Eucharist: Rationalism, Nestorianism, & Docetism (vs. Calvin #44)

Eucharist: Rationalism, Nestorianism, & Docetism (vs. Calvin #44) February 2, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 17:24-28


Book IV




24. Other objections answered. No question here as to the omnipotence of God.


This infamous falsehood cannot be completely wiped away without disposing of another charge. They give out that we are so wedded to human reason, that we attribute nothing more to the power of God than the order of nature admits, and common sense dictates. 

That is what Calvin’s logic regarding the Eucharist amounts to, yes. He is caught up into a limited rationalistic worldview without seeming to realize that he is. He’s a prisoner of his own false presuppositions. He lacks the perspective of Christian mystery, paradox, and miracle.

From these wicked calumnies, I appeal to the doctrine which I have delivered,—a doctrine which makes it sufficiently clear that I by no means measure this mystery by the capacity of human reason, or subject it to the laws of nature. 

What else can one call a view that wants to limit God by saying that Jesus’ Body can only be in heaven and not eucharistically present as well?

I ask, whether it is from physics we have learned that Christ feeds our souls from heaven with his flesh, just as our bodies are nourished by bread and wine? 

And I ask whether it is from logic and Christianity, this notion that we can eat the flesh of Jesus but not do so at the same time, because it is in heaven only?

How has flesh this virtue of giving life to our souls? 

The same way that the crucifixion and Jesus’ blood gave life to our souls.

All will say, that it is not done naturally. Not more agreeable is it to human reason to hold that the flesh of Christ penetrates to us, so as to be our food. In short, every one who may have tasted our doctrine, will be carried away with admiration of the secret power of God. But these worthy zealots fabricate for themselves a miracle, and think that without it God himself and his power vanish away. 

The Catholic view (and Orthodox and Lutheran and traditional Anglican), is simply taking Jesus’ words at face value and accepting them in faith. We’re not trying to rationalize them away.

I would again admonish the reader carefully to consider the nature of our doctrine, whether it depends on common apprehension, or whether, after having surmounted the world on the wings of faith, it rises to heaven. We say that Christ descends to us, as well by the external symbol as by his Spirit, that he may truly quicken our souls by the substance of his flesh and blood. 

The substance of flesh is actually physical flesh: but Calvin denies that, so his view is metaphysically (as well as theologically) nonsensical.

He who feels not that in these few words are many miracles, is more than stupid; since nothing is more contrary to nature than to derive the spiritual and heavenly life of the soul from flesh, which received its origin from the earth, and was subjected to death, 

This mentality would take out the incarnation and crucifixion and redemption and resurrection, too.

nothing more incredible than that things separated by the whole space between heaven and earth should, notwithstanding of the long distance, not only be connected, but united, so that souls receive aliment from the flesh of Christ. 

But we’re not limited by Calvin’s arbitrary restrictions of time and place. God is bigger than all that.

Let preposterous men, then, cease to assail us with the vile calumny, that we malignantly restrict the boundless power of God. They either foolishly err, or wickedly lie. 

Neither. Calvin is wrong, as shown by the Bible, Church history, and reason alike.

The question here is not, What could God do? but, What has he been pleased to do? We affirm that he has done what pleased him, and it pleased him that Christ should be in all respects like his brethren, “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). What is our flesh? Is it not that which consists of certain dimensions? is confined within a certain place? is touched and seen? 

Jesus has shown that His Body has elements that go beyond dimension and the usual restrictions. The Resurrection, Ascension, post-Resurrection appearances, and the Second Coming are not ordinary physical events. Neither is the Eucharist. Calvin unnecessarily restricts his vision.

And why, say they, may not God make the same flesh occupy several different places, so as not to be confined to any particular place, and so as to have neither measure nor species? Fool! why do you require the power of God to make a thing to be at the same time flesh and not flesh? It is just as if you were to insist on his making light to be at the same time light and darkness. 

We don’t do that. We believe that it is His Body and Blood, but in a unique eucharistic fashion. It is Calvin’s word games and metaphysical hodge-podge that introduce contradictions and nonsense into the question.

He wills light to be light, darkness to be darkness, flesh to be flesh. True, when he so chooses, he will convert darkness into light, and light into darkness: but when you insist that there shall be no difference between light and darkness, what do you but pervert the order of the divine wisdom? 

None of this applies to the Catholic view . . .

Flesh must therefore be flesh, and spirit spirit; each under the law and condition on which God has created them. 

But Jesus’ flesh is a special case: He being God and having taken on a human body in the Incarnation.

