If there are two things that stand out to me in Calvin’s commentaries through the years, they are:
He hates speculation. Every time he encounters a passage where he believes people go astray with fanciful, speculative views that have no support from the text itself, he calls foul – and he tends to call it hard. I’ve always appreciated that.
He hates the papacy. It seems like nearly every thought in his commentaries is capped off by commenting on how the papists get this particular doctrine wrong.
For this reason, I found this comment today particularly interesting. I was reading his commentary on Matthew 28:20, where he says:
Teaching them to observe all things. By these words, as I have formerly suggested, Christ shows that, in sending the apostles, he does not entirely resign his office, as if he ceased to be the Teacher of his Church; for he sends away the apostles with this reservation, that they shall not bring forward their own inventions, but shall purely and faithfully deliver from hand to hand (as we say) what he has entrusted to them. Would to God that the Pope would subject to this rule the power which he claims for himself; for we would easily permit him to be the successor of Peter or of Paul, provided that he did not usurp a tyrannical dominion over our souls. But as he has set aside the authority of Christ, and infects the Church with his childish fooleries, this shows plainly enough how widely he has departed from the apostolic office. In short, let us hold that by these words teachers are appointed over the Church, not to put forward whatever they may think proper, but that they, as well as others, may depend on the mouth of the Master alone, so as to gain disciples for him, and not for themselves.
It’s the highlighted portion that I found so fascinating. It’s the closest I’ve ever heard him come to saying something even remotely sympathetic to papal authority. It suggests to me that even as the father of presbyterianism, Calvin had room in his mind for the idea of an episcopal form of government. While I know he would not have affirmed a doctrine of apostolic succession, it seems he could have had room for the notion of regional bishops absorbing an authority similar to that of the apostles.
If nothing else, this comment seems like a fitting capstone to the end of Calvin’s gospel commentary. After the reformers spent so much of their blood and energy combatting the papists, going against the grain of an established, corrupt church order, this is his parting shot. “Look, when all is said and done, we would be eager to submit to the rule of a pope. We never asked for this. We would be eager to honor him as Peter or Paul. We would be happy to not have to do this reformation thing. But here we are.”
Anyway, curious what others may think. I know some of you are far more well-read in Calvin than I am. I just found it a fascinating find.