Friday, December 04, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,17:44-50) [Eucharist: Frequent Reception and in One Kind / Do Catholics Hate Scripture? / Priests]

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



44. Duty of frequent communion. This proved by the practice of the Church in its purer state, and by the canons of the early bishops.

What we have hitherto said of the sacrament, abundantly shows that it was not instituted to be received once a-year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom); but that all Christians might have it in frequent use, and frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ,

And receive Christ into their bodies: as Scott Hahn says: "into their bellies as well as their hearts."

thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness; cherishing and testifying towards each other that mutual charity, the bond of which they see in the unity of the body of Christ. As often as we communicate in the symbol of our Saviour’s body, as if a pledge were given and received, we mutually bind ourselves to all the offices of love, that none of us may do anything to offend his brother, or omit anything by which he can assist him when necessity demands, and opportunity occurs.

Good, except for the reduction to "symbol" and "pledge."

That such was the practice of the Apostolic Church, we are informed by Luke in the Acts, when he says, that “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms.

That's why the Mass is constructed that way, but the many Protestant services are not: many having no communion at all.

We may gather from Paul that this was the order observed by the Corinthians, and it is certain that this was the practice many ages after. Hence, by the ancient canons, which are attributed to Anacletus and Calixtus, after the consecration was made, all were to communicate who did not wish to be without the pale of the Church. And in those ancient canons, which bear the name of Apostolical, it is said that those who continue not to the end, and partake not of the sacred communion, are to be corrected, as causing disquiet to the Church. In the Council of Antioch it was decreed, that those who enter the Church, hear the Scriptures, and abstain from communion, are to be removed from the Church until they amend their fault. And although, in the first Council of Tholouse, this was mitigated, or at least stated in milder terms, yet there also it was decreed, that those who after hearing the sermon, never communicated, were to be admonished, and if they still abstained after admonition, were to be excluded.

We agree. At some periods of Church history this was poorly understood.

45. Frequent communion in the time of Augustine. The neglect of it censured by Chrysostom.

By these enactments, holy men wished to retain and ensure the use of frequent communion, as handed down by the apostles themselves; and which, while it was most salutary to believers, they saw gradually falling into desuetude by the negligence of the people. Of his own age, Augustine testifies: “The sacrament of the unity of our Lord’s body is, in some places, provided daily, and in others at certain intervals, at the Lord’s table; and at that table some partake to life, and others to destruction” (August. Tract. 26, in Joann. 6). And in the first Epistle to Januarius he says: “Some communicate daily in the body and blood of the Lord; others receive it on certain days: in some places, not a day intervenes on which it is not offered: in others, it is offered only on the Sabbath and the Lord’s day: in others, on the Lord’s day only.”

Note Augustine's casual realism. Calvin simply interprets his references to "body and blood" as symbolic only, not literal. But this won't do. It is a dishonest reading of St. Augustine's overall eucharistic doctrine.

But since, as we have said, the people were sometimes remiss, holy men urged them with severe rebukes, that they might not seem to connive at their sluggishness. Of this we have an example in Chrysostom, on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Hom. 26). “It was not said to him who dishonoured the feast, Why have you not taken your seat? ‘But how camest thou in?’ (Mt. 22:12). Whoever partakes not of the sacred rites is wicked and impudent in being present: should any one who was invited to a feast come in, wash his hands, take his seat, and seem to prepare to eat, and thereafter taste nothing, would he not, I ask, insult both the feast and the entertainer? So you, standing among those who prepare themselves by prayer to take the sacred food, profess to be one of the number by the mere fact of your not going away, and yet you do not partake,—would it not have been better not to have made your appearance? I am unworthy, you say. Then neither were you worthy of the communion of prayer, which is the preparation for taking the sacred mystery.”

I think the saint was stressing the importance of being right with God, and not taking halfway measures. To be totally right is to partake of Holy Communion.

