Copyright © Stephen E. Jones
John Calvin #24
This is "John Calvin," part #24 of my Turin Shroud Encyclopedia. I had overlooked that John Calvin (1509-64) was an early Shroud sceptic between Pierre d'Arcis #19 and Ulysse Chevalier #20. See my previous "Re: John Calvin on the Shroud #1" and #2. As mentioned in my previous Pierre d'Arcis #19, this series will help me write chapter "18. Sceptics and the Shroud" of my book, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Sheet of Jesus!" See 06Jul17, 03Jun18, 04Apr22, 13Jul22 & 8 Nov 22.
I prefaced my response to anti-Christian Ed Babinski in my previous "Re: John Calvin on the Shroud #1": "Although I am a life-long [i.e. since the late-1960s] Calvinist, owning Calvin's two-volume `Institutes of the Christian Religion' and a 12-volume set of his New Testament Comment-aries, as well as his commentaries on Genesis and Daniel, I regret to say that while Calvin was right about a lot of things, he was wrong about the Shroud!"
Here are Calvin's arguments against the Shroud in his "A Treatise on Relics" (1543):
"It is now time to treat of the `sudary,' about which relic they have displayed their folly even more than in the affair of the holy coat; for besides the sudary of Veronica, which is shown in the Church of St Peter at Rome, it is the boast of several towns that they each possess one, as for instance Carcassone, Nice, Aix-la-Chapelle, Tréves, Besançon, without reckoning the fragments to be seen in various places. Now, I ask whether those persons were not bereft of their senses who could take long pilgrimages, at much expense and fatigue, in order to see sheets, of the reality of which there were no reasons to believe, but many to doubt; for whoever admitted the reality of one of these sudaries shown in so many places, must have considered the rest as wicked impostures set up to deceive the public by the pretence that they were each the real sheet in which Christ's body had been wrapped. But it is not only that the exhibitors of this one and the same relic give each other mutually the lie, they are (what is far more important) positively contradicted by the Gospel. The evangelists who speak of all the women who followed our Lord to the place of crucifixion, make not the least mention of that Veronica who wiped his face with a kerchief. It was in truth a most marvellous and remarkable event, worthy of being recorded, that the face of Jesus Christ was then miraculously imprinted upon the cloth, a much more important thing to mention than the mere circumstance that certain women had followed Jesus Christ to the place of crucifixion without meeting with any miracle; and, indeed, had such a miracle taken place, we might consider the evangelists wanting in judgment in not relating the most important facts" (emphasis original)[CTR, 175-176].In the above, Calvin confuses: 1) the Shroud; 2) copies of the Shroud; and 3) other cloths which are neither. Calvin's "sudary" is evidently his French translation of the Latin sudarium. Latin had no word of its own for the Greek sindon "shroud" of Mt 27:59; Mk 15:46 & Lk 23:53. So sudarium, the face cloth (soudarion) of Jn 20:7, was often confused in Latin writings to mean the Shroud[GM98, 11]. None of the shrouds mentioned above by Calvin is the Shroud! The closest is "Nice" where the Shroud had been from 1537-39[WI98, 11]. The "sudary of Veronica, which is shown in the Church of St Peter at Rome" (i.e. the so-called "Veil of Veronica") was a copy of the Image of Edessa (the Shroud "four-doubled" tetradiplon) given by Constantinople to Rome in c. 1011, when Pope Sergius IV (r. 1009-12) consecrated an altar to it in John VII's chapel, in Old St Peter's Basilica[WI98, 269-711].
The issue of "had such a miracle taken place, we might consider the evangelists wanting in judgment in not relating[it"] doesn't arise because the story of Veronica's veil is fourteenth century[VVW]. Which Calvin, a former Roman Catholic and and very erudite would surely have known. Calvin is dishonest in the above because he does know of "the `sudary'" (i.e. the Shroud) but smothers it under a morass of irrelevant cloths. Calvin also comes across as an arrogant intellectual, dismissing as "bereft of their senses" those ordinary people who made "long pilgrimages ... to see sheets" which they believed were Jesus'. Would Jesus, who had "compassion on the crowd[s]" (Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; Mk 6:34; 8:2) have described them so?
