Calvin’s First Reformed Sermon? Nicholas Cop’s Discourse—1 November 1533 -- By: Joseph N. Tylenda

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 38:3 (Spring 1976)
Article: Calvin’s First Reformed Sermon? Nicholas Cop’s Discourse—1 November 1533
Author: Joseph N. Tylenda

Calvin’s First Reformed Sermon?
Nicholas Cop’s Discourse—1 November 1533

Joseph N. Tylenda

The first sermon to come from the pen of John Calvin may have been one written some 440 years ago towards the end of October 1533. At that same time of year, but sixteen years previously, Martin Luther was engaged in drawing up his ninety-five theses which he posted on 31 October 1517. If the sermon be Calvin’s, then both Luther and Calvin initiated their careers with short theological compositions; Luther’s was an invitation to an academic disputation, Calvin’s an academic discourse. Calvin’s sermon, however, was delivered by another, Nicholas Cop,1 a very close friend who had just been elected rector of the University of Paris, 10 October 1533,2 and who, according to custom, gave his rectorial address on 1 November, the Feast of All Saints, to the assembled faculties of the University.

Over the years, two opinions have grown up relative to the authorship of the sermon; one favors Calvin,3 the other

attributes it to Cop himself.4 Neither opinion can root itself in irrefutable documentary proof. The proponents have to be satisfied with arguments of a secondary nature whose sum total results only in probability. In the present case, one wonders whether one will ever pass from the realm of the probable to hard historical fact; perhaps we may have to remain satisfied with what is more probable.

Up to the 1960s the opinion denying authorship to Calvin seems to have been the more popular. On the occasion of the fourth centenary of Calvin’s death (1964) M. Jean Rott of Strasbourg published a carefully reasoned re-examination of the question and of the discourse.5 He argues for Calvin—has he succeeded in tilting the balance in favor of the reformer? This essay intends to present an over-view of the state of the question relative to the authorship of the discourse, note the contribution that Rott has made, and add an element or two which may point to Calvin as the more probale author of the discourse. Finally, at the end of the essay, we offer a new translation of the discourse.6

The All Saints discourse has survived in two versions, i.e., as found in the Geneva and Strasbourg archives. The Geneva

[G] manuscript, preserved in the Bibliothque de Genve,

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