Calvinism vs. the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is an heresy. It was the invention of John Calvin (1509 – 1564), a Protestant Reformer who was based primarily in Geneva. Calvin was brilliant, harsh and unfortunately for us, persuasive. Calvinism is growing among Protestants today — and it almost killed my faith.

Like all good heresies, Calvinism is an intellectually coherent theological system that destroys the heart of Christianity. 

It starts with a true premise, namely that God is sovereign and all-powerful. It then makes this the controlling principle for everything.

If God is all-powerful, then He decides who is and isn’t saved. God chooses who to save (“the elect”) and loves them. He also chooses who not to save (“the reprobate”) and He hates them because they are sinners. In all His actions, God is glorified because His will is done — both to the elect and the reprobate. Simple, right?

When it comes to Calvinism, the real issue at stake isn’t about predestination, the will of God or totally depravity. It’s about Christ as the revelation of God. It’s not about how we are saved but about our Saviour: it’s about Jesus.

That’s why, as one comment on this blog aptly put it, the antidote to Calvinism is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s no accident that the devotion to the Sacred Heart among really took off in the 15th and 16th Centuries around the same time as Calvinism did among Protestants. (The same happened with Jansenism in the Catholic Church, or Calvinism Lite as it’s sometimes called.)

How Could I (Not) Be a Calvinist?

As an evangelical, I was a kind of Calvinist. I accepted the premise that God’s sovereign will was The Most Important Thing. I refused to believe that God didn’t love all people and desire all people to be saved — but I had no idea how to square that with the sovereignty of God. I felt a constant conflict between what I saw as the love and the strength of God.

If God is strong enough to save all but doesn’t, how can He love all?

If God loves all enough to save them but doesn’t, how can He be strong?

Forced by intransigent logic, I kept edging closer and closer to being a full-on Calvinist. I felt like I had little choice if I wanted to be theologically consistent. I couldn’t deny the omnipotence of God because then He wouldn’t be God.

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On the cusp of embracing it all, however, I realised that I’d turned God into something far worse than a weakling. I’d turned Him into a tyrant. When I saw the inevitable outcome of such logic, I was horrified. I was confused and angry.

How could I possibly believe that? I couldn’t. But was I supposed to believe? What was God’s will for the world? How could I ever know God again?

Getting Back to the Heart of Jesus

Amid all the Calvinist theology I’d been taught, I’d also learnt much that was true and good. One of those truths saved me. Jesus is the complete revelation of who God is. 

My view of Jesus was so distorted; my understanding of His teachings all filtered through a Calvinist lenses. So I prayed, begging the Holy Spirit to reveal the real Jesus to me. That’s when I discovered the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I realised that if I wanted to know God’s will, I had to know God’s heart. I had to know the Heart of Jesus, true God incarnate by the Spirit. As I prayed, “O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in thee”, I read the gospels in a new light. It was the same light that had burst into my life with that first conversion to Christ.

All over again, I met the Jesus who loved and sought all people.

Burdened by their sin, He invited all to follow Him. Over and over again, Christ had compassion on people. His Heart was moved with love and sorrow for the lost. He said He came to do the will of the Father and this will was that all should be saved. God loves the world and sent Christ, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

Because of His love, Christ warned people about sin and rebuked many — but He never turned away from those who turned to Him. He wanted love, not theological exactitude, and faith, not cunning systems to control God.

His love led Him to the Cross. There, He suffered and was killed, the words “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do” on His lips. His Heart was pierced and out came blood and water, blood for atonement and water for new life in the Spirit.

And now, He is resurrected and ascended, still loving all and still calling all to come to Him: for He is gentle and humble of heart.

What the Sacred Heart Means

A devotion to the Sacred Heart meant that my focus was on Jesus, not theological systems, and on the love of God He reveals by His Passion and Death.

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It is possible to read the gospels as a Calvinist. What you have to do, though, is assume you know “the real reason” Jesus does what He does.

Sure, He looks like He is calling all to repentance but He’s not really, that’s only for the elect. Sure, He seems to treat people like they have free will but that’s just a technique because obviously, they can’t. And yes, He says He has come to die for the sins of the world but He doesn’t actually mean that.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart points us to Jesus as he reveals Himself. It invites us to see His actions as a true reflection of His Heart and of the Heart of God.

