July’s DET Book ‘O the Month is Bernard Cottret’s Calvin: A Biography. This text has long been my go-to source for Calvin biography, and I have been re-reading it recently in preparation for teaching Calvin in the Fall semester. While doing so I have been continually struck by the mastery of Cottret’s writing, by the scope of his vision, and by the depth of his insight. He is also quite good at handling some of the trickier biographical details concerning Calvin in a helpfully historical-critical way. I recommended this book as a resource in my guide, So, You Want to Read John Calvin?, and my estimation of it has only gone up. If you have any interest in Calvin at all, you must read Cottret.
By way of sample, I leave you with this paragraph from Cottret on the importance of Calvin’s Strasbourg period for his career:
It was in Strasbourg that Calvin became “Calvin.” Or more exactly, at the beginning of his thirtieth year Calvin invented a Reformation that was distinct from that of his predecessors. At first it was a matter of style and temperament; Calvinism carried to its highest point the balance of thought and form. It proceeded from a literary passion. A new, thoroughly revised edition of the Institutes, which appeared in 1539-41, showed clearly the emergence of a current of thought different from Lutheranism. But the best indication of this change is to be found in the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1539), in which Calvin proclaimed clearly to the world that he was neither Melanchthon, nor Bucer, nor Bullinger, but simply Calvin. Finally, Calvin’s endorsement by Bucer, the Reformer of Strasbourg, confirmed his sense of an exceptional vocation, already recognized by Farel. Yes, Calvin undoubtedly spent the happiest years of his life in Strasbourg. (132)