John Calvin’s Brief Confession to Henry II of France, 1557

Yesterday was the 505th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday. Long time DET readers knows that Calvin gets a decent bit of time around here, and so it should come as no surprise that I wanted to do something to mark his birthday. But since I was out of town yesterday, he’ll get his birthday present from DET a day late this year. I’m sure he won’t mind.

In any case, I read a lot of scholarly material throughout the academic year and in the summer I like to read some lighter stuff. You know, books that are not just professionally beneficial but also enjoyable and relaxing to read. This is the third summer in a row that I have met this need by reading through a volume of Calvin’s correspondence from the 7 vol. John Calvin: Tracts and Letters series. About a week ago I came across the below in one of Calvin’s letters and it struck me as a very interesting minor confession that could be studied with some profit. I won’t bore you with the details of my reaction to the piece, but suffice it to say that I immediate wanted to share it with you, gentles readers.

I have uploaded a .pdf version of this material to Academia.edu in case anyone would like to have it with nice clean formatting. Click here.



John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Volume 6: Letters, Part 3 1554–1558 (Jules Bonnet, ed.; Marcus Robert Gilchrist, trans.; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 373–377. Calvin referred to this as “an undisguised and unvarnished summary of our faith” (377). The present document was prepared by W. Travis McMaken (July 2014), who inserted the paragraph markings to further formalize the paragraph breaks in the English translation.

¶1. In the first place, we believe in one God, of a simple essence, and yet, in which there are three distinct persons, as we are taught in the Holy Scriptures, and as the doctrine has been laid down by ancient councils; and we detest all sects and heresies, which the ancient doctors have combatted.

¶2. We believe that man, having been created in purity and integrity, has fallen by his own fault from the grace which he had received, and by this means is alienated from God who is the source of justice and all good; so that his nature has been wholly corrupted, and being blinded in mind, and depraved in heart, he has lost all integrity, nothing whatever remaining of it.

¶3. We believe that all the race of Adam is infected with such contagion, and that original sin is a hereditary vice, and not a simply imitation, as the Pelagians would insinuate, a sect whose errors we detest.

¶4. We believe also that this vice is truly sin, which is sufficient to condemn the whole human race and is reputed such in the sight of God; that even after baptism it is always sin as to its guilt, though the condemnation of it is abolished, because God of his gratuitous goodness does not impute it.

¶5. We believe that it is by the mercy of God alone that the elect are delivered from the general perdition in which all men are plunged. And first of all we believe that Jesus Christ, without whom we are all ruined, has been given us as a Redeemer, to bring to us justice and salvation.

¶6. We believe that Jesus Christ, being the eternal wisdom of God, and his only Son, has put on our flesh in order to be both God and man in one person, that is like unto us, excepting only that he was pure from all taint of sin. Holding which belief, we detest all the heresies which anciently troubled the church. We believe also that the end for which he assumed our nature was that he might die, and be raised up again from the dead, and fulfil all righteousness in order to procure for us eternal life.

¶7. We believe that by this one sacrifice, which Jesus Christ offered up on the cross, we are reconciled to God so as to be held and reputed just, and that by this means we have liberty to invoke God with full confidence that he is our Father, inasmuch as by adoption we obtain what Jesus Christ has by nature.

¶8. We believe that our whole justification is founded on the remission of sins as it is at the same time our sole felicity, according to the expression of David. Wherefore we reject every other species of justification, which men presume they obtain from their virtues or merits, seeing that our trust can fix on nothing else, nor find a resting place except when we are convinced that God, in covering our iniquities, imparts to us, in order to justify and absolve us, the obedience which his Son has rendered to him.

¶9. We believe that by faith alone we are made partakers of this righteousness, and also that this faith is kindled in us by the secret grace of the Holy Spirit, which is a gratuitous and peculiar gift, which God communicates to whomsoever he wills, and that not only to introduce them into the right path, but to make them continue in it to the end.