"The same observations are applicable to the tale of the sheet in which the body of our Lord was wrapped. How is it possible that those sacred historians, who carefully related all the miracles that took place at Christ's death, should have omitted to mention one so remarkable as the likeness of the body of our Lord remaining on its wrapping sheet? This fact undoubtedly deserved to be recorded"[CTR, 176].Calvin's argument here is similar, if not identical, to Bishop Pierre d'Arcis' in his 1389 memorandum! See "Pierre d'Arcis #19." So my answer to Calvin will be similar to my answer to d'Arcis. Calvin here commits the Argument from Silence fallacy: `Jesus' image on the Shroud is not mentioned in the Gospels, therefore there was no image'. Calvin fails to consider reasons why Jesus' image could be on the Shroud, but the Gospel writers did not mention it, including: The Shroud is only mentioned in the Gospels while Jesus was hanging on the cross (Mt 27:59; Mk 15:46 & Lk 23:53). The Shroud (sindon) was not in the tomb when Peter and John entered it (Jn 20:3-7) - see next. The image may not have been visible until after the Gospels were written, but developed slowly over time as the image fibres prematurely aged compared to the non-image fibres (Latent Image Theory)[SD89, 70]. If the disciples had announced they had Jesus' shroud with his image on it, their more numerous and powerful enemies, the Jews and Romans, would have demanded they hand it over to be destroyed[IJ98, 97-98; SD89, 70]. Also it would lend credence to the Jewish religious leaders' false explanation for Jesus' empty tomb, that the disciples had stolen Jesus' body (Mt 28:11-15).
"St John, in his Gospel, relates even how St Peter, having entered the sepulchre, saw the linen clothes lying on one side, and the napkin that was about his head on the other; but he does not say that there was a miraculous impression of our Lord's figure upon these clothes, and it is not to be imagined that he would have omitted to mention such a work of God if there had been any thing of this kind"[CTR, 176].Calvin, who could read Greek, is `twisting the Scriptures' (2Pet 3:16). The Greek of Jn 20:6-7 does not say that when Peter and John entered the tomb they saw the sindon (shroud), but rather the othonia "linen wrappings" (Mounce) or "strips of linen" (NIV), and the "face cloth" (soudarion)(Jn 20:7. New Testament professor William Hendriksen (1900-82) in his Commentary on John (1959), in which he provides his own Enlish translation of the Greek, renders Jn 20:6-7 as follows:
"6, 7. Then Simon Peter also came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he observed the linen bandages lying (there), and the sweatband, which had been around his head, not lying with the linen bandages but folded up in a place by itself" (my emphasis)[HW64, 450]The German shroudie theologian Werner Bulst (1913-95) admitted:
"Most interpreters of Scripture, Catholic and non-Catholic, take the Sindon of the Synoptics as a large cloth and distinguish it from the cloths mentioned by John: the Othonia, taken to be bandages, and the Sweat Cloth [face cloth soudarion] ... The most serious difficulty in this interpretation is that John makes no mention at all of the Sindon, the largest of the cloths ... neither at the burial of Lazarus or Jesus, nor at the discovery of the cloths on Easter morning"[BW57, 83].Likewise, the Irish Shroudie theologian Patrick A. Beecher (1870–1940) pointed out, "After the resurrection there is no mention of the Sindon as having been found in the tomb":
"The three Synoptic Evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke, tell us that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Our Lord in a Sindon (Matt. xxvii. 59; Mark xv. 46; Luke xxiii. 53). The Sindon was a large white linen sheet that covered the entire body. The Evangelists carefully distinguish between it and the sudarium (napkin), which latter was in shape and size like a handkerchief, and was used for the head. In addition, as we know from St. John (xix. 40), linen cloths (ta othonia) were used, with spices, according to Jewish custom. After the resurrection there is no mention of the Sindon as having been found in the tomb. St. John tells us that Peter `saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin that had been about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but apart, wrapped up into one place' (xx. 6,7). And St. Luke tells us that `Peter rising up, ran to the sepulchre, and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths laid by themselves' (xxiv. 12)"[BP28].So the reason why "St John, in his Gospel ...does not say that there was a miraculous impression of our Lord's figure upon these clothes [othonia] is that they were not the Shroud (sindon) but "strips of linen" used to tie the hands and feet of Jewish deceased at burial, as Lazarus' were (Jn 11:43-44). According to the late 1st century-early 2nd century Gospel of the Hebrews Jesus had taken the Shroud with him out of the tomb and had given it to "the servant of the priest," i.e. the Apostle John (see my 3-part series, "Servant of the Priest."
