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Classic theology - Classic literature
on September 8, 2004
John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is a monumental work that stands among the greatest works of Christian theology and Western literature. It ranks with works such as St. Augustine's Confessions and City of God in value, insight and significance. The Institutes have molded the church's understanding of Christian doctrine for generations and has had untold influence in the development of Western thought in both the religious and civil arenas.
Calvin's Institutes represent his life work in teaching theology. They first appeared in 1536 and went through three significant revisions - each expanding and building upon the previous. This particular edition represents the final form and of which Calvin was very pleased.
Originally written to give basic understanding of Christian doctrine, they became one of the earliest systematic theologies of the Reformed tradition. Calvin's stated desire is to give the reader the necessary background to read and accurately handle the great doctrines and promises of the Bible.
Calvin sent a copy to the King Francis I to encourage him to stop persecuting the Christians who were embracing the gospel as taught by the Reformers. His basic argument was that if the king understood what these people believed he would stop killing them as heretics but rather see them as faithful adherents of historical Christianity. Calvin was no lover of novelty and throughout the Institutes copiously cites from the early church fathers and the long history of the Church's understanding of doctrine.
This two-volume work is broken down into four books that loosely follow the outline of the Apostle's Creed. Book 1 concerns knowledge of God. Book 2 is about Jesus Christ as redeemer. Book 3 is about the Holy Spirit's role in applying Christ's redeeming graces. Book 4 is about the church and practice.
This particular edition, translated by Battles and edited by McNeil is more expensive than the one produce by Beverage, but it is worth every extra dollar you spend. While the church is indebted to Beverage for his labor of love in getting many works by Calvin translated into English, his command of both French and Latin were not as strong as Battles. They were originally produced in both Latin and French and Battles' work demonstrates his competency in dealing with both languages. Also, Battles' mastery of Calvin's other writings is reflected in his voluminous footnotes, many of them very helpful to the reader for clarifying, further reading and cross-referencing. In addition, the indexes in the Battles edition are invaluable not only for searching the Institutes for topics but for gleaming Calvin's understanding of the church fathers.
Agree or disagree with Calvin, these are a necessary read for anyone who desires an understanding of the development of Western thought, literature and theology. They are not only great theology; they represent excellent writing and development of an argument. They are also highly pastoral and devotional. They are not like reading a modern systematic theology. Calvin understood doctrine to be more than theory, but something to mold our understanding of God, ourselves and the world in which we live. Carefully working through the Institutes is a journey worth taking!
Soli Deo Gloria!