Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dialogue on John Calvin's Mystical Eucharist (Part II) (vs. Josh, Michael S. Horton, Alastair Roberts, and John Calvin)

By Dave Armstrong (9-7-05)

Josh's words will be in green; Alastair Roberts' in blue; my older words will be in red.

Hi Josh,

Thanks so much for your thoughts. My first reaction is a sort of freezing and not knowing where to begin with all this. Reformed Christians have a tendency to get SO technical and SO into every jot and tittle of a subject, complete with the obligatory big words and terms, and references to interminable and innumerable in-house fights (that we outsiders — frankly — care little about) that the non-Reformed feels overwhelmed. How does one begin to "answer" stuff like you and Al have been writing? :-) It's like asking for a bowl of rice pudding with raisins and being thrown into an Olympic-size pool of it and asked to retrieve and eat every raisin in it. LOL Just an affectionate criticism of how you guys often come across.

But I do love heavy writing in theology and all the information I have been learning in this area; no doubt about that. It's not so much the thing itself that is overwhelming, but knowing how to proceed to reply to it in any systematic manner. When there are so many particulars, often the mind (especially on a day like today when I am fighting some serious virus) just says, "Okay; I ain't in the mood to find all the needles in the haystack today." :-)

The second thing I would say is that I am confused: some elements of this presentation seem to be quite close to transubstantiation, and others seem to me either playing with words, and smacking of internal incoherence and inconsistency (my initial impression of Calvin's eucharistic theology) or a glorified "mystical Zwinglianism," or a system closer to that than to the Catholic and Lutheran beliefs.

Thirdly, could you or Al (or both) provide me with a simple, concise, comparison and contrast of Calvin's eucharistic theology and transubstantiation? What exactly do you think is the same, and what is different?

Hi Dave,

I'm glad that you've been able to understand some of Calvin's views; it's only my fault if you lost the raisins in the swimming pool :) As for your confusion, let me say a few things.

First, as Al said, Calvin's views did develop over time; he went from an early view that was more Zwinglian to defending instrumentalism (that God the Holy Spirit works through the sacraments to bring us into union with Jesus and to nourish us in that union) and the high view of sacramental efficacy that comes along with it. He did later lament his controversy with the Bullingerians that was the Consensus Tigurinus (which held to what you would call a mystical Zwinglianism; Bullinger more nearly held to parallelism [God works alongside the sacraments] than Calvin's instrumentality). But we have to give Calvin some slack here, because he was trying to move the Protestant churches toward unity (also, an often unknown fact is that Calvin signed, or at least accepted in some way, the Augsburg Confession!), and he of course had hoped that the Papacy would consent to a free ecumenical council as well. So part of the confusion is that Calvin himself matured in his views; and his mature views were that of what we would call a high sacramentology (Calvin denied ex operato opere in the Scholastic sense; for a good treatment of classical Protestantism vis a' via Rome on sacraments, I'd recommend the following essays by

Joel Garver: Ex opere operato and Sacramental Efficacy

The Sacraments and the Solas

Turretin on Baptism

The following summary (which is from B.A. Gerrish's, a Calvin scholar, "John Calvin and the Reformed Doctrine of the Lord's Supper", in Articles on Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 10, pp.234-36; quoted in Mathison on p.47) will give us an outline on which to hang further discussion on. Here's Gerrish summarizing John Calvin's eucharistic doctrine:

"1. The Lord's Supper is a divine gift. It is not merely the reminder of a gift [Josh: Calvin is ultimately no Zwinglian].

2. The gift that is given is Christ himself. In addition, it is the whole Christ that is given.

3. The gift is given through signs [instrumentalism], which are intimately connected [sacramental union] with the reality that is signified and which guarantee the presence of the reality that is signified.

4. The gift is given by the Holy Spirit. When Calvin says that Christ is 'spiritually present', he means that the body and blood of Christ are made present by the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit.

5. The gift is given to all who communicate, but those who receive the Supper without faith receive it to their condemnation.

6. The gift evokes gratitude, and this is the eucharistic sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise [Calvin denies that the Communion is propitiatory sacrifice; rather, it is the sacrificial meal]".