46. The Popish injunction to communicate once a-year an execrable invention.

Most assuredly, the custom which prescribes communion once a-year is an invention of the devil, by what instrumentality soever it may have been introduced. They say that Zephyrinus was the author of the decree, though it is not possible to believe that it was the same as we now have it. It may be, that as times then were, he did not, by his ordinance, consult ill for the Church. For there cannot be a doubt that at that time the sacred Supper was dispensed to the faithful at every meeting; nor can it be doubted that a great part of them communicated. But as it scarcely ever happened that all could communicate at the same time, and it was necessary that those who were mingled with the profane and idolaters, should testify their faith by some external symbol, this holy man, with a view to order and government, had appointed that day, that on it the whole of Christendom might give a confession of their faith by partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The ordinance of Zephyrinus, which was otherwise good, posterity perverted, when they made a fixed law of one communion in the year.

Again, we agree with frequent communion. It is Protestantism that now has many services without it at all: not even in the watered-down, gutted sense of the rite. So Calvin is, in effect, preaching to his fellow Protestants here. Catholics offer Holy Communion at every single Mass. And we have daily Mass. Very few Protestants have daily services.

The consequence is, that almost all, when they have once communicated, as if they were discharged as to all the rest of the year, sleep on secure. It ought to have been far otherwise. Each week, at least, the table of the Lord ought to have been spread for the company of Christians, and the promises declared on which we might then spiritually feed. No one, indeed, ought to be forced, but all ought to be exhorted and stimulated; the torpor of the sluggish, also, ought to be rebuked, that all, like persons famishing, should come to the feast. It was not without cause, therefore, I complained, at the outset, that this practice had been introduced by the wile of the devil; a practice which, in prescribing one day in the year, makes the whole year one of sloth.

I think he is right.

We see, indeed, that this perverse abuse had already crept in in the time of Chrysostom; but we, also, at the same time, see how much it displeased him. For he complains in bitter terms, in the passage which I lately quoted, that there is so great an inequality in this matter, that they did not approach often, at other times of the year, even when prepared, but only at Easter, though unprepared. Then he exclaims: “O custom! O presumption! In vain, then, is the daily oblation made: in vain do we stand at the altar. There is none who partakes along with us.” So far is he from having approved the practice by interposing his authority to it.

It would be nice if Calvin would accept the advice of the fathers in areas where he disagrees with him (the entire number of Catholic doctrines and practices that he rejects). But he only quotes them where they agree with him, or highly selectively sophistically, as if they agree with him, when they really don't.

47. Communion in one kind proved to be an invention of Satan.

From the same forge proceeded another constitution, which snatched or robbed a half of the Supper from the greater part of the people of God—namely, the symbol of blood, which, interdicted to laics and profane (such are the titles which they give to God’s heritage), became the peculiar possession of a few shaven and anointed individuals. The edict of the eternal God is, that all are to drink. This an upstart dares to antiquate and abrogate by a new and contrary law, proclaiming that all are not to drink. And that such legislators may not seem to fight against their God without any ground, they make a pretext of the dangers which might happen if the sacred cup were given indiscriminately to all: as if these had not been observed and provided for by the eternal wisdom of God.

There are dangers of spilling and of hygiene. For Calvin, it is no matter of importance at all if the consecrated wine spills, because he denies that Jesus is physically present in it, anyway, so it is easy for him to disdain the practice, since his disbelief takes away the very reason for concern from the outset. But as usual, he projects his belief-system onto us, rather than understanding the Catholic system in and of itself.

Then they reason acutely, forsooth, that the one is sufficient for the two. For if the body is, as they say, the whole Christ, who cannot be separated from his body, then the blood includes the body by concomitance.

This is true. Christ cannot be divided. He is whole and entire in both elements.

Here we see how far our sense accords with God, when to any extent whatever it begins to rage and wanton with loosened reins. The Lord, pointing to the bread, says, “This is my body.” Then pointing to the cup, he calls it his blood. The audacity of human reason objects and says, The bread is the blood, the wine is the body, as if the Lord had without reason distinguished his body from his blood, both by words and signs; and it had ever been heard that the body of Christ or the blood is called God and man. Certainly, if he had meant to designate himself wholly, he might have said, It is I, according to the Scriptural mode of expression, and not, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” But wishing to succour the weakness of our faith, he placed the cup apart from the bread, to show that he suffices not less for drink than for food. Now, if one part be taken away, we can only find the half of the elements in what remains. Therefore, though it were true, as they pretend, that the blood is in the bread, and, on the other hand, the body in the cup, by concomitance, yet they deprive the pious of that confirmation of faith which Christ delivered as necessary. Bidding adieu, therefore, to their subtleties, let us retain the advantage which, by the ordinance of Christ, is obtained by a double pledge.

