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The Institutes of the Christian Religion Hardcover – September 18, 2014
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Institutes of the Christian Religion
The 'Institutes of the Christian Religion' is Calvin’s single most important work, and one of the key texts to emerge from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The book accompanied the Reformer throughout his life, growing in size from what was essentially an expanded catechism in 1536 to a full-scale work of biblical theology in 1559/1560.
Among the intermediate editions of the Institutes, none deserves to be better known than the first French edition of 1541. Avoiding the technical details and much of the polemics of the final work, the Institutes of 1541 offer a clear and comprehensive account of the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, revelation and redemption, in the life of the individual Christian and in the worship and witness of the church.
Not doctrine only but its practical use is Calvin’s abiding concern. The author of the Institutes invites us both to know and to live the truth, and thus allow God’s Spirit to transform us.
The present translation is newly made from the French of 1541. It has been designed and annotated with the needs of a wide readership in mind.
John Calvin (1509-64), the French theologian and pastor of Geneva, was one of the principal 16th-century Reformers.
Calvin was born on 10 July 1509, in Noyon, about sixty miles north-east of Paris. His father – Gérard Cauvin – held legal office in the service of the bishops of Noyon, and wanted his son to enter the church. He used his influence to obtain a chaplaincy at Noyon Cathedral when Calvin was 11, the income helping to fund his education. The young man was privately tutored, before being sent to Paris at the age of 14 to study theology at the University. He first attended the Collège de la Marche, then the Collège de Montaigu, where he received the equivalent of his Master of Arts in 1528 at the unusually young age of 17. Some of Calvin’s instruction was given by the brilliant Latin scholar Mathurin Cordier, and he obtained a first-class education.
Calvin was naturally timid, even fearful, which makes his courage all the more amazing. He was an affectionate and faithful friend, an intense man of deep feeling and penetrating thought. Worn out by his labours, he preached his last sermon in Geneva on 6 February 1564. On Easter Sunday he went to church for the last time, singing with the rest of the congregation at the conclusion, ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace . . for my eyes have seen your salvation.’ On 25 April he dictated his last will and testimony, and entered his rest and reward on 27 May, at the age of 54 years. His body was buried in a simple coffin at the common cemetery on Sunday 28 May, in accordance with his wishes. His grave was unmarked, and remains unknown.
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Since there are already a number of reviews talking about the general significance of Calvin's Institutes and the general contents, I thought I'd make a few points in case you're hesitant to buy this phenomenal book:
1. This is a magnificent work of systematic theology and Calvin's famed exegetical skills are on full display. This book will give you both a big picture view with all the shining details that are brought out in Scripture. The work also builds on itself and lays the foundation in the beginning, so as you get past the first half of Book 1, you'll find yourself being able to follow his logic in the later parts of this work.
2. Yes, the language can be a bit wooden -- but it gets easier as you read and you'll come to appreciate the richness of the language.
3. The translator's footnotes are helpful and worth reading, especially the footnotes on differences between the Latin and French versions. Calvin was aware that those reading his French version may not have had as much of rigorous theological training as a Latin reader, and so he'll add or reformulate statements and comparisons to be more understandable to a lay person.
Being able to read this work is being able to sit at the feet and learn from one of the most spiritually gifted teachers in Christianity. It has already been an immense help in my faith by correcting incorrect thinking and will be a book I read and re-read for decades to come.
I checked 4 stars for the content. This Kindle version was not very serviceable. Amazon has apparently recognized this and is stopping further sales until it is fixed by the publisher.
Calvin isn't cold; he's actually passionately devout.
He isn't forbidding; he's far easier to read than you might think. Anyone with average intelligence can make their way through this book (and it will be worth it to do so).
He isn't nasty; he was a very holy man and his love for God and the church comes through on every page of this book.
I love Luther and used to think that he was the greatest theologian. I enjoy his explosive personality, wit, and sarcasm. Reading him is like reading a brilliant friend who can always be counted on to say something memorable, insightful, and profound. But I now think that Calvin was greater than Luther. While Calvin lacked Luther's very vigorous personality, Calvin's cool head and even temperament produced an intellectual tour de force with this book. Nothing written in the last three hundred years can come close to this book. Really, if you only read this one book of theology, you would need no other. It says it all.