There can be no doubt about the way Calvin came to view the Roman Catholic Church in general and the papacy specifically. Though born into a Catholic family, Calvin later broke with Rome to follow Protestantism. While the exact year of Calvin’s conversion is not known it is generally believed to be between 1532–1534. Book Fourth of the Institutes of the Christian Religion saw Calvin condemn the Catholic Church in no uncertain terms. As he describes those who hold the office of bishop, Calvin tells his readers that he cannot even describe them without exposing their disgrace. Not stopping there he challenges those “who have not lost all shame” to answer the simple question concerning the kind of bishops that were being chosen in his day.
In his condemnation of the Catholic Church, Calvin spares no holder of office as he provides an overall assessment of how far from the form of church government practiced by the early church. He then ties this all together in describing the extravagance in which so many in eclestacial roles live. This extensive backdrop serves to provide Calvin the with ready-made opportunity to use the Catholic Church’s own ancient texts and rulings of councils to level his condemnation of the church in it’s entirety.
Calvin saves his strongest attacks for the papacy itself. Without reservation Calvin accuses the papacy of causing injury to Christ, committing fraud, and being guilty of the sin of pride. Calvin also questions the legitimacy of the papacy itself noting that there is nothing in Scripture to justify the office and openly stating that the Apostle Peter was not the Bishop of Rome. It would be a rather easy academic exercise to continue through Book Four of Institutes citing example after example of Calvin’s arguments against the Roman Catholic Church. It is sufficient to note that Calvin’s disdain was complete.
Like Martin Luther before him, Calvin understood that reforming the Catholic Church from within was not possible. Calvin called into question every aspect of the Catholic Church. Not only did he condemn those who help various offices but also Catholic doctrine itself. Pædobaptism, the five so-called sacrements above and beyond baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the Papal Mass are all thoroughly deconstructed using Scripture in a manner only possible by a few theologians of his day.