Lest we hastily accuse Calvin of extraneous verbiage, we would do well to recall the distance between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries. In her extraordinary collection of essays The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Marilynne Robinson notes that ‘Cauvin and his supporters seem to have been intent on consolidating a revolution, one in which religion was as central to the imagination of the project as political liberty would be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and economics and nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth. Traditionally European societies instructed their members in approved beliefs through rituals, processions, feasts, fasts, pilgrimages, and iconography. Geneva replaced all that with hour upon hour of sermons and lectures, and a system of education that was compulsory for all children and free for the poor … If all these lectures and sermons seem a poor exchange for pageants and altarpieces, it is well to remember the Renaissance passion for books, and for the languages and literatures of antiquity, first of all the Bible. Cauvin’s virtuosic scholarship could be thought of as monumental public art, by analogy with the work of contemporaries like Michelangelo’ (pp. 199–200). And Bernard Cottret, in Calvin: A Biography, recalls that ‘Calvin was never so much a man in his time and of his time as in his sermons’ (p. 289).
This spoken proclamation – which was, in Calvin’s mind, the prime purpose of his preaching – was then transposed into written form as a result of the ‘company of strangers’ who, from 29 September 1549, arranged for Calvin’s sermons to be recorded in shorthand by Denis Raguenier, then transcribed, printed and published. A basic list of Calvin’s sermons is available in Appendix 7 of Cottret’s volume (pp. 354–5). Between 1549 and 1564, Calvin preached verse-by-verse through Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Micah, Zephaniah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Job, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Galatians, Ephesians, Harmony of the Gospels (during his last five years), Acts, Genesis, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings. Some ignorant librarians sold many of the volumes for the weight of the paper. A search of the lost sermons means that we now possess about 1500 of them. Cottret recalls that the Opera Calvini includes 872 sermons, while a further 680 are in the process of being published elsewhere, particularly in the Supplementa Calviniana. The manuscripts are held in the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire in Geneva, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and Lambeth Palace in London. (See Cottret, Calvin, 289n5).
Those wishing to read more on Calvin’s preaching might consult the following:
- Brian G. Armstrong, ‘Exegetical and Theological Principles in Calvin’s Preaching, with Special Attention to his Sermons on the Psalms’ in Ordentlich und Fruchtbar: Festschrift für Willem Van’t Spijker anlässlich seiner Abschieds als Professor der Theologischen Universität Apeldorn (ed. W.H. Neuser and H.J. Selderhuis; Leiden: J.J. Groen en Zoon, 1997), 191–209.
- Dawn DeVries, Jesus Christ in the Preaching of Calvin and Schleiermacher (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).
- Dawn DeVries, ‘Calvin’s Preaching’ in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (ed. Donald K. McKim; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 106–24.
- John H. Leith, ‘Calvin’s Doctrine of the Proclamation of the Word and Its Significance for Today’ in John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform (ed. Timothy George; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990), 206–29.
- Olivier Millet, Calvin et la dynamique de la parole: étude de rhétorique réformée (Bibliothèque littéraire de la renaissance; vol. 28; Geneva: Editions Slatkine, 1992).
- Wilhelmus H. Th. Moehn, ‘God Calls Us to His Service’: The Relation Between God and His Audience in Calvin’s Sermons on Acts (Geneva: Droz, 2001).
- Erwin Mülhaupt, Die Predigt Calvins: Ihre Geschichte, ihre Form und ihre religiösen Grundgedanken (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte; vol. 18; Berlin/Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter, 1931).
- Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Volume IV: The Age of the Reformation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002).
- Thomas Henry Louis Parker, The Oracles of God: An Introduction to the Preaching of John Calvin (London/Redhill: Lutterworth Press, 1947).
- Richard Stauffer, Dieu, la création et la Providence dans la prédication de Calvin (Berne: Peter Lang, 1978).
- Anne T. Thayer, Penitence, Preaching and the Coming of the Reformation (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).
- Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Edinburgh/London: Oliver and Boyd, 1953).
- J. Mark Beach, ‘The Real Presence of Christ in the Preaching of the Gospel: Luther and Calvin on the Nature of Preaching’, Mid-America Journal of Theology 10 (1999): 77–134.
- John R. Walchenbach, ‘John Calvin as Biblical Interpreter: An Investigation into Calvin’s Use of John Chrysostom as an Exegetical Tutor’ (PhD, University of Pittsburgh, 1974).
- Thomas Henry Louis Parker, Calvin’s Preaching (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).
- John T. McNeill, ‘The Significance of the Word of God for Calvin’, Church History 28, no. 2 (1959): 131–46.
- Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996).
- Darlene K. Flaming, ‘The Apostolic and Pastoral Office: Theory and Practice in Calvin’s Geneva’ in Calvin and the Company of Pastors: Papers Presented at the 14th Colloquium of the Calvin Studies Society, May 22–24, 2003, the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (ed. David L. Foxgrover; Grand Rapids: CRC Product Services for the Calvin Studies Society, 2004), 149–72.
By the way, those interested in Calvin’s view of Scripture might check out:
- H. Jackson Forstman, Word and Spirit: Calvin’s Doctrine of Biblical Authority (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962).
- John I. Thompson, ‘Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter’ in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (ed. Donald K. McKim; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 58–73.
- Brian Albert Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 58–68.
- Thomas Henry Louis Parker, Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986).
- Thomas Henry Louis Parker, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993).
- David L. Puckett, John Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).
- Hans-Joachim Kraus, ‘Calvin’s Exegetical Principles’, Interpretation 31 (1977): 8–18.
- Thomas F. Torrance, The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (Monograph Supplements to the Scottish Journal of Theology; Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1988).