THE CALVINISTIC DOCTRINE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
PROFESSOR JEAN CADIER
ETUDES THEOLOGIQUES ET RELIGIEUSES
LA DOCTRINE CALVINISTE DE LA SAINTE CENE
Publication Trimestrielle de la Faculté de Théologie Protestante de Montpellier
Vingt-Sixième Année 1951 No. 1 – 2
Translation by Rev. Bassam M. Madany
“The first writings of the Reformation bear the stamp of a profound adoration of the person of Jesus Christ.” P. 14
“The Church is a divine institution designed to bring us to Christ. Everything that the Church brings to us, Word and Sacraments have but one aim: to bring us into a relationship with the Son of God who is the source of life.” P. 17
“For Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is the place where our living encounter with Christ takes place, Christ being the source of true life.”
“According to Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is the sign, the sacrament which declares to us that Jesus Christ is the food of the believing soul, and the source of its life. By means of this sacrament, Jesus who is the glorified and living One communicates His life to us. Even though He is sovereignly elevated in the glory of the Father, He gives himself to us by the action of the Holy Spirit, and thus gives us His presence. The center of the Lord’s Supper is truly a communion, a personal relationship with Christ. All of Calvin’s interpretations of the Eucharistic mystery are stamped with his mystical fervor. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, the One who feeds our souls with His heavenly life.” P. 146
“In 1532, Farel came to Geneva and preached the Gospel. The city council was alarmed and ordered him to leave the city. ‘Farel declared that he was no trumpet of sedition, but a preacher of the truth, for which he was ready to die. He showed credentials from Bern, which made an impression. He was also summoned to the Episcopal Council … he was treated with insolence. ‘Come thou, filthy devil,’ said one of the canons,* ‘art thou baptized? Who invited you hither? Who gave you authority to preach?’ Farel replied with dignity:
‘I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and am not a devil. I go about preaching Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Whoever believes in him will be saved; unbelievers will be lost. I am sent by God as a messenger of Christ, and am bound to preach Him to all who will hear me.’”
*canon, “is a clergyman belonging to the chapter or the staff of a cathedral. (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, 1984)
“Calvin was appointed assistant professor of theology in January, 1539. He lectured on the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Romans, and other books of the Bible. Many students came from Switzerland and France to hear him, who afterwards returned home as evangelists.”
“The Lord, ‘he says,’ has dealt us a severe blow in taking from us our infant son; but it is our Father who knows what is best for His children.’ He found compensation for his want of offspring in the multitude of his spiritual children. ‘God has given me a little son, and taken him away; but I have myriads of children in the whole Christian world.”
“The study which we have undertaken of the Calvinistic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and of its evolution in Calvinism throughout the centuries, has allowed us to notice a clear shift from the mystical position of Calvin to the moral position of the Protestant theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries. This happens to be the position of the majority of the Reformed people in our days.
“For Calvin, the Lord’s Supper is the sign, the sacrament that declares to us that Jesus Christ is the food of the believing soul, and the source of its life. By means of this sacrament, Jesus Christ who is the glorified and living One communicates His life to us. Even though He is sovereignly exalted in the glory of His Father, He gives Himself to us by the action of the Holy Spirit and grants us His presence. The center of the Lord’s Supper is truly a communion, a personal relationship with Christ. All the expositions of Calvin concerning the Eucharistic mystery are stamped with his mystical fervor. Jesus Christ is the bread of life, the One who feeds our souls with His heavenly life. [Emphasis is mine: BMM]
“We have noticed that the successors of Calvin, Beza, Peter Martyr, and the rest of the reformers of the 17th century, preserved this concept of the Lord’s Supper and maintained it with vigor.
“However, due to the long controversies with the Roman Catholics, this position of the Reformed leaders with respect to the Lord’s Supper was abandoned. This happened gradually. The original Reformed doctrine, namely, communion with Christ and the real presence by the Holy Spirit, was no longer held among the reformers. For example, one of the 18th century Geneva theologians, Benedict Pictet, rather emphasized the declaration of the Lord’s Supper relative to the remission of sins. This difference in the position of the Reformed theologians appeared now in the modifications and revisions of the forms for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The sentence: ‘Jesus is the true heavenly bread for the nourishment of our souls’ was replaced by: ‘Jesus is the true Passover Lamb who has been offered for us.’ The latter statement is one of the great truths of the Gospel. It is also an element in the message of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But it is not the primitive position of the Calvinistic Reformation. Henceforth, the accent is placed on the moral side of the Christian life. [Emphasis is mine, BMM]
“From then on and with a logical evolution, the Lord’s Supper becomes a sacrament to be feared, a sacrament that demands long preparations and examinations of the conscience. It is rarely celebrated. An erroneous notion of the dignity of the communicant, which is then defined as a moral dignity, and not as previously understood in terms of the fervent faith, keeps a great number of believers from the Lord’s Table. This moralistic concept has continued in our churches from the 18th century down to our own days.
