Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 1: Genesis, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
THE AUTHOR’S EPISTLE DEDICATORY
to the Most Illustrious Prince,
Henry, Duke of Vendome,
Heir to the Kingdom of Navarre. 17
If many censure my design, most Illustrious Prince, in presuming to dedicate this work to you, that it may go forth to light sanctioned by your name, nothing new or unexpected will have happened to me. For they may object that by such dedication, the hatred of the wicked, who are already more than sufficiently incensed against you, will be still further inflamed. But since, at your tender age, 18 amid various alarms and threatenings, God has inspired you with such magnanimity that you have never swerved from the sincere and ingenuous profession of the faith; I do not see what injury you can sustain by having that profession, which you wish to be openly manifest to all, confirmed by my testimony. Since, therefore, you are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, this independence of yours has appeared to give me just ground of confidence to congratulate you on such an auspicious commencement, and to exhort you to invincible constancy in future. For that flexibility which belongs to superior natures is the common property of the young, until their character becomes more formed. But however displeasing my labor may be to some, yet if it be approved (as I trust it will) by your most noble mother, the Queen, 19 I can afford to despise both their unjust judgments and their malicious slanders; at least I shall not be diverted by them from my purpose. In one thing I may have acted with too little consideration, namely, in not having consulted her, in order that I might attempt nothing but in accordance with her judgment and her wish; yet for this omission I have an excuse at hand. If, indeed, I had omitted to consult her through negligence, I should condemn myself as guilty not of imprudence only, but of rashness and arrogance. When, however, I had given up all hope of so early a publication, because the Printer would put me off till the next spring fairs, I thought it unnecessary, for certain reasons, to hasten my work. In the meantime, while others were urging him more vehemently on this point than I had done, I suddenly received a message, that the work might be finished within fifteen days, a thing which had before been pertinaciously refused to myself. Thus beyond my expectation, yet not contrary to my wish, I was deprived of the opportunity of asking her permission. Nevertheless, that most excellent Queen is animated by such zeal for the propagation of the doctrine of Christ and of pure faith and piety, that I am under no extreme anxiety respecting her willingness to approve of this service of mine, and to defend it with her patronage. She by no means dissembles her own utter estrangement from the superstitions and corruptions with which Religion has been disfigured and polluted. And in the midst of turbulent agitations, 20 it has been rendered evident by convincing proofs, that she carried a more than masculine mind in woman’s breast. And I wish that at length even men may be put to shame, and that useful emulation may stimulate them to imitate her example. For she conducted herself with each peculiar modesty, that scarcely any one would have supposed her capable of thus enduring the most violent attacks, and, at the same time, of courageously repelling them. Besides, how keenly God exercised her with internal conflicts but few persons are witnesses, of whom, however, I am one.
You truly, most Illustrious Prince, need not seek a better example, for the purpose of moulding your own mind to the perfect pattern of all virtues. Regard yourself as bound in an especial manner to aspire after, to contend, and to labor for the attainment of this object. For, as the heroic disposition which shines forth in you, will leave you the less excusable, if you degenerate from yourself, so education, no common help to an excellent disposition, is like another bond to retain you in your duty. For liberal instruction has been superadded to chaste discipline. Already imbued with the rudiments of literature, you have not cast away (as nearly all are wont to do) these studies in disgust, but still advance with alacrity in the cultivation of your genius. Now, in sending forth this book to the public under your name, my desire is, that it may effectually induce you more freely to profess yourself a disciple of Christ; just as if God, by laying his hand upon you, were claiming you anew to himself. And truly, you can yield no purer gratification to the Queen your mother, who cannot be too highly estimated, than by causing her to hear that you are making continual progress in piety.