"Another point to be observed is, that the evangelists do not mention that either of the disciples or the faithful women who came to the sepulchre had removed the clothes in question, but, on the contrary, their account seems to imply that they were left there."This is another Argument from Silence fallacy by Calvin. The only passage which refers to the aftermath of Peter and John seeing Jesus' graveclothes, that is the "strips of linen" (othonia) and the "facecloth" (soudarion, but not the Shroud (sindon, in the tomb is Jn 20:8-10. And it says, "Then the disciples went back to their homes":
"8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes"First, it doesn't say "Peter and John" but "the disciples". So it is likely that by this time some of Jesus' other disciples had reached the tomb. Second, Peter or John, or the other disciples, would almost certainly not have left Jesus' graveclothes in the tomb for grave-robbers to scavenge, but would have taken them as mementos of Jesus' earthly life among them. Also, there was the valuable "mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight" (Jn 19:39) that Nicodemus, or another disciple, would surely have removed from the tomb, but nothing is said about that.
"Now, the sepulchre was guarded by soldiers, and consequently the clothes were in their power. Is it possible that they would have permitted the disciples to take them away as relics, since these very men had been bribed by the Pharisees to perjure themselves by saying that the disciples had stolen the body of our Lord?"Calvin forgets that Mt 28:2-5, 11 says that when the angel came down and rolled back the large stone at the entrance of the tomb, "the guards trembled and became like dead men" and then evidently they had fled before the women arrived at the tomb, because some of the guards went into Jerusalem and told the chief priests what had happened:
"2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified ... 11 While they were going [the women disciples from the tomb], behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place."It is amazing that Calvin did not realise that if the guards were still at the tomb when Peter and John arrived, they would not have been allowed inside it!
"I shall conclude with a convincing proof of the audacity of the Papists. Wherever the holy sudary is exhibited, they show a large sheet with the full-length likeness of a human body on it. Now, St John's Gospel, chapter nineteenth, says that Christ was buried according to the manner of the Jews; and what was their custom? This may be known by their present custom on such occasions, as well as from their books, which describe the ancient ceremony of interment, which was to wrap the body in a sheet, to the shoulders, and to cover the head with a separate cloth"[CTR, 177].First, "the Papists" (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) did not own the Shroud until 1983 when ex-King Umberto II of Savoy (1904-83) left the Shroud in his will to the Pope and his successors:
"In 1453 the Shroud was purchased by the Duke of Savoy, and the Savoy family owned it thereafter until 1983. The Savoys ultimately ruled over all of Italy, which was unified in the nineteenth century. Umberto II was deposed as king of Italy in June 1946 and lived in exile in Portugal until his death in 1983. He was titular head of the House of Savoy during his lifetime and owner of the Shroud, and regularly consulted with the archbishop of Turin, who was the Shroud's custodian. By his will, Umberto gave the Shroud to the pope of the Roman Catholic Church and his successors; the bequest was accepted by Vatican announcement of October 18, 1983. On February 7, 1984, the Vatican secretary of state announced that under the terms of Umberto's will, the Shroud was to remain in Turin, and that the archbishop of Turin would be the pope's personal representative for all future Shroud matters"[TF06, 5].Second, it is fallacious for Calvin to assume thaat that the Jews' 16th century "present custom" of burial was the same as it was in the 1st century. Also, Jesus (the man on the Shroud) died a bloody death, for which Jewish law prescribed the body be totally enveloped in a sovev - a single sheet around the entire body:
