We are pleased to present an updated version of John Calvin's book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, in updated, modern English. You can access a free preview below. If you'd like to support our work, please consider subscribing or purchasing a physical copy on Amazon or browsing other books.

Book Summary

Institutes of the Christian Religion: Book One by John Calvin is a foundational work in Christian theology. In this book, Calvin systematically presents his understanding of God and humanity. We have updated this timeless classic into modern, updated English so you can understand exactly what John Calvin wrote 400 years ago!

The book begins with an exploration of the knowledge of God, asserting that humans can only truly know themselves if they first know God. Calvin argues that the existence of God is self-evident in the world, and that humans have an innate sense of the divine. He also discusses the concept of the Trinity, emphasizing that God is one in essence but three in persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Calvin then moves on to discuss the fall of humanity and original sin. He argues that Adam and Eve's disobedience in the Garden of Eden not only resulted in their personal fall from grace, but also corrupted the whole of human nature. All humans, according to Calvin, are born into sin and are thus in need of divine grace for salvation.

The book also discusses the Law of God, outlining the Ten Commandments and their role in guiding Christian morality. Calvin emphasizes the importance of obeying God's law, not to earn salvation, but as a response to God's grace.

Finally, Calvin delves into the doctrine of predestination, a controversial belief that God has preordained the salvation or damnation of individuals. He asserts that this process is not arbitrary, but is based on God's perfect justice and knowledge.

Institutes of the Christian Religion

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Prefatory Address

Preface Addressed to His Most Christian Majesty,

The Most Powerful and Distinguished Monarch,

Francis, King of the French,

His Sovereign;

John Calvin Wishes Peace and Salvation in Christ.

Your Majesty,—When I first began this work, I never imagined that it would eventually be presented to you. My goal was simply to provide a basic foundation for those interested in religion to grow in true godliness. I primarily focused on my fellow French citizens, as I saw many of them longing for Christ, yet only a few seemed to have even a basic understanding of Him. The fact that this was my intention is evident in the work itself, which is written in a simple and straightforward manner suitable for teaching.

But when I realized that the anger of some bad people in your kingdom had reached such a level that there was no room for sound teachings, I thought it might be helpful if I could both educate my fellow citizens and present to your Majesty a Confession, from which you can understand the teachings that so infuriate these madmen who are currently causing chaos in your kingdom with fire and sword. For I am not afraid to say that what I have written here can be seen as a summary of the very teachings that they claim should be punished with confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and burning, as well as eradicated by land and sea.

I know that in order to make our cause as detestable to you as possible, they have filled your ears and mind with terrible insinuations. But please, in your kindness, consider that there would be no innocence in either words or actions if merely accusing someone was enough. When someone tries to create prejudice by saying that this doctrine, which I am trying to explain to you, has been condemned by the votes of all the estates and was repeatedly attacked by biased judgments in courts, they are only saying that it has sometimes been forcefully suppressed by the power and influence of its opponents, and sometimes deceitfully and secretly overwhelmed by lies, false arguments, and slander. It is violent to pass harsh sentences against a cause that has not been heard, and it is deceitful to accuse it of causing unrest and harm when it doesn't deserve such accusations.

No one should think we're being unfair in complaining about this, as even you, most distinguished Sovereign, can attest to the false accusations we face daily in your presence. They claim we want nothing more than to take away the power of kings, overthrow all courts and justice systems, disrupt society's peace and order, get rid of all laws, destroy social hierarchy and property distinctions, and basically turn everything upside down. What you hear is just a small part of what's being said, as even worse rumors are being spread among the common people. If these rumors were true, it would be understandable for the whole world to condemn our teachings and us to countless fires and gallows. It's no surprise that people's hatred is fueled against us when they believe these outrageous claims. This is why people from all walks of life are united in condemning both us and our teachings.

Overwhelmed by their emotions, the judges simply express the biases they've absorbed at home, believing they've done their duty as long as they don't order punishment until someone is convicted, either by their own admission or through legal evidence. But convicted of what crime? "Of that condemned doctrine," comes the reply. But is it justly condemned? The core of the defense was not to renounce the doctrine itself, but to uphold its truth. However, not a single word is permitted on this matter!

Justice, then, most invincible Sovereign, gives me the right to ask that you thoroughly investigate this case, which has so far been dealt with haphazardly and in a very disorganized way, without following proper legal procedures, and with more emotional intensity than the seriousness required in a court of law.

Don't think that I'm writing this just to defend myself and ensure a safe return to my homeland. Although I have a natural affection for it, I don't regret being away from it under the current circumstances. The cause I'm advocating for is not just my own, but a shared cause for all devout people, and therefore, it's Christ's cause. This cause is now in a desperate state throughout your kingdom, mostly due to the tyranny of certain Pharisees rather than any approval from you. But it doesn't matter how it happened; the fact remains that it has happened. The wicked have gained so much power that Christ's truth is either almost destroyed or hidden away in shame. The poor Church is either devastated by violence, forced into exile, or too scared to even breathe. Yet, her enemies continue to attack with their usual rage and fury, further damaging what's already crumbling. In the meantime, no one steps up to defend against these attacks. Those who claim to support the truth only talk about forgiving the mistakes and recklessness of ignorant people. That's how these so-called "modest" individuals refer to what they know is God's undeniable truth and to those who have been entrusted with Christ's heavenly wisdom. As a result, everyone seems to be ashamed of the Gospel.

Your responsibility, most respected Prince, is not to close your ears or mind to a cause that involves such significant matters as these: how to uphold God's glory on earth without compromise, how to maintain the dignity of God's truth, and how to ensure the stability and security of Christ's kingdom among us. This cause deserves your attention, your examination, and your support from your position of power.

The mark of a true ruler is to recognize that, in managing their kingdom, they are a servant of God. Anyone who doesn't use their reign to serve divine glory is acting not as a king, but as a thief. Furthermore, anyone who expects a kingdom to prosper for a long time without being guided by God's wisdom, meaning His divine word, is fooling themselves. This is because the unerring heavenly message has stated, "where there is no vision the people perish" (Prov. 29:18).

