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

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Establishing the Ordo docendi
The Organization of Calvin's
Institutes, 1536–1559

Examining the Institutes: The Importance of 1539

The text-history and theological development of Calvin's Institutes has been the subject of considerable scholarly discussion—from the foundational essays prepared by the nineteenth-century editors of the Opera Calvini and the refined theological and textual analyses of Köstlin, Autin, and Marmlestein to the now-classic essay of Warfield and the highly focused studies of Pannier and Benoit. 1 Most of the detailed efforts to understand Calvin's thought processes and intentions, however, have been focused on either the origins of his work in the 1536 Institutes or the final form of his work in the 1559 Latin and 1560 French Institutes.2 There have been but few examinations of the intervening editions from 1539 to 1557, 3 and there have been virtually no concentrated analyses of the form and content of the great transition from the first edition of 1536 to the edition of 1539 and those that immediately followed it. 4 Attention has, perhaps, been diverted from these editions of the Institutes because of the virtual fixation of historical theologians on Calvin's comment, in his 1559 letter to the reader, “though I do not regret the labor previously expended, I never felt satisfied until the work was arranged in the order in which it now appears. ” 5 These comments have been used to taking the 1559 Institutes as the primary gauge to Calvin's thought, sometimes even to the exclusion of the commentaries and theological treatises. 6

This approach to the document is unfortunate, inasmuch as Calvin's editorial work of 1539 gave the Institutes a form with which he remained basically satisfied for some twenty years, during what was surely the most theologically productive and, perhaps, theologically formative period of his life. 7 (By way of contrast, the catechetical model

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