‘Although I did not regret the labor which I dedicated to this work, I was never satisfied, until I arrived at the order and arrangement in which the Institutes are presently offered. I now trust to have given it a form you will all agree with.’

‘I promise that it may serve as a key and entrance to the Holy Scriptures, so that all of God’s children may hear it properly and directly. I urge all who respect the Word of the Lord to read it and to carefully remember it, if they wish to possess a summary of Christian doctrine, and gain entrance into both the Old and the New Testament.’

John Calvin

[Nota bene: in de versie voor deze website zijn de opgenomen schema’s onvolledig weergegeven]

In this study we aim to describe the structure of the theology of John Calvin. We do so in order to point at a potential heresy[i] in early Reformation theology. This often developed into a real heresy in later Protestant theology. The structure of Calvin’s theology can be most clearly seen in the composition of his main dogmatic work, the Institutio christiane religionis. Therefore, our study will mainly consist of a careful analysis of this work. Calvin kept editing and reediting his Institutes from 1535 to 1560. Only in 1558/59 he found the form which completely satisfied him. If we wish to describe the structure of Calvin’s theology, we will have to describe the entire genesis of the Institutes. As a result, the present study will be occupied with (1) the potential heresy of early Reformation theology; (2) the structure of Calvin’s theology; (3) the composition of the Institutio christianae religionis; (4) the genesis of the Institutes.


The Institutes came into being over a period of twenty-five years. Beginning with the Latin edition of 1535 (which was published in 1536) up to the French edition of 1560, Calvin repeatedly edited and published he book. The Latin edition was usually rapidly followed by a French edition.

      From 1536, the year in which the Institutes were published for the first time,[ii] until 1564, the year of Calvin’s death, we distinguish three forms, five recensions and 25 editions in the genesis of this book (10 latin editions, 15 French editions):

Latin editions:
I.Catechism 1537 Catechism1st recension1536(6 chapters)               French editions: 1537 ?
II.Loci 1542 Catechism2nd recension1539(17 chapters)1541
 3rd recension             1543 1545(21 chapters)1545
 4th recension1550   1553 1554(divided into paragraphs)  1551 1553 1554 1557
III.Apostolicum5th recension             1559     1561(four books, 80 chapters)   (twice)1560 1561 (twice) 1562 (four times) 1563 1564
Jacques Pannier offers the following classification of the various editions:  

Latin editions: 1536 Basel, 1539 Strasbourg, 1543  Strasbourg, 1545  Strasbourg, 1550 Geneva, 1553 Geneva, 1554  Geneva, 1557  sine loco, 1559  Geneva , 1561  Geneva Geneva (twice)     

French editions: [1536 ?], 1541 Geneva 1545 Geneva, 1551 Geneva, 1553 Geneva, 1545 Geneva 1560 Geneva, 1561, 1562 Geneva and 3 elsewhere, 1563 Lyons, 1564 Geneva
Peter Barth and Wilhelm Niesel label the five recensions in their introduction as follows:          
I.  Recensio 1536 VI – IX  
II.  Recensio 1539 IX – XVIII    
III.  Recensio 1543 XVIII – XXVI     
IV. Recensio 1550 XXVI – XXXV      
V. Recensio 1559 XXXVI – XLVIII.   With each recension they offer:       A. Latin editions
B. French versions.[iii]

Between 1863 and 1900, the Strasbourg theologians Wilhelm Baum, Eduard Cunitz, and Eduard Reuss published the Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia in 59 volumes. These volumes make up volumes XXIX to LXXXVII of the Corpus reformatorum.[iv] Two other Latin editions of Calvin’s complete works had preceded their edition, the Geneva edition of 1617 in seven volumes, and the Amsterdam edition of 1671 in nine volumes.[v] These two editions only include the Institutes of 1559, i.e. the Institutes in its definitive form, whereas the Strasbourg theologians included the earlier versions of the Institutes as well.

      Let us take a closer look at how these 59 volumes of Calvin’s collected works were published by these three theologians:

The Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia in 59 volumes:

1863–1866     Institutio religionis christianae                                             i–iv

                         Four volumes

                         i.              The Latin text of 1536, 1-252

                                          The Latin text of 1539-1554, 253-1152

                         ii.             The Latin text of 1559

                         iii-iv.      The French text of 1560

1866-1871      Shorter theological tracts                                                        v–x.1

                         Six volumes (a total of 94 writings)

                         v-ix     51 short writings

                         ix         9 confessions, 11 prefaces, 4 speeches

                         x.1       11 texts on ecclesiastical order,

                                      7 counseling texts, 1 apology

1872-1879      Letters (1530–1564)                                                                x.2–xxi

                         twelve volumes containing in total 4271 letters, of which around 1200 by Calvin;

                         volume xxi contains the biographies of Beza and Colladon;

                         Annales calviniani

1880                The French version of Calvin’s first catechism;                xxii

                         indices of the xxi volumes published so far

1882–1897     Exegetical and homiletical works                                         xxiii–lvii

                         (published according to the order  of the books of the Bible) 35 volumes;

                         the final two volumes lvi – lvii contain ‘La Bible francaise de Calvin’

1900                Supplement                                                                               lviii

                         Registers from vol. XXIII, catalogues                                 lix

                         of works and bibliographical catalogues.

The first volume of the Opera omnia of 1863 included the Latin Institutio of 1536 in columns 1 to 252, as well as the Institutio of 1539 (1543, 1550 and 1554) in columns 253 to 1152. The definitive Latin text of 1559 followed in the second volume of 1864. Finally, the years 1865 and 1866 witnessed the publication of the definitive French text of 1560 in the third and fourth volumes.

      At the conclusion of the Prolegomena of the first volume, these editors printed a ‘Synopsis of the editions of the Institutes’ on eight pages (li-lviii). In five columns it shows us how Calvin up to four times used the material of a previous edition in a newer version of the book (1536, 1539, 1543-45, 1550-54, 1559ff.). This synopsis provided as it were the invitation to write the genesis of Calvin’s Institutes. The Lutheran J. Köstlin accepted this invitation by writing two comprehensive articles on ‘The historical development of Calvin’s Institutio’ for the journal Theologische Studien und Kritiken of 1868.[vi] In the first of these two articles, Köstlin analyzes the genesis of Calvin’s main dogmatic work in 66 pages. Virtually all later authors on Calvin’s theology refer to this analysis by Köstlin whenever they discuss the genesis of the Institutes in their studies. They rightly show their appreciation for Köstlin’s study. Werner Krusche, too, in his splendid study about Das Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin talks about of ‘die gründlichen Analyses von Köstlin’ (Köstlin’s thorough analyses).[vii]

      Köstlin’s opinion of the definitive edition of the Institutes during the winter of 1558-59 is of great importance.[viii] This is because we will take Köstlin’s verdict as a starting point for our study. First, however, we need to say something about the various forms in which Calvin’s book appeared during this twenty-five year period (from 1536 to 1560).


The work appeared in three different forms.

1. The 1536 edition of the book followed Luther’s example by taking the form of a catechism, intended for Calvin’s French fellow believers.[ix] It consisted of six chapters:

           I.    The Law          (with the explanation of the Ten Commandments)          

          II.    Faith                (with the explanation of the Apostles’ Creed)

        III.     Prayer              (with the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer)           

        IV.    The Sacraments        

          V.    The Five False Sacraments 

        VI.    Christian Freedom, Ecclesiastical Power, and Political Administration.

2. In 1539 Calvin completely reshaped the book. Following the example of the Loci Communes of Melanchthon, Calvin turned it into a theological textbook for students containing 17 chapters:

Doctrina:      1. The knowledge of God

                             2. The knowledge of man

                             3. The Law (the old first chapter)     

                             4. Faith (the old second chapter)

                             5. Penance

                             6. Justification

   Aspects:        7. Similarities and differences between Old and New Testament

                             8. Predestination and providence

                             9. Prayer (the old third chapter)

                           10. The sacraments

                           11. Baptism                                                          (the old fourth chapter)

                           12. The Lord’s Supper

        13. Christian freedom

        14. Ecclesiastical power                                     (the old sixth chapter)

        15. Political administration

        16. The five false sacraments (the old fifth chapter) 

        17. The life of a Christian

The French translation was published two years later. In this French edition of 1541 the chapter on the five false sacraments came directly after chapters 10-12 on the sacraments. Chapters 13-15 of the Latin edition became chapters 14-16 of the French edition of 1541.

