Calvin used to lecture and preach extempore but he had secretaries present who took down his words at great speed and thus permitted him to be published. Here is how this was done.
'As it might be considered strange, nay, even quite incredible that these lectures were recorded, and with such diligence that John Calvin never said a single word while expounding which was not straightway set down, it will be good to inform our readers briefly at this point of the means employed by those who recorded them. For once their zeal and remarkable industry have been made known, this may occasion several others to undertake a similar work and thus the thing will not seem incredible.
'Firstly, you must understand that the said Calvin never wrote down or noted anything for his public exposition of the Holy Scripture, and still less when he had finished his lecture, or the day after he had taught; but for the space of an hour he continually expounded, without however taking down a single word in his book in order that he might remember it. This was why Jean Bude and Claude de Jonviller, having found some years previously that the trouble they had taken to record the lectures on the Psalms had not been useless, were the more encouraged to record with greater diligence, if that were possible, all the lectures on the twelve Minor Prophets. Moreover the means that they adopt to take down his lectures is that each of them has his paper ready as conveniently as possible and each writes separately as quickly as he can. If one fails to catch any particular word, as sometimes happens, especially when Calvin becomes vehement as he expounds some passages which demand this, the other may have recorded it, or the author can easily put the word in. For as soon as the lecture is over, the said Jonviller takes away the papers of the two others and collates them with his. He carefully looks over them and diligently compares them. Then he has another person transcribe what has been recorded so hastily. Finally he looks over the whole thing, so that the next day he may read it over to the author at his own home. Where there is sometimes a word lacking, he can restore it. Or if there is something which does not seem to be expounded clearly enough he can explain more simply. That is how these lectures came to be published....'1
Thanks to these rapid notes by his secretaries, the commentaries that Calvin produced on all the books of the Bible except the Song of songs and Revelation have been published.
1 From the printer's Foreword to Calvin's Lectures on the Minor Prophets (Geneva, 1560).
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Jean Cadier, The Man God Mastered: A Brief Biography of John Calvin, pp. 168-169: