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Title: John Calvin Tracts & Letters - Translator’s Preface 02
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

THE TRACTS of the present volume, four in number, have been selected partly on account of
their own intrinsic value, and partly on account of the great additional interest which recent
occurrences have given to some of the subjects considered in them. They contain lucid
discussions on all the leading points in THE POPISH CONTROVERSY, furnish wholesome
advice in answer to a question which once was, and will probably again become, of great
practical importance; and refute the wild dogma which a kind of infidel fanaticism had devised,
asserting, that in the interval between death and the final judgment the soul remains in a state of
sleep or unconscious existence. All the TRACTS sustain the reputation of their distinguished
author; and, considering their controversial nature, are not often chargeable with the virulent
spirit and intemperate language in which the controversialists ofCALVIN’ S age were too prone
to indulge.


The subject of the FIRST and leading TRACT IS THE COUNCIL OF TRENT. It is believed to
be the earliest publication in which the proceedings of that body were fully and systematically
reviewed; and notwithstanding all that has since been written on the subject, its use as a
COMPLETE PROTESTANT MANUAL has not been superseded.

It commences with an Introduction, in which the question of SUBMISSION TO HUMAN
AUTHORITY IN MATTERS OF RELIGION is briefly considered. Here, while THE GREAT
PROTESTANT PRINCIPLE, THAT THE SCRIPTURES are the only infallible standard, is
strenuously maintained, it is admitted that the veneration in which the name of COUNCIL
continued to be held, was by no means unfounded; that in earlier and purer times the Church had
repeatedly derived essential benefit from the decisions of Councils; and that even now, could a
GENERAL COUNCIL be impartially constituted, there was good ground to hope that, by the
wisdom of its judgments and the weight of its authority, it would command general submission,
and restore Peace to Christendom. Unhappily, however, no means of assembling such a Council
then existed.THE POPE, who claimed the right of summoning it, was himself the great offender,
and hence any body, in the composition of which he was to have the principal share, would be
far more disposed to perpetuate abuses than to remove them.

The truth of this assertion is established by appealing to the actual composition of the so-called
GENERAL COUNCIL OF TRENT. The leading classes of which it consisted are subjected to a
rigid scrutiny, and a graphic description is given of their mode of procedure. Not only were no
names of eminence to be found amongst them, but even the little judgment which they possessed
they were not at liberty to exercise. Their decisions were first dictated by a set of captious
wrangling Monks and Canonists, and then dispatched post-haste to Rome! ThePOPE and his
minions made whatever changes they pleased; and the document, thus concocted and thus
mutilated, on being returned to the Council, at once rose to the dignity of a Canon, “The Fathers”
merely giving a mechanical nod of assent. Infallibility claimed under such circumstances was
ludicrous in the extreme!

After dissecting the COUNCIL, and proving by an analysis of its constituent parts that its
determinations ought to be received with suspicion, and, at all events, had no weight beyond that
which their real merits might give them, CALVIN proceeds to consider the OPENING
ADDRESS OF THE LEGATES; and, founding on their own confession, shows that the
corruptions and abuses which existed in the Papacy, and thoroughly tainted its whole mass, more
than justified those who, after endeavoring in vain to purify it, had formally withdrawn their

It is still common with Romish Writers to deny that their Church had fallen much away from the
purity of early times, or been guilty of misdeeds which account for the general outcry which had
been raised against her. Their theory accordingly is, that THE REFORMATION mainly had its
origin in the vanity, ambition, and turbulence of a single individual, and owed its rapid progress
to the rich spoils with which it tempted the avarice of its more powerful supporters. Human
nature having been the same then that it is now, it were vain to deny that the motives of not a few
who embraced the Reformation were of a mixed, and consequently not of the purest nature; but
if any one questions the prevalence of gross iniquity in the PAPACY at the commencement of
the sixteenth century, he may easily satisfy himself by merely reading the ADDRESS OF THE

