Choking on Feathers: A Battle on Two Fronts


Martin Luther famously referred to the Radicals of his time as those who had a taste for feathers:

“When we have heard or learned a few things about Holy Scripture, we think we are already doctors and have swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all…This one will not hear of Baptism, that one denies the Sacrament, another puts a world between this and the last day: some teach that Christ not God, some say this, some say that: there are about as many sects and creeds as there are heads. No yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he thinks himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet.”

In the July/August 1959 issue of Torch & Trumpet, Cornelius Van Til published his first article entitled “Calvin the Controversialist.” In it he paints a quick picture of life in Geneva up to the point at which “Calvin and his colleagues were ordered to leave the city.”

Cardinal Sadolet wastes no time trying to do damage control. He writes to the Genevan people that it seemed good “to the Holy Spirit and to me…to write somewhat to you…of the hope in Christ…the blessing of complete and perpetual salvation…by faith alone in God and in Jesus Christ…This [Catholic] Church hath regenerated us to God in Christ, hath nourished and confirmed us, instructed us what to think, what to believe, wherein to place our hope, and also taught us by what way we must tend towards heaven.”

He goes on to threaten the Day of Judgment against those who will not forsake these “modern novelties,” promising those who have returned to the church to meet the Day with confidence. Beza claims there is no one in Geneva who can answer Sadolet and beseeches Calvin to respond. As to this appeal Sadolet makes to the Spirit, Calvin says:

“What comes of the Word of the Lord, that clearest of all marks, and which the Lord himself, in pointing out the Church, so often recommends to us? For seeing how dangerous it would be to boast of the Spirit without the Word, he declared that the Church is indeed governed by the Holy Spirit; but in order that that government might not be vague and unstable, he annexed it to the Word.”

There are those today who seem to think that western Christianity is basically a story of Roman Catholicism and everybody else. If one is not Roman Catholic he must be a Protestant. They forget that the Radicals told Protestants they didn’t reform enough. This rusty history seems to be an equal opportunity afflication on the part of Catholics and Protestants alike. But just because two camps aren’t Catholic doesn’t mean they are both Protestant. And so for those who don’t seem to recall that the Reformation was indeed a battle on two fronts, which, among so many other things, was also a battle against two camps which claimed the Holy Spirit above the Word and descending like a dove on either the shoulder of the Church or into the heart of the Individual, Calvin reminds that:

“We are assailed by two sects, which seem to differ most widely from each other. For what similitude is there in appearance between the Pope and the Anabaptists? And yet, that you may see that Satan never transforms himself so cunningly, as not in some measure to betray himself, the principal weapon with which they both assail us is the same. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency certainly is to sink and bury the Word of God, that they may make room for their own falsehoods. And you, Sadolet, by stumbling on the very threshold, have paid the penalty of that affront which you offered to the Holy Spirit, when you separated him from the Word.”

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12 Responses to Choking on Feathers: A Battle on Two Fronts

  1. D G Hart says:


    So why are the New Calvinists spirit-filled friendly?

  2. John Yeazel says:

    It seems that the internet monk is heading in that direction also. I may be wrong in my analysis of that but that seems to be what is implied in his latest series of articles on the crumbling of evangelicalism. So, yeah why are the New Calvinists spirit-filled friendly? Perhaps it is because we have to develop and exercise our capacity for critical thinking. That is too much of a burden to put on people yet it is probably a key to the sanctification process; that and getting good at our vocations.

  3. Zrim says:

    So why are the New Calvinists spirit-filled friendly?

    To get to the other side? Little chicken/feathers humor, that.

  4. Zrim says:


    Speaking of Luther, Spencer reminds me of Erasmus.

  5. John Yeazel says:

    Are you baiting me or what Zrim? I will have to think about that one for awhile. I did spend a lot of time in the Bondage of the Will about 10 years ago and should visit their again. A few of my favorite Luther quotes come from that book- or was it from the introduction by Packer? “The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic.” When I picture Luther saying that I wonder how civil he was- when I heard the discussion with Os Guiness on the White Horse Inn a few Inn’s back that picture of Luther flashed in my head. He also told Erasmus that his arguments “were like dung served on a silver platter- elegant, sophisticated, scholarly and prosaic but unable to accomplish God’s purposes because they flowed from a skeptics heart” That might be a paraphrase but it was close to that.

  6. John Yeazel says:

    Zrim, you still did not answer D.G. Hart’s question- or, was he baiting you? He is a much more formidable foe then me so you are shoving that aside with humor. Do you do that often?

  7. Zrim says:


    Erasmus recognized a lot of what ailed the medieval church and held Luther in high esteem for it. But he wanted the medieval church to emerge as a new and improved medieval church. Luther said it had essential problems that needed reforming. In the same way, Spencer wants evangelicalism to emerge all the better for the pile-ons like his.

    And, yes, I am implying that evangelicalism and the medieval church are the same.

  8. John Yeazel says:

    In that respect I would agree with you Zrim ie., the Spencer statement and the fact that evangelicalism and the medieval church are the same. Luther held Erasmus in high regard also (especially in his translation of the scriptures) even though he spoke vehemently against his theological views.

  9. John Yeazel says:

    That reminds me of another Luther quote I often use- “Erasmus went after their appetites (or sins)- I went after their doctrine.” I think this implies what you said about “Spencer wants evangelicalism to emerge all the better for the for the pile-ons like his.” Luther’s approach was diametrically opposed and antithetical to Erasmus’s.

  10. Zrim says:

    Bingo, John.

  11. John Yeazel says:


    I just went back and reread some to the comments and you did respond to D.G. Hart’s remark. It was just so succinct and right that it went right over my head. I was looking for an elaborate theological treatise and that was unnecessary. Most of the time I find critics are more looking to find ways to justify and back their positions then actually looking for the truth in the issue involved. That makes all the difference in the world. When people criticize my views I applaud them if they show me the errors of my thinking and lead me to the truth. Very little debate these days heads in that direction.

  12. Zrim says:


    I had a ST prof who made us write complicated statements of orthodoxy in short, sharp and shocked clips. “No, shorter, conciser, simpler!”

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