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Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin's Baptismal Thought, 1536–1543

  • John W. Riggs (a1)


The relatively few monographs on Calvin's baptismal theology have generally been done without regard to chronological development and historical context. This has been unfortunate because diachronic studies on Luther's and Zwingli's baptismal theology have shown theological shifts in emphasis depending on historical context. As we shall see, studies on Calvin's ecclesiology from 1536 through 1543 show a sequential development—a progression which, upon close examination, has a significant impact on his baptismal teaching over time.



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1. See, for example, Grönvik, Lorenz, Die Taufe in der Theologie Martin Luthers (Göttingen, 1968);Brinkel, Karl, Die Lehre Luthers von der Fides Infantium bei Kindertaufe (Berlin, 1958);Ferel, Martin, Gepredigte Taufe: Eine homiletische Untersuchung zur Taufpredigte bet Luther (Tübingen, 1969);Jetter, Werner, Die Taufe beim Jungen Luther (Tübingen, 1954).Compare the “two front” groundwork laid by Paul Althaus in “Martin Luther über die Kindertaufe,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 73 (1948): 705714.Also see Cottrell, Jack Warren, “Covenant and Baptism in the Theology of Huldreich Zwingli” (Th.D. diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1971);Hemmann, Carl, “Zwingli's Stellung zur Tauffrage im literarischen Kampf mit den Anabaptisten,” Schweizerische Theologische Zeitschrift 36 (1919): 2933, 7985;Usteri, Johann Martin, “Darstellung der Tauflehre Zwinglis,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 3 (1884): 205284; and Yoder, John Howard, “The Turning Point in the Zwinglian Revolution,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 32 (1958): 128140.

2. See, for example, the studies by Ganoczy, Alexandre, Calvin: théologien de l'église et du ministère, Unam Sanctam 48 (Paris, 1964), pp. 183222;Höpfl, Harro, The Christian Polity of John Calvin (Cambridge, U.K., 1982);and Whale, J. S., The Protestant Tradition: An Essay in Interpretation (Cambridge, U.K., 1955), pp. 145162.

3. Usteri, Johann Martin, “Calvins Sakraments- und Tauflehre,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 3 (1884): 419456, 422.Also see Usteri, , “Darstellung der Tauflehre Zwinglis,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 2 (1882): 205284;Usteri, , “Die Stellung der Strassburger Reformatoren Butzer und Capito zur Tauffrage,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 3 (1884): 456524;Usteri, , “Vertiefung der Zwinglischen Sakraments- und Tauflehre bei Bullinger,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 4 (1883):730758;Usteri, , “Weitere Beiträge zur Geschichte der Tauflehre der Reformierten Kirche,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 3 (1883): 610620.

4. Beckmann, Joachim, Vom Sakrament bei Calvin (Tübingen, 1926).

5. Boudriot, W., “Calvins Tauflehre im Lichte der katholischen Sakramentslehre,” Reformierte Kirchenzeitung 80 (1930): 153155, 161–164.

6. de Quervain, A., “Der theologische Gehalt von Calvins Taufformular,” Reformierle Kirchenzeitung 84 (1934): 261263;Benoît, Jean Daniel, “Calvin et le baptême des enfants,” Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses 17 (1937): 457473;Niesel, Wilhelm, Die Theologie Calvins (Munich, 1938).

7. Kreck, Walter, “Die Lehre von der Taufe bei Calvin,” Evangelische Theologie 6 (1948): 237254.

8. Wallace, Ronald S., Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, (Edinburgh and London, 1953);Torrance, T. F., “L'enseignment baptismal de Calvin,” Revue de theologie et de philosophie 9 (1959): 141152;Grislis, Egil, “Calvin's Doctrine of Baptism,” Church History 31 (1962): 4665;von Geusau, L. G. M. Alting, Die Lehre bei Calvin von Kindertaufe: Gesehen im Rahmen seiner Sakraments-und Tauftheologie; Synthese oder Ordnungsfehler? (Mainz, 1963);and Raitt, Jill, “Three Inter-related Principles in Calvin's Unique Doctrine of Infant Baptism,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 11 (1980): 5162.

9. For a thorough discussion, including Continental and Anglo-American scholarship, see Gerrish, Brian A., “The Pathfinder: Calvin's Image of Martin Luther,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago, 1982), pp. 2748.

