest,) and consider what kind of Church Christ wishes to 
have, that we may form and adapt ourselves to it as a standard, it 
will readily appear that it is not a property of the Church to 
disregard the limits of the word of God, and wanton and luxuriate in 
enacting new laws. Does not the law which was once given to the 
Church endure for ever? "What things soever command you, observe to 
do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it," (Deut. 12: 
32.) And in another place, "Add thou not unto his words, lest he 
reprove thee, and thou be found a liar," (Prov. 30: 6.) Since they 
cannot deny that this was said to the Church, what else do they 
proclaim but their contumacy, when, notwithstanding of such 
prohibitions, they profess to add to the doctrine of God, and dare 
to intermingle their own with it? Far be it from us to assent to the 
falsehood by which they offer such insult to the Church. Let us 
understand that the name of Church is falsely pretended wherever men 
contend for that rash human license which cannot confine itself 
within the boundaries prescribed by the word of God, but petulantly 
breaks out, and has recourse to its own inventions. In the above 
passage there is nothing involved, nothing obscure, nothing 
ambiguous; the whole Church is forbidden to add to, or take from the 
word of God, in relation to his worship and salutary precepts. But 
that was said merely of the Law, which was succeeded by the Prophets 
and the whole Gospel dispensation! This I admit, but I at the same 
time add, that these are fulfilments of the Law, rather than 
additions or diminutions. Now if the Lord does not permit any thing 
to be added to, or take from the ministry of Moses though wrapt up, 
if I may so speak, in many folds of obscurity, until he furnish a 
clearer doctrine by his servants the Prophets and at last by his 
beloved Son, why should we not suppose that we are much more 
strictly prohibited from making any addition to the Law, the 
Prophets, the Psalms, and the Gospel? The Lord cannot forget 
himself, and it is long since he declared that nothing is so 
offensive to him as to be worshipped by human inventions. Hence 
those celebrated declarations of the Prophets which ought 
continually to ring in our ears "I spake not unto your fathers, nor 
commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of 
Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but this thing 
commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and 
ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have 
commanded you," (Jer. 7: 22, 23.) "I earnestly protested unto your 
fathers, in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, 
even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my 
voice," (Jer. 11: 7.) There are other passages of the same kind, but 
the most noted of all is, "Has the Lord as great delight in 
burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? 
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the 
fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and 
stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry," (1 Sam. 15: 22, 23.) It 
is easy, therefore to prove, that whenever human inventions in this 
respect are defended by the authority of the Church, they cannot be 
vindicated from the charge of impiety, and that the name of Church 
is falsely assumed. 
    18. For this reason, we freely inveigh against that tyranny of 
human traditions which is haughtily obtruded upon us in the name of 
the Church. Nor do we hold the Church in derision, (as our 
adversaries, for the purpose of producing obloquy, unjustly accuse 
us,) but we attribute to her the praise of obedience, than which 
there is none which she acknowledges to be greater. They themselves 
rather are emphatically injurious to the Church in representing her 
as contumacious to her Lord, when they pretend that she goes farther 
than the word of God allows, to say nothing of their combined 
impudence and malice in continually vociferating about the power of 
the Church, while they meanwhile disguise both the command which the 
Lord has given her, and the obedience which she owes to the command. 
But if our wish is as it ought to be, to agree with the Church it is 
of more consequence to consider and remember the injunction which 
the Lord has given both to us and to the Church to obey him with one 
consent. For there can be no doubt that we shall best agree with the 
Church when we show ourselves obedient to the Lord in all things. 
