Jean Calvin (1509–1564).
The Institution of Christian Religion.
Translated by Thomas Norton (1532–1584).
London: Richarde Harrison, 1562. (00016)
Calvin’s Institutio Religionis Christianae, commonly known in English as The Institutes of the Christian Religion, was first published in Latin in 1536 and was revised and expanded by the author four times. Latin editions appeared in 1539, 1543, 1550, and 1559, and French translations soon followed for these second through fifth editions. The text was translated into English from Calvin’s last revised edition of 1559 by Thomas Norton, the son-in-law of the English Reformer Thomas Cranmer, and was first published in this London edition of 1562. The curious device, or printer’s mark, on the title page serves as a rebus puzzle for the printer’s surname. From bottom to top, the image of a hare plus “RI” plus the image of the sun equals the printer “Harrison.”
Calvin based much of the form and substance of the first edition of The Institutes on Martin Luther’s 1529 Kleiner Katechismus, with six chapters concerning the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments, and Church government. In addition to the Kleiner Katechismus and several other works by Luther, Calvin was also influenced by Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560), Martin Bucer (1491–1551), and Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531). Calvin’s final 1559 version consisted of 80 chapters organized into four major sections. These delineate the author’s views on (1) God the creator, (2) God the redeemer in Christ, (3) the grace of the Holy Spirit, and (4) the Church, ministry, and the sacrament. With its clear structure, systematic presentation, logical arguments, and lucid prose, Calvin’s Institutes became perhaps the most important theological text of the Reformation.