Ford Lewis Battles’ translation of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (2 vols; Library of Christian Classics 20-21; London, SCM Press, and Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1960) has become the standard one in general use, and unlikely to be superseded in a hurry. Yet it is far from perfect. The aim of this web-site is to collect and list errors in Battles’ translation, for the benefit of users (and perhaps in the longer term as one preparation for a new translation).
Contributions are invited, and should be submitted to Jon Balserak. A few simple guidelines will be helpful.
*This exercise relates only to the text, including Calvin’s opening address to the reader and his preface, and not to the annotations.
* Errors should be clearly identified by a reference to Battles – always page number (and preferably line number also) and book/chapter/section (e.g. Inst. 3:6:10). The identification must enable Balserak to track the Latin source in the Opera Selecta or Calvini Opera, if contributors cannot provide this.
* Balserak will receive all submissions and add them to the web-site according to their order in the Institutes in a uniform style.
*We retain a modicum of editorial discretion in cases which may reflect matters more of interpretation than translation.
*We are open to refining these guidelines in response to suggestions.
CURRENT LIST OF CORRECTIONS TO FORD LEWIS BATTLES'
ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF CALVIN'S INSTITUTES (last updated 14 January 2018)
Section headings: users of Battles’ translations should be aware that the section headings are his work and do not derive from Calvin’s text. For example, Battles 464: the title to Book 2, chapter 12 is Calvin’s own, but not the summary of sections 1-3 in italics in brackets nor the heading for section 1, similarly in italics.
Lectori; Battles, 5; OS III, 6, 30-31: instead of Battles’ ‘approach Scripture’ T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s NT Commentaries, 53, proposes ‘approaches the commentaries’, which the context undoubtedly confirms. The Latin has no object to the verb accedat.
Lectori; Battles, 5; OS III, 6, 32: huius instituti should be ‘intention’ or ‘aim’, not ‘instruction’ (Parker, ibid.). Battles is wrong. A better translation would be design, as per Allen. The Latin phrase is huius instituti ratio, and "the reason for this purpose" or "aim" would not make any sense (Blacketer).
Praefatio; Battles, 23; CO 2, 34: Battles omits a phrase, specifically: hoc est, ne in sceleratum populi consensum una ipsi conspirarent.
1:15:6; Battles, 193; CO 2, 141: Battles wrongly translates vim concupiscendi as ‘the capacity to desire inordinately’ instead of simply as ‘the power of desiring.’ Additionally (as David Sytsma notes) Battles omits this reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics [who distinguishes between irascible (vim irascendi) and concupiscible (vim concupiscendi) appetites, as Calvin does here]. Battles also inaccurately cites Themistius, whom Calvin does cite but not until later in this section.
2:2:26; Battles, 286; CO 2, 207: Battles misunderstands the sentence beginning Nihil ergo…. Battles’ rendering is: ‘Therefore whether or not man is impelled to seek after the good by an impulse of nature has no bearing upon the freedom of the will.’ But as Calvin refers in the preceding sentence to a natural inclination which both animals and humans possess, it is clear that in the sentence beginning Nihil ergo, Calvin is drawing the conclusion that this natural inclination towards good cannot possibly be used as an argument for free will, since humans possess it in common with animals (Richard Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin, 259 n.60). Beveridge comes closer to the sense of the text: ‘The question of freedom, therefore, has nothing to do with the fact of man’s being led by natural instinct to desire good.’
2.8.59; Battles, 401; CO 2, 309. Battles obscures Calvin's meaning by translating 'venialia' as 'pardonable' rather than simply as 'venial,' as Beveridge does.
2:14:1; Battles, 482; OS III, 458, 18-19: e Virginis utero templum sibi delegit should be ‘he chose for himself from the Virgin’s womb a temple.’
3:3:1; Battles, 593; OS IV, 55, 16: continuo means ‘immediately, promptly’, not ‘constantly.’
