To God Alone Be The Glory!

Chapter Summary of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter XII – How God Is to Be So Distinguished from Idols that Perfect Honor May Be Given to Him Alone

Calvin rightly asserts that it is true religion that binds to our conscience that there is but one and only one God. Religious honor and acts of piety, as such, are only to be directed to him alone. Indeed, God declares himself a jealous God and is vehemently opposed to his glory being shared with any other [Ex. 20:5]. This principle is violated not only by those who reject him altogether but also those who would name him supreme yet placing around him many lesser gods to which they ascribe godly attributes.

As discussed previously, the dulia/latria defense is a distinction without a difference. While such would claim that they render honor [latria, servitium] to God alone and servitude [dulia, cultus] to others, the mere use of different words does not negate the action. Further, is it not greater to be served than honored? Does not Paul defy such a distinction when he reminds the Galatians that “they exhibited dulia toward beings that by nature were no gods” [Gal. 4:8] before they were made knowledgeable of God? Jesus rebuked Satan in the wilderness when he quoted Scripture “[i]t is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God’” [Matt, 4:10]. Satan was distinctly not demanding worship but reverence. When John knelt before an angel [Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9] and Cornelius prostrated himself before Peter [Acts 10:25], even though it is clear they had no intention of refocusing their allegiance away from God, they were nonetheless rebuked.


Idol Much?!

Chapter Summary – Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion

Book One, Chapter XI – It Is Unlawful to Attribute a Visible Form to God, and Generally Whoever Sets Up Idols Revolts Against the True God

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any likeness” [Ex. 20:4]. In this verse Moses records the second command of the Decalogue. As plain as this verse may appear, corrupt man has ever been wont to violate it in the form of sculptures, paintings and other man-made artifices, all of which stand in direct violation of this command. Regardless the sincerity of one’s intentions, such a figurative representation created by finite man does violence to the person and character of an infinite God. As also commanded by Moses, “you did not see a body…therefore take heed to yourself lest perchance, deceived, you make for yourself any likeness…” [Deut. 4:12, 15-16]. Similarly, Paul adhorts, “[s]ince we are the offspring of God, we ought not to judge the Deity to be like gold, and silver, or a stone, carved by the art or devising of man” [Acts 17:29]. Even those biblical occurrences of the manifestations of God’s presence to man do not provide such license. Rather, aptly spoken by Calvin, “the best way to contemplate the divine is where minds are lifted above themselves with admiration.”

Pope Gregory proposed the adage that “images are the books of the uneducated.” As it relates to an education of the heavenly, he stands in direct contradiction to Jeremiah who declares that “the wood is a doctrine of vanity” [10:8] and Habakkuk who teaches that “a molten image is a teacher of falsehood” [2:18]. Augustine agreed with Varro that such were idols and “removed fear and added error” by reducing God to a manageable contrivance that could be easily despised. Insult is added when one considers the obscenity of many of the representations depicted. And still further insult when it is considered that a large measure of the culpability for those “uneducated” lay with the papist church itself who instead of being the source of instruction to which they are called, instead abdicating this responsibility to the idols.

Calvin asserts that “man’s nature is a perpetual idol factory”. While art and craftsmanship are gifts from God they are a curse if worship only befitting God is directed to them. The use of images as a focal point of worship, whether with the intent to worship God or the idol itself, inevitably draws one to ascribe inherent deity to the inanimate, thereby stealing from God that which is given to the image. Those, as the papists, who would defend this practice retort that they do not call such idols their gods. Like the Jews and pagans of old, this does little to exonerate them from the charge of idol worship. The prophets condemned such behavior regardless of what it is otherwise called (Jer. 2:27; Ezek. 6:4; Isa. 40:19-20; Hab. 2:18-19; Deut. 32:37).

Papists employ word-play to draw a distinction between dulia (to serve) and latria (to worship). This is a distinction without a difference. Indeed, some of their own adherents have made statements refuting the reality of such a distinction. Constantius, for example, insists that he will show the same worship and honor to such images as owed to the Trinity itself. John, the legate of the Easterns, urged those who have an image of Christ to offer sacrifice to it, rejoice and exult.

Not only are we warned to avoid idol worship but even idols themselves [1 John 5:21]. This admonition is prudent as not only does man have a propensity for generating idols where they may be found, it is also an unworthy endeavor for the church to divert attention from the living and symbolic images the Lord has consecrated in his Word. Again, however, in defense of such practice there are those who erroneously appeal to the original Nicene council as being supportive, as well as Scriptures such as “God created man in his image” [Gen. 1:27], “Show me thy face for it is beautiful” [SS. 2:14], and “[n]o one lights a lantern and puts it under a bushel” [Matt. 5:15], and many other gross misuses of God’s Word. In fact, there are indeed those who shamelessly have pronounced anathema on any who would neglect adoration of such images.