Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,17:14-15) [Eucharist: Fathers & Transubstantiation / Analogies: Baptism, Passover, and Moses' Rod]

See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

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Book IV



14. The fiction of transubstantiation why invented contrary to Scripture, and the consent of antiquity. The term of transubstantiation never used in the early Church. Objection. Answer.

Hence proceeded that fictitious transubstantiation for which they fight more fiercely in the present day than for all the other articles of their faith. For the first architects of local presence could not explain, how the body of Christ could be mixed with the substance of bread, without forthwith meeting with many absurdities. Hence it was necessary to have recourse to the fiction, that there is a conversion of the bread into body, not that properly instead of bread it becomes body, but that Christ, in order to conceal himself under the figure, reduces the substance to nothing.

Well, no; transubstantiation means literally, "change of substance," so the view is that the substance changes from bread to the Body and Blood of Christ, not that it changes to "nothing." This makes perfect sense, since Jesus said "this is My body" and referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood in John 6. Calvin simply lacks faith that God can do this miracles. He wants to limit God and place His actions in arbitrary categories of his own making: certainly not from scriptural indications.

It is strange that they have fallen into such a degree of ignorance, nay, of stupor, as to produce this monstrous fiction not only against Scripture, but also against the consent of the ancient Church. I admit, indeed, that some of the ancients occasionally used the term conversion, not that they meant to do away with the substance in the external signs, but to teach that the bread devoted to the sacrament was widely different from ordinary bread, and was now something else.

What else does "conversion" or "transformation" or "change" mean? This is just more word games from Calvin. He thinks that if he wishes long enough, that the fathers will magically agree with him, when in fact they do not at all. Calvin would have it that the consent of the ancient Church is on his side, with regard to this question. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's wearisome to have to repeatedly point out historical facts over against Calvin. But I'm happy to set the record straight and reveal once again the surprisingly great weakness of Calvin's historical arguments (as well as biblical ones).

All clearly and uniformly teach that the sacred Supper consists of two parts, an earthly and a heavenly. The earthly they without dispute interpret to be bread and wine. Certainly, whatever they may pretend, it is plain that antiquity, which they often dare to oppose to the clear word of God, gives no countenance to that dogma. It is not so long since it was devised; indeed, it was unknown not only to the better ages, in which a purer doctrine still flourished, but after that purity was considerably impaired. There is no early Christian writer who does not admit in distinct terms that the sacred symbols of the Supper are bread and wine, although, as has been said, they sometimes distinguish them by various epithets, in order to recommend the dignity of the mystery.

This is sheer nonsense, and one can prove it by citing prominent Protestant historians of Christian doctrine. For example:

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim......
(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A. D. 311-600, revised 5th edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, reprinted 1974, originally 1910, p. 500)
Theodore [c.350-428] set forth the doctrine of the real presence, and even a theory of sacramental transformation of the elements, in highly explicit language . . . 'At first it is laid upon the altar as a mere bread and wine mixed with water, but by the coming of the Holy Spirit it is transformed into body and blood, and thus it is changed into the power of a spiritual and immortal nourishment.' [Hom. catech. 16,36] these and similar passages in Theodore are an indication that the twin ideas of the transformation of the eucharistic elements and the transformation of the communicant were so widely held and so firmly established in the thought and language of the church that everyone had to acknowledge them.
(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 236-237)

Since Calvin insists that the fathers agree with him, I will now document that they do not; that transubstantiation in kernel form (not yet fully developed, as in the case of all complex doctrines, such as the Holy Trinity and Christology, that develop over many centuries) was indeed taught by many fathers, just as historian Philip Schaff (no fan of the doctrine at all) verified:

St. Irenaeus

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?—even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body.

(Against Heresies, V, 2, 3; ANF, Vol. I)


You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise care lest a particle fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. . . . But if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?

(Homilies on Exodus, 13, 3)

St. Cyprian

And therefore we ask that our bread—that is, Christ—may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.

(On the Lord’s Prayer / Treatise IV, 18; ANF, Vol. V)

St. Athanasius

You will see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wondrous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the body and the cup the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and the cup, and it becomes His body.

(Sermon to the Newly-Baptized)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

For as the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ . . .

(Catechetical Lecture XIX, 7; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, ye are become of the same body and blood with Christ . . . Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

(Catechetical Lecture XXII, 1; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature.

(Catechetical Lecture XXII, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to thee, yet let faith establish thee. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to thee.

(Catechetical Lecture XXII, 6; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Having learnt these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ . . .

(Catechetical Lecture XXII, 9; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.

