John Calvin (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
William J. Bouwsma’s study of John Calvin is, in a sense, not a biography at all, for it assumes a general knowledge of its subject’s life and deals with what can reliably be said about Calvin’s family history in fewer than forty of the work’s more than three hundred pages. The work is, instead, a sensitive and sympathetic exegesis of Calvinist theology which traces its development through the peculiar historical circumstances of the late Renaissance. Bouwsma recognizes, as more traditional biographers of Calvin have not, that the religious movement generated by Calvin’s ideas was of far greater consequence than the life of its namesake; moreover, Bouwsma steadfastly resists the understandable though tiresome tendency of contemporary biographers to psychoanalyze. Most remarkable, Bouwsma avoids overt analysis even as he argues that one may discern archetypal motifs in Calvin’s theology. In short, what most informs Bouwsma’s work is scholarly discipline and order, the two qualities Calvin admired most. Calvin would have been very pleased with this book; the general reader will find it enlightening.
Paradoxical though it is, Calvin’s theology and inner life were quite separate. External circumstances forced his theology to grow and develop; his inner life never actually developed at all. His last years were plagued by the same doubts, confusions, and contradictory impulses which had bothered him as a young man. Actually, such precarious...
(The entire section is 1747 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
Booklist. LXXXIV, September 15, 1987, p. 94.
The Christian Science Monitor. January 6, 1988, p. 17.
The Chronicle of Higher Education. XXXIV, January 20, 1988, p. A8.
Library Journal. CXII, October 1, 1987, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 20, 1987, p. 5.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, January 10, 1988, p. 13.
(The entire section is 40 words.)