Although many things contained in this book are beyond the capacity of your age, yet I am not acting unreasonably in offering it to your perusal, and even to your attentive and diligent study. For since the knowledge of ancient things is pleasant to the young, you will soon arrive at those years in which the History of the creation of the World, as well as that of the most Ancient Church, will engage your thoughts with equal profit and delight. And, certainly, if Paul justly condemns the perverse stupidity of men, because with closed eyes they pass by the splendid mirror of God’s glory which is constantly presented to them in the fabric of the world, and thus unrighteously suppress the light of truth; not less base and disgraceful has been that ignorance of the origin and creation of the human race which has prevailed almost in every age. It is indeed probable, that shortly after the building of Babel, 21 the memory of those things, which ought to have been discussed and celebrated by being made the subjects of continual discourse, was obliterated. For seeing that to profane men their dispersion would be a kind of emancipation from the pure worship of God, they took no care to carry along with them, to whatever regions of the earth they might visit, what they had heard from their fathers concerning the Creation of the World, or its subsequent restoration. Hence it has happened, that no nation, the posterity of Abraham alone excepted, knew for more than two thousand successive years, either from what fountain itself had sprung, or when the universal race of man began to exist. For Ptolemy, in providing at length that the Books of Moses should be translated into Greek, did a work which was rather laudable than useful, (at least for that period,) since the light which he had attempted to bring out of darkness was nevertheless stifled and hidden through the negligence of men. Whence it may easily be gathered, that they who ought to have stretched every nerve of their mind to attain a knowledge of The Creator of the world, have rather, by a malignant impiety, involved themselves in voluntary blindness. In the meantime the liberal sciences flourished, men of exalted genius arose, treatises of all kinds were published; but concerning the History of the Creation of the World there was a profound silence. Moreover, the greatest of philosophers, 22 who excelled all the rest in acuteness and erudition, applied whatever skill he possessed to defraud God of his glory, by disputing in favor of the eternity of the world. Although his master, Plato, was a little more religious, and showed himself to be imbued with some taste for richer knowledge, yet he corrupted and mingled with so many figments the slender principles of truth which he received, that this fictitious kind of teaching would be rather injurious than profitable. They, moreover, who devoted themselves to the pursuit of writing history, ingenious and highly-cultivated men though they were, while they ostentatiously boast that they are about to become witnesses to the most remote antiquity, yet, before they reach so high as the times of David intermix their lucubrations with much turbid feculence; 23 and when they ascend still higher, heap together an immense mass of lies: so far are they from having arrived, by a genuine and clear connection of narrative, at the true origin of the world. The Egyptians also are an evident proof that men were willingly ignorant of things which they had not far to seek, if only they had been disposed to addict their minds to the investigation of truth; for though the lamp of God’s word was shining at their very doors, they would yet without shame propagate the rank fables of their achievements, fifteen thousand years before the foundation of the world. Not less puerile and absurd is the fable of the Athenians, who boasted that they were born from their own soil, 24 maintaining for themselves a distinct origin from the rest of mankind, and thus rendering themselves ridiculous even to barbarians. Now, though all nations have been more or less implicated in the same charge of ingratitude, I have nevertheless thought it right to select those whose error is least excusable, because they have deemed themselves wiser than all others.
Now, whether all nations which formerly existed, purposely drew a veil over themselves, or whether their own indolence was the sole obstacle to their knowledge, the [First] Book of Moses deserves to be regarded as an incomparable treasure, since it at least gives an indisputable assurance respecting The Creation of the World, without which we should be unworthy of a place on earth. I omit, for the present, The History of the Deluge, which contains a representation of the Divine vengeance in the destruction of mankind, as tremendous, as that which it supplies of Divine mercy in their restoration is admirable. This one consideration stamps an inestimable value on the Book, that it alone reveals those things which are of primary necessity to be known; namely, in what manner God, after the destructive fall of man, adopted to himself a Church; what constituted the true worship of himself, and in what offices of piety the holy fathers exercised themselves; in which way pure religion, having for a time declined through the indolence of men, was restored as it were, to its integrity; we also learn, when God deposited with a special people his gratuitous covenant of eternal salvation; in what manner a small progeny gradually proceeding from one man, who was both barren and withering, almost half-dead, and (as Isaiah calls him) solitary, 25 yet suddenly grew to an immense multitude; by what unexpected means God both exalted and defended a family chosen by himself, although poor, destitute of protection, exposed to every storm, and surrounded on all sides by innumerable hosts of enemies. Let every one, from his own use and experience, form his judgment respecting the necessity of the knowledge of these things. We see how vehemently the Papists alarm the simple by their false claim of the title of The Church. Moses so delineates the genuine features of the Church as to take away this absurd fear, by dissipating these illusions. It is by an ostentatious display of splendor and of pomp that they (the Papists) carry away the less informed to a foolish admiration of themselves, and even render them stupid and infatuated. But if we turn our eyes to those marks by which Moses designates the Church, these vain phantoms will have no more power to deceive. We are often disturbed and almost disheartened at the paucity of those who follow the pure doctrine of God; and especially when we see how far and wide superstitions extend their dominion. And, as formerly, the Spirit of God, by the mouth of Isaiah the prophet, commanded the Jews to look to the Rock whence they were hewn, 26 so he recalls us to the same consideration, and admonishes us of the absurdity of measuring the Church by its numbers, as if its dignity consisted in its multitude. If sometimes, in various places, Religion is less flourishing than could be wished, if the body of the pious is scattered, and the state of a well-regulated Church has gone to decay, not only do our minds sink, but entirely melt within us. On the contrary, while we see in this history of Moses, the building of the Church out of ruins, and the gathering of it out of broken fragments, and out of desolation itself, such an instance of the grace of God ought to raise us to firm confidence. But since the propensity, not to say the wanton disposition, of the human mind to frame false systems of worship is so great, nothing can be more useful to us than to seek our rule for the pure and sincere worshipping of God, from those holy Patriarchs, whose piety Moses points out to us chiefly by this mark, that they depended on the Word of God alone. For however great may be the difference between them and us in external ceremonies, yet that which ought to flourish in unchangeable vigor is common to us both, namely that Religion should take its form from the sole will and pleasure of God.
