Volume 16 - Issue 2
Recent Calvin literature: A review articleBy Tony Lane
Themelios readers are already greatly in Tony Lane’s debt for his services as Associate Editor for Historical Theology and as a former Book Review Editor. Our gratitude is magnified by this extensive review of no less than ten books on Calvin. For reasons of space, two reviews will appear in later issues: C.M.N. Eire, War against the Idols (CUP, 1986), and J.D. Dougglass, Women, Freedom and Calvin (Westminster, 1985). Dr Lane teaches Christian Doctrine at London Bible College and wrote the Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought (1984).
Calvin studies are alive and well. The ten books reviewed in this article are by no means the only works on the subject to have appeared in the last few years, even if we restrict our attention to books in English. And a good number of further works are due to appear soon.
It is interesting that after so many years of Calvin studies, and after so many thousands of books and articles, the key to the interpretation of his theology is still debated. Is there a central dogma controlling Calvin’s thought? How are the tensions in his theology to be handled? These questions receive considerable attention, and give rise to differing answers, in the studies of Bouwsma, Engel, Leith and Muller which are reviewed below. They are also considered in some of the essays in the Schnucker volume.
Another area of controversy is the question of the origins of Calvin’s thought. It is universally recognized today that Calvin’s theology, like that of the other reformers, must be understood against its late-medieval background. But what is that background for Calvin? Luther’s early theological development is very well documented and we can see which medieval schools of thought influenced him. With Calvin the evidence is very sparse and so we are driven to rely largely on circumstantial evidence. Such evidence allows a variety of interpretations, as will be seen below. Torrance builds a detailed case regarding Calvin’s sources, while Ganoczy questions it. Bouwsma interprets Calvin in the light of the tension between the two sides of his background: medieval scholasticism and Renaissance humanism.
In this article we will move from Calvin’s biography to his theology to his exegesis, ending with a book which relates his thought to later Calvinism and with a symposium.
In the last thirty years a number of major studies of Calvin have come from Roman Catholic scholars. Not the least of these is Alexandre Ganoczy’s Le Jeune Calvin. Genèse et Èvolution de sa Vocation Reformatrice(Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1966). It was immediately recognized as a work of major importance, as it still is today.
There are two translators, one a theologian and one a French scholar. Furthermore, the translation was checked by the author himself, with assistance from others. The result is a translation that is readable and accurate. The one peculiarity is the failure to translate some names. While one can understand the reason for leaving a French name in French, what reason can there be for ‘Henri Bullinger’ (p. 92) rather than Heinrich or Henry? Not just the French but also the Latin and German have been translated. Thus the translation will be accessible to those who know no language other than English. The text and the bibliography have not been altered. In other words, this is a translation, not a revision. But the author has added a brief preface to the translation.
Ganoczy seeks to answer the question of how Calvin became a reformer. His method ‘consists of approaching him through the milieu from which he emerges, then accompanying him on the paths of his youth in the light of contemporary documents, and finally arriving with him at the moment when he becomes fully conscious of his calling as a reformer’ (p. 34). The book is divided into four parts. This is a modification of and improvement on the division of the original. It does, however, lead to an anomaly. The ‘Conclusion to Part Three’ (ch. 24) is in fact the conclusion to parts two and three, which together formed one ‘chapter’ in the French original.
The first part is ‘A Historical Inquiry Into Calvin’s Religious Development Between 1523 and 1539’. The documents are carefully examined and the author concludes that ‘a whole series of documents from 1532 to 1535 present us with a Calvin who is … a Christian humanist devoted to moderate reform’ (p. 129). It was not until 1535 that Calvin identified himself fully with the evangelical or Lutheran cause. This runs counter to most previous Calvin scholarship, which put Calvin’s conversion to Protestantism at an earlier date. Indeed, Ganoczy questions more than the date. Calvin was not’ converted to ‘Protestantism’ in a later confessional sense. Calvin’s aim in the first edition of his Institutes (1536) was ‘to re-form the one, holy catholic Church, in and by Christ, according to the Gospel, for the greater glory of God’ (p. 130).
In the second part the author examines the sources of the first editon of the Institutes. He compares it with works by Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli and Bucer that Calvin can reasonably be supposed to have known. He detects the influence of Luther especially, the others to a lesser degree, in line with earlier scholarship. More controversial is the chapter on scholastic theology. First the author examines Calvin’s use of Peter Lombard’s Sentences and Gratian’s Decretals, the only two medieval works cited with any frequency in the first edition of the Institutes. He concludes that Calvin ‘used two basic works of scholastic theology only as targets for his antischolastic polemics’ (p. 173). He sees Luther’s influence here and suggests that the two works are used to document a previously held Lutheran view of scholasticism.
But how much more of medieval theology did Calvin know? This is a highly controversial issue in Calvin scholarship. Karl Reuter has argued that Calvin received a thorough grounding in scholastic theology during his studies at the Collège de Montaigu in Paris, from the Scottish theologian John Major in particular. This position is held by a number of other scholars and is a major thesis of T.F. Torrance’s The Hermeneutics of John Calvin, reviewed below. Ganoczy rejects this thesis. Calvin studied philosophy, not theology, at Montaigu. What parallels there may be between Calvin and Major are found in Calvin’s works after 1540, not in the 1536 Institutes. A picture of Major’s theology is presented which is considerably less flattering and congenial to Calvin than is Torrance’s exposition of him. Ganoczy concludes that Calvin was introduced at Montaígu to ‘a scholastic philosophy that included a technique of dialectical reasoning, a metaphysics that systematically opposed (in nominalist fashion) the divine and the human, and an Aristotelian ethics that was no doubt impregnated with scholastic casuistry’ (p. 178). He sees no reason to suppose that Calvin received any formal theological training at that time.
In part three the content of. the 1536 institutes is expounded, with a degree of sympathy that once would have been surprising from a Roman Catholic author, He interprets Calvin’s theology in the light of the current state of the church: ‘We can understand the well-founded basis of Calvin’s criticisms, even if we cannot accept his antisacramental radicalism’ (p. 234). Even the latter point is qualified in the author’s preface to the English translation. He there states, in opposition to his earlier view, that ‘the understanding of the sacraments of both the younger and the older Calvin must be acknowledged as in accord with tradition and thus as catholic’ (p. 11); ‘While Calvin’s critical attacks are aimed at concrete attitudes and often call into question the essential points of Catholic tradition, his constructive statements on reform remain at the level of principles that do not deviate from Catholic teaching’ (p. 234).
In the fourth part the author tackles three issues that have surfaced repeatedly during the earlier parts; Calvin’s conversion, his attitude to schism and his consciousness of a divine call. As regards conversion, the documents suggest a gradual process rather than a sudden change. Calvin’s reference to a ‘sudden conversion’ in the preface to his Psalms commentary is to be seen as ‘theological’ (affirming its divine origin) rather than ‘historical’ (chronological). His conversion involves repentance—turning to God from sin in general and ‘papal superstitions’ in particular. It involves a response to a call to reform the church rather than a break with the church. It was ‘penitential’, not ‘confessional’ in the sense of turning from one church to another. This leads naturally to Calvin’s view of schism. Calvin saw himself not as leaving the Catholic church but as seeking to reform it. On writing to a French bishop he urges on him not schism but reform. Calvin never describes himself as a Protestant but sees himself as part of the Catholic church. Finally, the author claims that the dominant theme of Calvin’s autobiographical sketch in the preface to his Psalms commentary is not his conversion but his vocation. He traces the way in which Calvin gradually became aware of the calling to be a reformer, the way in which this was strengthened by his call to ministry at Geneva and by the success of his contributions to the Lausanne Disputation (both in 1536), and the way in which it survived the disappointment of his exile from Geneva in 1538.