So for John Calvin, Jesus is really and substantially present in the Supper, present by the Spirit; and really, he emphasizes that the worshiping Church is caught up to heaven to feed upon Christ there (where He is locally present according to His historical body). Before I distinguish Calvin from transubstantiation(and one could probably do that just by using Garrish's outline above), I must say that the background for Calvin's eucharistic theology is his emphasis upon union with Christ: that salvation consists in being united to Christ, the whole Person (but especially His humanity, the channel of His divine life). He developed this theology from reflecting on Paul's emphasis upon Christians being 'in Christ' and being raised up to heaven 'in Christ' (Eph. 1:3-23 is a great example). Because the Church has been "made alive together with Christ,…and made [to] sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:5-6), she lives in heaven in one since now: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which ae above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God" (Col.3:1). It is not enough for Calvin that we have a 'spiritual' union with Christ; no, Calvin says that we have union with the whole Jesus, particularly His flesh which mediates our access to God:

"As Eve was formed out of the substance of her husband, and thus was a part of himself; so, if we are the true members of Christ, we share his substance, and by this intercourse unite into one body…Paul says that we are members of his flesh and of his bones. Do we wonder then, that in the Lord's Supper he holds out his body to be enjoyed by us, and to nourish us unto eternal life?" (Commentaries, 21:323; on Eph. 5:31).

Since Calvin emphasizes our true union with the humanity of Jesus, he naturally emphasises that we are nourished with the real body and blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. His doctrine of real presence flows from his insistence upon union with Christ for salvation.

When coming to this discussion, it's important that we define our terms. Now, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the mode of the Lord's presence in the Eucharist is said to be by "the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament." Transubstantiation says that the outward form of bread and wine remain; but the essence of them is converted into Jesus' body and blood. The Lutherans say that the essence of the bread and wine remains the same, but that Jesus' body and blood are added alongside them. Zwinglians assert that the bread and wine are symbols of Christ's body and blood, but they are not symbols that point to or are the means of receiving the present body of Christ; but Jesus is present in His divinity in the Supper.

Calvin denied all of the above. He affirmed with Rome and Wittenberg that Jesus is fully and really present in the Eucharist (in His whole Person), and that He is received through the bread and wine by those who eat in faith (eating is the means of reception, but an eating in faith); He denied that the Body of Christ was locally enclosed within the elements, or that the elements were converted into the historical body of Jesus; and thought this to be unnecessary because of the work of the Spirit (a real miracle!). Against Zwingli and the Baptists, He maintained that the Eucharist, while partly consisting in signs (the elements), consisted of signs that pointed to and were means of receiving the reality.

Simple contrast with transub.: no conversion of element into body and blood; no local or enclosed presence. Affirmations with transub.: Real presence; body and blood truly received by those who eat in faith; body and blood objectively offered to all; sacrament means of receiving Christ. The positive points of his doctrine are in Garrish's outline above (that's the forest that the trees are going to be in).

Hope that that clears some stuff up for you; I'll try and respond to the critique of the 'Chalcedonian philosophical objection' later. I look forward to further discussion!
John Calvin's mature view was definitely one of the Real Presence in the Eucharist; and by real, I mean substantially present in His theanthropic Person. I believe that Al's comments in the original thread of this discussion correctly define Calvin's position: "Calvin, in his doctrine of the Supper treated the elements as instruments by which we truly partake of the theanthropic Christ. He argued that this occurs in heaven by the Spirit….(para) Once this approach to the Supper has been understood, the argument over 'local' presence will be seen to be unhelpful. Spatial categories tend to divert our attention from what is really happening." For the Eucharistic doctrine of Calvin and the classical Reformed to be intelligible, two concepts must be understood: a) the doctrine of union with Christ and b) the concept of the Church's worship taking place in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the mediatorship of Jesus our High Priest.

a) Union with Christ

Union with Christ is a central motif of Calvin's soteriology, his doctrine of salvation. Calvin develops the Pauline motif of 'union with Christ' and being 'in Christ', and says that all the blessings that the Church has corporately (and individual Christians as members thereof) she has because she is covenantally united to Christ, joined to her Husband at the hip and made the flesh of His flesh and the bone of His bones (cf. Eph. 5:23-32). Now, Christ is locally present in heaven; how then is the Church as a whole (and the individual members thereof) joined to Christ in His whole Person? Calvin (echoing Paul) said that it was by the work of the Holy Spirit that Christians are made members of Christ and joined to Him (for some Pauline examples that Calvin took as his starting point, cf. Rom. 5:12-6:11; I Cor. 1:30-31; I Cor. 12:12-27; 2 Cor. 1:20-22; Eph. 1:3-2:22; Col. 3:1-3). Since Calvin did not separate his doctrine of the sacraments from his doctrine of salvation (as most contemporary evangelicals do), he placed the intiation of union into Christ at Baptism (taking place, again, by the Spirit) and the nourishment of that union in the Eucharist, where by the faithful reception of bread and wine we receive Jesus and all His benefits. If God the Holy Spirit has truly united the Church to the living Christ, and made her sit in the heavenly places, then it is not impossible or unscriptural to confess that the Holy Spirit transcends the bounds of the space-time world and the bounds between earth and heaven to raise us up to heaven in our worship.

