The Theology of John Calvin

The Theology of John Calvin

The Theology of John Calvin

The Theology of John Calvin


This historically significant volume collects Karl Barth's lectures on John Calvin, delivered at the University of Göttingen in 1922. The book opens with an illuminating sketch of medieval theology, an appreciation of Luther's breakthrough, and a comparative study of the roles of Zwingli and Calvin. The main body of the work consists of an increasingly sympathetic, and at times amusing, account of Calvin's life up to his recall to Geneva. In the process, Barth examines and evaluates the early theological writings of Calvin, especially the first edition of the Institutes.


Karl Barth and Calvin in 1922. Barth’s interest in Calvin had first been kindled during his initial semester at Bern in the winter of 1904/5 when he attended his father’s course on the history of the Reformation age. He referred to this influence in his own lectures. He became interested on his own account in the fall of 1909 when he took his first post as auxiliary pastor to the German congregation in Geneva and when the great commemoration of Calvin’s birth in 1509 was held there in the summer of 1909. the German congregation worshiped in the auditorium of St. Pierre where Calvin himself had once lectured. the idea of mounting the same rostrum as the reformer excited Barth, and during his Geneva years (up to 1911) he began to study the 1559 Institutes in depth. His letters from this period bear ample witness to this, as do his many markings in his copy of the Institutes, vol. ii of the Corpus Reformatorum series. His lecture on the Christian faith and history (1910, published 1912) shows the impact of this reading, though Barth would say fifteen years later that it would have been better left unpublished.

That Barth left Calvin’s city with a real interest may be seen from the fact that he knew its local history so well and immersed himself in the study of the archives conducted under the Basel professor Paul

1. See 131.

2. For the former see Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1909–1914, vol. iii of Gesamtausgabe (Zurich, 1993), 149–212. See the autobiographical sketch in Karl Barth-Rudolf Bultmann Letters 1922–1966 (Grand Rapids, 1981), 150ff.

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