The inspiration behind this book is ecumenical rather than polemical. The author treats Calvin sympathetically and has many good things to say about him. But ecumenical charity does not prevent him from asking critical questions of Calvin. He notes for instance the double standard by which Calvin can deny that the Athanasian Creed was ever approved by a legitimate church (despite ‘the universal liturgical custom of almost a thousand years’), while ‘this authority is implicitly accorded to the evangelical church of Geneva, whose ministers agreed to a trinitarian formula inspired by the recent, first treatise of a young theologian’ (pp. 114f.). The book concludes with the hope, reiterated in the new preface, that ‘Calvin’s calling as a reformer, a factor in division for the past four centuries, may in some way now become a factor in reunion’ (pp. 312, 11f.).
This book has rightly become a classic. It has become the standard work on Calvin’s early life, even if all of its conclusions may not have won universal approval. The case for a gradual conversion, terminating later than many have held, is well argued. It is, however, stretching credulity to suggest that Calvin did not pass beyond a Christian humanist commitment to moderate reform until 1535. The first edition of the Institutes was, after all, completed that summer. Ganoczy emphasizes Calvin’s commitment to reform rather than schism. There is much that is true in this and that needs to be heard by a Protestantism that has long since learned to live with a fragmented church. But there is another side to Calvin that Ganoczy neglects. The idea of separation from Rome is very clear. Calvin responds to the charge of schism not by denying that there was a split but by justifying it. ‘For it is enough for me that it behooved us to withdraw from them that we might come to Christ’ (Inst. IV.ii.6). Furthermore, when Calvin’s actions and goals are considered as well as his teaching on the church, a rather different picture emerges. Calvin did indeed see himself as reforming the one Catholic church rather than founding a new denomination. But to stop there makes him sound like a merely Erasmian humanist. Calvin’s strategy involved separation from Roman Catholic worship and the formation of rival congregations. That is what Roman Catholics mean by schism, even though Calvin was no more willing to plead guilty to the charge than were the Donatists.
The appearance of this important book in English is most welcome.
It is not every day that a book on Calvin is reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times(twice) and even the Wall Street Journal. That this is true of Bouwsma’s book is an indication of the interest with which it has been received. It is certainly the most readable and the most stimulating of the books reviewed in this article. It is the only one that I will definitely be rereading in the near future.
Bouwsma presents, not a biography of Calvin, but a portrait, and a sixteenth-century portrait at that. This is a character study of Calvin, seeking to explain the man in terms of his historical context and of his personal struggles. There is an element of psychological analysis, but this is commendably restrained. But what are the sources for such a study of one who says as little about himself as does Calvin? ‘Calvin reveals a great deal about himself to those who have learned his oblique modes of communication’ (p. 5). The author draws upon ‘the manner, tone, and imagery of his communication’, Calvin’s ‘broad, protective generalities’ and other such indirect forms of communication. His favourite quarry for this material is Calvin’s commentaries and sermons. After the first chapter (a biographical sketch) the letters are hardly ever cited, which surprised me. The Institutes and treatises are used much less often than the exegetical works.
In some ways the best place to begin the book is with the conclusion, where Bouwsma’s thesis is most clearly stated. He identifies ‘two Calvins, coexisting uncomfortably within the same historical personage’. These two Calvins reflect the old world of the medieval synthesis and the new world of Renaissance humanism. The first Calvin was ‘a philosopher, a rationalist and a schoolman’. This Calvin favoured static orthodoxy and distrusted freedom. The other Calvin was ‘a rhetorician and humanist, a skeptical fideist’. This Calvin celebrated paradox and mystery. He had a considerable tolerance for individual freedom. ‘It is above all in the degree to which the living, historical Calvin combined these two tendencies—was himself full of paradoxes—that he reveals himself as a man of the sixteenth century’ (pp. 230f.). Bouwsma links the ‘two Calvins’ with two negative concepts found repeatedly in Calvin’s writings, the labyrinth and the abyss.
I personally was greatly relieved to read that ‘this is not … primarily a psychological study’ (p. 4). The author threatens to trace the influence of Calvin’s relationship with his parents (pp. 11f.), as has been done with Luther, but his development of this theme is rightly cautious. He declines to trace Calvin’s concept of God back to his relationship with his father (p. 12, n. 9). The most fruitful exploration into Calvin’s psychology lies in the author’s exposition of his anxiety (ch. 2), which both illuminates the character of Calvin and lays the foundation for the rest of the book.
Bouwsma clearly does not like systematic theology (because of his childhood experiences in primary school?) and he claims Calvin’s support. ‘As a biblical theologian, he despised what passed for systematic theology in his own time’ (p. 5). Calvin rejected systematic theology, in the traditional sense of scientific discourse (p. 160): ‘The Institutes is not logically ordered; it consists of a series of overlapping topics generally following the order of the Apostles’ Creed’ (p. 125). There is an important sense in which all of these statements are true. But at the same time they are only one side of the truth and the reverse of each of them could, in a suitably qualified form, also be stated. Bouwsma prefers, and tends to emphasize, Calvin the humanist rather than Calvin the schoolman.
The emphasis on the unsystematic side of Calvin yields positive results. The inconsistencies in Calvin’s thought are attributed in part to his love of moderation and his pursuit of the mean, which encourages the holding together of opposite truths. Another theme which runs; through the book is Calvin’s practicality, something which is not usually highlighted in expositions of his theology. This practicality is rooted, as we are often reminded, in Calvin’s pastoral experience.
The portrayal of Calvin’s life and thought in terms of the tension between the two Calvins is immensely fruitful and sheds much light on the subject. But it is clearly a method that is open to its own temptations and dangers. One of these is to polarize the two sides of Calvin and exaggerate the differences. On the whole the author avoids this danger, but not always. For example, in expounding the scholastic Calvin he talks of his yearning for precise regulation, citing the example of luxury, and claims that Calvin ‘thought popery itself preferable to freedom’ (p. 50). But Calvin’s teaching on luxury and possessions is markedly free of ‘precise regulations’. He carefully remains at the level of general principles, such as those quoted by Bouwsma: the avoidance of self-indulgence, the show of superfluous wealth, licentiousness. It is this avoidance of legalism and petty rules that is the most valuable part of Calvin’s teaching on the use of wealth. In the text cited, Calvin prefers ‘popery’ not to freedom but to anarchy, which is very different. Furthermore, it may be questioned whether Calvin really had ‘little to say about the freedom, much about the servitude of a Christian’ (p. 86).
The portrayal of the ‘two Calvins’ sheds much light on our topic. But it is important to remember that, at the end of the day, the two Calvins are abstractions, artificial constructs. This does not lessen their value as a hermeneutical key, but it does point to two weaknesses. First, while the ‘two natures’ of Calvin can be analysed and distinguished in theory, in practice they came together into the one historical Calvin. We must avoid (and on the whole Bouwsma does) a ‘Nestorian’ portrait of Calvin. Secondly, this approach will inevitably be good at discerning the tensions and contradictions in Calvin’s thought but weak in discerning its unity. The stress on the tensions and contradictions is valuable and comes as a corrective to much Calvin scholarship. But it is itself one-sided. Bouwsma has given us a, not the, key to the understanding of Calvin.
The author probes Calvin’s writings to uncover the implicit autobiographical references. It is a little surprising, therefore, to find that he is somewhat sceptical about the classical autobiographical passage in the preface to the Psalms commentary. In particular, he questions the received understanding of Calvin’s conversion (pp. 10ff.). He argues that this involved no more than Calvin becoming more open and teachable, more Erasmian. He strangely seems to think that the fact that the word Protestant has not yet been coined indicates that Calvin remained an Erasmian. He tends to slip from the fact that Calvin held to Erasmian ideals to the notion that he was no more than an Erasmian. Indeed he states that in early 1535 Calvin ‘was probably vague about his beliefs’ (p. 17). Given the fact that the first edition of the Institutes was completed by that summer, this seems most implausible.