Don't let the idea of our insignificance discourage you from exploring this cause. We are fully aware of how lowly and insignificant we are: in God's presence, we are miserable sinners, and in the eyes of others, we are utterly despised. We may even be considered the lowest of the low, or worse, if such a thing is possible. So, before God, the only thing we can take pride in is His mercy, which allows us, without any merit of our own, to hope for eternal salvation. And before others, we can only take pride in our weakness, something that most people would be ashamed to even admit. However, our beliefs must rise above all worldly glory and remain unshaken by its power, because they are not our own, but those of the living God and His Chosen One. The Father has appointed this Chosen One as King, to rule over everything from sea to sea and from rivers to the ends of the earth. His rule will be so powerful that he will destroy the world's strength and splendor with just a word, shattering it like a potter's vessel. This is in line with the incredible prophecies of the prophets regarding His kingdom (Daniel 2:34; Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 2:9).

Our opponents often loudly claim that our reference to the word of God is just an excuse - that we are, in fact, the ones who corrupt it the most. However, this is not only a spiteful accusation, but also a brazen-faced lie. You can judge for yourself how true this is by reading our Confession. Still, it might be helpful to provide some insights that can encourage or at least support you in reading and studying it carefully.

When Paul stated that all prophecy should be in line with the analogy of faith (Rom. 12:6), he established the most reliable rule for interpreting the meaning of Scripture. Let our beliefs be tested by this rule, and our victory is guaranteed. What aligns better with faith than recognizing that we have no virtue and must be clothed by God, that we lack goodness and must be filled by Him, that we are slaves to sin and need His freedom, that we are blind and need His enlightenment, lame and in need of His healing, and weak and in need of His support? We must let go of any reason for boasting so that God alone can shine in glory, and we can be glorified through Him. When we say these things, some people object and complain that we are undermining the idea of a natural inner light, imagined preparations, free will, and works deserving eternal salvation, as well as their own extra efforts. They can't stand the thought that all praise and glory for goodness, virtue, justice, and wisdom should belong to God alone. But we don't read about anyone being criticized for drinking too much from the fountain of living water; instead, those who create their own broken cisterns that can't hold water are severely reprimanded (Jer. 2:13). What could be more in line with faith than feeling confident that God is a loving Father when we accept Christ as our brother and mediator, and expecting all good things and happiness from Him, whose incredible love for us led Him to not spare His own Son but give Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32)? And what about finding peace in the certain hope of salvation and eternal life when we believe that Christ, in whom such treasures are hidden, has been given to us by the Father? Here, our opponents attack us, claiming that this confidence is arrogant and presumptuous. But while we should not presume anything of ourselves, we can presume everything of God. We are stripped of our pride only so that we can learn to take pride in the Lord. Why look any further? Take a quick look, most valiant King, at all aspects of our cause, and consider us the most wicked of all people if you don't clearly see that "we labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God" (1 Tim. 4:10) and believe that eternal life comes from knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ," whom He has sent (John 17:3). Because of this hope, some of us are in chains, beaten, ridiculed, persecuted, tortured, or forced to flee. We are all burdened with difficulties, cursed, slandered, and treated with great disrespect.

Now let's take a look at our opponents (I'm referring to the priesthood, who control others to act against us) and think about what motivates them. They don't seem to care much about the true religion found in the Scriptures, which everyone should follow. They allow themselves and others to be ignorant of it, to neglect it, and even to disrespect it. They don't mind what people believe or don't believe about God and Christ, as long as they submit to the judgment of the Church with "implicit faith." They're not too bothered if they see God's glory being insulted by blatant blasphemies, as long as no one challenges the authority of the Apostolic See and the holy mother Church. So why do they fight so passionately for things like the mass, purgatory, pilgrimage, and other such nonsense? They can't prove any of these concepts from the word of God, yet they claim that true godliness can't exist without believing in them – a belief stretched to its limits. Why? It's because their main concern is their own comfort and well-being; their religion revolves around their own desires. They believe that without these things, they wouldn't be Christians or even human beings. Some of them live in luxury, while others barely get by, but they all depend on the same system that keeps them fed and comfortable. The more concerned someone is about their own well-being, the more fiercely they defend their beliefs. In short, all of them are focused on maintaining their power and satisfying their desires, with no one showing any genuine zeal for their faith.

Despite their efforts to attack our beliefs and criticize them in any way they can, in order to make them hated or distrusted, they still persist. They label our beliefs as new and recently created, questioning their certainty and reliability. They demand proof of miracles to support our beliefs and question if it's right to accept them against the opinions of many respected religious figures and long-standing traditions. They force us to admit that either our beliefs are causing division within the Church, or that the Church has been lifeless for centuries without these beliefs. Lastly, they argue that there's no need for further discussion, as the negative consequences of our beliefs, such as the numerous religious sects, social unrest, and moral decline, speak for themselves. It's easy for them to ridicule our beliefs in front of an uninformed and easily persuaded audience, but if given the chance for a fair debate, their aggressive and exaggerated accusations against us would surely lose their impact.

1. Firstly, calling it new is extremely disrespectful to God, as His sacred word should not be associated with novelty. To them, it might indeed be new, just like Christ and the Gospel are new. However, those familiar with Paul's old saying that Christ Jesus "died for our sins, and rose again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25) will not find any novelty in our beliefs. The fact that it was buried and unknown for a long time is due to humanity's impiety. But now, thanks to God's kindness, it has been restored to us and should regain its ancient status, just like a returning citizen regains their rights.

2. The same ignorance leads them to view it as doubtful and uncertain, which is precisely what the Lord complains about through His prophet: "The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider" (Isaiah 1:3). However much they may joke about its uncertainty, if they had to confirm their own beliefs with their blood and at the cost of their lives, we would see how much they truly value it. Our confidence, on the other hand, is very different - a confidence that is not shaken by the fear of death, and therefore not even by the judgment seat of God.

