Zwingli and the Reformed Confessions on the Supper

The question came up on the PB whether Zwingli gets a bum rap on the Supper. It’s true that Zwingli has on the receiving end of the stick. This has provoked a reaction, led most recently by W. P. (Peter) Stephens in his excellent works on Zwingli’s theology. The revisionists argue that Zwingli did come to have, in his later writings, more than a a “mere memorial” view of the Supper. Contrarian and revisionist that I am I was initially attracted to this story of Zwingli’s view of the Supper, until I re-read him.Thus, when I started teaching Reformation history, first at Wheaton and then at WSC, I repeated the revisionist account of Zwingli’s doctrine of the Supper.  In a discussion several years ago, however, Mike Horton challenged me to re-read Zwingli later writings. I did and I found that the revisionist case doesn’t hold up. Here are a couple of passages (provided by Adam King in the PB discussion) from Zwingli:

To eat the body of Christ sacramentally, if we wish to speak accurately, is to eat the body of Christ in heart and spirit with the accompaniment of the sacrament…You eat the body of Christ spiritually, though not sacramentally, every time you comfort your heart in its anxious query ‘How will you be saved’…When you comfort yourself thus, I say, you eat his body spiritually, that is, you stand unterrified in God against all attacks of despair, through confidence in the humanity he took upon himself for you.

But when you come to the Lord’s Supper with this spiritual participation and give thanks unto the Lord for his kindness, for the deliverance of your soul, through which you have been delivered from the destruction of despair, and for the pledge by which you have been made sure of everlasting blessedness, and along with the brethren partake of the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body of Christ, then you eat him sacramentally, in the proper sense of the term, when you do internally what you represent externally, when your heart is refreshed by this faith to which you bear witness by these symbols” (Zwingli’s Fidei Expositio in Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, 190-91).

To be sure, not everything that Zwingli said here was false, it’s just that, judged by Calvin and the Reformed confessions, he didn’t say enough.  When Zwingli says “heart and spirit” we can see immediately that he was speaking in psychological categories not in objective categories. When he said “spiritually” he meant “metaphorically” or “not literally.” He wasn’t speaking in Pauline categories. The adverb here cannot be capitalized to refer to the person of the Holy Spirit as it can often be in Paul.

To put it bluntly even in Zwingli’s very latest writings, Zwingli was still teaching only the intense psychological experience of remembering Jesus’ death.

Even Zwingli’s “highest” language is some ways from the language of Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism or the Belgic Confession. Zwingli would never say with the Belgic that, in the Supper, by the mysterious operation of the Spirit, believers eat the “proper and natural” body and blood of Christ.

BC Art 35 says:

In the mean time we err not when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the Spirit through faith. [emphasis added]

In the same way, HC 75 says, “that with His crucified body and shed blood He Himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life….”

It is clear from these brief but potent passages from the Belgic and the Heidelberg that by the early 1560s the Reformed had left behind Zwingli’s purely psychological and even subjectivist conception of the Supper.

After Calvin, the Reformed generally agreed with the Lutherans that, in the Supper, Christ feeds us with his body and blood. The question was not whether, but how.  

For Zwingli, what takes place in the Supper is, at most, an internal psychological (intellectual and emotional) experience of remembering. It is more funeral than feeding. For Calvin, the HC, the BC, and, I think, the Westminster Standards there is undeniably a memorial aspect to the Supper but that memorial aspect exhausts neither the Supper nor the operation of the Spirit through the Supper. 

Here is an essay on the Supper that elaborates some of these themes. I no longer agree with what I wrote (in ’95 or ’96) that, “Even Zwingli, who has sometimes been criticized for teaching that the Supper was a mere memorial of Christ’s death, taught that Christ strengthens us through the Supper.”

Blank white book w/pathI also deal with the questions of the Supper and Christology in Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.

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  1. Perhaps the origination of the confusion of the latter thoughts of Zwingli is the The Consensus Tigurinus made with Bullinger.

  2. Vaclav,

    I do think that, perhaps, some impute the Consensus with Zwingli. Bullinger had two decades, however, to work out a more mature view of the Supper than Zwingli had.

    • Dear Dr. Clark,
      I was reading through Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions published by CPH. Predictably when the editors give the “historic background” for the Formula of Concord they concede that though Calvin distanced his view of the Lord’s Supper from that of Zwingli’s view at Marburg that since Calvin wrote The Consensus Tigurinus, particularly I can only guess – since the publication doesn’t quote from the document itself – Article 21, Calvin’s view must really be what Zwingli’s position was (pg. 468).

