Do Catholics think God owes them a debt? Part 6 of a response to John Calvin’s Institutes IV.18.

Do Catholics think God owes them a debt? Part 6 of a response to John Calvin’s Institutes IV.18. August 10, 2019
Rembrandt, “The Sacrifice of Isaac”

When John Calvin reaches the “crowning point” of his rant against the “popish Mass,” he becomes truly incoherent. (As though he were not already the source and summit of incoherence.) But here’s Calvin’s “crowning point”: “[T]he sacred Supper [i.e., the Eucharist], on which the Lord left the memorial of his passion formed and engraved, was taken away, hidden, and destroyed, when the Mass was erected.”

Jeepers, it was? So if I am to take Calvin at his plain word here (for why shouldn’t I?), the Church has taken the Eucharist clean away. The Church has hidden the Eucharist. The Church has in fact destroyed the Eucharist! We call it “the source and summit of the Christian life” (for look, here are those very words in the Catechism 1324). We call it “the sum and summary of our faith” (CCC 1327). But according to Calvin, we destroyed the Eucharist and we’re keeping the destruction hidden away, so no one finds out what the Eucharist even is. St. Catherine of Siena never heard of it. #Sad.

But Calvin, as he is wont to do, has bashed us over the head with absurd hyperbole, only to instantly retreat into nuance. “While the supper itself,” he says, “is a gift of God, which was to be received with thanksgiving”—[I pause here to mention that “thanksgiving” is, of course, what the word “Eucharist” means.]—“the sacrifice of the mass pretends to give a price to God to be received as satisfaction.”

I’m already lost. Aren’t sacrifice and thanksgiving the same thing? But allow me to back up yet a while. The Mass is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary; they are not two different things. Calvin does agree that the crucifixion was a sacrifice? Does he not? He says so himself in §3: Christ “offered himself in sacrifice.” And he quotes Hebrews 9:26: Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Now, I’ve already shown that the Mass is the very same sacrifice as the sacrifice on Calvary. The Church affirms this time and oft. But if it’s a sacrifice at all, it’s got to be in satisfaction for something; and Hebrews 9:26 tells us that it’s a satisfaction for sin.

The Mass and Calvary are the same: Acting in persona Christi, the priest offers Christ to the Father as a satisfaction for sin. Does Calvin claim that Calvary was not a satisfaction for sin? Does Calvin claim that the cross was not a sacrifice? That is strange. Let us not repeat ourselves here and say, “Oh, but the Mass is something else”; been there, refuted that. (I link again, dear reader, lest you missed it before.)

Calvin, however, tries to rend the sacrifice of Christ with the gift of God which we are to receive with thanksgiving, as though these things are also different. But Christ’s self-sacrifice to the Father is God’s gift to us. There’s no difference between the sacrifice and the gift. There’s no difference between satisfaction and Eucharist. We don’t go to Mass with dejected looks or something because we got a gloomy sacrifice to do, we must make heavy restitution. No.

Now, it is a sacrifice. The Catechism tells us of the Mass:

  • 1330: “It completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.”
  • 1353: It is Christ’s “sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.”
  • 1357: It is “the memorial of his sacrifice.”
  • 1359: It is a “sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving.”

Oh, wait. “Praise in thanksgiving,” did you say? Right. Let me stop on this point. Did you know that the expression “sacrifice of praise” and “sacrifice of thanksgiving” are biblical? Did Calvin? Watch now:

  • Hebrews 13:15: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” [So sacrifice is something we’re supposed to offer? And we’re supposed to do it “continually”? And the sacrifice and the praise are the same thing? Interesting.]
  • Psalm 116:17: “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.”

Calvin tries very hard to separate sacrifice from praise and thanksgiving, but he’s kicking against the goads and had better watch what he’s about lest he wreck his foot. And now let us return to the Catechism, because it also calls the Eucharist a thanksgiving, again and again:

  • 1358. “We must consider the Eucharist as thanksgiving and praise to the Father.”
  • 1359. The Eucharist is a “sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation.”

When Calvin says that the Church has hidden away and destroyed the Lord’s Supper, he means that it has hidden away thanksgiving in preference to sacrifice. But that’s an odd claim given that the Bible and the Catechism speak of thanksgiving as sacrifice, and given that the very word “Eucharist” means—no, not sacrifice, but thanksgiving.

“As widely as giving differs from receiving,” Calvin says, “does sacrifice differ from the sacrament of the Supper.” No; in fact, sacrifice and thanksgiving are one and the same: The Catechism tells us this, and the Bible tells us this. Accusation is confession, and Calvin does more rending than the Church does.

 

•••

But stay a moment, because now Calvin gets genuinely weird. “Herein,” he says, “does the wretched ingratitude of man appear,– that when the liberality of the divine goodness ought to have been recognised, and thanks returned [That’s what the Mass does: recognize the divine goodness and give thanks.], he makes God to be his debtor.”

Did you follow that? Calvin’s complaint hitherto has been this: Those poor Catholics think they still have to sacrifice to God. Jesus already did that; why are you still trying to make satisfaction? #Sad! But now he turns around and says we think God needs to make satisfaction to us. Is this coherent? Am I missing something? And people say Pope Francis is confusing!

But if we read further in the hope that it will abate our perplexity, we will be much disappointed, for Calvin helps not at all. Instead he makes a reshash of dumb claims long since refuted:

“The sacrament promised, that by the death of Christ we were not only restored to life once, but constantly quickened, because all the parts of our salvation were then completed. The sacrifice of the mass uses a very different language–viz. that Christ must be sacrificed daily, in order that he may lend something to us.”

But wait. Stop here. Even if this were true, if God “lends” us “something,” aren’t we supposed to pay him back? So that makes us God’s debtor, not God our debtor. Which is it, Johnny?

But Calvin doesn’t help us with our perplexity any more now than he has hitherto. Rather than do that, he abruptly changes the subject and waxes bitter about private masses. So with his incoherence remaining, we can shut the door on Calvin.


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