Bouwsma is a historian rather than a theologian and this occasionally leads him to misrepresent Calvin’s theology. Two examples will suffice. He suggests that election and providence, because of the mystery surrounding them, have no practical significance (pp. 36, 168). But Calvin lays great stress on the practical value of both doctrines. His warnings against speculation led him to stress rather than deny the practical value of these doctrines. Again, Bouwsma seems to confuse the Protestant sola scriptura principle with the idea that there is no place for tradition from the past, a view which he rightly describes as ‘intrinsically naïve’ (p. 98). While some passages of Calvin taken out of context can suggest the latter view, his life’s work was manifestly dedicated to reforming the tradition, not starting from scratch. But such occasional misinterpretations of Calvin’s theology do not alter the fact that the book illuminates that theology in many fresh and original ways.
Occasionally I came upon instances where the passage cited did not to me appear to say what the author claimed. The reader can check for himself the following instances if he so desires: p. 76, n. 64; p. 120, n. 74; p. 179, n. 23; p. 205, n. 20.
Iconoclastic works are often very stimulating, as is this one. They can also be infuriating in places. I was irritated most by the introduction, where the author tends to portray himself as the Luther who has come to deliver Calvin studies from centuries of unmitigated medieval darkness, though he does concede that there has been the odd forerunner of his reformation. It was a relief to discover that this attitude is not carried over into the body of the book. One of the best features of the book is the way in which the author reads between the lines of what Calvin said. On the whole this is done in a restrained fashion. One may question, however, the claim that ‘Calvin … was himself afflicted with serious doubts’ (p. 101). Again, does Calvin’s belief in an impassible God imply his ‘dim view of the passions’ (p. 105)? The author seems to forget that almost every theologian from the third to eighteenth centuries held to God’s impassibility. Calvin’s low-key statement of the doctrine tells us more about the history of doctrine than about his personal psyche.
In conclusion, this is brilliant and stimulating study that is required reading for all serious students of Calvin.
Calvin, Geneva and the Reformation. A Study of Calvin as Social Reformer, Churchman, Pastor and Theologian
Ronald Wallace will be well known to students of Calvin, especially for his two volumes on Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament and Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life. In this volume he has spread himself more widely, giving us a general introduction to Calvin. He manages to make this comprehensive enough to give a good overall portrayal of Calvin, basic enough to be accessible to those with only a passing knowledge of Reformation history, and yet fresh and original enough to be of interest and value to those already well acquainted with Calvin. In some ways I was reminded of T.H.L. Parker’s John Calvin, which introduces Calvin’s theology in the context of his life story. This book, by contrast, introduces Calvin’s theology in the context of his life’s ministry, the basic framework being topical where it is chronological in Parker’s book.
The author sees himself as primarily a pastor, who became involved in theological teaching and scholarship. This explains what was for me personally the most valuable contribution of the book. He repeatedly stresses the fact that Calvin was and remained a pastor and the significance of this for his theology. ‘His teaching would have lost its soul if he had diverted himself into entirely academic secluded scholarship. Having a particular job near the front line saved him from being merely a talkative aristocratic church bureaucrat with inevitably partial insights’ (pp. 16f.; cf. p. 43). ‘It was precisely because of the priority he gave to local needs of his own parish that he was ultimately so effective as a Church leader and so important for “posterity” ’ (pp. 44f.). This comes out especially in the chapter (12) on Calvin as the pastor. Is there not a point to be heeded here, especially at a time when even colleges devoted to the training of ministers seem to be keen on recruiting teachers who are academically able but have no pastoral experience? In this context the author also brings out a side of Calvin’s teaching that sharply contrasts with the attitude of some in the Reformed tradition. Calvin stresses the inadequacy of preaching in the parish context if it is not reinforced and applied by pastoral work with individuals.
The author writes from an avowedly pro-Calvin stance. He seeks to respond to the ‘Calvin Legend’ of a harsh, inhuman tyrant (p. viii), The ensuing sympathetic and appreciative account is valuable as a corrective to the negative portrayal of Calvin which is still so prevalent, especially among those who are not students of Reformation history. But today there is perhaps an equal danger of another form of ‘Calvin legend’—the unduly sympathetic account which smooths over Calvin’s rough points and plays down the less creditable aspects of his ministry. The present book is certainly not a piece of propaganda in that it does acknowledge Calvin’s weaknesses and mistakes. But I was still left with the impression that Wallace’s Calvin was rather better than the Calvin of history. A few examples will suffice.
Early on we are told that Calvin ‘never despised anything that was truly human’. The uninitiated reader could from this form the wrong impression that Calvin was basically positive towards human nature. But of course the key word in the quotation is truly. Calvin despised nothing that was truly human, but since the fall sin has invaded every area of human life, so it can be questioned how much of current human existence is truly human. Again, is it true that ‘no one has ever spoken or written with more warmth of genuine feeling about the Fatherhood of God’ (p. 254, n. 65)? Obviously this is a hyperbole, which in itself is acceptable, but this and other such exaggerations are unfortunate in this context since they serve to encourage the ‘alternative Calvin legend’.
One of the perils of Calvin studies is the tendency of Calvin scholars, even those who are most scholarly and seek to be the most objective, to use Calvin to make their own points. At a Calvin study group on one occasion Dr Wallace disarmingly commented that ‘we are all using Calvin to put over our own point of view’. The response was hearty laughter, the more hearty as all present realized that they were not the innocent ones to cast the first stone. The present book is not without this fault, though not in a blatant fashion, as will be seen from a few examples.
On pp. 123–126 there are a number of statements about the importance of the individual in Calvin’s thought. The author, the reviewer and most of the readers of Themelios are all thoroughly immersed in the individualism of modern Western thought. But Calvin was not and I was less than convinced by this section. The same applies to a later section on the same topic (pp. 166–168). The author detects elsewhere an affinity between Calvin and the Anabaptist ‘voluntary church’ principle (pp. 122f.). He notes that the Huguenot churches in France had this characteristic. But that was out of necessity, not choice. One might as well observe that attendance at Roman Catholic worship in Elizabethan England took place among ‘freely gathered voluntary groups quite distinct within the civil community’ and conclude that the voluntary principle was anticipated by Tridentine Catholicism! The presentation of Calvin’s attitude to unwritten liturgical traditions on p. 139 is somewhat misleading. Note 33 is incorrect (9 should be 19), and in the context of the passage Calvin does not so much ‘refer with approval’ to such traditions as concede that they are acceptable. The alleged reference in lnstitutes IV.x.31 to good traditions of the apostles which were unwritten I have not been able to trace. The thrust of the chapter, especially IV.x.l9f., points in a different direction.
Chapter 7, on ‘Economics in Geneva’, contains some helpful material. But the last few pages on ‘the spirit of capitalism’ contain some unhelpful generalizations. Calvin, we are told, ‘could never have approved of the idea of a competitive society’ (p. 94). ‘The idea that any form of rivalry in commercial enterprise could help society or that self-seeking could further the common interest could never have entered his mind’ (p. 95). What are we to make of this? That Calvin would have rejected the idea of a free market and would have insisted on the state controlling all economic activity? That the shoemaker should not strive to improve the quality of his shoes so that the customer might buy more of his shoes (rivalry) and that he might therefore be better able to provide for the needs of his family (self-seeking)? That the customer should not seek to buy the best pair of shoes at the best price? Was Calvin a doctrinaire opponent of the free market? Or are we simply to conclude that Calvin was against the ‘unacceptable face’ of capitalism, that he was opposed to an excessive emphasis on competition? There is an unhelpful ambiguity in the rhetoric here, as is so often the case with those who write against capitalism.
Finally, some minor points of criticism. Geneva is called a Swiss commune (p. 19; cf. p. 45), but it did not in fact become part of Switzerland until the last century. The footnotes are sometimes short on information. Calvin’s letters are referred to by the name of the recipient and the date, but without any volume or page number. Where the letter is long, this is inconvenient. Sometimes there is no footnote where there should be, as with the fascinating reference to Kampschulte on p. 99.
