The Theological Foundation And Goal Of Piety In Calvin And Erasmus -- By: Timothy J. Gwin

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:1 (Jan 2010)
Article: The Theological Foundation And Goal Of Piety In Calvin And Erasmus
Author: Timothy J. Gwin


The Theological Foundation And Goal Of Piety In Calvin And Erasmus

Timothy J. Gwin

Two of the most important men involved in the sixteenth-century Continental Reformation were Erasmus of Rotterdam and the Frenchman, John Calvin. Both men sought to live pious lives as well as to influence other Christians for piety. Calvin concisely defines piety, or pietas, in his Institutes as “reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces.”1 Erasmus provides his definition of piety in his prefatory letter to Volz concerning his famous work, the Enchiridion. “Theology is piety, joined with skill in speaking on sacred subjects.”2 Both Reformers understood piety as being indistinguishable from theology and necessary for reforming the church. In order to bring about change in the church, they employed their refined rhetorical writings to engage and inspire Christians to live lives of godliness or piety.3 While Calvin’s rhetorical nuance appears to be heavenward, focused upon the sovereign God he beheld in the Scriptures, Erasmus’s focus appears to be earthbound towards the church that cost the God of Scripture His Son. In light of such theological nuances, both Reformers’ use of rhetoric was cast in decidedly different molds. Erasmus’s piety was cast horizontally in such a way as to evoke the love and service of neighbor in all things so as to bring

about the glory of God. Calvin’s piety was principally cast vertically with a singular focus of motivating the faithful to extol the sovereign God of Scripture in all aspects of life, especially in worship.

Problems In Comparison Addressed

Many scholars might oppose the comparison of Calvin’s Institutes and Erasmus’s Enchiridion, citing the apparent differences of the works as well as those of the authors themselves. Historically, interpreters of Erasmus have not depicted him as a theologian but as a humanist scholar; however, very few would dispute the title for Calvin. In his own day, Erasmus was alleged to be simply a grammarian and rhetorician, not a theologian as Calvin.4 This view, however, has substantially changed due in large part to the University of Toronto’s Erasmus project, which began in 1968. The first volume was published in 1974, with a total of eighty-six volumes planned for publication. As more and more of Erasmus’s works have been published in English, scholars have been challenged to rethink Erasmus in the light of his own work. The resul...

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