(Catechetical Lecture XXIII, 7-8; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word.

(The Great Catechism, chapter XXXVII; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

The footnote in NPNF 2 for this passage states:

by the process of eating . . . If Krabinger’s text is here correct, Gregory distinctly teaches a transmutation of the elements very like the later transubstantiation: he also distinctly teaches that the words of consecration effect the change. There seems no reason to doubt that the text is correct.

St. Ambrose

. . . We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet’s blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created.” Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: “This is My Body.” Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood.

(On the Mysteries, Chapter IX, 50, 52-55; NPNF 2, Vol. X)

St. John Chrysostom

Christ is present. The One who prepared that [Holy Thursday] table is the very One who now prepares this [altar] table. For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and grace is of God. “This is My Body,” he says. This statement transforms the gifts.

(Homilies on the Treachery of Judas, 1, 6)

St. Augustine

For not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ, becomes Christ's body.

(Sermons, 234, 2)

St. Cyril of Alexandria

He states demonstratively: “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood“(Mt. 26:26-28) “lest you might suppose the things that are seen as a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in a sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ.

(Commentary on Matthew [Mt. 26:27] )

Moreover, the belief of these same Church fathers, en masse, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the adoration of the Body and Blood after consecration, attests to their realism, over against Calvin's mere mystical symbolism. We shall examine that aspect in the near future, in reply to Calvin's (absurd, anti-historical, anti-patristic) thoughts on the Mass.

For when they say that a secret conversion takes place at consecration, so that it is now something else than bread and wine, their meaning, as I already observed, is, not that these are annihilated, but that they are to be considered in a different light from common food, which is only intended to feed the body, whereas in the former the spiritual food and drink of the mind are exhibited. This we deny not. But, say our opponents, if there is conversion, one thing must become another. If they mean that something becomes different from what it was before, I assent. If they will wrest it in support of their fiction, let them tell me of what kind of change they are sensible in baptism. For here, also, the Fathers make out a wonderful conversion, when they say that out of the corruptible element is made the spiritual laver of the soul, and yet no one denies that it still remains water.

This is true, but it is an invalid analogy, because no one is claiming in baptism that waters becomes something else: only that it acquires supernatural powers in conjunction with a baptismal formula. Jesus never said that baptismal water would become His Body and Blood, whereas He did say that with regard to what were formerly bread and wine. It's an entirely different scenario, so there is no analogy. The information we have in Scripture regarding both cases is entirely different in kind.

But say they, there is no such expression in Baptism as that in the Supper, This is my body; as if we were treating of these words, which have a meaning sufficiently clear, and not rather of that term conversion, which ought not to mean more in the Supper than in Baptism. Have done, then, with those quibbles upon words, which betray nothing but their silliness.

It's not silly at all (but it is sophistry and desperate obfuscation to conclude that an obviously relevant point is "silliness"). Catholics are accepting at face value the actual words of Scripture and our Lord. Calvin is not. It's really as simple and obvious as that. Calvin doesn't have enough faith to believe our Lord's words as He spoke them. He would rather hyper-analyze them and apply men's traditions and non-biblical philosophies, so that he can change their meaning. We believe in faith that the bread and wine are transformed, but Calvin, lacking faith, believes in transforming the clear import and meaning of Jesus' words: reading into them what clearly isn't there.

The meaning would have no congruity, unless the truth which is there figured had a living image in the external sign. Christ wished to testify by an external symbol that his flesh was food.

That's not what He said! That is Calvin eisegetically reading into what He said. Jesus said "this is my body" not "this represents my Body as a sign and symbol." St. Paul casually assumed the same eucharistic realism, and even said that those approaching the Eucharist unworthily were guilty of profaning Jesus' Body and Blood (1 Cor 11:27-30): something that makes no sense whatever if only symbols are present.

If he exhibited merely an empty show of bread, and not true bread, where is the analogy or similitude to conduct us from the visible thing to the invisible? For, in order to make all things consistent, the meaning cannot extend to more than this, that we are fed by the species of Christ’s flesh; just as, in the case of baptism, if the figure of water deceived the eye, it would not be to us a sure pledge of our ablution; nay, the fallacious spectacle would rather throw us into doubt. The nature of the sacrament is therefore overthrown, if in the mode of signifying the earthly sign corresponds not to the heavenly reality; and, accordingly, the truth of the mystery is lost if true bread does not represent the true body of Christ.

