1541 French Institutes


The first English translation of the 1541 French edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion will soon be available (cbd, amazon). Google Books has already put the book online with a generous amount of preview pages.

It will be nice to have another approach to the Institutes. The 1541 French edition followed after the second Latin edition (1539) and was the first French translation of the Institutes. According to the translator’s introduction, Calvin wanted to make the work accessible to the common layperson of his homeland. However, the average  person was still illiterate, so the few who could read would read aloud. This oral-aural culture was the context for Calvin’s reworking of his Latin text with the intent of greater clarity and pastoral concern. Interestingly, the 1541 Institutes is considered a pioneer in the legitimacy of using French as a “vehicle for serious subjects, and thus it is also recognized as one of the founding documents of the modern French language” (p. xi). The full title of the 1541 edition is Institution of the Christian Religion: in which is comprised a summary of piety and practically all that is necessary to know about the teaching of salvation.

The translator is Elsie Anne McKee, Professor of Reformation Studies at PTS.



  1. I have had the opportunity to work in early drafts of this translation (with Elsie here at PTS), and it is very interesting to note the ways in which Calvin works to make his material more accessible for those literate in the vernacular. There are even places where he seems to have re-arranged material so as to make it more conducive to mnemonic devices.

    In any case, I’m looking forward to working through the whole, and can attest that it is well worth engaging.

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