It should be reiterated that these points of criticism are all minor, affecting the details of the presentation not the main substance of it. I have pointed to places where I felt that Calvin was being ‘modernized’. There are also places where the differences between Calvin and the modern church are helpfully shown. The author contrasts Calvin’s teaching on the sabbath with that of modern times. Today there is often a stress on how we need the sabbath to refresh us and equip us for the other six days of the week. For Calvin, however, it was designed to interrupt the pattern of work, to turn our minds away from this world and help us to be detached from it (p. 200).
In conclusion, despite the minor blemishes noted above this is a valuable, readable and stimulating introduction to Calvin’s ministry and theology.
The title of this book could perhaps more appropriately be ‘The Sources of John Calvin’s Thought’. The author considers the important topic of Calvin’s epistemology and its roots in the late Middle Ages. He develops the thesis of two of his earlier articles: ‘Knowledge of God and Speech about him according to John Calvin’, which appears in his Theolog in Reconstruction (SCM, 1965) among other places, and ‘Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge from Duns Scotus to John Calvin’, which appeared in 1968 in the proceedings of a Scotus congress.
The book is in two major parts. The first, ‘The Parisian Background to Calvin’s Thought’, expounds the epistemology of Duns Scotus, William of Occam and John Major. This is the British, mainly Scottish, tradition which Torrance sees as underlying Calvin’s thought. The second part, ‘The Shaping of Calvin’s Mind’, after a brief discussion of Calvin’s early theological and hermeneutical method, considers the influences at work in Calvin’s thought. These are the Devotio Moderna (pp. 73–79), John Major (pp. 80–95), Cicero (pp. 100–111), Lorenzo Valla (pp. 111–116), Rudolf Agricola (pp. 116–125), Erasmus (pp. 126–132) and Luther (pp. 155–159). There is also a comparison of Calvin’s commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia and his later De Scandalis (pp. 133–155).
Underlying the book is one major methodological issue. How does one discern where are a writer’s sources? The author relies almost exclusively on the method of showing parallels and similarities between the thought and writings of Calvin and his alleged sources. But this method is most unreliable. Suppose we can demonstrate very close parallels between the thought of writer A and an earlier writer B. This is not sufficient even to prove that A knew of the existence of B. There are a number of possibilities. A might be dependent upon B. But, equally, both might be dependent upon an earlier writer C. Or the points in common might turn out to be commonplaces of a particular theological tradition, so that no one writer can be singled out as A’s source. Alternatively, A might have encountered B’s thoughts through an intermediate writer D. Doubtless this does not exhaust the range of possibilities. The existence of very close parallels between two writers does not prove a relationship of dependence, even if one knew the other. In 1926 Joachim Beckmann showed the close parallels between Calvin’s and Augustine’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper and concluded that the latter was the former’s prime source. But the existence of the parallels was no proof that Calvin learned the ideas from Augustine, rather than one of his contemporaries in the Augustinian tradition.
What criteria should be used to establish dependence? The author rightly warns against an excessive reliance upon Calvin’s naming of his sources (p. 81). Strictly speaking Calvin, especially in his citation of the Fathers, was not so much naming sources as citing authorities for support. Bucer is very rarely cited but was without question a major influence upon Calvin. But having said that, one should hesitate to affirm that a particular person was a significant source for Calvin unless one has reliable evidence linking Calvin to that person in particular, whether that be Calvin’s own testimony or our knowledge of his life. One should be even more cautious in ascribing a particular detail of Calvin’s thought to any one source, even if it is certain that Calvin was influenced by that source.
Another criterion must be the availability of the writings of the alleged source. The author has in the past been accused of ignoring this criterion and so he here includes a number of footnotes (88, 90, 110, 120, 128) indicating when editions became available. This is a positive step, but one wonders how the author can state that both Major and Calvin used one particular edition of Hilary (p. 184, n. 128), while there were others available (PL 9:211–213). No reason is given.
To establish dependence of Calvin upon another writer more is required than parallels of thought. There must also be some other clear evidence indicating that this writer, rather than others, is the source. This need is acknowledged in this section on Luther’s influence where, for example, the author notes that ‘much in Calvin’s thought that has been put down to Luther’s influence must now be put down to his study of patristic, mediaeval and human sources’ (p. 156). Unfortunately, this caution is not found in the rest of the book.
The most significant influence which the author discerns is that of John Major, who taught at the College of Montaigu at Paris from 1525 to 1531. This theory he shares with Karl Reuter (nn. 36, 51, 87, 122), who has expounded it in two books. But it has come under heavy fire from, among others, Alexandre Ganoczy, whose The Young Calvin is reviewed above. The state of the debate is judiciously reviewed by Alister McGrath in his The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Oxford, 1987, pp. 93–106). He argues for the influence upon Calvin of a ‘general late medieval theological current, rather than of a specific individual’. In a book due to appear late 1990 he develops this further.
Torrance claims that Major taught Calvin philosophy and theology, leaving ‘an indelible imprint upon his thinking’. Calvin’s language is influenced by Major, who also ‘undoubtedly’ initiated him into patristic studies (pp. 80f.). If this is true, it is of immense significance for understanding the evolution of Calvin’s thought. But is it true? In the preface the author makes the following statement: ‘I have drawn not a little attention to the part played … by John Major. It is a curious fact that, while I find so many illuminating connections between Calvin’s ideas and terms and those of Major, Calvin never mentioned him in any of his books or letters by name!’ (p. viii). Curious indeed. Curious enough to encourage us to subject the theory to careful examination.
First, did Calvin ever study under Major? Maybe, but not for sure. It depends on whether Calvin left Paris in 1525, 1526 or 1527 (cf. T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin (London, 1975), pp. 10f., 156–161). Even if Calvin did overlap with Major, he would at that stage have been studying philosophy, not theology. On what, then, is the theory of dependence based? Almost exclusively on alleged parallels between Calvin and Major. Some of these are so general as to be worthless. Calvin and Major both studied the Fathers and disliked allegory. But these traits are so widespread that there is no need to postulate that Major was Calvin’s source. Major is alleged to be Calvin’s source at points where his thought is ‘so distinctive’, such as the rejection of soul sleep and his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 (pp. 80f.). But it was soul sleep that was the novel, ‘heretical’ idea, not its rejection. Calvin’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4, far from being peculiar, was that of Augustine (Enchiridion103, et al.) and thus well known. In neither case is there any reason for postulating influence by Major. Finally, it is striking that the passages cited which allegedly show Major’s influence are taken almost without exception from the second, 1539, edition of the Institutes. If Major had influenced Calvin so deeply in the mid-1520s, would one not have expected to find the evidence in the first, 1536, edition?
The author also postulates the influence on Calvin of the Devotio Moderna in general and of Thomas à Kempis in particular. Calvin does not refer to Thomas or to his De Imitatione Christi, but his exposure to the Devotio Moderna at Montaigu is certain, and given the prominence of the De Imitatione Christi it is all but certain that Calvin would have known it well. The author notes a number of parallels between Calvin and Thomas. Granted that Calvin knew the De Imitatione Christi, these are persuasive. But had there been no reason for supposing that Calvin knew Thomas, it would doubtless have been possible to find other medieval sources for these ideas, many of which were widely held in the Middle Ages.
The author also refers to the influence of the Fathers on Calvin. Given the thousands of times that Calvin quotes the Fathers, there is no reason to doubt this influence. But some of the author’s statements are highly dubious. How does he know that it was Major who directed Calvin to the Fathers (p. 81)? The fact that Major’s lectures and biblical exposition show patristic erudition hardly makes him unique and certainly does not prove the point. ‘The most significant [figures] for [Calvin’s] own development’ include Duns Scotus and Gregory of Rimini (as Reuter had argued). But Calvin never once names Gregory. Is Gregory’s teaching so distinctive and so clearly followed by Calvin that one can state dogmatically that Calvin was indebted to him, rather than to any other medieval figure with similar ideas?