      Note how the new book of 1539 evolved out of the old one. Calvin created the first three chapters of the new book out of the first chapter ‘The Law’ of the old book. Next, he turned the second chapter ‘Faith’ of the old book into the second set of three chapters of the new book. Then, in the first sentence of the seventh chapter, Calvin provides a retrospect on these first six chapters:

‘Above I have, to the best of my abilities, explained the essence of sacred doctrine. From the true knowledge of God and of ourselves we arrive at the communion of salvation’.[x]

Thus, the first six chapters of the 1539 Institutes contain Calvin’s summa doctrinae (summary or essence of doctrine). The theme of this summa doctrinae is: How do we arrive ‘from the true knowledge of God and of ourselves at the communion of salvation’?

      In the second sentence of the seventh chapter Calvin offers a preview of what he will discuss in the next two chapters. To begin with, Calvin writes, ‘I will attach an appendix to these six chapters. This appendix is of no small importance. It confirms the truth of this doctrine’. This appendix consists of two chapters. Chapter 8 (on providence and predestination) deals with ‘all those whom God elected to belong to his people from the beginning of the world’. Chapter 7 (on the similarities and differences between the Old and the New Testament) deals with the ‘covenant through the law and through the bond of this doctrine’. In chapters 7 and 8 Calvin discusses two closely related aspects of the summa doctrinae. Events in time (‘from the beginning of the world and after Christ’s birth’) are events which originate from God’s eternity, i.e. from God’s will.

      Calvin rewrote the old chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 and inserted them after the eighth  chapter of the new version (chapters 9 to 16). He adds a final seventeenth chapter, on Christian living. In this chapter Calvin again reveals a very important aspect of the entire doctrine. Ultimately, it points to the ‘life of a Christian’.

      In 1543 Calvin divided the material of the fourth chapter ‘Faith’ into four chapters, because of the enormous expansion of the part on the church. He also inserted a new chapter ‘The monastic vows’ after the third chapter ‘The Law’. The new book (in the five Latin editions of 1543, 1545, 1550, 1553, and 1554, and in the French editions of 1545, 1551, 1553, 1554, and 1557) came to contain 21 chapters, instead of the 17 chapters of the editions of 1539 and 1541.

      In his ‘Word to the reader’ of the 1539 edition, Calvin describes his intentions in publishing this work. After briefly expressing his gratitude for the fact that the first edition of the work (of 1536) ‘was received favorably by all pious folk’, he continues with the words:

‘Furthermore, I wrote this work for those who commenced the study of sacred theology. I wanted to prepare them and instruct them in reading the divine Word, so that they might have an easy access to it and might continue studying it without many problems. I believe to have summarized the essence of religion, showing how the different aspects of it are related to each other, and how they should be arranged. I have put them in such an order (eo ordine digessisse) that it will not be difficult for those who have correctly understood this summary to see what is most important in Scripture, and how it should be applied.’[xi]

Calvin wishes to provide students of theology with a tool for reading Holy Scripture. He wanted to make it easy for them to see what Scripture is all about, and what it is aimed at (the ‘scopus’). Like Melanchthon’s Loci communi,[xii] Calvin meant his Institutio christianae religionis to be a hermeneutics for the church, the ecclesia audiens (a hearing congregation). We must pay special attention to the words ‘eo ordine digessisse’. By the ‘digerere’, the arranging of the material, Calvin expressed his aim to offer what we call ‘the structure of sacred doctrine’.

      Calvin continues that he plans to publish a few commentaries on the Scriptures. By publishing the Institutes ‘detailed explanations on dogmatic issues’ can be avoided in these commentaries.[xiii] ‘This way the pious reader will be spared much trouble and torment, that is, if he approaches these commentaries with the work presented here as is an indispensable tool (quasi necessario instrumento).[xiv] The first commentary was published in 1540 and concerns Paul’s letter to the Romans, ‘because, when someone understands this letter, he holds the key to understanding all of the Scriptures’.[xv] Though Calvin added some lines to this preface in 1559, his words on the purpose of his Institutes remain the key passage of his ‘word to the reader’ in the definitive edition of the Institutes.

      He says the same thing even more emphatically in the preface to the French editions of 1541 up to 1551. The reader of Holy Scripture needs ‘a rule (reigle) to measure all that is present in the Scriptures’.[xvi] Through his Institutes, Calvin wishes to provide the reader with nothing but this ‘reigle’. He does not wish to say too much about his own work to avoid the impression that he might want to praise his own work. ‘However, I promise that it may serve as a key and entrance to the Holy Scriptures, so that all of God’s children may hear it properly and directly’.[xvii] Here, too, he announces the planned publication of his commentary of the Scriptures. (The first French commentary appears in 1542). He then continues to say of his Institutes: ‘I urge all who respect the Word of the Lord to read it and to carefully remember it, if they wish to possess a summary of Christian doctrine, and gain entrance into both the Old and the New Testament.’[xviii] This, then, is what Calvin wants his Institutes to be before all else: an ‘instrument’, a ‘reigle’ for reading the Holy Scripture. He wants it to be a hermeneutic tool, an entrance both the Old and the New Testament.[xix]

3. The 1539 Institutes was a meaningfully composed work. However, by 1543 it had become an chaotic book. In the winter of 1558/59, therefore, Calvin decided to reshape the book. This time it found its definitive form. At the beginning of the ‘Word to the reader’, Calvin informs us of his motives:

‘Although I did not regret the labor which I dedicated to this work, I was never satisfied, until I arrived at the order and arrangement in which the Institutes are presently offered. I now trust to have given it a form you will all agree with.’[xx]

First we hear the words tunc (then) and nunquam (never), followed twice by the word nunc (now). Now, Calvin says, I have finally been able to give the book the form which satisfies me completely. Again, Calvin mentions the words ordo and digerere in this passage. Calvin was never satisfied with this work ‘donec in hunc ordinem qui nunc proponitur digestum fuit (until I arrived at the order and arrangement in which it is presently offered). Indeed, Calvin believes to have expressed the structure of sacred doctrine in this edition much more convincingly than in the old ones.

      In the ‘Word to the reader’ of the 1559 Institutes, Calvin mentions the words digerere and ordo at another place as well. The second instance stems from 1539, whereas the first instance was written in 1559. When Calvin translated this ‘Word to the reader’ in French in 1560, he rendered these passages as ‘ie pense (…) l’avoir digérée en tel ordre, que…’ (1539), and ‘iusques à ce que ie l’ay eu digérée en l’ordre que vous y verrez maintenant’ (1559).[xxi] These passages show us that Calvin has been looking for the right ordo docendi (order of instruction) all these twenty-five years, ever since he began to write the Institutes in 1534.