Now, the condition of flesh is, that it should have one certain place, its own dimensions, its own form. On that condition, Christ assumed the flesh, to which, as Augustine declares (Ep. ad Dardan.), he gave incorruption and glory, but without destroying its nature and reality.

We will all have glorified bodies one day, so it isn’t implausible at all that Jesus Christ should manifest the extraordinary capabilities of a glorified body Himself: especially since He is God as well as Man. There is nothing in the slightest bit strange or contradictory or implausible in that. Calvin is straining at gnats.

25. Other objections answered.

They object that they have the word by which the will of God has been openly manifested; that is if we permit them to banish from the Church the gift of interpretation, which should throw light upon the word. 

Interpretation has to be from within an existing Christian tradition: not the arbitrary ramblings of a revolutionary, who wishes to depart from all that and ignore what has been received and make his own opinions the unquestioned truth.

I admit that they have the word, but just as the Anthropomorphites of old had it, when they made God corporeal; just as Marcion and the Manichees had it when they made the body of Christ celestial or phantastical. 

And just as Calvin the semi-Nestorian had it when he tried to limit the glorified Body of Christ based on the restrictions of natural science and the omnipotence of God, and a lack of faith in the parameters of the miraculous.

They quoted the passages, “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47): Christ “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). But these vain boasters think that there is no power of God unless they fabricate a monster in their own brains, by which the whole order of nature is subverted. 

How melodramatic . . .

This rather is to circumscribe the power of God, to attempt to try, by our fictions, what he can do. 

A perfect instance of Calvin projecting his own faults onto others . . .

From this word, they have assumed that the body of Christ is visible in heaven, and yet lurks invisible on the earth under innumerable bits of bread. 

That is no more implausible or impossible than an omnipresent Spirit-God making Himself somehow specially present in fire and clouds and burning bushes, or present in human form before the Incarnation, or in each Christian (the indwelling). If God can do that, He can also be present eucharistically. It is simply a further extension of the incarnation.

They will say that this is rendered necessary, in order that the body of Christ may be given in the Supper. In other words, because they have been pleased to extract a carnal eating from the words of Christ, carried away by their own prejudice, 

No; it is Calvin who assumes a carnal, cannibalistic, simplistic understanding of the whole thing, not us. He is like the ancient pagan Romans. He just doesn’t get it, and so he has to mock what he doesn’t have faith enough to understand.

they have found it necessary to coin this subtlety, which is wholly repugnant to Scripture. 

Calvin has been providing precious little Scripture throughout, to back up his heretical eucharistic theology, whereas I have been providing dozens and dozens of passages, and incorporating the overall biblical worldview all along.

That we detract, in any respect, from the power of God, is so far from being true, that our doctrine is the loudest in extolling it. 

One can say any phrase, but the concepts and beliefs have to also be behind the words and part of the worldview being offered.

But as they continue to charge us with robbing God of his honour, in rejecting what, according to common apprehension, it is difficult to believe, 

Lots of Christian beliefs are difficult to believe (and go far beyond mere reason). The curiosity with Calvin is: why does he accept many mysteries, yet balk at accepting the Real Presence in the Eucharist? Why does he draw the line here?

though it had been promised by the mouth of Christ; I answer, as I lately did, that in the mysteries of faith we do not consult common apprehension, but, with the placid docility and spirit of meekness which James recommends (James 1:21), receive the doctrine which has come from heaven. 

That’s correct. Would that Calvin would follow his own advice.

Wherein they perniciously err, I am confident that we follow a proper moderation. On hearing the words of Christ, this is my body, they imagine a miracle most remote from his intention; and when, from this fiction, the grossest absurdities arise, having already, by their precipitate haste, entangled themselves with snares, they plunge themselves into the abyss of the divine omnipotence, that, in this way, they may extinguish the light of truth. Hence the supercilious moroseness. We have no wish to know how Christ is hid under the bread: we are satisfied with his own words, “This is my body.” We again study, with no less obedience than care, to obtain a sound understanding of this passage, as of the whole of Scripture. We do not, with preposterous fervour, rashly, and without choice, lay hold on whatever first presents itself to our minds; but, after careful meditation, embrace the meaning which the Spirit of God suggests. 

Such reasoning has to be grounded in a biblical worldview. Mostly we observe Calvin pontificating out of his own head, under the influence of false philosophies and traditions of men. He talks a lot about Scripture, but doesn’t cite or interpret it much. This is obvious throughout this entire chapter.

