Calvin’s Debt To Luther

On the other hand, a glance at the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes, already published in 1536, is sufficient to prove that he was deeply indebted to Luther, and this, no doubt promised better things. Quite apart from the fact, often pointed out, that Calvin modeled the structure of his first edition on Luther’s catechisms,he borrowed freely from the fund of Lutheran ideas, not least on the Lord’s Supper. His basic understanding of what a sacrament is unmistakably echoed the classic treatment in Luther’s Babylonian Captivity. In short, unlike Zwingli, who proclaimed his theological independence, Calvin was a conscious debtor, who deliberately appropriated Lutheran insights. It is true that, on this point, Émile Domergue challenged August Lang, who had argued for Calvin’s dependence on Luther in the first edition of the Institutes…Hence we must conclude that, despite wholly negative appearance of Calvin’s remarks to Bucer, he was already under Luther’s theological influence.

Brian Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 31

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  1. Clearly Calvin and Luther agreed on justification as a forensic act (as well as on its being accompanied by other acts of grace) and on predestination. Luther’s lectures on Romans 9 are every bit as predestinarian as anything in Calvin or the Canons of Dordrecht.

    Further, it seems that Calvin’s doctrine of Christ’s presence in the Supper so approached the Lutheran that the Zurich Reformers were worried, with the result that the Consensus Tigurinus was worked out between the Genevans and Zurichers. However, I suspect that there are some significant differences between the Lutheran Law-Gospel schema and the covenantal schema which was worked out by people like Bullinger.

    I would hope, however, that any attempt to find areas of agreement with our Lutheran brethren would not join their anathematization of Zwingli. My sense from reading Zwingli’s _On True and False Religion_(albeit in English, since I’m not very good at 16th century Schwietzeteystsch) is that his break with Rome came via discovery of “by Christ Alone” rather than Luther’s “by Faith Alone”. Zwingli’s concern for the sole mediatorship of Christ explains much of the more radical approach taken by his disciples towards things such as worship and ethics. Zwingli’s polemic against the Anabaptists also contributed much to the development of our Reformed covenantal theology.

  2. Thank you for this quote from Garrish.

    I wonder: How much, if at all, Calvin was influenced by Melanchthon’s 1521 “Loci Communes”? I am reading this right now and I am struck by how powerfully “Reformed” it is…

    Seems like the 1521 “Loci” is a great read- giving simple clarity to Scriptural themes (e.g., sin, Law, grace, the gospel, etc).

    • Chuck,

      You are quite right to see the connection. The LC were the first summary of the Protestant/evangelical faith and were widely read in multiple editions. Compare the first edition of the Institutes with the LC and one sees strong similarities. Calvin was a close reader of Melanchthon and appreciated his scholarship. Melanchthon’s commentary on Romans was very influential on Calvin and shaped his own work on Romans.

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