None could know the fact better than they; and corruption must have been very general and very
notorious before they could venture, in a fit of candor, or feel compelled by the promptings of a
burdened conscience, to color it so darkly! Well might CALVIN, taking them at their own word,
contrast the impure lives of their Clergy with those of THE EARLY REFORMERS, and
triumphantly ask, In which of the two bodies the marks of a true Church were most visibly

Preliminary matters having been disposed of, THE CANONS themselves come under review;
and that all fairness may be done, each as it is considered is first given verbatim, and then
followed by aREFUTATION, or what is called its ANTIDOTE. Here CALVIN avoids minute
criticism, and discarding minor points, dwells on those of primary importance. He thus obtains
full scope for the comprehensive views with which his own mind was familiar; and saving his
readers the tedious process of tracking out mere flaws, furnishes them with mighty weapons, by
which PAPAL INFALLIBILITY, and all that has been built upon it, are easily overthrown.

The fundamental points fully considered are THE RULE ofFAITH, ORIGINAL

In regard to all of these, it is clearly shown that the Heresies of the Papists are numerous and
deadly. Not satisfied with THE CANON OR SCRIPTURE, as sanctioned in early times, they
pronounce anathema on all who refuse to receive the APOCRYPHA as inspired, though they
cannot but be aware that one of its writers, in distinct terms, disclaims inspiration. Instead of
going to the original tongues for the genuine text, they insist that one version only shall be held
to be authentic, and that version the VULGATE, which is here shown byCALVIN to be marred
by the grossest and most ludicrous blunders. Then, even the text itself must be placed under
surveillance, and he who reads must not take the meaning which the words import, how palpable
soever they may be, but set it aside for any different or contradictory meaning which the Pope
and his minions may be pleased to dictate!

Again, in regard toORIGINAL SIN, the doctrine of the Tridentine Canon, though artfully
endeavoring to conceal its true character, is proved to be Pelagianism under a very flimsy
disguise. In the important act of JUSTIFICATON man is made to divide with his Maker, and
apparently carries off the larger share. And worse than all, THE GREAT SACRIFICE which
Christ offered on the cross, and then perfected once for all, is deliberately travestied; and not.
only exhibited under a form in which none of its features can be recognized, but made the pretext
for innumerable acts of Idolatry — Idolatry not less gross, and far less excusable, than that which
the darkest abodes of heathenism can furnish.

But it is impossible to give a full analysis of important discussions, which the author himself has
compressed into the narrowest possible limits. Nor is it necessary. Enough has been said to
justify the high opinion entertained of the TRACT, and satisfy those who are willing to acquaint
themselves with its merits, that the perusal will not disappoint them.


THE SECOND TRACT is intimately connected with the First, and has much ground in common
with it. The mode of discussion, however, is different.

Many topics slightly touched on in the one are fully expanded in the other; and hence, so far
from superseding each other, they require to be combined in order to form a complete whole.

The preliminary part of this TRACT is an exact, copy of a celebrated document known by the
name of the INTERIM, because intended by the EMPEROR CHARLES V. to regulate the
interim state of religious belief, and possession of ecclesiastical property within Germany, until
some more permanent arrangement could be made. The concluding, and the larger, as well as the
far more interesting part of the Tract, is a Review byCALVIN, in which, in opposition to what he
calls the Adultero-German Interim, he at great length, and with his usual ability, points out the

The device of the INTERIM was certainly chimerical in the extreme. In the circumstances in
which GERMANY was placed, the attempt to regulate the possession of property merely was
sufficiently difficult, because much of it not properly possessed by either party was in a kind of
undetermined or transition state, and could not fail to be made the subject of competing and
keenly agitated claims.CHARLES V., however, as if he had thought such considerations beneath
his Imperial notice, took the far more important and extravagant step of drawing up a regular
CONFESSION OF FAITH, fixing the precise limits within which the Religious Belief of the
Germans would be allowed to range. This CONFESSION was drawn up by Pflug and Helding,
two Roman Catholic theologians, and Agricola, a nominal Protestant, suspected of having been
bribed to betray his party.

In substance it contains an undisguised transcript of Popery; but endeavors to conciliate the
PROTESTANTS, by allowing those of the Clergy who had been Priests and had married, to
retain their wives; and conceding to their people the Communion, in both kinds. Even these
privileges, like the document which granted them, were only interim!

