Category Archives: Calvin

Calvin to Bullinger About Servetus

On 7 September, Calvin wrote Bullinger, in part

The Council will send you, ere long, the opinions of Servetus in order to have your advice. It is in spite of us that you have this trouble forced on you; but the folks here have come to such a pass of folly and fury that they are suspicious of all we say. Did I declare that there was daylight at noon, I believe they would question it. Brother Walter [Bullinger’s son-in-law] will tell you more [of the state of affairs here].

I know how you feel, John.  I feel ya, brother…

Labor Day: The Importance of Work

Commenting on 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Calvin observes

It is certain that indolence and idleness are accursed of God. Besides, we know that man was created with this view, that he might do something. Not only does Scripture testify this to us, but nature itself taught it to the heathen. Hence it is reasonable, that those, who wish to exempt themselves from the common law, should also be deprived of food, the reward of labour. When, however, the Apostle commanded that such persons should not eat, he does not mean that he gave commandment to those persons, but forbade that the Thessalonians should encourage their indolence by supplying them with food.

There’s nothing dishonorable about work.

Calvin and the Book: The Evolution of the Printed Word in Reformed Protestantism

978-3-525-55088-5The Protestant Reformation has long had the reputation as being a movement of “the Book”, led by reformers like John Calvin who were “men of the Book”. The essays in this volume reveal many of the underlying complexities of these terms.  Building on research and scholarly discussions of recent decades, these authors delve into a variety of topics related to John Calvin and the printed word, ranging from the physical changes in printed texts in the first decades of the Reformation to Calvin’s thinking about the relationship of two books – the Bible and his own Institutes – to Christian doctrine. 

Calvin remains a towering figure in the Protestant Reformation, whose theology and religious views are still often cast as rigid and unchanging.  These essays emphasize, in contrast, the evolutions and transitions that were fundamental to Calvin’s own participation in the Reformation and to the ways that his leadership influenced developments in Reformed Christianity in the following centuries. 

The contributors, international experts on the history of Calvin and Reformed Protestantantism and on Calvin’s theology, bring a wide variety of historical and theological approaches to bear on the question of Calvin’s relationship to the printed word.  Taken all together, these essays will push specialists and general readers to rethink standard assumptions about Calvin’s influence on Reformed Christianity and, in particular, about the interplay among theology, Reformed discipline, religious education efforts, and the printed word in early modern Europe.

The essays here collected … began as papers presented at the 2013 Calvin Studies Colloquium, held at Princeton Seminary. The volume itself reflects the particular focus of that conference and the essays herein are specifically related to the importance of the book in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions.

The volume commences with an Introduction: Calvin, the Book, and Reformed Traditions. Here the editor describes the value of the book in Reformation history. Calvin and Luther as Men of the Book follows; and then the remaining essays are Practicing the Books of Discipline: The Problem of Equality before the Law in Scottish Parish Consistories; Replacing Calvin? The Catechism of Calvin in Eighteenth-Century Geneva; Calvin the Historian: Biblical Antiquity and Scriptural Exegesis in the Quest for a Meaningful Past; Creating a Reformed Book of Knowledge: Immanuel Tremellius, Franciscus Junius, and Their Latin Bible, 1580–1590; God’s Play: Calvin, Theatre, and the Rise of the Book; and lastly “Even More Deeply Moved”: Calvin on the Rhetorical, Formational Function of Scripture and Doctrine.

Even a casual glance at that listing of essays will notice the specificity and narrowness of the topics they discuss.

The authors are – of course – highly qualified and the work they do is superb. The volume is, however, not extensive. It consists of only 173 pages so that readers are left wondering which essays from the Conference were left aside and why. Nonetheless, Zwingli gets a nod here and there, and that makes up for the brevity of the collection.

As to the substance of the work itself, a few excerpts should provide sufficient ‘flavor’ to give potential readers a good idea of the volume’s ‘taste’.

