«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»
A Biography, 156–61.
“By the first half of the fifteenth century, the studia humanitatis came to stand for a clearly defined cycle of scholarly disciplines, namely grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and
moral philosophy...” Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought and its Sources (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1979), 22.
These included at least Latin and Greek, but also occasionally Hebrew for those studying theology.
Parker, John Calvin: A Biography, 15.
the Institutes (1536). This text would function as a theological foundation for grappling with the remainder of his works. Within the year, he moved with Guillaume Farel to Geneva until their eviction over a theological dispute with the city Council in 1538.
Summoned back to Geneva in 1541, Calvin carried out his pastoral, scholarly, and even civic duties until his death in 1564. By his life’s conclusion he had published commentaries on most books of the Bible, numerous theological tractates, and offered a final revision of the Institutes in 1559.6 I. 2 Thessalonians Commentary and The Institutes: Provenance, Audience, and Structure The sheer volume of Calvin’s work virtually ensured that he would engage with 2 Thessalonians on a number of occasions. As the dedication to Benedict Textor at the opening of his commentary on 2 Thessalonians indicates, Calvin authored this work in Geneva in 1550. In addition to this resource, I consult Calvin’s 1559 edition of the Institutes, which he completed in the same locale. Additional materials, less frequently utilised, receive attention as they arise in our discussion.
In terms of the audience of these materials, there is an ostensible difference between Calvin’s stated purpose in writing and the true, immediate reasoning behind it. He clearly insists that he aims for his works to be accessible by the average person in the vernacular. Yet Calvin publishes every work first in Latin, and then in French. As the scholarly language of Europe, Latin is not the most immediately accessible by the average man. Part of Calvin’s audience is certainly scholars on both sides of the Reformation The bulk of this background information is taken from Cottret, Calvin: A Biography;
and Parker, John Calvin: A Biography.
divide. I use the phrase “ostensible difference,” however, because, by publishing in Latin, Calvin may have reached a wider audience than he would have with French, or he may have done so to avoid its dismissal as “unscholarly,” or it may have been a combination of both. Either way, Calvin had (and has) a wide audience of readers, from the average layperson to other Reformers (and Catholics) to world leaders. He has a broad base of readership.
When looking at our two primary sources for this reception history, the 2 Thessalonians commentary and the Institutes, their overall difference is best
exemplified by the two primary patristic influences on Calvin’s work:
Augustine and Chrysostom. The former guides his theological perspective, while the latter shapes his exegetical method.7 This is clear in the number of times he cites Augustine in the Institutes over Chrysostom, and the reverse in his commentaries.8 The primary methodological distinctions that they offer crystalise in the fact that he composes a dogmatic treatise and commentaries separately. This stands in opposition particularly to the work of his contemporary, Martin Bucer, who supplied his own commentaries with lengthy dogmatic discussions that often detract the focus from the biblical book under investigation. At the same time, his exegetical attention in his Holder is emphatic about the dual-influence of these Fathers within the commentaries, arguing that Augustine guided Calvin’s hermeneutical principles, while Chrysostom governed his rules of exegesis. Holder, “Calvin as Commentator on the Pauline epistles,” 251–52.
Following the discovery of Calvin’s annotated copy of the 1536 Latin edition of Chrysostom’s Works, Ganoczy has demonstrated the Reformer’s immediate access to the Church Father. For a hermeneutical analysis of the annotations, including his notes on Chrysostom’s third homily on 2 Thessalonians, see Alexandre Ganoczy and Klaus Müller, Calvins handschriftliche Annotationen zu Chrysostomus: Ein Beitrag zur Hermeneutik Calvins (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1981), esp. 133–36; the edition possessed by Calvin: Desiderius Erasmus, ed., Divi Chrysostomi archepiscopi Constantinopolitani opera, quatenusin hunc Diem latio donate noscuntur, omnia (Lutetiae Parisiorum: Apud Claudium Chevallonium, 1536).
Citations alone are insufficient. This argument also bears in mind the number of times Calvin cites or utilises the respective Fathers positively. Walchenbach, Calvin as Biblical Commentator, 24-28 and 47-49; see also W. Ian P. Hazlett, “Calvin’s Latin Preface to his Proposed French Edition of Chrysostom’s Homilies: Translation and Commentary,” in Humanism and Reform: The Church in Europe, England, and Scotland, 1400-1643, ed. James Kirk, vol. 8, Studies in Church History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 129-150.
commentaries varied from the selective brevity of Philip Melanchthon’s Loci communes that considered only central topics of a biblical book.9 Against these, Calvin separated bulky, dogmatic discussions and biblical exegesis, though he did not sever the ties between the two.10 He published the Institutes first so that he could avoid doctrinal asides in his commentaries, but also with the intent that it function as a hermeneutical guide that would prepare students for reading the Word of God.11 This does not prohibit Calvin from making doctrinal assertions in his commentaries, but it certainly limits their breadth. At the same time, Calvin assumes the Institutes as a foundational text for understanding theological concepts that appear in his commentaries (as well as Scripture).
