The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

TWO
Of Prefaces, “Arguments, ” and
Letters to the Reader

Calvin's Testimonies to His
Intention and Method

In Search of Calvin's Intention and Method

Although the broad contours and even the day-to-day activities of Calvin's life are well documented, and although we know a great deal, from his vast correspondence, about the issues and individuals, the debates and personal trials that concerned Calvin throughout his life, even to the extent of identifying personal likes and dislikes, tribulations of career, and digestive problems, we know little from his writings of the inward or “existential” life of the Reformer. Calvin was not a man to tell much about himself. The autobiographical comments that we have from him are few and sometimes difficult to interpret. 1 References to contemporary events found in his sermons are rare, and, when they can be identified, they tend to be oblique. 2 Even Calvin's letters to close friends tend to discuss matters of significance concerning the reform, Geneva, theological disputes, and so forth, and only seldom do they meditate on purely personal matters. The crises of calling and worries about direction of which Calvin writes to his closest colleagues—notably Farel and Viret—are hardly testimonies to Calvin's ongoing psychological state. 3 Nor do we have from the pens of his friends and companions any documentation even slightly reminiscent of Luther's Table-talk. 4 Those, therefore, who attempt to reconstruct the trials and tribulations or to identify inward bifurcations of Calvin's psyche from the similes and metaphors chosen by Calvin to illustrate his arguments or from the seemingly “existential” comments that appear here and there throughout Calvin's writings run the risk that, as was said of Adolph Harnack, they will peer down the well of history and see their own faces reflected back at them. The problem becomes particularly intense when the modern mind seeks out “motifs” in the

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