No; Calvin just doesn't go deep enough in his understanding. In the Holy Eucharist Jesus gives us Himself, not just signs and figures of Himself. That is the beauty and profundity of it. It extends the incarnation, just as the various extraordinary manifestations of God's spiritual presence (that I have detailed in the last installment and separately elsewhere) extended the notion of omnipresence. When God was known as a spirit only, He was specially present spiritually and immaterially, yet directly connected with physical objects, as in the ark of the covenant, or fire, or clouds.

Even then He manifested Himself physically on occasion (as in theophanies). Now, after the incarnation and Sacrifice of the Lamb, and the resurrection, He makes Himself present physically as well, in a miraculous way. Why this should be scandalous to anyone is a bigger mystery than transubstantiation itself. Jesus is our paschal lamb. The lamb was eaten at every Passover. If Calvin wants to talk analogies, the Eucharist shouldn't be compared to baptism, but to the Passover meal, which is what the Last Supper was. But Calvin would have it that the Jews ate Lamb, while Christians eat merely "special" bread and wine, representing Jesus' Body and Blood. This nullifies the entire analogy of the Sacrificial Lamb now being Christ Himself, and forsakes the typical Jewish realism and literalism, substituting for it a Greek abstraction and disembodied ethereal spiritualism. That's a step backward, not forward.

I again repeat, since the Supper is nothing but a conspicuous attestation to the promise which is contained in the sixth chapter of John—viz. that Christ is the bread of life, who came down from heaven, that visible bread must intervene, in order that that spiritual bread may be figured, unless we would destroy all the benefits with which God here favours us for the purpose of sustaining our infirmity. Then on what ground could Paul infer that we are all one bread, and one body in partaking together of that one bread, if only the semblance of bread, and not the natural reality, remained?

He does so on the grounds that we really receive Jesus. He becomes part of us and we become part of Him, in the eucharistic mystery and miracle, and in line with 2 Peter 1:3-4 and the biblical notion of theosis, or divinization. We are the Body of Christ, which is equated with Jesus own body in a large sense (as I also detailed in the previous installment: IV: 17:11-13). We don't deny that there is also a figure of bread and wine involved (just as St. Augustine taught), and Paul still uses that language. But he means it quite literally, whereas Calvin spiritualizes everything away. We don't deny the symbolism, but Calvin denies the reality. He is (as usual) "either/or"; we are "both/and."

15. The error of transubstantiation favoured by the consecration, which was a kind of magical incantation. The bread is not a sacrament to itself, but to those who receive it. The changing of the rod of Moses into a serpent gives no countenance to Popish transubstantiation. No resemblance between it and the words of institution in the Supper. Objection. Answer.

They could not have been so shamefully deluded by the impostures of Satan had they not been fascinated by the erroneous idea, that the body of Christ included under the bread is transmitted by the bodily mouth into the belly. The cause of this brutish imagination was, that consecration had the same effect with them as magical incantation.

"Magic" is something that Calvin has derisively superimposed onto Catholic doctrine. It is not magic by men's will and power, but mystery and miracle by God's will and power. He is the one who set up Holy Communion, at the Last Supper, and in the John 6 discourse. All we're doing is being obedient, in doing what He commanded us to do, and eating His Body and Blood, as He said we should do in order to be saved (John 6). Calvin is foolish enough to apply to Catholics what the pagan Romans applied to all Christians: a notion that Holy Communion was a crude cannibalism. He'd rather think like a pagan than like apostolic Christians (like St. Paul).

They overlooked the principle, that bread is a sacrament to none but those to whom the word is addressed, just as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but begins to be to us what it formerly was not, as soon as the promise is annexed.

Baptism exercises its power due to faith and the trinitarian baptismal formula pronounced over it. Likewise, transubstantiation occurs when the priest, exercising faith with the congregants, pronounces for formula of consecration over the bread and wine. Change occurs in both instances, though in a different fashion: baptism causes a regeneration in the baptized (which Calvin denies). The words of consecration cause transubstantiation, and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood (which Calvin denies), just as they did at the Last Supper. Calvin compares the wrong things to each other, and so misses the common elements between both sacraments. Matter conveys grace in both instances.

This will better appear from the example of a similar sacrament. The water gushing from the rock in the desert was to the Israelites a badge and sign of the same thing that is figured to us in the Supper by wine.

Where does Scripture say that? Nowhere, of course . . .

For Paul declares that they drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:4). But the water was common to the herds and flocks of the people. Hence it is easy to infer, that in the earthly elements, when employed for a spiritual use, no other conversion takes place than in respect of men, inasmuch as they are to them seals of promises.

