"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Calvin on "This is my body"

"Hence the bread is Christ’s body, because it assuredly testifies, that the body which it represents is held forth to us, or because the Lord, by holding out to us that symbol, gives us at the same time his own body; for Christ is not a deceiver, to mock us with empty representations. — (To think that he would feed us with shadows and empty representations.) Hence it is regarded by me as beyond all controversy, that the reality is here conjoined with the sign; or, in other words, that we do not less truly become participants in Christ’s body in respect of spiritual efficacy, than we partake of the bread....

There now remains but one difficulty — how is it possible that his body, which is in heaven, is given to us here upon earth? Some imagine that Christ’s body is infinite, and is not confined to any one space, but fills heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 23:24) like his Divine essence. This fancy is too absurd to require refutation. The Schoolmen dispute with more refinement as to his glorious body. Their whole doctrine, however, reduces itself to this — that Christ is to be sought after in the bread, as if he were included in it. Hence it comes, that the minds of men behold the bread with wonderment, and adore it in place of Christ. Should any one ask them whether they adore the bread, or the appearance of it, they will confidently agree that they do not, but, in the mean time, when about to adore Christ, they turn to the bread. They turn, I say, not merely with their eyes, and their whole body, but even with the thoughts of the heart. Now what is this but unmixed idolatry? But that participation in the body of Christ, which, I affirm, is presented to us in the Supper, does not require a local presence, nor the descent of Christ, nor an infinite extension of his body, nor anything of that nature, for the Supper being a heavenly action, there is no absurdity in saying, that Christ, while remaining in heaven, is received by us. For as to his communicating himself to us, that is effected through the secret virtue of his Holy Spirit, which can not merely bring together, but join in one, things that are separated by distance of place, and far remote.

But, in order that we may be capable of this participation, we must rise heavenward. Here, therefore, faith must be our resource, when all the bodily senses have failed. When I speak of faith, I do not mean any sort of opinion, resting on human contrivances, as many, boasting of faith on all occasions, run grievously wild on this point. What then? You see bread — nothing more — but you learn that it is a symbol (A sign and evidence) of Christ’s body. Do not doubt that the Lord accomplishes what his words intimate — that the body, which thou dost not at all behold, is given to thee, as a spiritual repast. It seems incredible, that we should be nourished by Christ’s flesh, which is at so great a distance from us. Let us bear in mind, that it is a secret and wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which it were criminal to measure by the standard of our understanding...

These few things will satisfy those that are sound and modest. As for the curious, I would have them look somewhere else for the means of satisfying their appetite."

-John Calvin. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:26


Steve Martin said...

A low view of God, I think.

For rational man, the thought of God being in two places at once may be too much to bear, but God is far above our shallow means to understand it all.

Luther said (in answer to those who did not believe it), "this IS my body."


He is there in it. How? Who knows!? God knows.

God can certainly be present in more than one place at a time. he can certainly be present in Heaven and also be present in my pea soup (another Luther-ism)

It always boggled my mind that someone could say in all seriousness that Christ could be actually be present in their heart, but then refute that He could also be present in a bowl of water accompanied by His Word, or in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Thank you.

Jared Nelson said...

I'd encourage you to re-read past the second paragraph. Calvin is saying there is a true coming together of the actual flesh and blood of Christ and our partaking. Calvin's take is more Eastern, however, in that he says it is by the agency of the Holy Spirit that brings Christ nigh, but tha the actual mode is mysterious. How is it done? That's why it is called a sacrament, it is a mystery. I find Calvin as respecting the mystery of communication more than a Catholic scientific transubstantiation explanation or even a Lutheran idea of it being local in the bread.

We should at least respect that Calvin is trying not to be monophysite. Godness is omnipresent, but manness is local. the humanity of Christ is not omnipresent or it would be the Godness of Christ. But Calvin does not say that thus we do not commune with Christ's humanity in flesh and blood, but that the Holy Spirit bridges the distance from our locality to Christ's locality. The injection of mystery is necessary rather than confusing Christ's humanity for his divinity.

Steve Martin said...

Sacrament is from the sacramentum or oath that the Roman soldiers took to their commanders (I believe).

It is the oath or promise of God...to us.

I think that a proper understanding of the sacraments keeps us off the religious treadmill of our efforts, our sincerity, our sanctification...and puts all that where it belongs...in God's hands.

IS my body and blood...to me anyway, means His body and blood. No bridge necessary.

But I see your point (Calvin's point). I think I prefer the actual presence, because it despiritualizes it.

Jared Nelson said...

Yeah, sacramentum can mean that, but it can also be a translation of musterion from greek which means mystery. (Tertullian and the Vulgate use sacramentum as a translation of musterion).

Matthew Lush said...

Good post Jared!

Andrew said...

I think Aquinas' argument about veneration of the Eucharist is more convincing than Calvin's argument that it is idolatry, it seems that Calvin is not very Eastern in his thoughts on veneration.

Jared Nelson said...

Andrew - I said Calvin was similar to Eastern ideas because Eastern theology of the Eucharist includes a focus on the agency of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of communication, and that's where I think Calvin is similar. But you are right that Calvin is definitely not Eastern in ideas of veneration, especially if we talk of icons and saints.