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Exegesis and Double Justice in Calvin's Sermons on Job

  • Susan E. Schreiner (a1)


Medieval exegetes contributed distinguished commentaries on the Book of Job that had far-reaching influence. When, in 1554, Calvin ascended the pulpit in Geneva to deliver a series of sermons on Job, his listeners heard not only the Genevan Reformer but echoes of that medieval tradition. In Job's story Calvin saw a God whose providence held sovereign sway over nature, history, and Satan. Having undertaken these sermons, however, Calvin soon confronted Job's question: Why do the righteous suffer? Calvin did not answer Job alone. He turned to both medieval Joban commentaries and Scotist-nominalist categories to resolve this book's central issue of divine justice. But we will see that despite all these resources the exegetical difficulties posed by the text itself forced Calvin to realize that his central hermeneutical device brought with it implications with which he was ultimately uncomfortable. That device was double justice.



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1. This is not an exhaustive list. In Dieu, la crétion et la Providence dans la prédication de Calvin (Berne, 1978), Stauffer locates only one reference outside of the Job sermons which resembles double justice: 54th sermon on 2 Sam., SCI:473, where Calvin, says that “Dieu a deux facons de commander” p. 143.

2. Bohatec, , “Gott und die Geschichte nach Calvin,” Philosophia reformata (1936): 147;idem, Budeé und Calvin (Bohlau, 1950), P. 280; Stauffer, R., Dieu, la création, p. 118;Bouwsma, W., John Calvin (Oxford, 1988), p. 42. On Calvin's sermons, see Stauffer, Dieu, la création; Parker, T. H. L., The Oracles of God (London, 1947);Mulhaupt, E., Die Predigt Calvins (Leipzig, 1931).

3. Gregory, the Great, Moralia in lob, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 143 (Turnhout, 1979);Morales sur Job, Sources chrétiennes 32 (Paris, 1958). See also Lubac, Henri de, Exégèse médiévale. Lies quatresens de l'Écriture, vol. 2, pt. I (Paris, 19591961), pp. 537548, 586599;Catry, P., “Épreuves du juste et mystère de Dieu. Le commentaire littéral du livre de Job par saint Grégoire,” Revue des Etudes augustiniennes 18 (1972): 124144;Dagens, Claude, Saint Grégoire le Grand (Paris, 1977), pp. 201205, 233244.Wasselynck, R., “Les compilations des Moralia in lob du VIIe au XIIe siècle,” Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale 29 (1962): 532;idem, “Les Moralia in lob dans lies ouvrages de morale du Haut Moyen Age latin,” Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale 31 (1964): 5–13.

4. Aquinas, Thomas, Expositio super Iob ad litteram, Opera Omnia, vol. 26 (Rome, 1965), cited by chapter, verse, and line. On Thomas's exegesis, see Smalley, B., The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, 1964), pp. 292308;Synave, P., “La Doctrine de S. Thomas d'Aquin sur le sens litteral des Ecritures,” Revue Biblique 35 (1926): 4065;de Lubac, H., Exégèse médiévale, vol. 2, Pt. 2 (Paris, 1962), pp. 272302. The date of Thomas's Job commentary is debated. Mandonnet and Chenu argue that it was written in the midst of the Averroist controversy and date it around 1269. Weisheipl and Dondaine, however, believe that it was written between 1261 and 1264.

5. References correspond to the Latin translation of Maimonides which Thomas read: Dux seu Director dubitantium aut perplexorum (1520; reprint, Frankfurt a.M, 1964). See also Glatzer, Nahum, “The Book of Job and its Interpreters,” in Biblical Motifs, Studies and Texts, ed. Altmann, Alexander (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), pp. 192220;Reines, A. J., “Maimonides' Concepts of Providence and Theodicy,” Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1972): 169206.

6. On Thomas's critique of Mainsonides, see Dondaine's, discussion in the Opera Omnia, vol. 26, pp. 2628.

7. Lyra, Nicolaus de, Postilla super totam Bibliam, vol. 3 (1492; reprint, Frankfurt a.M., 1971);Biblia sacra cum glosses Interlineari et Ordinaria, Nicolai Lyrani Postilla, vol. 3 (Venice, 1588). Citations are to the literal gloss. On Lyra's exegesis, see Hilperin, Herman, Rashi and the Christian Scholars (Pittsburgh, 1963), pp. 137248.

8. Calvin may have known both traditions through the 1545 edition of Lyra's work, which may have been present in the Geneva Library; see Ganoczy, A., La Bibliothèque de l'Académie de Calvin (Geneva, 1969), p. 183.

9. Kraus, , “Calvins exegetische Prinzipien,” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 79 (1978): 329341;Ganoczy, A. and Scheld, S., Die Hermeneutick Calvins (Wiesbaden, 1983), pp. 96100.

10. The distinction between the two powers predates nominalism but became central to theological debate with Duns Scotus. In his review of Suzanne Selinger's Calvin Against Himself Robert Kingdon criticized Selinger for assuming that Calvin studied nominalist theologians. In his criticism of Karl Reuter Ganoczy argued that Reuter attributed undue influence to John Major as a source of Calvin's “nominalism.” As Ganoczy showed, references so nominalist theologians do not occur in Calvin's early works or the Geneva Library. See Kingdon's, review in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 54 (1986): 191;Ganoczy, A., Lejeune Calvin. Genèse et évolution de sa vocation réformatrice (Wiesbaden, 1966), p. 190; compare Reuter, K., Das Grundverständnis der Theologie Calvins (Neukirchen, 1963), pp. 123172. This essay makes no claim for a sophisticated or systematic knowledge of nominalism by Calvin. The Job sermons do, however, reflect Calvin's use of nominalist themes which he may have derived from Luther or Scotus.

11. Calvin's translation: “Voici il ne trouve point fermetéen ses serviteurs, et a mis vanitéen ses Anges.” In his previous references to Job 4:18, however, Calvin cites the traditional translation.

12. Compare Inst. 1.17.2,3.23.2, CO 8:361, CO 9: 288–289, CO 29:126 (cited by Stauffer, , Dieu, la création, p. 138). For a history of the changing asessment of nominalism, see Courtenay, William J., “Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in late Medieval Religion, ed. Trinkaus, C. and Oberman, H. A. (Leiden, 1974), pp. 2659.Oberman, H. A., “Some Notes on the Theology of Nominalism” Harvard Theological Review 53 (1960): 4676;idem, The Harvest of Late Medieval Theology (ambridge, Mass., 1963); Vignaux, P., Justification et prédestination au XIVe siècle (Paris, 1934).

13. Compare Inst. 1.15.8, 1.16.9–17.2, 18.3, CO 32:12, 151–152; Gerrish, Brian A., The Old Protestantism and the New (Chicago, 1982), pp. 131149;Berger, Heinrich, Calvins Geschichtsauffassung (Zurich, 1955), pp. 5155, 237240.

14. Balic, C., ed., Oxford Commentary on the Sentences, Opus Oxoniense, Opera Omnia (Rome, 1950), 1.4dis. 46, qu. 1.

15. Scotus concludes that, in reality, there was only one righteousness or justice in God; In IV Sent. dist. xlvi. q.l. nfl. 2–7. For an analysis of Scotus's discussion, see Minges, P., Der Gottesbegriff des Duns Scotus (Vienna, 1907), pp. 120142.

16. Oberman, H. A., Dawn of the Reformation(Edinburgh, 1986), p. 256.

17. Compare Reuter, , Das Grundverstindnis der Theologie Calvins, pp. 142154, and Bohatec, J., Calvin und das Recht (Vienna, 1934), pp. 9091.

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Church History
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