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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 119. Calvin and Pighius.


I. Albertus Pighius: De libero hominis arbitrio et divina gratia libri decem. Coloniae, 1542, mense Augusto. Dedicated to Cardinal Sadolet. He wrote also Assertio hierarchiae ecclesiasticae, a complete defence of the Roman Church, dedicated to Pope Paul III., 1538.

Calvin: Defensio sanae et orthodoxae doctrinae de servitute et liberatione humani arbitrii adversus calumnias Alberti Pighii Campensis. With a preface to Melanchthon. Geneva, 1543. In Opera, VI. 225–404. (Amsterdam ed. t. VIII. 116 sqq.) The same in French, Geneva, 1560.

II. Bayle: Art. Pighius, in his "Dict. hist."—Henry, II. 285 sqq. (English trans. I. 492 sqq.).—Dyer (1850), pp. 158–165.—Schweizer: Die protest. Centraldogmen (1854), I. 180–200. Very satisfactory.—Werner (R. Cath.): Geschichte der apologetischen und polemischen Literatur der christl. Theologie (1865), IV. 272 sq. and 298. Superficial.—Stähelin, II. 281–287.—Prolegomena to Calvin’s Opera, VI. pp. XXIII.–XXV.


As Erasmus had attacked Luther’s doctrine on the slavery of the human will, and provoked Luther’s crushing reply, Albert Pighius attacked Luther and chiefly Calvin on the same vulnerable point.

Pighius (or Pigghe) of Campen in Holland, educated at Louvain and Cologne, and a pupil of Pope Adrian VI., whom he followed to Rome, was a learned and eloquent divine and deputed on various missions by Clement VII. and Paul III. He may have seen Calvin at the Colloquies in Worms and Ratisbon. He died as canon and archdeacon of Utrecht, Dec. 26, 1542, a few months after the publication of his book against Calvin and the other Reformers. Beza calls him the first sophist of the age, who, by gaining a victory over Calvin, hoped to attain to a cardinal’s hat. But it is wrong to judge of motives without evidence. His retirement to Utrecht could not promote such ambition.875875    Henry says (II. 289) that Pighius was converted by Calvin’s argument, but be died (December, 1542) before Calvin’s reply was published (February, 1543). The story rests on the authority of Crakanthorpe, who asserts, in his Defensio Ecclesiae Anglicanae, that Pighius by reading Calvin’s Institutes for the purpose of refuting them, became himself a Calvinist in one of the chief articles of faith (he does not say which). The story has been long ago rejected by Gerdesius, Hist. Evang. Renovati, III. § 60. Comp. Dyer, p. 160.

Pighius represents the dogma of the slavery of the human will, and of the absolute necessity of all that happens, as the cardinal error of the Reformation, and charges it with leading to complete moral indifference. He wrote ten books against it. In the first six books, he defends the doctrine of free-will; in the last four books, he discusses divine grace, foreknowledge, predestination, and providence, and, last, the Scripture passages on these subjects. He teaches the Semi-Pelagian theory with some Pelagian features, and declares that "our works are meritorious before God." After the Synod of Trent had more carefully guarded the doctrine of justification against Semi-Pelagianism, the Spanish Inquisition placed his book,—De libero arbitrio, and his tract, De peccato originali, on the Index, and Cardinal Bona recommended caution in reading them, since he did not always present the reliable orthodox doctrine. Pighius was not ashamed to copy, without acknowledgment, whole pages from Calvin’s Institutes, where it suited his purpose. Calvin calls him a plagiarist, and says, "With what right he publishes such sections as his own, I cannot see, unless he claims, as enemy, the privilege of plunder."

The arguments of Pighius against the doctrine of the slavery of the human will are these: It contradicts common sense; it is inconsistent with the admitted freedom of will in civil and secular matters; it destroys all morality and discipline, turns men into animals and monsters, makes God the author of sin, and perverts his justice into cruelty, and his wisdom into folly. He derives these heresies from the ancient Gnostics and Simon Magus, except that Luther surpassed them all in impiety.