If Calvinists want to know the will of God, they need only look to the Heart of Jesus.

“Behold this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return.”

- Jesus to St Margaret Mary

+JMJ+

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  1. Mark Earngey says

    Wow – Calvinism is a heresy? Now now… What is it about Calvinism that is opposed to the heart of Jesus? Alas, I’m not sure you’ve actually argued that in this blogpost. Actually, here’s another question – to what doctrine within Calvinism is it that makes one a heretic? Anyway – you know I love you! Just trying to push back a little bit :)

    • says

      Haha, hey Mark! Yep, I think Calvinism is a heresy. I wasn’t trying trying to argue that as such from this post, more to describe how much I needed to see Jesus again outside of Calvinist mindset in order to recover my teetering faith. :) I started trying to write out the reasons why it is a heresy in reply here but it was taking too long! :p I’ll try write a post on it and let you know.

      Just to be clear though, while I think Calvinism is a heresy, Calvinists aren’t heretics from a Catholic perspective because to be a heretic, you have to be Catholic and then reject the teachings of the Church with full knowledge etc and all that. Moreover, as I’m sure you know, there is a spectrum of beliefs among Calvinists and no one’s belief is solely shaped by their soteriology. Most Calvinists are more than just Calvinists! :p

      That said, I do think Calvinism is a magnificent heresy precisely because it gets so much right – and the one thing it gets wrong is all the more devastating for that very reason.

      Love you brother and love some helpful push-back!

      • Mark Earngey says

        Hey – thanks for the thoughtful reply (which I’d always expect for a thoughtful person like you!).

        Yep, totally thought you were giving a personal narrative there, and that’s totally legit. Here’s a few humble thoughts though: Firstly, it’d be worth getting up to speed on the relation between Calvin and so-called ‘Calvinism’. Here’s a ripping article by the world’s foremost reformation scholar of our day: https://www.calvin.edu/meeter/Was%20Calvin%20a%20Calvinist-12-26-09.pdf Secondly, I don’t quite get your description of the relation between a body of theological thought as heresy, and a person who walks away from Roman Catholicism as a heretic. Would love to hear some more thoughts on that – perhaps as it pertains to other traditions such as Eastern Orthodoxy.

        Anyhow – I’m absolutely looking forward to catching up soon! We’re well overdue for a yarn!

        Blessings sister,
        M.

  2. Nick S says

    I love Hilaire Belloc’s summation of Calvinism and its corrosive effect on Christendom:

    “Though the iron Calvinist affirmations (the core of which was an an admission of evil into the Divine nature by the permission of but one will in the universe) have rusted away, yet his vision of a Moloch God remains; and the coincident Calvinist devotion to material success, the Calvinist antagonism to poverty and humility, survive in full strength. Usury would not be eating up the modern world but for Calvin nor, but for Calvin, would men debase themselves to accept inevitable doom; nor but for Calvin would Communism be with us, nor but for Calvin would Scientific Monism dominate as it did (till recently) the modern world, killing the doctrine of miracle and paralysing free will.”

    - AD 1938, “The Great Heresies”

    • says

      Ouch! I’m not sure we can blame Calvin for all that… Calvin was as much a product of past thinking as he shaped the existence of future thought. As for Communism? Really? But it’s an interesting quote, I’ve meaning to read more of Belloc!

      • Nick S says

        I think that probably a lot of it could be put down to unintended consequences. Tearing down something as great and central as the Catholic Church which had really been an incubator was bound to have wide ranging consequences, probably much greater than those that the Reformers themselves had even contemplated. There is always the other factor too that error tends to beget error and sin tends to beget sin, in that once you cut yourself off from the Church, the True Vine, you bound to wither and die.

        As for Belloc, “The Great Heresies” would probably have to be one of his best works and something I particularly appreciated about it was that it did not confine its examination of heresies to a strict theological analysis – it also went into the cultural and sociological effects that the heresies covered had on the societies in which they existed.

  3. James but my friends call me Jim says

    Calvinism is opposed to the Heart of jesus because it says does not love all men.

  4. James but my friends call me Jim says

    OOPS! It says GOD does not love all and that Jesus died only for some. The Sacred heart calls all men. Calvinism says no to that and that only some men are given grace to repent or come to Christ.