Trusting to him, we look down, as from a height, on whatever opposition may be offered by earthly wisdom. Nay, we hold our minds captive, not allowing one word of murmur, and humble them, that they may not presume to gainsay. In this way, we have arrived at that exposition of the words of Christ, which all who are moderately versant in Scripture know to be perpetually used with regard to the sacraments. Still, in a matter of difficulty, we deem it not unlawful to inquire, after the example of the blessed Virgin, “How shall this be?” (Luke 1:34).

More words out of his head, that do nothing to further his case . . .

26. The orthodox view further confirmed. I. By a consideration of the reality of Christ’s body. II. From our Saviour’s declaration that he would always be in the world. This confirmed by the exposition of Augustine.

But as nothing will be more effectual to confirm the faith of the pious than to show them that the doctrine which we have laid down is taken from the pure word of God, and rests on its authority, I will make this plain with as much brevity as I can. 

So after 25 sections, Calvin finally at length decides to go to the Bible to prove his case. Cool! Let’s see what he can come up with.

The body with which Christ rose is declared, not by Aristotle, but by the Holy Spirit, to be finite, and to be contained in heaven until the last day.

Where does it claim this? I’m unfamiliar with any such passage (perhaps that is why he hasn’t produced one).

I am not unaware how confidently our opponents evade the passages which are quoted to this effect. Whenever Christ says that he will leave the world and go away (John 14:2, 28), they reply, that that departure was nothing more than a change of mortal state. Were this so, Christ would not substitute the Holy Spirit, to supply, as they express it, the defect of his absence, since he does not succeed in place of him, 

Now Calvin shows his astonishing biblical ignorance, since it is not only the Holy Spirit Who indwells us, but Christ as well, and this is particularly seen in the very same chapter that Calvin cites. The Holy Spirit is not a “substitute.” It’s yet another “both/and” scenario; not “either/or”:

John 14:18 I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. (cf. 14:16-17)

John 14:20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

John 17:23 I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Romans 8:9-10 But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.

1 Peter 1:11 they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.

Moreover, God the Father indwells us as well (Jn 14:23; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:12-16). Scripture says many things about indwelling beyond just the Holy Spirit indwelling us: it refers to Jesus and the Father doing so (Jn 14:23), and the Father and the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 3:24; 4:12-16), and also “God” without specification as to Divine Persons (2 Cor 6:16).

St. Augustine makes the same argument in his Tractate 75 on John 14:18-21:

After the promise of the Holy Spirit, lest any should suppose that the Lord was to give Him, as it were, in place of Himself, in any such way as that He Himself would not likewise be with them, He added the words: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.Orphani [Greek] are pupilli [parent-less children] in Latin. The one is the Greek, the other the Latin name of the same thing: for in the psalm where we read, You are the helper of the fatherless [in the Latin version, pupillo], the Greek has orphano. (1)

This is precisely the opposite of Calvin’s position. Calvin thinks that Christ wanted to “substitute the Holy Spirit,” but Augustine argues against “lest any should suppose that the Lord was to give Him, as it were, in place of Himself, in any such way as that He Himself would not likewise be with them”. St. Augustine incorporates all of the relevant biblical data, but Calvin sees only what he wants to see, to bolster his preconceived notions. This is classic, picture-perfect eisegesis, or “reading into Scripture what is not there.”

Furthermore, Calvin neglects or doesn’t comprehend an important and dogmatically accepted aspect of trinitarianism and Christology: what is known as the perichoresis (Greek) or circumincession (Latin). Fr. John A. Hardon. S.J., in his Modern Catholic Dictionary (Doubleday, 1980) precisely defines it, under the first Greek term and then the Latin word:

The penetration and indwelling of the three persons reciprocally in one another. In the Greek conception of the Trinity there is an emphasis on the mutual penetration of the three persons, thus bringing out the unity of the divine essence. In the Latin idea . . . the stress is more on the internal processions of the three divine persons. In both traditions, however, the fundamental basis of the Trinitarian perichoresis is the one essence of the three persons in God.

The mutual immanence of the three distinct persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father is entirely in the Son, likewise in the Holy Spirit; and so is the Son in the Father and the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit in the Father and the Son. Circuminsession also identifies the mutual immanence of the two distinct natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ.

For more on perichoresis, see my paper on that topic.

nor, on the other hand, does Christ himself descend from the heavenly glory to assume the condition of a mortal life. 

Eucharistic presence is hardly an instance of that, so this is a non sequitur.

Certainly the advent of the Spirit and the ascension of Christ are set against each other, and hence it necessarily follows that Christ dwells with us according to the flesh, in the same way as that in which he sends his Spirit. 