10. See Balke, Willem, Calvin and the Anabaptists, trans. Heynen, William (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1981), p. 40;Courvoisier, Jacques, “Bucer et Calvin,” in Benoit, Jean-Daniel et al. , Calvin a Strasbourg, 1538–1541 (Strasbourg, 1938), p. 40;Ganoczy, Alexandre, The Young Calvin, trans. Foxgrover, David and Provo, Wade (Philadelphia, 1987), pp. 137181;Gerrish, , “Pathfinder,” p. 31;Lang, August, “Luther und Calvin,” in Reformation und Gegenwart: Gesammelte Aufsätze vornehmlich zur Geschichte und turn Verständnis Calvins und der reformierten Kirche, von August Long (Detmold, 1918), pp. 7677;idem, “Die Quellen der Institutio von 1536,” Evangelische Theologie 3 (1936): 104105;Meinhold, Peter, “Calvin und Luther,” Lutherische Monatshefte 3 (1964): 265;Nauta, Doede, “Calvin and Luther,” Free University Quarterly 2 (19521953): 11;and Wendel, François, Calvin: sources et evolution de sa pensée religieuse (Paris, 1950), p. 96.

11. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar, 1888), 6: 535. 8–11 [hereafter cited as WA with volume and page number];English translation in Luther's Works, ed., Pelikan, Jaroslav and Lehmann, Helmut T. (St. Louis, 1955–), 36:39 [hereafter cited as LW with volume and page number]. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the author's.

12. Grönvik, Lorenz, Die Taufe in der Theologie Martin Luthers (Göttingen, 1968), pp. 4045, 102–131; see esp. pp. 102–106, 159, 165–166, and 239.Also see Brinkel, Karl, Die Lehre Luthers von der Fides Infantium bei Kindertaufe (Berlin, 1958);and Althaus, , “Martin Luther,” pp. 705–714.

13. WA 26:154.1–155.28; LW40:239–241.

14. WA 26:159.25–161.34; LW40:246–248.

15. Ioannis Calvini opera selecta, eds. Barth, Peter, Niesel, Wilhelm, and Scheuner, Dora (Munich, 19261952), 1: 118; italics added [hereafter cited as OS with volume and page number].In 1975 Ford Lewis Battles produced an excellent translation of the 1536 Institutes, along with annotations and four appendices, which was revised and republished in 1986 in recognition of the 450th anniversary of the 1536 Institutes.See Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 edition, trans, and annot. Ford Lewis Battles, (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986).

16. OS 1:122. Compare Zwingli's De vera et falsa religione commentarius, in Huldreich Zwinglis sdmtliche Werke, ed. Egli, Emil, Finsler, George, et al. (Zurich, 1525);Corpus Reformatorum (Leipzig, 1914) 3: 758759, 763.Calvin was perhaps influenced by Bucer; see Bornert, René, La Réforme protestante du culte a Strasbourg au XVI' siècle (1523–1598), Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 28, ed. Oberman, Heiko (Leiden, 1981).Bornert argues that by 1536 Bucer thought of baptism as an entrance into the church and instruction by the church (pp. 342–343), as a time of receiving God's sign and then consecrating our faith (pp. 345–347), and as needing some form of confirmation so that those baptized as children could publicly attest to their faith (pp. 361–365). The question of whether Bucer influenced Calvin's baptismal thinking is further complicated because Bucer originally developed his thinking along Zwinglian lines;see Usteri, , “Stellung,” pp. 456–463;also see Bornert, , La Réforme, pp. 341, 356–357.

17. OS 1:122. For an extended discussion of these two aspects, see my study, “The Development of Calvin's Baptismal Theology, 1536–1560” (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1986), pp. 106115;also see the subsequent discussion by Gerrish, in Grace and Gratitude (Minneapolis, 1993), pp. 103116.

18. OS 1:127.

19. OS 1:127, 135. Calvin devoted only 16 lines to this discussion, (OS 1:132), as compared to 206 lines in his discussion of the first aspect of baptism (OS 1:127–132).

20. Calvin, also described baptism as mortification and new life in Christ (OS 1:128–129), which was a regenerative washing (OS 1:129–130), as well as an engrafting into Christ himself in whom all three benefits (forgiveness, regeneration, engrafting) were found (OS 1:132). Calvin thus described God's inviolable sacramental activity as God's promise of forgiveness (OS 1:134), God's promise of mortification and regeneration (OS 1:131), and God's offer of Christ (OS 1:123–124, 119–120).

21. OS 1:134.

22. Battles, , Institutes, 1536 edition, pp. xvii–lix;Ganoczy, , Young Calvin, pp. 225238.

23. OS 1:123. See, for example, the extended discussion in the chapter on the sacraments (OS 1.122–124);and note Battles' comments in Institutes, 1536 edition, pp. xxii–xxv, li–liv.

