Calvin Didn’t Say Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda

These participles, reformata and reformanda, were not constantly on Calvin’s tongue. However, it is clear enough that his pattern was to use reformata as an adjective to describe a church that is more or less free of liturgical and theological abuses, and to use reformanda participially [to] describe a task that must be done in situations where that freedom did not yet prevail.

—Michael Bush, “Calvin and the Reformanda Sayings,” in Herman J. Selderhuis, ed., Calvinus sacrarum literarum interpres: Papers of the International Congress on Calvin Research (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 294.

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  1. David Hall has said that he has never been able to find any evidence that Calvin ever said ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda; and he has looked diligently.

    • Spent yesterday working on this very question. Evidence seems to agree with David. Calvin et al wrote regularly of the the ecclesia reformat (the church reformed or the Reformed Church) and they used the expression reformanda (to be reformed) but the expression as we have it most frequently, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, is a modern construction. Michael Bush did a great job on this in the article. It certainly does NOT mean what it is often taken to signal, “yes the church was Reformed but it needs to be substantial, further changed in non-Reformed directions.” More to come later. Stay tuned.

  2. I think that the church was Reformed enough (just perfectly) with its final part of reformation that came with 2nd London Confession. 🙂

    • Except for the fact that a reformulated baptismal “ordinance” (out with the sacramental terminology) is only the most obvious, cosmetic change that the English Baptist movement wrought.

      At a much deeper and more fundamental level is a completely new “read” of redemptive history. “This is not your father’s covenant theology.” It is just not the case that the English Baptists of the 17th century merely took the theology of the Reformers to its proper terminal.

      The reality is that the English Baptists adopted and adapted certain developed theological products–partly from both magisterial and radical veins of history. The 2LBC was intended to show the relative similarity of orderly (but separatist) Baptists to England’s putative Establishment; which, incidentally, Westminster’s Confession never came to be in England.

      But a focus on numerous similarities of the final products (LBC & WCF) overlooks the fact of greatest importance; namely, that two widely divergent starting points and routes (hermeneutics) traveled bring two disparate theological systems to arrive at a blessed common ground, where several key doctrines are staked.

      The Reformed make a similar trek with respect to the Lutherans. We ascend the theological mountain separately, and stake out very similar and blessed common ground (genesio Lutherans prefer not to notice us). But we’re not Lutherans, and it would be insulting to them for us to assert that they are just an “unfinished” Reformation that we so helpfully completed for them.

      The truth is, that fundamental disputes about biblical and systematic theology–hermeneutics–don’t just separate papists from protestants. They separate Lutherans, Reformed, and Baptists as well. And it is a simple post hoc fallacy to assign a later historical emergence of a particular confession the status of a “purer” reformation.

      Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist movements appear too closely together in time to allow for any such priority. And the objectively late amalgam of Reformed and Anabaptist elements in the English Baptist movement, by its subsequent development, does not argue for a synthetic perfection.

      2LBC doesn’t repair the parapets of Fortress Reformation. It offers to reconstruct the whole edifice on very different principles, and promises it will look much the same, though with a few prominent “improvements.”

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