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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 67. Calvin’s Literary Labors.


The best edition of Calvin’s Opera by the Strassburg professors, Baum, Cunitz, and Reuss (now all dead), embraces so far 48 quarto vols. (1863–1892); the remaining volumes were prepared for publication by Dr. Reuss before his death (1891). He wrote to me from Neuhof, near Strassburg, July 11, 1887: "Alles ist zum Druck vorbereitet und ganz fertig mit Prolegomenis, etc. Es bleibt nichts mehr zu thun übrig als die Correctur und die Fortsetzung des immer à jour gehaltenen Index rerum et nominum, et locorum S. S., was ein anderer nach meinem Tode besorgen kann. Denn ich werde die Vollendung nicht erleben. Für den Schluss habe ich sogar noch ein Supplement ausgearbeitet, nämlich eine französische Bibel, extrahirt aus den französischen Commentaren und Predigten, nebst allen Varianten der zu Calvin’s Zeiten in Genf gedruckten Bibeln." Vol. 45 sqq. are edited by Erichson.

Older editions appeared at Geneva, 1617, in 7 vols., in 15 fol., and at Amsterdam, 1667–1671, in 9 vols. fol. The English translation, Edinburgh, 1843–1854, has 62 vols. 8°. Several works have been separately published in Latin, French, German, Dutch, English, and other languages. See a chronological list in Henry: Das Leben Joh. Calvins, vol. III. Beilagen, 175–252, and in La France Prot. III. 545–636 (2d ed.).


The literary activity of Calvin, whether we look at the number or at the importance of works, is not surpassed by any ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, and excites double astonishment when we take into consideration the shortness of his life, the frailty of his health, and the multiplicity of his other labors as a teacher, preacher, church ruler, and correspondent. Augustin among the Fathers, Thomas Aquinas among the Schoolmen, Luther and Melanchthon among the Reformers, were equally fruitful; but they lived longer, with the exception of Thomas Aquinas. Calvin, moreover, wrote in two languages with equal clearness, force, and elegance; while Augustin and Thomas Aquinas wrote only in Latin; Luther was a master of German; and Melanchthon, a master of Latin and Greek, but his German is as indifferent as Luther’s Latin.

Calvin’s works may be divided into ten classes.

1. Exegetical Writings. Commentaries on the Pentateuch and Joshua, on the Psalms, on the Larger and Minor Prophets; Homilies on First Samuel and Job; Commentaries on all the books of the New Testament, except the Apocalypse. They form the great body of his writings.370370    Opera, vols. XXIII.–XLIV., contain the Old Testament Commentaries. Those on the New Testament have been separately edited in Latin by Tholuck, 1833-’38, 7 vols. 8°.

2. Doctrinal. The Institutes (Latin and French), first published at Basel, 1536; 2d ed., Strassburg, 1539; 5th Latin ed., Geneva, 1559.371371    Ibid. vols. I.–IV. (1863-’66). Latin and French. There are three English translations of the Institutes, one by Thomas Norton (London, 1561, etc.), another by John Allen (London, 1813, 3d ed. 1844, in 2 vols.), a third by Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh, 1845-’46, 3 vols.). The work was also translated into Italian, Spanish, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Greek, and other languages. A new French ed. by Fr. Baumgartner, Gen. 1888.

Minor doctrinal works: Three Catechisms, 1537, 1542, and 1545; On the Lord’s Supper (Latin and French), 1541; the Consensus Tigurinus, 1549 and 1551 (in both languages); the Consensus Genevensis (Latin and French), 1552; the Gallican Confession (Latin and French), 1559 and 1562.372372    Tractatus theologiciminores, in Opera, vol. V., etc.

3. Polemical and Apologetic.373373    Vols. V.–IX.

(a) Against the Roman Church: Response to Cardinal Sadoletus, 1539; Against Pighius, on Free-will, 1543; On the Worship of Relics, 1543; Against the Faculty of the Sorbonne, 1544; On the Necessity of a Reformation, 1544; Against the Council of Trent, 1547.

(b) Against the Anabaptists: On the Sleep of the Soul (Psychopannychia), 1534; Brief Instruction against the Errors of the Sect of the Anabaptists, 1544.

(c) Against the Libertines: Adversus fanaticam et furiosam sectam Libertinorum qui se Spirituales vocant (also in French), 1545.

(d) Against the Anti-Trinitarians: Defensio orthodoxae fidei S. Trinitatis adversus prodigiosos errores Serveti, 1554; Responsum ad Quaestiones G. Blandatrae, 1558; Adversus Valentinum Gentilem, 1561; Responsum ad nobiles Fratres Polonos (Socinians) de controversia Mediatoris, 1561; Brevis admonitio ad Fratres Polonos ne triplicem in Deo essentiam pro tribus personis imaginando tres sibi Deos fabricent, 1563.

(e) Defence of the Doctrine of Predestination against Bolsec and Castellio, 1554 and 1557.

(f) Defence of the Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper against the Calumnies of Joachim Westphal, a Lutheran fanatic (two Defensiones and an Admonitio ultima), 1555, 1556, 1557, and a tract on the same subject against Hesshus (ad discutiendas Heshusii nebulas), 1561.

4. Ecclesiastical and Liturgical. Ordinances of the Church of Geneva, 1537; Project of Ecclesiastical Ordinances, 1541; Formula of Oath prescribed to Ministers, 1542; Order of Marriage, 1545; Visitation of the Churches in the Country, 1546; Order of Baptism, 1551; Academic Laws, 1559; Ecclesiastical Ordinances, and Academic Laws, 1561; Liturgical Prayers.374374    Vol. X. Pars I. (1871), pp. 5-146, and vol. VI. 161-210.

5. Sermons and Homilies. They are very, numerous, and were mostly taken down by auditors.375375    Henry (II. 198) says that the Geneva library contains forty-four manuscript volumes of sermons of Calvin; but the librarian Diodati informed him afterwards (III. Preface, p. viii.) that there are only nine volumes left, namely, the sermons between the years 1549-’51, 1555-’56, 1560-’61. The sermons on the Decalogue, on Deuteronomy, on Job, on the Sacrifice of Abraham, and many others were published during his life-time.

6. Minor Treatises. His academic oration, for Cop in Paris, 1533; Against Astrology, 1549; On Certain Scandals, 1550, etc.

7. Consilia on various doctrinal and polemical subjects.

8. Letters. Calvin’s correspondence was enormous, and fills ten volumes in the last edition of his works.376376    Vols. X.–XX. The Strassburg editors give in all 4271 letters of Calvin and to Calvin. Herminjard has published so far his correspondence down to 1542 (the seventh volume appeared in 1886).

9. Poetical. A hymn to Christ, free metrical versions of several psalms, and an epic (Epinicion Christo cantatum, 1541).377377    Vols. V. 423-428, and VI. 212-224. A French metrical translation of the Epinicion appeared In Paris, 1555, under the title, Chant de Victoire chantéa Jesus Christ, etc.

10. Calvin edited Seneca, De Clementia, with notes, 1532; a French translation of Melanchthon’s Loci, with preface, 1546; and wrote preface to Olivetan’s French Bible, 1535, etc.

The Adieus to the Little Council, and to the ministers of Geneva, delivered on his death-bed in 1564, form a worthy conclusion of the literary labors of this extraordinary teacher.



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