This attempt at mediation, one-sided though it was, proved almost as displeasing to the favored
as to the prejudiced party. TheROMAN CATHOLICS were determined to make no concession,
and nothing in their opponents could satisfy them except art unconditional surrender. The
PROTESTANTS could not but feel insulted by seeing their dearest privileges peremptorily
refused, and the only two which were admitted suspended on a mere peradventure.
TheINTERIM thus settled nothing, and in so far as it had any effect, only tended to make
confusion worse confounded. In one respect, however, it gave serious alarm to many enlightened

Not a few of their adherents, unable to withstand the fiery trial to which they had for some time
been exposed, were inwardly desirous of some plausible pretext which might enable them,
without formally renouncing their faith, to escape from the hardships which they endured in
consequence of professing it. To persons so disposed the very name of concession was sufficient;
and now, on the ground that their status as Protestants was formally recognized, and that the
privileges conceded would only prove the forerunners of many others, numbers seemed
determined to accept of the INTERIM. Violent dissensions accordingly arose between the
zealous and the lukewarm adherents of Protestantism, and the union which constituted their main
strength was in danger of being broken up.

To still these troubled waves a powerful voice was required, and CALVIN again came forward.
It was not, however, as a mediator. He had seen the name so often abused by the lukewarm and
indifferent, for the purpose of promoting selfish views, that he almost abhorred it. His tone,
therefore, was firm and resolute; and even MELANCTHON, whom he loved as a brother, fell
under his rebuke. Fixing his eye on the path of duty, and determined to know no other path, he
goes minutely over the controverted points, showing the impossibility of reconciling two
systems so discordant asPOPERY and PROTESTANTISM; and, calling upon each man to make
up his mind and decide, as for eternity, concludes with a noble passage, which speaks the
language and breathes the spirit of a Martyr.


TheTHIRD TRACT is in the form of an Epistle to a Friend who had sincerely embraced, the
Reformed Faith, but, living under the tyranny of the Papacy, must have forfeited his life by
openly professing it. The question which CALVIN is requested to answer is, How can a person
so situated maintain his religious integrity? Under this question more is meant than is actually
expressed; and it is impossible to read CALVIN’ S reply without perceiving that the question, as
he understood it, and as it was doubtless intended to be understood, was neither more nor less
than this, Is it lawful for a person who has renounced Popery in his heart to conform outwardly
to its Rites, for the purpose of avoiding persecution, or for any other imaginable cause? When
the question is thus broadly stated, it seems impossible to hesitate for a moment to answer in the
negative; and yet, for honestly giving this answer, and persisting in giving it, CALVIN incurred
the displeasure of a very numerous class of so-called PROTESTANTS, and was held up to
obloquy as a selfish and rigid disciplinarian, who, secure from danger in his own nook
atGENEVA, would make no allowance for his brethren who were far less favorably situated, and
would sooner see them suffering in the flames than yielding an outward compliance with some,
absurd but harmless Rite! So loud was the outcry raised against him on this account, that
CALVIN, though little disposed to defer to mere authority, when his own judgment was
thoroughly convinced, not only triumphantly defended himself in several Apologetic Writings,
but requested and obtained a formal confirmation of his opinion from the distinguished

It is easy to see how very desirable it must have been for those who had embraced Protestantism,
but could not profess it without endangering their lives, to discover some device which might
enable them, without formally renouncing their faith, to live amidst its enemies as securely as if
they had renounced it; but it is certainly very difficult to imagine what that device could be, since
it requires to unite in itself the impossibilities of acting honestly towards God and fraudulently
towards men. Necessity, however, is ingenious; and not one merely, but a whole series of
arguments were devised and strenuously insisted on, as sufficient to prove that a man thoroughly
convinced of the abominations of Popery might, notwithstanding, take part openly in the
observance of its Rites.