Calvin’s answer was written in about two months, and amidst many interruptions. He felt the weight of the objections, but he always marched up to the cannon’s mouth. He admits, incidentally, that Luther often used hyperbolic expressions in order to rouse attention. He also allows the liberum arbitrium in the sense that man acts voluntarily and of his inner impulse.876876    Sponte et libenter, interiore electionis motu. But he denies that man, without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, has the power to choose what is spiritually good, and quotes Rom. 6:17; 7:14, 23. "Man has arbitrium spontaneum, so that he willingly and by choice does evil, without compulsion from without, and, therefore, he incurs guilt. But, owing to native depravity, his will is so given to sin that it always chooses evil. Hence spontaneity and enslavement may exist together. The voluntas is spontanea, but not libera; it is not coacta, yet serva." This is an anticipation of the artificial distinction between natural ability and moral inability—a distinction which is practically useless. As regards the teaching of the early Church, he could not deny that the Fathers, especially Origen, exalt the freedom of the will; but he could claim Augustin in his later writings, in which he retracted his earlier advocacy of freedom. The objection that the slavery of the will nullifies the exhortations to repent, would be valid, if God did not make them effective by his Spirit.

The reply of Calvin to Pighius is more cautious and guarded than Luther’s reply to Erasmus, and more churchly than Zwingli’s tract on Providence. In defending himself, he defended what was then the common Protestant doctrine, in opposition to the then prevailing Pelagianism in the Roman Church. It had a good effect upon the Council of Trent, which distinctly disowned the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian heresy.877877    See the remarks of Schweizer on the value of this controversy, l.c., I. 198.

Calvin dedicated his book to Melanchthon, as a friend who had agreed with him and had advised him to write against Pighius, if he should attack the Reformation. But Melanchthon, who had taught the same doctrine, was at that time undergoing a change in his views on the freedom of the will, chiefly because he felt that the denial of it would make God the author of sin, and destroy man’s moral accountability.878878    The successive changes are marked in the editions of his Loci Theologici, 1525, 1535, 1544, 1548. See above, p. 548. He was as competent to appreciate the logical argument in favor of necessity, but he was more open to the force of ethical and practical considerations. In his reply to Calvin’s dedication, May 11, 1543, he acknowledged the compliment paid to him, but modestly and delicately intimated his dissent and his desire that Protestants should unite in the defence of those more important doctrines, which commended themselves by their simplicity and practical usefulness. "I wish," he says, "you would transfer your eloquence to the adorning of these momentous subjects, by which our friends would be strengthened, our enemies terrified, and the weak encouraged; for who in these days possesses a more forcible or splendid style of disputation? ... I do not write this letter to dictate to you who are so learned a man, and so well versed in all the exercises of piety. I am persuaded, indeed, that it agrees with your sentiments, though less subtle and more adapted for use."879879    "Et quidem scio, haec cum tuis congruere, sed sunt παχύτερα, et ad usum accommodata." He also refers to Basil’s saying: μόνονθέλησον, καὶ θεὸς προαπαντᾶ. Calvin’s Opera, XI. 539-542. Melanchthon’s letters are usually interspersed with Greek words and sentences.

Calvin intended to answer the second part of the work of Pighius, but as he learned that he had died shortly before, he did not wish "to insult a dead dog" (!), and applied himself "to other pursuits."880880    Cons. Genev.: "Paulo post librum editum, moritur Pighius. Ergo ne cani mortuo insultarem, ad alias lucubrationes me converti." He characterizes Pighius as a "homo phrenetica plane audacia praeditus," because he attempted to establish the freedom of man, and to overthrow the secret counsel of God, by which he elects some to salvation and others to eternal ruin (alios aeterno exitio destinat). It is no excuse for Calvin’s insulting language on a dead enemy that St. Jerome said of his former friend Rufinus: "The scorpion now lies under ground!" Among Polemic theologians charity is a great rarity. But nine years afterwards he virtually answered it in the Consensus Genevensis (1552), which may be considered as the second part of his refutation of Pighius, although it was occasioned by the controversy with Bolsec.



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