No; He dwells in us spiritually in the same way as the Spirit, but this doesn’t rule out a physical presence as well (“both/and” again), because it was Jesus, after all, Who took on human flesh; the Holy Spirit didn’t do that. Nor are the ascension and the indwelling set against each other, as I have just shown. The ascension makes the indwelling of all Christians possible (there is a chronological progression here), but it is not in the sense that Jesus is not also present within us.

Moreover, he distinctly says that he would not always be in the world with his disciples (Mt. 26:11). 

That is, in the sense of walking the earth as a man, just as we do . . . Hence his reference to His burial in the next verse.

This saving, also, they think they admirably dispose of, as if it were a denial by Christ that he would always be poor and mean, or liable to the necessities of a fading life. But this is plainly repugnant to the context, since reference is made not to poverty and want, or the wretched condition of an earthly life, but to worship and honour. 

To the contrary, the context is all about anointing Him for His burial (26:7-10, 12-13): it is about the ending of His earthly sojourn as a man, in the natural sense. It is in that sense that Jesus was not to be with them always. Jesus returned to His disciples in His post-Resurrection appearances, and these were physical. Hence, it makes sense that He would also return in the eucharistic sense, to maintain His physical presence with men (as He stressed in most graphic terms at the Last Supper and John 6 discourse). It’s a beautiful thing.

The disciples were displeased with the anointing by Mary, because they thought it a superfluous and useless expenditure, akin to luxury, and would therefore have preferred that the price which they thought wasted should have been expended on the poor. Christ answers, that he will not be always with them to receive such honour. No different exposition is given by Augustine, whose words are by no means ambiguous. When Christ says, “Me ye have not always,” he spoke of his bodily presence. 

Yes, but in the tangible fashion of walking about as we do: the natural sense. This doesn’t exclude the Eucharist. Calvin only thinks it does, because he is a prisoner of his own arbitrary restrictions on God.

In regard to his majesty, in regard to his providence, in regard to his ineffable and invisible grace, is fulfilled what he said: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:20); but in regard to the flesh which the Word assumed—in regard to that which was born of the Virgin—in regard to that which was apprehended by the Jews, nailed to the tree, suspended on the cross, wrapt in linen clothes, laid in the tomb, and manifested in the resurrection,—“Me ye have not always.” 

“Me ye have not always” is not the same as “once I go you will never have Me physically again.”

Why? Since he conversed with his disciples in bodily presence for forty days, and, going out with them, ascended, while they saw but followed not. He is not here, for he sits there, at the right hand of the Father. And yet he is here: for the presence of his majesty is not withdrawn. Otherwise, as regards the presence of his majesty, we have Christ always; while, in regard to his bodily presence, it was rightly said, “Me ye have not always.” In respect of bodily presence, the Church had him for a few days: now she holds him by faith, but sees him not with the eye (August. Tract. in Joann. 50). 

Calvin cites St. Augustine on this point, yet St. Augustine believed in the Real; Physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and eucharistic adoration, and the sacrifice of the Mass; so he is hardly a support for Calvin’s view. Once again it is the illusory appearance of support where there actually is none.

Here (that I may briefly note this) he makes him present with us in three ways—in majesty, providence, and ineffable grace; under which I comprehend that wondrous communion of his body and blood, provided we understand that it is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by that fictitious enclosing of his body under the element, since our Lord declared that he had flesh and bones which could be handled and seen.

Yes, in that earthly, natural sense. This doesn’t logically exclude further eucharistic appearances, anymore than God the father being a spirit only excluded His appearances before the incarnation as a man, and in physical things (clouds, fire, burning bush, or in conjunction with the ark of the covenant).

Going away, and ascending, intimate, not that he had the appearance of one going away and ascending, but that he truly did what the words express. Some one will ask, Are we then to assign a certain region of heaven to Christ? I answer with Augustine, that this is a curious and superfluous question, provided we believe that he is in heaven.

Calvin is not thinking according to a biblical worldview and biblical categories. His vision is arbitrarily restricted by unnecessary rationalistic elements.

27. Refutation of the sophisms of the Ubiquitists. The evasion of visible and invisible presence refuted.


What? Does not the very name of ascension, so often repeated, intimate removal from one place to another? 

Yes. But this proves nothing one way or the other for the issue under dispute.

This they deny, because by height, according to them, the majesty of empire only is denoted. But what was the very mode of ascending? Was he not carried up while the disciples looked on? Do not the Evangelists clearly relate that he was carried into heaven? 