b) Worshipping at the Mount

Based upon his doctrine of union with Christ, Calvin could affirm that when the Church worships, she does so in heaven, in the presence of the Triune God, by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Heb.6:4-8; 10:19-25; 12:18-24; the Book of Revelation has many examples as well). She comes into the highest heavens through the only veil that is left, the body of Jesus our High Priest, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Based upon this, Calvin could cogently and Scripturally argue that by the faithful reception of the bread and the wine, Christians receive the body and blood of Christ by the work of the Spirit. I'll elaborate more on that below, as I shall now turn to try and answer your concerns.

"This makes little sense to me. Either Jesus' body and blood are substantially present or not. If they are, then they are really there! You can't deny that the elements are transformed (Catholic view) or joined by the true body and blood (Lutheranism) and still hold that there is substantial or "real" presence. Why? Because this is an internal contradiction. Calvin is saying that Jesus is simultaneously there and not there. Even God is bound to that sort of elementary logical distinction. God can't be and not be at the same time. And He can't be "here" and "not here" at the same time."

What Calvin and the classical Reformed are arguing for is a sort of paradigm shift in how we look at the Eucharist. Sure, if we look at the Supper and Liturgy as acts which occur merely on earth as a sort of business meeting, then yes, Calvin missed his contradictions-anonymous meeting and we should start over. But while Calvin maintained the Real presence of the Lord Jesus in the Supper, he maintained that the Supper was a heavenly act. By the power of the Spirit, said Calvin, the worship of the Church becomes a place of reciprocal action between heaven and earth: through the minister's giving out the elements of the Supper, and our reception, we ascend into heaven, into the very presence of the Triune God, and receive our Lord Jesus Christ and all His benefits. Worship (and the sacarments as an aspect thereof), said Calvin, is about coming into the presence of the Triune God in heaven, in the Spirit and through the mediatorship of Jesus. In worship, heaven and middle-earth meet in anticipation of that Last Day when heaven and the new creation will be perfectly joined. This mystical (when we Reformed say that, we mean by the transcendent power of the Spirit) ascension of the Church occurs because she is united with the One who has been crowned the King of kings and the Lord of all lords, who sits at the right of the Father. Thus, the worship of the Church is a heavenly act; and so, the Eucharist is a heavenly act (as Al noted earlier, this view of the worship of the Church being a heavenly act, a participation in heavenly realities, is generally shared by the Eastern Church; cf. the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

To sum it up: Calvin's Eucharistic doctrine is that by the transcendent and divine power of the Holy Spirit, the Church's reception of the elements takes her to heaven, wherein she receives the whole Person of Christ. If worship occurs in heaven, where Jesus is, then we can surely feed upon and be nourished by Him there. Of course, worship and Communion don't feel that way; but the Word of God tells us that it is so, a good deal of the liturgy of the Church catholic witnesses to this (lex ordani, lex credendi), and it is sheer unbelief for us to deny it. No, Jesus is truly present in the Supper; the Supper is a heavenly event and; our instrument of participating in this event and receiving the theanthropic Christ is by eating the bread and drinking the wine in faith.

"So you appeal to "a real miracle!"? That won't do, because miracles are not irrational. The supernatural is not irrational; it simply transcends natural laws governing matter or is outside of it (as spirit, since science and naturalism deals with matter). It will do no good to simply say, "it is above our understanding, and so we will construct irrational scenarios and not try to make them coherent. It's a mystery . . . " "

By 'miracle', I was referring to the Spirit's work in communicating the whole Christ to us through the reception of the elements, especially the aspect of this of our union with Christ in heaven. We are agreed that a miracle is a transcendent event; as CS Lewis once said (I'm badly paraphrasing), a miracle is God shouting in capital letters what He normally does. That is to say, a miracle is a somehow expanded act of God than His normal acts of Providence (I take natural laws to not be some fixed, autonomous things, but simply our descriptions of how God usually works). But no disagreement there…

