Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin Calvin did not shy away from a fight. In the early years of the Reformation, he contributed with this defiant tome. Chapters with titles such as Of the Power of Making Laws. The Cruelty of the Pope and His Adherents, in This Respect, in Tyrannically Oppressing and Destroying Souls clearly show to what Calvin is reacting. At a time when the Church’s power, though waning, was still monumentally influential, it is no small feat for a man to defy centuries of established authority.

However, the work itself is a dry and intellectually barren read. Nearly 1,000 pages, The Institutes mines the Bible for almost all authority. There a few passing, superficial, references to other classical thinkers, but other than Augustine and Chrysostom, there is little reliance placed on them. Even Augustine is taken at face value without acknowledging the Platonic thought that so influenced him. Instead, Calvin copiously cites from Biblical references as he dismantles the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church and lays the foundation for his own doctrine.

Calvin’s goal is to understand the word of God as expressed through the Bible. Faith requires “not merely the knowledge that God is, but also, no chiefly, a perception of his will towards us.” Bk. III, Ch. 2 pg. 359. He alternating attacks the symbolism and literal interpretations the Church. Is he effective? Of course. It’s not hard to attack positions based on Biblical authority because it’s all inconsistent. Likewise, Calvin’s doctrine is just as vulnerable though he chooses not to engage in the same analysis of his own conclusions. Unsurprisingly, logical absurdities are dealt by Calvin with the stand-by defense that though we can know God's will, we cannot understand God’s will. Calvin even goes a step further to reprimand those that question these absurdities for their all too human arrogance. Of course, he’s only referring to those who question his interpretation, not the Church’s.

The first book of The Institutes contains an excellent example of how Calvin deals with those who dispute his premises:
I am aware of what is muttered in corners by certain miscreants, when they would display their acuteness in assailing divine truth. They ask, how do we know that Moses and the prophets wrote the books which now bear their names? No, they even dare to question whether there ever was a Moses. Were any one to question whether there ever was a Plato, or an Aristotle, or a Cicero, would not the rod or whip be deemed the fit chastisement of such folly?” Bk. I, Ch. 8, pg. 40.
If you find such arguments persuasive, you’ll enjoy this book.

Calvin’s interpretation most notably speaks on the lack of free will. God has his elect and there‘s nothing we can do to change who he has chosen, but we don’t know who is actually chosen, so we should all continue to follow God’s decrees. It doesn't change anything, but it's what God wants. To his credit, Calvin is thorough. He cites his positions to biblical passages with the zeal one expects from a zealot.

Unlike classical religious writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, it’s depressing that Calvin lacks intellectual curiosity beyond scripture. He is clearly well-educated and makes compelling attacks against Church authority. However, a fantastic tradition of Western thought is dispensed with in his all consuming quest to decipher the will of God from a book pieced together centuries earlier.