      The new form Calvin gave to his Institutio christianae eligionis of 1559, and thus to his entire summary of sacred doctrine, is an Explicatio symboli, a commentary on the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. He arranges the Apostolicum into four articles and divides his dogmatic material into four books accordingly. The 21 chapters of the old Institutes (from 1543 to 1554) are now spread over four books with a total of 18 + 17 + 25 + 20 = 80 chapters:[xxii]

Book I         The knowledge of God the creator  18 chapters                                                                                                  

Book II        The knowledge of God the redeemer in Christ,   which was first revealed to the fathers under the law, and then to us in the gospel   17 chapters

Book III       How the grace of Christ is appropriated, the fruits that result from this, and the effects which follow from it   25 chapters

 Book IV      The external means, through which God invites us to communion with Christ,            and keeps us in it   20 chapters

Each of the titles of books II, III, and IV contains the word ‘Christ’. Calvin gave his Institutes the definitive form of an Explicatio symboli in order to express the Christological concentration – a distinctive feature of his theology – as powerfully as possible. He explains the Apostles’ Creed as a translation of the salvation we are given in Christ. He himself confirms this in the introduction to the Explicatio symboli of the Institutes in its earlier forms.[xxiii] Two quotes from that introduction – the beginning and conclusion of the first two paragraphs – will serve to illustrate the point.[xxiv] After describing in the previous paragraphs the way fides (faith) should be understood, Calvin continues as follows:

‘It is true that the power of faith shows itself most clearly when its explanation is directed to the gospel as its goal. On the other hand, it is only in the gospel that the essentials of faith are to be found in the first place. We already noted this in passing when we discovered how the essence of the gospel is summarized in Jesus Christ. (…) The goal of our faith is the gospel, and the goal of the gospel is Christ. Hence it is in Christ himself that all our riches lie – everything He has done and suffered for our salvation. In order to receive a complete explanation of faith, therefore, we need to consider the way Christ reveals it. For after having explained the contents of the Creed,[xxv] it will be easier to recognize its characteristics, like in a painting. Thus, the Apostles Creed will assume for us the place of such a painting, because it demonstrates in a few words the entire economy of salvation bit by bit without omitting even the smallest part.’

Calvin himself tells us here how he wants us to understand his Explicatio symboli. He does so by citing a number of core concepts in a certain order: faith → gospel → Christ → our salvation → the Apostles’ Creed. In 1559 the Explicatio symboli was no longer a component of the Institutes, but had itself become the framework of the entire Institutes. As a result, this introduction to the Explicatio symboli of the old Institutes was deleted.[xxvi] It is almost the only part of the old Institutes which was not included in the definitive form of the Institutes. However, it is precisely this introduction that we need to listen to, if we want to understand Calvin’s goal when in 1559 he gave the book as a whole the structure of an Explicatio symboli.[xxvii]

      We must also call attention to a second aspect of the definitive form of the Institutes. In order to focus on this second aspect we have to pay attention to a certain series of insertions which Calvin added to the existing texts, with the aim of justifying its new form from the perspective of biblical theology. The series begins with the newly composed second chapter of the first book, ‘Quid sit Deum cognoscere’ (what does it mean to know God?) and culminates in the completely rewritten sixth chapter of the second book, ‘Homini perdito quaerendam in Christo redemptionem esse’ (sinful man should seek his redemption in Christ). Further on in this study we shall look at this series of insertions in more detail. They deal with the relationship between de cognitio Dei creatoris (the knowledge of God the creator), discussed in book I, and the cognitio Dei redemptoris (the knowledge of God the redeemer), discussed in book II.

      Right at the beginning of this series, Calvin presents us with the entire Institutes in its new form. He does so in just one sentence:

‘Because the Lord first appears simply as creator (both in de making of the world and in the general doctrine of Scripture) and then as redeemer in the face of  Christ, there is a twofold knowledge of God. The first will be discussed now’ – in book I, FB – ‘and the latter will follow later in due time’ – in books II, III, and IV, FB.[xxviii]

Calvin distinguishes between two doctrines: a generalis scripturae doctrina (a general doctrine of Scripture[xxix]) and a propria fidei doctrina (a true doctrine of faith).[xxx] The generalis scripturae doctrina deals with the apparere (the appearance) of God as creator and the propria fidei doctrina with the appearance of God as redeemer. As he put it in the sentence cited above, God appears primum (first) as creator and deinde (then) as redeemer in the face of Christ (in Christi facie). If man had not fallen, the original simplex Dei cognitio (simple knowledge of God) would have sufficed for man to obtain eternal salvation.[xxxi]

      Therefore, there are two aspects we need to pay attention to when analyzing the definitive form of the Institutes. First, in order to express the Christological concentration[xxxii] of his theology as forcefully as possible, Calvin presents his main dogmatic work in the form of Explicatio symboli in 1558/59.[xxxiii] Second, he bases this Explication symboli on the duality of the knowledge of God. These two aspects determine the structure of Calvin’s theology. How these two aspects are evaluated is decisive for the interpretation of Calvin’s theology.


It is interesting to see how Calvin studies, particularly over the past fifty years (1925-1975, ed.), has resulted in two totally different pictures of Calvin’s theology. This is because the two structural elements of Calvinian doctrine discussed above contradict each other. Some scholars focus on the duality of Calvin’s theology (e.g., Joh. Köstlin, Emil Brunner, Günter Gloede, E. A. Dowey), whereas others stress the Christological concentration (e.g., Peter Brunner, Karl Barth, Pierre Maury, Wilhelm Niesel, T. H. L. Parker, and Werner Krusche).

      In his analysis presented above, Köstlin asserts that the form of Explicatio symboli does not agree with the true intent of the entire dogmatic argument. According to Köstlin, the concept of the duality of the knowledge of God completely dominates the Institutes of 1559. He thinks Calvin should have expressed that in the form of his book:[xxxiv]

‘The path Calvin really followed in the Institutes, instead of identifying it with the path of the Creed, can be summarized as follows. Calvin first discusses the subject of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and of creation and its government in a general way, apart from sin and the subsequent revelation of salvation. In the same way he talks about mankind, apart from sin and the need for salvation (first book). Second, he discusses the historical revelation and activity of God for the salvation of sinners. This includes: (1) the salvation through the Son who became man, already prepared in the Old Testament (second book); (2) the appropriation of salvation through the Holy Spirit. This appropriation is discussed in two ways: (a) the inner process of salvation through the Spirit until the final completion at the resurrection (third book); and (b) the external means, used by God for these works of his Spirit (fourth book). We are presented with a clear structure here. The material is  presented very clearly and sharply. However, this is not because the book is divided into four parts, or because of Calvin’s reference to the Creed, as many have thought.’

How one evaluates Köstlin’s judgment on the definitive form of the Institutes is decisive for the interpretation of Calvin’s theology. In the fourth part of his great work on Calvin, Jean Calvin, les hommes et les choses de son temps, E. Doumergue mentions Köstlin’s opinion on Calvin’s Institutes in a footnote.[xxxv] However, Doumergue does not deal with the issue whether Köstlin is right or not. It seems of no importance to Doumergue. More puzzling is the fact that François Wendel in his book Calvin, sources et evolution de sa pensée religieuse quotes the Köstlin text cited above without saying that it stems from Köstlin’s article.[xxxvi] Neither does Wendel question Köstlin’s assessment of the definitive form of Calvin’s book. If Köstlin was right in his contention that the duality of the knowledge of God dominated Calvin’s unfolding of doctrine, we should agree with him that Calvin was wrong in choosing the form of the Explicatio symboli.

      In his judgment on the Institutes of 1559, Köstlin follows the lead of the Protestant doctrinal tradition in the post-Reformation era. The duality of creation and redemption, law and gospel, nature and grace, reason and revelation started to play an increasingly important role in this development.[xxxvii] Theologians talked about a dual order (i.e. natural and supernatural) and a dual revelation (i.e. a general and a particular). We will discover later on in this study how older Protestantism via the transitional phase of ‘rational orthodoxy’ turned into neo-Protestantism. Emil Brunner, in his little book Natur und Gnade. Zum Gespräch mit Karl Barth of 1934, continues to interpret Calvin along these lines.[xxxviii] Brunner published the book in the same year as the confessing church in Germany published the Barmen Declaration on ‘the one word of God, which we need to hear’. In the preface to the second edition (1935), Brunner specified the theme of his little book as follows:

‘There is one God who reveals himself in the works of creation, in the law which was written in the human conscience, and in Jesus Christ. It is therefore a Christian natural theology, not a pagan or rational one, that concerns us here. Indeed, in the context of the Christian knowledge of God, we are dealing with the general revelation of God. This revelation is visible in all his works and in his law, which is written in the hearts of all men.’[xxxix]

Of this ‘double revelation of creation’ Brunner says:

‘This little book is concerned with this biblical doctrine. This doctrine seems insignificant, but it is of great importance for church and theology. It is as valid today as it was in the first century.’

