Turretin on the Celebration of Days

In this section (Institutes, 11.15.13–15), Francis Turretin sets forth a balanced view of the celebration of days in the church. He urges toleration for those who celebrate them and those who do not, provided they agree in rejecting the superstitious use of them and the idolatrous rites of the Papists. On the other side, he gives cautions concerning their use and explains how they can be used in a right and wrong way. He writes:

XIII. If some Reformed churches still observe some festivals (as the conception, nativity, passion and ascension of Christ), they differ widely from the papists because they dedicate these days to God alone and not to creatures. (2) No sanctity is attached to them, nor power and efficacy believed to be in them (as if they are much more holy than the remaining days). (3) They do not bind believers to a scrupulous and too strict abstinence on them from all servile work (as if in that abstinence there was any moral good or any part of religion placed and on the other hand it would be a great offense to do any work on those days). (4) The church is not bound by any necessity to the unchangeable observance of those days, but as they were instituted by human authority, so by the same they can be abolished and changed, if utility and the necessity of the church should demand it. “For everything is dissolved by the same causes by which it was produced,” the lawyers say. In one word, they are considered as human institutions. Superstition and the idea of necessity are absent.

XIV. If some days with certain churches are designated by the names of apostles or martyrs, it is not to be supposed that they were instituted for their worship or should be terminated on their honor, as the papists do. Hence Bellarmine asserts “that the honor of the festivals immediately and terminatively pertains to the saints” (De Cultu Sanctorum,” 3.16 Opera [1857], 2:555). Rather they are referred to the memory of the saints by whom Christ built up his church for our advantage (to the worship, however, and honor God alone, who conferred upon the apostles and martyrs whatever thing worthy of praise they possessed, did or underwent). They neither invoke nor burn incense t them, but to God alone, whom they invoke. They give thanks on account of the benefits redounding to us by their ministry and example. Hence we cannot approve the rigid judgment of those who charge such churches with idolatry (in which those days are still kept, the name of the saints being retained), since they agree with us in doctrine concerning the worship of God alone and detest the idolatry of the papists.

XV. However although our churches do not condemn that practice simply as evil, yet since sad experience has shown that the institution of festival days received into the papacy from a false jealousy (kakozēlia) of the Jews or of the heathen gave occasion to the abominable idolatry which continues and increases in the papacy, not without weighty reasons have they preferred to abolish that usage in their reformation (that no contagion might be contracted, but that they might carefully shun the danger from that source). For in religion, when even the slightest departure takes place from the commands of God and men wish or suppose a thing to be lawful for them, all safe things are to be feared. Indeed it has been found by experience that from insignificant beginnings wonderful progress was made in superstition and idolatry in the papacy as to the worship of images, invocation of saints, purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers for the dead, etc. Thus it seems better to lack some useful good (but less necessary), than from the use of it to incur the imminent danger of any great evil.


9 Replies to “Turretin on the Celebration of Days”

  1. Thank you Wes, and Danny for the link to your article. I’m looking forward to reading it!

    I continue to be humbled and blessed by the irenic wisdom displayed in the writings of such supposedly cold theologians as Calvin, Turretin, et al.

  2. The Second Helvetic Confession (1564), written by H. Bullinger and approved by most Reformed churches of the time, expressed similar sentiments;

    THE FESTIVALS OF CHRIST AND THE SAINTS. Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly; but we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints. Holy days have to do with the first Table of the Law and belong to God alone. Finally, holy days which have been instituted for the saints and which we have abolished, have much that is absurd and useless, and are not to be tolerated. In the meantime, we confess that the remembrance of saints, at a suitable time and place, is to be profitably commended to the people in sermons, and the holy examples of the saints set forth to be imitated by all.

  3. What do the Westminster Standards say concerning man-made holy days? It is interesting to look at Turretin’s take, but last time I checked he was neither a Westminster Divine nor did he subscribe to Westminster. The Continentals have always had a softer and more liberal understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship in comparison to the Scots, Irish, and English Presbyterians. It is nearly impossible to reconcile the imposition of man-made holy days with the requirements of Chapter 21 of the WCF and the words of the Larger and Shorter Catechism.

    Westminster Larger Catechism

    Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?

    A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his Word…

    Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

    A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

  4. The problem, Benjamin, is that Turretin is not arguing for “man-made holy days” as you suggest:

    No sanctity is attached to them, nor power and efficacy believed to be in them (as if they are much more holy than the remaining days).

    Turretin is arguing that the observance of certain days is consistent with the RPW.

  5. Do you think the average church-goer in congregations that set aside a Lord’s Day for a man-derived and man-made day of worship that God has not commanded think “Christmas” or “Easter” or any other man-invented day of worship is not more special than the “regular” Christian Sabbath?

    Read George Gillespie, John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, or any other Westminster Divine on the issue. They almost to a man agree that by its very nature these kind of days implicitly cause the average Christian to give it greater reverence than a Lord’s Day in May or October or any other Lord’s Day.

  6. Ben, I think the average church-goer is inclined to take virtually any circumstance or organization of worship and give it a greater importance than it deserves. The same could be said about a building, Wednesday night prayer time, or time of worship.

    I don’t think that this necessarily downplays the Sabbath. In my family, we do celebrate Christmas but it is very distinct from our observance of the Lord’s Day. If we observe the Lord’s Day properly, the difference should be readily apparent.

  7. Benjamin,
    I sort of agree with you about the WCF and special observances of days. However, I want to disagree with your comment about “The Continentals have always had a softer and more liberal understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship in comparison to the Scots, Irish, and English Presbyterians”.

    I would challenge you to show exactly how that is true in something other than special observances of days. I don’t think the continentals are soft on the RPW. I think that makes it sound like the continental churches are liberal and the WCF is not.

    I think the real argument here about allowing special days is not about the RPW, but rather about the interpretation of the 4th commandment. And it is kind of funny because the argument on one side is that the Continentals are creating “man made holy days”, and the argument from the Continental is that there are no holy days, not even Sundays. Sometimes I think the Continental position gets lost in these debates. It is not about whether we are creating holy days, but about whether Sunday ought to be one or not.

  8. That’s why the Protestant Reformation, in Gods Holy Providence, was finished in Britain, not Holland!

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