The last post on my blog (if anyone has read it) may have come as a surprise to both Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. I’ve found that both groups generally assume that Catholics alone believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. They also tend to believe that Protestants consider The Lord’s Supper to be little more than a memorial of Christ death on the cross.
Of course what I wrote in the last post contradict what “most” Christians believe about the historic Protestant position about Communion. This is because most Protestant of todays Christians have long since departed from the Reformers on this doctrine as well as many others.
I know some folks will say it is easy to make claims like this, but what about some proof. It is right and good that people ask for a validation of the claims made and I hope to do that below.
Let’s first take a look at the Catechism John Calvin prepared in 1541 for the Church at Geneva:
Q:Do we therefore eat the body and blood of the Lord? A:I understand so. For as our whole reliance for salvation depends on him, in order that the obedience which he yielded to the Father may be imputed to us just as if it were ours, it is necessary that he be possessed by us; for the only way in which he communicates his blessings to us is by making himself ours.
Q:The Supper then was not instituted in order to offer up to God the body of his Son? A:By no means. He, himself alone, as priest for ever, has this privilege; and so his words express when he says, “Take, eat.” He there commands us not to offer his body, but only to eat it.
Q:What then have we in the symbol of bread? A:As the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us to reconcile us to God, so now also is it given to us, that we may certainly know that reconciliation belongs to us.
Q:What in the symbol of wine? A:That as Christ once shed his blood for the satisfaction of our sins, and as the price of our redemption, so he now also gives it to us to drink, that we may feel the benefit which should thence accrue to us.
Q:Have we in the Supper only a figure of the benefits which you have mentioned, or are they there exhibited to us in reality? A:Seeing that our Lord Jesus Christ is truth itself, there cannot be a doubt that he at the same time fulfills the promises which he there gives us, and adds the reality to the figures. Wherefore I doubt not that as he testifies by words and signs, so he also makes us partakers of his substance, that thus we may have one life with him.
In a short confession of faith that was written by Calvin about that time we find in a section titled “Of the Real Receiving of the Body and Blood of the Lord” the following:
Wherefore we hold that this doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ, viz., that his body is truly meat, and his blood truly drink, is not only represented and ratified in the Supper, but also accomplished in fact. For there under the symbols of bread and wine our Lord presents us with his body and blood, and we are spiritually fed upon them, provided we do not preclude entrance to his grace by our unbelief.
The questions and answers above are all from the hand of Calvin, and were written to instruct the people in the Church at Geneva, this is of the section from his short confession as well. I know many of my Reformed brethren will have difficulty with what Calvin wrote in the catechism, but it is important to know that what he wrote for the catechism was his consistent and often reiterated position on the matter.
Now let’s leave Calvin’s Catechism and look at some of his other writings. In the mid 1500’s Calvin and other Reformed theologians got into a debate with some of their Lutheran counterparts on the issue of Christ presence in the Supper. Joachim Westphal wrote against the Reformed position. Westphal condemned the Reformed Christians and accused them of denying Christ presence in the Eucharist.
Calvin took up his quill to defend the Reformed doctrine on Communion. In his first treatise defending the Reformed position he was still hoping to see unity between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. So he tried to be diplomatic and non-confrontational. Here are segments from that Treatise:
The bread is given us to figure the body of Jesus Christ, with command to eat it, and it is given us of God, who is certain and immutable truth. If God cannot deceive or lie, it follows that it accomplishes all which it signifies. We must then truly receive in the Supper the body and blood of Jesus Christ, since the Lord there represents to us the communion of both. Were it otherwise, what could be meant by saying, that we eat the bread and drink the wine as a sign that his body is our meat and his blood our drink? (pg 163)
… we have good cause to be satisfied when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all his blessings. (pg. 163) We all then confess with one mouth, that on receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the ordinance of the Lord, we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In this first treatise (which is titled “A Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, In Which Is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility”) Calvin takes on Westphal directly, but he does not mention him by name. Calvin writes, “It is not necessary to go far for arguments in our defense, seeing that this foolish man shortly afterwards quotes our own words, in which we openly acknowledge that the body of Jesus Christ is truly communicated to believers in the Supper. I pray you do we leave nothing but empty signs when we affirm that what is figured is at the same time given, and that the effect takes place?” (pg. 195)
There is much more that Calvin wrote on this issue. Over and over again in his writings he makes clear that he believes that we do truly partake of Christ true body and true blood when we, in faith, eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper. He disagrees with both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic explanations of the mode by which we receive Christ, but that is about mode and not about the fact that Christ body and blood are truly given to believers in the Eucharist.
John Calvin was not alone in this view. What he argues for is the same doctrine that we find in the 16th century creeds and catechisms of all the Reformed Churches. Calvin and other Reformed theologians believed that they were standing with the Early Church Fathers and the Bible when they taught and defended the idea that “we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ” when we take part in eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion.
My wife and I have four children. We're Cajuns and Live in SW Louisiana. We're conservative Christians and hold to the Reformed Faith. -- I'm a first generation Protestant, and my wife is second generation protestant.