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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 111. The Eucharistic Theories compared. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin.


We now present, for the sake of clearness, though at the risk of some repetition, the three Protestant theories on the real presence, with the chief arguments.

Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin agree, negatively, in opposition to the dogma of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity; positively, in these essential points: the divine institution and perpetuity of the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual presence of Christ, the commemorative character of the ordinance as the celebration of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, its importance as the highest act of worship and communion with Christ, and its special blessing to all who worthily partake of it.

They differ on three points,—the mode of Christ’s presence (whether corporal, or spiritual); the organ of receiving his body and blood (whether by the mouth, or by faith); and the extent of this reception (whether by all, or only by believers). The last point has no practical religious value, though it follows from the first, and stands or falls with it. The difference is logical rather than religious. The Lord’s Supper was never intended for unbelievers. Paul in speaking of "unworthily" receiving the sacrament (1 Cor. 11:27) does not mean theoretical unbelief, but moral unworthiness, irreverence of spirit and manner.

I. The Lutheran Theory teaches a real and substantial presence of the very body and blood of Christ, which was born of the Virgin Mary, and suffered on the cross, in, with, and under (in, sub, cum) the elements of bread and wine, and the oral manducation of both substances by all commun-icants, unworthy and unbelieving, as well as worthy and believing, though with opposite effects. The simultaneous co-existence or conjunction of the two substances is not a local inclusion of one substance in the other (impanation), nor a mixture or fusing-together of the two substances into one; nor is it permanent, but ceases with the sacramental action. It is described as a sacramental, supernatural, incomprehensible union.915915    The Lutheran divines of the seventeenth century describe the real presence as sacramentalis, vera et realis, substantiatis, mystica, supernaturalis, et incomprehensibilis, and distinguish it from the praesentia gloriosa, hypostatica, spiritualis, figurativa, and from ἀπουσία (absence), ἐνουσία (inexistence), συνουσία (co-existence in the sense of coalescence), and μετουσία (transubstantiation). The earthly elements remain unchanged and distinct in their substance and power, but they become the divinely appointed media for communicating the heavenly substance of the body and blood of Christ. They become so, not by priestly consecration, as in the doctrine of trans-substantiation, but by the power and Word of God. The eating of the body is by the mouth, indeed, yet is not Caper-naitic, and differs from the eating of ordinary food.916916    The Formula Concordiae (Epitome, Art. VII., Negativa 21) indignantly rejects the notion of dental mastication as a malicious slander of the Sacramentarians. But Luther, in his instruction to Melanchthon, Dec. 17, 1534, gave it as his opinion, from which he would not yield, that "the body of Christ is distributed, eaten, and bitten with the teeth.""Und ist Summa das unsere Meinung, dass wahrhaftig in und mit dem Brod der Leib Christi gessen wird, also dass alles, was das Brod wirket und leidet, der Leib Christi wirke und leide, dass er ausgetheilt, gessen, und mit den Zähnen zubissen [zerbissen]werde." De Wette, IV. 572. Comp. his letter to Jonas, Dec. 16, 1534, vol. IV. 569 sq. Dorner thinks that Luther speaks thus only per synecdochen; but this is excluded by the words, "What the bread does and suffers, that the body of Christ does and suffers." Melanchthon very properly declined to act on this instruction (see his letter to Camerarius, Jan. 10, 1535, in the "Corp. Reform." II. 822), and began about that time to change his view on the real presence. He was confirmed in his change by the renewal of the eucharistic controversy, and his contact with Calvin. The object and use of the Lord’s Supper is chiefly the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, to the comfort of the believer.917917    The Lutheran theory is generally designated by the convenient term consubstantiation, but Lutheran divines expressly reject it as a misrepresentation. The Zwinglians, with their conception of corporality, could not conceive of a corporal presence without a local presence; while Luther, with his distinction of three kinds of presence and his view of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, could do so. The scholastic term consubstantiatio is not so well defined as transubstantiatio, and may be used in different senses: (1) a mixture of two substances (which nobody ever taught); (2) an inclusion of one substance in another (impanatio); (3) a sacramental co-existence of two substances in their integrity in the same place. In the first two senses the term is not applicable to the Lutheran theory. The "in pane" might favor impanation, but, the sub and cum qualify it. Dr. Steitz, in a learned article on Transubstantiation, in Herzog,1 XVI. 347, and in the second edition, XV. 829, attributes to the Lutheran Church the third view of consubstantiation, but to Luther himself the second; namely, "die sacramentiche Durchdringung der Brotsubstanz von der Substanz des Leibes." To this Luther’s illustration of the fire in the iron might lead. But fire and iron remain distinct. At all events, he denied emphatically a local or physical inclusion. Lutheran divines in America are very sensitive when charged with consubstantiation. This is the scholastic statement of the doctrine, as given by the framers of the Formula Concordiae, and the Lutheran scholastics of the seventeenth century.