24. Battles, , Institutes, 1536 edition, pp. xlv–lix. On Calvin's ecclesiology see Balke, Calvin, pp. 39–71, 97–122, 155–168, 209–211;Barth, Peter, “Calvins Verstandnis der Kirche,” Zwischen den Zeiten 8 (1930): 216233;Doumergue, , Calvin, 5: 3–67;Ganoczy, , Calvin theologien, pp. 183–222;Höpfl, , Polity;.McNeill, J. T., “The Church in Sixteenth-Century Reformed Theology,” Journal of Religion 22 (1942): 251269;Mueller, William, Church and State in Luther and Calvin: A Comparative Study (Nashville, Tenn., 1954), pp. 73163;Petry, Ray C., “Calvin's Conception of the 'Communio Sanctorum',” Church History 5 (1936): 227238;Quistorp, Heinrich, “Sichtbare und unsichtbare Kirche bei Calvin,” Evangelische Theologie 9 (1949): 83101;Strohl, H., “La notion d'Église chez les Réformateurs,” Revue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses 16 (1936): 265319, esp. 296–311;and Whale, , Protestant Tradition, pp. 145–162.

25. OS 1:31. See Balke, , Anabaptist, pp. 48–49;Ganoczy, , Calvin théologien, pp. 184185;Höpfl, , Polity, pp. 1955;Strohl, , “La notion,” pp. 296–303;and Whale, , Tradition, pp. 146–151.Note the parallels that Ganoczy draws between Bucer, and Calvin, , Young Calvin, pp. 168–171.

26. Notice the unnamed reference to Cyprian in Calvin's discussion of the church (OS 1:92). Compare Cyprian, Epistle 72[73]. 21in The Ante-Nkene Fathers, ed. Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James (Edinburgh, 1885–; rept. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990), 5:384.

27. OSRML1:91.

28. Compare with the strong wording in Luther's 1522 prayer book: “I believe that no one can be saved who is not in this community, peacefully holding with it the same faith, word, sacraments, and love…” (WA 10:394; LW 43:28).

29. See the discussion in 0S 1:88–91; also note Battles' comments in Institutes, 1536 edition, pp. 265266.

30. Balke, , Calvin, pp. 73–96;Ganoczy, , Young Calvin, pp. 106–131;Parker, T. H. L., John Calvin: A Bibliography (Philadelphia, 1975), pp. 5166;Walker, Williston, John Calvin: The Organizer of Reformed Protestantism 1509–1564 (New York, 1906), pp. 182215.

31. Balke, , Calvin, pp. 123–153;Parker, , John Calvin, pp. 67–81;Walker, , John Calvin, pp. 216–244.

32. See the recent studies by Burnett, Amy Nelson, “Church Discipline and Moral Reformation in the Thought of Martin Bucer,” Sixteenth Century Journal 22 (1991): 438456;Greschat, Martin, Martin Bucer: Ein Reformator und seine Zeit (München, 1990), pp. 127138, 153–161;Hammann, Gottfried, Entre la secte et la cite: le project d'église du reformateur Martin Bucer (Geneva, 1984), esp. pp. 43–68, 175–249, 258–262.Also see Eells, Hasting, Martin Bucer (New Haven, 1931), pp. 127165;Wendel, Francois, L'Église de Strasbourg, sa constitution etson organization, 1532–1535 (Paris, 1942).

33. Friedmann, Robert, The Theology of Anabaptism (Scottdale, Pa., 1973), pp. 115157;Klassen, William, Anabaptism in Outline (Scottdale, Pa., 1981), pp. 101117;Littell, Franklin H., The Anabaptist View of the Church (Boston, 1958), pp. 79108.

34. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 edition, 4.14.19 [hereafter cited as Inst. followed by book, chapter, and section]; OS 5.277.26–7.

35. During his stay in Strasbourg, Calvin continued his patristic readings, especially focusing on Chrysostom and Augustine. See Hughes Oliphant Old, The Patristic Roots Reformed Worship, Züricher Beiträge zur Reformationsgeschichte 5 (Zürich, 1975), pp. 144155.The quotations are found in Inst. 4.14.19, 05 5:277.31–278.2.

36. OS 1:125.

37. Inst. 4.14.19, OS 5:278.2–6.

38. The editors of the OS give a plausible explanation for the infant baptism supplement originally appearing in a separate French tract to defend the practice of infant baptism (OS 5:303.41, 304.16–30). This traicte then appeared, in altered form, both in the 1539 (Latin) Institutes and the 1541 (French) Institutes.

39. See OS 2:30.21–38.36 for a critical text of the Baptism Order. OS 2:1–10 gives an introduction and literary history for the critical text of “La Forme des Prieres et Chantz ecclesiastiques “ in which Calvin's baptismal order can be found.

