We concluded our preceding article with the remark that what we had quoted of John Calvin from his “Institutes” in connection with his conception of the Lord’s Supper ought to be sufficient. However, while reading from this amazing work of the reformer of Geneva, I came upon certain remarks which I would like to pass on to our readers, in addition to what we quoted in our preceding article. All these quotations are from Book IV, Chapter XVII.
In paragraph 14 Calvin writes that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is a conception of recent invention, and we quote: “Hence proceeded that pretended transubstantiation, for which they now contend with more earnestness than for all the other articles of their faith. For the first inventors of the local presence were unable to explain how the body of Christ could be mixed with the substance of the bread, without being immediately embarrassed by many absurdities. Therefore they found it necessary to have recourse to this fiction, that the bread is transmuted into the body of Christ; not that his body is properly made of the bread, but that Christ annihilates the substance of the bread, and conceals himself under its form. It is astonishing that they could fall into such ignorance, and even stupidity, as to promulgate such a monstrous notion, in direct opposition to the Scripture and to the doctrine of the primitive Church. I confess, indeed, that some of the ancient writers sometimes used the word conversion, not with a view to destroy the substance of the external signs, but to signify that the bread dedicated to that sacrament is unlike common bread, and different from what it was before. But they all constantly and expressly declare, that the sacred supper consists of two parts, earthly and heavenly; and the earthly part they explain, without the least hesitation, to be bread and wine. Whatever the Romanists may pretend, it is very clear that the authority of the ancients, which they frequently presume to oppose to the plain word of God, affords them no assistance in the support of this dogma; and, indeed, it is comparatively but of recent invention, for it was, not only unknown to those better times, when the doctrine of religion still flourished in its purity, but even when that purity had already been much corrupted. There is not one of the ancient writers who does not acknowledge in express terms that the consecrated symbols of the supper are bread and wine; though, as we have observed, they sometimes distinguish them with various titles, to celebrate the dignity of the mystery. . . . But, say our opponents, if there be a conversion, one thing must be changed into another. If they mean that something is made what it was not before, I agree with them (Calvin means with this statement that the bread and wine, which continue to be bread and wine, nevertheless are changed inasmuch as formerly they were merely bread and wine, but now they are symbols of the body and blood of our Lord. H.V.). If they wish to apply this to their absurd notion, let them tell me what change they think takes place in baptism. For in that also the fathers state a wonderful conversion, when they say, that from the corruptible element proceeds a spiritual ablution of the sod, yet not one of them denies that it retains the substance of water.”
In paragraph 15, Calvin refers to I Cor. 10:4, and we quote: “They would never have been so shamefully deluded by the fallacies of Satan, if they had not been previously fascinated with this error—that the body of Christ contained in the bread was received in a corporeal manner into the mouth, and actually swallowed. The cause of such a stupid notion was, that they considered the consecration as a kind of magical incantation. But they were unacquainted with this principle, that the bread is a sacrament only to those to whom the word is addressed; as the water of baptism is not changed in itself, but on the annexation of the promise, begins to be to us that which it was not before. This will be further elucidated by the example of a similar sacrament. The water which flowed from the rock in the wilderness, was to the fathers a token and sign of the same thing which is represented to us by the wine in the sacred supper; for Paul says, ‘They did drink the same spiritual drink.’ But the same water served also for their flocks and herds. Hence it is easily inferred; that when earthly elements ‘are applied to a spiritual use, no other change takes place in them than with regard to men, to whom they become seals of the promise.” In this quotation Calvin refers to the incident in the wilderness, when God supplies His people with water out of the rock. Now we know that the Scriptures declare to us that this Rock is Christ. So, the water which flowed from the rock in the wilderness was to the fathers a token and sign of the same thing which is represented to us by the wine in the Lord’s Supper. This means that whatever change takes place, does not take place in the elements of the bread and wine (inasmuch as also the flocks and herds partook of the water), but only in the men who partake of them.
