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In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin discusses the idea that the Biblical canon depends on the ratifying action of the Church (Book 1, Chapter 7). He thinks it does not, preferring to say that the Church formally recognized what everybody already knew. This is meant not only as a historical statement about prevailing opinions, but also speaks to the role of the Holy Spirit in testifying to the authenticity and authority of Scripture.

The Latin and French texts use the term suffragio or suffrage respectively to describe the approval of the Church:

Quare dum illam recipit, ac suffragio suo obsignat, non ex dubia aut alioqui controversa authenticam reddit : sed quia veritatem esse agnoscit Dei sui, pro pietatis officio, nihil cunctando veneratur. (1559 ed.)

Parqouy l'Eglise en recevant l'Escriture saincte et la signant par son suffrage, ne la rend pas authentique, comme si auparavant elle eust esté douteuse ou en different : mais pource qu'elle la cognoist estre la pure verité de son Dieu, elle la revere et honnore comme elle y est tenue par le devoir de pieté. (1560 ed.)

English translators have rendered this language in the same sorts of ways as one another:

When the Church receives it, and gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted, but, acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bound, shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent. (Henry Beveridge)

Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture. (Ford L. Battles)

For that reason, when the church receives and approves scripture it does not authenticate it, as if it has previously been doubtful or unsure. But since, according to its duty, the church recognizes scripture to be the truth of its Lord, it reveres scripture without delay. (Elsie Anne McKee)

The Latin suffragio can indeed mean a vote, seal, etc. - some notion of a formally recorded act of testimony. The accompanying obsignat matches that.

What I am wondering about is the intended connotation of the "seal"-type metaphor and the word suffragio / suffrage. Elsewhere, seal language is used for sacraments, and the concept of our assent to God in faith seems very similar to what is implied here (we put our trust in God, responding to him, but we don't make him do anything).

With reference to Calvin's concept of the church,

  • Is suffrage here intended to denote some communal expression of faith? Or is it just that many individuals independently put their trust in the authority of Scripture? Basically, I'm asking to what extent "the Church" is present here as a single entity.
  • Is there a meaningful concept of voting? Clearly, English "suffrage" today probably makes us think about aggregating everyone's opinions and picking the most popular. But does Calvin intend to suggest anything like that? I think he is pointing to a vaguer notion of informal universal consensus, especially given that there is only one correct choice, but I'm not fully sure, given that some people are convinced Calvin was some sort of pioneer of democracy.
  • Is the parallel with Calvin's sacrament language just a coincidence, or are the same concepts being invoked in both instances?
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