Institutes Study: Letter to the Reader

Week 1 Study Question

In Calvin’s 1559 letter to the reader, what reasons does he give for writing the Institutes of the Christian Religion?

1. To prepare and train candidates for the sacred office.

2. To prepare and train those for the study of Scripture.

a. So the reader may have an easy introduction to Scripture.

b. To show the reader what to chiefly look for in Scripture.

c. To point the reader to the head of whatever is contained in Scripture.

3. To pave the way for separate commentaries of Scripture, so as to prevent lengthy or burdensome explanations of doctrine.  Basically, the understanding communicated in the Institutes was to serve as the doctrinal presupposition for all of Calvin’s subsequent work.

Beyond the reasons given in this particular letter to the reader, and though it was not his original intention when first undertaking the Institutes, Calvin earnestly sought to impress this work upon the King of France and encourage him to carefully study the doctrine which was so defiled and persecuted in his land.


*The answer above is my observation of what Calvin himself described as his reasons for writing the Institutes.  Upon listening to Dr. Calhoun’s lectures I should add the following for the purpose of this study.

First, Dr. Calhoun clarifies that Calvin wrote the study to provide instruction particularly for French Protestants.  Even though Calvin was a new Protestant himself and only beginning his biblical and theological studies, he was being asked by his contemporaries for help.  So he penned the Institutes as an organized way of teaching the Bible to the French who had converted to Protestantism so that they may have a clearly articulated statement of faith.

But Dr. Calhoun also mentions that Calvin set out to present a Protestant confession of faith to the King of France, Francis I.  While Calvin did indeed do this, I have some trouble reconciling Dr. Calhoun’s remarks with Calvin’s own statement on the matter.  The very first sentences of his Prefatory Address to King Francis I read as follows:

“Sire—When I first engaged in this work, nothing was farther from my thoughts than to write what should afterward be presented to your Majesty.  My intention was only to furnish a kind of rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness.”

So while it is clear that Calvin was eventually very serious about submitting his work to the king, I’m not so sure that we can lump that in with his original intentions.  Perhaps Dr. Calhoun was referring only to the time that the first edition was published in 1536.

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