Yes, but the argument is much ado about nothing. It doesn’t exclude the Eucharist. Calvin falsely assumes that it does, and so he thinks he has a good argument.

These acute Sophists reply, that a cloud intervened, and took him out of their sight, to teach the disciples that he would not afterwards be visible in the world. As if he ought not rather to have vanished in a moment, to make them believe in his invisible presence, or the cloud to have gathered around him before he moved a step. When he is carried aloft into the air, and the interposing cloud shows that he is no more to be sought on earth, we safely infer that his dwelling now is in the heavens, as Paul also asserts, bidding us look for him from thence (Phil. 3:20). For this reason, the angels remind the disciples that it is vain to keep gazing up into heaven, because Jesus, who was taken up, would come in like manner as they had seen him ascend. Here the adversaries of sound doctrine escape, as they think, by the ingenious quibble, that he will come in visible form, though he never departed from the earth, but remained invisible among his people. 

He did remain invisibly or spiritually, as we saw above in the Indwelling passages. He also says:

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 28:20 . . . I am with you always, to the close of the age.

And the Apostle Paul says about Jesus:

Colossians 3:11 . . . Christ is all, and in all.

As if the angels had insinuated a two-fold presence, and not simply made the disciples eye-witnesses of the ascent, that no doubt might remain. 

The angels didn’t have to do that, since Jesus already had done so.

It was just as if they had said, By ascending to heaven, while you looked on, he has asserted his heavenly power: it remains for you to wait patiently until he again arrive to judge the world. He has not entered into heaven to occupy it alone, but to gather you and all the pious along with him.

We do await His Second Coming. No disagreement there.

28. The authority of Fathers not in favour of these errors as to Christ’s presence. Augustine opposed to them.


Since the advocates of this spurious dogma are not ashamed to honour it with the suffrages of the ancients, and especially of Augustine, how perverse they are in the attempt I will briefly explain. 

Calvin attempts all the time to “co-opt” St. Augustine for his heretical novelties, and fails every time. The present instance is no exception.

Pious and learned men have collected the passages, and therefore I am unwilling to plead a concluded cause: any one who wishes may consult their writings. I will not even collect from Augustine what might be pertinent to the matter, but will be contented to show briefly, that without all controversy he is wholly ours. 

That’s a convenient evasion . . .

The pretence of our opponents, when they would wrest him from us, 

The Calvinists never “had” St. Augustine to begin with, so how could we Catholics “wrest” him away?! This is a very clever use of a presumed truth that has not even been established, and is, in fact, a falsehood. I have documented the great father’s belief in the real physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the next chapter it will be even more plain that St. Augustine also believed in eucharistic adoration and the Sacrifice of the Mass: things considerably more repugnant to Calvin than the Real Presence and transubstantiation.

that throughout his works the flesh and blood of Christ are said to be dispensed in the Supper—namely, the victim once offered on the cross, is frivolous, seeing he, at the same time, calls it either the eucharist or sacrament of the body. But it is unnecessary to go far to find the sense in which he uses the terms flesh and blood, since he himself explains, saying (Ep. 23, ad Bonif.) that the sacraments receive names from their similarity to the things which they designate; and that, therefore, the sacrament of the body is after a certain manner the body. With this agrees another well-know passage, “The Lord hesitated not to say, This is my body, when he gave the sign” (Cont. Adimant. Manich. cap. 12). 

I have shown in a past installment that for Augustine, sign and reality are not antithetical, as they are for Calvin. I gave not only my opinion, but that of Protestant historians discussing Augustine’s views.

They again object that Augustine says distinctly that the body of Christ falls upon the earth, and enters the mouth. But this is in the same sense in which he affirms that it is consumed, for he conjoins both at the same time. There is nothing repugnant to this in his saying that the bread is consumed after the mystery is performed: for he had said a little before, “As these things are known to men, when they are done by men they may receive honour as being religious, but not as being wonderful” (De Trinit. Lib. 3 c. 10). 

Calvin cites the following sentence from chapter 10, section 20:

But because these things are known to men, in that they are done by men, they may well meet with reverence as being holy things, but they cannot cause wonder as being miracles.

But in the next section (Book III, chapter 10, section 21), Augustine draws the same analogy to God appearing in physical things, that I have used in this respect:

What man, again, knows how the angels made or took those clouds and fires in order to signify the message they were bearing, even if we supposed that the Lordor the Holy Spirit was manifested in those corporeal forms? Just as infants do not know of that which is placed upon the altar and consumed after the performance of the holy celebration, whence or in what manner it is made, or whence it is taken for religious use. And if they were never to learn from their own experience or that of others, and never to see that species of thing except during the celebration of the sacrament, when it is being offered and given; and if it were told them by the most weighty authority whose body and blood it is; they will believe nothing else, except that the Lord absolutely appeared in this form to the eyes of mortals, and that that liquid actually flowed from the piercing of a side which resembled this.

