CALVIN TO THE MINISTERS OF NEUFCHATEL.
The love of God, the peace of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be multiplied unto you always, brethren beloved in the Lord.
When our brother Enard brought your Articles,, concerning the administration of discipline among ministers, and also the objections of a certain brother to those articles, there was no one of us who did not judge, that an answer ought to be given to each with all readiness. But as we were not all present, we deferred it to this day’s meeting. The business being proposed, we all agreed, with one consent, to the following answer: When ministers have occasion for any special discipline among themselves, the inquiry is not to be, after what manner we may live, without established rules in the Church; but that management and order are to be pursued, which are adapted to retain us in our office, and to serve for edification.
The affairs of men are never so well established, as that any thing is found perfect. To this point, however, we ought always to aim, that with one consent, and by united exertions, we may promote, as much as possible, the design for which the Church was instituted.
In this state of infirmity, it cannot be but that some things will be wanting in us, concerning which it is useful and proper that we should be admonished. In some ministers, particular faults are to be corrected: others are to be warned before hand, when we see them in danger, lest they fall into imprudences: some are to be excited to greater zeal: others must be checked in their impetuosity: and concerning others, we must make inquiry, when any unfavorable and yet doubtful report about them goes abroad. Again, it is asked, “Whether, in general, it is necessary, that the individual delinquent should be admonished privately by each of the other ministers? Or whether it may sometimes be expedient, that a deliberation be held among them, and the admonition be given by the whole meeting?”
It often happens, that we ought to be admonished by a number together, about that concerning which no individual can with propriety admonish us. Exempli gratia, as it was just stated, a rumor is raised, or some complaints spread about some brother: the neighbors know it. It cannot be met with a better remedy, than that the ministers, having consulted among themselves, advise or admonish him concerning whom the reports or complaints are made. If he is unjustly criminated, they will thus provide, that the reports spread no further; but if true, he ought not to be admonished by one only, but to be corrected by the meeting of his brethren. Take another example: there shall be something in a brother, which shall displease some others, either of the common members, or of his colleagues. Here the question is changed: whether that which is a deficiency is to be treated as a fault, and corrected! In this case, the principal points being compared, a judgment must be formed. Cases of this kind are daily occurring. To these the provincial Synods had some respect, which were formerly held twice a year. In those synods, when they entered on the consideration of doctrine, then the complaints were heard concerning the faults of any one, and the order of discipline was exercised towards the individual. Your institution, therefore, such as you have described, we judge to be sacred and lawful. It is certainly with propriety, that we approve of that order and discipline in your Church, which we ourselves have used as good and salutary. Only let us first use (in our Censura Morum) equity and candor; and also prudence and moderation.
When we require candor and equity, we understand this, that no one shall labor, with a malignant mind, to throw spots on the character of his brother. By prudence and moderation we understand, that no one shall make known a secret fault, by which any disgrace may be affixed upon his brother; neither shall things of small consequence, levicula, be exaggerated, with immoderate severity. If at any time it should happen, that those things are made public, from the moroseness or officiousness of, brethren, which ought to be kept secret; or if from a censorious disposition in any one, private faults are published; those reporters or informers should by no means be heard; but they should be severely repressed and discountenanced. That the procedure may be safe in those difficulties, which arise in the administration of discipline, it is useful that a previous discourse be faithfully delivered, concerning those things which are to be strictly observed, by all those who would not turn the salubrious medicine of discipline into poison. We should immediately and constantly from the beginning admonish them, that if there are any secret grudges, they should be openly acknowledged: that when one brother is offended with another, it is his duty to expostulate with him, before he proceeds to charge him with a crime, so that he may not confound those two distinct duties.
These precautions in discipline, as much as possible, are to be taken at the threshold, so that the door of contention may be closed, lest any creep in craftily; and if they should peradventure overreach, in this way, their progress must be stopped. The discipline of the church is not only of divine authority, but we find, by experience, that it is necessary, and by no means to be neglected or omitted.
Moreover, we beseech that brother in the Lord, who has hitherto dissented from you, as to your order of discipline, that he contend no further in his pertinacious objections. He should remember, among other things, what Paul requires in a pastor, and this is not to be accounted the last, that he be not auqadhv , that is, that he be not self-willed. This also is one of the special virtues of a good pastor, that he so abhor, with his whole heart, contentions, as never to differ from his brethren, unless in cases of the most imperious necessity. Take care also, lest those who hear this observation of ours should suspect him of being zealous of strife, or of opposing your articles from his hatred of discipline; for we would by no means load him with this reproach, or attach to him at all the disposition of being self-willed. We speak these things, therefore, with the utmost simplicity, because we desire to consult his honor and benefit. As much as appertains to his objections, by which he has endeavored to overthrow your articles of discipline, we shall only say, with his permission, that when he calls the brotherly correction an act of charity, from the exercise of which no one is to be excluded, he appears to us not to have noticed that which in the first place was necessary to be known, that there are many kinds of brotherly correction.
