Calvin’s Institutes: The Sum of Piety


In his introduction to the reader, John Calvin has disclosed two purposes in writing the Institutes of the Christian Religion: (1) “To benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness” and (2) “To prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the Divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.”1

He considered his work to have “embraced the sum of religion in all parts” so that “if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture, and to what end he ought to relate its contents.” This goes without saying that in any of our advancement in the pursuit of theology, we are to study the Scriptures and seek for the treasure that is in there.

To those who are thinking to embark on a journey of studies in theology—to us who are earnest to love the Lord with all of our minds—remember the reason, the end, why we pursue such endeavor. One good thing to know, the title of Calvin’s magnum opus reminds its reader of its ultimate goal. Note that though the term ‘Institutio’ (which means instruction or education) is used in the title of this work, Calvin describes his massive book as a ‘summa pietas,’ that is the sum of piety. In fact, the Latin title of the first edition may be translated as:

The Institute of the Christian Religion, Containing almost the Whole Sum of Piety and Whatever It is Necessary to Know in the Doctrine of Salvation. A Work Very Well Worth Reading by All Persons Zealous for Piety, and Lately Published. A Preface to the Most Christian King of France, in Which this Book is Presented to Him as a Confession of Faith. Author, John Calvin, of Noyon. Basel, MDXXXVI.2

May we gain a true knowledge of God and of ourselves which bears the fruit of a pious life lived for God’s glory.

P. S. Why don’t you start the year by reading Calvin’s  Institutes?

[1] “To the Reader” in Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, vol. 1, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 4.

[2] Ibid., p. xxxiii


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