The evidence on which Brunner based his interpretation was furnished by a study of his student Günter Gloede, Theologia Naturalis bei Calvin. This study was written in Zurich from 1932 to 1934 and published in 1935.[xl] Using the as yet unpublished work of his student, Brunner stated in a special paragraph that his thoughts were good Reformation theology. He referred to Calvinian theology to proof this.

      In the same year (1934) that Brunner published his short book, Barth published his short reply Nein! Antwort an Emil Brunner.[xli] In this booklet Barth says ‘no’ to Brunner’s ‘Christian theologia naturalis’.[xlii] However, in the same booklet Barth also says ‘no’ to Brunner’s interpretation of the theology of Calvin.[xliii] ‘Brunner has made a Jean Alphonse Turrettini out of Calvin’,[xliv] Barth writes. After Barth had said Nein to Brunner’s Natur und Gnade in 1934, he was forced one year later to substantiate this ‘no’, by changing the traditional order of ‘law and gospel’ into ‘gospel and law’.[xlv]

      Contrary to Brunner’s and Gloede’s interpretation of Calvin’s theology, Wilhelm Niesel gave a different interpretation to Calvin’s theology. He did so in his 1938 book Die Theologie Calvins.[xlvi] Niesel said that we encounter more or less the same Christological concentration in Calvin’s unfolding of sacred doctrine as we do in the theology of Karl Barth.[xlvii]

      As we said earlier, however, we are dealing with two factors in Calvin’s theology. In addition to the Christological concentration, we are also concerned with the dualistic concept of the knowledge of God. The relationship between these two factors in Calvin’s theology was still not accounted for in any satisfactory way. This became clear after World War II, when two students of Calvin’s theology – Edward Dowey and T. H. L. Parker, the former being a student[xlviii] of Brunner and the latter a follower of Barth – published two profound studies in the same year (1952) and on the same subject, the cognitio Dei in the theology of Calvin. They did so independently from each other.[xlix] Both studies were based on an analysis of the Institutes in its definitive form of 1559. The title of Dowey’s book reads The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology,[l] and of Parker’s  Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.[li]

      Dowey agrees with Köstlin that Calvin gave his book a form in 1559 that does not agree with its content. Dowey, too, is of the opinion that Calvin in the entire process of the unfolding of sacred doctrine meant to express the content of a duplex Dei cognitio, similar to what Emil Brunner did in the 20th Century.[lii] Dowey’s book contains five chapters. In the first preparatory chapter, Dowey discusses the ‘General characteristics of the knowledge of God’. In the brief second chapter, on the Duplex cognitio Dei, we are shown the program according to which Dowey will develop the theme of his book (the knowledge of God in Calvin’s theology). After quoting Köstlin’s comments on the 1559 Institutes, which we cited at the beginning of this paragraph,[liii] he continues:

‘I wish to maintain with Köst­lin, although in greater detail and with more emphasis upon its impor­tance, what was clear to me before consulting Köst­lin: that the really significant ordering principle of the Insti­tutes in the 1559 edition is the duplex cognitio Domi­ni, not the Apost­les’ Creed.’[liv]

To prove he was right, Dowey gives a list of the all the instances where Calvin formulates his thesis of the dualistic character of the knowledge of God in the first book of the Institutes. He then comments on these sayings. ‘The distinction (i.e. of the duplex cognitio Domini) is nowhere clearly formulated by Calvin before the 1559 edition’, Dowey says. Nevertheless, Dowey was right in claiming hat it was also present in the old Institutes, though not described expressis verbis.[lv] At the end of the chapter, Dowey formulates his program:

‘Calvin’s final plan, which from the epistemological point of view follows the duplex cognitio and not the Creed, is simply the systematic arrangement most compatible with his concept of the knowledge of God. We shall now examine this twofold concept, considering the origin and contents of the parts and their mutual relation. First, the knowledge of God the Creator, in Chapter III, then the knowledge of God the Redeemer in Chapter IV, followed by an analysis of their systematic relationship in Chapter V.’[lvi]

The final section of Dowey’s book is called The Dialectical Relationship. It explains the dialectical relationship between the two revelations of God (in his opera and in Christi facie). In Dowey’s view, the theology of Calvin was basically the same as the theology of Emil Brunner.

      Concerning this latter point we can safely say that Werner Krusche, in the third chapter of his dissertation, has thoroughly disproved the statements of Emil Brunner and of his student Günter Gloede. As a result, this interpretation of Dowey should be rejected as well.

      However, this does not mean we are rid of Dowey yet! Calvin, in his Institutes of 1559, did distinguish between a generalis scripturae doctrina and a propria fidei doctrina, a divine revelation in his opera and in Christi facie. Calvin did formulate in those Institutes the thesis of the duality of the knowledge of God. Guided by this thesis he composed the first two books of the final edition. There are indeed two elements which determine its structure. Dowey was right in perceiving this. The question is whether we can, or indeed should, follow Dowey’s interpretation of this fact. Dowey himself felt compelled to say ‘the really significant ordering principle of the Institutes in the 1559 edition is (…) not the Apostles’ Creed’. This gives us a hint that Dowey’s interpretation of Calvinian theology was not on the right track.

      The book by T. H. L. Parker, published in the same year (1952), contains two parts. Part one is concerned with the knowledge of God the creator. Part two with the knowledge of God the redeemer. In the seven chapters contained in these two parts, Calvin’s basic ideas on the cognitio Dei theme are clarified by Parker in an illuminating way. Parker follows the order in which Calvin’s ideas on this theme are found in the Institutes of 1559. However…. the entire sequence of comments inserted by Calvin in the text of his first book on the duality of the knowledge of God, is not considered by Parker at all!  He mentions them, but does not take them into account.

      Many years later, both scholars issued new editions of their books. Dowey reissued his book in 1965, largely unchanged (‘with some minor corrections’[lvii]). While he praises Krusche in the preface to the second edition, he is inappropriately disparaging about Parker.

      Not doubting the accuracy of his exposition, he once again briefly summarizes his thesis in this preface, saying:

‘The most inclusive thesis in the present volume continues to reflect, in the mind of the writer, a sound analysis of Calvin. That is to say that the “two-fold knowledge of God” as Redeemer and Creator, the latter dependent on the former, the two in dialectical relationship, and the whole rooted in faith, is basic to Calvin’s mode of thought in all its branches.’[lviii]

We certainly cannot deny that Dowey’s thesis is right in that Calvin indeed bases his Explicatio symboli on the duality of the knowledge of God in the final edition of his Institutes.

