Towards the end of the last millennium, Peter Leithart writes:
One of the lesser-known works of John Calvin is a tract whose short title is “An Inventory of Relics.” It is predominantly a sharp attack on the extremes of medieval Catholic piety-practices that I imagine many Catholics would today dismiss as empty superstitions. Samples of Christ’s hair, teeth, even his foreskin were distributed across Europe, and so much of Jesus’ blood had been preserved as to “be diffused over the whole world.” Calvin complained that “had the most Holy Virgin yielded a more copious supply [of milk] than is given by a cow, or had she continued to nurse during her whole lifetime, she scarcely could have furnished the quantity which is exhibited.” The complaint could have been written by Voltaire.
Calvin’s attack on relic veneration, however, was grounded in an evangelical insight that lies at the heart of the Reformation. “The first abuse,” Calvin wrote, “and, as it were, the beginning of the evil, was that when Christ ought to have been sought in his Word, sacraments, and spiritual influences, the world, after its wont, clung to his garments, vests, and swaddling clothes; and thus overlooking the principal matter, followed only its accessory.” In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin offered a similar critique of the liturgical tradition of the medieval Church. Formally, Calvin’s argument is that many medieval ceremonies were human inventions, unwarranted by Scripture. It would be a mistake, however, to reduce his argument to a trivial quarrel over the warrant for this vestment or that gesture. Calvin’s principal concern was evangelical and pastoral; he wished to direct sinners to that “place” where they could encounter the living God. Ceremonies, he argued, “to be exercises of piety, ought to lead us straight to Christ.” Ceremonies and devotional practices that fail this test are best removed from the Church.
For Calvin, then, sola Scriptura was inseparable from solus Christus. Solus Christusand sola Scriptura were the Reformation’s answers to two fundamental religious questions. Solus Christus answered the question, How can I have communion with God? Sola Scriptura answered the logically prior epistemological question, From what source do I learn how I can commune with God? Solus Christus means Jesus alone can bring sinners into true life, the life of fellowship with the Triune God. Sola Scriptura means the Scriptures are Christ’s unique revelation of the way to life; it means that Scripture alone, being the Word of God, identifies where the living and life-giving Christ can be found. The Reformers found in Scripture that Christ had promised to meet with His gathered people through His Spirit, His Word, and the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. To see Him elsewhere is to search in vain.
Read the whole thing here.