Eucharist: Ubiquity, Signs, Lutheranism, Etc. (vs. Calvin #43)

Eucharist: Ubiquity, Signs, Lutheranism, Etc. (vs. Calvin #43) 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, 17:16-23


Book IV




16. Refutation of consubstantiation; whence the idea of ubiquity.
Some, who see that the analogy between the sign and the thing signified cannot be destroyed without destroying the truth of the sacrament, admit that the bread of the Supper is truly the substance of an earthly and corruptible element, and cannot suffer any change in itself, but must have the body of Christ included under it. 

He is referring to Lutherans here.

If they would explain this to mean, that when the bread is held forth in the sacrament, an exhibition of the body is annexed, because the truth is inseparable from its sign, I would not greatly object. But because fixing the body itself in the bread, they attach to it an ubiquity contrary to its nature, and by adding under the bread, will have it that it lies hid under it, I must employ a short time in exposing their craft, and dragging them forth from their concealments. 

Lutheran eucharistic reasoning is far less objectionable than Calvin’s. At least Lutherans take the Bible at face value: if it (and Jesus) says “this is My Body” then they believe that, whereas Calvin wants to play word and philosophical games and have the body there, but only in a spiritual sense; hence not really there. Lutherans at least develop the biblical thought in a fairly acceptable way. Catholics disagree, but it is not hugely different. Jesus is still truly present, substantively. But Calvin massively eisegetes Scripture and brings foreign philosophies to it, in constructing his eucharistic view.

Here, however, it is not my intention professedly to discuss the whole case; I mean only to lay the foundations of a discussion which will afterwards follow in its own place. They insist, then, that the body of Christ is invisible and immense, so that it may be hid under bread, because they think that there is no other way by which they can communicate with him than by his descending into the bread, though they do not comprehend the mode of descent by which he raises us up to himself. They employ all the colours they possibly can, but after they have said all, it is sufficiently apparent that they insist on the local presence of Christ. How so? Because they cannot conceive any other participation of flesh and blood than that which consists either in local conjunction and contact, or in some gross method of enclosing.

Most of this has been previously dealt with. I would simply ask: if Jesus was locally present when He walked the earth, why is it seen as an impossible position, to assert that He can be locally present eucharistically? In what terms does one argue that an omnipotent God cannot do this? Calvin is not content to simply disagree with Luther and Lutherans. He has to deride them as idolaters also, just as he does with Catholics. In his book he is careful to not mention Luther. But in his letters he gave his full view of the matter:

[I]f Luther has so great a lust of victory, he will never be able to join along with us in a sincere agreement respecting the pure truth of God. For he has sinned against it not only from vainglory and abusive language, but also from ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us in the beginning, when he said the bread is the very body! And if now he imagines that the body of Christ is enveloped by the bread, I judge that he is chargeable with a very foul error. What can I say of the partisans of that cause? Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ? (Letter to Martin Bucer, January 12, 1538; in John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. [Anchor Books], 1971, 47)

In their madness they even drew idolatry after them. For what else is the adorable sacrament of Luther but an idol set up in the temple of God? (Letter to Martin Bucer, June 1549; in Jules Bonnet, editor, Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 2, 1545-1553, volume 5 of 7; translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, volume II [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858], 234)

Calvin even went so far as to refer to Lutheranism as “evil”:

I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means, believe me, for checking the evil would be that confession written by me . . . (Letter to Heinrich Bullinger, July 2, 1563; in John Dillenberger, ibid., 76; italics added)

17. This ubiquity confounds the natures of Christ. Subtleties answered.
Some, in order obstinately to maintain the error which they have once rashly adopted, hesitate not to assert that the dimensions of Christ’s flesh are not more circumscribed than those of heaven and earth. His birth as an infant, his growth, his extension on the cross, his confinement in the sepulchre, were effected, they say, by a kind of dispensation, that he might perform the offices of being born, of dying, and of other human acts: his being seen with his wonted bodily appearance after the resurrection, his ascension into heaven, his appearance, after his ascension, to Stephen and Paul, were the effect of the same dispensation, that it might be made apparent to the eye of man that he was constituted King in heaven. What is this but to call forth Marcion from his grave? 

Lutherans are compared to the heretical Marcionites.

For there cannot be a doubt that the body of Christ, if so constituted, was a phantasm, or was phantastical. 

His Body was glorified after the Resurrection. He could suddenly appear through walls (John 20:19; 26). This shows that the normal physical limitations of a human body no longer applied to Him. His many post-Resurrection visitations of the disciples were no ordinary phenomenon at all. The reactions of the disciples prove this. For example:

Luke 24:36-39 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. [37] But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

John 20:14-16 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. [15] Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” [16] Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher).