      Four years later (1969) Parker, too, published a new edition of his book. He did not change the structure of his study. However, the first part was largely rewritten. In an elaborate Introduction[lix] he reacted to Dowey’s thesis. Dowey had claimed that the form Calvin gave to his book in 1559 does not correspond to its content, and that the concept of the duplex cognitio Domini forms the basis of the entire exposition of Calvin. Therefore, Dowey claimed, all of Calvin’s theology (‘in all his branches’) should be interpreted from this concept of the duplex cognitio Domini. With regard to this thesis, Parker writes:

‘Professor Dowey, of course, like Köstlin before him, is well aware that the 1559 Institutio corresponds to the fourfold division of the Creed. (…) He re-arranges the Institutio because he regards it as a statement and exposition of the duplex cognitio Dei

– for Dowey postulates a dual division instead of a division into four books: 1. Inst. I.1 – II.5, and 2. Inst. II.6 – IV.20, FB –

‘Such a reordering of the material must be regarded as illegitimate textual criticism because in assessing the nature of the subject, it does not take the order itself into account (a necessary step, above all, when you are dealing with a master of method) but imposes upon the order what is in fact a presupposition.’[lx] (…) ‘The Institutio is not to be divided arbitrarily into a form that Calvin did not give it. The form which Dowey imposes on it does not correspond to the general theme, but takes one methodological distinction made in the work and magnifies it into the leading principle to interpret the whole. (…) It is highly significant that Dowey has a final chapter in his book entitled “The Relation between the Knowledge of God the Creator and the Knowledge of God the Redeemer”. Plainly, if a duplex cognitio Dei is put forward as the heart of a theology, such a relating and reconciling is necessary. That Calvin himself not only did not have this relating to do, but did not need to, is owing to the fact that the duplex cognitio Dei is not the theme of his work.’[lxi]

Parker had voiced this critique before in a review of Dowey’s book in The Evangelical Quarterly. Dowey’s reaction in 1965 was:

‘The claim that problems of the duplex cognitio Domini arise from my “rearranging” of the Institutes is made so irresponsibly as to cast doubt on Parker’s desire to be taken seriously.’[lxii]

We note that the two scholars stand over against each other. Dowey says: ‘the really significant ordering principle of the Institutes in the 1559 edition is the duplex cognitio Domini, not the Apostles’ Creed’. (…) ‘Calvin’s final plan from the epistemological point of view follows the duplex cognitio and not the Creed’. Parker says: ‘the duplex cognitio Dei is not the theme of this work’.

      Dowey and Parker reproach each other sharply, but do not wish to learn from each other. Parker’s question whether it is reasonable to suppose that a man such as Calvin – ‘a master of method’[lxiii] – was unable to adequately express what he really wished to say, is not seriously answered by Dowey. In turn, Dowey based his interpretation in on the series of insertions, in which Calvin turned the idea of the duality of the knowledge of God into the foundation of his Explicatio Symboli. Parker, in the second edition of his book, should have examined Dowey’s question why Calvin did this. Unfortunately, Parker did not.

      How is it possible that there are two very different structural elements of Calvinian theology in the Institutes of 1559? This question remains unanswered. We have to conclude that the study of the structure of sacred doctrine in Calvin’s theology is in an impasse. This is a pity, because this subject – i.e., the problem of theological epistemology[lxiv] – is very important.

      Usually, when a summary of the theology of Calvin is given, the themes of his theology are dealt with in the same way Calvin had discussed them in the 1559 Institutes (and often also in the same order). For example, Seeberg writes:[lxv] ‘Our presentation of the doctrine of Calvin essentially follows the final edition of the Institutio, for it was this edition that has made the most impact historically’.[lxvi]

      Schellong correctly states:[lxvii] ‘One encounters the systematizing reductions of Calvin’s thought mostly there (…) where his exegetical work and the historical genesis of the Institutes have not been taken into account, but where Calvin is merely seen as a builder of a system, from the sole perspective of the 1559 Institutes.’[lxviii]

      If we wish to answer the question about the relationship between the two very different structural elements of Calvinian theology[lxix] as they appear in the final edition of the Institutio,[lxx] we need to earnestly reflect on the historical genesis of this work. Therefore, we need to describe from scratch the entire development of Calvin’s Institutes.

To overcome the impasse in Calvin studies this study will describe the structure of sacred doctrine in the theology of Calvin. It will analysis the composition of his main dogmatic work in its definitive form, as he presented it in 1558/59. However, in order to support this analysis we will have to describe the entire genesis of the book. Our analyses of the Institutes will have to be much more thorough than those presented by Köstlin more than a century ago. They will be more thorough in that we plan to describe in far greater detail how the Institutes were formed. With each edition, we shall have to ask which theological motives led Calvin to make the changes he made. According to François Wendel, such a study has never been done before. ‘It would be very interesting to study in detail how Calvin divided the material of preceding editions among the four books of the 1559 edition, and to understand his motives for the way he divided it.’[lxxi] This would indeed be ‘a very interesting study’. By constantly following Calvin in the formation of each of the Institutes, Calvin himself will show us the way to a correct interpretation of his theology.

      We heard Calvin express his satisfaction with the form he had given the book in the winter of 1558/59: ‘I was never satisfied with the work, until it was ordered and arranged in the way in which it is now offered.’[lxxii] In the course of our study, we will discover why only the definitive composition of the Institutes could satisfy him. We will come to see that in none of the previous editions Calvin was able to fully express the Christological concentration, which was characteristic for his theology. He could only express it as beautifully and completely as he did by giving the work the form of an Explicatio symboli. However, although this Christological concentration was indeed the determining factor for the structure of Calvin’s theology, the duality of the knowledge of God also contributed to this structure. Indeed, it was a potential heresy.

      At the end of our description of the genesis of the Institutes, we will be able to conclude that in the definitive form of the Institutes we are dealing on the one hand with the final grandiose summary of all of Reformation theology, and that, on the other hand, this work was at the same time the starting point for the further development of Protestant theology.[lxxiii] The two factors in Calvin’s theology which determine its structure will prove to be mutually contradictory. Where the concept of the duality of the knowledge of God begins to dominate – as was increasingly the case in post-Reformation Protestant dogmatics – the Christological concentration can no longer function as the sole determining factor for the structure of the whole. We see this in the development of later Protestant theology. In the theology of the so called ‘rational orthodoxy’ the neo-Protestantism of the 18th and 19th centuries is born. Its roots are the old Protestantism of the 16th and 17th centuries. We see how ‘modernism’ emerged out of orthodoxy itself.[lxxiv]

      In the theology of Karl Barth, however, this process was radically reversed. The Christological concentration completely dominates the unfolding of sacred doctrine. The concept of a twofold knowledge of God does not play any role in Barth’s theology. Here, then, after many centuries we see the biblical simplicity clearly reflected in the structure of sacred doctrine, as the church must unfold it in its teachings.


Calvin is a homo unius libri, a man of just this one book. Everything he writes, in sermons and in commentaries, in confessions, tracts and letters, he writes against the background of this book. If it is true that the structure of Calvin’s theology is completely reflected in the composition of this main work, it seems reasonable to sketch the structure of Calvin’s theology on the basis of an analysis of this composition.

Chapter I           Institutio 1536                  form: Catechism

Chapter II                                                                                     Catechism 1537

Chapter III        Institutio 1539-1557       form: Loci

                                                                                                       (Catechism 1542)

Chapter IV        Institutio 1559                  form: Explicatio symboli

This study is organized as follows: in chapter I we will describe how Calvin went about shaping the first edition of his Institutes, as a catechism. In chapter III we will describe how he proceeded in 1539 with the new edition of the work, which he now organized as a traditional textbookwith different Loci. And finally, in chapter IV, we will see how he composed the definitive form of the work in 1558/59, as an Explicatio symboli. By describing how Calvin from 1535 to 1560 worked for 25 years on the structure of his main work, the Institutio christianae religionis, we will be able to grasp the structure of his theology.

      In 1534-35 Calvin wrote the Institutes in its first form as a catechism. However, it was not suitable for the instruction of children. When he became ‘professor’ in Geneva in July 1536, therefore, he wrote a new catechism (just as Luther’s Large Catechism was followed by the Small Catechism). This was published in French in 1537. A year later it was published in Latin as well, to serve as a Confession of Faith for the church of Geneva. After discussing the Institutes of 1536 in the first chapter, we will proceed to discuss the Catechism of 1537 in chapter II, as this constitutes the transition from the 1536 Institutes to the Institutes of 1539.[lxxv]

      In our concluding remarks of chapter V we will show how the entire Reformed doctrinal tradition has proceeded along the lines of the duality of the knowledge of God. In contrast to that development, Karl Barth called the Calvin of the Christological concentration the real Calvin.