But to ascribe the origin of the traditions by which the Church has 
hitherto been oppressed to the apostles is mere imposition, since 
the whole substance of the doctrine of the apostles is, that 
conscience must not be burdened with new observances, nor the 
worship of God contaminated by our inventions. Then, if any credit 
is to be given to ancient histories and records, what they attribute 
to the apostles was not only unknown to them, but was never heard by 
them. Nor let them pretend that most of their decrees, though not 
delivered in writing, were received by use and practice, being 
things which they could not understand while Christ was in the 
world, but which they learned after his ascensions by the revelation 
of the Holy Spirit. The meaning of that passage has been explained 
elsewhere, (Chap. 8 sec. 14.) In regard to the present question, 
they make themselves truly ridiculous, seeing it is manifest that 
all those mysteries which so long were undiscovered by the apostles, 
are partly Jewish or Gentile observances, the former of which had 
anciently been promulgated among the Jews and the latter among all 
the Gentiles, partly absurd gesticulations and empty ceremonies, 
which stupid priests, who have neither sense nor letters, can duly 
perform; nay, which children and mountebanks perform so 
appropriately, that it seems impossible to have fitter priests for 
such sacrifices. If there were no records, men of sense would judge 
from the very nature of the case, that such a mass of rites and 
observances did not rush into the Church all at once, but crept in 
gradually. For though the venerable bishops, who were nearest in 
time to the apostles, introduced some things pertaining to order and 
discipline, those who came after them, and those after them again 
had not enough of consideration, while they had too much curiosity 
and cupidity, he who came last always vying in foolish emulation 
with his predecessors, so as not to be surpassed in the invention of 
novelties. And because there was a danger that these inventions, 
from which they anticipated praise from posterity, might soon become 
obsolete, they were much more rigorous in insisting on the 
observance of them. This false zeal has produced a great part of the 
rites which these men represent as apostolical. This history 
    19. And not to become prolix, by giving a catalogue of all, we 
shall be contented with one example. Under the apostles there was 
great simplicity in administering the Lord's Supper. Their immediate 
successors made some additions to the dignity of the ordinance, 
which are not to be disapproved. Afterwards came foolish imitators, 
who, by ever and anon patching various fragments together, have left 
us those sacerdotal vestments which we see in the mass, those altar 
ornaments, those gesticulations, and whole farrago of useless 
observances. But they object, that in old time the persuasion was, 
that those things which were done with the consent of the whole 
Church proceeded from the apostles. Of this they quote Augustine as 
a witness. I will give the explanation in the very words of 
Augustine. "Those things which are observed over the whole world we 
may understand to have been appointed either by the apostles 
themselves, or by general councils, whose authority in the Church is 
most beneficial, as the annual solemn celebration of our Lord's 
passion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, and of the descent 
of the Holy Spirit, and any other occurrence observed by the whole 
Church wherever it exists" (August. Ep. 118.) In giving so few 
examples, who sees not that he meant to refer the observances then 
in use to authors deserving of faith and reverence, - observances 
few and sober, by which it was expedient that the order of the 
Church should be maintained? How widely does this differ from the 
view of our Roman masters, who insist that there is no paltry 
ceremony among them which is not apostolical? 
    20. Not to be tedious, I will give only one example. Should any 
one ask them where they get their holy water, they will at once 
answer, - from the apostles. As if I did not know who the Roman 
bishop is, to whom history ascribes the invention, and who, if he 
had admitted the apostles to his council, assuredly never would have 
adulterated baptism by a foreign and unseasonable symbol, although 
it does not seem probable to me that the origin of that consecration 
is so ancient as is there recorded. For when Augustine says (Ep. 
118) that certain churches in his day rejected the formal imitation 
of Christ in the washing of feet, lest that rite should seem to 
pertain to baptism, he intimates that there was then no kind of 
washing which had any resemblance to baptism. Be this as it may, I 
will never admit that the apostolic spirit gave rise to that daily 
sign by which baptism, while brought back to remembrance, is in a 
manner repeated. I attach no importance to the fact, that Augustine 
elsewhere ascribes other things to the apostles. For as he has 
nothing better than conjecture, it is not sufficient for forming a 
judgement concerning a matter of so much moment. Lastly, though we 
should grant that the things which he mentions are derived from the 
apostolic age, there is a great difference between instituting some 
exercise of piety, which believers may use with a free conscience, 
or may abstain from if they think the observance not to be useful, 
and enacting a law which brings the conscience into bondage. Now, 
indeed, whoever is the author from whom they are derived, since we 
see the great abuses to which they have led, there is nothing to 
prevent us from abrogating them without any imputation on him, since 
he never recommended them in such a way as to lay us under a fixed 
and immovable obligation to observe them. 