One of these arguments was, that the person so complying might at the time be inwardly
performing an act of pure devotion — might, for instance, at Mass, when the host was raised,
kneel to Christ seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven, while the deluded multitude
around him were kneeling before the consecrated wafer. Other arguments, all necessarily of the
same Jesuitical nature, were employed with the full sanction of men who called themselves
Protestant Divines; and it was even thought that precedents in point might be found in the case of
Naaman, who was permitted by the Prophet to accompany his master into the house of Rimmon,
and the case of Paul, who tried to conciliate his countrymen by making a vow.

The whole subject, including several collateral points of importance, is here considered
byCALVIN in all its bearings, in a spirit of sympathy, meekness, and candor, showing how well
he could feel for those who were so unhappy as to have their homes where they could not serve
God freely, and yet in a spirit of inflexible firmness, which would not allow him to sacrifice one
iota of what he believed to be the truth, though it were to gain a world.


TheFOURTH and concluding TRACT has the somewhat singular title of
PSYCHOPANNYCHIA derived from Greek words which signify “the sleep of the soul;” the
object of the Tract being to show, partly from reason, but more especially from Scripture, that
there is no such sleep. It was published in 1534, when CALVIN was twenty-five years of age,
and is, consequently, with the exception of the Commentary on the Clementia of Seneca,
published in 1532, the earliest of all his writings, and two years earlier than the Institutes, the
first known edition of which appeared in 1536. It thus possesses, especially to those who delight
to trace the progress of a master mind, an interest additional to that which its merit gives it.

The figment which it refutes is said byCALVIN to be of Arabian origin, but was first brought
prominently into notice by some of the wildest fanatics among the ANABAPTISTS, for whom
everything new and monstrous appears to have had an irresistible attraction. In more modern
times, attempts have been made to give it a philosophical shape, as a necessary corollary from
the dogma of Materialism advocated by Priestley and others.

It would seem that the figment, wild and irrational though it is, had made considerable progress
at an early period of the Reformation, and counted numerous converts, not merely among the
fanatics who had revived it, but in more respectable quarters, where better things might have
been expected.

One is puzzled to understand why it should have been received with so much favor; for the idea
which it suggests, so far from being attractive, is naturally revolting. It was probably welcomed,
not so much for its own sake, as for the great assistance which it was supposed capable of giving
in THE POPISH CONTROVERSY. Were it once established that the soul falls asleep at death,
and will not awake to consciousness till again united to the body at the resurrection, THE POPE
would forthwith be excluded from the larger half of his domain, and deprived of the most
lucrative branches of his trade! There would neither beSAINTS to whom divine honors could be
paid, nor PURGATORY out of which poor souls might be delivered with more or less
expedition, according to the number of well-paid masses that were said for them!

If the cordial reception given to the dogma was owing to the collateral benefit thus supposed to
be derived from it, it only adds another to the many instances in which blind man would
arrogantly give lessons to his Maker, and arrange the world on a better plan than His infinite
wisdom has devised. Because it would furnish a triumphant refutation of Popish legends and
fictions — the soul must be made to perish with the body, and a common ruin overtake both!

It would appear that the subject had attracted attention in England, for we find that the TRACT
was translated in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The title-page is as follows: — “A Treatise of the
Immortality of the Soul, by which it is proved that souls after the departure of the bodies are
awake and do live: against those that think they do sleep.


Translated out of French by Tho. Stocker.” It was “Imprinted by John Day. London, 1581.”

In the PSYCHOPANNYCHIA,CALVIN, knowing the kind of people he had to deal with,
accommodates himself to their capacities; and instead of entering largely into speculative
disquisitions which the subject seems to suggest, and to which the metaphysical cast of his own
mind must have strongly inclined him, dwells chiefly on THE SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENT —
carefully examining all the passages which the advocates of the dogma had adduced as favorable
to their view, and adducing others by which it is completely overthrown. If by the adoption of
this plan, the TRACT loses somewhat in point of philosophical exactness, it gains much in
richness of scriptural illustration; and proves that, even at this early period, in writing his first
theological publication, CALVIN gave promise of the almost unrivaled excellence to which he
ultimately trained as a COMMENTATOR.

H. B., May 1851.