Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition

Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition

Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition

Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition


he first English translation of a classic text of pastoral theology.

John Calvin (1509-1564) originally wrote his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion in Latin. Beginning with the second edition of his work published in 1541, Calvin translated each new version into French, simultaneously adapting the text to suit lay audiences, shaping it subtly but clearly to teach, exhort, and encourage them. Besides reflecting a more pastoral bent on Calvin's part, this 1541 Institutes is also notable as one of the founding documents of the modern French language.

Elsie Anne McKee's masterful translation of the 1541 French Edition -- the first-ever English version -- offers full access to the brilliant mind of John Calvin as he considered what common Christian people should all know and practice.


Everyone who knows about John Calvin knows his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in Latin in 1536 and set out in the final form chosen by him in 1559. the differences between the little pocket-sized book of six chapters and the massive tome of eighty chapters in four books is clear. Very few readers have given careful consideration, or even had access to examine, the three intervening editions of the Institutes: 1539, 1543, and 1550. in the second Latin edition, 1539, the little book that one could fit into the pocket expands to a quite sturdy volume of seventeen chapters, and in the third Latin edition, 1543, the book grows another twenty-five percent to twenty-three chapters. Relatively little is added in 1550 but the format dividing the text into numbered paragraphs makes this edition easier to use.

It is often recognized that the 1539 edition is particularly important for additions related to such vital topics as justification by faith and grace alone, in keeping with the fact that Calvin was expounding the Epistle to the Romans in these years (probably in sermons, certainly in lectures preparing for his commentary). in 1543, the chief focus of the additions is the doctrine of the church, including practical expansion of the teaching on ministries, in part through the influence of Martin Bucer. This much is generally known, and traditionally has sufficed as a justification for concentrating on the fifth edition which Calvin himself considered the final satisfactory one.

1. There are some additions and corrections in reprintings of the book which appear between the major editions, and forms of scholarly apparatus (such as various indices) are added at different times; however, 1539, 1543, and 1550 constitute the basic stages between 1536 and 1559.

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