"The bottom line is my original criticism about this "mystical view" of Calvin: if Jesus is really there it seems that he must adopt either a Catholic or Lutheran position. If He isn't really (substantially?) there, then the Calvinist eucharist is scarcely distinguishable from the omnipresence of God or Zwinglianism. So God is there but is not "really" or "substantially" there. So what? How is that particularly special or unique? It still appears to me to be a "mystical Zwinglianism." I don't understand how saying Jesus is "mystically" (but not substantially) present is logically distinguishable from pure Zwinglian symbolism, or how this is a miracle at all, because Jesus is already "mystically present" at all times and even lives within us. What sense does it make to say that "He is always here spiritually and now He is here 'in Spirit 'more" than He was"? Spirits have no spatial or quantitative qualities. It reminds me of the Jehovah's Witness "invisible" return of Jesus in 1914. No one saw anything, but it really happened!"

I believe that the Church's ascension into heaven in the Spirit to feed upon Christ (which occurs by the means of the reception of the physical elements) answers those objections. Jesus is substantially present in heaven; we worship in heaven; therefore, the celebration of Communion is a heavenly act wherein we feed upon Christ where He is. Again, this occurs by the work of the Spirit through the faithful reception of bread and wine…Jehovah's Witnesses: Those Gnostics! Yuck!

"That may be, but I don't see the logical distinction. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the position. Certainly you would agree that it is not all that easy to understand, no?"

Our Zwinglian brethren say that the bread and wine are mere signs which symbolize something that is not present and are signs which are not a means to the reception of such presence. Calvin denied this, saying that the elements are the means of receiving the whole theanthropic Person of Christ, and that the fact that they are signs means that Triune God is present and at work in His sacraments.

"That's what I am saying: if you take away these things, the distinctiveness and "sacramentality" of the miracle is abolished, thus you deprive the rite of its very essence. Unless something physical is there, it can't be a sacrament, by definition, because a sacrament is the conveying of grace by physical means."

If we conceive of the Supper as participation in a heavenly reality by the Spirit, then truly we receive Christ through the faithful reception of bread and wine without having to posit a local (i.e., enveloped in the elements) presence. When we celebrate the Supper, our focus should be not on the elements as such, but that, by the work of the Spirit we ascend into heaven and receive the theanthropic Lord Jesus to the nourishment of our entire persons. And, as I said before, the instrumentality of this is by eating the bread and drinking the wine.

"But not substantially? Not body, blood, soul, and divinity? Again, if it is indeed a substantial presence, I don't see any rational explanations besides transubstantiation and consubstantiation (though I am quite open to further suggestions). If it isn't substantial, it reduces to symbolism, because (at least in my analysis, for what it's worth), why should we receive a spiritual presence that we already have through omnipresence and the indwelling? So it strikes me as betwixt and between; neither fish nor fowl."

Yes! Substantially! I would humbly offer up the suggestion that what Mathison calls suprasubstantiation is the remedy: "According to Calvin, Christ's body is present in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but the mode of his presence is not specifically connected with the substance of the elements…Christ is present by virtue of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit, not by the transformation or combination of the material substances". This is consistent when we remember the heavenly nature of the sacrament; and it also holds together the reality that when we receive the elements, we receive the entire theanthropic Christ; to quote Al again, "Calvin, in his doctrine of the Supper treated the elements as instruments by which we truly partake of the theanthropic Christ. He argued that this occurs in heaven by the Spirit." The place of the Supper is heaven; the instrumentality, the elements and; the cause, the work of the Spirit in transcending the boundaries of the space-time world. We are agreed that if there is no substantial presence (in terms of not receiving the whole Christ by the Spirit; I don't believe that either Scripture or the consenus fidelium requires us to say that substantiality is necessarily connected with the transformation of the susbtance of the elements), then we are left with an impoverished Zwinglianism.

Again: Calvin says that the Supper is a heavenly act (as the whole worship of the Church is) wherein we receive the whole theanthropic Christ by the faithful reception of the bread and wine. This is intelligible because of his doctrines of a)union with Christ, b)the Holy Spirit, and c) worship.

Thanks again for your comments, and I do hope that what I've said makes sense. I believe that most of what I've said covers your critique of Dr. Horton's article; however, I will try to respond to that as well. I appreciate your critique and your willingness to discuss this. In Christ,



Unfortunately I will not be able to take part in this debate over the next few weeks, although I would really love to. I am going to be in America for a week or so and then I return home to a backlog of work. However, I will make a few brief comments now.