In another example, in His appearance to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, they didn’t recognize him the whole time, then when they did (after He broke bread: a clear eucharistic referent), “he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31). It was a supernatural thing. He was there with them, and then suddenly He was not. Thus, more is in play here than ordinary physical laws applying to human bodies. There is no reason why He could do the same with regard to the Holy Eucharist, should He choose to do so.

The Second Coming is of the same nature. That is Jesus in His physical body. But it transcends the limitations and laws of physics, because it is said that everyone on the earth will see it. That isn’t physically possible on a spherical earth for Him to be in one place and yet all see Him at the same time. But it is possible for God because it is a supernatural occurrence, and transcends the laws of physics:

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. Zech 12:10)

Revelation 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (cf. possible cross-reference: Isaiah 40:5)

If God can supersede the laws of physics in the Second Coming, He can and does also do so in the Holy Eucharist. He is no more limited in the latter than He is in the Second Coming or was in His post-Resurrection appearances. Calvin’s argument is naive, biblically shallow, and lacks the understanding and faith of the very nature of Jesus as God. This is why he has often been suspected of Nestorianism. His Christology is deficient: very notably in the present case.

Some employ a rather more subtle evasion, That the body which is given in the sacrament is glorious and immortal, and that, therefore, there is no absurdity in its being contained under the sacrament in various places, or in no place, and in no form. But, I ask, what did Christ give to his disciples the day before he suffered? Do not the words say that he gave the mortal body, which was to be delivered shortly after? 

The Eucharist was just as much a miracle during the Last Supper as it has been henceforth.

But, say they, he had previously manifested his glory to the three disciples on the mount (Mt. 17:2). This is true; but his purpose was to give them for the time a taste of immortality. 

It is just as plausible to take the words literally, than to resort to Calvin’s facile reasoning of an actual thing being merely a sign and figure and not the actual thing it merely represents. That reads into Scripture something that isn’t there. The actual account of the transfiguration, shows that it was very real:

John 17:1-6 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. [2] And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. [3] And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him. [4] And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” [5] He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” [6] When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.

Still they cannot find there a twofold body, but only the one which he had assumed, arrayed in new glory. 

And how is this relevant to the discussion of the possibility of eucharistic Real Presence?

When he distributed his body in the first Supper, the hour was at hand in which he was “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). So far was he from intending at that time to exhibit the glory of his resurrection. 

That doesn’t make transubstantiation any less possible.

And here what a door is opened to Marcion, if the body of Christ was seen humble and mortal in one place, glorious and immortal in another! And yet, if their opinion is well-founded, the same thing happens every day, because they are forced to admit that the body of Christ, which is in itself visible, lurks invisibly under the symbol of bread. And yet those who send forth such monstrous dogmas, so far from being ashamed at the disgrace, assail us with virulent invectives for not subscribing to them.

How is that different in essence from His being hidden to the eyes of His disciples even when He was present in human form (Lk 24:15-16, 31, 36-37; John 20:14-15)? He was invisible to their eyes, too, yet no less present. How is it different from God before the Incarnation, appearing in fire, clouds, and burning bushes? He even appeared as a man in theophanies, with the people not always knowing it was Him at the time.

None of this suggests that the Catholic belief is like Marcion or a “monstrous dogma.” All it suggests is that Calvin doesn’t form his thoughts within the backdrop of a thoroughly biblical worldview. He is too influenced by Nestorianism and Docetism, which in turn derive from false elements of pagan Greek philosophy.

Catholics do differ from the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity, however. Lutherans confuse the functions of the Two Natures of Christ just as Calvinists do, but in a different direction:

The old Lutheran Doctrinal Theology theology inclines to the monophysitic error which posits a real transference of Divine attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence, ubiquity, by reason of the Hypostatic Union, to the human nature of Christ, and teaches that “Christ, not only as God, but also as man knows all, can do all, and is present to all created things” (formula concordiae I 8, 11). . . .

The nature of the Hypostatic Union is such that while on the one hand things pertaining to both the Divine and Human nature can be attributed to the person of Christ, on the other hand things specifically belonging to one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature. . . . Thus it is false to say: “Christ’s soul is omniscient,” “Christ’s body is ubiquitous.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 160-161)

Peter J. Riga, in his article, “Lutheranism and Transubstantiation” (The American Ecclesiastical Review, December 1961, 100-122), explains the error of Lutheran ubiquity:

Luther rejects the idea of God dwelling in a place. God the Creator is everywhere. But Christ is God, so He is everywhere. Moreover, wherever Christ is as God, He is there also as man. Hence his body must be present everywhere and so in the Eucharist. The uniqueness of Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist stems from the purpose for which he is present there. So the communicatio idiomatum applies to the unity of the two natures in such a way that what is said of one nature applies to the other. The omnipresence of Christ becomes the basic argument against the “Enthusiasts,” and likewise the crowning argument against transubstantiation. Christ is in the elements long before they were put on the altar, for the Son has imparted the attribute of omnipresence to his human nature.

