Monday, June 28, 2004

Further Challenge to "Reformed Catholics": Calvin's and Patristic Eucharistic Theology

Originally posted at the Reformed Catholicism site, on an appropriate thread: "Some Quotes from Calvin on the Eucharist, II," posted by Josh G.

I await an adequate response to two lengthy posts I wrote about this very topic (Calvin and the Eucharist). Both Josh and Alastair have noted how they have debated the issue with a "Roman Catholic". That was me! I don't feel that those discussions were anywhere near concluded, or that I received responses to many of my "hard questions" about Calvin's view (it was prematurely concluded), but in any event, I think it was a successful discussion in terms of increasing understanding and maintaining amiable relations. I do appreciate that.

Josh keeps maintaining that Calvin's view is in harmony with previous catholic tradition. This I vigorously deny, and agree with my friend Dave Brown's comments as well. This has not been established, and was the contention towards which I directly aimed my two recent papers. The "battle for Church history" has scarcely even been waged by reformed catholics, let alone won.

I again challenge you (in a friendly manner) to back up your contentions by responding to my material (and Dave Brown's). If you claim that you can synthesize Calvin's view with previous Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages and back to the Fathers, then by all means do it. It has not been done thus far.

Josh made the claim that Calvin's views "are actually in great continuity with those of the historic, pre-Reformation Catholic Church!" This is simply not true, as I believe I have already demonstrated, with copious patristic and Calvin quotations and analyses by noted Protestant Church historians such as Schaff and Kelly. That cannot simply be dismissed (as some have tried to do) as "out of context proof-texting." Sorry; you guys need to make your argument from substance, when dealing with a serious critique (which remains ecumenical and respectful).

Josh also wrote [in the comments]:

Yes, Calvin categorically rejected the theory of the Mass that was popular in his time: that it was a propitiatory sacrifice in addition to Christ's work on the Cross. But that view wasn't what the early Church meant by the Eucharist, as I demonstrated above.

This is (with all due respect) historical revisionism. It is ludicrous to claim that the Fathers did not accept the Sacrifice of the Mass (I pass by the misrepresentation that it is an "addition" to the Cross rather than a time-transcending re-presentation of same). I have recently challenged reformed catholics to tell me if they would worship with a Catholic at a Mass and consider it just another Christian service. This is crucial, in my mind, because if you claim to have organic continuity with patristic-era and medieval Christians (which you do, by definition, and your very title), then you would have to accept the Sacrifice of the Mass as fully Christian and able to be held in good conscience without Calvin's charge of "blasphemy, idolatry, sacrilege," etc.

This is what the Fathers believed too, if we must make such a broad generalization (as Josh has been doing). Philip Schaff wrote about the patristic period:

In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim . . .

The realistic and mystic view is represented by several fathers and the early liturgies, whose testimony we shall further cite below. They speak in enthusiastic and extravagant terms of the sacrament and sacrifice of the altar. They teach a real presence of the body and blood of Christ, which is included in the very idea of a real sacrifice, and they see in the mystical union of it with the sensible elements a sort of repetition of the incarnation of the Logos. With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, . . ."

(History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, A.D. 311-600, rev. 5th ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rep. 1974, orig. 1910, 492-495)

Schaff continues in his next section:

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question."

(§ 96. "The Sacrifice of the Eucharist")

The Fathers believed (generally-speaking), not only in a conversionist view highly akin to transubstantiation, but also in the propitiatory Sacrifice of the Mass and adoration of the consecrated host. In other words, Calvin, on his view, would have to condemn them as vigorously (assuredly including good ole patron saint of Calvinism, St. Augustine) as he condemned his despised current-day "papists." That's why your historical view cannot hold water.

Likewise, another Protestant reference source:

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual . . . In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first . . . From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ.

(F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd ed., 1983, pp. 476, 1221)

And Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran at the time of this writing):

By the date of the Didache [anywhere from about 60 to 160, depending on the scholar]. . . the application of the term 'sacrifice' to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the 'pure offering' commanded in Malachi 1:11 . . .

The Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference . . .

(The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 146-147)

These sorts of observations need to be answered, not just "preached at." If I am wrong in my analysis of Church history and what Fathers believed, then so are they, and these men are not (Roman) Catholics, they are Protestants, and very highly regarded as historians. If it comes to a choice in an opinion about the history of doctrine, between Josh and Alastair and Kevin Johnson and Joel Garver (much as I personally like all these guys and enjoy dialoguing with them) and Pelikan, Schaff, J.N.D. Kelly, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, I will choose the latter, thank you.

Now, if anyone cares to still reply to my two papers, here they are:

John Calvin and St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Comparative Eucharistic Theology

This was posted on June 14th. I received a "short response" by Kevin Johnson on 6-15-04 with the statement, "Hopefully I will have more time to respond in full later." I hope he (or someone else) will do so. Joel Garver posted a moderately long, but quite general response on 6-15-04. I fully responded to it in the next paper below (as I did to Kevin's remarks thus far):

Reply to Joel Garver and Kevin Johnson on Calvin's Eucharistic Theology Compared to St. Cyril of Jerusalem's and the Fathers (Generally-Speaking)

I posted this on 6-19-04, and have received no response to it from any "Reformed Catholic."

Not to belabor the point, but it seems to me that if your school of thought feels that it can better back up its contentions from Church history than a "Romanist" like myself or an Eastern Catholic like Dave Brown, then it should by all means do so. What are you waiting for? Your argument (it seems obvious) must be made with the necessary historical substantiation. If you directly clash with the likes of Schaff and Pelikan (not exactly flaming "Romanists"), then that is more than enough to give me pause with regard to disputed historical questions.

Alastair wrote, contra "ct" [in the comments section]:

When historical evidence is brought forward to counteract your claims you just assert them all the louder regardless. You are not very good at rationally engaging with the answers that are brought forward.

Well yes. I don't say you guys aren't very good at engaging arguments, but I still await that full engagement of my material, too, which is why I posted this here, since I have received only minimal response at my blog and no response to my further counter-replies.

[I further note in passing that an Eastern Catholic is not a "Roman Catholic" so that it is actually a slight and somewhat of an insult to make out that all Catholics who accept the papacy are "Roman Catholic" -- precisely why I use simply "Catholic" just as you use "Reformed" -- these words have become titles, just as "Reformed Judaism," etc., are]

To end a heavy comment on a light note, Josh wrote: "If RC Sproul's a Romanist, then I'm a hottentot."

Yes, and if Schaff and Pelikan are Romanists, I am a red-headed, green-eyed Rastafarian . . .

Thanks for your time, and I continue to commend y'all for many worthwhile emphases, such as, e.g., great critiques of solo Scriptura [solO, not solA] that we observed in this very thread; also your attempt to incorporate the history of Christianity into your worldview. That's great; it is only various specific claims that you make with regard to that history that I dispute.

In Him,


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