“I have a collection of Calvin’s writings, nowhere near complete but daunting all the same, dozens of volumes of disciplined and elegant explication from the hand of a man whose health was never good, who shouldered for decades the practical and diplomatic problems of Geneva, a city under siege, and whose writings inspired and also endangered the individuals and populations across Europe who read them, whether or not they were persuaded by them. To say these things are humbling would be to understate the matter wildly.
I do happen to know what goes into the writing of a book– granted, not a book that requires a mastery of ancient languages, or that addresses the endless difficulties of translation– nor one that sets out to make literary use of a disparaged language or that attempts to render or to interpret a sacred text. I have no idea what it would be like to write in prison or in hiding or in a city full of refugees. I have no idea what it would be like to live with the threat of death while trying to write something good enough to justify the mortal peril others accepted in simply reading it.
I have just enough relevant experience to inform my awe. I find these achievements unimaginable. When I see Calvin in his commentaries pausing once again over the nuances and ambiguities of a Hebrew word as if his time and his patience and his strength were all inexhaustible, I am touched by how respectful he is, phrase by phrase and verse and by verse, of the text of Scripture, and therefore how respectful he is of any pastor and of all those to whom that pastor will preach.”
–Marilynne Robinson, “Reformation,” in The Givenness of Things (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015), 25-26.
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