  5. says

    This is something I’m tried to figure out as well and can’t really find any firm answers.

    Full disclosure: I’m a Baptist with “sorta-Reformed-ish” inclinations, who also has a deep appreciation for the whole of church history.

    Anyway, here’s my question(s), is Calvinism actually a declared heresy? Is the whole system heretical or just monergistic sanctification? Would Catholics consider a Reformed person who allows for some synergism in salvation also a heretic?

    Thanks,

    Ben

    • says

      Hi Ben, I’d like to share a few thoughts in reply….

      1) Monergism is most definitely not a heresy from the Catholic perspective. In fact, the Church has condemned both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism (notwithstanding the constant accusations of teaching “works righteousness!). Remember, we’re the ones that put the “St.” in front of Augustine’s name… Here’s the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without His help, man can believe, hope, love or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him, let him be anathema.”

      2) Where Calvinism begins to get into serious trouble, from the Catholic perspective, are the last 3 points of TULIP: Limited atonement denies Jesus Christ’s love for all mankind and His “desire that all should be saved.” Irresistible grace denies man’s free will. Perseverance of the saints likewise denies man’s free will, as well as doing a great deal of violence to the numerous New Testament commandments to persevere and continue in faith. I’m thinking that (and Laura is free to disagree with me here!) the heart of the accusation of heresy in this post comes from these points. Together, they amount to a gravely heretical view of man’s salvation and Jesus Christ’s love for humanity.

      3) I’d actually argue that Calvin was guilty of a number of other heresies. For one, I believe his sacramentology relies on an implicitly Nestorian christology.

      4) In terms of actually being a “declared heresy”: I’m not aware of any Church documents containing the line “Calvinism is a heresy”, but most specifically Calvinist doctrines were declared heretical either at the Council of Trent, or were condemned in documents written against Jansenism (which had a great deal in common with Calvinism), such as Pope Innocent X’s “Cum occasione.”

      • Mark Earngey says

        Hey Ryan,

        You’re way off with a few things buddy.

        1) I can’t think of a single Calvinist who teaches that limited atonement denies Jesus’ love for all mankind – I’d love to see you present some evidence of a Calvinist who teaches this. Same with irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Calvinists would be shaking their heads in amazement and wondering if you’d read any of them sympathetically here.

        2) The Nestorian charge in Calvin’s sacramental theology doesn’t wash. It’s a pop-level accusation sometimes made, but dismissed in most up-to-date Calvin studies.

        Cheers all,
        M.

        • says

          Hi Mark,

          A couple of thoughts in reply (I wrote out another reply, but I think it got lost in cyberspace. My apologies if this is redundant!):

          1) I’ve read plenty of Calvinists sympathetically: I was Reformed myself for many years, and even spent a bit of time studying to be a minister in a Reformed church, before coming home to Rome.

          I don’t believe I’ve said that there are Calvinists out there that come right out and preach “God doesn’t love everyone”. What I meant to say in the above comment is that Limited Atonement, by the very nature of what it claims, logically excludes the possibility that God’s saving love extends to everyone.

          In all my years of reading Calvinist theology sympathetically, I never encountered a convincing argument to the contrary. If you’ve got one, though, I’d love to hear it. In all seriousness, I am genuinely curious to hear why you personally believe that Limited Atonement and God’s love for all mankind are compatible!

          2) Calvin’s sacramental theology is implicitly Nestorian because he denied that Christ could be physically present in the Eucharist, because he believed that Christ’s human nature was confined to Heaven, if even his Divine nature was not. Thus we’ve got the human nature and Divine nature acting as separate personal subjects, which is… yes, Nestorianism.

          And that charge didn’t originate with us Papists, that started with Martin Luther :)

          I’ve no doubt that “up-to-date Calvin studies” has found otherwise. Heck, even Nestorius denied being a Nestorian, if memory serves…

          Here’s another passage, from Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 24, that demonstrates the same problem (albeit not in a sacramental context):

          “For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator.”

          Best,
          Ryan

  6. says

    Laura, with this post you sound suspiciously like a post-evangelical. Have you been hanging out at internetmonk.com?

