Calvin’s Institutes – 1.11.7 – Brothels exhibit their inmates more chastely and modestly than churches

Calvin compares how the images and idols in Churches are portrayed with prostitutes in brothels. I found it amusing and sad at the same time. Much of Institutes is devoted to criticism and judgment of the Roman Catholic church at the time.

This is part of my series on Calvin’s Institutes.


For what are the pictures or statues to which they append the names of saints, but exhibitions of the most shameless luxury or obscenity? Were anyone to dress himself after their model, he would deserve the pillory. Indeed, brothels exhibit their inmates more chastely and modestly dressed than churches do images intended to represent virgins. The dress of the martyrs is in no respect more becoming. Let Papists then have some little regard to decency in decking their idols, if they would give the least plausibility to the false allegation, that they are books of some kind of sanctity. But even then we shall answer, that this is not the method in which the Christian people should be taught in sacred places. (Calvin, Instit. 1.11.7)


The last few chapters have to do with idolatry. The Roman Catholic Church at the time had many statues and images of Saints in their churches. Something which Calvin said was idolatrous. Lots of what Calvin says is fairly dry. Occasionally there will be a humorous statement like this one. On a sober note, I agree with Calvin it’s sad to know there was so many idols in churches during his time. We should be reminded of the first two commandments. ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ and ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image’. (Ex 20).

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