Banned in Paris!

May 28, 2009

To celebrate John Calvin’s 500th birthday (10 July 1509), Westminster Seminary’s Montgomery Library has mounted an exhibit featuring Sermons of John Calvin upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians, preached in French between 14 November 1557 and 8 May 1558, from its Rare Book Collection (English translation published in London, 1574). Also displayed are facsimiles of La Forme des Prieres et Chants Ecclesiastique, the 1541 Institution de la Religion Chretienne, and Le Nouveau Testament (tr. Jacques Lefevre D’Etaples, 1523).The exhibit includes the plan for services in Geneva from the 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances and a map of Geneva showing the churches where Calvin preached (Portrait byTitian, c. 1537).

Look for our new Calvin 500 website in June.


After writing the 1536 Institutes, Jean (John) Calvin (1509-1564) served briefly as one of the pastors in Geneva. When he and Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) were expelled from Geneva in 1538, he was invited by Martin Bucer (1491-1551) to lead the congregation of French refugees in Strasbourg and stayed until 1541, when he returned to Geneva for the rest of his life. In both cities, much of his ministry was to French refugees. By some estimates, the population of Geneva was doubled by the influx of these refugees. This factor no doubt kept Calvin’s interest focused on the needs of the people of France.

In 1541, he published a French translation of the second, 1539, edition of the Institutes (Institution de la Religion Chretienne). That same year, before returning to Geneva, his Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ (Petit traicté de la saincte Cene du nostre Siegneur Jesus Christ) came off the presses in Geneva. This was followed in 1542 by La Forme des prieres et chantz ecclesiastiques (The Form of Ecclesiastical Prayers and Songs). In 1545, the Catéchisme de Genve (Geneva Catechism) appeared.

The motivation for this flood of French publications can be found in Calvin’s comment about the 1541 Institution, “First I put it in Latin so that it might serve all persons for study. . . then later, wishing to communicate that in it which might benefit our French nation, I also translated it into our language.” Calvin was seeking to nurture and influence a popular, unlearned audience within France. Widely distributed in France, all these books were soon banned in Paris.

The exhibit opened on May 22, 2009 and runs through late August, 2009. Montgomery Library is located at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
(2960 W. Church Road, Glenside, PA, 19038), 215.887.5511.