"As any true expert in Jewish burial tradition will point out, the particular deceased person whom we see on the Shroud would have needed some very different funerary arrangements, because he self-evidently died a violent death - i.e. of crucifixion - during which his body became extensively stained with his life-blood. As has been explained by Jewish-born Victor Tunkel of the Faculty of Laws, Queen Mary College, University of London … The belief among the Pharisees of Jesus's time, shared by Jesus's own followers, was that the body would be physically resurrected at the end of time, thereby requiring that anything and everything that formed an essential part of it, such as an amputated limb, or its life-blood, should be buried together with it in anticipation ... the Shulhan Aruch, the great sixteenth-century Code of Jewish Law which modern-day Jewish scholars recognise as codifying laws and practices that go back to ancient times ... prescribe, over any clothes, however bloodstained, that the deceased may have been wearing when he died, those preparing him for burial were expected to wrap a white shroud ... `a sheet which is called sovev' ... The sovev therefore had to be an all-enveloping cloth, that is, a `single sheet ... used to go right round' the entire body.' The Hebrew verb from which sovev derives specifically means `to surround' or `to go around', thus perfectly corresponding to the `over the head' type of cloth that we see in the case of the Shroud ..."[WI98, 54-55].Calvin concludes his Treatise argument against the Shroud:
"This is precisely how the evangelist described it, saying, that St Peter saw on one side the clothes with which the body had been wrapped, and on the other the napkin from about his head. In short, either St John is a liar, or all those who boast of possessing the holy sudary are convicted of falsehood and deceit"[CTR, 177-178].Calvin is wrong! Peter saw in the tomb the "linen strips" (othonia) and the "face cloth" (soudarion) but not the Shroud (sindon) (see above). It is Calvin who in this is "convicted of falsehood and deceit," not those who possessed the Shroud in 1543 when Calvin wrote his Treatise, namely Charles III, Duke of Savoy (r. 1504-53)!
"[John 20:5]. And seeth the linen cloths lying. The linen cloths were, so to say, the slough, which should produce faith in Christ's resurrection. For it was improbable that His body would be stripped to be taken elsewhere. This would have been done neither by a friend nor by a foe. That His head was wrapped in a napkin refutes the falsehood of the Papists, who pretend that the whole body was sewn up in one linen cloth, which they show to the unhappy masses to adore"[CJ53, 193].Calvin confused the "napkin," i.e. the "face cloth" (soudarion) with the Shroud (sindon). Jesus' "whole body" was, not "sewn up" but "wrapped" entylissō (Mt 27:59 & Lk 23:53); "enveloped" eneileō (Mk 15:46) "in one linen cloth"!
"I overlook their ignorance of Latin, which led them to make the word `napkin' (which was used to wipe sweat off the face) into a covering for the whole body"[CJ53, 193].Calvin continues his confusion with the Latin "sudarium" which can mean both "face cloth" and "shroud" (see above). But the Latin Vulgate was just a translation of the Bible's Old Testament Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament's Greek. And the New Testament clearly distinguishes between sindon "shroud" (Mt 27:59; Mk 15:46 & Lk 23:53) and soudarion "face cloth|" (Jn 11:44; 20:7).
"I overlook also their impudence in boasting-in five or six different localities-that they have this same napkin. But this gross falsehood is intolerable, for it openly contradicts the Gospel history"[CJ53, 193-194].Since Calvin had earlier distinguished between the "napkin ... which was used to wipe sweat off the face" (soudarion = face cloth) and "a covering for the whole body" (sindon = Shroud) his argument against the "napkin" is irrelevant to the Shroud, which was at Vercelli, Italy in the 1540s when Calvin was writing his Commentary on John (1553):
"1541: The Shroud is once again at Vercelli, where it will stay for the next twenty years"[WI96].And since the "napkin" is the Sudarium of Oviedo, which was in Spain, Calvin's argument against that is irrelevant also.
"To this is added the fabulous miracle which they have invented, that the likeness of Christ's body is impressed on the linen"[CJ53, 194].