    Keep writing. I always enjoy dropping in here from time to time.

    • says

      Haha, well I am technically a post-evangelical in the sense that I am no longer an evangelical! I do love reading internetmonk sometimes although I more straight from The Gospel Coalition to the vatican.va if you know what i mean… :)

  7. says

    Ben, (my name is Ben as well)
    If I understand your question correctly. In the Catholic understanding, cooperation with grace on the part of the individual is necessary for salvation (the free will to cooperate with grace is itself a grace given to all). There is a certain amount of room within the theological boundaries of the Catholic Church for speculation as to how free will and predestination work. Certain details of the Calvinist system are compatible with a Catholic view but as a system it can’t be reconciled with Catholic doctrine. (the documents of the council of Trent is a good place to look for binding statements on Reformed positions)

    With respect… from a Catholic perspective a Reformed person holds a heretical position even if they don’t conform to Calvin’s system, because they hold to a number of other positions considered heretical. (such as Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, legalistic Imputed righteousness). Just as a reformed person would vier a Catholic as holding various heretical positions on things incompatable with protestantism.

    Does that answer your question?

    • says

      That’s helpful thanks. I guess I was hoping just for “separated brethren” status ha. I’ll keep reading and learning.

      • says

        Ben, all Christians (who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox) are separated brethren to the Catholic Church! :) You are totes a brother in Christ and we love you for it.

        Because heresy is a sin, the Catholic Church makes the distinction between holding a heretical position and being a heretic. That’s to say that yes, the Church believes that Calvinism is a heresy but that doesn’t make a Calvinist a formal heretic because the sin of heresy requires an obstinate, knowing rejection of the Catholic Faith. Calvinists today don’t have that.

        Hope that clears some stuff up. God bless you brother and I’ll pray that one day, we won’t have to add the “separated” bit at all! :)

        • says

          Ben,
          Yes, what Laura said. You are my brother but in a degree of separation when it comes to doctrine.
          I certainly meant no malice in my response. Truth requires that we acknowledge where we disagree and that in these areas both can’t be right.

          God bless you.

        • says

          Thanks. I love the blog and have learned a great deal. I guess I’ve always thought we shared a common orthodoxy but differed in ecclesiology. In the end though, I guess the two aren’t really separate.

          The unity of the church is something I think and read about often. There are some things that hold me back from the Catholic/Orthodox framework but there is also much I admire and appreciate.

          Blessings.

          Ben

  8. says

    Thanks for writing this! My experience with “reformed theology” was so similar and it is comforting to hear someone else talk about that strange struggle. I wanted to be logically consistent SO BAD, but when I followed these things to their logical end, it would leave me in despair. Yes, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus I fly! Praise God for the Incarnation! Knowing the humanity of Jesus changed everything for me.

    • says

      Amen! And praise God that you were able to see that if “logic” leads to a God who is not Love, then it’s the logic that’s wrong, not God. Let God be true even if everyone is a liar! :) If you haven’t read Ryan from Back of the World’s post yet, you really need to: Thank you for commenting and may God bless you and keep you always in the love of the Heart of the Lord!

  9. Bill T. says

    “Behold this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return.”…. These are not the words of the Lord God, King of Creation. These are the words of a wimp who begs humans to love. “Oh please love me. Please follow me. Why won’t you love me?” Modern men and women don’t like a God who is really God. They want a slightly bigger version of themselves.

    • says

      I’m sorry you have such a narrow view of the Lord Jesus. Christ is indeed the King of Creation, the same King who weeps over Jerusalem because they would not come to Him. He says to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30) He is humble and gentle, strong and exalted above above every name to the glory of the Father. Read Philippians 2:6-11. If you think that a God who begs and yearns for the love of His creation, a Christ who humbles Himself and submits to the Cross, is a “wimp”, then you do not know who God really is at all.

    • says

      An absurd comment on several points, but the first thing that pops out to me is that you would accuse devotion to the Sacred Heart of being conceit of modernity. Their is patristic support from the first millenium for the Sacred Heart devotion, and it had a strong following throughout the Middle Ages (see e.g. St. Gertrude’s writings). The quote that you’ve selected for your attack was from a revelation given to St. Margaret Mary in the 17th century.

      So, a modern conception of God, eh?

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