Can Anyone Tell Me What Calvin Wrote?

by Jun 29, 2011Books4 comments

In the commandments of the Law [Matt 22:34–40, the Great Commandments], God does not look at what men can do, but at what they ought to do; since in this infirmity of the flesh it is impossible that perfect love can obtain dominion, for we know how strongly all the senses of our soul are disposed to vanity. Lastly, we learn from this, that God does not rest satisfied with the outward appearance of works, but chiefly demands the inward feelings, that from a good root good fruits may grow.

John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 59.

Does anyone have access to the Latin (or was it French…?) standing behind that word “feelings”? Or, better yet, the original language for the whole paragraph? My research skills have failed me; I can’t find it, and I don’t own the Logos Bible Software John Calvin Super-Deluxe “This-Package-Buys-You” Package.

Update: Jeremy Patterson helped me track down the original French, which seems to call the English translation above into question at the very point I highlighted. “Inward feelings” in French is actually “l’affection exterieure.” Now I need to find a copy of the Latin to fully (?) unravel this mystery.

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  1. Jeremy Patterson

    If it was in French, the word “feelings” would almost certainly have been “sentiments.” I’ll let you know if I find it.


  2. Alastair Haines

    Calvin wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible, but not all. He wrote many in Latin, which he translated into Frech, sometimes with improvements. Others he wrote first in French, with later improved Latin editions. He wrote two of his commentaries as harmonies: the one you quote above for the synoptic gospels (mt mk lk), and one on ex lv nu dt.

    He is even more famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is widely considered one of the most clear and comprehensive overviews of Christian theology.

    He quotes a lot of early Christian writers, and has a particularly high regard for Augustine.

  3. Mark L Ward Jr

    This is good, Alastair—you found a readable copy of the Latin! I was unable to do this when I searched a year ago. This is what the relevant passage says (see the top of the right-hand column):

    Postremo hinc colligimus, Deum nihil morari externa operum specie, sed interiorem affectum praecipue requierere, ut ex bona radice boni fructus nascantur.

    Here’s my best translation (thanks to some help from William Whitaker’s Words):

    Following this we deduce that God does not give attention to the external works of show, but principally requires the interior affection, in order that from a good root good fruit may be borne.

    Perhaps the question to ask is not “What language was this particular commentary—the harmony—written in first?” Now my question is this: What is the best key to Calvin’s intent with the word translated affectum here?

    Here’s my thing: if Calvin said what the English says he said, I get a powerful quotation with which to end my dissertation (too late; already done) on the religious affections of Paul. The dissertation argues that the emotions are a sometimes neglected or even denigrated feature of Christian sanctification. Love is often said to be a choice and not an emotion at all. To have a magisterial reformer say this about the Great Commandment itself is a nice rhetorical plug for my view. But I want to make sure I’m representing him accurately!


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