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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Prefatory Address to the ‘Institutes’
By John Calvin (1509–1564)
 
(See full text.)

TO FRANCIS, KING OF THE FRENCH, the most Christian Majesty, the most Mighty and Illustrious Monarch, his Sovereign,—John Calvin prays peace and salvation in Christ.  1
  Sire:—When I first engaged in this work, nothing was further from my thoughts than to write what should afterwards be presented to your Majesty. My intention was only to furnish a kind of rudiments, by which those who feel some interest in religion might be trained to true godliness. And I toiled at the task chiefly for the sake of my countrymen the French, multitudes of whom I perceived to be hungering and thirsting after Christ, while very few seemed to have been duly imbued with even a slender knowledge of him. That this was the object which I had in view is apparent from the work itself, which is written in a simple and elementary form, adapted for instruction.  2
  But when I perceived that the fury of certain bad men had risen to such a height in your realm that there was no place in it for sound doctrine, I thought it might be of service if I were in the same work both to give instruction to my countrymen, and also lay before your Majesty a Confession, from which you may learn what the doctrine is that so inflames the rage of those madmen who are this day with fire and sword troubling your kingdom. For I fear not to declare that what I have here given may be regarded as a summary of the very doctrine which, they vociferate, ought to be punished with confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and flames, as well as exterminated by land and sea.  3
  I am aware indeed how, in order to render our cause as hateful to your Majesty as possible, they have filled your ears and mind with atrocious insinuations; but you will be pleased of your clemency to reflect that neither in word nor deed could there be any innocence, were it sufficient merely to accuse. When any one, with the view of exciting prejudice, observes that this doctrine of which I am endeavoring to give your Majesty an account has been condemned by the suffrages of all the estates, and was long ago stabbed again and again by partial sentences of courts of law, he undoubtedly says nothing more than that it has sometimes been violently oppressed by the power and faction of adversaries, and sometimes fraudulently and insidiously overwhelmed by lies, cavils, and calumny. While a cause is unheard, it is violence to pass sanguinary sentences against it; it is fraud to charge it, contrary to its deserts, with sedition and mischief.  4
  That no one may suppose we are unjust in thus complaining, you yourself, most illustrious Sovereign, can bear us witness with what lying calumnies it is daily traduced in your presence; as aiming at nothing else than to wrest the sceptres of kings out of their hands, to overturn all tribunals and seats of justice, to subvert all order and government, to disturb the peace and quiet of society, to abolish all laws, destroy the distinctions of rank and property, and in short turn all things upside down. And yet that which you hear is but the smallest portion of what is said; for among the common people are disseminated certain horrible insinuations—insinuations which, if well founded, would justify the whole world in condemning the doctrine with its authors to a thousand fires and gibbets. Who can wonder that the popular hatred is inflamed against it, when credit is given to those most iniquitous accusations? See why all ranks unite with one accord in condemning our persons and our doctrine!  5
  Carried away by this feeling, those who sit in judgment merely give utterance to the prejudices which they have imbibed at home, and think they have duly performed their part if they do not order punishment to be inflicted on any one until convicted, either on his own confession, or on legal evidence. But of what crime convicted? “Of that condemned doctrine,” is the answer. But with what justice condemned? The very evidence of the defense was not to abjure the doctrine itself, but to maintain its truth. On this subject, however, not a whisper is allowed….  6
  It is plain indeed that we fear God sincerely and worship him in truth, since, whether by life or by death, we desire his name to be hallowed; and hatred herself has been forced to bear testimony to the innocence and civil integrity of some of our people, on whom death was inflicted for the very thing which deserved the highest praise. But if any, under pretext of the gospel, excite tumults (none such have as yet been detected in your realm), if any use the liberty of the grace of God as a cloak for licentiousness (I know of numbers who do), there are laws and legal punishments by which they may be punished up to the measure of their deserts; only in the mean time let not the gospel of God be evil spoken of because of the iniquities of evil men.  7
  Sire, that you may not lend too credulous an ear to the accusations of our enemies, their virulent injustice has been set before you at sufficient length: I fear even more than sufficient, since this preface has grown almost to the bulk of a full apology. My object however was not to frame a defense, but only with a view to the hearing of our cause, to mollify your mind, now indeed turned away and estranged from us,—I add, even inflamed against us,—but whose good will, we are confident, we should regain, would you but once with calmness and composure read this our Confession, which we desire your Majesty to accept instead of a defense. But if the whispers of the malevolent so possess your ear that the accused are to have no opportunity of pleading their cause; if those vindictive furies, with your connivance, are always to rage with bonds, scourgings, tortures, maimings, and burnings—we indeed, like sheep doomed to slaughter, shall be reduced to every extremity; yet so that in our patience we will possess our souls, and wait for the strong hand of the Lord, which doubtless will appear in its own time, and show itself armed, both to rescue the poor from affliction and also take vengeance on the despisers, who are now exulting so securely.  8
  Most illustrious King, may the Lord, the King of kings, establish your throne in righteousness and your sceptre in equity.

  BASLE, August 1st, 1536.
  9
 
 
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