This is a very learned study which seeks to place Calvin’s thought in the context of medieval intellectual history. If it is regarded as an exposition of Calvin and his predecessors, if it is regarded as a comparisonbetween them and Calvin, it has great value. If it is regarded as an analysis of the tradition and the ideas which influenced Calvin it has a certain value, though even here great caution is needed in the use of alleged parallels. But as an examination of Calvin’s sources, of which individual writers influenced Calvin, the book is highly misleading, because of the methodology employed. The author refers at one point to his ‘comparison between the thought of Calvin and that of late mediaeval schoolmen, as represented by Major’ (p. 94). If for Major we were to read ‘late mediaeval schoolmen’ throughout, the thesis would carry more weight.
John Leith has for thirty years been a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. This volume is his PhD thesis from 1949. It is published in its original form, with the addition of a Foreword and Preface. This means that the thesis does not engage with any literature later than 1949. The language has, however, been painstakingly revised to bring it into line with modern anti-sexist orthodoxy.
This is much more than a study of Calvin’s doctrine of the Christian life. The doctrine is expounded in relation to Calvin’s theology as a whole, focusing on justification by faith, providence and predestination, history and the transhistorical, and church and society. The thesis thus extends to cover the question of Calvin’s theological method (note esp. pp. 18–21) and does this in the context of the differing schools of Calvin interpretation (esp. pp. 23f., 28–33).
The author commends the goal of seeking ‘to understand Calvin in Calvin’s own terms … rather than to resolve controversies or problems which he never faced or in which he was not interested’ (p. 14). But this does not prevent him from discussing the relation of Calvin to liberalism and fundamentalism (pp. 223f.). This is not illegitimate. Objective historical analysis, as is superbly exemplified in Eire’s book (to be reviewed later), is of great value. But at the end of the day many, if not most, students of Calvin are interested in his relevance for today (cf. pp. 216f.).
This book is a thesis with a thesis. The author sees the key to the interpretation of Calvin as lying in the recognition of the ‘inconsistencies’ in his thought. This explains why there are differing schools of Calvin interpretation. ‘Attempts to interpret Calvin’s theology in terms of one consistent pattern, as has been the case with most interpretations, run into serious difficulties’ (p. 223).
The author discerns three different types of inconsistency in Calvin (pp. 34f.). First, there is the conscious and deliberate paradox—such as the statement that man fell by the appointment of divine providence, yet by his own fault. Secondly, there is Calvin’s failure to integrate the various strands of thought which went into his theological development—such as the conflict between the Hebrew and Platonic views of the relationship of soul and body. Thirdly, there is the tension between those who claim that ‘Calvin’s theology is dominated by its emphasis on the personal and living claim of God on every person’ and those who claim that ‘he substitutes a codebook for the living claim of God and a legal institution for the body of Christ … As a hypothesis to be confirmed or rejected in the course of this study, we may tentatively affirm that this cleavage is due to the fact that Calvin’s theological method vacillates between the existential interests of a participant in the Christian community and the demands of the systematic rationalism of a spectator or the temptations of a churchman to establish by force, structures, laws, or orthodoxy what can only come as a gift of the Holy Spirit’ (p. 35).
The author discerns six important inconsistencies which fall into this third category (pp. 217f.). (1) The glory of God is revealed in God’s forgiving love yet is also compared to the honour of an earthly prince (cf. pp. 38–40, 43–45); (2) The glory of God is the fulfilment of human welfare yet also involves the annihilation of our humanity (cf. pp. 40–43); (3) The law is the embodiment of the personal claim of God yet is sometimes an abstract substitute for that claim (cf. pp. 50–54); (4) The Bible is the personal address of God focused in Christ, yet also a codebook of equal validity in all parts (cf. pp. 57–64); (5) Predestination is revealed in Christ and is a testimony of our adoption, yet it is also defined in mechanical terms as a decree by which God has determined what he would do with each individual (cf. pp. 134–138); (6) The church is defined as the community of believers but also as a legal institution which possesses and disposes God’s truth and, in a measure, his grace (pp. 178–184).
The author’s approach to these ‘inconsistencies’ is clear. In the second part of each dichotomy he discerns the ‘fallacies which obscured his profoundest insights’ (p. 217). The contradictions result from ‘his systematic rationalization of the anomalies of revelation and Christian experience.… They obscure the deeply personal and mutual relationship of humankind to God which Calvin declared to be fundamental in the Christian life’ (p. 218; cf. 21).
The author’s hypothesis provides a focus for his study and rescues it from any danger of becoming just a recitation of Calvin’s views (though we must beware of the danger mentioned in the foreword (p. 10) of allowing it to overshadow the positive aims of the book). But what are we to make of the hypothesis? There certainly are tensions and inconsistencies in Calvin’s thought. The first two types that are mentioned would be very widely acknowledged. It is the third type, the subject of the hypothesis, that is the most controversial. A number of questions can be asked.
Where does the contradiction really lie? Is it between sides of Calvin’s thought or between what Calvin taught and what the author would have liked him to teach? Two sides of Calvin’s thought are expounded and the second is deemed to be contrary to the first. But would Calvin himself have accepted the exposition of the first which is set against the second? I was left feeling that the Calvin of the ‘profoundest insights’ sounded suspiciously modern. This points again to the need always to distinguish between what Calvin taught and the way in which we might wish to use him today. It is, of course, precisely those who feel an allegiance to Calvin and who wish to appropriate his insights for today who are most in danger of achieving this by the process of subtly (and unconsciously) adapting his thought. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
Are the two sides of Calvin’s thought to be seen as contrary to one another or complementary? Granted that God’s glory is revealed in his forgiving love, does that exhaust his glory? Is there no glory in the fact that he is the sovereign and omnipotent Creator? Do these two have to be set against one another or can they not be seen as complementary aspects of his glory? Again, granted that the church is the community of believers, does that exclude the fact that it is also in some sense a legal institution? The author makes some telling criticism s of Calvin at this point, arguing that he failed to allow for the sinful fallibility of the ministers in their teaching and their discipline (pp. 180f.). Fair point. But to go from this to argue that the church should not be viewed as a legal institution is to jump a long way.
Related to this, the author sees these ‘contradictions’ as revealing ‘the conflict between Calvin the exegete of Scripture and Calvin the systematizer of Scripture’. The ‘fallacies’ are ‘speculative additions to the biblical data’ (p. 218). But is this so? For instance, does the Bible never compare God’s glory to that of an earthly prince? Is the criticism of Calvin for treating the Bible as ‘a codebook of equal validity in all parts’ in fact a tacit acknowledgment that these ‘fallacies’ of Calvin are in fact biblical? Is Calvin being criticized for remaining faithful to aspects of biblical teaching which, in the view of the author, run counter to its ‘profoundest insights’?
Whether or not the reader agrees with the author’s ‘hypothesis’, he will find this a stimulating exposition of Calvin which raises fundamental questions about the structure of his thought.
This book grapples not just with Calvin’s anthropology but also with the more basic issue of the approach to Calvin’s theology. The author quotes J.T. McNeill: ‘Calvin formerly stirred debate because people agreed or disagreed with his teaching. Recently, men have been in disagreement over what his teaching was’ (p. ix). She outlines the main phases of this debate. In the mid-nineteenth century Schweizer and Baur saw predestination as the central dogma in Calvin’s thought. This view was generally accepted until in 1922 Hermann Bauke argued that for Calvin there is no sigle doctrine from which all else is deduced. Since then scholars have moved in one of two directions. Some have acknowledged Bauke’s point but have gone on to talk of one idea as the ‘heart’ or ‘inspiration’ of Calvin’s theology. Others have taken Bauke more seriously and have claimed that there is in the end no system or definite structure in Calvin’s theology. In the last resort his theology is contradictory (p. x).