Again, this ignores the very words of Christ, which are conclusive in determining the very nature of the sacrament. Calvin makes an improper analogy once again, presumably in desperation, since he keeps skirting around the central issue of Jesus' own words.

Moreover, since it is the purpose of God, as I have repeatedly inculcated, to raise us up to himself by fit vehicles, those who indeed call us to Christ, but to Christ lurking invisibly under bread, impiously, by their perverseness, defeat this object. For it is impossible for the mind of man to disentangle itself from the immensity of space, and ascend to Christ even above the heavens.

Yes, of course, it is impossible for us under our own power, but that is again beside the point: it is God Who chooses to descend and condescend to us in the Holy Eucharist. Calvin's "anti-eucharistic realism" arguments are becoming increasingly irrelevant and desperate.

What nature denied them, they attempted to gain by a noxious remedy.

One proposed by Jesus Christ and verified by St. Paul . . . if that is "noxious," may we all be filled with it! I'd rather be "noxious" in faith than obnoxious out of lack of faith and pagan-derived skepticism.

Remaining on the earth, they felt no need of a celestial proximity to Christ. Such was the necessity which impelled them to transfigure the body of Christ. In the age of Bernard, though a harsher mode of speech had prevailed, transubstantiation was not yet recognised. And in all previous ages, the similitude in the mouths of all was, that a spiritual reality was conjoined with bread and wine in this sacrament.

The patristic evidence presented above amply refutes this characterization.

As to the terms, they think they answer acutely, though they adduce nothing relevant to the case in hand. The rod of Moses (they say), when turned into a serpent, though it acquires the name of a serpent, still retains its former name, and is called a rod; and thus, according to them, it is equally probable that though the bread passes into a new substance, it is still called by catachresis, and not inaptly, what it still appears to the eye to be. But what resemblance, real or apparent, do they find between an illustrious miracle and their fictitious illusion, of which no eye on the earth is witness? The magi by their impostures had persuaded the Egyptians, that they had a divine power above the ordinary course of nature to change created beings. Moses comes forth, and after exposing their fallacies, shows that the invincible power of God is on his side, since his rod swallows up all the other rods. But as that conversion was visible to the eye, we have already observed, that it has no reference to the case in hand. Shortly after the rod visibly resumed its form.

Here Calvin seems to imply that what is not visible to the eye is therefore questionable and unworthy of belief due to that factor alone. And that betrays his undue skepticism and lack of faith in the miracles of God. I wrote in my Jan/Feb 2000 cover story in Envoy Magazine about the Eucharist, in opposing Zwingli's symbolism, which is not far from Calvin's view:

The Eucharist was intended by God as a different kind of miracle from the outset, requiring more profound faith, as opposed to the "proof" of tangible, empirical miracles. But in this it was certainly not unique among Christian doctrines and traditional beliefs - many fully shared by our Protestant brethren. The Virgin Birth, for example, cannot be observed or proven, and is the utter opposite of a demonstrable miracle, yet it is indeed a miracle of the most extraordinary sort. Likewise, in the Atonement of Jesus the world sees a wretch of a beaten and tortured man being put to death on a cross. The Christian, on the other hand, sees there the great miracle of Redemption and the means of the salvation of mankind - an unspeakably sublime miracle, yet who but those with the eyes of faith can see or believe it? In fact, the disciples (with the possible exception of St. John, the only one present) didn't even know what was happening at the time.

Baptism, according to most Christians, imparts real grace of some sort to those who receive it. But this is rarely evident or tangible, especially in infants. Lastly, the Incarnation itself was not able to be perceived as an outward miracle, though it might be considered the most incredible miracle ever. Jesus appeared as a man like any other man. He ate, drank, slept, had to wash, experienced emotion, suffered, etc. He performed miracles and foretold the future, and ultimately raised Himself from the dead, and ascended into heaven in full view, but the Incarnation - strictly viewed in and of itself -, was not visible or manifest in the tangible, concrete way to which Herr Zwingli seems to foolishly think God would or must restrict Himself.

To summarize, Jesus looked, felt, and sounded like a man; no one but those possessing faith would know (from simply observing Him) that He was also God, an uncreated Person who had made everything upon which He stood, who was the Sovereign and Judge of every man with whom He came in contact (and also of those He never met). Therefore, Zwingli's argument proves too much and must be rejected. If the Eucharist is abolished by this supposed "biblical reasoning," then the Incarnation (and by implication, the Trinity) must be discarded along with it.
. . .