In paragraph 22 Calvin answers the charge that the reformers have no high regard for the authority of Christ, and we quote: “But if some obstinate man, shutting his eyes against every other consideration, should insist on this single expression, ‘This is my body,’ as though it made a distinction between the supper and all other sacraments, the answer is easy. They allege that the verb substantive is too emphatical to admit of any figure. If we giant this, the verb substantive is also used by Paul,’ where he says, ‘The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of, Christ? But the communion of the body is something different from the body itself. In almost all cases of sacraments, we find the same word used—’This is my covenant.’ ‘It is the Lord’s Passover.’ And to mention no more, when Paul says, ‘That Rock was Christ,’ why do they consider the verb substantive less emphatical in that passage than in the speech of Christ? Let them also explain the force of the verb substantive in that place where John says, ‘The Holy Ghost was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.’ For if they obstinately adhere to their rule, they will destroy the eternal existence of the Spirit, as if it commenced at the ascension of Christ. Let them answer, in the last place, what is the meaning of Paul, when he calls baptism ‘the washing of regeneration, and renewing,’ though it is evidently useless to many. But nothing is more conclusive against them than that passage where Paul says, that the Church is Christ. For having drawn a similitude from the human body, he adds, ‘So also is Christ’; by which he means not the only begotten Son of God, in himself, but in his members. I think I have SO far succeeded, that all ‘men of sense and integrity must be disgusted with the foul calumnies of our adversaries, when they charge us with giving no credit to the words of Christ, which we receive with as much submission as themselves, and consider with greater reverence. Indeed, their supine negligence is a proof that it is a subject of little concern to them, what was the will or meaning of Christ, provided they can use him as a shield to defend their obstinacy; as our diligence in inquiring into Christ’s true meaning is a sufficient proof of our high regard to his authority. They maliciously represent, that human reason prevents us from believing what Christ himself has declared with his sacred mouth; but how unjustly they stigmatize us with this reproach, I have explained, in a great measure, already, and shall presently make still more evident; Nothing prevents us, therefore, from believing Christ when he speaks, and immediately acquiescing in every word he utters. The only question is whether, it be criminal to inquire into his genuine meaning.” It is evident from this passage that when Roman Catholicism, and Lutheranism, too, lay all emphasis upon the word, “is,” in the expression: “This is my body,” they completely fail to lay an equal emphasis upon similar passages in the Word of God; and this surely proves that they deliberately interpret the Scriptures simply to suit themselves and their own conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is common throughout the Word of God that not only is the name of something superior transferred to that which is inferior, but, on the contrary, the name of the visible sign is likewise given to the thing signified; as when God is said to have appeared to Moses in the bush, when the ark of the covenant is called God, and the Holy Spirit a dove.
I would conclude this article by calling attention to two more paragraphs from Calvin’s “Institutes.” In paragraph 23 we read the following: “The objection which they urge, from the improbability that Christ, when he was preparing peculiar consolation for his disciples in seasons of adversity, should express himself in enigmatical or obscure language, is completely in our favor. For if it had not been understood by the apostles, that the bread was called his body in a figurative sense, because it was a symbol of his body, they would undoubtedly have been disturbed about so monstrous a declaration. Almost at the same moment, John states that they were embarrassed and perplexed with every minute difficulty. They who debated among themselves how Christ was to go to the Father, and were at a loss to know how he would depart from this world; who could understand nothing that was said of a heavenly Father, because they had not seen him;, how could they have been so ready to believe any thing so entirely repugnant to every dictate of reason, as that Christ was sitting at the table before their eyes, and yet was invisibly enclosed in the bread? By eating the bread without any hesitation, they testified their consent, and hence it appears that they understood the words of Christ in the same sense that we do, considering that it is common in all sacraments for the name of the sign to be transferred to the thing signified.” This reasoning of Calvin is surely plain. Would not the disciples, had they not understood the Saviour to be referring to bread and wine, h the ordinary sense of the word, have questioned the Saviour as to the meaning of His words, “This is my body?” They understood so little of what Jesus told them. And they would understand the Saviour in the sense that Roman Catholicism understands the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper? This is impossible.
Finally, Calvin refers to the words of the Saviour that He would not always be with His disciples in the midst of the world. He tells them, in plain language, that He will presently leave them and go to His Father. Lutheranism contends that the body and blood of our Lord are ubiquitous, everywhere present. The ubiquity of Christ’s body and blood is one of the grounds for’ their conception of consubstantiation. But Christ declares unto His disciples that he would presently leave them, and that He would not be with them in the midst of the world. The advent or coming of the Spirit, and the ascension of Christ, are clearly opposed to each other; and, therefore, it is impossible for Christ to dwell with us, according to His flesh, in the same manner in which He sends His Spirit. And Calvin concludes this paragraph by calling attention to the fact that also Augustine gives the same interpretation to that passage in which Christ declares that Him they would not always have with them. This passage is recorded in Matt. 26:11, in the home of Simon the leper, where Jesus was anointed by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.