When it comes to anthropology, three main positions have emerged. The traditional interpretation emphasized Calvin’s ‘pessimism’, his teaching on depravity and sin. Recently a more ‘optimistic’ interpretation has emerged, stressing Calvin’s teaching on human freedom and dignity. A third approach would see an ultimate contradiction in Calvin between the optimistic and pessimistic strands (pp. x–xi).
The author suggests a fourth approach. She points to what she calls ‘the dynamic perspectival structure of Calvin’s anthropology’. She cites the example of the phenomenon of light, which needs both the wave and the particle theories to describe it fully. These are at once contradictory and yet complementary. So it is with Calvin’s anthropology. Calvin makes a variety of assertions and judgments, from different theological perspectives. These too are contradictory, yet complementary (p. xi).
What are these different perspectives? ‘Pervading all Calvin’s comments on humankind is a basic distinction between the perspective of God and the perspective of humankind’ (p. 1). It is the distinction between these two perspectives that is, for the author, the key to Calvin’s anthropology.
When one assumes the position of God in the universe, all of reality, including human beings, appears in stark contrast to the divine being. In fact, from this vantage point, God and humankind appear to be either mutually exclusive of one another or in contradiction to one another.… This absolute perspective is distinct from the relative perspective of humankind. When one assumes the position of a human being in the midst of the universe, all of reality, including human beings, appears as related though differentiated.… This basic distinction between the absolute perspective of God and the relative perspective of humankind appears in clearly identifiable variations in Calvin’s doctrines of creation and redemption (p. 2).
The remainder of the book applies this thesis to a number of anthropological issues: the contrast between human dignity and depravity (ch. 1); the image of God (ch. 2); the relation between heavenly and earthly wisdom (ch. 3); divine providence and human freedom (ch. 4); immortality of the soul versus resurrection of the body (ch. 5). Space does not permit a discussion of all of these so one example must suffice, the question of free will.
Here, as usual, the author sees the distinction between the divine and human perspectives as the key to Calvin’s thought. In particular it helps to resolve the tension between differing interpretations. Some have claimed that Calvin denies free will, others that he maintains it. She notes that Calvin teaches that the will is not destroyed by sin and that it retains freedom from coercion. At the same time it has lost freedom from sin and freedom from misery. Free choice (liberum arbitrium) has been lost. Thus far good and well. But she goes on to claim that Calvin distinguishes between free will (libera voluntas), which remains, and free choice (liberum arbitrium), which is lost by sin (pp. 124, 134, 138, 144). She sees these two as representing the human and divine perspectives respectively.
There are a number of problems with this. The contrast between free will, which remains, and free choice, which is lost, is not true to Calvin. On what evidence does she base it? First, she points to Calvin’s statement that freedom from necessity or coercion is not lost (Inst. ll.ii.5). True, but Calvin states not that the will, not that the choice, but that ‘man by nature’ cannot possibly lose this freedom. Secondly, she cites Calvin to the effect that divine providence does not destroy human free will (libera voluntas) (p. 134). But in the passage cited Calvin is giving not his own view but his opponent’s (Pighius’) interpretation of the Fathers. Thirdly, she claims that Calvin would have been willing to affirm free will (libera voluntas) were it not that it would be seen as equivalent to free choice (liberum arbitrium) (p. 138). Again, this is not what Calvin says in the passage cited. In fact he expresses his willingness to accept either libera voluntas or liberum arbitrium, if by ‘free’ is understood ‘free from coercion’. Similarly, in the Institutes, he affirms his acceptance of liberum arbitrium (not libera voluntas) if the term is rightly understood (II.ii.7f.).
While it may not be true that Calvin affirms free will while denying free choice, the remainder of the tension noted by the author is correct. How is this tension to be viewed? Is it really to be attributed to the difference between the human and the divine perspectives? Does the author trace it to these two perspectives because the evidence of the text demands it or because of her desire to fit Calvin’s anthropological tensions into this framework? Is it only from the divine perspective that the bondage of the will is seen and only from the human perspective that the freedom of the will from coercion is seen? I saw no clear evidence in this chapter for apportioning these two sides of Calvin’s teaching in this way. Is the bondage of the will not seen from the human perspective (Inst. II.i.1, 3)? Is our responsibility for our sin not seen from the divine perspective of God as judge? Is it not simpler just to say that Calvin enunciates the ways in which the will is or is not free? The difference between the divine and human perspectives has more relevance to the wider issue of the relation between divine providence and human freedom, which is the broader topic of the chapter.
What then of the author’s thesis? She is rightly opposed to those who portray one side only of Calvin. She seeks to do justice to the different sides of his thought and to move beyond merely juxtaposing them. Good and well. She sees the clue to this in the different perspectives from which Calvin writes. This is a helpful suggestion. But then she seeks to reduce it all to the one contrast between the divine and human perspectives. At this point the thesis lost its plausibility for me and what was a fruitful insight in some instances became an unhelpful straitjacket when applied in a blanket fashion. She states that she is not claiming that ‘Calvin intentionally created or deliberately used the dynamic perspectival structure I describe in his anthropology’ (p. xi). This admission does not imply that this ‘perspectival structure’ is non-existent, but it does place the burden of proof heavily on anyone giving it such a central role. In my view the evidence presented does not bear such a burden.
The author’s case would be strengthened if she were to broaden it to include other factors. Take the variations in Calvin’s teaching on free will. These can to some extent be attributed to different contexts in that Calvin faces a number of different errors. This is a factor of which the author is aware (e.g. p. 137). It can work in different ways. In opposing an error one may be driven strongly to affirm the opposite. On the other hand, one may also be driven by the criticisms of one’s opponent to acknowledge aspects of the truth that one might otherwise overlook. Some of Calvin’s strongest affirmations of the freedom of the will come in his defence of his teaching against Pighius’ attack on the 1539 edition of his Institutes. There is another cause for variety of teaching that is usually overlooked. That is the contrast between a cruder and a more nuanced form of teaching. Thus Calvin in his sermons simply rejects free will. In his Institutes and in his reply to Pighius he is forced to give a more nuanced and qualified assessment of free will, acknowledging the senses in which it is true. Finally, another cause is Calvin’s rhetoric, which includes the use of hyperbole. This also leads him to say things which elsewhere are qualified rather than contradicted.
I am not convinced that the contrast between divine and human perspectives explains a half of the tensions in Calvin’s thought that the author notes. I do agree with her that differences in perspective are a useful key to resolving those tensions and that the contrast between divine and human perspectives is one such difference in perspective.
One final complaint. There is no mention in the book of the author’s 1985 Chicago PhD thesis under her maiden name (Mary Lane Potter) with a slightly longer title. This book is the thesis in a lightly edited form. While this should have been mentioned anyway, it is doubly desirable given the change in the author’s name and the longer title of the thesis (beginning Cognitio Dei/Cognitio Hominis).
In September 1988 David Steinmetz concluded a conference on the history of exegesis in the sixteenth century with a paper on Calvin’s interpretation of Romans chapter 4. In this paper he argued that a sixteenth-century commentary cannot be properly understood out of the context of its predecessors. He showed how some of Calvin’s brief and sometimes puzzling comments are his answers to standard questions which had exercised the earlier exegetical tradition. His commentary is part of that tradition, is part of an ongoing debate. There is, therefore, value in studying commentaries in the context of this tradition.
T.H.L. Parker’s book is a contribution to this process. In this instance he is looking at Calvin and others in the context not of the past tradition but of the contemporary debate. To use the jargon, this is a synchronic rather than diachronic study. It falls into four parts.