3. When people demand miracles from us, they're being dishonest. We haven't created some new gospel; we're following the same one that's been confirmed by all the miracles Jesus and the apostles performed. But our opponents claim they can still perform constant miracles today! They mention miracles that could make even strong believers waver, but these miracles are frivolous, ridiculous, and false. Even if they were truly amazing, they couldn't stand against God's truth, which should always be honored, whether through miracles or everyday events. The deception might be more convincing if the Bible didn't tell us the real purpose of miracles. Mark 16:20 says that the apostles' miracles confirmed their preaching, and Acts 14:3 says that God "gave testimony to the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done" by the apostles. Hebrews 2:4 also says that salvation through the preached gospel was confirmed by God with signs, wonders, and various miracles. So, miracles are meant to be seals of the gospel, not tools to undermine it. We shouldn't use them to confirm lies. First, we need to examine the doctrine that the Evangelist says comes before miracles. Only after proving the doctrine can we accept the miracles as confirmation. Jesus himself said that the mark of sound doctrine is that it promotes God's glory, not human glory (John 7:18; 8:50). If we see "miracles" used for any other purpose than to magnify God's name, we shouldn't consider them true miracles. We must also remember that Satan can perform his own "miracles," which may be more like tricks but can still deceive the unsuspecting. Magicians and enchanters have always been known for their "miracles," and impressive feats have supported idolatry. But these don't make us believe in the superstitions of magicians or idol-worshipers. In the past, the Donatists used their ability to perform miracles to sway the common people. We can respond to our opponents today with the same answer Augustine gave to the Donatists: Jesus warned us about false prophets who would perform lying signs and wonders to deceive even the elect, if possible (Matthew 24:24). Paul also warned that the reign of the antichrist would come with "all power, and signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

But our opponents argue that their miracles are not performed by idols, sorcerers, or false prophets, but by saints. They seem to forget that one of Satan's tricks is to disguise himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). In the past, the Egyptians, who lived near the burial site of the prophet Jeremiah, used to worship and offer sacrifices to him (Hieron.in Praef.Jerem). Weren't they misusing the holy prophet of God for idolatrous purposes? Yet, they believed that by honoring his tomb, they were protected from snake bites. So, what can we say other than that it has always been, and will continue to be, a just punishment from God for those who don't embrace the truth with love, to be sent a "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2 Thess. 2:11)? We, on the other hand, have no shortage of genuine, undeniable miracles. But the miracles our opponents claim are merely Satan's deceptions, as they lead people away from the true worship of God and towards vanity.

4. It is a false accusation to say that we are against the Church Fathers (I'm referring to the ancient writers from a purer time), as if they supported the impiety of our opponents. If the dispute were to be settled by their authority (to put it mildly), we would have the upper hand. While there is much to admire and learn from the writings of these Church Fathers, and while they, like ordinary people, have had their share of shortcomings, these so-called pious individuals seem to focus only on their mistakes and errors, while ignoring, hiding, or twisting the valuable teachings they offer. It's as if their sole purpose is to find faults among the wisdom. Then, with dishonest uproar, they accuse us of being enemies and despisers of the Church Fathers. We are far from despising them; in fact, if this were the right context, we could easily support most of the doctrines we currently hold using their teachings. However, when studying their writings, we have tried to keep in mind (1 Cor. 3:21-23; see also Augustine's Letter 28) that all things are meant to serve us, not to rule over us, and that we belong only to Christ and must obey Him in all things without exception. Anyone who doesn't make this distinction will not have a solid foundation in their faith, as these holy men were not all-knowing, sometimes disagreed with each other, and even occasionally contradicted themselves.

Our opponents argue that we should heed Solomon's warning: "Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set" (Prov. 22:28). However, this rule doesn't apply to both measuring fields and matters of faith. In terms of faith, the rule is: "Forget also thine own people, and thy father's house" (Ps. 45:10). If our opponents are so keen on interpreting allegories, why don't they consider the apostles, rather than any other group of Fathers, as the ones whose landmarks should not be removed? This is how Jerome, whose words they quote in their canons, interprets it. As for those to whom our opponents apply this passage, if they truly want the landmarks to remain in place, why do they so freely disregard them when it suits their needs?

Among the Fathers, there were two individuals. One of them said, "Our God neither eats nor drinks, and therefore has no need for chalices and salvers." The other one said, "Sacred rites do not require gold, and things that are not bought with gold, please not by gold." Therefore, they cross the line when they become so obsessed with gold, silver, ivory, marble, gems, and silks in religious matters that they believe God is not properly worshipped unless everything is covered with expensive displays, or rather, extravagant luxury.

A father once said, "He ate meat freely on the day when others refrained from it, because he was a Christian." So, they go too far when they condemn every soul that, during Lent, has tasted meat.

There were two Fathers, one of whom said, "A monk not working with his own hands is no better than a violent man and a thief;" and the other, "Monks, no matter how diligent they may be in study, meditation, and prayer, should not rely on others for their livelihood." They also crossed this line when they put lazy, gluttonous monks in comfortable places, allowing them to feast on the resources of others.

A father once said, "It is a terrible abomination to see a painted image of Christ or any saint in Christian churches." This wasn't just the opinion of one person; an Ecclesiastical Council also declared, "Let nothing that is worshipped be depicted on walls." Nowadays, they are far from following these guidelines, as they don't leave a single corner without images.

Another father advised, "That after carrying out our duty to the dead by giving them a proper burial, we should let them rest in peace." They cross these boundaries when they constantly worry about the dead.

A Father states, "That the substance of bread and wine in the Eucharist does not cease but remains, just as the nature and substance of man remains united to the Godhead in the Lord Jesus Christ." They cross this boundary by claiming that, as soon as the words of our Lord are spoken, the substance of bread and wine stops existing and is transformed into body and blood.

These early church fathers, who only offered one Eucharist to the entire Church and kept it away from the unholy and wicked, strongly criticized those who attended but did not participate. Nowadays, these boundaries have been greatly altered, as not only churches but also private homes are filled with their masses, allowing anyone and everyone to attend, with the more generous contributors being even more welcome, regardless of their moral character. Instead of inviting people to have faith in Christ and partake in the sacraments faithfully, they seem to be selling their own work as a substitute for the grace and merits of Christ!

There were two Fathers. One of them decided that those who were content with taking part in Christ's sacred supper in just one form, and abstained from the other, should be completely excluded from participating. The other Father strongly argued that the blood of the Lord should not be denied to the Christian people, who are instructed to shed their own blood when confessing their faith. These boundaries were also removed when they established an unchangeable law, which ordered the very thing that the first Father punished with excommunication, and the second Father condemned for a valid reason.