St. Augustine — contra Calvin — casually assumes that it is the Body and Blood of Christ.

His meaning is not different in the passage which our opponents too rashly appropriate to themselves—viz. that Christ in a manner carried himself in his own hands, when he held out the mystical bread to his disciples. For by interposing the expression, in a manner, he declares that he was not really or truly included under the bread. 

Calvin seizes upon one word, to supposedly turn the issue in his favor . . . In this exposition on Psalm 34, St. Augustine makes it clear many times that he literally believes in the physical presence of Christ. He refers to the Sacrifice of the Mass:

Because there was there a sacrifice after the order of Aaron, and afterwards He of His Own Body and Blood appointed a sacrifice after the order of Melchizedek . . . (1)

He assumes throughout a striking literal eucharistic realism:

For very humility taught our Lord in His Own Body and Blood: because when He commends His Own Body and Blood, He commends His Humility . . . (3)

Or rather some spiritual Christian invites us to approach to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But let us approach to Him and be lightened; not as the Jews approached to Him, that they might be darkened; for they approached to Him that they might crucify Him: let us approach to Him that we may receive His Body and Blood. They by Him crucified were darkened; we by eating and drinking TheCrucified are lightened. (9)

Now will He speak openly of the same Sacrament, whereby He was carried in His Own Hands. O taste and see that the Lord is goodPsalm 33:8. Does not the Psalm now open itself, and show you that seeming insanity and constant madness, the same insanity and sober inebriety of that David, who in a figure showed I know not what, when in the person of king Achis they said to him, How is it? When the Lord said, Except a man eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, he shall have no life in himJohn 6:53 And they in whom reigned Achis, that is, error and ignorance, said; what said they? How can this man give us his flesh to eat?John 6:52 If you are ignorant, Taste and see that the Lord is good: but if you understand not, you are king Achis: David shall change His Countenance and shall depart from you, and shall quit you, and shall depart. (11; complete)

All this; yet Calvin (like all good sophists) seizes on one word and pretends that it proves his case over against Catholicism and the thoroughly Catholic St. Augustine. This is a classic example; Calvin constantly does this. It’s dishonest scholarship and deceptive toward his readers, to continually present highly selective facts to the exclusion of other equally relevant facts in context.

Nor is it strange, since he elsewhere plainly contends, that bodies could not be without particular localities, and being nowhere, would have no existence. 

That is no argument against eucharistic local presence. It’s an argument against no presence at all for a body; thus it is yet another non sequitur.

It is a paltry cavil that he is not there treating of the Supper, in which God exerts a special power. The question had been raised as to the flesh of Christ, and the holy man professedly replying, says, “Christ gave immortality to his flesh, but did not destroy its nature. In regard to this form, we are not to suppose that it is everywhere diffused: for we must beware not to rear up the divinity of the man, so as to take away the reality of the body. It does not follow that that which is in God is everywhere as God” (Ep. ad Dardan.). He immediately subjoins the reason, “One person is God and man, and both one Christ, everywhere, inasmuch as he is God, and in heaven, inasmuch as he is man.” How careless would it have been not to except the mystery of the Supper, a matter so grave and serious, if it was in any respect adverse to the doctrine which he was handling? 

Unfortunately, I can’t locate this letter online, so as to show how Calvin has distorted its meaning (as he always seems to do with the fathers, and as we saw again not far above).

And yet, if any one will attentively read what follows shortly after, he will find that under that general doctrine the Supper also is comprehended, that Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, and also Son of man, is everywhere wholly present as God, in the temple of God, that is, in the Church, as an inhabiting God, and in some place in heaven, because of the dimensions of his real body. 

Jesus is omnipresent in His Divine Nature. And He is locally physically present in the Eucharist.

We see how, in order to unite Christ with the Church, he does not bring his body out of heaven. This he certainly would have done had the body of Christ not been truly our food, unless when included under the bread. 

Calvin here merely assumes what he fails to prove.

Elsewhere, explaining how believers now possess Christ, he says, “You have him by the sign of the cross, by the sacrament of baptism, by the meat and drink of the altar” (Tract. in Joann. 50). How rightly he enumerates a superstitious rite, among the symbols of Christ’s presence, I dispute not; but in comparing the presence of the flesh to the sign of the cross, he sufficiently shows that he has no idea of a twofold body of Christ, one lurking concealed under the bread, and another sitting visible in heaven. 

