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Calvin Buys Rare John Calvin Book
posted May 1, 2007

A small book from long ago will make a big impact at Calvin College for years to come.

Rare John Calvin BookThe college's H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies recently purchased a copy of "Congrégation sur l’élection éternelle de Dieu."

The book was printed in Geneva in 1562 by Vincent Bres and only five libraries in Europe are known to own it and none in the United States.

It measures just three inches by 4¾ inches in size, slightly bigger than a deck of cards, but what is contained in its 118 pages will be invaluable to scholars interested in the mind of theologian John Calvin, for whom Calvin College is named.

The work, written in French, presents Calvin’s teaching on election, particularly the issue of universal salvation against particular election (Calvin came down on the side of particular election).

Calvin College purchased the book from a retired theology professor in Indiana who called the college out of the blue one day, wondering if it might be of interest to the Meeter Center.

Calvin's Paul Fields, who took the call, admits he wondered at first about what he was being offered.

"I was very surprised," he says, "and tried to figure out how this person knew to call us. Normally on these sorts of purchases we work with book dealers. But I also told him we would be very interested in it but that we would have to see it first before we could make a decision."

A few days later the book arrived at Calvin via UPS and the Center knew the book would be an excellent addition to its extensive rare book collection.

"The book is certainly wonderful for Calvin to have," says Fields, "because it is unique to find an original, not a reprint or a microform. Also, it deals with an event which has interested scholars through the centuries, including our own Phil Holtrop (Calvin professor of religion emeritus), who wrote his dissertation on this subject and event."

Fields says the historical context for this work involved disagreements between John Calvin and Jerome Bolsec, a former Carmelite monk and physician from Paris, over the issue of predestination and election. The issue was debated in the weekly congrégation or Friday morning Bible study attended by all the local pastors. Genevans were welcome to attend these meetings.

The practice was for the ministers to take turns presenting an exposition on a part of Scripture which was then discussed. At the May and October meetings of 1551, Bolsec challenged the doctrines of free will and predestination, plus took issue with a pastor’s interpretation of John 8:47 by stating that Calvin’s views made God the author of sin. He also warned against being deceived by the ministers.

In the ensuing discussion Calvin made a long response which caused Bolsec to be arrested for unbiblical teaching and disturbing the unity of the assembly. At the December 18th congrégation Calvin dealt specifically with the topic of election. Three days later, on December 21st, Bolsec was banished from Geneva, and 11 years later, in 1562, Calvin’s presentation was published.

The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies began with a collection of important books and a bibliography by Calvin College professor Dr. H. Henry Meeter during his tenure of teaching in the Bible (now Religion) Department from 1927 to 1957. At the initiative of DR. Meeter, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary established the Committee for Scholarly Research and Development of Basic Historic Calvinism in 1961. This committee was the genesis of the H. Henry Meeter Center and its governing board.

Today the Meeter Center with its rare items, books, articles, literature, and bibliographies is acclaimed worldwide as one of the most extensive and user-friendly of all Calvin and Calvinism collections.

This summer the Center will host a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute for college and university professors called “Teaching the Reformation in a Pluralist Age.”

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