1. On the issue of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. As I have remarked in earlier comments, the Eucharist is ultimately an action and Christ’s presence within it is threefold. Christ is present within the Church as His body. Christ is present in our midst as our Host. Christ is also present in the elements eaten and drunk. These forms of presence are interdependent. Were we not gathering together in His name, Christ would not be in our midst as our Host. Were the elements not part of the Church’s Eucharistic action Christ would not be present in them. Were the Church to cease its Eucharistic practice it would cease to be Christ’s body and know His presence. The Church is constituted by its Eucharistic practice. The wording of my point regarding the presence of Christ in the elements is important. Christ’s presence within the elements is a presence that is revealed as the elements are the object of the Church’s action. Detached from the Church’s action, Christ is not present in the same sense within the elements.

2. ‘Substantial’ presence? I find that this sort of language has the tendency (albeit not necessary) to lead our debates up blind alleys. The presence of Christ within the elements is not a ‘static’ presence. It is a real presence of Christ, but not the sort of presence that exists outside of the action in which it is found. We cannot take the elements out of the immediate context of the Eucharistic action and still have Christ’s presence within them. In this I am agreed with Eastern Orthodox theologians like Schmemann who argue that this is the reason why the ‘holy gifts themselves never became in the Orthodox East an object of special reverence, contemplation and adoration’. I am convinced that we are truly given to feed upon the theanthropic Christ (both in His deity and humanity) through the ‘instruments’ of bread and wine. When I eat the bread I am feeding upon the very body of our Lord, not a naked or empty symbol. However, trying to explain this within the categories provided by this age is dangerous. The Eucharist is essentially a movement from this age to the age to come through the action of the Spirit.

3. Dave, you write: “Calvin is saying that Jesus is simultaneously there and not there. Even God is bound to that sort of elementary logical distinction. God can’t be and not be at the same time. And He can’t be “here” and “not here” at the same time.” I beg to differ. You seem to taking a binary view of presence and absence, something that has rightly been attacked over the past century. Presence and absence are just not possible to absolutely distinguish. [see link]
4. Regarding miracles. One of the chief objections I have to some forms of Catholic theology is their tendency to make transubstantiation into an extrinsic miracle. This can detach the elements from the rest of the Eucharistic liturgy. We must remember that transubstantiation is not, in the final analysis, a theory of the Eucharist itself. It is only a theory about the elements of the Eucharist. Its tendency to obscure the importance of the action as a whole (just like the bare symbolic view) is a weakness in my estimation.

5. I also think that the debate over ‘local’ presence is unhelpful and misleading. In the Supper we truly partake of the substance of Christ and do not merely have communion with Christ in His omnipresent divine nature. However, as our partaking of the body and blood of Christ is bound up in the Eucharistic action of the Church, we should beware of thinking of Christ’s presence as something crassly material to be assimilated by the human digestive system. If anything we are that which is assimilated as we eat. Faith is our mouth and digestive system. Nonetheless, the physical action of eating is essential; faith is never disincarnate. It is a faithful physical eating by which we partake of the substance of Christ. In the Eucharist we taste of a world that has become sacramental again. [see link]
6. Again on ‘local’ presence. I do not believe that ‘heaven’ is some place occupying space somewhere in our solar system, galaxy or universe. Heaven is not ‘locally present’ anywhere in our universe. Heaven is a real place but, in my understanding at least, it occupies a distinct but parallel realm. Heaven and earth were divorced by the Fall. Only when this union between heaven and earth is reestablished can the world become sacramental again. This, of course, has occurred in Jesus Christ and it is He who offers us His body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is the Lord from heaven and, in the action of the Eucharist the Church becomes one with Him. Calvin is, in my opinion, perfectly right to deny local presence in favour of the marriage of heaven and earth. Heaven is, of course, an eschatological concept. As we feed on the heavenly Man in the Eucharist we are tasting of the powers of the age to come. The marriage of heaven and earth is the future reality of salvation that awaits us. For this reason it might be better to think in terms of ‘temporal presence’. The Eucharist is God’s future ‘thrown forward’ into our present. I think that Calvin was right to oppose the RC doctrine which seems to collapse heaven into earth. Nevertheless, I believe that his doctrine could be honed at points here as well.

7. My personal opinion. I often get frustrated with the anemic form of Eucharistic theology held by many Reformed people. In some areas I would want to go further than Calvin himself, but recognize the validity of many of his points. I simply feel that there are ways to get around the vast majority of the differences that exist on this issue between Reformed, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Zwinglians are usually a different issue entirely. I feel that most parties in this debate are protecting truths that the other parties have tended to forget or overlook. I think that many of the categories that have served to polarize the various positions are the wrong ones and should be abandoned in favour of better ones. Calvinistic Eucharistic theology is the form of Eucharistic theology that I feel most comfortable with. However, I am convinced that it is often hamstrung by its failure to ask the right questions and work in the right categories. Aren’t we all?

