Monday, 12 October 2015

What was in the news when Calvin began writing the Institutes?

It all started when Calvin’s friend Nicolas Cop was the Rector of the University of Paris.  He gave an address that was received as Protestant in tone in 1533. This was dynamite in a Catholic country, bruised by the start of the Protestant Reformation.  In 1534 having fled Paris Calvin went to Noyon, he broke off relations with the unreformed church and clergy and became a passionate advocate of the Protestant cause.  By 1535 when Calvin went to Basel the first manuscript of the Institutes was under way.  Many Protestants were fleeing from persecution in France. This had been exacerbated due to the circulation of a hand bill detailing criticism on the Mass in October 1534 that reached many public buildings and was reported to have reached the King’s bed chamber.

This action incensed the King, Francis 1 and it became known as the incident of the Placards.  Suspects were imprisoned and burned.  Against this back drop Calvin had fled seeking “ a quiet hiding place” in his home country.  Through his writing he wanted to help others suffering as Protestants. The king of France tried  to stop the advance of Protestant thinking by banning all printing.  There was also an attempt to negotiate with Melanchthon and Bucer (two Lutheran reformers)which bore no fruit.

On the Protestant fringe the cause now included the Anabaptist revolutionaries in Munster, a siege that was mercilessly crushed in June 1535.  Calvin had hope to produce the first edition of the Institutes for the Frankfurt autumn fair of 1535 but delays meant that it was eventually published in March 1536.

The title may well be attempt at reconciliation in a polarised Christian environment: The Institute of the Christian Religion containing almost the whole sum of piety and whatever it is necessary to know in the Doctrine of Salvation. A work very well worth reading by all persons  zealous for piety and lately published.  A preface to the most Christian King of France in which this book is presented to him as a confession of faith.  Author John Calvin of Noyon.  Basel MDXXXVI.

If you were Calvin would you have gone ahead with printing?