Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reading Calvin, Part 2

I am reading the translation done by John T. McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles and published by the Westminster Press in 1960.  This is the translation of his last edition, and is fully annotated and has Calvin's address to the reader, "Subject Matter of the Present Work," and Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France.  That's as far as I've gotten on this second reading.

He ends the address to the reader with Augustine's statement:  "I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write."  How appropriate!  I hope to count myself in that number, too.   Since Calvin wrote several editions of the Institutes, ever expanding and strengthening it as an engineer would a bridge, I can see why he would say this.  It is rare for someone to totally change his mind over earlier held opinions; Festinger's rule of "cognitive dissonance" (a great theory to explain human behavior) takes over.  But surely Calvin refined his views.  Unless we put our views and thoughts in writing and come back to them later to reflect and be reflected upon, we cannot grow intellectually that is a good reason to blog, except it becomes public.

He writes in the "Subject Matter of the Present Work," that "this is more God's work than mine.  And in truth, any praise for it must be rendered to him."  And "If anyone cannot understand all the contents . . . . Above all, I must urge him to have recourse to Scripture in order to weigh the testimonies that I adduce from it."

Most writers recognize tat the gift is from God, so I don't think he is equating his work with "inspired writings."  However, he truly does see his work as important, valuable, even necessary.  That seems a little hubristic, but it may be he's just eschewing false humility.  Anyone who writes thinks they have something to say, something something worthy of being read. And he probably never saw that his Institutes would changes Western civilization.

Earlier he writes, "Perhaps the duty of those who have received from God fuller light . . . " so what qualifies one to "have fuller light?"  That is, both to get it and to be able to say that one has it?  Calvin obviously contrasts that group with "simpler folks," those who do not have access, either geographically, intellectually, or socio-economically, to erudition and more complex matters.  This bristles against our American desire for equality of opportunity and our anti-intellectualism.  However, Calvin is clearly one of those with fuller light.  He writes the book in Latin for the learned and churchmen and French for his countrymen, no mean task.  He is a teacher in the church.  He own education and erudition is clear.  But he does not further defend his leadership or call; apparently such defense is not needed.

No, Calvin has no false humility.  By the time this edition came out, his reputation, good and bad, was secure.  Confidence in one's position being given by God is int he 21st century seen as (almost) a sign of mental illness, but not in Calvin's.  However, as he gets into the next section, the letter to the King, his confidence allows him to speak up.  The Bible calls it boldness.


Anonymous said...

Well done, my essay was a real success among tutors. I am so satisfied with your work.

Barbara G. Tucker said...

Very Funny. I hope you fixed the runons and typos if you stole my work. At first I thought--I won't write on Calvin any more. But if I am plagiarized, it's not my fault.

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