In the first part the commentaries and their authors are surveyed, year by year. Fourteen authors are covered. Information is given about who each author was, what he set out to do and why, and what editions were published. Mention is also made of five patristic and medieval authors whose works were printed during this period. Three of the fourteen authors (Bonadus, Lonicer and Titelmann) are not considered in the remainder of the book, because of the nature of their works. The other eleven consist of six Roman Catholics (‘Romanists’ as they are regularly called): Caietan, Gagney, Grimani, Guilliaud, Haresche and Sadoleto, and five Protestants: Bucer, Bullinger, Calvin, Melanchthon and Pellican. One of these eleven authors, Gagney, receives in fact minimal attention. The first part concludes with a mention of Erasmus, whose works first appeared before 1532 but whose influence on the others cannot be ignored. This is shown by the frequency with which his name recurs in the remainder of the book.
In the second to fourth parts the interpretation of three passages is considered: 1:18–23, 2:13–16 and 3:20–28. These are chosen for their theological interest, relating to natural theology and to justification. For each passage there is first a verse by verse treatment of the text and its exegesis. The text is printed according to three editions: Erasmus’ 1527 Greek text, Stephanus’ 1528 edition of the Vulgate and the 1527 edition of Erasmus’ Latin translation. Variant readings in other editions are also noted. There is then a phrase by phrase exegesis of the verse, showing the conclusions reached by the different commentators. This groundwork having been laid, the author then considers the exposition of the passage as a whole, showing the different ways in which the authors understand it. Just over half of the space is devoted to the third passage, while the second passage is treated relatively briefly. Finally there is a conclusion, showing the similarities and differences between the commentators.
As one would expect from a book by T.H.L. Parker, this is a thorough and scholarly work. It is of value in a number of ways. The introduction to the authors and their commentaries contains much useful material, especially for those who may happen not to have heard of figures like Gagney or Haresche. Especially useful is the detailed synopsis (pp. 40–61) of Bucer’s commentary, a most important work but one which must have been read from beginning to end by extremely few people.
The comparative study of the eleven commentators illustrates well the extent to which these contemporaries shared certain approaches and ideas and differed in other areas. Reference to some of the most important earlier commentators (such as the five authors who are reprinted in these years) would have enabled us to see the significance of the agreements and disagreements in a wider context. As it is, it is a little like listening to a five-minute extract from a thirty-minute debate. One can learn much from the extract but would understand more if one had an outline of what had gone before.
As one might expect, both from this intrinsic merit and from the sympathies of the author, Calvin shines as the most able expositor. At one point, however, the account of Calvin is open to question. Parker claims that Calvin ‘will have nothing to do with attempts at reconciling 2:13 with 3:20 or with defending 2:13 from attack, but gets on with the task of elucidating the meaning of the passage in its immediate and wider context’. Calvin sees the problem of reconciling 2:13 with 3:20 as irrelevant (p. 140; cf. p. 129). But is this altogether correct? Calvin rejects the idea that 2:13 teaches justification by works. He understands this verse to teach that we cannot be justified by law without fulfilling it perfectly—thus bringing it into line with 3:20. What is distinctive about Calvin is the incisive brevity with which he defends 2:13 from the charge of justification by works, thus reconciling it with 3:20, not his lack of interest in these questions. Indeed, his final comment on 2:13, that no one is justified by law, is almost a paraphrase of 3:20.
The comparative study of exegesis has an interest of its own. But, as the choice of passages indicates, it also has a theological interest. Justification is a particularly interesting doctrine in Reformation times. There are real differences between the Protestant and Roman Catholic sides, but these are much more subtle than is popularly imagined. The traditional conception of justification by works versus justification by faith is a caricature. It is noteworthy that leading Catholic and Protestant theologians, including some of the commentators discussed here, could at Regensburg produce a common statement on the subject. It is also significant that some figures (such as Cardinal Contarini) have been claimed for both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant doctrines of justification. Just such a dispute of interpretation surfaces in this book, with the differing assessments of Sadolet’s position. The distinctive contribution of this volume is that it shows a variety of Catholic and Protestant doctrines of justification as they emerge from the exposition of Scripture.
Calvin preached 200 sermons on Deuteronomy between March 1555 and July 1556. These were taken down by Denis Raguenier, who was employed for this task. They were first published in the original French in 1567. Later they were translated into English by Arthur Golding and published at London in 1583. It is this edition which has now been reissued in a facsimile reprint.
As the dust jacket states, what would be most desirable is a modern translation of the sermons. In fact sixteen of the sermons, those on the Ten Commandments, have recently been translated by Benjamin Farley and were published in 1980 by Baker Book House. But failing a modern translation of the remaining 184 sermons, this facsimile reprint is most welcome. It makes available an important work of Calvin’s.
As was common in the sixteenth century, there are copious indexes. There is a full topical index (378 columns) which amounts to a concordance. There is also an index of those biblical passages which are ‘alleged and properly applied and expounded’ in the sermons.
These sermons are of interest for a variety of reasons—as sermons on Deuteronomy and as sermons of Calvin, for instance. But they are also of interest for another specific reason: they are an especially valuable resource for Calvin’s teaching on economic and social issues.
The following extract, from the thirty-ninth sermon, on the Eighth Commandment, illustrates some of this teaching. It is given first in the Golding translation, then in Farley’s modern translation. The contrast will show the extent to which the older translation suffers from old-fashioned language and spelling. It will also show how the translation is more literal than Farley’s, which is an advantage or a disadvantage according to what one seeks from a translation.
If a man misuse his poore neighbor vnder colour that he is in authoritie, and by that meanes oppresse him: he is a theefe, and halfe a murtherer, and it is not single theft or robberie, but (as yee would say) qualifyed with murder: and yet for all that, it scapeth and is pardoned. It is true that men will now and then mutter at it: but that is but with halfe mouth: and in the meane while hee that hath mis-behaued himselfe, footheth himselfe, and (which woorse is) the greater thief that he is, the more he is honored. For the more a man hath gotten to himselfe, and the richer that hee is become: the more doe men stoope to him, and the highlier is hee aduanced. Yee see then that oftentimes men come to greate honor in the world by theeuery. (p. 231)
If a man under the guise of his authority wrongs his neighbor who is poor and thereby oppresses him, he is a thief and half-murderer. Such an action does not simply constitute a theft, but it qualifies as murder. Nevertheless such happens and is forgiven. True, from time to time someone may murmur, but only half-heartedly. And in the meantime the guilty party is applauded; and still worse, he is honored so much more since he is a big thief. For according as a man’s estate grows and he becomes wealthy, people woo him and he becomes even more admired. And quite often it is through thefts that people attain great honor, as far as the world is concerned. (p. 190)
The question of the relationship between Calvin and Calvinism has for some time been a hot issue in Calvin studies. There have been those who have emphasized the contrast between the two and have portrayed the latter as a distortion of the former, such as Holmes Rolston III, J.B. Torrance and R.T. Kendall. Others, such as Paul Helm and R.W.A. Letham, have sought to emphasize the elements of continuity between the two. Richard MuIIer in this work throws his weight behind the latter group. The book is a substantial revision of his 1976 PhD thesis. More recent literature is considered, but it is a pity that Bob Letham’s 1979 Aberdeen PhD thesis (Saving Faith and Assurance in Reformed Theology: Zwingli to the Synod of Dort) was missed since it would provide valuable support for Muller’s thesis in places.