Calvin is wrong again! The Roman Catholic Church did not invent "the likeness of Christ's body ... impressed on the linen." For example, the French Fourth Crusader knight Robert de Clari (c.1170-1216) saw in Eastern Orthodox Constantinople in 1203 a sindon on which "the figure of Our Lord could be plainly seen" (which can only have been the Shroud):
"... there was another of the churches which they call My Lady St. Mary of Blachernae, where was kept the shroud [sydoines = sindon] in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which stood up straight every Friday so that the figure of Our Lord could be plainly seen there, and no one, either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this shroud when the city was taken"[DP82, 13].Calvin concluded with:
"I ask you, if such a miracle had been performed, would the Evangelist have suppressed it, when he is so careful to relate less important things?"[CJ53, 194].Calvin again (see above) commits the Argument from Silence fallacy: `John didn't mention that "the likeness of Christ's body is impressed on the linen," therefore there was no "likeness of Christ's body ... impressed on the linen." But John in his gospel does not mention the sindon in the empty tomb, because it wasn't there when Peter and John entered it (see above)!
"Let us be content with this simplicity, that by laying aside the tokens of death, Christ meant to testify that He had put on a blessed and immortal life"[CJ53, 194].It is not up to Calvin, or anyone, to dictate what Christ should, or should not do! Calvin forgot what he wrote in his c. 1546 Commentary on Ephesians, commenting on Eph 3:20 (the verse on the ring I gave my wife of 51 years at our wedding in 1972!):
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,"Calvin commented:
"The expressions exceeding abundantly and above all that we ask or think, should be noted ... For however many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts"[CJ46, 170].And the Shroud, with its "likeness of Christ's body ... impressed on the linen" is the ultimate proof of that!
1. This post is copyright. I grant permission to extract or quote from any part of it (but not the whole post), provided the extract or quote includes a reference citing my name, its title, its date, and a hyperlink back to this page. [return]
BP28. Beecher, P.A., 1928, "The Holy Shroud: Reply to the Rev. Herbert Thurston, S.J.," M.H. Gill & Son: Dublin, p.16
BW57. Bulst, W., 1957, "The Shroud of Turin," McKenna, S. & Galvin, J.J., transl., Bruce Publishing Co: Milwaukee WI.
CJ46. Calvin, J., 1553, "The Gospel According to St. John, Part Two 11-21," Parker, T.H.L., transl., Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1959, Reprinted, 1979.CJ53. Calvin, J., 1553, "The Gospel According to St. John, Part Two 11-21," Parker, T.H.L., transl., Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1959, Reprinted, 1979.CTR. Calvin, J., 1543, "A Treatise on Relics," Krasinski, V., transl., Johnstone, Hunter & Co: Edinburgh, Second Edition, 1870.
DP82. Dembowski, P.F., 1982, "Sindon in the Old French Chronicle of Robert de Clari," Shroud Spectrum International, No. 2, March, 13-18.
FJC. "File:John Calvin Museum Catharijneconvent RMCC s84 cropped.png," Wikimedia Commons, 5 June 2022.
GM98. Guscin, M., 1998, "The Oviedo Cloth," Lutterworth Press: Cambridge UK.
HW64. Hendriksen W., 1964, "A Commentary on the Gospel of John: Two Volumes Complete and Unabridged in One," , Banner of Truth: London, Third Edition, Vol. II.
IJ98. Iannone, J.C., 1998, "The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence," St Pauls: Staten Island NY.
JCW. "John Calvin," Wikipedia, 2 May 2023.
SD89. Scavone, D.C., 1989, "The Shroud of Turin: Opposing Viewpoints," Greenhaven Press: San Diego CA.
STW. "Shroud of Turin," Wikipedia, 24 May 2023.
TF06. Tribbe, F.C., 2006, "Portrait of Jesus: The Illustrated Story of the Shroud of Turin," , Paragon House Publishers: St. Paul MN, Second edition.
VVW. "Veil of Veronica," Wikipedia, 11 April 2023.
WI95. Wilson, I., 1995, "A Shroud Symposium in Nice for 1997?," BSTS Newsletter, No. 41, September.
WI96. Wilson, I., 1996, "Highlights of the Undisputed History: 1500's," Shroud.com.
WI98. Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY.
Posted 7 May 2023. Updated 7 July 2023.