A Father once called it reckless to make a decision on an unclear issue without clear and evident authority from Scripture.32 They seemed to have forgotten this principle when they created so many rules, canons, and dogmatic decisions without any support from the word of God.

A Father once criticized Montanus, among other heresies, for being the first to introduce fasting laws. They have gone way beyond this boundary by imposing even stricter fasting laws.

It was a Father who disagreed that the ministers of the Church should be prohibited from marrying, and declared married life to be a state of chastity; and there were other Fathers who agreed with his decision. They went beyond these boundaries by strictly requiring their priests to remain celibate.

A father once believed that only Christ should be listened to, based on the phrase "hear him." He thought that people should not pay attention to what others before them have said or done, but only to what Christ, the leader of all, has commanded. However, they don't follow this principle themselves, nor do they let others follow it. Instead, they submit themselves and others to any master, rather than Christ.

There is a Father who argues that the Church should not consider herself above Christ, who always judges truly, while church judges, who are only human, are often mistaken. Having broken through this barrier as well, they don't hesitate to base the entire authority of Scripture on the judgment of the Church.

All the Fathers unanimously condemned and protested against mixing the word of God with the clever tricks of sophists and dragging it into the arguments of dialecticians. Do they stay within these boundaries when their entire lives are spent weaving and tangling the simplicity of Scripture with endless debates and language that's worse than sophistry? So much so, that if the Fathers were to rise from their graves and hear the noisy practice called speculative theology, they would never guess it was a discussion about religion.

However, my discussion would go way beyond its appropriate boundaries if I were to explain in detail how stubbornly these men reject the guidance of the Fathers, even though they want to be considered their most loyal followers. It would take me months, or even years, to cover everything. And yet, their audacity is so shocking and reckless that they have the nerve to criticize us for going beyond the traditional limits!

5. Then again, there's no point in them judging us based on customs. To make everything conform to customs would be extremely unfair. If people's judgments were correct, customs would be guided by what's good. But often, the reality is quite different; whatever the majority does quickly becomes the norm. However, human affairs have rarely been so well-ordered that the better path is chosen by the majority. As a result, the private vices of many people usually lead to public mistakes, or rather, that widespread agreement in wrongdoing that these respectable individuals would consider law. Anyone with eyes can see that we're not just dealing with one flood of problems; many deadly plagues have invaded our world, and everything seems to be spiraling out of control. So, we must either give up all hope for humanity or not only resist but also boldly confront these prevailing evils. The only thing preventing a cure is how long we've been used to living with these problems. But even if public mistakes are an inevitable part of human society, in God's kingdom, we must focus solely on His eternal truth, which no amount of time, customs, or conspiracies can override. This is what the prophet Isaiah once taught God's people: "Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread" (Isaiah 8:12). So now, let them, if they want, criticize us for both past and present examples; if we revere the Lord Almighty, we won't be too afraid. Even if many generations have agreed to the same ungodliness, God is powerful enough to punish up to the third and fourth generations, or even if the whole world unites in the same wickedness. He has shown what happens to those who sin with the majority when He destroyed the entire human race with a flood, saving only Noah and his small family, who, by trusting in God alone, "condemned the world" (Hebrews 11:7). In short, corrupt customs are like a widespread disease that kills people, even if they're part of a large group. It's also worth considering what Cyprian said: those who sin in ignorance may not be entirely blameless, but they seem somewhat excusable, while those who stubbornly reject the truth offered to them by God's kindness have no defense.

6. Their dilemma doesn't affect us so strongly that we must admit either that the Church was lifeless for a significant period, or that we are currently in conflict with the Church. The Church of Christ has certainly lived and will continue to live as long as Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father. It is supported, defended, and kept safe by his power. He will undoubtedly fulfill his promise to be with his people "even to the end of the world" (Mt. 28:20). We have no quarrel with the Church, as we, along with all believers, worship and adore one God and Christ Jesus the Lord, just as all devout people have always done. However, they themselves are quite mistaken in not recognizing any church other than the one they can physically see and in trying to set boundaries for it that cannot be contained.

The main points of disagreement in this debate are as follows: first, they argue that the form of the Church is always visible and obvious; and secondly, they believe that this form is found in the Church of Rome and its hierarchy. On the other hand, we believe that the Church can exist without a visible form, and that its true form is not determined by the external splendor they foolishly admire, but by a different sign - the pure preaching of God's word and the proper administration of the sacraments. They protest when the Church cannot be easily identified. But how often did the Church among the Jews become so unrecognizable that no beauty was visible? What do we think its glorious form was when Elijah complained that he was the only one left (1 Kings 19:14)? How long after Christ's arrival did the Church remain hidden and formless? How many times since then has it been so overwhelmed by wars, conflicts, and heresies that it was not seen in splendor? If they had lived during those times, would they have believed that a Church existed at all? But Elijah discovered that there were still seven thousand people who had not bowed to Baal, and we should not doubt that Christ has always ruled on earth since he ascended to heaven. If the faithful back then had demanded a visible form, wouldn't they have immediately lost hope? In fact, Hilary considered it a significant error in his time that people were so captivated by the superficial admiration of Episcopal dignity that they failed to see the deadly danger hiding behind it. He said (Cont. Auxentium), "I have one piece of advice: Beware of Antichrist; unfortunately, you are obsessed with buildings; unfortunately, the Church of God that you revere is found in houses and structures; unfortunately, you associate these with the name of peace. Is there any doubt that Antichrist will establish his seat in these places? To me, mountains, forests, lakes, dungeons, and whirlpools are safer; for in these places, prophets either lived or were engulfed while prophesying."

So, what is it that people admire about these high-ranking religious leaders today, if not the belief that those who lead famous cities are holy representatives of religion? Let's stop using this ridiculous way of judging! Instead, let's humbly accept that only God knows who truly belongs to Him, and sometimes He might hide the visible presence of His Church from people's eyes. This is indeed a terrifying punishment that God sends to the world, but if people's wickedness deserves it, why should we try to stop God's fair vengeance? This is how God punished people's ingratitude in the past: after they refused to follow His truth and put out His light, He let them be deceived by false beliefs and trapped in deep darkness, so that no trace of a true Church could be seen. However, even though His own people were scattered and hidden among errors and darkness, He saved them from destruction. It's not surprising, because He knew how to protect them even in the chaos of Babylon and the flames of the fiery furnace.