      A Reformed response that I have seen over the Internet is that Calvin acknowledged that the Consensus was a compromise in terminology so the language of the Consensus should not be used as the key to understanding Calvin. My question for you is, is there any direct documentation from Calvin where he acknowledges that the Consensus does not represent everything he taught about the Lord’s Supper? I have only seen the response as a undocumented assertion. Of course, indirectly we can prove that since the editions of the Institutes following the writing of the Consensus repudiate both Zwingli’s memorial view and the hyper-Lutheran view of Joachiam Westphal that Calvin’s view remained what in was when articled in the 1541 Short Treatise. However, after 1549 does Calvin comment on the Consensus Tigurinus and if he does what does he say about it?

      In addition, was there a Reformed response to The Saxon Visitation Articles? Were we really as sneaky as what some Lutherans historians allege was the background to the Visitation articles? If there was a response is it easily available in English if you had a good library nearby?

      • Good question. No idea about a response to the Saxon Visitation Articles.

        No, so far as I know, Calvin never said explicitly that he compromised in the Consensus. That he did is a deduction — a correct one. It’s pretty hard to square his later language (c. ’52) contra Westphal and even his earlier Short Treatise with what he said in the Consensus. Tom Davis’ treatment of these issues, Clearest Promises is pretty good.

        If Calvin had said explicitly that he was dissenting from Bullinger or the Consensus he would have hung Bullinger out to dry, so to speak. He tried hard to foster unity among the evangelicals/Protestants. The Consensus, however, was the last straw for the Lutherans who then decided he was nothing but closet/crypto-Zwinglian. That became the confessional position and nothing we’ve said or done since has changed their minds.

        • So how does the Reformed Confession understand the language of the Consensus? Should we discuss it with the understanding that the Consensus does not fully explain Calvin’s teaching and should not inform the way we should understand the Reformed position on the Lord’s Supper?

          So, the Reformed should understand both Article and Error I of the Saxon Articles in light of the Lutheran POV that Calvin basically told us his real position and that of the Reformed for all eternity in 1549? What an unfortunate position to adopt. Of course, I imagine most Lutherans haven’t shed any tears over it for quite a while, if ever. The thing that really bugs me, though, is that the ones who might know better don’t admit it and so the Lutheran lay person has a simplified – if not outrightly biased against any historical complexity whatsoever – version of their history that omits crucial details. Are there any Lutherans who might be willing to admit that their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper can stand on its own two feet without always having to erect a caricature of the Reformed position?

          • Hi Nathan,

            The Gnesio-Lutheran rejection of the Reformed was probably inevitable after 1529. It’s tragic but they’re willing to cut Luther slack for his political maneuvering but not Calvin. It’s a case of “our guy” not being “their guy.”

            The truth is that Calvin is a lot closer to Luther on the Supper than he was to Zwingli. For the latter the Supper is only a memorial, a subjective experience. For Calvin, as for Luther, in the Supper we eat the body and blood of Christ. The difference is how. For Calvin it is by the operation off the Spirit. For Luther it’s “in, with, and under.”

            I don’t know many confessional Lutherans who read Calvin. He’s been a bogey man for a very long time. I did a piece on this here:

            “Calvin as Negative Boundary Marker in American Lutheran Self-Identity 1871–1934” in Johan de Niet, Herman Paul, and Bart Wallet, ed., Sober, Strict, and Scriptural: Collective Memories of John Calvin, 1800-2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

            • Has that book finally come out? If so, was it this past summer? I have been looking forward to reading your essay, since I do have both an uncle who is a LCMS pastor and a few really good friends who are in the LCMS the topic is very important to me.

              Thanks for the reference to Tom Davis – I’ll be looking into his book real soon.

        • Dr. Clark,
          I was able to find a library in close driving range with Tom Davis’ work. Have you looked at his newer book, This Is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought? I have not seen it yet other than what’s online but he seems to be both adding more material (Luther’s development of Eucharistic teaching) and maybe condensing his work done in Clearest Promises.

          Do you know how I might buy a copy of Clearest Promises? I can find AMS Press online, but I’m not sure it’s the same AMS Press that published Davis’ book.