We will omit others, and observe only this about which is the controversy, as this has its proper and distinct consideration. It is one article of ecclesiastical polity. It should not, therefore, be confounded with that general correction of morals, which is indifferently committed to all. We do not, therefore, concede to him, that it is a simple and common act of charity or love; forasmuch as there is a judicial board, instituted for the purpose of order and discipline, which has the edification of the church alone for its object. Neque etiam concedimus neminem ab ejus obligatione eximi. Nor do we concede, that any one is deprived of his privilege, or exempted from his obligation. Although this manner of speaking is ambiguous, as it may be taken passively or actively, yet in either way, we deny that all are bound by this article, which is specially designed for ministers. For as those laws, which respect the order of holding the Senate, do not bind the common people; so it is agreed, that we observe among ourselves the discipline to which ministers alone are subject.
What the objector has included in the same proposition, “That brotherly correction is supported by the precept of God;” if he understands, that any correction of that kind is contained expressly in the word of God, this we by no means concede to him. Substantiam ecclesiasticae disciplinae exprimit disertis verbis scriptura: forma autem ejus exercendae quoniam a Domino praescripta non est, a ministris constitui debet pro edificatione.
The scriptures express the substance of ecclesiastical discipline in plain words; but the form of exercising it, since it is not prescribed by the Lord, ought to be determined by the ministers for edification. For which reason we also deny, that the emendation of delinquents is only to be regarded in disciplinary proceedings, for respect is, at the same time, to be had to public order and common edification. On this subject we may take an example from the Scriptures: When Paul came to Jerusalem, he was advised by James and the Elders, as he had been evilly reported among the Jews, that he should purify himself in like manner and together with them.
Now it is not to be doubted, but that a deliberation among the Elders preceded this advice; and that this consultation was held, Paul not being present. But why was this? Because, indeed, the question concerned not Paul merely, but the general interest and common edification of the Church. In like manner, when the brethren reprehended Peter, because he had turned to the Gentiles, we do not read that any thing was said to him privately by any individual; because the matter was publicly known to many, it was proper, therefore, that the Elders should admonish him among themselves. And although Peter was unjustly accused in this case, we do not, however, read, that the Elders erred in the manner of their dealing with him; the error was only in the cause itself; for they pursued the usual and ordinary method of discipline.
The precept of Christ, which we have in Matthew 18, we receive concerning secret faults, according to the express meaning of the words.
Therefore, if a brother offend in any thing, you knowing it, and there being no other witness, Christ commands you to go to him in private; al-though he does not forbid but that you should do the same in a case where there are others who equally know the facts with yourself. This should be done, as though you were ignorant that others knew it; and on the ground that you do not think it expedient to accuse him in the presence of other persons. Christ adds, if you effect nothing in this way, take with you two or three witnesses. This, in our judgment, is not to be understood of the witnesses of the fault, but of the admonition; that by this means it may have more weight. This, however, has nothing to do with the point of preventing the exercise of discipline, about which the controversy now is.
Besides it is not now debated, whether secret faults are to be publicly exposed; but our inquiry is, what those things are which only beget some small offense, or which are not much removed from occasioning offense.
Of this kind we have an example in the reprehension of Peter. For neither did Paul refuse witnesses, that he might admonish Peter privately, but he did it before the Church. Nor yet was the matter known to all; but because danger threatened, he would be beforehand and prevent it.
The fifth proposition of the objector, we cannot receive without exception; for it declares, “that we are proceeding correctly, even when we admonish a Presbyter privately who is laboring under a notorious sin.”
But Paul, in the text where he forbids an accusation to be received against Elders, unless before proper witnesses, would on the other hand have peccantes Presbyterios, offending Presbyters admonished before all, that others also might fear. If it is sometimes a duty to admonish offenders publicly, even Presbyters, for whom a greater respect is to be had, and it obtains for an example, it certainly cannot be correctly and prudently done, that any one should abstain from such reprehension. What shall we say more? We judge that we have given all the counsel, which the time allows, or the case requires. But these two things are to be always regarded, the first, that offenders be not discouraged, through too much severity: and the other, that offenses be not connived at by us. We wonder why that brother added the sixth proposition, for it is sufficiently evident from the term Church, in the words of Christ, that he properly designated that Church of which he himself was a member, and whose obstinacy he had denounced. But here two things are to be observed; First, that when the obstinacy of a stubborn offender is published before one Church, and he contemptuously leaves that Church and migrates to another, he shall be denounced in this also. The ancient Canons determine this, when they prohibit a stranger to be received to communion, unless he shall produce a testimony. For where is the communion of the Church, if when condemned by one he is received by another? Where is the discipline, if he who despises one Church may migrate to another, and carry such pride with him with impunity! The other point to be observed is, that those whom we esteem to be Ministers of one Church qui in unum collegium adunati, who are united in one association, should constitute one body. Quorsum enim Decanus, quorsum alia omnia, nisi tanquam unius corporis membra inter nos coalescamus!
For what purpose is a Leader, or Moderator, for what purpose all other things, unless, as members of one body, we are united among ourselves?
We trust that the author of the propositions will receive in good part what we have written in sincerity. It is the duty of us all, not only to yield to the truth, but to receive it willingly, with extended hands, when it comes in our way. Farewell, dear brethren in the Lord. May the Lord multiply unto you daily the spirit of wisdom and prudence, for the edification of his Church, and may he render your ministry extensively fruitful.
JOHN CALVIN, in the name of all the brethren.
Geneva, from our meeting, November 7, 1544.