Thursday, July 15, 2010

Calvinism and Catholicism

Calvinists are a strange breed of protestant. Not everyone who attends a Calvinist fellowship but those who really love his intellectual system of theology. It has a certain appeal. The size and complexity of it. Even the fact that there are parts of it that are offensive. It is what you would expect when studying a big God.

Chesterton once said paganism was the biggest thing out there and Catholicism was bigger. Calvinism was my paganism. Too many people had faith that consisted of simple answers to complex questions. Calvin went deeper and put all the answers together in a way that made sense and seemed to fit the scriptures.

Catholicism was just bigger. Not by a little but by a lot. I read St Thomas Aquinas and I can never go back to the institutes. It impressed me before I considered becoming Catholic. They just seemed like they were drawing from a deeper intellectual well than everyone else. It includes aspects that Calvinism didn't. Things like sexual morality. Calvin was focused on justification and had simplified questions of moral theology to the point where the discipline does not even exist in the protestant world.

Calvinism is complex but not so complex a person can't grasp it. Catholicism is beyond human understanding. It has offensive elements but as you contemplate them they get less so. With Calvinism they got more offensive to the point where you didn't want to contemplate them at all. As a Calvinist I dropped theology for a good few years. Catholicism is so beautiful I can't imagine dropping it.

Calvin followed the logical implications of one doctrine into another. But he did it in an absolute manner. We are absolutely depraved. Election is absolutely unconditional. Grace must be absolutely irresistible. Calvin loved the absolutes. Catholics love the both/and. Faith and works. Scripture and tradition. Predestination and free will. It makes everything more complex and more human. Calvin had a very good understanding of God but not such a good understanding of human dignity.

In the end, learning to read scripture without assuming it is always talking in absolutes makes a lot of difference. We talk that way all the time. All people have 2 hands. Not absolutely all, there are amputees. But normal speech allows for that. When I realized that many of the absolutes were only read as absolutes due to my tradition then Calvinism seemed a lot less biblical. Other passages made a lot more sense as well.


  1. I'm enjoying your blog quite a bit. I converted to Catholicism from a brand of protestantism that began with being raised Mennonite and slowly moving my way through to the local SBC church, so Calvinism , though somewhat familiar from my reading, is still a curiosity for me.

  2. You commented while I was on vacation. Sorry for not responding. Glad you are reading and enjoying