But as for the desire for the Church's form to be determined by some kind of empty display, I'll briefly show how dangerous that is, rather than fully explain it, so I don't go on too long. What they claim is that the Pope, who holds the apostolic seat, and the priests who are anointed and consecrated by him, as long as they have the symbols of headbands and mitres, represent the Church and should be seen as being in the place of the Church, and therefore cannot be wrong. Why is that? Because they are the Church's pastors and dedicated to the Lord. But weren't Aaron and other leaders of Israel also pastors? Yet Aaron and his sons, even though they were already designated as priests, still made a mistake when they created the golden calf (Exodus 32:4). According to this perspective, why shouldn't the 400 prophets who lied to Ahab represent the Church? (1 Kings 22:11, etc.). However, the Church actually sided with Micaiah. He was alone and looked down on, but the truth came from his mouth. Didn't the prophets also show the name and appearance of the Church when they all united against Jeremiah and threatened him, claiming it was impossible for the law to disappear from the priest, advice from the wise, or the word from the prophet? (Jeremiah 18:18). In contrast to all the prophets, Jeremiah was sent alone to announce from the Lord (Jeremiah 4:9) that a time would come when the law would vanish from the priest, advice from the wise, and the word from the prophet. Wasn't there a similar display of splendor in that council when the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees gathered to discuss how they could put Jesus to death? So let them stick to the outward appearance while they label Christ and all of God's prophets as divisive and consider Satan's servants as instruments of the Holy Spirit!

But if they are sincere, let them answer me honestly - where and among whom do they think the Church resided after the Council of Basle removed Eugenius from the papacy and replaced him with Amadeus? They can't deny that the Council was legitimate in terms of external forms and was called by not just one, but two pontiffs. Eugenius, along with all the cardinals and bishops who helped him try to dissolve the Council, was condemned for disobedience, rebellion, and schism. However, with the support of princes, he eventually regained his position as pope. Amadeus' election, which was properly carried out by the authority of a general holy synod, came to nothing; he was only appeased with a cardinal's hat, like a scrap thrown to a barking dog. From this group of rebellious and disobedient schismatics came all future popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, and presbyters. They are trapped and cannot escape. Which side will they call the Church? Will they deny that it was a general Council, even though it had all the external majesty, having been solemnly called by two bulls, led by the legate of the Roman See, properly organized in every way, and maintaining all its honors until the end? Will they admit that Eugenius and his followers, through whom they were all consecrated, were schismatic? If so, they should either define the Church differently or accept that they are all schismatics for knowingly and willingly receiving ordination from heretics. Even if it had never been revealed before that the Church is not tied to external pomp, their own actions provide ample proof, as they proudly present themselves to the world as the Church while actually being its deadly enemies. I'm not talking about their behavior and the terrible atrocities they commit, since they claim to be Pharisees who should be listened to, not imitated. If you spend some time reading our writings, you'll see clearly that their doctrine - the very thing they claim makes them the Church - is a deadly killer of souls and the cause of the Church's ruin and destruction.

7. Lastly, it's unfair to blame our doctrine for the disturbances, conflicts, and disagreements that have arisen from its preaching and the results it sometimes produces. These issues should be attributed to the evil schemes of Satan, not the doctrine itself. Whenever the divine word appears, Satan becomes active and alert. This is the most accurate way to distinguish true teachings from false ones, which are easily accepted by everyone and praised by the world. For many ages, when the world was in deep darkness, almost all people were just pawns in the hands of the god of this world, who enjoyed his power without any disturbance. What else could he do but laugh and play while he had complete control over his kingdom? But when the light from above began to break through the darkness and a strong force challenged his rule, Satan had to wake up and fight back. He first tried to use people to violently suppress the emerging truth, but when that didn't work, he resorted to deception, causing divisions and disputes over doctrine through his agents like the Catabaptists and other dangerous individuals. His goal was to obscure and eventually extinguish the truth. Now, he continues to attack the truth using both methods, trying to uproot the true teachings through human violence and attempting to choke it with his lies so it won't grow and bear fruit. However, his efforts will be in vain if we follow the Lord's guidance, who has already exposed Satan's tricks so we won't be caught off guard and has provided us with the means to defend ourselves against his schemes. It's wrong to blame the word of God for the rebellions caused by wicked people or the sects created by impostors. This isn't a new tactic. Elijah was accused of causing trouble in Israel, Christ was considered a troublemaker by the Jews, and the apostles were charged with inciting public unrest. Today, those who blame us for the disturbances, conflicts, and disputes that arise against us are doing the same thing. But, like Elijah, we have our answer (1 Kings 18:17, 18): it's not us who spread errors or cause conflicts, but those who resist the powerful presence of God.

While this single response is enough to counter the reckless accusations of these people, we must also consider the concerns of those who are troubled by such scandals and often find themselves wavering in confusion. To prevent them from losing faith and giving up their good standing, they should know that the apostles faced similar situations in their time.  Back then, there were uneducated and unstable individuals who, as Peter mentioned (2 Peter 3:16), twisted Paul's inspired writings to their own demise. There were those who mocked God, claiming that they would continue sinning so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1), or that they would sin because they were not under the law but under grace (Romans 6:15). Some even accused the apostle of promoting sin. Many false prophets tried to tear down the churches that Paul had established. Some preached the gospel with envy and rivalry, insincerely and even maliciously, hoping to cause him more distress. In other places, the gospel made little progress, with people prioritizing their own interests over those of Jesus Christ. Some reverted to their old ways, like a dog returning to its vomit or a washed sow wallowing in the mud. Numerous individuals misused their spiritual freedom for worldly indulgence. False believers infiltrated the community, posing a significant threat to the faithful. Disputes also arose among the believers themselves. So, what were the apostles to do? Should they have ignored the situation or abandoned the gospel, which seemed to cause so many conflicts, dangers, and scandals? In such difficult circumstances, they remembered that "Christ was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense," "set up for the fall and rising again of many," and "for a sign to be spoken against" (Luke 2:34). With this assurance, they bravely faced all the challenges and scandals that came their way. We, too, should find strength in this same understanding, as Paul states that the gospel will always be a "savor of death unto death in them that perish" (2 Corinthians 2:16), even though it is meant to be a savor of life unto life and the power of God for the salvation of believers. We would undoubtedly experience this if we did not allow our ingratitude to corrupt God's indescribable gift and turn what should be our only saving defense into our downfall.