I am not ignorant of the abundance of materials here supplied, and of the insufficiency of my language to reach the dignity of the subjects on which I briefly touch; but since each of them, on suitable occasions has been elsewhere more copiously discussed by me, although not with suitable brilliancy and elegance of diction, it is now enough for me briefly to apprise my pious readers how will it would repay their labor, if they would learn prudently to apply to their own use the example of The Ancient Church as it is described by Moses. And, in fact, God has associated us with the holy Patriarchs in the hope of the same inheritance, in order that we, disregarding the distance of time which separates us from them, may, in the mutual agreement of faith and patience, endure the same conflicts. So much the more detestable, then are certain turbulent men, who, incited by I know not what rage of furious zeal, are assiduously endeavoring to rend asunder the Church of our own age, which is already more than sufficiently scattered. I do not speak of avowed enemies, who, by open violence, fall upon the pious to destroy them, and utterly to blot out their memory; but of certain morose professors of the Gospel, who not only perpetually supply new materials for fomenting discords, but by their restlessness disturb the peace which holy and learned men gladly cultivate. We see that with the Papists, although in some things they maintain deadly strife among themselves, 27 they yet combine in wicked confederacy against the Gospel. It is not necessary to say how small is the number of those who hold the sincere doctrine of Christ, when compared with the vast multitudes of these opponents. In the meantime, audacious scribblers arise, as from our own bosom, who not only obscure the light of sound doctrine with clouds of error, or infatuate the simple and the less experienced with their wicked ravings, but by a profane license of skepticism, allow themselves to uproot the whole of Religion. For, as if, by their rank ironies and cavils, they could prove themselves genuine disciples of Socrates, they have no axiom more plausible them, that faith must be free and unfettered, so that it may be possible, by reducing everything to a matter of doubt, to render Scripture flexible (so to speak) as a nose of wax. 28 Therefore, they who being captivated by the allurements of this new school, now indulge in doubtful speculations, obtain at length such proficiency, that they are always learning, yet never come to the knowledge of the truth.
Thus far I have treated briefly, as the occasion required, of the utility of this History. 29 As for the rest, I have labored — how skilfully I know not, but certainly faithfully — that the doctrine of the Law, the obscurity of which has heretofore repelled many, may become familiarly known. There will be readers, I doubt not, who would desire a more ample explication of particular passages. But I, who naturally avoid prolixity, have confined myself in this Work to narrow limits, for two reasons. Firsts whereas these Four Books [of Moses] already deter some by their length, I have feared lest, if in unfolding them, I were to indulge in a style too disuse, I should but increase their disgust. Secondly, since in my progress I have often despaired of life, I have preferred giving a succinct Exposition to leaving a mutilated one behind me. Yet sincere readers, possessed of sound judgment, will see that I have taken diligent care, neither through cunning nor negligence, to pass over anything perplexed, ambiguous, or obscure. Since, therefore, I have endeavored to discuss all doubtful points, I do not see why any one should complain of brevity, unless he wishes to derive his knowledge exclusively from Commentaries. Now I will gladly allow men of this sort, whom no amount of verbosity can satiate, to seek for themselves some other master.