The confessional deliverances of the Lutheran Church on the Lord’s Supper are as follows: —


the augsburg confession of 1530.


"ART. X. Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the [true] body and blood of Christ918918    The Latin text reads simply: corpus et sanguis Christi; the German text: wahrer Leib und Blut Christi. are truly present [under the form of bread and wine],919919    Vere adsint et distribuantur. The German text adds: unter der Gestalt des Brots und Weins. The variations between the Latin and German texts of the original edition indicate a certain hesitation in Melanchthon’s mind, if not the beginning of a change, which was completed in the altered confession. and are [there]920920    German: da. communicated to [and received by]921921    German addition: und genomnen wird. those that eat922922    Vescentibus. The German text has no equivalent for this verb. in the Lord’s Supper. And they disapprove of those that teach otherwise."923923    Et improbant secus docentes. In German: Derhalben wird auch die Gegenlehre verworfen, wherefore also the opposite doctrine is rejected. The sacramentarian (Zwinglian) doctrine is meant, but not the Calvinistic, which appeared six years afterward, 1536. The term improbant for the papal damnant, and anathema sit, shows the progress in toleration. The Zwinglian view is not condemned as a heresy, but simply disapproved as an error. The Formula of Concord made a step backwards in this respect, and uses repudiamus and damnamus.


the altered augsburg confession of 1540.


Concerning the Supper of the Lord they teach that with bread and wine are truly exhibited924924    Cum pane et vino vere exhibeantur, instead ofvere adsint et distribuantur. The verb exhibit does not necessarily imply the actual reception by unbelievers, which the verb distribute does. So Dorner also judges of the difference (l.c., p. 324). the body and blood of Christ to those that eat in the Lord’s Supper.925925    The disapproval of those who teach otherwise is significantly omitted, no doubt in deference to Calvin’s view, which had been published in the mean time, and to which Melanchthon himself leaned.


articles of smalkald (by luther), 1537.


"Of this Sacrament of the Altar, we hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ, and are given to, and re-ceived by, not only the pious, but also to and by the impious Christians."


In the same articles Luther denounces transubstantiation as a "subtle sophistry (subtilitas sophistica)," and the Romish mass as "the greatest and most terrible abomination (maxima et horrenda abominatio)." Pars III., Art. VI., in Mueller’s ed., pp. 301, 320.


formula of concord (1577). epitome, art. vii. affirmative.


"I. We believe, teach, and confess that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, and that they are truly distributed and taken together with the bread and wine.

"II. We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the Testament of Christ are not to be understood otherwise than as the words themselves literally sound, so that the bread does not signify the absent body of Christ, and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that on account of the sacra-mental union the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ.

"III. Moreover, as concerns the consecration, we believe, teach, and confess that no human work, nor any utterance of the minister of the Church, is the cause of the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper, but that this is to be attributed to the omnipotent power of our Lord Jesus Christ alone.

"IV. Nevertheless, we believe, teach, and confess, by unanimous con-sent, that in the use of the Lord’s Supper the words of the institution of Christ are by no means to be omitted, but are to be publicly recited, as it is written (1 Cor. 10:16), ’The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?’ etc. And this benediction takes place by the recitation of the words of Christ.