But to get back to the point, Your Majesty, don't be swayed by the ridiculous claims that our opponents are making, trying to scare you into thinking that this new gospel (as they call it) only wants to create opportunities for rebellion and allow all kinds of immoral behavior to go unpunished. Our God is not a God of division, but of peace, and the Son of God, who came to destroy the devil's work, is not a supporter of sin. We are also unfairly accused of having intentions that we have never even hinted at. They say we want to overthrow kingdoms, but our voices have never been part of any faction, and our lives under your rule have always been peaceful and simple. Even now, when we are exiled from our homeland, we continue to pray for your well-being and the success of your kingdom. They claim we are seeking unrestrained indulgence in vice, but our behavior, although not perfect, does not warrant such accusations. Thankfully, we have learned enough from the gospel that our lives can serve as examples of chastity, kindness, compassion, self-control, patience, moderation, and other virtues to those who slander us. It is clear that we genuinely fear God and worship Him in truth, as we desire for His name to be honored, whether through our lives or our deaths. Even our enemies have had to admit the innocence and good citizenship of some of our people who were executed for the very things that should have been praised. However, if anyone uses the gospel as an excuse to cause unrest (none have been found in your kingdom so far) or to justify immoral behavior (I know of many who do), there are laws and legal punishments that can be applied according to their actions. In the meantime, please don't let the gospel of God be slandered because of the wrongdoings of wicked people.

Dear Sir, I have presented the unjust accusations of our enemies in detail, perhaps even more than necessary, as this introduction has become almost as long as a full defense. My intention was not to create a defense, but rather to soften your heart towards us, as it has been turned away and alienated from us. I must add that it has even become hostile towards us. However, we are confident that if you would calmly and composedly read our Confession, which we offer as a defense, we could regain your goodwill. But if the whispers of ill-intentioned people have taken over your ear, preventing the accused from pleading their case, and if those vengeful spirits continue to inflict bonds, whippings, tortures, maimings, and burnings with your consent, we will be like sheep destined for slaughter, pushed to our limits. Nevertheless, we will remain patient, maintain our composure, and wait for the strong hand of the Lord to intervene at the right time. We believe that the Lord will not only rescue the poor from their suffering but also punish those who now confidently mock and despise us.

Most distinguished King, may the Lord, the King of all kings, secure your throne with justice and your reign with fairness.

Basel, August 1st, 1536.

Letter to the Reader

In the first edition of this work, I had no expectation of the success that God, in his goodness, has granted it. I had mostly done my job casually, as is common in minor tasks. However, when I saw that nearly all of the devout people had received it with a favor I had never dared to wish for, let alone hope for, I felt that I had received much more than I deserved. I thought I would be very ungrateful if I did not at least try, according to my humble ability, to respond to the great kindness shown towards me, which naturally encouraged me to be diligent. Therefore, I ask no other favor from the studious for my new work than what they have already given me beyond my merits. I feel so obliged that I will be satisfied if I am considered not to have made a bad return for the gratitude I owe.

I would have made this return much earlier, but the Lord has tested me in an extraordinary way for almost two whole years. However, it is soon enough if it is well enough. I will think it has appeared in good time when I see that it produces some fruit for the Church of God. I may add that my goal in this work was to prepare and train theology students for the study of the Sacred Volume so that they might have an easy introduction to it and be able to proceed in it without faltering. I have tried to provide a summary of religion in all its parts and arrange it in such an order that it will not be difficult for anyone who is familiar with it to determine both what they should primarily look for in Scripture and to what category they should refer whatever is contained in it.

Having thus paved the way, I will not feel it necessary, in any commentaries on Scripture that I may publish later, to enter into lengthy discussions of doctrines or elaborate on commonplaces, and will therefore always keep them concise. In this way, the devout reader will be spared much trouble and weariness, provided they come equipped with a knowledge of the present work as an essential prerequisite. My commentary on the Epistle to the Romans will serve as an example of this plan, and I would rather let it speak for itself than describe it in words. Farewell, dear reader, and if you gain any fruit from my efforts, please pray for me to the Lord.

August 1st, 1539, Strasbourg.

Topic of this Work

In order to help my readers get the most out of this work, I want to briefly explain the benefits they can gain from it. By doing this, I can show them the goal they should strive for and focus on when reading it.

Although the Holy Scriptures contain a perfect doctrine, with nothing to be added, our Lord having revealed the infinite wisdom within them, anyone not familiar with them still needs guidance and direction in order to understand what they are saying. This will help them to stay on the right path and reach the goal that the Holy Spirit is inviting them to.

It is our duty as those who have been given more knowledge from God to help those who are less informed. The best way to do this is to explain the main topics of Christian philosophy in writing. This way, someone who understands these topics can make more progress in their spiritual journey in a day than someone who does not understand them in three months. They will have a better understanding of what each sentence means and will be able to use it as a guide to test any new information they come across.

Seeing how important it was to help those who want to learn about salvation, I have done my best, with the help of God, to do this. I wrote this book in Latin so that it could be useful to people of any nation, and then I translated it into French so that my fellow countrymen could benefit from it too. I don't want to say too much about how useful it will be, as I don't want to be too proud of my own work. But I can promise that it will be like a key, giving all God's children an easy way to understand the Bible. If God gives me the chance to write more commentaries, I will try to be as brief as possible, since I have already written about all the topics related to Christianity.

I firmly believe that all truth and sound doctrine come from God, so I will confidently state my opinion of this work, giving credit to God for it. My opinion is that everyone who respects the Lord's word should read it and commit it to memory. This will give them a basic understanding of Christian doctrine and an introduction to the Old and New Testaments. If anyone finds it difficult to understand, they should not give up, but keep reading and hope that one passage will explain another. Most importantly, they should always refer to Scripture when considering the evidence I provide.

