Category Archives: John Calvin

The Eucharist in the Didache (Clary book)

In 1975, Hughes Oliphant Old published his dissertation entitled The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. Old persuasively argues that we have every reason to take Calvin and his colleagues seriously when they claim patristic support for their liturgical ideas.

The Reformers deliberately developed their approach to worship by returning, first and foremost, to the scriptures but also to the fathers of the church, whom they regarded as fallible, though generally reliable, interpreters of the bible.

Unfortunately, the Reformers did not have at their disposal one of the earliest Christian documents that describes various liturgical customs in the ancient church, namely, the Didache.

With the fortuitous rediscovery of the Didache at the end of the 19th century, we have access to a critical resource for doing precisely what the Reformers aspired to do, namely, to reform the church’s worship in light of holy scripture and the customs of the ancient church.

My dissertation entitled The Eucharist in the Didache, which you can read here, is a modest attempt at continuing the important work of reforming the church’s worship in light of patristic customs.

 

Calvin on Union with Christ through Word and Sacrament

In his “Summary of Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments,” Calvin articulates the idea of union and communion with Christ through the means of grace.

The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God … communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.

We believe this communication to be mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and Spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit [by whom] he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ…. so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.[1]

[1] Jean Calvin, Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 170-77.

Catholic Describes Communion Service in Calvin’s Church

What was the Communion service like in Calvin’s Geneva? One Catholic who attended a service gave the following description.

Three or four times a year, according to the will of the authorities, two tables are set up in the church, each covered with a tablecloth, and a lot of hosts are set on the left, and three or four cups or glasses on the right, with lots of pots full of either white or red wine below the table. And after the sermon the preacher comes down from the pulpit and goes to the end of the table on the side where the hosts are, and with his head uncovered and standing places a piece in each person’s hand, saying ‘Remember that Jesus Christ died for you’.

Each person eats his piece while walking to the other end of the table, where he takes something to drink from one of the Lords, or another person deputized for this task, without saying anything, while sergeants with their head uncovered pour the wine and provide additional hosts if they run out. Throughout all of this, somebody else reads from the pulpit in the vernacular with his head uncovered the gospel of Saint John, from the beginning of the thirteenth chapter, until everyone has taken their piece, both men and women, each one at their different table.[1]

[1] Description taken from Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed.

Calvin on the Realities & Signs of the Sacraments

In Calvin’s thinking, the signs of the sacraments should be distinguished from the realities which they signify, but they should not be separated from them. First Corinthians 10:1-4 says,

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

In Calvin’s commentary on this text, the Reformer makes the following observations about the signs and realities of the sacraments.

When [Paul] says that the fathers ate the same spiritual meat, he shows, first, what is the virtue and efficacy of the Sacraments, and, secondly, he declares, that the ancient Sacraments of the Law had the same virtue as ours have at this day. For, if the manna was spiritual food, it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies.

A sign, it is true, is a sign, and retains its essence, but, as Papists act a ridiculous part, who dream of transformations, (I know not of what sort,) so it is not for us to separate between the reality and the emblem which God has conjoined. Papists confound the reality and the sign: profane men, as, for example, Suenckfeldius, and the like, separate the signs from the realities. Let us maintain a middle course, or, in other words, let us observe the connection appointed by the Lord, but still keep them distinct, that we may not mistakenly transfer to the one what belongs to the other.

So Roman Catholics err by confounding the reality and the sign. Anabaptists err by separating them. Calvin argues that sign and reality must be kept distinct, but they must not be severed.

The sacraments are signs, but they are not empty or bare signs, nor are they signs of something absent but of something present, given, and received.

Ultimately, the reality signified by the signs is Jesus Christ himself and all the benefits of redemption which are found in him.

 

Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap

Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”

It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor. Continue reading