This doesn’t follow at all; it is merely Calvin reading his own false belief into St. Augustine. The mention of “altar” in this section 12 of Tractate 50 on John 11 and 12 is without question a reference to the Sacrifice of the Mass. Altars always have to do with sacrifice:

If you are good, if you belong to the body represented by Peter, you have Christ both now and hereafter: now by faith, by sign, by the sacrament of baptism, by the bread and wine of the altar. You have Christ now, but you will have Him always; for when you have gone hence, you will come to Him who said to the robber, Today shall you be with me in paradise.Luke 23:43 But if you live wickedly, you may seem to have Christ now, because you enter the Church, signest yourself with the sign of Christ, art baptized with the baptism of Christ, minglest yourself with the members of Christ, and approachest His altar: now you have Christ, but by living wickedly you will not have Him always.

If there is any need of explanation, it is immediately added, “In respect of the presence of his majesty, we have Christ always: in respect of the presence of his flesh, it is rightly said, ‘Me ye have not always.’” They object that he also adds, “In respect of ineffable and invisible grace is fulfilled what was said by him, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’” But this is nothing in their favour. For it is at length restricted to his majesty, which is always opposed to body, while the flesh is expressly distinguished from grace and virtue. 

This is more Nestorian heresy from Calvin. St. Augustine points out elsewhere in the same larger work, in Tractate 27 on John 6:60-72 that “son of Man” (Jesus’ usual reference to His human Nature or the incarnational aspect) is referred to as in heaven, according to His unity of one Divine Person with two Natures:

And He said, It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. Before we expound this, as the Lord grants us, that other must not be negligently passed over, where He says, Then what if you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before? For Christ is the Son of man, of the Virgin Mary. Therefore Son of man He began to be here on earth, where He took flesh from the earth. For which cause it was said prophetically, Truth is sprung from the earth. Then what does He mean when He says, When you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before? . . . Christ, both God and man, is one person, not two persons, lest our faith be not a trinity, but a quaternity? Christ, therefore, is one; the Word, soul and flesh, one Christ; the Son of God and Son of man, one Christ; Son of God always, Son of man in time, yet one Christ in regard to unity of person. . . . He was Son of man in heaven in that manner in which He was Son of God on earth; Son of God on earth in the flesh which He took, Son of man in heaven in the unity of person. (4)

The same antithesis elsewhere occurs, when he says that “Christ left the disciples in bodily presence, that he might be with them in spiritual presence.” Here it is clear that the essence of the flesh is distinguished from the virtue of the Spirit, which conjoins us with Christ, when, in respect of space, we are at a great distance from him. 

This is again in direct opposition to St. Augustine, whom he claims is on his side. The latter doesn’t make flesh and spirit antithetical, but joins them together:

What is it, then, that He adds? It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. Let us say to Him (for He permits us, not contradicting Him, but desiring to know), O Lord, good Master, in what way does the flesh profit nothing, while You have said, Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him? Or does life profit nothing? And why are we what we are, but that we may have eternal life, which Thou dost promise by Your flesh? Then what means the flesh profits nothing? It profits nothing, but only in the manner in which they understood it. They indeed understood the flesh, just as when cut to pieces in a carcass, or sold in the shambles; not as when it is quickened by the Spirit. Wherefore it is said that the flesh profits nothing, in the same manner as it is said that knowledge puffs up. Then, ought we at once to hate knowledge? Far from it! And what means Knowledge puffs up? Knowledge alone, without charity. Therefore he added, but charity edifies.1 Corinthians 8:1 Therefore add to knowledge charity, and knowledge will be profitable, not by itself, but through charity. So also here, the flesh profits nothing, only when alone. Let the Spirit be added to the flesh, as charity is added to knowledge, and it profits very much. For if the flesh profited nothing, the Word would not be made flesh to dwell among us. If through the flesh Christ has greatly profited us, does the flesh profit nothing? But it is by the flesh that the Spirit has done somewhat for our salvation. Flesh was a vessel; consider what it held, not what it was. The apostles were sent forth; did their flesh profit us nothing? If the apostles’ flesh profited us, could it be that the Lord’s flesh should have profited us nothing? For how should the sound of the Word come to us except by the voice of the flesh? Whence should writing come to us? All these are operations of the flesh, but only when the spirit moves it, as if it were its organ. Therefore it is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing, as they understood the flesh, but not so do I give my flesh to be eaten. (Ibid., section 5: complete)

Protestants (following Calvin’s convoluted reasoning), unfortunately influenced by the heresies of Docetism and Nestorianism, typically misinterpret the flesh that is opposed to spirit in this portion of John 6 as proving that the Eucharist is not physically real. But Jesus is opposing a carnal understanding of flesh as dichotomized from spirit: the same thing that Calvin is asserting. Both Jesus and St. Augustine contradict Calvin’s understanding.