    21. It gives them no great help, in defending their tyranny, to 
pretend the example of the apostles. The apostles and elders of the 
primitive Church, according to them, sanctified a decree without any 
authority from Christ, by which they commanded all the Gentiles to 
abstain from meat offered to idols, from things strangled, and from 
blood, (Acts 15: 20.) If this was lawful for them, why should not 
their successors be allowed to imitate the example as often as 
occasion requires? Would that they would always imitate them both in 
this and in other matters! For I am ready to prove, on valid 
grounds, that here nothing new has been instituted or decreed by the 
apostles. For when Peter declares in that council, that God is 
tempted if a yoke is laid on the necks of the disciples, he 
overthrows his own argument if he afterwards allows a yoke to be 
imposed on them. But it is imposed if the apostles, on their own 
authority, prohibit the Gentiles from touching meat offered to 
idols, things strangled, and blood. The difficulty still remains, 
that they seem nevertheless to prohibit them. But this will easily 
be removed by attending more closely to the meaning of their decree. 
The first thing in order, and the chief thing in importance, is, 
that the Gentiles were to retain their liberty, which was not to be 
disturbed, and that they were not to be annoyed with the observances 
of the Law. As yet, the decree is all in our favour. The reservation 
which immediately follows is not a new law enacted by the apostles, 
but a divine and eternal command of God against the violation of 
charity, which does not detract one iota from that liberty. It only 
reminds the Gentiles how they are to accommodate themselves to their 
brother, and not to abuse their liberty for an occasion of offence. 
Let the second head, therefore, be, that the Gentiles are to use an 
innoxious liberty, giving no offence to the brethren. Still, 
however, they prescribe some certain thing, viz., they show and 
point out, as was expedient at the time, what those things are by 
which they may give offence to their brethren, that they may avoid 
them; but they add no novelty of their own to the eternal law of 
God, which forbids the offence of brethren. 
    22. As in the case where faithful pastors, presiding over 
churches not yet well constituted, should intimate to their flocks 
not to eat flesh on Friday until the weak among whom they live 
become strong or to work on a holiday, or any other similar things, 
although, when superstition is laid aside, these matters are in 
themselves indifferent still, where offence is given to the 
brethren, they cannot be done without sin; so there are times when 
believers cannot set this example before weak brethren without most 
grievously wounding their consciences. Who but a slanderer would say 
that a new law is enacted by those who, it is evident, only guard 
against scandals which their Master has distinctly forbidden? But 
nothing more than this can be said of the apostles, who had no other 
end in view, in removing grounds of offence, than to enforce the 
divine Law, which prohibits offence; as if they had said, The Lord 
has commanded you not to hurt a weak brother; but meats offered to 
idols, things strangled, and blood, ye cannot eat, without offending 
weak brethren; we, therefore, require you, in the word of the Lord, 
not to eat with offence. And to prove that the apostles had respect 
to this, the best witness is Paul, who writes as follows, 
undoubtedly according to the sentiments of the council: "As 
concerning, therefore, the eating of those things which are offered 
in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the 
world, and that there is none other God but one." - "Howbeit, there 
is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the 
idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and 
their conscience being weak is defiled." - "But take heed lest by 
any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them 
that are weak" (1 Cor. 8: 4-9.) Any one who duly considers these 
things will not be imposed upon by the gloss which these men employ 
when, as a cloak to their tyranny, they pretend that the apostles 
had begun by their decree to infringe the liberty of the Church. But 
that they may be unable to escape without confessing the accuracy of 
this explanation, let them tell me by what authority they have dared 
to abrogate this very decree. It was, it seems, because there was no 
longer any danger of those offences and dissensions which the 
apostles wished to obviate, and they knew that the law was to be 
judged by its end. Seeing, therefore, the law was passed with a view 
to charity, there is nothing prescribed in it except in so far as 
required by charity. In confessing that the transgression of this 
law is nothing but a violation of charity, do they not at the same 
time acknowledge that it was not some adventitious supplement to the 
law of God, but a genuine and simple adaptation of it to the times 
and manners for which it was destined? 
    23. But though such laws are hundreds of times unjust and 
injurious to us, still they contend that they are to be heard 
without exception; for the thing asked of us is not to consent to 
errors, but only to submit to the strict commands of those set over 
us, - commands which we are not at liberty to decline, (1 Pet. 2: 
18.) But here also the Lord comes to the succour of his word, and 
frees us from this bondage by asserting the liberty which he has 
purchased for us by his sacred blood, and the benefit of which he 
has more than once attested by his word. For the thing required of 
us is not (as they maliciously pretence) to endure some grievous 
oppression in our body, but to be tortured in our consciences, and 
brought into bondage: in other words, robbed of the benefits of 
Christ's blood. Let us omit this, however, as if it were irrelevant 
to the point. Do we think it a small matter that the Lord is 
deprived of his kingdom which he so strictly claims for himself? Now 
he is deprived of it as often as he is worshipped with laws of human 
invention, since his will is to be sole legislator of his worship. 