. . . the doctrine of Ubiquity, the basis of the Lutheran explanation of Christ’s presence, is finally asserted. In the Epitome of the Formula, Absolute Ubiquitarianism is maintained and in the Solida Declaratio of the Formula,Hypothetical Ubiquitarianism is taught.

18. Absurdities connected with consubstantiation. Candid exposition of the orthodox view.


But assuming that the body and blood of Christ are attached to the bread and wine, then the one must necessarily be dissevered from the other. For as the bread is given separately from the cup, so the body, united to the bread, must be separated from the blood, included in the cup. For since they affirm that the body is in the bread, and the blood is in the cup, while the bread and wine are, in regard to space, at some distance from each other, they cannot, by any quibble, evade the conclusion that the body must be separated from the blood. Their usual pretence—viz. that the blood is in the body, and the body again in the blood, by what they call concomitance, is more than frivolous, since the symbols in which they are included are thus distinguished. 

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. Calvin chooses to wallow in his own fallacious speculations. We take our stand on the Word of God revealed in Holy Scripture.

But if we are carried to heaven with our eyes and minds, that we may there behold Christ in the glory of his kingdom, as the symbols invite us to him in his integrity, so, under the symbol of bread, we must feed on his body, and, under the symbol of wine, drink separately of his blood, and thereby have the full enjoyment of him. 

Calvin, then proposes we in effect travel to heaven every time we partake of Holy Communion, and he thinks that is a more plausible interpretation of the eucharistic biblical texts than the Catholic or even Lutheran views. But it comes out of his own head, not from Scripture. There is not a hint of it in Scripture.

For though he withdrew his flesh from us, and with his body ascended to heaven, he, however, sits at the right hand of the Father; that is, he reigns in power and majesty, and the glory of the Father. This kingdom is not limited by any intervals of space, nor circumscribed by any dimensions. Christ can exert his energy wherever he pleases, in earth and heaven, can manifest his presence by the exercise of his power, can always be present with his people, breathing into them his own life, can live in them, sustain, confirm, and invigorate them, and preserve them safe, just as if he were with them in the body; in fine, can feed them with his own body, communion with which he transfuses into them. After this manner, the body and blood of Christ are exhibited to us in the sacrament.

Calvin states the right premises, but fails to follow them through to their proper conclusion. If indeed Jesus Christ “is not limited by any intervals of space, nor circumscribed by any dimensions” and if indeed He can “exert his energy wherever he pleases, in earth and heaven” then why does Calvin object to His bodily presence in the Eucharist, which is what the Church had always taught? Why does he oppose it on such flimsy and absurd, literally un-biblical or non-biblical or a-biblical grounds?

19. The nature of the true presence of Christ in the Supper. The true and substantial communion of the body and blood of the Lord. This orthodox view assailed by turbulent spirits.
The presence of Christ in the Supper we must hold to be such as neither affixes him to the element of bread, nor encloses him in bread, nor circumscribes him in any way (this would obviously detract from his celestial glory); 

Why does it “obviously detract” from His glory, since God had long since manifested Himself as “enclosed” in or “affixed” to fire, clouds, burning bushes, and the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant (and within the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple)? Why is the Eucharist suddenly an alleged radical departure from all that? If the Eucharist “circumscribes” God, then why do not all these other things, too? What’s the big difference? One marvels at such muddleheaded thinking, seemingly entirely divorced from the rich storehouse of biblical analogies and cross-references.

and it must, moreover, be such as neither divests him of his just dimensions, nor dissevers him by differences of place, nor assigns to him a body of boundless dimensions, diffused through heaven and earth. 

Transubstantiation doesn’t entail a “body of boundless dimensions.” That is the confusion of the Lutheran ubiquity doctrine, insofar as it ascribed omnipresence to Christ’s Human Nature. Classic patristic Christology didn’t hold to that heretical view.

All these things are clearly repugnant to his true human nature. 

Catholics believe that we are receiving Jesus Christ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist: not just a “human nature.” Jesus is a Divine Person. Calvin’s continued separation of the natures in ways that are not required, smacks of Nestorianism.

Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions. First, Let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ. 

Amen! Jesus has plenty of heavenly glory, but that didn’t stop one writer of inspired Scripture (after the Ascension and Jesus’ glorification in heaven) from describing Him as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev 5:6). He continues to refer to Jesus in heaven as the “Lamb” (with direct Passover and crucifixion and eucharistic implications) over and over (Rev 5:8, 12-13; 6:1, 16; 7:9-10, 14, 17; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8, 11; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3).

This happens whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, 

Such as fire, water, clouds and burning bushes . . . Calvin is so dense on this that he comes very close to blasphemy.

or is affixed to any earthly creatures. 

We’re not claiming that God does that, but He did become a Man.