Luther and Calvin were both writers of genius, but they also both understood that a book is more than a text: it is an industrial product, an artifact, that requires the intervention of multiple skills and trades to bring it to an audience. We can only really understand the thought world of the sixteenth century if we keep this in mind (p. 32).

That’s a flash of insight worth remembering.

I will focus on John Calvin’s use of theatre and the influence of this both on his theology and on these cultural developments. First, I will sketch in some significant medieval developments and then suggest how Calvin made use of these in some cases, and parted company with them in others. It is well known that the theatre played a significant role in Calvin’s theological reflection (p. 124).

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I wasn’t aware that theater played any role at all in the development of Calvin’s theology; nor was I aware that the imagery drawn from theater was anything but illustrative.

The same contributor concludes

Buried in our western consciousness, sometimes too deeply to be an operative part of our lives, is a sense that there is a story, a drama that can bring us life. Our English teachers were right: reading might just help us discover that story. But I believe that sense is present in our consciousness because there is such a book, and such a story (p. 136).

If that notion seems a bit too precious to be applied to Calvin, it may well be.  The value of the essay isn’t necessarily its ideological accuracy but its ability to open to readers a potentially fruitful avenue of thought into Calvin’s own mind.  Whether or not it succeeds will have to be left to the judgment of each reader.  For myself, I confess, I find it wanting simply because it is, again, too precious; too postmodern.

Finally, an observation about the importance of reading footnotes:  I’ve long been an advocate of reading notes at the bottom of the page since there is often information contained there which is not only extremely important but also because much that matters isn’t contained in the body of the text.  This volume too offers those who bother with the footnotes important news:

The research for this essay was supported by a major grant from the AHRC of the United Kingdom. A full study of these Bibles is forthcoming in Bruce Gordon and Matthew McLean, Protestant Jerome. Reformed Latin Bibles of the Reformation, in the series Library of the Written Word (Leiden: Brill) (p. 96, note 4).

I contacted the good Professor Gordon to enquire further about the volume but have not yet received a reply.  It sounds like an incredibly interesting volume, especially given my love of St. Jerome, Latin Bibles, and the Reformation.  If I am able to discover anything further I will certainly update here.

As to the book presently under review, I can heartily recommend it.  Each essay has something to commend it and the topics – though not of interest to all – will be quite interesting to specialists.

Calvin’s Book Went Missing And He Fell Ill

Throughout his life Calvin suffered from poor health – he had a delicate frame, pushed to the edge by incessant work. But this particular physical collapse had a proximate cause. One of his manuscripts had gone missing. Calvin, as was his wont, had dispatched the text of his commentary on Two Corinthians to a messenger to carry to Strasbourg, to be printed there by Wendelin Rihel. Rihel was a printer with whom Calvin had a long- standing relationship ; nevertheless, it was a complex procedure, and a risky one, as it turned out in this case. Somewhere on the 400-kilometer journey the manuscript went missing. Calvin’s reaction was extraordinary. He found he could not work. Eventually, after some months, the text turned up, but only after he had endured the sort of heartache that would all too often be associated with his writing.

So Andrew Pettegree in a grand essay in a new book titled Calvin and the Book. Lay hands on a copy!

A Snippet From Calvin To Cleanse Your Palate From Augustine

Generic Parchment Reference

Calvin’s Prayer At the Commencement of His Lectures


Pilates Aplenty

We all condemn Pilate; and yet, it is shameful to relate that there are so many Pilates in the world, who scourge Christ, not only in his members, but also in his doctrine. There are many who, for the purpose of saving the life of those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, constrain them wickedly to deny Christ. What is this, but to expose Christ to ridicule, that he may lead a dishonourable life?

Others select and approve of certain parts of the Gospel, and yet tear the whole Gospel to pieces. They think that they have done exceedingly well, if they have corrected a few gross abuses.

It would be better that the doctrine should be buried for a time, than that it should be scourged in this manner, for it would spring up again in spite of the devil and of tyrants; but nothing is more difficult than to restore it to its purity after having been once corrupted. — John Calvin


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