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‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ – A Review by Paul Helm

Author
Category Book Reviews
Date December 10, 2014

A review by Paul Helm of Robert White’s English translation of the 1541 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, published by the Trust in 2014.1

Not only is there the much-publicized question of Calvin and the Calvinists,2 there is also that of Calvin’s development. How did Calvin himself become a ‘Calvinist’? The plotting of Calvin’s own personal trajectory after that fateful stay-over in Geneva in 1536 helps us to put that question more precisely, and to frame answers to it. A good way to do this is to examine the series of editions of the Institutes. Now Anglophones have the advantage offered by this new English translation of the 1541 French edition of the Institutes, which will provide considerable help. When B. B. Warfield wrote his masterly review of the literary history of the Institutes his eye was on the 1559 edition throughout, as (in a way) Calvin’s own eye was. It was the last set of the match. The earlier sets along the way, even 1541, are passed over. At least, 1541 is passed over theologically, though Warfield, like most other commentators, notes its important place in the development of vernacular French into a sophisticated written language.

I fancy that the Banner of Truth Trust’s interests in this project lie less in the ‘academic’ side of things, whether the academic project lies in estimating Calvin’s theological development, or in the history of the French language, than in the ‘pastoral’ advantages of this book over the 1559 Institutes that was at the apex of Calvin’s development. Whatever may be the answer to this, between them Robert White the translator and the Trust have provided us with a handsome volume. But it is by no means ‘Calvin lite’, and to describe it as Calvin’s own ‘essentials’, as it does on the cover, makes it sound rather like a promotion from Boots or The Body Shop. The book weighs several pounds and is nearly 900 pages . . .

This new translation is attractive. Robert White, who taught French studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, has worked with skill, and his editorial work is unobtrusive. The chief evidence of it is in supplying section heads to the chapters, and the addition of some brief footnotes. At the end he has provided a Thematic Outline correlating the matter of the present book with that of the first French translation (1560) of the final edition of the Institutes, and Indices. These all add to the book’s usefulness.

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    • Cover image for John Calvin's 'Institutes of the Christian Religion'
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      A review by Paul Helm of Robert White’s English translation of the 1541 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, published by the Trust in 2014.1 Not only is there the much-publicized question of Calvin and the Calvinists,2 there is also that of Calvin’s development. How did Calvin himself become a ‘Calvinist’? The […]

    • Cover Image of 'Calvin And the Calvinists'
      price $17.10

      Description

      A review by Paul Helm of Robert White’s English translation of the 1541 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, published by the Trust in 2014.1 Not only is there the much-publicized question of Calvin and the Calvinists,2 there is also that of Calvin’s development. How did Calvin himself become a ‘Calvinist’? The […]

Paul Helm was Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion, King’s College, London, 1993-2000. His review in its entirety can be found at the reformation21 website.

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