Secondly, Let no property be assigned to his body inconsistent with his human nature. 

Like walking through walls or being seen by all on the earth simultaneously at the Second Coming?

This is done when it is either said to be infinite, or made to occupy a variety of places at the same time. 

The supernatural by nature transcends the laws and limitations of natural law.

But when these absurdities are discarded, I willingly admit anything which helps to express the true and substantial communication of the body and blood of the Lord, as exhibited to believers under the sacred symbols of the Supper, understanding that they are received not by the imagination or intellect merely, but are enjoyed in reality as the food of eternal life. 

Calvin is all for “communication” as long as it is relegated to the non-physical sphere.

For the odium with which this view is regarded by the world, and the unjust prejudice incurred by its defence, there is no cause, unless it be in the fearful fascinations of Satan. What we teach on the subject is in perfect accordance with Scripture, contains nothing absurd, obscure, or ambiguous, is not unfavourable to true piety and solid edification; in short, has nothing in it to offend, save that, for some ages, while the ignorance and barbarism of sophists reigned in the Church, the clear light and open truth were unbecomingly suppressed. 

I beg to differ and have been expending great amounts of effort to show exactly why I vehemently disagree with Calvin’s arguments (and also how I believe that the Bible clearly does, too).

And yet as Satan, by means of turbulent spirits, is still, in the present day, exerting himself to the utmost to bring dishonour on this doctrine by all kinds of calumny and reproach, it is right to assert and defend it with the greatest care.

We don’t doubt Calvin’s sincerity, only his reasoning or lack thereof and his lack of biblical and patristic support for his novel heresy.

20. This view vindicated from their calumnies. The words of the institution explained in opposition to the glosses of transubstantiators and consubstantiators. Their subterfuges and absurd blasphemies.
Note how Luther (the founder of Protestantism), Melanchthon, and Lutherans are included in the description of “subterfuges and absurd blasphemies.” The early Protestants were not a big happy family, by a long shot.

Before we proceed farther, we must consider the ordinance itself, as instituted by Christ, because the most plausible objection of our opponents is, that we abandon his words. 

I agree!

To free ourselves from the obloquy with which they thus load us, 

Note the mutual antipathy between Calvinists and Lutherans . . .

the fittest course will be to begin with an interpretation of the words. Three Evangelists and Paul relate that our Saviour took bread, and after giving thanks, brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saving, Take, eat: this is my body which is given or broken for you. Of the cup, Matthew and Mark say, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt. 26:26; Mark 14:22). Luke and Paul say, “This cup is the new testament in my blood” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The advocates of transubstantiation insist, that by the pronoun, this, is denoted the appearance of bread, because the whole complexion of our Saviour’s address is an act of consecration, and there is no substance which can be demonstrated. But if they adhere so religiously to the words, inasmuch as that which our Saviour gave to his disciples he declared to be his body, there is nothing more alien from the strict meaning of the words than the fiction, that what was bread is now body. What Christ takes into his hands, and gives to the apostles, he declares to be his body; but he had taken bread, and, therefore, who sees not that what is given is still bread? 

Jesus could have easily said, “this is a sign of my Body” or “this represents My Body.” But He did not. When Jesus spoke parables (which is pretty much what Calvin’s view entails with regard to the Eucharist, since the rite becomes symbolic and “spiritual” in a non-physical way), He often clarifies that the word pictures and analogies of the parable represent something else: a literal thing:

Matthew 13:18-20 Hear then the parable of the sower. [19] When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. [20] As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (cf. 13:22-23)

Matthew 13:31 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field;

Matthew 13:33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:36-40 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” [37] He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, [39] and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. [40] Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.

Matthew 13:44-47 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. [45] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, [46] who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. [47] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind;

Mark 4:34 he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Luke 8:11-14 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. [12] The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. [13] And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. [14] And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

Jesus does occasionally make reference to “signs”, but He does so in a way differently than Calvin does: a reduction of it to symbolism only. Jesus doesn’t separate sign and reality when He is talking about the Eucharist. In fact He takes the greatest pains to prove that He means what He says quite literally, especially in John 6:

Transubstantiation, John 6, Faith and Rebellion [National Catholic Register, 12-3-17]
Hence, nothing can be more absurd than to transfer what is affirmed of bread to the species of bread. 

It’s not absurd at all in a biblical worldview filled with unusual phenomena, supernatural occurrences, and rich symbolic imagery (construed so as not to necessarily entail pure symbolism in every case).

Others, in interpreting the particle is, as equivalent to being transubstantiated, have recourse to a gloss which is forced and violently wrested. 

“Is” is simple enough to understand in English. What other language could be used if indeed the writer meant a literal equation (as we hold)? If He uses “is” Calvin and others deny the plain meaning anyway. If He had used “sign” or some such, then Calvin would have had a field day claiming that this proves symbolism, whereas Jesus referred to the “sign of Jonah” and that was one literal event signifying or giving an analogy to another real event: His Resurrection, so that even the terminology of “sign” doesn’t necessarily prove that there is no reality.