The author notes how nineteenth-century scholarship, after Alexander Schweizer, saw an essential continuity between Calvin and later Calvinism, both treating predestination as a ‘central dogma’. Twentieth-century scholarship, after Hermann Bauke, has rejected the idea of a central dogma in Calvin but continued to hold that predestination served as such for later Calvinism. The author challenges this view, by examining the teaching of nine sixteenth-century Reformed theologians: Calvin and his contemporaries (Bullinger, Wolfgang Musculus and Peter Martyr), three theologians in the ‘movement toward orthodoxy’ (Beza, Ursinus and Zanchi) and two theologians of ‘early orthodoxy’ (Polanus and Perkins). Their teaching on Christ and on predestination is expounded and the way in which they relate to one another is analysed. Muller concludes that ‘the thesis of the “predestinarian system”, Schweizer’s central dogma theory, applies no better to the orthodox system than it does to Calvin’s thought’ (p. 178). Reformed orthodoxy is a theology with multiple foci, as is Calvin’s. There are crucial loci, organizational patterns and principles, such as Christ and predestination, but no central controlling dogma, which is a nineteenth-century idea.
Muller’s study leads him to discern an essential continuity throughout his period. Calvin’s emphasis on the work of Christ as mediator is maintained. Protestant orthodoxy ‘developed a doctrinal structure more formal in definition and more scholastic in method but nevertheless concerned to maintain a doctrinal continuity with the soteriological emphasis and christological center of the theology of Calvin and his contemporaries’ (p. 10). The later writers ‘developed doctrine in a more speculative, logical pattern than either Calvin or Bullinger’, but even here they built on elements in the earlier writers. ‘We must overcome the tendency of scholarship to minimize the impact of earlier scholastic thought and of Aristotelian categories upon the first period of the systematization of Reformed thought’ (p. 179).
Muller also concludes that, in terms of the rigour of predestination, ‘the orthodox are no more and no less deterministic than Calvin himself’ (p. 178). Elsewhere he seems to imply that they are in fact less deterministic: ‘For though the statement of the doctrine of predestination has become more elaborate in a scholastic sense and, indeed, more speculative in terms of its statement of logical priorities, it has not become more deterministic than that of Calvin, nor has it become any less christoIogically oriented. Indeed, the relationship of Christ to the decree has been clarified and elaborated, and full determinism has been avoided in favor of categories of divine permissive willing and free or contingent activity of secondary causes’ (p. 170). The orthodox were ‘far more open than Calvin to the consideration of problems of secondary causality involving the divine permission’ (p. 181). There is a growing propositional rigidity in form, but not a change in content.
Muller does not try to maintain that there is no change between Calvin and Calvinism. He does, however, reject the position of much modern scholarship that Calvinism distorted Calvin’s teaching. He notes that Calvin was only one of a number of predecessors of what later came to be called Calvinism. Some of the so-called distortions are simply the influence of other strands of the earliest Reformed tradition. Furthermore, the situation later in the sixteenth century called for a different formulation to that of Calvin’s time: ‘The historical analysis of Protestant orthodoxy must describe development and change, continuity and discontinuity; it ought not to postulate golden ages or optimum moments from which all else is decline’ (p. 180).
This book comes as a valuable corrective to some earlier polemical works which stress heavily the contrast between Calvin and Calvinism. There is an acknowledgment of both continuity and discontinuity between Calvin and Calvinism. The approach is that of careful historical scholarship, though in a question like this genuine neutrality is rare. Despite the quotation from the end of the last paragraph the author concludes that there was a ‘positive development of doctrine’ in the period under review (p. 182). Careful historical scholarship is vital, but at the end of the day the theological question remains. Talk of ‘decline’ cannot simply be ruled out of court. Not all differences are simply the result of changed contexts. Some changes are for the worse, even if that is more of a theological than a historical verdict.
Occasionally the argumentation is weak. The continuity between the early reformers and the later orthodox theologians in the matter of scholasticism is proved by a strange argument: that the former were trained in scholastic theology while the latter wrote scholastic theology. Thus, ‘there remains no possibility of representing Protestant orthodoxy as a strange distortion’ (p. 176). But an opponent would simply respond that the early reformers repudiated the scholasticism of their training while the later theologians returned to it—an odd form of continuity!
On one point I would disagree with Muller’s exposition. He seeks to defend those who see a doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ in Calvin (pp. 33–35). This is not the place for a full discussion of this much-contested issue, but a couple of observations can be made. Muller points to Calvin’s acceptance of Lombard’s statement that the work of Christ is ‘sufficient’ for all, but ‘efficient’ for the elect alone. But this statement has been held by those who argue against as well as those in favour of limited atonement. In one sense it is a simple truism—the value of Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but not all are actually saved. Arminius believed as much. The strongest argument against a doctrine of limited atonement in Calvin lies in the very structure of the Institutes. Having discussed the work of Christ in Book 2, Calvin begins Book 3 (on the way in which we receive the grace of Christ) with this observation: ‘As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us’ (III.i.I, italics mine). The element of particularity is introduced not in the work of Christ but in its application to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Baker paperback edition is a good buy for reasons other than price. In the hardback edition many of the page numbers given in the table of contents and, more seriously, the index are one or two pages out. This has been corrected in the Baker edition, which is also augmented by a select bibliography.
This is a judicious and welcome addition to the ongoing debate on the relation between Calvin and Calvinism. While it will not end the debate, it will certainly make it better informed.
Volume X in the ‘Sixteenth-Century Essays and Studies’ series is devoted to the theme of Calvin and Calvinism. It is divided into two parts with eight essays each on Calvin’s Ideas and his Influence. The section on his influence in fact includes two articles comparing him with people that he did not especially influence, Menno Simons and Ignatius Loyola. In addition, the first two essays in the ideas section both include a significant element of comparison of Calvin’s thought with Luther’s.
There are a number of themes that recur in the volume. The question of the key to the interpretation of Calvin and in particular the approach to the tensions in his thought arises several times. It is the theme of Richard Gamble’s essay on ‘Calvin’s Theological Method’, in which he examines the particular issue of the relationship of Word and Spirit. He argues that Calvin presents his approach as a via media between the extremes of Anabaptism and Roman Catholicism. A number of the other essays also touch on tensions in Calvin’s thought. David Foxgrover explores Calvin’s different expositions of Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane and other passages. He discerns a tension between some that maintain Christ’s sinlessness by undermining the genuineness of his humanity while others lean the other way. He suggests that Calvin could have avoided this by clearly affirming that Christ remained sinless through the aid of the divine nature, rather than through a human nature that was ontologically different from ours. Claude-Marie Baldwin examines the theme of marriage in Calvin’s sermons and discerns a tension. His reasoning is offensively sexist in places, such as where he urges women to accept their subjection without complaining since the animals don’t complain about theirs, or where he blames women wholly for the fall. But in other places (especially his sermon on Eph. 5:22–26) Calvin stresses the mutual obligation of husband and wife.
Another theme that recurs in the volume is that of the role of the law. In the first essay John Hesselink considers Calvin’s view of its relationship to the gospel. Should we talk of law and gospel or gospel and law? He argues here, as elsewhere, that there is less difference between Luther and Calvin than is commonly supposed. The apparently stark contrast between the two is partly a result of their different use of key terms. Also, the ‘Lutheran’ antithesis between law and the gospel is indeed one strand of Calvin’s teaching. It follows that ‘Calvin is far closer to Luther than to Karl Barth in regard to the whole law-gospel, gospel-law debate’ (p. 32). The contrary conclusion is reached by James Torrance in the concluding essay in the volume. Did the editor put them as far apart as possible to avoid a fight? The two essays are different in approach in that Hesselink makes a careful study of Calvin’s writings while Torrance considers the contrast between Calvin and Federal Calvinism, in a manner that will be familiar to those who know his other Works. In the second essay Merwyn Johnson considers Calvin’s teaching on ‘the third use of the law’. He concludes that ‘Calvin’s treatment of the law picks up where Luther’s left off and extends Luther’s thought in a valid, consistent direction’ (p. 49).
These are just some of the essays in this worthwhile volume. There is a rich harvest of stimulating studies on Calvin and Calvinism here. The presentation is good. Each essay begins with a brief summary. Where an article finishes on the right-hand page the next page is not left blank but has a picture of Calvin or of an episode in his life.
London School of Theology