1537 and 1538
The city council of Geneva, at the spurring of William Farel, had recently voted to abolish the Roman Catholic Mass in their city, and to reform their worship according to the Word of God. They immediately needed new forms and teaching materials to be drawn up.
Being aware that Calvin’s first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) was not suitable for the uneducated and children, Calvin drew up this catechism upon the same outline as that of the Institutes, according to James Dennison, Jr.
Calvin’s Catechism was first published in French in 1537 and later in Latin in 1538. Both the French and Latin editions are quoted below. The Catechism has also been known by the title Instruction in Faith.
Ford Lewis Battles, the famed, modern translating scholar of the Institutes regarded the first catechism of Calvin as an essential link between the first (1536) and second (1539) editions of the Institutes.
Calvin’s French Catechism, 1537
As published in French in 1877 by H. Bordier, and translated into English by Paul Fuhrmann in 1949, being reprinted in Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 1, 1523-1552, compiled with introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008). The page numbers are to Dennison’s volume.
12. We Apprehend Christ Through Faith
Just as the merciful Father offers us the Son through the word of the Gospel, so we embrace Him through faith and acknowledge Him as given to us. It is true that the word of the Gospel calls all to participate in Christ, but a number, blinded and hardened by unbelief, despise such a unique grace.
13. Election and Predestination
…For what do we seek in election except that we be participants in the life eternal? And we have it in Christ, who was the life since the beginning and who is offered as life to us in order that all those who believe in Him may not perish but enjoy the life eternal.
Calvin’s Latin Catechism, 1538
As translated into English by Ford Lewis Battles and published in 1997 by I. John Hesselink, in Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Publishing), being reprinted in Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol. 1, 152-1552, compiled with introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008). The page numbers are to Dennison’s volume.
7. How We are Restored to Salvation and Life
…Although our wickedness deserved something far different, yet on account of his inexpressible kindness He, the Father of mercy [the Lord], willingly offers Himself to us thus afflicted and stricken [in Christ]. And He knows by what steps to extricate [free from difficulty] us from our weakness, and calls us back from error to the straight path, from death to life, from disaster to safety, from the devil’s sway into his own kingdom.
12. By Faith We Grasp Christ
Just as our merciful Father offers us his Son by the word of the gospel, so by faith we embrace Him, and as it were recognize Him given. Indeed the very word of the gospel calls us all to share in Christ; but most men, blinded and hardened by unbelief, spurn such singular grace. Therefore, Christ is enjoyed only by believers, who receive Him sent to them, who do not reject Him given to them, who follow Him calling them.