3:3:19; Battles, 614; OS IV, 77, 15. Battles’ ‘both kinds of grace’ too loosely translates utraque gratia, which carries no implication of different kinds. In the context, ‘each grace’ would sufficiently point to the ‘each of two’ which utraque conveys. An earlier translator (Beveridge) gives ‘both graces’. See also on 3:11:1.
3:4:2; Battles, 625; OS IV, 87, 20. Perhaps the fault of McNeill’s editing error, Battles’ translates the phrase ut quisque amare deflendo sua peccata se ... magis acuat in such a way that the verb acuat is left out entirely. His reading ‘what his displeasure and hatred’ should be ‘whet’ or ‘incite his displeasure ...’. Beveridge gives ‘stimulate himself more and more to dislike and hate.’
3:11:1; Battles, 725; OS IV, 182, 9. Battles seems to avoid the clear meaning of the Latin in writing ‘the second of these gifts’. It should be simply ‘the second grace’ (quae secunda est gratia). Earlier in this section Battles rightly translates Calvin’s duplicem gratiam as ‘a double grace’ – although most Calvin scholars prefer ‘twofold grace’. See also on 3:3:19.
3:11:6; Battles, 732; OS IV, 187, 21-22: percipimus – ‘receive’, not ‘perceive.’
3:20:37; Battles, 900; OS IV, 347, 10-12: Battles omits a negative here, and should read ‘his father’s heart cannot pretend not to be moved by such entreaties’ (non enim tum se paterna viscera dissimulare possunt quin ad tales preces commoveantur).
4:8:16; Battles, 1165; OS V, 150, 18-21: Battles misconstrues the construction, and potentially the meaning, of the sentence beginning Nemo excepit…. By omitting his ‘to the notion’ one gets it more or less right: ‘No one objected that the church could add something of its own, that the Spirit had not revealed everything to the apostles, or at least had not transmitted everything to posterity.’ The rendering of the third clause varies among translators, since some (e.g. Beveridge, Allen) assume that ‘the apostles’ must be the subject of prodidisse (‘or at least that the apostles had not transmitted everything to posterity’), but this assumption seems quite insecure.
4:15:22; Battles, 1323; OS V, 303, 19-20: Accedit postea sacramentum sigilli instar should be rendered ‘There is added afterward a/the sacrament like a seal’ (Battles: ‘a sort of seal is added to the sacrament’).
4:16 title; Battles, 1324; OS V, 303, 32-33: optime is probably not so much ‘best’ as ‘very well’, since both comparatives and superlatives were widely used to express emphasis ( and of what could infant baptism be said strictly to be ‘best’?).
4:16:1; Battles, 1324; OS V, 304, 8: Battles omits to translate non parum habitura sit momenti: ‘so to organize this discourse that it will have no little importance for explaining the mystery of baptism more clearly’ [perhaps clarius better ‘very clearly, really clearly’, without strict comparative force].
4:16:5; Battles, 1328; OS V, 309, 9-10: ad infantes destinetur Baptismi verbum, not simplistically ‘the word “baptism”’, but ‘the word of baptism’ in the sense of ‘the promise, meaning, substance of baptism.’
4:16:20; Battles, 1343; OS V, 324, 33: ‘regeneration’ instead of ‘resignation.’
4:16:27; Battles, 1350; OS V, 332, 8-11: Battles’ translation is at best ambiguous: ‘For they make more than a merely childish error when from these passages [i.e. Matt. 28.19, Mark 16.16, Matt. 3.13, Luke 3:21-22] they derive the first institution of baptism which [quem, i.e. baptism] from the beginning of his preaching ….’
4:17: 10; Battles, 1370-71; OS V, 352: in this section Battles translates three times the verb exhibeo and once the noun exhibitio by ‘show, showing’. Without entering into debates about Calvin’s theology of the supper, we can all agree that ‘show’ is an inadequate rendering of exhibeo.
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