And lest any one should consider this as of small moment, let us 
hear how the Lord himself estimates it. "Forasmuch as this people 
draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but 
have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is 
taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to 
do a marvellous work among the people, even a marvellous work and a 
wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the 
understanding of their prudent men shall be hid," (Isaiah 29: 13, 
14.) And in another place, "But in vain do they worship me, teaching 
for doctrines the commandments of men," (Matth. 15: 9.) And, indeed, 
when the children of Israel polluted themselves with manifold 
idolatries, the cause of the whole evil is ascribed to that impure 
mixture caused by their disregarding the commandments of God, and 
framing new modes of worship. Accordingly, sacred history relates 
that the new inhabitants who had been brought by the king of Assyria 
from Babylon to inhabit Samaria, were torn and destroyed by wild 
beasts, because they knew not the judgement or statutes of the God 
of that land, (2 Kings 17: 24-34.) Though they had done nothing 
wrong in ceremonies, still their empty show could not have been 
approved by God. Meanwhile he ceased not to punish them for the 
violation of his worship by the introduction of fictions alien from 
his word. Hence it is afterwards said that terrified by the 
punishments they adopted the rites prescribed in the Law; but as 
they did not yet worship God purely, it is twice repeated that they 
feared him and feared not. Hence we infer that part of the reverence 
due to him consists in worshipping him simply in the way which he 
commands, without mingling any inventions of our own. And, 
accordingly, pious princes are repeatedly praised (2 Kings 22: l, 
&c.) for acting according to all his precepts, and not declining 
either to the right hand or the left. I go further: although there 
be no open manifestation of impiety in fictitious worship, it is 
strictly condemned by the Spirit, inasmuch as it is a departure from 
the command of God. The altar of Ahab, a model of which had been 
brought from Damascus, (2 Kings 16: 10,) might have seemed to give 
additional ornament to the temple, seeing it was his intention there 
to offer sacrifices to God only, and to do it more splendidly than 
at the first ancient altar; yet we see how the Spirit detests the 
audacious attempt, for no other reason but because human inventions 
are in the worship of God impure corruptions. And the more clearly 
the will of God has been manifested to us, the less excusable is our 
petulance in attempting anything. Accordingly, the guilt of Manasseh 
is aggravated by the circumstance of having erected a new altar at 
Jerusalem, of which the Lord said, "In Jerusalem will I put my 
name," (2 Kings 21: 3, 4,) because the authority of God was thereby 
professedly rejected. 
    24. Many wonder why God threatens so sternly that he will bring 
astonishment on the people who worship him with the commandments of 
men, and declares that it is in vain to worship him with the 
commandments, of men. But if they would consider what it is in the 
matter of religion, that is, of heavenly wisdom, to depend on God 
alone, they would, at the same time, see that it is not on slight 
grounds the Lord abominates perverse service of this description, 
which is offered him at the caprice of the human will. For although 
there is some show of humility in the obedience of those who obey 
such laws in worshipping God, yet they are by no means humble, since 
they prescribe to him the very laws which they observe. This is the 
reason why Paul would have us so carefully to beware of being 
deceived by the traditions of men, and what is called 
"ethelothreskeia", that is, voluntary worship, worship devised by 
men without sanction from God. Thus it is, indeed: we must be fools 
in regard to our own wisdom, and all the wisdom of men, in order 
that we may allow him alone to be wise. This course is by no means 
observed by those who seek to approve themselves to him by paltry 
observances of man's devising, and, as it were, against his will, 
obtrude upon him a prevaricating obedience which is yielded to men. 
This is the course which has been pursued for several ages and 
within our own recollection, and is still pursued in the present day 
in those places in which the power of the creature is more than that 
of the Creator, where religion (if religion it deserves to be 
called) is polluted with more numerous and more absurd 
superstitions, than ever Paganism was. For what could human sense 
produce but things carnal and fatuous, and savouring of their 
    25. When the patrons of superstition cloak them, by pretending 
that Samuel sacrificed in Ramath, and though he did so contrary to 
the Law, yet pleased God, (1 Sam. 7: 17,) it is easy to answer, that 
he did not set up any second altar in opposition to the only true 
one; but, as the place for the Ark of the Covenant had not been 
fixed, he sacrificed in the town where he dwelt, as being the most 
convenient. It certainly never was the intention of the holy prophet 
to make any innovation in sacred things, in regard to which the Lord 
had so strictly forbidden addition or diminution. The case of Manoah 
I consider to have been extraordinary and special. He, though a 
private man, offered sacrifice to God, and did it not without 
approbation, because he did it not from a rash movement of his own 
mind, but by divine inspiration, (Judges 13: 19.) How much God 
abominates all the devices of men in his worship, we have a striking 
proof in the case of one not inferior to Manoah, viz., Gideon, whose 
ephod brought ruin not only on himself and his family, but on the 
whole people, (Judges 8: 27.) In short, every adventitious 
invention, by which men desire to worship God, is nothing else than 
a pollution of true holiness. 
    26. Why, then, they ask, did Christ say that the intolerable 
burdens, imposed by Scribes and Pharisees, were to be borne? (Matth. 
23: 3.) Nay, rather, why did he say in another place that we were to 
beware of the leaven of the Pharisees? (Matth. 16: 6,) meaning by 
leaven, as the Evangelist Matthew explains it, whatever of human 
doctrine is mingled with the pure word of God. What can be plainer 
than that we are enjoined to shun and beware of their whole 
doctrine? From this it is most certain, that in the other passage 
our Lord never meant that the consciences of his people were to be 
harassed by the mere traditions of the Pharisees. And the word 
themselves, unless when wrested, have no such meaning. Our Lord, 
indeed, beginning to inveigh against the manners of the Pharisees, 
first instructs his hearers simply, that though they saw nothing to 
follow in the lives of the Pharisees, they should not, however, 
cease to do what they verbally taught when they sat in the seat of 
Moses, that is, to expound the Law. All he meant therefore was to 
guard the common people against being led by the bad example of 
their teachers to despise doctrine. But as some are not at all moved 
by reason, and always require authority, I will quote a passage from 
Augustine, in which the very same thing is expressed. "The Lord's 
sheep fold has persons set over it, of whom some are faithful, 
others hirelings. Those who are faithful are true shepherds; learn, 
however, that hirelings also are necessary. For many in the Church, 
pursuing temporal advantages, preach Christ, and the voice of Christ 
is heard by them, and the sheep follow not a hireling, but the 
shepherd by means of a hireling. Learn that hirelings were pointed 
out by the Lord himself. The Scribes and Pharisees, says he, sit in 
Moses' seat, what they tell you, do, but what they do, do ye not. 
What is this but to say, Hear the voice of the shepherd by means of 
hirelings? Sitting in the chair, they teach the Law of God, and 
therefore God teaches by them; but if they choose to teach their 
own, hear not, do not." Thus far Augustine. (August. in Joann. 
Tract. 46.) 
    27. But as very many ignorant persons, on hearing that it is 
impious to bind the conscience, and vain to worship God with human 
traditions, apply one blot to all the laws by which the order of the 
Church is established, it will be proper to obviate their error. 
Here, indeed, the danger of mistake is great: for it is not easy to 
see at first sight how widely the two things differ. But I will, in 
a few words, make the matter so clear, that no one will be imposed 
upon by the resemblance. First, then, let us understand, that if in 
every human society some kind of government is necessary to ensure 
the common peace and maintain concord, if in transacting business 
some form must always be observed, which public decency, and hence 
humanity itself, require us not to disregard, this ought especially 
to be observed in churches which are best sustained by a 
constitution in all respects well ordered, and without which concord 
can have no existence. Wherefore, if we would provide for the safety 
of the Church, we must always carefully attend to Paul's injunction, 
that all things be done decently and in order, (1 Cor. 14: 40.) But 
seeing there is such diversity in the manners of men, such variety 
in their minds, such repugnance in their judgements and 
dispositions, no policy is sufficiently firm unless fortified by 
certain laws, nor can any rite be observed without a fixed form. So 
far, therefore, are we from condemning the laws which conduce to 
this, that we hold that the removal of them would unnerve the 
Church, deface and dissipate it entirely. For Paul's injunction, 
that all things be done decently and in order, cannot be observed 
unless order and decency be secured by the addition of ordinances, 
as a kind of bonds. In these ordinances, however, we must always 
attend to the exception, that they must not be thought necessary to 
salvation, nor lay the conscience under a religion obligation; they 
must not be compared to the worship of God, nor substituted for 
    28. We have, therefore, a most excellent and sure mark to 
distinguish between those impious constitutions (by which as we have 
said, true religion is overthrown, and conscience subverted) and the 
legitimate observances of the Church, if we remember that one of two 
things, or both together, are always intended, viz., that in the 
sacred assembly of the faithful, all things may be done decently, 
and with becoming dignity, and that human society may be maintained 
in order by certain bonds, as it were, of moderation and humanity. 