"V. Now the foundations on which we rest in this controversy with the Sacramentarians are the following, which, moreover, Dr. Luther has laid down in his Larger Confession concerning the Supper of the Lord: —

"The first foundation is an article of our Christian faith, to wit: Jesus Christ is true, essential, natural, perfect God and man in unity of person, inseparable and undivided.

"Secondly: That the right hand of God is everywhere; and that Christ, in respect of his humanity, is truly and in very deed seated thereat, and therefore as present governs, and has in his hand and under his feet, as the Scripture saith (Eph. 1:22), all things which are in heaven and on earth. At this right hand of God no other man, nor even any angel, but the Son of Mary alone, is seated, whence also he is able to effect those things which we have said.

"Thirdly: That the Word of God is not false or deceiving.

"Fourthly: That God knows and has in his power various modes of being in any place, and is not confined to that single one which philosophers are wont to call local or circumscribed.

"VI. We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are taken with the bread and wine, not only spiritually through faith, but also by the mouth, nevertheless not Capernaitically, but after a spiritual and heavenly manner, by reason of the sacramental union. For to this the words of Christ clearly bear witness, in which he enjoins us to take, to eat to drink; and that this was done by the Apostles the Scripture makes mention, saying (Mark 14:23), ’And they all drank of it.’ And Paul says, ’The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ;’ that is, he that eats this bread eats the body of Christ.

"To the same, with great consent, do the chief of the most ancient doctors of the church—Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo the First, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustin—bear witness.

"VII. We believe, teach, and confess that not only true believers in Christ, and such as worthily approach the Supper of the Lord, but also the unworthy and unbelieving receive the true body and blood of Christ; in such wise, nevertheless, that they derive thence neither consolation nor life, but rather so as that receiving turns to their judgment and condemnation, unless they be converted, and repent (1 Cor. 11:27, 29).

"For although they repel from them Christ as a Saviour, nevertheless they are compelled, though extremely unwilling, to admit him as a stem Judge. And he no less present exercises his judgment over these impenitent guests than as present he works consolation and life in the hearts of true believers and worthy guests.

"VIII. We believe, teach, and confess that there is one kind only of unworthy guests: they are those only who do not believe. Of these it is written (John 3:18), ’He that believeth not is condemned already.’ And this judgment is enhanced and aggravated by an unworthy use of the holy Supper (1 Cor. 11:29).

"IX. We believe, teach, and confess that no true believer, so long as he retains a living faith, receives the holy Supper of the Lord unto condemnation, however much weakness of faith he may labor under. For the Lord’s Supper has been chiefly instituted for the sake of the weak in faith, who nevertheless are penitent, that from it they may derive true consolation and a strengthening of their weak faith (Matt. 9:12; 11:5, 28).

We believe, teach, and confess that the whole worthiness of the guests at this heavenly Supper consists alone in the most holy obedience and most perfect merit of Christ. And this we apply to ourselves by true faith, and are rendered certain of the application of this merit, and are confirmed in our minds by the sacrament. But in no way does that worthiness depend upon our virtues, or upon our inward or outward preparations."


The three great arguments for the Lutheran theory are the words of institution taken in their literal sense, the ubiquity of Christ’s body, and the prevailing faith of the church before the Reformation.