  3. Hi Scott,

    I heard a lecture by Wayne Spear a few years back where he made the case that when it comes to the “feeding upon the body and blood” sections of the Westminster Standards that the confessional statements differ with Calvin (and The Scots’, Irish and BC) and instead parallel the approach of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which limits the body and blood to a spiritual partaking. Knowing the language the framers of the Westminster Standards chose was done so carefully, I’m curious if you’d place the later Zwingli outside the bounds of WCF 29.7, SC 97 and LC 170? Wouldn’t making feeding upon the corporal body and blood language a test of being Reformed place the plain language of Westminster outside those bounds too?


  4. Hi Adam,

    I can’t speak for the view of all the divines but my impression of 17th-century orthodoxy is that had a rather higher view of the Supper than even the late Zwingli. Were there some Zwinglians at the Assembly? Probably. The language of the Standards, however, goes beyond Zwingli.

    E.g. Zwingli could not and did not say anything like WLC 168, “and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed….”

    WLC 170 affirms this:

    “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 and 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.”

    When the WLC says “spiritual” it does not mean “mere figure” or “merely subjectively” or “merely symbolically.” In this context I take the adjective spiritual to be richer.

    Remember too that this teaching is in the context of the supper as “means of grace.” Embedded in that notion is the idea that it is an instrument through which the Spirit operates. This isn’t exactly what Zwingli was saying.

  5. Zwingli’s views reflect the New Testament teaching, that the Supper is a MEMORIAL meal. The idea that the bread and wine are the “proper and natural body and blood of Christ” is sheer mysticism. Luther is worse than Calvin, but they both had an incoherent view of the Supper.


  6. Scott, thank you for the follow up.

    I see what you mean about what is lacking in Zwingli’s approach.

    In regard to Calvin and BC 35, if I remember correctly the point Spear was making was that it’s at the feeding on the “proper and natural” body and blood where the Westminster Standards depart from Calvin. That language is clear in BC/Calvin, but conspicously missing from Westminster. Since they were very familiar with prior Reformed confessions, their choice of wording perhaps indicates that upon further reflection they thought Calvin/BC went a bit too far in regards to what we can say about the Christian feeding upon Christ’s “natural” body and blood.

    Thanks again.

  7. Adam,

    Clearly 18th century (and following Reformed theology in the English speaking world, esp. in the USA) came increasingly to be influenced by Zwingli but I am wary about arguments from silence about what the divines meant, especially in light of the language they did use.

    I don’t mean to say that there is not a range of expression available to Reformed folk but I do find it interesting how often Reformed folk recoil from Calvin and the Belgic (and the HC) and even the full force of the Standards. Not that this is true of you or Spear but as a teacher and minister I have long noticed that our people and many of our ministers and elders are functionally Zwinglian and it’s a job to bring them beyond Zwingli to Calvin, the BC, the HC, and the Westminster Standards.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    I have to admit that it’s taken me a while to understand the historic Reformed teaching on the Lord’s Supper that you describe as reflected in the confessions, and I’m still finding my way.

    Is the following definition of the Reformed view of the Supper, which has been given to me, accurate, and if not, where does it come off the rails?:

    “Christ is present, but not in the symbols of bread and wine. Rather, Christ is truly present in his real body, the church – those elements believers receiving the elements.”

    Thank you.


  9. Hi Mike,

    No, I don’t think that captures it. I just relocates the subjectivism from the individual to the community (the church). The body in question here is not “the church,” but Christ’s actual, physical body ascended to the right hand of the Father. That’s is the thing with which we are being fed in the Supper.

    How? I can’t say.

    I can say that it is the Spirit who does it and I can say that He operates (works) through the means of grace (the Supper) to feed, nourish believers.

    If you’ll follow the link to the essay on Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper, you’ll see that, for Calvin, we’re lifted up, in the Supper, and seated with Christ, as the disciples were and fed as they were.

    My advice is to read Calvin’s Short Treatise on the Supper. It’s in the Selected Writings which are widely available. It’s probably online somewhere. You might also want to read the sections in the Institutes, book 4. See the essay linked above for leads. I would meditate on BC 35 and the relevant places in the HC and WLC/WCF

  10. A fleeting glance on biblical text and not-in-detail following Rene Descartes will lead one to embrace Zwingli’s explanations of the Holy Supper. Calvin’s view of the biblical explanation of the Holy Supper is, in my view, correct and not mystical in the way mystical is generally understood. The general understanding of mysticism I would call hyper-mysticism, as we have not enough terminology in these type of discussions.