The Institutes is too massive a work to describe in detail here, but a few comments will be illuminative. This dogmatic theology intentionally differs from the works of his contemporaries and is divided into four books corresponding to the four parts of the Apostles’ Creed. The first concentrates on God as Creator, the second on Christ as redeemer, the third on the Holy Spirit as mediating the grace of Christ, and the fourth on holy catholic church (including discussion of the sacraments and civil government). The majority of 2 Thessalonians citations fall in the third and fourth books. In the case of the former, the majority are from 2 Thess 1 and relate to the reception of Calvin draws this distinction himself in the dedication of his first commentary (Romans). Calvin, The Epistles of Paul, 2–3; T. H. L Parker, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (London: SCM Press, 1971), 51–54; John L. Thompson, “Calvin as a Biblical Interpreter,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 61–62.
David C. Steinmetz, Calvin in Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 13.
Calvin himself makes this point in an explanation prefixed to the Institutes. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 4–5; Holder, “Calvin as Commentator,” 232–35; Wulfert de Greef, “Calvin’s Writings,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 44–45.
Christ’s grace. For the latter, most citations come from 2 Thess 2 and relate in some way to the approaching fullness of God’s kingdom. Those verses relating to Church discipline (3:6-15) are also primarily found in the fourth book, which makes sense with its structure. Citations elsewhere in the Institutes are largely from the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians.
Calvin commented on most the Bible, excepting only 2-3 John and Revelation in the NT, and Judges-Job and Proverbs-Ecclesiastes in the OT.
The 2 Thessalonians commentary is structured similarly to his other Pauline commentaries, and decidedly different from his law and gospel harmonies.
Like many of his predecessors, this commentary opens with an argumentum.
Similar to Chrysostom and Haimo, Calvin comments on select lemmas and proceeds through each verse of the book.
In his argumentum, Calvin suggests that Paul wrote the letter from Athens in order to prevent the Thessalonians from feeling he had neglected them by not visiting them on his return to Jerusalem. This does not appropriately address the apparent seriousness of issues raised in the epistle, not to mention the verbal overlap with 1 Thessalonians, which modern scholars equate with pseudonymity or evidence of its authorship soon after the first epistle. It is also an odd departure from his predecessors, who emphasise the theological concerns as motivation for its writing. After this, Calvin summarises the content as an exhortation to patience (chapter one), a correction to the belief that Christ’s return was imminent (chapter two), and dealing with the idle (chapter three).
In commenting on the text itself, Calvin divides the chapters into digestible sections (1:1-7a, 7b-10, 11-12; 2:1-2, 3-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-14, 15-17;
3:1-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-18). Even after dividing it thus, he does comment on every verse,12 but, similar to Haimo, he addresses what he considers most important. As his argumentum indicates, this entails an emphasis on encouragement in chapter one, primarily by directing the readers toward the eschatological assurances of God (i.e. the reversal of fortunes (1:5-9) and glorification with the Lord (1:10-12)).
Calvin’s reading of chapter two differs from his preterist reading of Daniel, in which he sees the references to different beasts as a prophecy extending from Babylon to the Roman Empire, and therefore located entirely in the past.13 In 2 Thess 2, Calvin sees an inaugurated prophecy awaiting fulfilment in the future, which he expected was not too distant. The “man of sin” (2:3), again, is Antichrist, but in a manner closer to Augustine than Chrysostom, this figure is a “body,” rather than an individual, which Calvin equates with the preeminent and continuing leadership of the papacy.
Therefore the “temple of God” (2:4) must be the Church for Calvin. The only thing that “restrains” (2:6) Antichrist was the sending of the gospel to the Gentiles, which has already taken place. The destruction of Antichrist (i.e. the papacy and his adherents) comes about through the “breath of [the Lord Jesus’] mouth” (2:8), which Calvin equates with the active preaching of God’s word. Therefore the victory does not come about in a grand cosmic battle, but gradually through continued proclamation until truth completely vanquishes its enemy. At some point, Christ himself will arrive. Calvin never hesitates to assert that all of this comes about according to the preordained work of God.
He omits discussion of 1:2, 7a; 2:17; 3:3, 5, 7-8, and 18.
See the translator’s preface and Calvin’s comments. Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, trans. Thomas Myers, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1852), xxxvi–xxxix and 186–87, respectively. In this volume, Calvin does not cite 2 Thessalonians once.
The final chapter offers a preliminary excursus on the nature of faith (3:1-2) before focusing on the treatment of the “ἄτακτος” (3:6). Calvin considers this “disorderliness” a form of laziness that results from not considering the purpose for which humanity was created (i.e. to glorify God).
It includes a wide range of people, including certain poor individuals and monastics as a whole, or so it seems. For Calvin, this chapter offers directions for excommunication, which he sees extending to casual contact and the reception of communion, but not to hearing the preaching of God’s Word.
II. Influential Impulses for Interpreting 2 Thessalonians A number of influences come to a head in Calvin’s reading of 2 Thessalonians. His humanist education is primary to his reception of the epistle. Specifically, humanism’s attention to rhetoric and penetration to source texts, altogether bypassing historical accretions attached to a work (e.g.
catenae, glosses, and commentaries).14 Of primary interest to Calvin is setting aside the spiritual interpretations of his predecessors that undermine the plain sense of the text, or the author’s intent,15 in a way reminiscent of the Humanism is not taken here as a historically transcendent entity, free from the influences of earlier generations. As T. F. Torrance has shown, Calvin's humanist training had a decidedly Parisian influence through the earlier work of John Duns Scotus, William of Occam, and John Major Haddington. T. F. Torrance, The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1988), 3–57.