Publication details [#3546]

Cocks, Nancy Lynn. 1989. Metaphors and models in John Calvin's 'Institutes of the Christian Religion': A feminist critique. Toronto, Canada. 312 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


The dissertation presents a study of John Calvin's use of figurative language to illustrate doctrinal concepts in 'The Institutes of the Christian Religion'. It offers a feminist critique of three extended models drawn from human experience that develop the rhetorical force of Calvin's arguments. its project is to examine the dialectic through which theological language shapes and is shaped by the interpretation of human experience. Calvin's text provides a case study to explore the dynamics of metaphorical theology, as developed by Sallie McFague, when a classic text of tradition is interpreted in a new context. The first chapter of the thesis explores Calvin's roots in the rhetorical tradition, especially as it developed in Renaissance humanism. Calvin's theological appropriation of rhetorical terms and his critical ability in rhetorical analysis provides a methodological link with contemporary interest in the power of theological language to shape the interpretation of experience. The second chapter proposes a method for textual analysis, drawing on the work of Sallie McFague and other scholars of metaphor. The third chapter reports on the statistical findings from a close literary study of 'The Institutes'. Three major 'models' or symbol systems emerge in the study, connecting Calvin's figurative examples from human experience as drawn from "Health and the Human Body", "Family Relationships' and 'Pyramids of Social Order". Each of the following three chapters explores one of these models in turn, examining how various doctrines are pictured. Particular attention is paid to the use of symbols and metaphors that have unique reference to women's experience or roles to see how rhetorical and theological interpretations play off each other. This literary method demonstrates how the rhetorical style adds emphasis to theological interpretation. For example, in developing the symbol system of the human body, the reader notes a stylistic feature that uses strings of adjectives to picture the corruption of the body. The power of these body rejecting adjectives tends to diminish the doctrinal significance of God's vivifying and healing relationships that are illustrated in less emphatic terms. Feminist analysis readily discerns that the symbol of 'birth' is used in Calvin's text only to speak about the introduction of sin and corruption in human life. The point of such analysis is not to seek in Calvin sensitivities of a contemporary generation but rather to analyse the pastoral need to choose different symbols or metaphors to interpret more effectively in a new context. Each model is analysed for its "conceptual work", "questions of fit' and 'limits to language and risk of inversion". (Dissertation Abstracts)