    In a way Zwingli’s view is hyper-rational; we have to rationalize all or it does not exist is a dangerous statement. The Bible teaches that there are things we do not know, nor understand, and things that our language can not express, would we then call this mystical? Is the Trinity mystical? No. Both hyper-mysticism and hyper-rationalism are dangerous filters for reading the Bible.

  11. Hi Vaclav,

    In the history of theology there have been different kinds of mysticism. Calvin speaks of our “mystical union” (3.11.10). He uses the word to mean, as you say, things that are true that we cannot fully explain. As you quite rightly say, the Christian faith teaches truths that are transcendent and not fully explicable. The Spirit’s operation through the elements to feed us with Christ is one of those.

    Bernard of Clairvaux was Calvin’s and Luther’s favorite medieval theologian and he was what some have called a “Christo-mystic.” He was focused on the life of Christ and replicating that in the Christian life, at least in his better moments, his commentary on the Song of Solomon aside. There were other mystics, however, who were all about being absorbed into the Deity. I call that onto-mysticism. I don’t know if I cribbed that from Bernard McGinn or not.

    We would dissent from onto-mysticism that seeks to overcome humanity by union with or by being identified with or swallowed up into Deity.

  12. Yes, precisely. I am having a hard time looking at, for example, 1 Cor. 10:16-22 and seeing Zwingli getting close to the truth of it.

  13. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for pointing out Calvin’s treatise on the supper. I didn’t know he wrote one. I’ll track it down.

    As I think on it more, the best explanation I’ve ever heard was from my pastor when I was in high school, an explanation which is similar to a point you made above, who said that we really eat and drink of Christ “spiritually” and that just because we say something is “spiritual” doesn’t mean that it’s less real than that is “physical.” I don’t know if that explanation is off too, but it seemed helpful. Thanks.


  14. Scott, I think this is a great discussion.

    The point I was trying to make vis a via the wording the Westminster Standards is that if we’re going to make affirmation of “natural” body and “natural” blood a test for Reformed orthodoxy, then it appears the Westminster Standards fall outside the camp. Adding the weight of the argument re: “natrual” body exclusion being significant is that in these sections the devines didn’t hesitate to drill down deep on a number of issues related to the supper. At the very least, I think the absence of “natural” body indicates they didn’t think the prior wording of BC, HC and Scott’s ought to function as a boundary marker in their churches. That’s why I’m having a hard time seeing how confessing the Westminster plus nothing on the supper makes one a non-Reformed Zwinglian?


  15. Adam,

    Thanks for playing.

    1. I don’t read the WCF/WLC as remotely Zwinglian for the reasons I’ve specified above but chiefly because Zwingli could never say what the Westminster Divines said.

    2. For the Divines (and for confessional Presbyterians) the sacraments generally are “means of grace.” That’s not a Zwinglian idea. For confessional Presbyterians, the sacraments are gospel, they are Christ coming to us, feeding us, nourishing us. For Zwingli, the sacraments are not gospel, they are, effectively, law. The sacraments are about our grieving, our remembering, our intense, emotional, funereal, psychological experience.

    Even if the Standards didn’t use the exact language of the Belgic — there was 80 years of theological reflection on these questions between the Belgic and the Standards and the latter were written in a very different time and place and for a different constituency — the general conception of the Supper in the Standards is much more elevated, advanced, Protestant, Calvinist than anything Zwingli conceived.

    In fairness to Zwingli, he died young and early. Who knows what might have happened? We can speculate, but that’s not history. We can see where Bullinger went — not as far as Calvin but light years from Zwingli.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the massive influence of Bullinger in the English church shaped their way of speaking about the Supper. Calvin was widely read and re-printed but I have wondered how deeply his view of the Supper penetrated the common-sense English soul? I don’t know but I am quite confident that the Standards aren’t Zwinglian.

    I’m in no way reading out of the Reformed Churches folks who don’t say. “proper and natural” etc. I do wonder why they can’t? What is there about that language that bothers? What are we eating? Memories? Feelings? Experience? Grief? No. We’re eating Christ. If we simply capitalize the S in Spirit we’re set. If all we can speak about is a figurative eating or a memorial eating or subjective experience of some sort, we’ve an impoverished view of the Supper.