“We believe that we should return to the Calvinistic doctrine and rediscover the profoundly mystical** meaning that the Reformer had given to the Lord’s Supper. It will be also convenient to return to a more frequent celebration of the sacrament, and to give to the Christian worship service this Eucharistic element without which it remains an incomplete worship service. We are convinced that a return to the Calvinistic position will contribute a great deal to the spiritual enrichment of the Reformed churches. “Pp. 146,147
**Mystical: “dates back to the 15th century, having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses, nor obvious to the intelligence.” (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, 1984)
“Having a spiritual character or reality beyond the comprehension of human reason” Funk & Wagnalls New International Dictionary of the English Language, Comprehensive Edition, 1987
The Value of the Correspondence between Calvin and Melanchthon
Living at a time when many large factions of the Protestant Churches are trying to get closer together, by sacrificing many essential and valuable doctrines, a question might come to us about the causes that led to the divisions of Protestantism from the beginnings of the Reformation
It cannot be denied that there was a continual contact between the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches in their earlier days, yet the unity of these two branches never took place owing to several reasons. The quick spread of the doctrines of the Anabaptists, caused Luther to be suspicious of every movement that did not conform to his teachings. Thus we notice his unfriendly attitude toward Zwingli, and the Evangelical Churches of Switzerland; and later on, his unfriendly position toward Calvin.
To charge Calvin with intolerance would mean a complete ignorance of the facts relating to the friendship of the Reformer with Melanchthon. Indeed, Calvin was never indifferent. He was sure of the call of God, Who used him as an instrument to bring back the Christians to the pure teachings of the Scriptures; and he would have betrayed the cause of Christ, if he ever thought of compromising with the messengers of the Evil One.
Calvin and Melanchthon were first acquainted by correspondence through Bucer in the fall of 1538, and their intimate friendship continued to their last days. Melanchthon was twelve years older than Calvin, as Luther was thirteen years older than Melanchthon. Calvin sought the friendship of his German brother, and he always treated him with reverential affection. He dedicated to him his Commentary on Daniel, describing him as, “a man who, on account of his incomparable skill in the most excellent branches of knowledge, his piety, and other virtues, is worthy of the admiration of all the ages.”
Melanchthon, in sincere humility, acknowledged the superiority of his younger friend as a theologian and disciplinarian, and called him emphatically “the theologian.” They both had many points of contact. They devoted all their learning to the reformation of the Church; they were equally conscientious and unselfish; agreed in all essential doctrines; and deplored the divisions in the Protestant ranks.
They differed also on minor points of doctrine, and discipline that sprang from the peculiar constitution of each one’s mind. Their sincere and lasting friendship is a most remarkable testimony that a deep spiritual union and harmony may co-exist with theological differences on non essential points.
In their first personal interview at Frankfort, in February 1539, they at once became intimate, and freely discussed the questions of the day relating to doctrine, worship and discipline. After the Colloquy at Regensburg, they did not see each other any more, but continued to correspond as much as their time and duties would permit.
Calvin, notwithstanding his difference with Melanchthon, published a French translation of the improved edition of Melanchthon’s Theological Commonplaces. Later, the revival of the unfortunate Eucharistic Controversy by Luther, tried the friendship of the Reformers to the uttermost. Calvin expressed his regret at the indecision and want of courage displayed by Melanchthon from fear of Luther and love of peace. Calvin wrote a letter to Luther via Melanchthon, who never dared to show the aged Reformer the message of Calvin. Then Calvin wrote this letter:
“Would that the fellow-feeling which enables me to condole with you, and to sympathize in your heaviness, might also impart the power in some degree at least to lighten your sorrow. Your “Pericles” allows himself to be carried beyond all bounds with his love of thunder, especially seeing that his own cause is by no means the better of the two…We all acknowledge that we are much indebted to him. But in the Church, we always must be on our guard, lest we pay too great a deference to men…It is all over with her, when a single individual has more authority than all the rest…In the meantime, let us run the race set before us with deliberate courage…I do not cease to offer my chief thanks to God, who had vouchsafed to us that agreement in opinion upon the whole of that question (on the real presence); for although there is a slight difference in certain particulars, we are very well agreed upon the general question itself.”