For when a law is understood to have been made for the sake of 
public decency, there is no room for the superstition into which 
those fall who measure the worship of God by human inventions. On 
the other hand, when a law is known to be intended for common use, 
that false idea of its obligation and necessity, which gives great 
alarm to the conscience, when traditions are deemed necessary to 
salvation, is overthrown; since nothing here is sought but the 
maintenance of charity by a common office. But it may be proper to 
explain more clearly what is meant by the decency which Paul 
commends, and also what is comprehended under order. And the object 
of decency is, partly that by the use of rites which produce 
reverence in sacred matters, we may be excited to piety, and partly 
that the modesty and gravity which ought to be seen in all 
honourable actions may here especially be conspicuous. In order, the 
first thing is, that those who preside know the law and rule of 
right government, while those who are governed be accustomed to 
obedience and right discipline. The second thing is, that by duly 
arranging the state of the Church, provision be made for peace and 
    29. We shall not, therefore, give the name of decency to that 
which only ministers an empty pleasure; such, for example, as is 
seen in that theatrical display which the Papists exhibit in their 
public service, where nothing appears but a mask of useless 
splendour, and luxury without any fruit. But we give the name of 
decency to that which, suited to the reverence of sacred mysteries, 
forms a fit exercise for piety, or at least gives an ornament 
adapted to the action, and is not without fruit, but reminds 
believers of the great modesty, seriousness, and reverence, with 
which sacred things ought to be treated. Moreover ceremonies, in 
order to be exercises of piety, must lead us directly to Christ. In 
like manner, we shall not make order consist in that nugatory pomp, 
which gives nothing but evanescent splendour, but in that 
arrangement which removes all confusion, barbarism, contumacy, all 
turbulence and dissension. Of the former class we have examples, (1 
Cor. 11: 5, 21,) where Paul says that profane entertainments must 
not be intermingled with the sacred Supper of the Lord; that women 
must not appear in public uncovered. And there are many other things 
which we have in daily practice, such as praying on our knees and 
with our head uncovered, administering the sacraments of the Lord, 
not sordidly, but with some degree of dignity; employing some degree 
of solemnity in the burial of our dead, and so forth. In the other 
class are the hours set apart for public prayer, sermons and solemn 
services; during sermon, quiet and silence, fixed places, singing of 
hymns, days set apart for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the 
prohibition of Paul against women teaching in the Church, and such 
like. To the same list especially may be referred those things which 
preserve discipline, as catechising, ecclesiastical censures, 
excommunication, fastings, &c. Thus all ecclesiastical 
constitutions, which we admit to be sacred and salutary, may be 
reduced to two heads, the one relating to rites and ceremonies, the 
other to discipline and peace. 
    30. But as there is here a danger, on the one hand, lest false 
bishops should thence derive a pretext for their impious and 
tyrannical laws, and, on the other, lest some, too apt to take 
alarm, should, from fear of the above evils, leave no place for 
laws, however holy, it may here be proper to declare, that I approve 
of those human constitutions only which are founded on the authority 
of God, and derived from Scripture, and are therefore altogether 
divine. Let us take, for example, the bending of the knee which is 
made in public prayer. It is asked, whether this is a human 
tradition, which any one is at liberty to repudiate or neglect? I 
say, that it is human, and that at the same time it is divine. It is 
of God, inasmuch as it is a part of that decency, the care and 
observance of which is recommended by the apostle; and it is of men, 
inasmuch as it specially determines what was indicated in general, 
rather than expounded. From this one example, we may judge what is 
to be thought of the whole class, viz., that the whole sum of 
righteousness, and all the parts of divine worship, and everything 
necessary to salvation, the Lord has faithfully comprehended, and 
clearly unfolded, in his sacred oracles, so that in them he alone is 
the only Master to be heard. But as in external discipline and 
ceremonies, he has not been pleased to prescribe every particular 
that we ought to observe, (he foresaw that this depended on the 
nature of the times, and that one form would not suit all ages,) in 
them we must have recourse to the general rules which he has given, 
employing them to test whatever the necessity of the Church may 
require to be enjoined for order and decency. Lastly, as he has not 
delivered any express command, because things of this nature are not 
necessary to salvation, and, for the edification of the Church, 
should be accommodated to the varying circumstances of each age and 
nation, it will be proper, as the interest of the Church may 
require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new 
forms. I confess, indeed, that we are not to innovate rashly or 
incessantly, or for trivial causes. Charity is the best judge of 
what tends to hurt or to edify: if we allow her to be guide, all 
things will be safe. 