They have no ground, therefore, for pretending that they are moved by a reverence for the words. The use of the term is, for being converted into something else, is unknown to every tongue and nation. 

I agree. At that point in the narrative, we would contend that the bread and wine have already been transformed, so the “is” doesn’t refer to the act of consecration and the miracle, but rather, to the consecrated elements that have already been miraculously changed.

With regard to those who leave the bread in the Supper, and affirm that it is the body of Christ, there is great diversity among them. 

As always in Protestantism . . .

Those who speak more modestly, though they insist upon the letter, This is my body, afterwards abandon this strictness, and observe that it is equivalent to saying that the body of Christ is with the bread, in the bread, and under the bread. To the reality which they affirm, we have already adverted, and will by-and-by, at greater length. I am not only considering the words by which they say they are prevented from admitting that the bread is called body, because it is a sign of the body. But if they shun everything like metaphor, why do they leap from the simple demonstration of Christ to modes of expression which are widely different? For there is a great difference between saying that the bread is the body, and that the body is with the bread. 

Calvin has a certain point. My present purpose is not to defend Lutheranism. They will have to do so themselves. But Calvin’s word games are hardly any more plausible to a Catholic observer than these difficulties that he observes in Lutheranism.

But seeing it impossible to maintain the simple proposition that the bread is the body, 

No position maintains that. Calvin says it is mystical symbolism and spiritual equation; Lutherans hold that they are both present; we say that one has become the other.

they endeavoured to evade the difficulty by concealing themselves under those forms of expression. 

Similar to Calvin and his verbal sleight-of-hand magic!

Others, who are bolder, hesitate not to assert that, strictly speaking, the bread is body, and in this way prove that they are truly of the letter. If it is objected that the bread, therefore, is Christ, and, being Christ, is God,—they will deny it, because the words of Christ do not expressly say so. But they gain nothing by their denial, since all agree that the whole Christ is offered to us in the Supper. It is intolerable blasphemy to affirm, without figure, of a fading and corruptible element, that it is Christ. 

We agree. So do Lutherans. This is why it is ridiculous for Calvinists (and Lutherans) to accuse us of idolatry. It can’t possibly be by the nature of the case, because nothing has replaced God. Calvinists accuse Lutherans of the same, but it is equally absurd because they haven’t equated bread and wine with God.

I now ask them, if they hold the two propositions to be identical, Christ is the Son of God, and Bread is the body of Christ? 

It is an inapt comparison: one is an ontological category, while the other has to do with a physical eucharistic miracle.

If they concede that they are different (and this, whether they will or not, they will be forced to do), let them tell wherein is the difference. All which they can adduce is, I presume, that the bread is called body in a sacramental manner. Hence it follows, that the words of Christ are not subject to the common rule, and ought not to be tested grammatically. I ask all these rigid and obstinate exactors of the letter, whether, when Luke and Paul call the cup the testament in blood, they do not express the same thing as in the previous clause, when they call bread the body? There certainly was the same solemnity in the one part of the mystery as in the other, and, as brevity is obscure, the longer sentence better elucidates the meaning. As often, therefore, as they contend, from the one expression, that the bread is body, I will adduce an apt interpretation from the longer expression, That it is a testament in the body. What? Can we seek for surer or more faithful expounders than Luke and Paul? I have no intention, however, to detract, in any respect, from the communication of the body of Christ, which I have acknowledged. I only meant to expose the foolish perverseness with which they carry on a war of words. 

Calvin does no differently; he interprets according to a wooden logic of his own, based on false premises.

The bread I understand, on the authority of Luke and Paul, to be the body of Christ, because it is a covenant in the body. If they impugn this, their quarrel is not with me, but with the Spirit of God. However often they may repeat, that reverence for the words of Christ will not allow them to give a figurative interpretation to what is spoken plainly, the pretext cannot justify them in thus rejecting all the contrary arguments which we adduce. Meanwhile, as I have already observed, it is proper to attend to the force of what is meant by a testament in the body and blood of Christ. The covenant, ratified by the sacrifice of death, would not avail us without the addition of that secret communication, by which we are made one with Christ.

There are plenty of arguments contra Calvin. I have been providing many: whatever one may think of them. But in any event we are not all struck dumb by the profundity of Calvin’s professed singular wisdom, as if there were no conceivable alternatives to his fancies.