But if you, Sire, please to make trial, you will indeed know, and will believe for yourself, that what I declare is most true. You are yet a youth; but God, when he commanded Kings to write out the Book of the Law for their own use, did not exempt the odious Josiah from this class, but choose rather to present the most noble instance of pious instruction in a boy, that he might reprove the indolence of the aged. And your own example teaches the great importance of having habits formed from tender age. For the germ springing from the root which the principles of Religion received by you have taken, not only puts forth its flower, but also savours of a degree of maturity. Therefore labor, by indefatigable industry, to attain the mark set before you. And suffer not yourself to be retarded or disturbed by designing men, to whom it appears unseasonable that boys should be called to this precocious wisdom, (as they term it.) For what can be more absurd or intolerable, than that, when every kind of corruption surrounds you, this remedy should be prohibited? Since the pleasures of a Court corrupt even your servants, how much more dangerous are the snares laid for great Princes, who so abound in all luxury and delicacies, that it is a wonder if they are not quite dissolved in lasciviousness? For it is certainly contrary to nature to possess all the means of pleasure, and to refrain from enjoying them. The difficulty, however, of retaining chastity unpolluted amidst scenes of gaiety, is more than sufficiently evident in practice. But do you, O most Illustrious Prince, regard everything as poison which tends to produce a love of pleasures. For if that which stifles continence and temperance already allures you, what will you not covet when you arrive at adult age? The sentiment is perhaps harshly expressed, that great care for the body is great neglect of virtue, yet most truly does Cato thus speak. The following paradox also will scarcely be admitted in common life: “I am greater, and am born to greater things, than to be a slave to my body; the contempt of which is my true liberty.” Let us then dismiss that excessive rigour, by which all enjoyment is taken away from life; still there are too many examples to show how easy is the descent from security and self-indulgence to the licentiousness of profligacy. Moreover; you will have to contend, not only with luxury, but also with many other vices. Nothing can be more attractive than your affability and modesty; but no disposition is so gentle and well-regulated, that it may not degenerate into brutality and ferociousness when intoxicated with flatteries. Now since there are flatterers without numbers who will prove so many tempters to inflame your mind with various lusts, how much more does it behave you vigilantly to beware of them? But while I caution you against the blandishments of a Court, I require nothing more than that, being endued with moderation, you should render yourself invincible. For one has truly said, He is not to be praised who has never seen Asia, but he who has lived modestly and continently in Asia. Seeing, therefore, that to attain this state is most desirable, David prescribes a compendious method of doing so — if you will but imitate his example — when he declares that the precepts of God are his counsellors. And truly, whatever counsel may be suggested from any other quarter will perish, unless you take your commencement of becoming wise from this point. It remains, therefore, most noble Prince, that what is spoken by Isaiah concerning the holy king Hezekiah should perpetually recur to your mind. For the Prophet, in enumerating his excellent qualities, especially honors him with this eulogy, that the fear of God shall be his treasure.
Farewell, most Illustrious Prince, may God preserve you in safety under His protection, may He adorn you more and more with spiritual gifts, and enrich you with every kind of benediction.
Geneva, July 31st, 1563.
Afterwards the celebrated Henry IV, of France. A brave and noble — spirited Prince, addicted, however, to the frivolities, and enslaved by the licentiousness of the age. He was induced to renounce his Protestant principles for the Crown of France; and at length fell by the hand of an assassin, on account of his tolerance towards the Hugonots.
He was born in 1553, and therefore in 1563, the date of this dedication, he was ten years old.
Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, daughter of Henry d’Albret and of Margaret of Valois, sister to Francis the First, King of France. Henry was her third son, but the two former died in infancy. She and her husband, Antony of Bourbon, were both early favorers of the Reformation; but Antony, remarkable for his inconstancy, deserted the cause of Protestantism in the time of persecution, and at length took arms against its adherents, and perished in the contest. Jeanne remained constant to the faith she had professed, and proceeded to establish it in her dominions. In 1568 she left her capital Bearne, to join the French Protestants; and presented her son Henry to the Prince of Conde at the age of fifteen, together with her jewels, for the purpose of maintaining the war against the persecutors of the Reformed faith. She died in 1572, suddenly, at Paris, whither she had gone to make arrangements for her son’s projected marriage with the sister of Charles IX. It was suspected that she died of poison, but no positive proof of the fact has been adduced.
“Et entre les horribles tempestes dont le royaume de France a este agite.” — And amid the horrible tempests with which the kingdom of France has been agitated. — French tr.
Paulo post conditum Babylonem.
Aristotle. Mesme Aristotle le principal philosophe. — French tr.
Brouillent leurs escrits de tant des meslinges confus, que ceste lie ont oste toute clarte. — They intersperse their writings with such a confused mixture, that these dregs have deprived them of all clearness.
Qui se ἀυτόχθονας gloriati
Isaiah 51: 2, “I called him alone, and blessed him.”
These words are here added in the French Translation — “C’est a dire, a leur pere Abraham, qui n’estoit qu’un, homme seul;” — that is to say, to their father Abraham, who was but one solitary man.
Combien qu’en tout le reste, ils s’entrebatent comme chiens et chats. — Though in everything else they quarrel together like cats and dogs. — French Tr.
Ils n’ont nulle maxime plus agreable ques ceste — ci, que la foy doit estre libre, et que les esprits ne doyvent point estre tenus captifs. Et c’es afin qu’il leur soit loisible, en metant tout en doute en question, tourner et virer l’Escriture a leur post, et en faire un nez de cire, etc. — They have no maxim more agreeable than this, that faith ought to be free, and that minds ought not to be held captive. And this is in order that they may be permitted, by putting everything into doubt and question, to turn and twist the Scripture to their purpose, and to make of it a nose of wax, and etc. — French Tr.
Touchant l’utilite de l’histoire contenue au livre de Genese. — Touching the utility of the history contained in the Book of Genesis. — French Tr.