Book One: On the Knowledge of God the Creator


The first book discusses the knowledge of God the Creator. It focuses on the creation of man, as it best demonstrates God's divine qualities. The book is divided into two main sections: one on the knowledge of God and the other on the knowledge of man. The first chapter discusses both topics together, while the following chapters address each topic separately. Occasionally, other related subjects are discussed, such as Scripture and images, which fall under the knowledge of God, and the creation of the world, holy angels, and devils, which fall under the knowledge of man. The final topic, the method of divine governance, relates to both sections.

Regarding the knowledge of God, the book first explains the type of knowledge that God requires (Chapter 2). It then discusses where this knowledge can be found (Chapters 3-9): not in man, as it is naturally present in the human mind but is suppressed by ignorance and evil intentions (Chapters 3 and 4); not in the structure of the world, as although it is clearly displayed there, humans are too foolish to recognize it (Chapter 5); but in Scripture (Chapter 6), which is discussed in Chapters 7-9. The book then describes the nature of God (Chapter 10), the impiety of giving God a visible form (Chapter 11, which also covers images, their worship, and origins), the importance of worshipping God alone (Chapter 12), and the unity of God's essence and the distinction of three persons (Chapter 13).

Regarding the knowledge of man, the book first discusses the creation of the world and good and bad angels, as they relate to man (Chapter 14). It then examines the nature and abilities of man himself (Chapter 15).

To further illustrate the nature of both God and man, the final three chapters (16-18) discuss the general governance of the world, particularly human actions, in opposition to fortune and fate. The book explains both the doctrine and its use. In conclusion, it demonstrates that although God uses the wicked as instruments, He remains pure and untainted by sin or any other imperfection.

Chapter 1: The knowledge of God and ourselves is mutually connected - the nature of both

1. Our wisdom, if it is to be considered true and reliable, is made up of two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. It is difficult to decide which of the two comes first, since they are so closely connected. When we look at ourselves, we are immediately drawn to God, because it is clear that our abilities and even our very existence come from Him. The blessings that come from Heaven are like rivers that lead us to the source. We can see how much good is in God when we compare it to our own poverty. In particular, the terrible consequences of the first man's disobedience make us look to God for help and humility. We can see our own misery and understand that only in God is true wisdom, strength, and goodness to be found. When we understand ourselves, we are driven to seek God, and we cannot truly reach out to Him until we are dissatisfied with ourselves. Most people are content with themselves until they understand their own shortcomings.

2. On the other hand, it is clear that we can never truly understand ourselves until we have first contemplated the face of God and then looked into ourselves. Our innate pride makes us think we are always just, righteous, wise, and holy, until we are shown otherwise by clear evidence. This evidence can only be found by looking to God, as He is the only true standard. We are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, so any false sense of righteousness is enough to satisfy us instead of true righteousness. Nothing around us is pure, so anything that is slightly less impure seems perfect to us, just like how an eye that has only seen black would think something that is whitish or brownish is white. This is also true when it comes to our spiritual qualities. As long as we don't look to God, we are content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue. But when we look to God and consider His absolute perfection, what we thought was righteous becomes polluted with iniquity, what we thought was wise becomes foolish, and what we thought was virtuous becomes powerless. Our qualities, which seem perfect to us, are far from matching the divine purity.

3. Therefore, it is no surprise that holy men were filled with dread and amazement when they encountered the presence of God. When we see those who were once so confident and secure trembling with fear and feeling as if they were being swallowed up and destroyed, it is clear that people do not truly understand their own insignificance until they compare themselves to the majesty of God. This fear is seen throughout the Book of Judges and the Prophetical Writings, so much so that it was a common saying among the people of God, “We shall die, for we have seen the Lord.” This is why the Book of Job uses descriptions of the Divine wisdom, virtue, and purity to humble people and make them aware of their own foolishness, weakness, and impurity. Abraham was quick to recognize himself as dust and ashes when he was close to beholding the glory of the Lord, and Elijah was unable to look upon Him with an uncovered face. What can a mere human, who is nothing more than rottenness and a worm, do when even the Cherubim must hide their faces in terror? Isaiah alludes to this when he says, “The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign;” meaning that when God reveals His brilliance, even the brightest objects will be shrouded in darkness.

Although knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are connected, it is necessary to discuss knowledge of God first before moving on to knowledge of ourselves.

Chapter 2: Understanding what it means to know God - the tendency of this knowledge

1. By knowing God, I mean not just believing that there is a God, but also understanding what is in our best interest and what brings glory to Him. In other words, what we should know about Him. We can't truly say we know God if there is no religion or piety in our lives. I'm not talking about the knowledge of God as our Redeemer through Jesus Christ, the Mediator. I'm referring to the basic understanding of God that we would have had if Adam had not sinned. Even though we can't fully grasp God's love and salvation without Christ's intervention, there is still a difference between acknowledging that God created and sustains us, and accepting the grace and reconciliation offered through Christ. So, there are two aspects of knowing God: first, as our Creator, and second, as our Redeemer through Christ. We will discuss the latter later on. Although our minds can't think of God without worshipping Him, it's not enough to simply believe that He is the only one worthy of our worship and adoration. We must also be convinced that He is the source of all goodness, and that we should seek everything in Him and only in Him. This means not only recognizing that He created and maintains the world with His power, wisdom, and goodness, but also that every bit of light, wisdom, justice, power, righteousness, and truth comes from Him. We should expect and ask everything from Him, and be grateful for all that we receive. This understanding of God's qualities is what teaches us piety, which leads to religion. By piety, I mean the combination of reverence and love for God that comes from knowing His blessings. People won't truly obey and submit to God unless they realize that they owe everything to Him, that He cares for them as a loving Father, and that He is the source of all their blessings. They must also find their complete happiness in Him to fully and sincerely devote themselves to Him.