21. Why the name of the thing signified is given to the sacramental symbols. This illustrated by passages of Scripture; also by a passage of Augustine.
It remains, therefore, to hold, that on account of the affinity which the things signified have with their signs, the name of the thing itself is given to the sign figuratively, indeed, but very appropriately. I say nothing of allegories and parables, lest it should be alleged that I am seeking subterfuges, and slipping out of the present question. I say that the expression which is uniformly used in Scripture, when the sacred mysteries are treated of, is metonymical. For you cannot otherwise understand the expressions, that circumcision is a “covenant”—that the lamb is the Lord’s “passover”—that the sacrifices of the law are expiations—that the rock from which the water flowed in the desert was Christ,—unless you interpret them metonymically.”

Scripture, in its very rich use of language in many different ways, does include this attribute, but it doesn’t apply to the Eucharist, as has been shown in many different ways. The main way to determine whether an expression is metonymical is to look at context. When one does that, Calvin’s contention fails.

Nor is the name merely transferred from the superior to the inferior, but, on the contrary, the name of the visible sign is given to the thing signified, as when God is said to have appeared to Moses in the bush; 

God did appear in the burning bush; this is not even an example of what Calvin is discussing. The bush wasn’t called God. The Scripture says that God was “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex 3:2) and “God called to him out of the bush” (Ex 3:3). That’s why those analogies are precisely analogous to the Catholic view of the Eucharist, and why I used them in that fashion. It shows how God can be “in” matter, while not becoming the matter. An omnipresent God was in the burning bush in some mysterious fashion. Likewise He is in what still appears to be bread and wine in a mysterious fashion.

the ark of the covenant is called God, and the face of God, 

Not sure what he is referring to . . . I’m unfamiliar with this, and I just recently looked through many passages about the ark of the covenant, in showing how God was associated with physical things.

and the dove is called the Holy Spirit. 

That is clearly symbolism, since the Spirit is immaterial.

For although the sign differs essentially from the thing signified, the latter being spiritual and heavenly, the former corporeal and visible,—yet, as it not only figures the thing which it is employed to represent as a naked and empty badge, but also truly exhibits it, why should not its name be justly applied to the thing? But if symbols humanly devised, which are rather the images of absent than the marks of present things, and of which they are very often most fallacious types, are sometimes honoured with their names,—with much greater reason do the institutions of God borrow the names of things, of which they always bear a sure, and by no means fallacious signification, and have the reality annexed to them. So great, then, is the similarity, and so close the connection between the two, that it is easy to pass from the one to the other. 

If the context permitted this, Calvin might have a point. But it does not. For example, when Paul talks about profaning the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Cor 11:27), that makes no sense whatever if all he was referring to was “special” bread and wine (and nothing else but that). All kinds of exegetical and cross-reference data in John 6 support the literal interpretation.

Let our opponents, therefore, cease to indulge their mirth in calling us Tropists, when we explain the sacramental mode of expression according to the common use of Scripture. 

Even granting that this was so obvious or plausible, why do the fathers all disagree with Calvin on this score?

For, while the sacraments agree in many things, there is also, in this metonymy, a certain community in all respects between them. As, therefore, the apostle says that the rock from which spiritual water flowed forth to the Israelites was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), and was thus a visible symbol under which, that spiritual drink was truly perceived, though not by the eye, so the body of Christ is now called bread, inasmuch as it is a symbol under which our Lord offers us the true eating of his body. 

This is an interesting analogy, but again, context in the eucharistic passages suggests that a lot more is intended than mere metonymy. It is always true in cases of possible divergent use of language, or forms of language, that context has to be consulted. A simple one-on-one comparison is not conclusive in and of itself.

Lest any one should despise this as a novel invention, the view which Augustine took and expressed was the same: “Had not the sacraments a certain resemblance to the things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. And from this resemblance, they generally have the names of the things themselves. This, as the sacrament of the body of Christ, is, after a certain manner, the body of Christ, and the sacrament of Christ is the blood of Christ; so the sacrament of faith is faith” (August. Ep. 23, ad Bonifac.). He has many similar passages, which it would be superfluous to collect, as that one may suffice. I need only remind my readers, that the same doctrine is taught by that holy man in his Epistle to Evodius. Where Augustine teaches that nothing is more common than metonymy in mysteries, it is a frivolous quibble to object that there is no mention of the Supper. 

Calvin is distorting what St. Augustine believed. For St. Augustine, as with our Lord Jesus, there is no necessary antithesis or rigid distinction between a sign and the thing that is a sign. I noted this elsewhere, in my published cover article on the Eucharist:

. . . “sign” and “reality” need not be opposed to each other. . . . The Bible itself confirms this. For example, Jesus refers to the “sign of Jonah,” comparing Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish to His own burial (Mt 12:38-40). In other words, both events, although described as “signs,” were literally real events. Jesus also uses the same terminology in connection with His Second Coming (Mt 24:30-31), which is, of course, believed by all Christians to be a literal, not a symbolic occurrence.