[i].    For the concept of ‘potential heresy’ see Karl Barth, Die kirchliche Dogmatik (Zurich 1932-1967) I.2, §23.1, particularly pages 902-908 (Church Dogmatics, Edinburgh 1956-1975, I.2, 807-812).

[ii].    There may have been a French version of the oldest edition of the Institutes as well, though no such text has been found as yet. See Jean Calvin, Epitre à tous amateurs de Jésus Christ, 1535. Préface à la traduction francaise du Nouveau Testament pas Rovert Olivetan (1935) – le plus ancient texte francais de Calvin qui ait été imprimé –, avec Introduction sur: Une edition francaise de l’Institution dès 1537?, by Jacques Pannier, Paris 1929. Thus, the oldest form of the French Institutio known to us is the edition of 1541 as a rendering of the Latin Institutio of 1539. The Strassbourg theologians did not include this French text of 1541 in the Calvini Opera either. However, a beautiful edition of this text in two volumes was prepared by Abel Lefranc, Henri Chatelain, and Jacques Pannier in 1911: Jean Calvin, Institution de la Religion Chrestienne, Texte de la première edition francaise (1541) réimprimé sous la direction de Abel Lefranc, Henri Chatelain et Jacques Pannier, Paris 1911. The pages and letters of this edition are identical to the original edition. In 1935-1939, this same text was republished in four volumes by Jacques Pannier (Paris, Soc. des Belles-Lettres). In Wilhelm Niesel’s Calvin-Bibliographie 1901-1959 (Munich 1961) these two editions are referred to by the numbers 39 and 40.

[iii].    See for the genesis of the Institutes: 1. Jacques Pannier, Jean Calvin, Epitre au roi, Préface de la première édition française de l’Institution de la religion chrétienne (1541), Paris 1927, Introduction I-XXXIV; 2. Jacques Pannier, Jean Calvin, Epitres a tous amateurs de Jésus-Christ, 1535, Paris 1929 (see above, note 2), Introduction, 1-30. The diagram included here may be found there under number 18; 3. Joannis Calvini, Opera selecta. Ediderunt Petrus Barth & Guilelmus Niesel (vol. I – V, Munich 1926-1936), Vol. III, Munich 1928, the description and the history of the French and Latin editions, published during Calvin’s life, leaves VI-L; 4. The Corpus Reformatorum, Vol. I, Brunswick 1863, Prolegomena XXI-L (see below); 5. Joh. Köstlin, ‘Calvins Institutio nach Form und Inhalt in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung’, in: Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 41. Jahrgang, Gotha 1868, 7-62 and 410-486 (see below); 6. Joh. Wilh. Marmelstein, Etude comparative des texte latins et français de l’Institution de la religion chrétienne, Groningen/The Hague 1921; 7. Paul Wernle, Der evangelische Glaube nach den Hauptschriften der Reformatoren, Band III. Johann Calvin, Tübingen 1919 (see below, note 35).

[iv].   For the significance of the publication of this edition see also KD I.2, 683-684 (CD, 612).

[v].    See La France protestante by MM. Eugène and Emile Haag (10 vols., Paris 1846-1859), first edition Paris 1852, Vol. III, 162; second edition Paris 1881, Vol. III, 632. See also B. B. Warfield, ‘The Literary History of Calvin’s “Institutes”’, in: The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 38 (April 1899), (193-219) 209-210.

[vi].   J. Köstlin, op. cit. (See above, footnote 3, point 5).

[vii].   W. Krusche, Das Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin, Göttingen 1957, 70 (footnote 230).

[viii].   Köstlin, op. cit. 57-58. (See below, footnote 33).

[ix].   In 1536 the title is: ‘The Christian religion. An instruction, containing virtually the entire essence of piety and all that is necessary to know in the doctrine of salvation; a work which is more than worthwhile to read for all students in piety and recently published. With a preface ‘to the most Christian king of France, to whom this book is offered by way of a confession of faith by the author, Johannes Calvin, of Noyon’, Basel 1536 (CO I, 1; OS I, 1). In this title, the words in italics must be by Platter. The book was published (in the spring, in Frankfurt) and needed to be sold. Such words of praise for his own work were totally foreign to Calvin. The title of 1539 may be conceived as a reaction of the printer of this edition, Wendelinus Rihelius of Strassbourg, to the way in which the publishers of 1536 had recommended this work. ‘Instruction in the Christian religion, that truly lives up to his title’ (CO I, XXXII). Calvin himself also appears to express himself critically in the beginning words of the preface of 1539 (about the unexpected success of the first edition) with regard to the subtitle of 1536, which was altogether too pretentious. On the four first publishers of the Institutes (Platter, Oporin, Lasius, and Winter) see Albert Autin, l’Institution chrétienne de Calvin, Paris 1929, Ch. IV, 47-57: ‘Les éditeurs de l’Institution Chrétienne, de 1536.’

[x].    CO I, 801.

[xi].   OS III, 6 ll. 18-25.

[xii].   Cf. the ‘Epistola dedicatoria’, in which Melanchthon dedicates his Loci communes in 1521 to Tileman Plettener: ‘Concerning the material as a whole, the most important points of Christian doctrine are described here, so that the youth may understand…, which main questions to ask in the Scriptures.’ CR I, 510 and CR XXI, 81; Melanchthon’s Werke in Auswahl, Studienausgabe II,1. Edited by Hans Engelland. Gütersloh 1952, 8-22.

[xiii].   OS III, 6 ll. 27-28.

[xiv].  OS III, 6 ll. 29-31.

[xv].   CO X, (402-406) 403, epistola 191 Calvinus Simoni Grynaeo 15.11.1539.

[xvi].  Cited in OS III, 7 ll. 35-36. Cf. Jacques Pannier’s reissue of the French Institutes of 1541, Paris 1911, vol. I (pp. II-IV) II ll. 26-28.

[xvii].  OS III, 8 ll. 4-7, resp. Pannier op. cit., III ll. 12-15.

[xviii].  OS III, 8 ll. 16-20, resp. Pannier op. cit., III ll. 28-33.   

[xix].  These words of Calvin on what he aimed to achieve with his Institutio correspond to Barth’s words in the Kirchliche Dogmatik in both closing paragraphs of its Prolegomena (§23 and §24) in relation to the dogmatic assignment : 1. ‘Dogmatics as a Function of the Hearing Church’ (‘The Formal Task of Dogmatics’), and 2. ‘Dogmatics as a Function of the Teaching Church’ (‘The Material Task of Dogmatics’).

[xx].   OS III, 5 ll. 13-15.

[xxi].  CO III, 6.

[xxii].  Cf. below, Chapter IV § 1.

[xxiii].  Inst. 1539 Chap. IV; 1541 ed. Pannier (1911) 212 ll. 9 and 215 l. 29; 1543-1554 Chap. VI, sections 1-5.

[xxiv]. Inst. 1543-1554, Cap. VI, sections 1 and 2; CO I, 477 and 478.

[xxv].  French 1541: ‘la matière et la substance’.

[xxvi]. We encounter the first part of the old introduction, paragraphs 1-2, again in the Institutes of 1559: III.2.1 resp. III.2.6 (but not in its entirety) and the second part (paragraph 3 of paragraphs 3-5) in II.16.18 (again, not in its entirety). The first part is about quid sit vera fides (what the true faith may be). The second part is on Christology.

[xxvii]. Characteristic for the way in which sacred doctrine is unfolded in this Explicatio symboli is the trinitarian structure and the Christological concentration within the framework of this structure. What would the Institutes have looked like if Calvin in 1558/59 had made the above quoted introduction to the Explicatio symboli of 1539 the introduction of the entire Institutes?

