About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Book Review: John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God

Book Review: John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, edited by Paul Helm and translated by Keith Goad (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010)

In 1558, John Calvin published Calumniae nebulonis cuiusdam, quibus odio et invidia gravare conatus est doctrinam Ioh. Calvini de occulta Dei providentia. Joannis Calvini ad easdem responsio. It was a short work responding to Sebastian Castellio, who had anonymously collated a number of articles on divine providence, ostensibly drawn from Calvin’s writings, for the purpose of discrediting the Genevan Reformer. Calvin responds to every charge levelled against him, though whether he does so successfully is, of course, for the reader to decide.

In his enlightening introduction, Paul Helm explains the background to The Secret Providence of God (its English title) and its translations into English. When I was researching Calvin on providence for my doctoral thesis a few years ago, the only English translation of Secret Providence I could find was located in Henry Cole’s Calvin’s Calvinism – a rather idiosyncratic volume, judging by Helm’s comments.

This contemporary edition of Secret Providence is a worthy successor to Cole’s text. Helm provides notes throughout, aiding the reader’s understanding by providing not only details of the historical circumstances behind the debate, but also useful information about Calvin’s quotations of or allusions to other writings, including those of Augustine and his own earlier publications. Keith Goad’s translation captures effectively both Castellio’s reasonableness in questioning Calvin’s views, and Calvin’s weary, often aggressive retorts. Another advantage of this edition of Secret Providence is the colour coding that distinguishes Castellio’s original collation from Calvin’s response, making it easier to identify where Castellio ends and Calvin begins. That sounds very basic, but my reading of Calvin’s Calvinism would have benefitted from tricks like this, or even by including clear headings such as those that permeate Helm and Goad’s effort.

It should come as no surprise that I am pleased to commend this edition of The Secret Providence of God. I only wish it had been available four years ago when I was researching Calvin at length.

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