1. As to the literal interpretation, it cannot be carried out, and is surrendered, as inconsistent with the context and the surroundings, by nearly all modern exegetes.926926    I may mention among commentators (on Matt. 26:26 and parallel passages), De Wette, Meyer, Weiss (in the seventh ed. of Meyer on Matt., p. 504 sq.), Bleek, Ewald, Van Oosterzee, Alford, Morison, etc.; and, among Lutheran and Lutheranizing theologians, Kahnis, Jul. Müller, Martensen, Dorner. The Bible, true to its Oriental origin and character, is full of parables, metaphors, and tropical expressions, from Genesis to Revelation. The substantive verb ἐστι(which was not spoken in the Aramaic original) is simply the logical copula, and may designate a figurative, as well as a real, identity of the subject and the predicate; which of the two, depends on the connection and surroundings. I may say of a likeness of Luther, "This is Luther’s," i.e., a figure or representation of Luther. It has a symbolical or allegorical sense in many passages, as Matt. 13:38 sq.; Luke 12:1; John 10:6, 14:6; Gal. 4:24; Heb. 10:20; Rev. 1:20. But what is most conclusive, even in the words of institution, Luther himself had to admit a double metaphor; namely, a synecdoche partis pro toto ("This is my body" for "This is my body, and bread;" to avoid transubstantiation, which denies the substance of bread), and a synecdoche continentis pro contento (" This cup is the new covenant in my blood," instead of " This wine,"etc.). The whole action is symbolical. At that time Christ, living and speaking to the disciples with his body yet unbroken, and his blood not yet shed, could not literally offer his body to them. They would have shuddered at such an idea, and at least expressed their surprise. Kahnis, an orthodox Lutheran, came to the conclusion (1861) that " the literal interpretation of the words of institution is an impossibility, and must be given up."(See the first. ed. of his Luth. Dogmatik, I. 616 sq.) Dorner says (Christl. Glaubenslehre, II. 853), " That ἐστίmay be understood figuratively is beyond a doubt, and should never have been denied. It is only necessary to refer to the parables."Martensen, an eminent Danish Lutheran (Christl. Dogmatik, p. 491), admits Zwingli’s exegesis, and thinks that his " sober common-sense view has a greater importance than Lutheran divines are generally disposed to accord to it."

2. The ubiquity of Christ’s body involves an important element of truth, but is a dogmatic hypothesis without sufficient Scripture warrant, and cannot well be reconciled with the fact of the ascension, or with the nature of a body, unless it be resolved into a mere potential or dynamic presence which makes it possible for Christ to make his divine-human power and influence felt wherever he pleases.927927    The Lutheran divines were divided between the idea of an absolute ubiquity (which would prove too much for the Lutheran doctrine, and run into a sort of Panchristism or Christo-Pantheism), and a relative ubiquity or multivolipraesentia (which depends upon the will). The Formula of Concord inconsistently favors both views. See Dorner’s History of Christology, II. 710 sqq. (Germ. ed.), and Schaff, Creeds, I. 322, 325 sq., and 348.

The illustrations which Luther uses—as the sun shining everywhere, the voice resounding in a thousand ears and hearts, the eye seeing different objects at once—all lead to a dynamic presence, which Calvin fully admits.

3. The historic argument might prove too much (for transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass), unless we are satisfied with the substance of truth which underlies the imperfect human theories and formulas. The real presence of Christ with his people is indeed a most precious truth, which can never be surrendered. It is the very life of the church and the comfort and strength of believers from day to day. He promised the perpetual presence not only of his spirit or influence, but of his theanthropic person:, I am with you alway." It is impossible to make an abstract separation of the divine and human in the God-man. He is the Head of the church, his body, and "filleth all in all." Nor can the church give up the other important truth that Christ is the bread of life, and nourishes, in a spiritual and heavenly manner, the soul of the believer which is vitally united to him as the branch is to the vine. This truth is symbolized in the miraculous feeding of the multitude, and set forth in the mysterious discourse of the sixth chapter of John.

As far as Luther contended for these truths, he was right against the Sacramentarians, though he erred in the form of conception and statement. His view is mystical but profound; Zwingli’s view is clear but superficial. The former commends itself to devout feeling, the latter to the sober understanding and intellect.