J. N. D. Kelly, a highly-respected Protestant scholar of early Church doctrine and development, writing about patristic views in the fourth and fifth centuries, concurs:

It must not be supposed, of course, that this ‘symbolical’ language implied that the bread and wine were regarded as mere pointers to, or tokens of, absent realities. Rather were they accepted as signs of realities which were somehow actually present though apprehended by faith alone. (Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition, 1978, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 442)

About St. Augustine in particular, Kelly concludes:

. . . There are certainly passages in his writings which give a superficial justification to all these interpretations, but a balanced verdict must agree that he accepted the current realism . . . One could multiply texts . . . which show Augustine taking for granted the traditional identification of the elements with the sacred body and blood. There can be no doubt that he shared the realism held by almost all his contemporaries and predecessors. (Ibid., 446-447)

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church makes the same point about allusions to “symbolism” with regard to the general teaching of the Church Fathers:

Even where the elements were spoken of as ‘symbols’ or ‘antitypes’ there was no intention of denying the reality of the Presence in the gifts. (Second edition, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 475)

Here are further examples in the Bible of a “sign” being a real thing; not merely a representation of something else:

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;

Matthew 26:48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him.”

Mark 13:3-8 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?” [5] And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. [6] Many will come in my name, saying, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. [7] And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet. [8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

Mark 16:17 [disputed biblical text] And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; (cf. 16:20)

Luke 2:12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Luke 11:30 For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin’eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation.

John 2:11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did;

John 3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”

John 4:54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. [i.e., healing a man’s son]

John 6:2 And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. (cf. 6:14, 26, 30; 7:31; 9:16; 10:41; 11:47; 12:18, 37; 20:30)

Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know —

Acts 2:43 . . . many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. (cf. 4:16, 22, 30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36; 8:6, 13; 14:3; 15:12)

Romans 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyr’icum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ, (cf. 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:4)

Were this objection sustained, it would follow, that we are not entitled to argue from the genus to the species; e. g., Every animal is endued with motion; and, therefore, the horse and the ox are endued with motion. Indeed, longer discussion is rendered unnecessary by the words of the Saint himself, where he says, that when Christ gave the symbol of his body, he did not hesitate to call it his body (August. Cont. Adimantum, cap. 12). He elsewhere says, “Wonderful was the patience of Christ in admitting Judas to the feast, in which he committed and delivered to the disciples the symbol of his body and blood” (August. in. Ps. 3).

As explained above, with the aid of Protestant scholarly sources, Calvin is drawing an unwarranted conclusion about St. Augustine, as if he agreed with Calvin’s heresies.

22. Refutation of an objection founded on the words, This is. Objection answered.


Should any morose person, shutting his eyes to everything else, insist upon the expression, This is, as distinguishing this mystery from all others, the answer is easy. They say that the substantive verb is so emphatic, as to leave no room for interpretation. Though I should admit this, I answer, that the substantive verb occurs in the words of Paul (1 Cor. 10:16), where he calls the bread the communion of the body of Christ. But communion is something different from the body itself. 

This is an excellent example of how context provides the correct interpretation:

1 Corinthians 10: 18-21 Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? [19] What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? [20] No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. [21] You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Thus, in context, Paul is discussing a graphic comparison of sacrifice: that of the pagans at their “table” and that of Christians at theirs.

Nay, when the sacraments are treated of, the same word occurs: “My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:13). “This is the ordinance of the passover” (Exod. 12:43). To say no more, when Paul declares that the rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), why should the substantive verb, in that passage, be deemed less emphatic than in the discourse of Christ?

Because of context . . .

When John says, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39), I should like to know what is the force of the substantive verb? If the rule of our opponents is rigidly observed, the eternal essence of the Spirit will be destroyed, as if he had only begun to be after the ascension of Christ. 

How does that follow? This passage is about the indwelling being possible for all Christians, whereas before that time it had only been selectively the case. Calvin no doubt caricatures Catholic arguments here (whatever they were), as he is wont to do.

Let them tell me, in fine, what is meant by the declaration of Paul, that baptism is “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5); though it is certain that to many it was of no use. 

That baptism regenerates (obviously)!

But they cannot be more effectually refuted than by the expression of Paul, that the Church is Christ. For, after introducing the similitude of the human body, he adds, “So also is Christ” (1 Cor. 7:12), when he means not the only-begotten Son of God in himself, but in his members. 

That gets back to the literalism I referred to in a past reply: there is an equation of the Body of Christ (the Church) with Christ Himself: most notably seen in the language Jesus uses towards Paul at his conversion.

I think I have now gained this much, that all men of sense and integrity will be disgusted with the calumnies of our enemies, when they give out that we discredit the words of Christ; though we embrace them not less obediently than they do, and ponder them with greater reverence. Nay, their supine security proves that they do not greatly care what Christ meant, provided it furnishes them with a shield to defend their obstinacy, while our careful investigation should be an evidence of the authority which we yield to Christ. They invidiously pretend that human reason will not allow us to believe what Christ uttered with his sacred mouth; but how naughtily they endeavour to fix this odium upon us, I have already, in a great measure, shown, and will still show more clearly. Nothing, therefore, prevents us from believing Christ speaking, and from acquiescing in everything to which he intimates his assent.

