Calvin’s Psychopannychia and the State of Your Soul

At one point in John Calvin’s earliest publication after his conversion, the 1534 treatise Psychopannychia, the French theologian reflected on what life is like without a saving knowledge of the living God. While his comments are not autobiographical in form, they can, as Heiko Oberman has pointed out, be interpreted as a commentary on his own life prior to his conversion. “Do you want to know what the death of the soul is? It is to be without God, to be deserted by God, to be abandoned to yourself. …Since there is no light outside of God who lights our darkness, when he withdraws his light then our soul is certainly blind and buried in darkness; our soul is mute because it cannot confess, and call out to embrace God. The soul is deaf because it cannot hear his voice. The soul is crippled since it does not have a hold on…God…”[1]

If Calvin is right—and I passionately affirm that he is with all of my being—oh what a sorry state all men and women are in without the Lord Jesus. And oh what bliss to know the Lord Jesus.

Reader: into which category do you fall? If the former, think hard about the folly of putting off commitment to the Lord Jesus. Passion for any other—be he the Buddha or Confucius or Muhammad—will do you no good in that day when fates are sealed. Then only One—yes only the great God and Saviour, Jesus—will be able to save your soul.

If the latter and the way sometimes proves hard, remember whose you are and the glorious joy of being loved by him and known by him.

[1] Trans. Heiko A. Oberman, ‘Subita Conversio: The Conversion of John Calvin’ in his, Ernst Saxer, Alfred Schindler and Heinzpeter Stucki, eds., Reformiertes Erbe: Festschrift für Gottfried W. Locher zu seinem 80. Geburtstag (Zwingliana, 19/2; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1993), 2:295, n.4.

For a translation of Psychopannychia, see Tracts and Treatises, trans. H. Beveridge, 3:413-490. For Beveridge’s rendering of the passage that Oberman has translated, see Tracts and Treatises, trans. H. Beveridge, 3:454-455. For the Latin behind this translation, see CO 5:204-205.

For a study of Psychopannychia, see George H. Tavard, The Starting Point of Calvin’s Theology (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 2000).