Bernard Cottret on Calvin and Luther

I have been re-reading Cottret in preparation for teaching a course on the Reformation that will focus on Calvin. Indeed, Cottret’s volume is the July 2012 DET Book ‘O the Month. Anyway, it is high time that I shared some more of this excellent volume with you, gentle readers.

It seems that every Calvin scholar at some point has to get down to business and set up a comparison between Luther and Calvin. This often reveals quite a lot about the scholar’s own interests and orientation. I am very much looking forward to writing an entertaining instance of my own one day… In any case, Cottret’s comparison focuses on matters of personality, style, and national identity.

Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (M. Wallace McDonald, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 39.
Calvin belonged to the second generation of the Reformation. When he was born in 1509, Luther was about twenty-five. Jean Cauvin was just emerging from childhood in 1517 when the Augustinian monk posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg. The German finally died in 1546, when the Frenchman still had eighteen years to live. They represented two generations, and also two temperaments. Luther, a man of overflowing charm and of driving fluency, sometimes to the point of harshness; Calvin, all cerebration, untiringly polishing his Institutes with the care of a lawyer. Thus, even in the seventeenth century, the Catholic Florimond de Raemond could not resist the temptation of facile comparison: “Their manners were as diverse as their opinions. Calvin was more regulated and composed than Luther, and showed from the beginning that he would not let himself be intoxicated by the pleasures of the flesh and the belly like Luther.” One might say in observing them that each already consciously adapted himself to a national image: Luther, the defender of German liberties, who addressed himself impetuously to the German nobility; Calvin, the pre-Cartesian philosophe, champion of the French language and of a classical analysis that was identified with clarity of enunciation.

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