Luther vs Calvin(?) on Images

First off, here’s Luther (described by Heiko Olbermann, quoted by RSC):

With regard to Luther’s judgment on images, we are not in the dark. In his report to his confidant Nikolaus Hausmann on the situation he found in Wittenberg, he was unambiguous: “Damno imagines.” The elimination of images, however, should be brought about by means of a consensus grounded in the faith. As far as the intended action goes, Luther’s posture was in 1522 appears no different from the position Erasmus had counseled six years earlier—images should be tolerated until they can be removed sine tumultu. On March 17, having just arrived from the Wartburg, he summarized his strategy on images this way: “They would fall of themselves if people were taught and knew that before God symbols are nothing.

And now here’s Calvin, quoted (paraphrased?) by R. C. Sproul, against Bob Godfrey, HT Jesse Light:

53:24 — Calvin’s view was to wean the people away from the idolatrous use of images and icons in Rome. But it was not an absolute principial objection; he thought it was a temporary, prudential need to change the worship culture of the church from the idolatry that was rampant in Rome, and the Roman use of images, Bob, you know that, and that’s why I’m saying, if we’re going to be Calvinistic, if you’re going to follow Calvin on this point, Calvin theoretically allowed for the use of images — prudentially — after a moratorium to liberate a generation of people from that stuff.

So Luther’s Reformation was temporarily for images, with an end goal of eliminating them, but Calvin’s Reformation was temporarily against images, until they could be allowed in appropriate uses?

Personally, although I think Sproul’s words well describe the actual situation of the early Reformed churches wrt idolatrous Rome, I have never seen any writings that would back up this actually being Calvin’s documented position. If there are any, I wish I knew about them three years ago, they would have come in really handy!

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9 Responses to Luther vs Calvin(?) on Images

  1. RubeRad says:

    In other words, somebody please find me the Calvin quote(s) Sproul is referring to…

  2. TBR says:

    RubeRad, not sure about Sproul’s quotation. (Are We trying to make Calvin the Reformed ‘Pope’?Because later Reformed confessions and catechisms were much clearer?).

    Anyhoo, you could read the 6th Chapter of Book 1 of the Institutes. His arguments against the use of images are quite clear. I have only went that far (nothing there suggesting what Sproul says) but I doubt if he would turn around later to say images of Christ are ok. A clear distinction is obviously required between what the men argued for (in their systematic works) versus what they actually did.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Yes I have read very carefully what Calvin wrote about images in the institutes, and I agree, I see nothing in there about ‘temporariness’. So it would seem that Sproul has found something in Calvin that I could not — which is not at all surprising. Further, it would seem that Sproul has found something in Calvin that nobody else that I have read has noticed or referenced.

  4. 1. Some general resources here.

    2. Calvin on images here.

    3. More Calvin here.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Thx RSC, I’ve been following your blog for years, and I’ve seen those posts.

    Do you have any idea what Sproul might have been talking about in the quote above? (He was addressing Godfrey, maybe did they chat after that public Q&A and Godfrey knows more about it?)

  6. TBR says:

    RubeRad, it is quite difficult to argue for images within the Reformed framework. I guess sometimes you just have to make stuff up!

  7. Pingback: Luther vs Calvin(?) on Images

  8. Phil Larson says:

    “And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he himself has forbidden it [Ex. 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory. And lest they think us alone in this opinion, those who concern themselves with their writings will find that all well-balanced writers have always disapproved of it. If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness, much less will we be allowed to worship it as God, or God in it. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations. Within this class some are histories and events, some are images and forms of bodies without any depicting of past events. The former have some use in teaching or admonition; as for the latter, I do not see what they can afford other than pleasure. And yet it is clear that almost all the images that until now have stood in churches were of this sort. From this, one may judge that these images had been called forth not out of judgment or selection but of foolish and thoughtless craving.”

    Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 112). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

    I don’t know if Calvin directly addressed the topic of images of Jesus, but it may be that Calvin opposed the mainly ahistoric (?) images common in Romanist churches, but that he did not oppose images “which the eyes are capable of seeing” (historic representations?). Might this allow historic representations of Jesus?

    I don’t see interlocutors interfacing this issue with Christ’s two natures: they seem to claim that His divine nature pervaded all of His human nature. But in the Gospels, His deity does not appear to be openly evident in His body, but only to the eyes of faith. Even on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was evidently a man, and only afterward did they realize that He was actually the God-man.

    Wow. I hope I’m not stepping in it here.

  9. RubeRad says:

    Thx for the feedback. I am familiar with that quote; you say “I don’t know if Calvin directly addressed the topic of images of Jesus”, and I agree that that quote is ambiguous (here is a rather lengthy comment-discussion around that, which led in fact to this post!). Unfortunately, although I do see in this quote Calvin putting his foot down rather tenuously, I do not see any sense of “temporary” that Sproul is invoking.

    You are certainly stepping in it in the eyes of many Reformed, but it sounds like you and I are simpatico. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you wander on over here and read Vere Homo and/or listen to the audio of the debate.

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