Quotations above are taken from, THE CORRESPONDENCE OF JOHN CALVIN, A Church History Term Paper, by Bassam Michael Madany, During the Academic Year 1950-1951. Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The French Confession of 1559
Articles 36 - 38
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
XXXVI. We confess that the Lord's Supper, which is the second sacrament, is a witness of the union which we have with Christ, inasmuch as he not only died and rose again for us once, but also feeds and nourishes us truly with his flesh and blood, so that we may be one in him, and that our life may be in common. Although he be in heaven until he come to judge all the earth, still we believe that by the secret and incomprehensible power of his Spirit he feeds and strengthens us with the substance of his body and of his blood. We hold that this is done spiritually, not because we put imagination and fancy in the place of fact and truth, but because the greatness of this mystery exceeds the measure of our senses and the laws of nature. In short, because it is heavenly, it can only be apprehended by faith.
36. Nous confessons que la sainte cène, qui est le second sacrement, nous est témoignage de l'unité que nous avons avec Jésus-Christ (1 Co 10.16-17; 11.24), d'autant qu'il n'est pas seulement une fois mort et ressuscité pour nous, mais aussi nous repaît et nourrit vraiment de sa chair et de son sang, ce que nous soyons un avec lui et que sa vie nous soit commune (Jn 6.55-57; 17.21; Rm 8.32). Or combien qu'il soit au ciel jusqu' ce qu'il vienne pour juger tout le monde (Mc 16.19; Ac 1.2-11; 3.21), toutefois nous croyons que par la vertu secrète et incompréhensible de son Esprit il nous nourrit et vivifie de la substance de son corps et de son sang (1 Co 10.16; Jn 6.35). Nous tenons bien que cela se fait spirituellement, non pas pour mettre au lieu de l'effet et de la vérité imagination ni pensée, mais d'autant que ce mystère surmonte en sa hautesse la mesure de notre sens et tout ordre de nature, bref, pour ce qu'il est céleste, ne peut être appréhendé que par foi.
XXXVII. We believe, as has been said, that in the Lord's Supper, as well in baptism, God gives us really and in fact that which he there sets forth to us; and that consequently with these signs is given the true possession and enjoyment of that which they present to us. And thus all who bring a pure faith, like a vessel, to the sacred table of Christ, receive truly that of which it is a sign; for the body and the blood of Jesus Christ give food and drink to the soul, no less than bread and wine nourish the body.
37. Nous croyons, ainsi qu'il a été dit, que tant en la cène qu'au baptême Dieu nous donne réellement et par effet ce qu'il y figure, et pourtant nous conjoignons avec les signes la vraie possession et jouissance de ce qui nous est l présenté. Et par ainsi tous ceux qui apportent la table sacrée de Christ une pure foi, comme un vaisseau, reçoivent vraiment ce que les signes y testifient: c'est que le corps et le sang de Jésus-Christ ne servent pas moins de manger et boire l' me que le pain et le vin font au corps (Mt 26.26; 1 Co 11.24-25).
XXXVIII. Thus we hold water, being a feeble element, still testifies to us in truth the inward cleansing of our souls in the blood of Jesus Christ by the efficacy of his Spirit, and that the
bread and wine given to us in the sacrament serve to our spiritual nourishment, inasmuch as they show, as to our sight, that the body of Christ is our meat, and his blood our drink. And we reject the Enthusiasts and Sacramentarians who will not receive such signs and marks, although our Savior said: 'This is my body, and this cup is my blood.'
38. Ainsi nous tenons que l'eau étant un élément caduc ne laisse pas de nous testifier en vérité le lavement intérieur de notre me au sang de Jésus-Christ par l'efficace de son Esprit (Rm 6.3-4; 1 Co 6.11; Ep 5.26), et que le pain et le vin nous étant donnés en la cène nous servent vraiment de nourriture spirituelle, d'autant qu'ils nous montrent comme l'oeil la chair de Jésus-Christ nous être notre viande et son sang notre breuvage (Jn 6.51; 1 Co 11.24). Et rejetons les fantastiques et sacramentaires qui ne veulent point recevoir tels signes et marques, vu que Jésus-Christ prononce: "Ceci est mon corps, et ce calice est mon sang" (Mt 26.26; 1 Co 11.24-25).