[xxviii]. OS III, 34 ll. 21-25: quia ergo Dominus primum simpliciter creator tam in mundi opificio, quam in generali Scripturae doctrina, deinde in Christi facie redemptor apparet: hinc duplex emergit eius cognitio: quarum nunc prior tractanda est, altera deinde suo ordine sequetur (mark: ‘suo ordine’, FB).

[xxix]. Inst. I.2.1 and I.10.3; resp. OS III, 34 ll. 23 and III, 87 l.20. Otto Weber (Johannes Calvin, Unterricht in der christlichen Religion, translated by Otto Weber, Neukirchen-Vluyn 11955, 21963) translated the words generalis Scripturae doctrina in I.2.1 correctly with ‘the general doctrine of Scripture.’ It misunderstands Calvin, however, when he renders the words summa generalis doctrinae at the beginning of I.10.3 as ‘the main contents of the entire doctrine.’

[xxx].  Inst. I.6.1; OS III, 61 l. 10; cf. III, 61 ll. 24-25: illa doctrinae pars (quae) in Christo fundata est, that part of doctrine that is grounded in Christ.

[xxxi]. See II.6.1, OS III, 320 ll. 13-15: ‘This was indeed the given order that the edifice of the world should be our school to learn to respect for God, so that from there we might move to eternal life and complete bliss; but after the fall…’.

[xxxii]. The expression ‘Christological concentration’ is used by Karl Barth for the first time in the ‘Parergon’ which he wrote for The Christian Century at the end of 1938 (‘How my Mind has Changed’, 1928-1938), reprinted in: K. Barth, Der Götze wackelt. Zeitkritische Aufsätze, Reden und Briefe von 1930 bis 1960, published by K. Kupisch, Berlin 1961, (181-190) 186.

[xxxiii]. See, in the edition of 1590, an overview of the Institutes by Caspar Olevianus with the title Institutionis Christianae Religionis Methodus & Disputatio: seu, Totus operis Argumentum (for example to be found in: Joannis Calvini magni theologi Institutionem Christianae Religionis, libri quatuor, Editio Postreme. Amstelodami apud Joannem Jacobi Schipper, MDCLXVII). Olevianus opens this Argumentum as follows: ‘The goal of the author in this Christian instruction is twofold: first he aims to discuss the knowledge of God, which leads us to blissful immortality, second he wishes to discuss the knowledge of ourselves, which prepares us for the former. To lead us to this goal, he uses the method of the Apostolic Creed, with which all Christians are very familiar. Insofar as that confession consists of four parts, of which the first one deals with God the Father, the second with the Son, the third with the Holy Spirit, the fourth with the church, the author, in order to reach the first of his stated goals, proceeds to a division into four books, of which the first corresponds to the first part of the confession, the second to the second, the third to the third, and the fourth to the fourth. This needs to be elaborated upon piece by piece.’

[xxxiv]. Köstlin, op. cit., 57ff.

[xxxv]. E. Doumergue, Jean Calvin. Les homes et les choses de son temps. Tome quatrième. La pensée religieuse de Calvin. Lausanne 1910, 1, note 3 and 22 note 2 (See K. Barth on Doumergue, Das Wort Gottes und die Theologie. Vorträge 1. Munich 1924, 192: ‘Heroenkultus’).

      See also Otto Ritschl, Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus III. Göttingen 1926, 161 note 11: ‘A penetrating discussion of the various editions of the Institutes was published by J. Köstlin’s first article on form and content of Calvin’s Institutes in its historical development and in Wernle’s book on Calvin’ (see above, note 3, point 7).

      In the framework of the trilogy of Wernle’s Der evangelische Glaube nach den Hauptschriften der Reformatoren, the heading of the third book reads as follows: ‘Calvin’. But in the table of contents the heading reads: ‘Calvin’s instruction in the Christian Religion’ (four volumes: 1536, 1539, 1543, 1559). In accordance with the way in which Wernle describes the progress of the Institutes in his book, he writes in the preface: ‘It was not easy at all to work on the Institutes of Calvin in such a way, that the living part of it, the Reformational faith, leaps out of the immense theological material. Calvin himself, as he got older, encapsulated his faith more and more in an ever more complete system of biblical theology. To pull him out from there was my main task.’ (italics added). ‘The precondition for this was, that an opportunity was given, to grasp his ideas on faith as they had appeared in their first and fresh form, and to place them in front of the reader and then to present the most important of the later revisions. The first Institutes of 1536 with its Christian elementary truths must come first, followed by the Pauline core doctrines of 1539, to conclude with the biblical and early Catholic church law of 1543 and the completed theological system of 1559. This train of thought could not be carried through without any division of the parts that belong together; but I hope that one thing has succeeded: that one reads the thoughts of Calvin in flux, as they flowed each time through his pen.  Besides, I was committed, to the best of my ability, to highlight everywhere what is religiously alive, and to omit the mere theological, particularly the polemical parts’ (pp. III – IV).

      Wernle’s book comes to 407 pages. The fourth part, ‘Das fertige theologische System von 1559’ contains only 17 pages (301-406). To investigate the structure of Calvinian theology by means of an analysis of Calvinian systematics in the respective composition of his dogmatic main work, is a task which fully lies outside of Wernle’s view, because something like that belongs, in his view, to the ‘mere theological’ and not to the ‘religiously alive.’ Schellong has called Wernle’s book ‘akin to a biography of Calvin’s theology’ (Dieter Schellong, Calvins Auslegunmg der synoptischen Evangelien, Munich 1969, 38). Lacking in this biography is one element, however, which for Calvin the theologian (in indissoluble connection with his piety) was of great importance: the question as to the right ordo docendi (see above, the preface of the Institutio).

[xxxvi]. F. Wendel, Calvin, sources et évolution de sa pensée religieuse, Paris 1950, 87: ‘It would be very interesting to study in detail how Calvin divided the material of preceding editions among the four books of the 1559 edition, and to understand his motives for the way he divided it.’ (This work is presently done by us, FB.) ‘Let us limit ourselves to the remark that the plan of the catechism had prevailed until it was definitively abandoned for the benefit of an account which reproduced the four-part division of the Creed. Calvin had adopted this plan since his 1543 edition.’ (This is incorrect, see below, Chap. IV, FB.) ‘There are also divergences which are important enough. The third part which normally would have had to be devoted to the Holy Spirit, in reality only treats his action in the inner part of man. On the other hand, Calvin speaks of the resurrection before he approaches the problem of the church, which does not conform any longer with the ideas imprinted in the Creed. In spite of appearances, the rapport between the final edition of the Institutes and the traditional plan of the Creed thus remain external and formal’ (= Köstlin = Otto Ritschl, FB; and now hear Köstlin). ‘In fact, the dogmatic exposition comprises two great parts under his novel aspect. The first is constituted by the first Book, and concerns the doctrine of God (Trinity, Creation, Providence), scriptural revelation, and man (independent of guilt and the need for salvation). The second part extends to the three other books and treats historical revelation and the work of salvation. It can in turn be subdivided into two parts: 1. The preparation of the work of salvation of the old covenant and its fulfillment in the Incarnation of the Son of God (Book II); 2. The conferring and application of salvation by the Holy Spirit: a. the interior operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, until its completion in the future life (Book III); b . the exterior means, which the Holy Spirit utilizes to complete, and to bring to a proper, end that interior operation (Book IV).’

[xxxvii]. This development continues to this century. Regin Prenter entitled his dogmatics Schöpfung und Erlösung. Dogmatik. Göttingen 1960. See also the ‘Theologie der Existenz’ by Fritz Buri: Dogmatik als Selbstverständnis des christlichen Glaubens, I. ‘Vernunft und Offenbarung (Prolegomena zur Dogmatik)’, Bern 1956, II. ‘Der Mensch und die Gnade’, Bern 1962.

