Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas and New Year Special - Back to the Story: Publication and Translation

The Institutes of 1536 contained six chapters and then the next version of 1539 had seventeen chapters.  This version had greatly increased the number of quotations from Augustine, Origen, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca and so too the references to the Bible.  By this time Calvin sees the work as a text book to be used in “the preparation of candidates for the reading of the divine word”.  Calvin began to translate the Institutes from Latin into French whilst undertaking re-ordering of the church in Geneva. No French translation survives except for the edition of 1541-this was Calvin’s own translation of the 1539 edition.  Modern readers of the institutes often claim that earlier versions of the Institutes were less laborious, less controversial and more pleasing to read than then later ones.  Calvin viewed the 1559 version as the complete and most authoritative one.  It is entitled

Institute of the Christian Religion now first arranged in four books and divided by definite headings in a very convenient way; also enlarged by so much added matter that it can be regarded as a new work.  The edition bore the olive branch, Calvin’s symbol of his work.  Gradually the institutes began to be translated into other languages.  The 1536 text was translated into Spanish by Francisco Enzinas, a friend of Melanchthon, one of Cranmer’s proteges and a correspondent of Calvin who was a New Testament translator and scholar.  In 1557 an Italian translation was produced by Giulio Cesari Pascali for the use of the Italian refugee church in Geneva.

The first English translation was produced in 1561 and was followed by two more.  The preface to the third English edition is appended with the name Thomas Norton.  Thomas Norton was a law student who together with one of his fellow students had produced a gory play entitled  “The Tragedy of Gorbuduc”  He was an advocate of Puritan measures within the church and had spent time in prison for criticising the bishops.  He married the daughter of Thomas Cranmer and participated in the trails of Roman Catholics, especially those implicated in the rebellion of 1569.

Norton tackled the translation with great fidelity although he is sometimes criticised for preserving Latin forms and idiom with too much zeal.  The last edition of Norton’s translation was produced in 1634 and each translation was an effort to keep up to date with changes in the language of the time.

After 1634 there were no new English translations until the one produced by John Allen in 1813.  This was followed in 1845 by Henry Bevereidge’s version.

Think about the stages in the publication of the Institutes and in their translation into other languages.  Is there a modern day comparison that would be valid or are most publications just produced and reproduced without adjustment or modification?  What would have happened to a text like the Institutes in our pluralistic age today? Would it be a best seller? Or a text book?  Would it be regarded as a dangerous volume promoting radical thought amongst its readers?

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Chapter III The knowledge of God has been naturally implanted in the minds of men

1.       The character of this natural endowment

Calvin believes that in the human mind there is a natural awareness of divinity that has been planted there by God Himself.  As a progression from this human beings condemn themselves if they fail “to honour him and consecrate their lives to do His will”.  Any nation that does not honour God is therefore barbarous.  This is in agreement with the presupposition of Cicero in “On the nature of gods”  believing in a “sense of deity  inscribed in the hearts of all”.

The establishment of this comes through idolatry: for Calvin human beings prefer to worship wood and stone rather than admit or think that there is any god at all.  Thus Calvin believes that placing other creatures above themselves and turning them into gods is an unwilling human action.  Could this still be true today?  There are many who place other things far above any notion of god –could this be trying to hide from the knowledge of God that is naturally implanted?

May be the knowledge of God is so suppressed that it finds its way into aggression towards God and towards his representatives here on earth –those who actually do believe in Him?  Calvin believes it is impossible to erase the knowledge of God that is implanted in us: is that true for you?

Most people have moments of doubt: what brings you back to acknowledging God’s presence deep inside you?