He repeatedly uses the same mode of expression, as when he says, “He is to come to the quick and the dead in bodily presence, according to the rule of faith and sound doctrine: for in spiritual presence he was to come to them, and to be with the whole Church in the world until its consummation. Therefore, this discourse is directed to believers, whom he had begun already to save by corporeal presence, and whom he was to leave in corporeal absence, that by spiritual presence he might preserve them with the Father.” 

In the sense of walking the earth, He is not with us. But again, this doesn’t logically exclude an additional sense of eucharistic physical presence.

By corporeal to understand visible is mere trifling, since he both opposes his body to his divine power, and by adding, that he might “preserve them with the Father,” clearly expresses that he sends his grace to us from heaven by means of the Spirit.

Scripture doesn’t completely dichotomize (as Calvin does) the Human Nature of Jesus and His power as a Divine Person, as well as majesty. It is true that He is not omnipotent in His human nature, or omnipotent, etc. (the Lutheran error of ubiquity), but on the other hand, there is no huge divide between His Human Nature, including His Body, and His power and majesty. We see this in the use of “Son of Man,” which clearly refers to His Human Nature, in conjunction with both heaven and power:

Matthew 13:41 The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Matthew 19:28 . . . in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne . . .

Matthew 24:30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; (cf. 24:37, 39, 44)

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

Matthew 26:64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Mark 2:28 so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath. (cf. Lk 6:5)

Mark 13:26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (cf. 8:38)

Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 21:27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (cf. 9:26; 12:40; 17:30; 18:8)

Luke 22:69 “But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”

John 1:51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. (cf. 6:62)

John 5:27 and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.

Acts 7:56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

Revelation 1:13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast;

Revelation 14:14 Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

All of this teaches the unity of person in Jesus: the Chalcedonian Christology, over against Nestorianism and Calvin’s quasi-Nestorianism and Docetic tendencies.

Jesus even refers to Himself as the “Son of man” giving us His flesh to eat:

John 6:27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.

John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;”

Jesus is even “glorified” as the “Son of man” as well:

John 12:23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.

John 13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified;

Moreover, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as the “Lamb” in heaven (Rev 5:6, 8, 12; 6:1; 7:14; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27), even in the context of sitting on His throne and being honored there with all majesty and glory (Rev 5:13; 7:9-10, 17; 22:1, 3), and judging sinners at His Second Coming and Last Judgment (Rev 6:16; 7:9; 14:10; 17:14).

Nothing refers more to His body and Human Nature than the reference as “Lamb” (of God). That is the Human Nature, the crucifixion, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. Calvin would like to have everything in a neat little package, with Jesus glorified in heaven, and all the messy, incarnational, Human Nature stuff now over with, but Scripture is not nearly that simple or dichotomous.

This same “Son of man” who comes again in glory, Who is glorified by God the Father, Who judges, sits on God’s throne, has great power even during His earthly life, who is Lord of the Sabbath, Who has power over life and death (He raised Himself: John 2:18-22; 10:18), and raised others from the dead), gives us His Body and Blood to eat for eternal life (Jn 6:27, 53). There is no big dichotomy between His body and heaven, and glory and majesty there, and His Body on earth, both during the Incarnation, and during His physical presence in the Holy Eucharist.

Lastly, Calvin referred to, above, Jesus’ “majesty, which is always opposed to body, while the flesh is expressly distinguished from grace and virtue.” Again, Scripture (which he has hardly brought to the table at all in this entire dispute) contradicts Calvin. It does not dichotomize Christ’s majesty from His role as Son of Man and Sacrificial Lamb and High Priest, or from His Human Nature and body:

Hebrews 1:3 He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

2 Peter 1:16-18 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. [17] For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” [18] we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Scripture even asserts that Jesus is a priest for us specifically because He is in heaven (Heb 8:4). A priest offers sacrifice, and the sacrifice that Jesus offers is Himself, as the Lamb of God (and He does so because He is a Man, with flesh):

Hebrews 8:1-4 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, [2] a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. [3] For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. [4] Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.

(originally 11-30-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


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