Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Institutes, chicken-houses and the soul

John Calvin became a theologian in order to be a better pastor. So says Jean-Daniel Benoit in Calvin in His Letters. It's a study of Calvin's pastoral counselling and Benoit's method is interesting: he seeks to explain Calvin's letters in the light of his Institutes, regarding these as the doctrinal foundation for care of souls. This might surprise some.

"Is it not presumptuous to open the Institutes in order to see the portrait of Calvin as director of souls? ... what does the Institutes have to do with the heart, with the needs of the soul, and with that sacred science of tact and solicitude which spiritual counselling demands? And yet, perhaps even more than a doctrinal treatise, the Institutes is a religious book and in certain respects a book of piety. It gave nourishment to the spiritual life of many generations whose taste had not been corrupted by heretical delicacy and who had no fear of solid food. The Bible, the Psalter, the Institutes and the book of martyrs ... these were the great books of the French Reformation, the hearths in men's inner beings where the flames of the spiritual life were fed. This is why in times of persecution people hid the Institutes just as they hid their bibles. Copies were found in stables and chicken-houses, where they had been concealed to avoid the inquisitions."

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