¶10. We believe that by this same faith we are regenerated in newness of life, because by nature we are the slaves of sin. Now though this renewing of our nature by which God forms us to do good, is a part of sour salvation, nevertheless we confess that the good works which we perform by the power of the Holy Ghost, are not taken into account to justify us before God, nor afford us any claim to be considered the children of God, because we should be always floating in doubt and uncertainty, if our conscience did not repose on the satisfaction by which Jesus Christ acquitted us.

¶11. Strong in this confidence, we invoke God in the name of his Son whom he has given us for Mediator and Advocate, and boldly address to him our prayers, having so god and intimate an access to him; encouraged at the same time by his declaration, that our prayers will be to him a sweet smelling sacrifice, and by his command to have recourse to him by this means.

¶12. We believe that the order of the church which Jesus Christ has established on his authority, ought to be held sacred and inviolable; and yet that the church cannot be held together unless there be pastors who have the office of teaching, and these pastors we are bound to honour and listen to with respect, when they are duly called and faithfully discharge their duty, in which belief we detest all those visionaries who would annihilate, as far as in them lies, the preaching of the word of God.

¶13. We believe that we ought to observe and keep up the unity of the church, and that all those who separate themselves from it are perverse persons whom we ought to shun as deadly pests. Nevertheless we are of opinion that we ought prudently to discern which is the true church, because several falsely abuse this title. We declare then, that it is the society of the faithful who agree to follow the word of God and that pure religion which depends on it, and who profit therein during the whole course of their lives, increasing and confirming themselves in the fear of God, according as they have need to make progress, and tending always to that which is beyond. Moreover, that, whatever efforts they make, it behoves them incessantly to have recourse to Christ for the remission of their sins.

¶14. We believe that the sacraments are conjoined with the word for ampler confirmation, to be the pledges and earnests of the grace of God, and by this means to comfort and aid our faith, because of the infirmity and hard-heartedness which is in us. We hold also that the substance thereof is Jesus Christ, for being separated from him they lose all efficacy.

¶15. We believe that baptism is the testimony of our adoption, because thereby we are introduced into the body of Christ to be washed and purified by his blood, and then renewed in holiness of life by his Spirit. Now though baptism is a sacrament of faith and repentance, nevertheless since God receives into his church the children along with the fathers, we affirm that by the authority of Jesus Christ, little children born of believing parents ought to be baptized.

¶16. We confess that the holy supper of our Lord is a testimony of the union which we have with Jesus Christ, inasmuch as not only he died and rose from the dead for us, but also truly feeds and nourishes us with his flesh, till we be one with him and his life be common to us. Now though he is in the heavens till he come to judge the world, nevertheless we believe that by the secret and incomprehensible power of his Spirit, he nourishes and vivifies us by the substance of his body and blood. We hold indeed that this is done spiritually, in order not to substitute for a fact and a truth, an imagination or an idea, but also because this mystery transcends in its depth the measure of our capacity and the whole order of nature. In one word, inasmuch as it is celestial, that it can be apprehended only by faith.

¶17. We believe, as has already been said, that both in baptism and the Lord’s super, God in reality bestows on us and accomplishes by effects what is there symbolized, and moreover we conjoin with the signs, the real possession and enjoyment of what is there presented to us. And thus it is that those who bring to the sacred table of Jesus Christ a pure faith as it were a vessel, really receive what the symbols represent; that is to say, that the body and blood of Jesus Christ serve not less for food and drink to the soul than bread and wine to the body.

¶18. We believe that it is the will of God that the world should be governed by laws and policy, in order that there may be some restraints to check the inordinate appetites of men, and that thus he has established kingdoms and principalities and everything which related to that administration of justice, and desires to be recognized as the author of them, in order that for his sake men may not only endure that superiors bear rule, but that these may be honoured and esteemed with all due reverence, being held for his lieutenants and officers whom he has appointed to exercise a legitimate and holy office. We hold then that we are bound to obey their laws and statutes, pay tribute, taxes, and other imposts, and bear the yoke of submission with frank and loyal goodwill, provided always that the sovereign empire of God be preserved inviolable.

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