Calvin’s 1 Corinthians Commentary – His French “Translator’s Letter”

When John Calvin translated his own commentary on 1 Corinthians from Latin (published 1546) into French (published 1547), he attached a short letter, “Le translatevr, au Lecteur fidele,” “The translator, to the faithful reader.” It does not appear in the two English translations of the commentary (Pringle, 1848; Fraser, 1960), nor even in the collected Pauline commentaries published in Calvin’s own lifetime. It appears untranslated in the 19th-century collected works (Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, vol. 49, p. vi). Besides its historical interest, it is also worth noting for Calvin’s comments on the need for people gifted by God for the interpretation of Scripture. I’ve transcribed it here with my own translation:

calvin-1-corinthians-le-translateur

Comme l’exposition des Escritures, est vn don special en l’Eglise de Dieu: aussi, tous ne se peuuent pas vanter de l’auoir. Mais nostre Seigneur, l’a mise en aucuns, pour s’en seruir à l’edification de tous. Ce qui est bien mal recogneu de ceux qui reiettent toute ayde d’expositeurs: comme estans suffisans d’eux mesmes, d’entrer iusqu’au sens parfait de l’Escriture. Parquoy il est advenu, que, pour tel mespris, beaucoup sont tombez en lourdes, & enormes resueries. Ce n’est pas, à present, mon intention de traitter cest argument: lequel meriteroit deduction plus ample. Mais seulement d’aduertir en brief les fideles (pour lesquelz nous auons traduit ce liure) quel bien c’est, quand Dieu nous enuoye saine interpretation des Escritures: & comme ils le doyuent embrasser, tant pour en estre muniz & armez, que pour sauoir discerner, & iuger de ceux, qui la renuersent, & luy font vn nez de cire, comme sont les blasphemateurs, & apres s’en vantent, pour l’arguer d’incertitude. A fin donc, qu’ilz s’en puissent donner garde: il est bon, qu’ilz lisent ceux, ausquelz nostre Seigneur a faict grace, d’en auoir meilleure intelligence, que les autres. Comme aussi les sauans & lettrez, le recognoissent tresbien: confessans franchement, que leur litterature ne seroit suffisante, de les pouuoir faire atteindre au vray sens, & que c’est vne grace speciale. I’entens des modestes, & non presomptueux: lesquelz se cognoissent eux mesmes. A plus fort raison, les simples & non lettrez, ne doyuent refuser ceste ayde, pour estre conduitz & entretenuz en vraye & saine intelligence. Or c’est pour eux, que ceste translation est faicte: à ce qu’ilz ayent tousiours dequoy se consoler, & se confermer en la saincte doctrine de Dieu: & qu’ilz iouyssent aussi bien de ceste exposition, comme ceux, ausquelz nostre Seigneur a donné cognoissance des Langues. Le Seigneur leur vueille donner grace, d’en faire telement leur profit, que ce leur soit pour accroissement de vertu, & que louänge & gloire luy en soit de tous rendue. Ainsi soit il.

Translation:

Since the exposition of Scripture is a special gift in the church of God, no one may boast of possessing it. But our Lord has given it to people of no importance in order that it may serve for the edification of all. This is very poorly recognized by those who refuse any help from expositors, as if they were sufficient in themselves to come upon the perfect meaning of Scripture. For this reason it happens that, because of such a mistake, many people have fallen under burdens and into extravagant dreams. It is not my intention, at present, to deal with this case, which would deserve very lengthy refutation; instead, it is only to briefly advise the faithful (for whom we have translated this book) as to what a good it is when God provides us with sound interpretation of Scripture. They ought to embrace it, as much to be armed and fortified as to be able to know how to discern and make judgment of those who controvert it and make of it a wax nose, as do blasphemers, who afterward puff themselves up in order to argue its uncertainty. In order, then, that they may be on their guard, it is good that they read those to whom our Lord has given the grace of having better understanding than others. This also the wise and lettered recognize very well, freely confessing that their books would not be sufficient to allow them to attain the true sense, and that it is a special grace. I mean here the modest and not the presumptuous, those who are well acquainted with themselves. With even greater reason, the simple and unlettered ought not to refuse this help, in order to be guided into and sustained in a true and sound understanding. Now it is for them that this translation has been made, that they may always have something by which to be consoled and be confirmed in the holy teaching of God, and that they may also take joy in this exposition, like those to whom our Lord has given the knowledge of languages [i.e., those who can read the original Latin edition]. May the Lord wish to give them grace to so gain from their reading of it that it will lead them to growth in virtue, and that praise and glory will be rendered to him by all. Amen.

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