    31. Things which have been appointed according to this rule, it 
is the duty of the Christian people to observe with a free 
conscience indeed, and without superstition, but also with a pious 
and ready inclination to obey. They are not to hold them in 
contempt, nor pass them by with careless indifference, far less 
openly to violate them in pride and contumacy. You will ask, What 
liberty of conscience will there be in such cautious observances? 
Nay, this liberty will admirably appear when we shall hold that 
these are not fixed and perpetual obligations to which we are 
astricted, but external rudiments for human infirmity which, though 
we do not all need, we, however all use, because we are bound to 
cherish mutual charity towards each other. This we may recognise in 
the examples given above. What? Is religion placed in a woman's 
bonnet, so that it is unlawful for her to go out with her head 
uncovered? Is her silence fixed by a decree which cannot be violated 
without the greatest wickedness? Is there any mystery in bending the 
knee, or in burying a dead body, which cannot be omitted without a 
crime? By no means. For should a woman require to make such haste in 
assisting a neighbour that she has not time to cover her head, she 
sins not in running out with her head uncovered. And there are some 
occasions on which it is not less seasonable for her to speak than 
on others to be silent. Nothing, moreover, forbids him who, from 
disease, cannot bend his knees to pray standing. In fine, it is 
better to bury a dead man quickly, than from want of grave-clothes, 
or the absence of those who should attend the funeral, to wait till 
it rot away unburied. Nevertheless, in those matters the custom and 
institutions of the country, in short, humanity and the rules of 
modesty itself, declare what is to be done or avoided. Here, if any 
error is committed through imprudence or forgetfulness, no crime is 
perpetrated; but if this is done from contempt, such contumacy must 
be disapproved. In like manner, it is of no consequence what the 
days and hours are, what the nature of the edifices, and what psalms 
are sung on each day. But it is proper that there should be certain 
days and stated hours, and a place fit for receiving all, if any 
regard is had to the preservation of peace. For what a seed-bed of 
quarrels will confusion in such matters be, if every one is allowed 
at pleasure to alter what pertains to common order? All will not be 
satisfied with the same course if matters, placed as it were on 
debatable ground, are left to the determination of individuals. But 
if any one here becomes clamorous, and would be wiser than he ought, 
let him consider how he will approve his moroseness to the Lord. 
Paul's answer ought to satisfy us, "If any man seem to be 
contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." 
    32. Moreover, we must use the utmost diligence to prevent any 
error from creeping in which may either taint or sully this pure 
use. In this we shall succeed, if whatever observances we use are 
manifestly useful, and very few in number; especially if to this is 
added the teaching of a faithful pastor, which may prevent access to 
erroneous opinions. The effect of this procedure is, that in all 
these matters each retains his freedom, and yet at the same time 
voluntarily subjects it to a kind of necessity, in so far as the 
decency of which we have spoken or charity demands. Next, that in 
the observance of these things we may not fall into any 
superstition, nor rigidly require too much from others, let us not 
imagine that the worship of God is improved by a multitude of 
ceremonies: let not church despise church because of a difference in 
external discipline. Lastly, instead of here laying down any 
perpetual law for ourselves, let us refer the whole end and use of 
observances to the edification of the Church, at whose request let 
us without offence allow not only something to be changed, but even 
observances which were formerly in use to be inverted. For the 
present age is a proof that the nature of times allows that certain 
rites, not otherwise impious or unbecoming, may be abrogated 
according to circumstances. Such was the ignorance and blindness of 
former times, with such erroneous ideas and pertinacious zeal did 
churches formerly cling to ceremonies, that they can scarcely be 
purified from monstrous superstitions without the removal of many 
ceremonies which were formerly established, not without cause, and 
which in themselves are not chargeable with any impiety.

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 12...)

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