Learning from John Calvin: Drinking Deeply from the Early Church

When we speak of Calvin’s use of the Church Fathers and advocating it as an example for us today it should be held up more than a mere example of using the Fathers in our exegetical papers, journal articles, and finding references in sermon prep.[1] No, to hold up others before us, such as Calvin, who drank deeply from the well of insight from the early church, means that we must also soak ourselves in their writings. Calvin didn’t merely begin writing about Galatians 4 and open up Logos Bible Software, find a reference to Galatians 4 in Chrysostom[2], and then cite him in a paper. No, he has already been reading the giants of the church and can use them as exemplars, disagree with them, or not use them at all. He has built up a mental repository that he can pull from in order to use them in his exegesis. His thought has already been previously shaped by reading them, which in turn influences his hermeneutics.[3]

This is just as much a call to myself as it is a call to everyone who sees the benefit of integrating the early church in our hermeneutical method. We will not grasp fully what they have to say to us by hunting down specific references and citing them in our studies. Let’s personally drink deeply from the literature of the fathers so we have our own minds shaped and expanded as we interpret in a present day situation.

  1. See my previous post “Thoughts and Notes on ‘Calvin as Bible Interpreter’”  ↩

  2. See Calvin, Jean. “John Calvin : preface to the Homilies of Chrysostom.” Hartford Quarterly 5, no. 2 (December 1, 1965): 19–26  ↩

  3. For a helpful introduction into Calvin’s hermeneutics see John Thompson’s article, “Calvin as Bible Interpreter” by McKim, Donald K (ed).John Calvin: Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press, 2004.  ↩