Aspects of Calvin’s Use of Chrysostom-Quotations Concerning the Free Will

If we compare the Chrysostom-quotations found in the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Institutes with the original Greek texts by John Chrysostom we encounter significant textual differences. Concerning the doctrine of free will there are about 10 quotations of or references to Chrysostom in the Institutes, and in most cases Calvin puts these in unfavourable light.

A careful study of these quotations shows that Calvin attributed certain ideas to Chrysostom, which the famous patriarch had not said, and considered him to have been in error for doctrines, which appear only in the Latin translation of Chrysostom’s works. Based on the comprehensive studies published so far it is known that Calvin did not use the original Greek text, but the Latin translation published in 1536 by Chevallon. In some cases the difference is probably caused by the quality of translation. Nevertheless, one is puzzled by the possibility that Calvin may have ignored intentionally the well founded assessments of Erasmus concerning the spuriousness of some homilies wrongly attributed to Chrysostom. Is it possible that Calvin simply misread (or did not read) Erasmus’s observations or that we are indeed facing the case of ‘the end justifies the means’? One other option could be that Calvin and Chrysostom had followed different goals, and consequently they asked different question or put them in different light. This could perhaps explain why Calvin sometimes misunderstood Chrysostom’s practice-oriented homilies or could not see them in a positive light.

The present paper offers a short analysis of the quotations concerning the topic mentioned above, inviting the reader to a short ‘etiological’ walk, during which we shall analyse the context of the quotations in an attempt to discover their philological and theological background. Our survey includes a quest for Calvin’s method of using the patristic heritage, in order to provide new perspectives for the solution of our dilemma: did the Reformer misunderstand or did he misuse of the teaching of the patriarch of Constantinople?