The Catholic Church now emphasizes the importance of the availability of the cup to the laity at Mass, and so in that sense we agree with Calvin (and Luther). It doesn't follow, however, that the traditional reasons given for withholding the cup are invalid. Calvin is wrong that both must be given. Again, since he denies the Real Presence, it is irrelevant to him the understanding we have of the matter, anyway. For him it is, in effect, like saying, "we have to have the cake and the ice cream at a birthday party, in order to honor a person's birthday." There is no theological consideration. It is all merely symbolic.

I provided the basic Catholic theological rationale for this practice from Scripture, in a past installment:

There can be a symbolic distinction without entailing a metaphysical equation. St. Paul shows that both the body and blood are included in what was formerly bread and wine:

1 Corinthians 11:27 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.

The "or" proves that Paul believed that both the cup or what was formerly bread (considered individually) contain both the Body and Blood of Christ after consecration. This was one of the reasons that withholding the cup from the laity was justified, under Catholic presuppositions.

For more on this question, see:

Biblical Evidence for the Distribution of One Species in Holy Communion

The Cup of Holy Communion: Reverential and Hygienic Considerations (Fr. Paul Ward)

48. Subterfuges of the Papists refuted.

I am aware, indeed, how the ministers of Satan, whose usual practice is to hold the Scriptures in derision, here cavil.

I'm the one who has provided Scripture to justify the practice, not Calvin. Throughout my reply to his Institutes I have provided probably at least five times more biblical justification than Calvin ever does. Calvin often offers his own opinion with little or no biblical backing, whereas I almost invariably provide Scripture for any argument I make. It's easy to do because the Bible is so thoroughly Catholic and "unProtestant." This is one of the Great Protestant Myths: that Protestants are so supposedly "biblical" and have no traditions of men, whereas Catholics are allegedly the opposite.

First, they allege that from a simple fact we are not to draw a rule which is to be perpetually obligatory on the Church. But they state an untruth when they call it a simple fact. For Christ not only gave the cup, but appointed that the apostles should do so in future. For his words contain the command, “Drink ye all of it.” And Paul relates, that it was so done, and recommends it as a fixed institution.

We can agree that reception of both kinds is a good thing, without agreeing that it is absolutely necessary at all times.

Another subterfuge is, that the apostles alone were admitted by Christ to partake of this sacred Supper, because he had already selected and chosen them to the priesthood. I wish they would answer the five following questions, which they cannot evade, and which easily refute them and their lies. First, By what oracle was this solution so much at variance with the word of God revealed to them? Scripture mentions twelve who sat down with Jesus, but it does not so derogate from the dignity of Christ as to call them priests. Of this appellation we shall afterwards speak in its own place.

I have written in my own "place" about it too:

The Biblical Evidence for Priests

Biblical Evidence For the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Ordination)

The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church

Dialogue With a Presbyterian Pastor Regarding Ordination, Priests, and Vocations For Everyone

Although he then gave to twelve, he commanded them to “do this;” in other words, to distribute thus among themselves. Secondly, Why during that purer age, from the days of the apostles downward for a thousand years, did all, without exception, partake of both symbols? Did the primitive Church not know who the guests were whom Christ would have admitted to his Supper? It were the most shameless impudence to carp and quibble here. We have extant ecclesiastical histories, we have the writings of the Fathers, which furnish clear proofs of this fact. “The flesh,” says Tertullian, “feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul may be satiated by God” (Tertull. de Resurr. Carnis.). “How,” says Ambrose to Theodosius, “will you receive the sacred body of the Lord with such hands? how will you have the boldness to put the cup of precious blood to your lips?” Jerome speaks of “the priests who perform the Eucharist and distribute the Lord’s blood to the people” (Hieron. in Malach. cap. 2). Chrysostom says, “Not as under the ancient law the priest ate a part and the people a part, but one body and one cup is set before all. All the things which belong to the Eucharist are common to the priest and the people” (Chrysost. in Cor. cap. 8, Hom. 18). The same thing is attested by Augustine in numerous passages.

We largely agree, which is why the practice was greatly urged by the Second Vatican Council. Again, it is Protestants now who violate the spirit of Calvin's opinions here, by having infrequent communion of either kind.