2. Therefore, those who try to understand the essence of God are only leading us into cold speculations. It's more important for us to know what kind of being God is and what aligns with his nature. What's the point of agreeing with Epicureans that there is a God who has abandoned the world and only seeks pleasure? In short, what's the use of knowing a God with whom we have no connection? Our knowledge of God should first teach us reverence and fear, and secondly, guide us to ask for every good thing from him and give him credit when we receive it. Because how can you think of God without realizing that you are his creation and must submit to his authority? That your life belongs to him? That everything you do should be related to him? If so, it's clear that your life is deeply flawed if it's not lived in obedience to him, as his will should be the guiding principle of our lives. On the other hand, you can't truly understand God's nature unless you see him as the source of all goodness. This understanding would lead to trust in him and a desire to be close to him, if only the corruption of the human mind didn't steer us away from the right path of inquiry.

Firstly, a devout mind does not create its own version of God but focuses solely on the one true God. It does not imagine God with any arbitrary traits but accepts Him as He presents Himself, always being cautious not to disobey His will or stray from the right path. A person who knows God in this way understands that God governs all things and trusts Him as their guardian and protector, relying on His faithfulness. They recognize God as the source of all blessings and turn to Him for protection and assistance in times of need, trusting in His goodness and mercy. They acknowledge God as their Father and Lord, and feel obligated to respect His authority, revere His majesty, promote His glory, and obey His commands. They also see Him as a just judge, capable of punishing wrongdoings and are mindful of His judgment. This awareness helps them restrain themselves and avoid provoking His anger. However, they are not solely motivated by the fear of punishment to avoid sin. They love and revere God as their Father and honor and obey Him as their Master. Even if there were no consequences for their actions, they would still be repulsed by the idea of offending Him. They embrace God not only as the punisher of the wicked but also as the rewarder of the righteous, understanding that it is part of His glory to provide punishment for some and eternal life for others.

True and genuine religion is having faith in God combined with a deep sense of reverence. This reverence involves both a willing respect and the practice of legitimate worship as prescribed by the law. It's important to realize that while many people claim to honor God, very few truly hold Him in reverence. There are plenty of showy ceremonies everywhere, but sincerity of heart is hard to find.

Chapter 3: The knowledge of God is naturally ingrained in the human mind

1. It is undeniable that humans possess an innate sense of a higher power or deity, as God has instilled this awareness in everyone to prevent any claims of ignorance. This knowledge of God's existence is constantly refreshed and expanded, ensuring that everyone knows there is a God and that He is their creator. As a result, people can be held accountable by their own conscience when they fail to worship or dedicate their lives to God's service. Even in the most remote and uncivilized parts of the world, where one might expect to find people who are unaware of God, there is still a belief in a higher power. As a heathen once said, there is no nation or race so primitive that they do not possess a conviction that there is a God. Even those who appear to be the most animal-like in their behavior still retain a sense of religion, demonstrating the pervasive nature of this belief in a deity. Throughout history and across the globe, there has never been a place, city, or household without some form of religion. This widespread belief serves as evidence that the concept of a deity is ingrained in every human heart. Even the practice of idolatry, where people worship objects made of wood or stone, supports this idea. Humans are typically reluctant to lower themselves and place other beings above them, so when they choose to worship inanimate objects rather than deny the existence of a higher power, it shows just how powerful the belief in a deity truly is. This conviction is so strong that it is more difficult to erase from the human mind than to overcome our natural instincts, as seen when people willingly humble themselves before seemingly insignificant objects in reverence to God.

2. It is completely ridiculous, then, for some people to argue that religion was created by a few clever individuals as a way to control the masses, while those very individuals who taught others to worship God didn't actually believe in God's existence. I agree that there have been manipulative people who have introduced many false ideas into religion to make the general public more respectful or fearful, and therefore more obedient. However, this could never have worked if people didn't already have a basic belief in God, which acts as the foundation for religious feelings. It's hard to believe that those who tricked others in matters of religion had no knowledge of God themselves. Although there have been people in the past, and there are still many today, who deny the existence of a God, they sometimes feel the truth they try to ignore. For example, C. Caligula was known for his extreme disrespect and contempt for the divine, but he also showed great fear when faced with signs of divine anger. Despite his efforts to deny God, he couldn't help but feel afraid. The same thing happens to people today who try to reject God. The more they try to escape the idea of God, the more their conscience is affected by the divine presence they're trying to avoid. Even the most daring person who denies God can be easily shaken, trembling at the slightest sound. This happens because the divine presence continues to affect their conscience, no matter how hard they try to escape it. These people may try to find places to hide from God or erase the idea from their minds, but they can never truly escape. Even when they think they've momentarily forgotten about God, the conviction returns with even greater force. Any brief relief from their guilty conscience is similar to the restless sleep of someone who is intoxicated or mentally disturbed, constantly plagued by terrible nightmares. So, even those who do evil acts prove that some idea of God exists in every human mind.

3. All people with sound judgment will agree that a sense of Deity is permanently engraved on the human heart. This belief is naturally present in everyone and deeply rooted, as evidenced by the stubbornness of wicked individuals who, despite their fierce resistance, cannot escape the fear of God. Even though people like Diagoras and others mock the religious beliefs held throughout history, and Dionysus laughs at the idea of divine judgment, it's just a facade. Their conscience, sharper than burning steel, torments them from within. I'm not saying, like Cicero, that errors fade with time and religion improves daily. The world, as we'll see soon, tries its best to reject all knowledge of God and corrupts His worship in countless ways. I'm simply saying that when the stubbornness that wicked people embrace to disregard God weakens, the sense of Deity, which they most want to extinguish, remains strong and occasionally resurfaces. From this, we conclude that this belief is not something learned in school, but rather an innate understanding that everyone possesses from birth. Nature doesn't allow anyone to forget this, even though many try their hardest to do so. Furthermore, if everyone is born and lives to learn about God, and if knowledge of God is useless unless it leads to this purpose, it's clear that those who don't focus their thoughts and actions on this goal fail to fulfill their life's purpose. Even philosophers have noticed this. Plato, for example, often taught that the soul's greatest good is to resemble God, meaning that through knowing Him, the soul is completely transformed into His likeness. Similarly, Gryllus in Plutarch's writings argues that without religion in people's lives, they are not only no better than animals but also more miserable due to the many hardships they face. The only thing that elevates humans above animals is the worship of God, through which they aspire to immortality.