II. The Zwinglian Theory.—The Lord’s Supper is a solemn commemoration of the atoning death of Christ, according to his own command: "Do this in remembrance of me," and the words of Paul: "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come."928928    Zwingli calls the sacrament ein Wiedergedächtniss und Erneuern dessen, was einst geschehen und in Ewigkeit kräftig ist. His views on the Lord’s Supper are conveniently put together by Usteri and Vögelin, in Zwingli’s Sämmtliche Schriften im Auszuge, vol. II. 70-167. Zwingli emphasized this primitive character of the institution as a gift of God to man, in opposition to the Roman mass as a work or offering which man makes to God.929929    Dorner (Gesch. der protest. Theol., p. 300): "Das Charakteristische in allen Schriften Zwingli’s vor 1524 ist sein Gegensatz gegen das heil. Abendmahl als Opfer und Messe." So also Ebrard. He compares the sacrament to a wedding-ring which seals the marriage union between Christ and the believer. He denied the corporal presence, because Christ ascended to heaven, and because a body cannot be present in more than one place at once, also because two substances cannot occupy the same space at the same time; but he admitted his spiritual presence, for Christ is eternal God, and his death is forever fruitful and efficacious.930930    He expressed at Marburg, and in his two confessions to Charles I. and to Francis I., his full belief in the divinity of Christ in the sense of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Dorner says (l.c., p. 302): "Dass Zwingli Christum gegenwärtig denkt, ist unleugbar; er sei bei diesem Mahle Wirth und Gastmahl (hospes et epulum)." He denied the corporal eating as Capernaitic and useless, but he admitted a spiritual participation in the crucified body and blood by faith. Christ is both "host and feast" in the holy communion.

His last word on the subject of the eucharist (in the Confession to King Francis I.) is this: —


"We believe that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper; yea, that there is no communion without such presence .... We believe that the true body of Christ is eaten in the communion, not in a gross and carnal manner, but in a sacramental and spiritual manner by the religious, believing and pious heart."931931    Christum credimus vere esse in coena, immo non esse Domini coenam nisi Christus adsit ... Adserimus igitur non sic carnaliter et crasse manducari corpus Christi in coena, ut isti perhibent, sed verum Christi corpus credimus in coena sacramentaliter et spiritualiter edi, a religiosa, fideli et sancta mente, quomodo et divus Chrysostomus sentit. Et haec est brevis summa nostrae, immo non nostrae, sed ipsius veritatis, sententia de hac controversia. Niemeyer, Collectio Confess., pp. 71, 72.


This passage comes so near the Calvinistic view that it can hardly be distinguished from it. Calvin did injustice to Zwingli, when once in a confidential letter he called his earlier eucharistic doctrine, profane."932932    Letter to Viret, September, 1542: "De scriptis Zwinglii sic sentire, ut sentis, tibi permitto. Neque enim omnia legi. Et fortassis sub finem vitae, retractavit ac correxit in melius quae temere initio exciderant. Sed in scriptis prioribus memini, quam profana sit de Sacramentis sententia."Opera, XI. 438. But Zwingli in his polemic writings laid so much stress upon the absence of Christ’s body, that the positive truth of His spiritual presence was not sufficiently emphasized. Undoubtedly the Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of the historic Christ of the past, but it is also a vital communion with the ever-living Christ who is both in heaven and in his church on earth.

Zwingli’s theory did not pass into any of the leading Reformed confessions; but it was adopted by the Arminians, Socinians, Unitarians, and Rationalists, and obtained for a time a wide currency in all Protestant churches, even the Lutheran. But the Rationalists deny what Zwingli strongly believed, the divinity of Christ, and thus deprive the Lord’s Supper of its deeper significance and power.


III. The Calvinistic Theory.—Calvin was the greatest divine and best writer among the Reformers, and his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" have almost the same importance for Reformed theology as the "Summa" of Thomas Aquinas for that of the Roman Church. He organized the ideas of the Reformation into a clear, compact system, with the freshness and depth of genius, the convincing power of logic, and a complete mastery of the Latin and French languages.933933    Henri Martin (Histoire de France, Tom. VIII. 188 sq.) says of Calvin’s Institutes that they gave a religious code to the Reform in France and in a great part of Europe,"and that it is "une vraie ’Somme’ théologique, où se trouve impliqué l’ordre civil même, et qui n’est pas, comme celle de Thomas d’Aquin, le résumé d’un système établi, mais le programne et le code d’un système à établir ... Luther attire: Calvin impose et retient ... Volonté et logique, voilà Calvin" (p. 185). He calls him "le premier écrivain par la durée et l’influence de sa langue, de son style."