The fact remains that God clearly can perform any miracle He so chooses. Many Christian beliefs require a great deal of faith, even relatively "blind" faith. Protestants manage to believe in a number of such doctrines (such as the Trinity, God's eternal existence, omnipotence, angels, the power of prayer, instantaneous justification, the Second Coming, etc.). Why should the Real Presence be singled out for excessive skepticism and unchecked rationalism? I contend that it is due to a preconceived bias against both sacramentalism and matter as a conveyor of grace, which hearkens back to the heresies of Docetism and even Gnosticism, which looked down upon matter, and regarded spirit as inherently superior to matter (following Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism).

It may be added, that we know not whether this was an extemporary conversion of substance. For we must attend to the illusion to the rods of the magicians, which the prophet did not choose to term serpents, lest he might seem to insinuate a conversion which had no existence, because those impostors had done nothing more than blind the eyes of the spectators. But what resemblance is there between that expression and the following? “The bread which we break;”—“As often as ye eat this bread;”—“They communicated in the breaking of bread;” and so forth.

That was phenomenological language; in other words, referring to what looked outwardly like bread. In the same context that Paul said these things, he also described the Eucharist as "a participation in the Body of Christ" (1 Cor 10:16) and said that "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27). Calvin wants to present the phenomenological language alone because that seems to bolster his case, while omitting the realist language that goes along with it in each case. That won't do; it is ultimately dishonest and deceptive argumentation: not fair to those of his readers who seek biblical truth.

It is certain that the eye only was deceived by the incantation of the magicians. The matter is more doubtful with regard to Moses, by whose hand it was not more difficult for God to make a serpent out of a rod, and again to make a rod out of a serpent, than to clothe angels with corporeal bodies, and a little after unclothe them. If the case of the sacrament were at all akin to this, there might be some colour for their explanation.

I don't make this argument myself, and don't know how prominent it was. Calvin is not known for fair presentation of opposing views, so we can't tell for sure how widespread such an argument was.

Let it, therefore, remain fixed that there is no true and fit promise in the Supper, that the flesh of Christ is truly meat, unless there is a correspondence in the true substance of the external symbol.

And where is such a thing ever stated in Scripture, or even implied?

But as one error gives rise to another, a passage in Jeremiah has been so absurdly wrested, to prove transubstantiation, that it is painful to refer to it. The prophet complains that wood was placed in his bread, intimating that by the cruelty of his enemies his bread was infected with bitterness, as David by a similar figure complains, “They gave me also gall for my meat: and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). These men would allegorise the expression to mean, that the body of Christ was nailed to the wood of the cross. But some of the Fathers thought so! As if we ought not rather to pardon their ignorance and bury the disgrace, than to add impudence, and bring them into hostile conflict with the genuine meaning of the prophet.

Nor have I ever made this argument myself, and I don't know how prominent it was, either, so I'll pass over it. I'm much more interested in Calvin's positive arguments for his view, not his mocking of opposing views that were made by who knows how many people. I've brought plenty of Bible to the table in my own defense of Catholic views: most of which seem to be unknown or ignored by Calvin.


Adomnan said...

Reading Calvin's section on the eucharist is almost painful. I am astounded that he is considered, as he usually is, a master of prose, unless ambiguity is counted a virtue.

Most often Calvin sounds like a Zwinglian, but then he tries to distinguish his teaching from Zwingli's by emitting a smoke screen of half-pursued qualifications, always changing the subject just when you think he's going to say something definite.

If Calvin isn't simply a Zwinglian, then the nearest I can figure is that he believes Christ's physical body and blood are spiritually eaten in communion. But this makes no sense at all! Asserting that someone can spiritually eat something physical is as absurd as asserting that he can physically eat something spiritual, like a thought, as in: What did you have for dinner last night? Oh, three chapters of Kant and two of set theory. Time for a diet. Nothing fits anymore.

I see you made the same point, Dave:

Calvin: The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life.

Dave: It doesn't necessarily follow (logically) that the "flesh and blood of Christ" must be received only mystically and immaterially, because our souls are immaterial, which is subtly implied by the comparison above:

Physical food supports a physical body.

Non-physical spiritual food supports non-physical souls.

Adomnan: Thus, Calvin is implying that Christ's flesh and blood are non-physical, or else illogically mixing up the categories of the physical and the non-physical.

I think this is the fundamental incoherence in Calvin's view (if he actually had a view).

nannykim said...

Thanks, I come from a reformed background and am considering the RC church. This was helpful and I shall read more of your blog. Thanks for making this available!

Dave Armstrong said...

You're very welcome. Thanks for reading, and I hope you come around a lot. God bless you!