23 February 2010

John Calvin on the Eucharist - Suprise!

Compliments of my recuperating bishop, an interesting summary on the part of John Cosin, an Anglican bishop, of the 'Protestant Catholic' teaching on the Lord's Supper... by John Calvin.

Click here to read this brief but interesting collection of Calvin's statements.

Among my favorite snippets:
...we most firmly believe that receiving the signs of the Body, we also certainly receive the Body itself.


We must therefore confess that the inward substance of the Sacrament is joined with the visible sign, so that, as the bread is put into our hand, the Body of Christ is also given to us. This certainly, if there were nothing else, should abundantly satisfy us, that we understand, that Christ, in His Holy Supper, gives us the true and proper substance of His Body and Blood...

Sounds far more Lutheran and Catholic than Zwinglian to me... given my very basic studies of Calvin, I have to admit that reading such quotations suprises me a bit. While I have known there were nuances that divided Calvin and Zwingli over the Eucharist, I always felt that Calvin himself held a much lower view of the Sacraments than it appears he did.

You learn something new every day...


Keith Throop October 22, 2011 at 8:20 PM  

Calvin's solidified teaching on the subject -- as with all others theological issues he wrote about -- is to be found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. But, although he is usually quite cleat in his thoughts and his expression of them, his discussion of the Lord's Supper is notoriously opaque. However, what it boils down to is that he denies the actual presence of the body and blood in the bread and wine per se, holding that these signs point to our communion with Christ Himself -- and thus the whole Christ, including His bodily presence -- via the mysterious ministry of the Holy Spirit. Calvin thought it against Scripture and Chalcedon to say that Christ could be physically omnipresent and thus wrote:

"They are greatly mistaken in imagining that there is no presence of the flesh of Christ in the Supper, unless it be placed in the bread. They thus leave nothing for the secret operation of the Spirit, which 2587unites Christ himself to us. Christ does not seem to them to be present unless he descends to us, as if we did not equally gain his presence when he raises us to himself. The only question, therefore, is as to the mode, they placing Christ in the bread, while we deem it unlawful to draw him down from heaven. Which of the two is more correct, let the reader judge. Only have done with the calumny that Christ is withdrawn from his Supper if he lurk not under the covering of bread. For seeing this mystery is heavenly, there is no necessity to bring Christ on the earth that he may be connected with us."

Keith Throop October 22, 2011 at 8:22 PM  

Calvin thought that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are lifted up to heaven, where Christ is, and thus that we experience communion with Christ as He truly is, as both God and man, thus including His bodily presence. For example, he writes:

"But though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore, what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive—viz. that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ”? (1 Cor. 10:16.) There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us."

Like I said, Calvin's writing on this subject is opaque. It is hard to see in precisely what sense he means that we "partake" of Christ's body and blood. On the one hand, he wishes not to deny that we do really experience a union with Him that includes His physical presence, but on the other hand he denies that this physical presence is actually within the elements of bread and wine in any way because this would be an unlawful denial of proper Christology. His answer thus seems to be that the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ in a real but indescribable manner which does not include dragging His body from Heaven.

And so the debate about what Calvin actually meant continues ....

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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