I have offered reasoned arguments. I don’t need to get into the ceaseless insults and aspersions upon motivations that Calvin utilizes, or how reverent each party may be.

The only question here is, whether it be unlawful to inquire into the genuine meaning?

Of course it is lawful and necessary. And when we do that, I contend that the extreme weakness of Calvin’s counter-case is revealed all the more.

23. Other objections answered.


Those worthy masters, to show that they are of the letter, forbid us to deviate, in the least, from the letter. On the contrary, when Scripture calls God a man of war, as I see that the expression would be too harsh if not interpreted, I have no doubt that the similitude is taken from man. And, indeed, the only pretext which enabled the Anthropomorphites to annoy the orthodox Fathers was by fastening on the expressions, “The eyes of God see;” “It ascended to his ears;” “His hand is stretched out;” “The earth is his footstool;” and exclaimed, that God was deprived of the body which Scripture assigns to him. Were this rule admitted, complete barbarism would bury the whole light of faith. What monstrous absurdities shall fanatical men not be able to extract, if they are allowed to urge every knotty point in support of their dogmas? 

Catholics have no objection to anthropomorphism or anthropopathism. Again, context is crucial in showing how the Eucharist is a different case.

Their objection, that it is not probable that when Christ was providing special comfort for the apostles in adversity, he spoke enigmatically or obscurely,—supports our view. For, had it not occurred to the apostles that the bread was called the body figuratively, as being a symbol of the body, the extraordinary nature of the thing would doubtless have filled them with perplexity. For, at this very period, John relates, that the slightest difficulties perplexed them (John 14:5, 8; 16:17). They debate, among themselves, how Christ is to go to the Father, and not understanding that the things which were said referred to the heavenly Father, raise a question as to how he is to go out of the world until they shall see him? How, then, could they have been so ready to believe what is repugnant to all reason—viz. that Christ was seated at table under their eye, and yet was contained invisible under the bread? As they attest their consent by eating this bread without hesitation, it is plain that they understood the words of Christ in the same sense as we do, considering what ought not to seem unusual when mysteries are spoken of, that the name of the thing signified was transferred to the sign. 

That doesn’t follow at all. We simply don’t have enough information. They could have been obedient while not understanding; could have partaken in a stunned, bewildered silence, assuming that Jesus would explain what He meant more fully later, as He did with His parables; it may have been inappropriate to speak in a ceremonial sense at the time, during the Passover. meal. So this is a rather weak argument from silence.

What we do know is that in John 6, some of His disciples were perplexed about His meaning (Jn 6:60-61). Jesus never explains that it is merely a symbol (6:62-63 and previous related passages in the same discourse), and so these disciples forsook Him (John 6:66-67). We know for a fact that it was due to disbelief and lack of faith, because Jesus said so, and the narrator reiterates it (6:64). That is actual, explicit scriptural proof from a concrete incident. The only time we know of when Jesus’ disciples left Him was because they refused to accept in faith the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

There was therefore to the disciples, as there is to us, clear and sure consolation, not involved in any enigma; and the only reason why certain persons reject our interpretation is, because they are blinded by a delusion of the devil to introduce the darkness of enigma, instead of the obvious interpretation of an appropriate figure. 

Whoever disagrees with Calvin must do so under a demonic delusion, and due to bad character . . .

Besides, if we insist strictly on the words, our Saviour will be made to affirm erroneously something of the bread different from the cup. He calls the bread body, and the wine blood. There must either be a confusion in terms, or there must be a division separating the body from the blood. Nay, “This is my body,” may be as truly affirmed of the cup as of the bread; and it may in turn be affirmed that the bread is the blood. If they answer, that we must look to the end or use for which symbols were instituted, I admit it: but still they will not disencumber themselves of the absurdity which their error drags along with it—viz. that the bread is blood, and the wine is body. Then I know not what they mean when they concede that bread and body are different things, and yet maintain that the one is predicated of the other, properly and without figure, as if one were to say that a garment is different from a man, and yet is properly called a man. Still, as if the victory depended on obstinacy and invective, they say that Christ is charged with falsehood, when it is attempted to interpret his words. It will now be easy for the reader to understand the injustice which is done to us by those carpers at syllables, when they possess the simple with the idea that we bring discredit on the words of Christ; words which, as we have shown, are madly perverted and confounded by them, but are faithfully and accurately expounded by us.

Most of this has been dealt with already in my past installments; it’s mere reiteration on Calvin’s part.


(originally 11-27-09)

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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