LETTER FROM JOHN CALVIN TO FRANCIS I, KING OF FRANCE (1536)

 

[As a preface to the first edition of his Institutes, pub­lished at Basel shortly after his flight from France, Calvin prepared an address to King Francis I, in which he briefly states the reasons for the Protestant revolt and exposes the slanders heaped upon his party.]

 

John Calvin, to the most mighty and noble monarch, Francis, the most Christian king of the French, his sovereign prince and lord, with peace and salvation in the Lord:

 

When I did first set my hand to this work [i.e. his Insti­tutes of the Christian Religion] I thought nothing less, most illustrious King, than to write anything to be presented to your Majesty. My mind was to teach certain rudiments whereby they that are touched with some zeal of religion might be instructed to true godli­ness. And this travail I undertook principally for my coun­trymen, the French, of whom I understood very many to hunger and thirst for Christ, but few had received so much as any little knowledge of him. That this was my purpose the book itself declareth, being framed to a simple and plain manner of teaching.

 

But when I perceived that the furious rage of certain wicked men hath so far prevailed in your realm that in it there is no room for sound doctrine, I thought I should do a thing worth my travail if in a single work I should give both instruction for them whom I proposed to instruct, and send forth an apology to you, whereby you may learn what manner of doctrine that is against which these furious men burn in so great rage, who at this day trouble your realm with sword and fire. For I shall not fear to confess that I have in this work comprehended in a manner the substance of that selfsame doctrine against which they cry out that it ought to be punished with imprisonment, banishment, pro­scription and fire….

 

You yourself can bear witness, most noble King, with what lying slanders our teachings are daily accused unto you as that they tend to no other end but, to wrest from kings their scepters out of their hands, to throw down all judges' seats and judgments, to subvert all orders and civil governments, to trouble the peace and quiet of the people, to abolish all laws, to undo all proprieties and. possessions; finally to turn all things upside down. And yet you hear but the smallest portion, for they spread among the people horrible things, which if they were true, the whole world might worthily judge our cause, with the maintainers thereof, worthy of a thousand fires and gallows.

 

Wherefore I do not unjustly require, most victorious King, that it may please you to take into your own hands the whole hearing of the cause, which hitherto hath been carelessly tossed about without any order of law, more by outrageous hate than judicial gravity. Nor would I have you think that I here go about to make my own private defense, whereby I may procure to myself a safe return into my native coun­try, to which, while I bear such affection of natural love as becometh me, yet as the case now is I am not miscontent to remain abroad. But I take upon me the common cause of all the godly, yea, and the cause of Christ himself, which at this day, having been by every means torn and trodden down in your kingdom, lieth as it were in despaired case.

 

[Our detractors call our teaching] new, and lately forged; they cavil that it is doubtful and uncertain; they demand by what miracle it is confirmed; they ask whether it be meet that it should prevail against the consent of so many, holy fathers and the most ancient customs; they press Upon us to confess it to be schismatical, which moveth war against the Church, or that the true Church hath lain dead through the many ages in which no such thing hath been heard of. Last of all, they, say that they need no arguments, for (say they) it may be judged by its fruits of what sort it is, which namely, hath bred so big a heap of sects, so many turmoils of sedition, so great licentiousness of vices. Truly, full easy it is for them to triumph over a forsaken cause among the credulous and ignorant multitude, but if we might also have our turn to speak, verily this sharp haste would soon be cooled wherewith they do, licentiously and with full mouth; foam against us.

 

First, whereas they call it new, they do great wrong to God, whose holy word deserves not to be accused of new­ness. To them indeed I nothing doubt that it is new, to whom Christ is new, and his gospel is new. But they that know the preaching of Paul to be old, and that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, shall find nothing new among us. Secondly, that it hath long lain hidden, unknown, and buried, - that is the fault of the ungodliness of men. Such it is by the bountifulness of God restored to us, it ought at least, by right of full restitution, to receive the title of ancienty.

 

They may mock at the uncertainty of our teachings, but if they were driven to seal their own doctrine with their own blood and with the loss of their lives, men might see how much they set by it. Far other is our faith, which dreadeth neither the terrors of death nor yet the very judgment seat of God….

 

As for the dilemma into which they would drive us, to compel us to confess that either the Church hath lain dead a certain time, or that we have controversy against the real Church: truly the Church of Christ bath lived and shall live so long as Christ shall reign at the right hand of the Father… But they err not a little from the truth when they acknowledge no church but that which they see with the present eye, and when they affirm that the form of the Church is always to be seen ; for they set the true form of the Church in the see of Rome and in the order of their prel­ates. We, on the contrary side, affirm both that the Church may consist of no visible form, and that the form itself is not contained in that outward splendor which they foolishly admire, but hath a far other indication, namely, the pure teaching of the word of God and the right ministration of the sacraments. . . .

 

Thus, O King, is the venomous injustice of slanders so largely spread abroad that you should not too easily believe their reports. . . . Your mind, though it be now turned away and estranged from us, yea, even inflamed against us, yet we trust that we shall be able to recover the favor thereof. But if the whisperings of the malicious do so pos­sess your ears that there is no place for accused men. to speak for themselves; and if those outrageous furies do still, with your winking at them, exercise cruelty, with pris­oning, tormenting, mutilating, and burning, - then shall we indeed, as sheep appointed to the slaughter, be brought to all extremities, yet so that in our patience we shall possess our soul and wait for the strong hand of the Lord, which shall without doubt be present in time and stretch forth itself armed, both to deliver the poor out of affliction and to take vengeance on the despisers which now triumph with so great assuredness.

 

The Lord, the King of kings, establish your throne with righteousness and your seat with equity, most noble King. At Basel, the tenth day before the Kalends of September.