So I started Calvin’s Institutes a few days ago. Last week I posted a link to a site that provides a year-long reading schedule and mentioned that I was probably going to give it a shot. I’m one of those people who wants to read the back cover, inside jacket blurbs, acknowledgements, preface, introduction, table of contents, and so on. So this is how I began my through-the-year journey with Calvin. Last summer I picked up a copy of Institutes in the used section of the DTS book store (the same place, by the way, where I bought all of my Puritan paperback classics, Drinking With Calvin and Luther, and other reformed-ish titles. Many of them were sold by the same guy. Wonder why he dumped them off. Oh well, my gain). I bought the 2008 Hendrickson Publishers edition. I don’t know if this a highly recommended version of the Institutes or not but I got for $15 instead of $25 so I’m happy. I know you can read it online for free but I like to mark what I’m reading with pencils and highlighters.
The book begins with 34 pages of prefatory material which is actually very good. The reading guide gives you one day to read “Prefatory,” which I assume refers to Calvin’s Prefatory Address to the King, but I read the preface to the Hendrickson edition, the intro to the original edition of the Henry Beveridge edition, a preface from the original English translator, and Calvin’s epistles to the reader from each of the editions. Again, it was actually good stuff. I didn’t read it all in a day and I didn’t begin on January 1st so I’m a little behind. The English translator’s, Thomas Norton, preface was particularly interesting. Not so much for what he had to say but because it got me thinking about the immensity of the task of translating a book of this size from Latin to English without a computer and other tools we enjoy today. Quite a task. Apparently Norton, son-in-law to Thomas Cranmer, was quite zealous in his role as official examiner and punisher of Catholics as he gained the nickname “Rackmaster” Norton.
I’m at 1.3 right now and need to read up to 1.8 this weekend to get caught up. Any else reading through Calvin’s Institutes this year? I know BCJ (see previous post) is. I read one off-hand comment on another blog that made light of an undertaking such as this. I admit its a tad geeky. But read, for instance, what Karl Barth once wrote to a friend about Calvin:
“John Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life with just Calvin (emphasis mine).” [from J.R. Harris’ introduction to his reading guide]
Not a bad endorsement. Let me know if you are reading through Calvin’s Institutes this year too.