Hope that this helps to move the debate on a bit. I greatly appreciate your desire to dialogue on this issue. Thank you very much!

* * * * *

Calvin's Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord is available online in at least three places (One / Two / Three)

St. Thomas Aquinas denies that Jesus' body is in the Eucharist "locally" or "as in a place." Would that overcome Calvin's objection about Jesus being at the right hand of the Father?:

Whether Christ's body is in this sacrament as in a place?

Objection 1: It seems that Christ's body is in this sacrament as in a place. Because, to be in a place definitively or circumscriptively belongs to being in a place. But Christ's body seems to be definitively in this sacrament, because it is so present where the species of the bread and wine are, that it is nowhere else upon the altar: likewise it seems to be there circumscriptively, because it is so contained under the species of the consecrated host, that it neither exceeds it nor is exceeded by it. Therefore Christ's body is in this sacrament as in a place.

Objection 2: Further, the place of the bread and wine is not empty, because nature abhors a vacuum; nor is the substance of the bread there, as stated above (Question [75], Article [2]); but only the body of Christ is there. Consequently the body of Christ fills that place. But whatever fills a place is there locally. Therefore the body of Christ is in this sacrament locally.

Objection 3: Further, as stated above (Article [4]), the body of Christ is in this sacrament with its dimensive quantity, and with all its accidents. But to be in a place is an accident of a body; hence "where" is numbered among the nine kinds of accidents. Therefore Christ's body is in this sacrament locally.

On the contrary, The place and the object placed must be equal, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. iv). But the place, where this sacrament is, is much less than the body of Christ. Therefore Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place.

I answer that, As stated above (Article [1], ad 3; Article [3]), Christ's body is in this sacrament not after the proper manner of dimensive quantity, but rather after the manner of substance. But every body occupying a place is in the place according to the manner of dimensive quantity, namely, inasmuch as it is commensurate with the place according to its dimensive quantity. Hence it remains that Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place, but after the manner of substance, that is to say, in that way in which substance is contained by dimensions; because the substance of Christ's body succeeds the substance of bread in this sacrament: hence as the substance of bread was not locally under its dimensions, but after the manner of substance, so neither is the substance of Christ's body. Nevertheless the substance of Christ's body is not the subject of those dimensions, as was the substance of the bread: and therefore the substance of the bread was there locally by reason of its dimensions, because it was compared with that place through the medium of its own dimensions; but the substance of Christ's body is compared with that place through the medium of foreign dimensions, so that, on the contrary, the proper dimensions of Christ's body are compared with that place through the medium of substance; which is contrary to the notion of a located body.

Hence in no way is Christ's body locally in this sacrament.

Reply to Objection 1: Christ's body is not in this sacrament definitively, because then it would be only on the particular altar where this sacrament is performed: whereas it is in heaven under its own species, and on many other altars under the sacramental species. Likewise it is evident that it is not in this sacrament circumscriptively, because it is not there according to the commensuration of its own quantity, as stated above. But that it is not outside the superficies of the sacrament, nor on any other part of the altar, is due not to its being there definitively or circumscriptively, but to its being there by consecration and conversion of the bread and wine, as stated above (Article [1]; Question [15], Article [2], sqq.).

Reply to Objection 2: The place in which Christ's body is, is not empty; nor yet is it properly filled with the substance of Christ's body, which is not there locally, as stated above; but it is filled with the sacramental species, which have to fill the place either because of the nature of dimensions, or at least miraculously, as they also subsist miraculously after the fashion of substance.

Reply to Objection 3: As stated above (Article [4]), the accidents of Christ's body are in this sacrament by real concomitance. And therefore those accidents of Christ's body which are intrinsic to it are in this sacrament. But to be in a place is an accident when compared with the extrinsic container. And therefore it is not necessary for Christ to be in this sacrament as in a place.
I believe that St. Thomas' position is not as opposed to that of Calvin as many might think. Nor am I the first to say this. I for one feel that Calvin and many Reformed people following him (myself included) have often manifested a failure to recognize the existence of more moderate forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation and sympathetically interact with them.

