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The House of God in Exile

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Reassessing John Calvin’s Approach to Nicodemism in Quatre sermons (1552)

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John Calvin’s unrelenting literary assault on French Nicodemism over three decades has long been recognized for its deep consistency and harsh negativity. Yet scholars have tended to neglect the ways in which Calvin’s polemic against religious dissimulation could exhibit significant flexibility according to the needs of his context. An outstanding example is 1552’s Quatre sermons … traictans des matières fort utiles pour nostre temps, a work containing the only sermons Calvin himself selected, revised, and prepared for publication. Whereas the reformer’s preface promises simply to revisit his previous argument that any participation in the Mass is idolatry, the present study argues that Calvin’s approach to Nicodemism in Quatre sermons was actually adapted to accomplish goals beyond decrying false worship, offering a carefully crafted apology for Calvin’s pastoral authority directed at his political situation. By repeatedly emphasizing God’s intent to bless his children through the ministry of a rightly ordered church, Quatre sermons marks a clear rhetorical shift in Calvin’s approach to Nicodemism away from a uniformly negative polemic against idolatry, stressing instead God’s provision of spiritual nurture via political exile. Unfolding its argument over four sermons, the publication ostensibly directs its plea for exile toward French Nicodemites, but in a manner that seems designed especially to silence Calvin’s foes in Geneva.

Affiliations: 1: Duke University, Durham, NC, USA


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