[xxxviii]. E. Brunner, Natur und Gnade. Zum Gespräch mit Karl Barth. Zurich 1934.

[xxxix]. Brunner, op. cit., IV. Italics by EB.

[xl].   G. Gloede, Theologia naturalis bei Calvin, Stuttgart 1935 (see Brunner, op. cit., 23, n. 1). The book by Gloede was strongly refuted by Werner Krusche (explicitly for example in Krusche, op. cit., 61, 85, 87). In the second edition of his book Die Theologie Calvins, Munich 1957, 20, Wilhelm Niesel writes however: ‘Today the author knows (i.e. Gloede) that his first work can no longer be thus defended. – Meanwhile, see his beautiful book: Calvin, Weg und Werk, Leipzig 1953.’

[xli].   K. Barth, ‘Nein! Antwort an Emil Brunner’, Theologische Existenz heute Heft 14, Munich 1934.

[xlii].   On the topic of this ‘Christian Natural Theology’ see also KD II.1, 149-158 (CD, 134-142) and KD I.1, 25-30 (CD, 26-31).

[xliii].  K. Barth, ‘ Nein!’, op. cit., 32-45, point 4: ‘Brunner and Calvin.’

[xliv].  Barth, o.c., ‘ Nein!’, 41.Compare Calvin’s saying cited above, from Institutes I.2.1, on the duality of the knowledge of God with the second thesis of the Theses de Theologia naturali in genere of Jean Alphonse Turrettini. See below in Chapter V §1.11.

[xlv].  K. Barth, ‘Evangelium und Gesetz’ (1935), Th.E.h. Heft 32.

[xlvi].  W. Niesel, Die Theology Calvins, 1Munich 1938.

[xlvii].  However, Barth himself has never turned Calvin into a Karl Barth. See e.g. what he says in KD IV.1, 406 (CD, 367) relative to the book of T. F. Torrance, Calvin’s Doctrine of Man (London 1948) and in KD III.3, 34 (CD, 30f.) on Niesel’s Die Theologie Calvins. See also KD II.2, 92 and 369 (CD, 86 and 335).

[xlviii]. Indeed, a ‘student’, not a ‘disciple’, oral remark by Edward Dowey to Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, January 15, 1999.

[xlix].  In the preface of his book Das Grundverständnis der Theologie Calvins. Unter Einbeziehung ihrer geschichtlichen Abhängigkeiten, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1963, Karl Reuter says: ‘Calvin may not appear in the light of a later era.’ We ask: But why not? When Reuter himself had Calvin appear ‘in the light of an earlier era’, it brought very little clarification. ‘The outcome consists of many suspicions (…) and of few sure results’ (thus Dieter Schellong, op. cit., 38). The one verbi divini ministerium (service of the divine Word) which must be accomplished by the ecclesia from Israel in the midst of the goyim, makes people of very different eras into contemporaries without ceasing to be also, and foremost, children of their own time.

[l].    E. A. Dowey Jr., The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology, 1New York 1952, 21965.

[li].    T. H. L. Parker, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 1Edinburgh 1952, 2Edinburgh 1969.

[lii].    See e.g. section 81-86 (in the second edition): ‘Calvin’s evaluation of the Revelation in Creation.’ This revelation has ‘a definite eristic function. Wrong ideas must be cleared away to make room for the truth’, 84. (…) ‘Then, after this clearing away of the bad, the gospel is to be preached’, 85. (…) ‘The man of faith, then, who knows from the word the inexcusability of mankind, can bring that consciousness to the pagan unbeliever by argumentation based on the revelation in creation. This does not lead directly to faith, but to awareness of the insufficiency of this or that heathen creed. After this, the gospel is introduced’, 86 (‘Emil Brunner’s concept of responsibility as the essence of man agrees well with Calvin’, note 196).

[liii].   Dowey, op. cit., 42.

[liv].   Contrary to Dowey, Parker viewed the Institutes as Explicatio symboli. The Christocentric aspect in Calvin’s theology thus came to look quite differently from Dowey’s.

[lv].   Dowey, op. cit., 46-49.

[lvi].   Dowey, op;. cit., 49.

[lvii].   Dowey, 21965 (also the Expanded Edition, Grand Rapids 1994), XII.

[lviii].  Dowey, 21965 (1994), XV.

[lix].   Parker 1969, op. cit., 1-12.

[lx].   Parker 1969, op. cit., 6-7.

[lxi].   Parker 1969, op. cit., 11.

[lxii].   Dowey, op. cit., XV–XVI, directed against ‘the polemics of T. H. L. Parker in an appendix of the American reprint of his book.’

[lxiii].  See above, the citation from the ‘Introduction’ of 1969, 7.

[lxiv].  Karl Barth, in his answer to Emil Brunner in 1934, formulated his view sharply: ‘They [the Reformers] have indeed seen and attacked the possibility of an intellectual justification by works in the core of theological thought, but did not see and attack it in the same breadth, sharpness and fundamental nature [Grundsätzlichkeit] as the moralistic justification by works in the basis of Christian life.’ (‘Nein!’, op. cit., 38). But this now happens in Barth’s Kirchliche Dogmatik, immediately after the doctrine of the Word of God in the Prolegomina in the fifth chapter ‘The Knowledge of God’, particularly in the section on ‘The Readiness of Man’ in the paragraph on ‘The Knowability of God’ (KD II.1 §26.2).

[lxv].  R. Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, Vierter Band, Zweiter Teil, Die Fortbilding der reformatorischen Lehre und die gegenreformatorischen Lehre, Erlangen/Leipzig 31920, §94: ‘Die Theologie Calvins in ihrer dogmengeschichtlichen Bedeutung’, 560-61, footnote 2.

[lxvi].  Parker states at the end of his ‘Introduction’ (1969, op. cit., 12): ‘As the chief source for our understanding of Calvin’s doctrine of the knowledge of God is the 1559 Institutes, the plan of our present book will follow the arguments of the first two books and part of the third. Comparison with the earlier editions is sometimes  fruitful.’

[lxvii].  Schellong, op. cit., 35.

[lxviii]. The heading of the fourth and final part of Wernle’s book on Calvin (see above, note 35) says: ‘The finished theological system of 1559’ (only 17 pages).

[lxix].  See what Karl Barth says: ‘What, however, if there should be (…) more than one Luther…?’ KD IV.3, 428 (CD, 371). Italics by KB. See also KD I.2, 340 (CD, 311).

[lxx].  But also in Calvin’s exegesis. See e.g., how we find the entire chapter of Inst. 1559 I.5 in Calvin’s exegesis of Psalm 113. F. H. Breukelman, ‘Psalm 113’, in Om het levende Woord 2/3 – 1968, 212-250, particularly 212-213 and 246-249.

[lxxi].  Wendel, op. cit., 87.

[lxxii].  See above, note 20.

[lxxiii]. For this point see below. Chapter V §1.

[lxxiv]. In his book De Richtingen in de Nederlandsche Hervormde Kerk, Wageningen 1934, Prof. Th. L. Haitjema starts from the Enlightenment: ‘Starting from the Enlightenment we must now try to understand our religious schools [richtingen] of the 19th and 20th centuries’, he says on page 16.  It is better to view the Enlightenment as a catalyst in a process that has its origins in the theology of the reformers, as it was processed in Protestant scholastics by the theologians of the ‘orthodoxy.’

[lxxv]. However, this little book – a brief summary of the Institutes of 1536 – was not suitable to serve as a study book for children. From 1538 to 1541 Calvin was banned from Geneva, and he became pastor of the small French exilic congregation at Strassbourg. As soon as Calvin returned to Geneva, he wrote another Catechism around the turn of the year of 1541/42, the definitive edition, in questions and answers: the Catechism of Geneva (Catechismus ecclesiae genevensis, CO VI). This Catechismus of 1542 (1545) forms the transition from the Institutes of 1539 to the Institutes of 1559.

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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