Calvin represents Roman Catholics and Lutherans as holding to 'local conjunction or contact' or 'enclosing', which some do seem to hold to, but many do not. The issue of 'local' presence is a big one for Calvin and I think that he is right to see it as such.

The resurrected, ascended Christ exists in the freedom of the eschatological Spirit. This freedom defies the limitations of both time and space. A focus on a 'local' presence can damage both the truth of the ascension and the Second Coming. Heaven can fall down to earth and the future can collapse into the present. Calvin's doctrine allows for both of these realities to retain their integrity whilst asserting a real presence in the Eucharist.

I am increasingly convinced that Calvin and St. Thomas Aquinas can be reconciled, as can Calvin and many forms of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine.

This will probably be my last comment for a while, but I suggest that this article might help to explain some of the strengths and weaknesses of Calvin's Eucharistic theology.
[see link]

I am still looking for replies to my particular difficulties with Calvin's position, as expressed in the new post above. I hope that some Reformed Christian who is interested in and informed about this issue will give me some sort of counter-reply to those. If someone is directly expressing troubles that they have with another position, that is an opportunity for said position to clarify and further defend itself.

Here's one thing I wanted to comment on at the moment: Alastair wrote:

‘Substantial’ presence? I find that this sort of language has the tendency (albeit not necessary) to lead our debates up blind alleys. The presence of Christ within the elements is not a ‘static’ presence.

This is part of my confusion about the Reformed view. The way it is being expressed and explained to me seems to waver back and forth between "substantial" and "mystical" (as opposed to the merely physical or "substantial"). Alastair made this statement, but Calvin speaks often about "substance" and we are basically debating his view here, no? If Reformed Christians feel they have actually developed eucharistic theology to the point where it contradicts Calvin at some points, then I need to know where that is, so I can better understand the dynamics of the debate.

Here are instances of Calvin's use of "substance" (and a few of "presence") in his Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper). Emphases are added:

". . . the substance of the sacraments is the Lord Jesus . . . It is necessary, then, that the substance should be conjoined with these, otherwise nothing would be firm or certain. Hence we conclude that two things are presented to us in the Supper, viz., Jesus Christ as the source and substance of all good; and, secondly, the fruit and efficacy of his death and passion." (11)

". . . all the benefit which we should seek in the Supper is annihilated if Jesus Christ be not there given to us as the substance and foundation of all." (12)

". . . in order to have our life in Christ our souls must feed on his body and blood as their proper food. This, then, is expressly attested in the Supper, when of the bread it is said to us that we are to take it and eat it, and that it is his body, and of the cup that we are to drink it, and that it is his blood. This is expressly spoken of the body and blood, in order that we may learn to seek there the substance of our spiritual life." (13)

"Thus it is with the communion which we have in. the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. It is a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore figured to us by visible signs, according as our weakness requires, in such manner, nevertheless, that it is not a bare figure but is combined with the reality and substance. It is with good reason then that the bread is called the body, since it not only represents but also presents it to us . . . the sacraments of the Lord should not and cannot be at all separated from their reality and substance." (16)

"We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it. Though there should be nothing more, we have good cause to be satisfied, when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all his blessings." (17)

". . . feeding on his own substance." (18)

". . . the reality and substance of the Supper . . . " (30)

". . . the presence and conjunction of the reality with the sign (of which we have spoken, and will again speak) is well understood." (43)

"Zuinglius and Ĺ’colompadius . . . forgot to show what presence of Jesus Christ ought to be believed in the Supper, and what communion of his body and blood is `there received . . . Luther thought that they meant to leave nothing but the bare signs without their spiritual substance. Accordingly he began to resist them to the face, and call them heretics." (56-57)

". . . on receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the ordinance of the Lord, we are truly made partakers of the proper substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ." (60)
Likewise, in the Institutes, Calvin insists on denying "local physical presence," yet continues to insist that the recipient of communion receives Jesus' literal "substantial" body and blood. Either he is contradicting himself right and left and simply doesn't care (the "faith has nothing to do with logic" outlook) or he hasn't shown how his view is at all superior to transubstantiation theologically or logically, or that there is no major distinction — thus making his extremely hostile rhetoric against transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass mostly empty, groundless rhetoric. Here are some more relevant quotes, from the Beveridge translation of the Institutes, available online:
"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;) 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 . . . But when these absurdities are discarded, I willingly admit any thing 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."

(IV, 17, 19)

"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."