His theory of the Lord’s Supper occupies a via media between Luther and Zwingli; he combines the realism of the one with the spiritualism of the other, and saves the substance for which Luther contended, but avoids the objectionable form. He rests on the exegesis of Zwingli. He accepts the symbolical meaning of the words of institution; he rejects the corporal presence, the oral manducation, the participation of the body and blood by unbelievers, and the ubiquity of Christ’s body. But at the same time he strongly asserts a spiritual real presence, and a spiritual real participation of Christ’s body and blood by faith. While Zwingli dwelt chiefly on the negative, he emphasizes the positive, element. While the mouth receives the visible signs of bread and wine, the soul receives by faith, and by faith alone, the things signified and sealed thereby; that is, the body and blood of Christ with the benefit of his atoning death and the virtue of his immortal life. He combines the crucified Christ with the glorified Christ, and brings the believer into contact with the whole Christ. He lays great stress on the agency of the Holy Spirit in the ordinance, which was overlooked by Luther and Zwingli, but which appears in the ancient liturgies in the invocation of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who unites in a supernatural manner what is separated in space, and conveys to the believing communicant the life-giving virtue of the flesh of Christ now glorified in heaven.934934    Some of the strongest passages on this point occur in his polemic tracts against Westphal. In the Second Defense he says: "Christum corpore absentem doceo nihilominus non tantum divina sua virtute, quae ubique diffusa est, nobis adesse, sed etiam facere ut nobis vivifica sit sua caso" (Opera, IX. 76)."Spiritus sui virtute Christus locorum distantiam superat ad vitam nobis e sua carne inspirandam" (p. 77). And in his last admonition: "Haec nostrae doctrinae summa est, carnem Christi panem esse vivificum, quia dum fide in eam coalescimus, vere animas nostras alit et pascit. Hoc nonnisi spiritualiter fieri docemus, quia hujus sacrae unitatis vinculum arcana est et incomprehensibilis Spiritus Sancti virtus" (p. 162). For a good exposition of the Calvinistic theory which substantially agrees with ours, we may refer to Ebrard (Abendmahl, II. 550-570), Stähelin (Calvin, I. 222 sqq.), and Nevin (Mystical Presence). When Calvin requires the communicant to ascend to heaven to feed on Christ there, he does, of course, not mean a locomotion, but that devotional sursum corda of the ancient liturgies, which is necessary in every act of worship, and is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Calvin discussed the eucharistic question repeatedly and fully in his Institutes and in separate tracts. I select a few extracts from his Institutes (Book IV., ch. XVII. 10 sqq.), which contain his first and last thoughts on the subject.


(10) "The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporal life. For there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. This could not be, did not Christ truly form one with us, and refresh us by the eating of his flesh, and the drinking of his blood. But though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore, what our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive; viz., that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude." ...

"(18) ... Though Christ withdrew his flesh from us, and with his body ascended to heaven, he 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.

"(19) 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. All these things are clearly repugnant to his true human nature. Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions. First, let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ. This happens whenever he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or is affixed to any earthly creatures. Secondly, let no property be assigned to his body inconsistent with his human nature. This is done when it is either said to be infinite, or made to occupy a variety of places at the same time.

"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."


Calvin’s theory was not disapproved by Luther, who knew it, was substantially approved by Melanchthon in 1540, and adopted by all the leading Reformed Confessions of faith. We select a few specimens from one of the earliest and from the latest Calvinistic standards: —


heidelberg catechism (1563).


Question 76. What is it to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood, of Christ?

Answer. It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; but moreover also, to be so united more and more to his sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that although He is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are, nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.

Q. 78. Do, then, the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

A. No: but as the water, in baptism, is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof; so also, in the Lord’s Supper, the sacred bread does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.

Q. 79. Why, then, doth Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the New Testament in His blood; and St. Paul, the communion of the body and blood of Christ?

A. Christ speaks thus not without great cause; namely, not only to teach us thereby, that, like as bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him; and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we had ourselves suffered and done all in our own persons.


westminster confession of faith (1647).


Chapter XXIX., section VII.


Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are, to the outward senses.


westminster larger catechism (1647).


Question 170. How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?

Answer. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal or carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.




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