49. The practice of the early Church further considered.

But why dispute about a fact which is perfectly notorious? Look at all Greek and Latin writers. Passages of the same kind everywhere occur. Nor did this practice fall into desuetude so long as there was one particle of integrity in the Church. Gregory, whom you may with justice call the last Bishop of Rome, says that it was observed in his age. “What the blood of the Lamb is you have learned, not by hearing, but by drinking it. His blood is poured into the mouths of the faithful.” Nay, four hundred years after his death, when all things had degenerated, the practice still remained. Nor was it regarded as the custom merely, but as an inviolable law. Reverence for the divine institution was then maintained, and they had no doubt of its being sacrilege to separate what the Lord had joined. For Gelasius thus speaks: “We find that some taking only the portion of the sacred body, abstain from the cup. Undoubtedly let those persons, as they seem entangled by some strange superstition, either receive the whole sacrament, or be debarred from the whole. For the division of this mystery is not made without great sacrilege” (De Consec. Dist. 2). Reasons were given by Cyprian, which surely ought to weigh with Christian minds. “How,” says he, “do we teach or incite them to shed their blood in confessing Christ, if we deny his blood to those who are to serve; or how do we make them fit for the cup of martyrdom, if we do not previously admit them by right of communion in the Church, to drink the cup of the Lord?” (Cyprian, Serm. 5, de Lapsis). The attempt of the Canonists to restrict the decree of Gelasius to priests is a cavil too puerile to deserve refutation.

Calvin has a good case, in terms of both elements traditionally being offered to the laity in the early centuries. Catholics would not disagree with that.

50. Conclusion.

Thirdly, Why did our Saviour say of the bread simply, “Take, eat,” and of the cup, “drink ye all of it;” as if he had purposely intended to provide against the wile of Satan? Fourthly, If, as they will have it, the Lord honoured priests only with his Supper, what man would ever have dared to call strangers, whom the Lord had excluded, to partake of it, and to partake of a gift which he had not in his power, without any command from him who alone could give it? Nay, what presumption do they show in the present day in distributing the symbol of Christ’s body to the common people, if they have no command or example from the Lord? Fifthly, Did Paul lie when he said to the Corinthians, “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you?” (1 Cor. 11:23). The thing delivered, he afterwards declares to be, that all should communicate promiscuously in both symbols. But if Paul received of the Lord that all were to be admitted without distinction, let those who drive away almost the whole people of God see from whom they have received, since they cannot now pretend to have their authority from God, with whom there is not “yea and nay” (2 Cor. 1:19, 20). And yet these abominations they dare to cloak with the name of the Church, and defend under this pretence, as if those Antichrists were the Church who so licentiously trample under foot, waste, and abrogate the doctrine and institutions of Christ, or as if the Apostolic Church, in which religion flourished in full vigour, were not the Church.

Catholics today can agree that perhaps the withholding of the cup (all things considered) went too far in the Middle Ages, even if it was for reasons that in and of themselves were legitimate. Things are different now, but it is still not required to partake of both. I myself rarely do, mainly for hygienic reasons: knowing that I receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in what was formerly bread alone.


David Charkowsky said...

Hi Dave,

I'm pretty sure the the CCC (quoting Trent) deliberately avoids the word "physical". But of course, it does say "BODY, BLOOD, soul, and divinity", in other words, the whole person of Jesus Christ in both his human and divine natures, in the full integrity of his resurrected body are "really, truly, and substantially present" in the Eucharistic species.

I hope this is useful and I enjoy reading your blog. It's quite the work!

David Charkowsky said...

Oops, I posted this comment to the wrong blog entry---I meant to post it to the previous one!

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your kind words. "Physical" is used in the CCC in the context of liturgical / sacramental discussion:

1146 Signs of the human world. In human life, signs and symbols occupy an important place. As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God.

1151 Signs taken up by Christ. In his preaching the Lord Jesus often makes use of the signs of creation to make known the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. He performs healings and illustrates his preaching with physical signs or symbolic gestures. He gives new meaning to the deeds and signs of the Old Covenant, above all to the Exodus and the Passover, for he himself is the meaning of all these signs.

I use the word as the antithesis to Calvin's purely spiritual conception of the Eucharist (i.e., non-physical).