(IV, 17, 24)

"Still I am free to confess that that mixture or transfusion of the flesh of Christ with our souls which they teach I repudiate, because it is enough for us, that Christ, out of the substance of his flesh, breathes life into our souls, nay, diffuses his own life into us, though the real flesh of Christ does not enter us."

(IV, 17, 32 — a remarkably incoherent and contradictory statement)

See link.

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In Douglas Farrow's article, Between the Rock and a Hard Place: In Support of (something like) a Reformed View of the Eucharist, recommended by Alastair, my difficulty is at least expressed (if not granted):

"Might it not be admitted that there is a fundamental problem with Calvin's sursum corda and with his interpretation of the eucharistic mystery — viz., that the body of the worshipper, unlike his or her soul, appears to be uninvolved in the secret union and communion with Christ in the heavenlies . . . ?" (p. 4 in pdf file)
Describing Aquinas' view on the next page, Farrow writes:
". . . by virtue of his divine omnipresence and omnipotence as the Logos, Jesus is able to provide on earth a eucharistic form of his humanity under the accidents of the bread and wine, making present (albeit non-spatially) the actual substance of his exalted body and blood . . . Was Calvin . . . over-hasty in exchanging this account of the presence of the absent Christ for one which leaves Christ strictly in heaven, and which postulates rather a secret relocation of the worshipper through faith and the ministry of the Spirit? . . . If we are not permitted to appeal to the miracle of transubstantiation, how are we to conceive of a real union of soul and body with the heavenly Christ? . . . Prima facie it is by no means apparent that a simple appeal to the Spirit can justify such claims, if by them we mean to include our corporeal nature and with it the entire sphere of human culture."
On p. 12 he states:
"The simple fact of the matter is that Calvin's view is not unlike that of Aquinas — which is to say, it is an entirely orthodox view, however tainted by cosmological misinformation."
See also his footnote 41 on p. 14:

". . . one meets today relatively few Reformed theologians who take the eucharist with anything like the seriousness that Calvin did."

[Earlier he had noted that the notable 19th-century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge actually had a Zwinglian view]
In good scholarly fashion, Farrow mentions these difficulties of mine in his overview of the controversy, but doesn't really answer them (at least not to my satisfaction). So I continue to seek answers to the dilemma.
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In answer to your question:
I am firmly persuaded that we do partake of the substance of Christ in the Eucharist. Elsewhere in the post you quote I wrote:

"It is a faithful physical eating by which we partake of the substance of Christ."

The point I was trying to make is that there might be better ways to speak of some of these things, without denying the Reformed view. I fear any position that would make the elements objects of adoration and worship as I feel that this obscures a number of important distinctions.

I also feel that if we focus too much upon the mode of Christ's presence in the elements we can fail to keep sight of the place of the elements within the larger action of the Eucharist. For this reason I oppose any 'static' understanding of the Real Presence. As I feel that many of the debates have drawn our attention away from the action to the static elements I was wondering whether there might be better terminology that we could employ, terminology that has less tendency to limit us to a 'zoom lens'.

For myself, I will readily assert that we partake of the substance of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. The important thing is that we keep the broader nature of the Eucharist in our vision. This is what I was trying to maintain in my (admittedly rather confusing) point.

As regards your other points, I do believe that important distinctions exist between Calvin's doctrine and many of the common forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation. As I pointed out in my previous post, Calvin does seem to be reacting against a somewhat distorted form of transubstantiation (one of local, corporeal presence) in many places. Consequently he probably overreacted considerably. Some forms of transubstantiation are quite a bit closer to Calvin's view than either the Zwinglian or Lutheran views.

I suggest that you read the article I linked to above. It should help to clarify where some of the key (and I believe quite significant) differences lie. The author argues that there is room for real constructive and fruitful dialogue between Calvinists and Thomists on this issue and that the two positions are not far removed. From my own reading I am increasingly inclined to agree. The biggest sticking point for me remains the worshipping of the elements.

I agree that it is an unusually interesting and (I think) fruitful discussion. I disagree with Calvin's view and find it a bit contradictory, and of course I don't care for his excessive polemical lambasting of the Catholic position, but I can appreciate the view that his theology is far more "realist" than the usual Protestant position today (even amongst his own followers, according to you guys who have commented on that).

Calvin's eucharistic theology reminds me of Luther's Mariology: both were much "higher" than most later Lutherans and Calvinists held. Those facts lend themselves to the view that some Protestant theological trends seem to be primarily of a negative nature" in reaction to Rome rather than proactive and proceeding from the best in Protestant internal principles, from the thought of the key figures of Luther and Calvin.

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