Lithograph of John Calvin, c. The theology of John Calvin has been influential in both the development of the john calvin biography pdf of belief now known as Calvinism and in Protestant thought more generally. There has been disagreement among scholars regarding the degree to which later Calvinism corresponds to Calvin’s own theology.
His theological importance is tied to the attempted systematization of Christian doctrine. Calvin developed his theology in his biblical commentaries as well as his sermons and treatises, but the most concise expression of his views is found in his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion.
He intended that the book be used as a summary of his views on Christian theology and that it be read in conjunction with his commentaries. The various editions of that work span nearly his entire career as a reformer, and the successive revisions of the book show that his theology changed very little from his youth to his death. The first edition from 1536 consisted of only six chapters.
The second edition, published in 1539, was three times as long because he added chapters on subjects that appear in Melanchthon’s Loci Communes. In 1543, he again added new material and expanded a chapter on the Apostles’ Creed. The final edition of the Institutes appeared in 1559. By then, the work consisted of four books of eighty chapters, and each book was named after statements from the creed: Book 1 on God the Creator, Book 2 on the Redeemer in Christ, Book 3 on receiving the Grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and Book 4 on the Society of Christ or the Church.
Title page from the final edition of Calvin’s magnum opus, Institutio Christiane Religionis, which summarises his theology. The first statement in the Institutes acknowledges its central theme. It states that the sum of human wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. Calvin argues that the knowledge of God is not inherent in humanity nor can it be discovered by observing this world.
The only way to obtain it is to study scripture. Calvin writes, “For anyone to arrive at God the Creator he needs Scripture as his Guide and Teacher.
He does not try to prove the authority of scripture but rather describes it as autopiston or self-authenticating. He defends the trinitarian view of God and, in a strong polemical stand against the Catholic Church, argues that images of God lead to idolatry.