Chapter 11 in “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” is titled “Unlawfulness of Ascribing to God a Visible Form. All Idolatry a Defection from the True God.” Basically, it’s a chapter regaling the papists of that day for promoting (or at least turning a blind eye toward) the worship of images, whether it be an image of the Virgin Mary or the Saint de jour. Of the 26 points he makes in this chapter, number 7 deals with the blatant hypocrisy in the images that were revered and placed with honors in their churches. Here’s the quote:
“But what they call the pictures or statues of their saints – what are they but examples of the most abandoned luxury and obscenity? which if any one were desirous of imitating he would deserve corporal punishment. Even prostitutes in brothels are to be seen in more chaste and modest attire, than those images in their temples, which they wish to be accounted images of virgins. Nor do they clothe the martyrs in habits at all more becoming.”
Or to put it in modern day lingo, their “sacred” images of virgins look more like prostitutes (though the prostitute is dressed more modestly) and actual saints and martyrs wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like the images. That quote brought to mind my history of western civ. textbook…and specifically the creative “censorship” done by one of my classmates. Below is my best reconstruction.
Now we chuckle at the irony of Calvin’s observation, but we do miss a broader point – the worship of images still continues to this day, and it is still idolatry – still stealing glory away from the God! One doesn’t have to leave the U.S. of A to witness this (I don’t even have to get past my street), but if you want to see idolatry in full force visit the shrines and cathedrals in Italy, Brazil or Portugal – just three countries where I’ve witnessed the depressing grip that such idolatry has on the people.