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Calvin, Jean
Institution de la religion chrestienne,

5, 000 

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One of the first monuments of the French language”

The French text of the Institution
is a literary event of great importance” (Guy Schoeller).

A beautiful copy, wide-margined (186 mm high),
preserved in its first overlapping vellum binding.


Calvin, Jean. Institution de la religion chrestienne, Nouvellement mise en quatre Livres : et distinguée par chapitres, en ordre & methode bien propre : Augmentée aussi de tel accroissement, qu’on la peut presque estimer un Livre nouveau. Nous avons aussi adjousté deux Indices très amples, tant des matières contenues en ce livre que des passages de la Bible qui y sont alleguez selon l’ordre du vieil et nouveau Testament dont on cognoistra l’utilité par l’Épître mise devant les dicts Indices.
Lion, Jean Martin, 1565.

8vo [186 x 110 mm] of (100) ll., 1 256 pp.
Overlapping vellum, handwritten title on spine. Contemporary binding.

Precious and rare edition of this founding text, published the year following Jean Calvin’s death on May 27th in Geneva.

This imposing volume, finely executed was, we think, printed in Geneva ; 35 Fr, Tross sale of November 1867 ; one guinea, Perkins.” (Manuel du Libraire – Deschamps et Brunet)

The Institution de la Religion chrestienne is the major text of the Protestant religion. Calvin worked on it his whole life ; both the Latin and French texts were written by him. He never ceased to improve it, rewrite it, not just merely adding some small words here and there. He was very mindful about preserving the text’s general balance.

The first edition, in Latin, was published in 1536 in Basle. The Latin text was reviewed in the 1543 and 1550 editions and the French text in the 1545 and 1551 editions. The definitive text is the one from the Latin edition of 1559, in Geneva.

The text from the 1560 French edition contains many authentic additions but was not entirely written by the author. It is this text that makes up the present edition.

The Institution opens with a letter-preface to François Ier, dated in Basle, August 1st, 1535, and which became famous, rightly so. This letter explains Calvin’s double intention : first, he wants to proclaim the existence of the reformed religion, give the sect a corpus of doctrines, a clear profession of faith, disciplinary rules. But he also wants to demonstrate that the Reformation is a purely religious affair, that in no way does it threaten the king’s authority. Calvin wants to reassure François Ier : nothing will shatter the Reformers’ submission to secular power, not even persecution.

The Institution is not only an important moment in the history of religions, philosophy and politics. The book is also important for the history of the French language. Bossuet says that Calvin’s style is « sad » ; it is true that he does not employ any irony, even though he sometimes tries to use some with his opponents, and he has no interest in slander. Calvin is a cold writer ; he is vehement but never out of bounds, eloquent and often admirable, but without emphasis. His rational thinking will never be threatened by any enthusiasm ; his vocabulary is easy to grasp because it was and remains simple ; Calvin’s only worry is precision, he shies away from anything colorful or picturesque. Finally, he manages to show that the French language is not in opposition to Latin but is a continuation : without sacrificing the precision that Latin gives him, he tries really hard to be accessible to a large lay audience. But Calvin never quits ; he doesn’t have Luther’s exuberant health or literary flame. It was said that the French text of the Institution of 1541 was a « literary event of great importance » : the « vigorous and astonishing expression » of a historical phenomenon called «  French clarity ».

A beautiful copy, wide-margined (186 mm high), preserved in its first vellum binding with overlapping edges.

The copy belonging to David Berle, a draper in Renan, bound at a later date, was sold 7 500 € in June 2010 (Réf. Livres rares, n° 34).


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