40. OS 2:37.5–16.

41. Balke, , Cafom, pp. 169–208.

42. Inst. 4.1.2, OS 5:2.5–5.3.10.

43. See, for example, Inst. 4.1.4, OS 5:7.5–24. With regard to Calvin's emphasis on public ministry and church discipline,see Balke, , Anabaptist, pp. 112–115;Doumergue, , Calvin, 5.29–37;Ganoczy, , Calvin théologun, pp. 193–200;Höpfl, , Polity, pp. 56–90;Quistorp, , “Sichtbare,” pp. 86–92; and Whale, Tradition, pp. 152–3.

44. Höpfl, (Polity, pp. 84–85) pointedly says, “The first Institutes, it will be recalled, had been completed when Calvin was quite innocent of ecclesiastical experience or responsibility. A relative abstractness in matters of detail and practice was therefore only to be expected. What borders on the inexplicable is Calvin's obscurity in such matters in 1539. ' Surely “inexplicable” is too harsh a word for this point in Calvin's career.

45. Inst. 4.15.6, OS 5:89.14–20.

46. OS 1118.

47. Inst. 4.14.1, OS 5:259.2–10; italics added.

48. OS 1:127.

49. Inst. 4.15.1, OS 5:285.12–16.

50. Inst. 4.14.16, OS 5:273.26–274.1; italics added. Also see Calvin's 1540 commentary on Rom. 4:10–12 in which he argued that sacraments in themselves did nothing, nor were they useful to the reprobate; yet they still had power since unbelief does not extinguish God's truth;Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. Baum, Wilhelm, Cunitz, Edward, and Reuss, Edward; and Corpus Reformatorum (Brunswick, 18631900), 49: 74 [hereafter cited as CO with volume and page number].Compare the 1548 commentary on Gal. 5:3 where Calvin rhetorically conceded that “whatever the abuses of the ungodly might be, they nevertheless do not strip the sacred decrees of God ' ("qualiscunque sit impiorum abusus, id tamen sacrosanctis Dei institutis nihil detrahere,” CO 50:245).

51. “An promiscue in omnibus impletur haec gratia?—Multi dum illi sua pravitate viam praecludunt, efficiunt ut sibi sit inanis. Ita non nisi ad fideles solos pervenit fructus. Verum, inde nihil sacramenti naturae decedit.” (OS 2:134.21–4; no. 329; italics added).

52. Balke, , Anabaptist, pp. 155–160;Doumergue, , Calvin, 5:37–40;Ganoczy, , Calvin theologien, pp. 202–211;Höpfl, , Polity, pp. 89–127;and Whale, , Tradition, 155–160.The four-fold ministry is set forth in Inst. 4.3.1–16, OS 5:42.20–57.29, almost all of which is composed of the 1543 version.

53. Inst. 4.1.7,05 5:12.24–7.

54. On this passage see Krusche, WernerDas Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin (Göttingen, 1957), pp. 311316;also see Bohatec, Josef, Calvins Lehre von Stoat und Kirche, (Breslau, 1937; rept. 1961), pp. 285286;Ganoczy, , Calvin theologien, pp. 202–206;Niesel, , Calvins, pp. 191–192;Quistorp, , “Kirche,” pp. 96–99.Compare Calvin's commentary on Rom. 9:6–7 (CO 49:175–17) and Rom. 9:8–11, 15–16 in CO 49:175–179, 181–183.

55. In 1546 Calvin commented on the visible church with regard to 1 Cor. 1:9, noting that “this is the purpose of the gospel, that Christ should become ours, and that we should be engrafted into his body.” See CO 49:313. With regard to the invisible church, see Inst. 3.22.7, OS 4.387–388; Inst. 3.24.5–10, OS 4.415–422.

56. “Le Baptesme est la marque de nostre Chrestienté, et le signe par lequel nous sommes receuz en la compagnie de'Église, afin qu'estans incorporez en Christ, nous soyons reputez du nombre des enfans de Dieu.” Institution de la Religion Chrestienne, ed. Benoit, Jean-Daniel (Paris, 1961), 2:318.

57. The expression “the mystical body of Christ” is translated from the original: “Haec est ecclesia catholica, corpus Christi mysticum ' (OS 1.92). Calvin's 1539 description of true believers is found in Inst. 3.22.7, OS 4.387–388; Inst. 3.24.5–10, OS 4.415–422.

58. Passages such as Inst. 3.22.7, 05 4.387–388, and Inst. 3.24.5–10, OS 4.415–422, remain relatively unchanged even through the 1559 Institutes. There Calvin moves the discussion of predestination out of the section on God's providence and into the section on the work of the Holy Spirit, a section that immediately precedes the discussion of the church.


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