    To the Vern – we’re not rationalists! “This is my body.” “Take, eat.” We confess “proper and natural body and blood” because that’s what we were commanded to eat!

    How? By the operation of God the Spirit through the elements. Okay, how’s that? Can’t say. Doesn’t bother me. I can’t say exactly how God the Son is one person with two natures. I can’t say exactly how God is sovereign and I’m morally liable, but I do.

    Be careful that you don’t set up a test by which you’ll have to flunk the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ and God and man and so on. That was the path of the Remonstrants and the Socinians before them.

  16. Scott said, “For Zwingli, the sacraments are not gospel, they are, effectively, law. The sacraments are about our grieving, our remembering, our intense, emotional, funereal, psychological experience.”

    This is pretty counterintuitive. Most would think idea of sacraments as “means of grace” is the legalistic view. A Zwinglian would rather say that the sacraments are a response to grace, not a means. Jesus himself said we observe the Supper to REMEMBER him. Why knock the psychological when it’s precisely how Jesus told us to observe the Supper?

    Remember, the Supper was orginally a JEWISH rite. It is hard to believe the early Jews who followed Jesus would have understood Him to be teaching a semi-pagan, -magical, or -externalistic view of the bread and wine. Why impute all these quasi-mystical views to the Supper when the same is not done to Passover, it’s near equivalent rite? Obviously, Passover was not a means of grace but a response to grace, so the same should be true of the Supper.


  17. Re rationalism.
    I was struck by the fact that you use the same excuse Calvin used. It’s a mystery. But it is not a mystery for a Zwinglian view. In fact, Calvin was trying to reconcile Luther and Zwingli. The whole thing comes across as incoherent. The reason I came to the Zwinglian view is that Jim Jordan used to go on about how good Calvin’s view was, but I couldn’t find any evidence in the New Testament to support such a speculative view. The Supper was a Jewish meal, not a philosophical meal.


  18. Vern,

    Because of the analogy of Scripture. 1 Cor 10:1-5 says that the Israelites, in the desert, ate and drank Christ. They did not “remember” him. They didn’t eat memories. They didn’t eat metaphors. They didn’t eat similes or figures. “That rock was Christ.”

    How was that rock Christ? Sacramentally. How did believers eat Christ? By the mysterious operation of the Spirit. Paul was, I think, Jewish wasn’t he? You’re not saying that “if Jewish then necessarily Zwinglian” are you?

    You can hear a brief devotion on and exegesis of 1 Cor 10:1-5 online.

    Trouble with mystery and the Spirit? Try John 3. The Spirit operates mysteriously! See Acts 2.

  19. Obviously, spiritual feeding.”

    Aaaaaand, the baptism of the Israelites was just figurative, right?.

    I just had a baptist dismiss that too, just yesterday. So much for trying to argue with a rationalist from the Scriptures.

  20. For the record, Jesus didn’t say, “Do this in order to remember me.” He said, “Do this for my memorial” (touto poieite eis ten emen anamnesin). And, interestingly, the “memorial” language is present only in the account of Luke and Paul. Were Mark and Matthew simply glossing over what is, supposedly, the whole import of the sacrament? Also, in Luke, before saying “do this for my memorial”, Jesus says “This is my body, which is given for you”, while in Paul, we read in the previous chapter that the bread and cup are a “participation” or “communion” in the body and blood of Christ.

    This language goes beyond mere remembrance of something absent to us and confined to the past. The accounts are frought with language of presence and participation. It is a “memorial” because it is a rite which commemorates a death. But, this does not necessitate an absence of the one whose death is there commemorated, for he is the same One who has been raised from the dead, who now lives to intercede for us, who promised to be with us always, and to be *present* wherever two or more are gathered in his name, and who, moreover, comes to us in the Person of his Spirit, who has been poured out on his Church as the eschatological blessing brought to pass by the very death and resurrection which we commemorate in the Eucharist.

    There is no doubt a psychological element to the Supper. Those who hold to Calvin’s view do not deny in any way the memorial aspect which is present in Luke’s narrative. However, we do also think it is quite necessary to pay attention to what the Scriptures teach *in addition to* the Eucharist being a memorial rite; for to simply reduce the Supper to the psychological is to ignore much of what the Scriptures do have to say about the matter.

  21. So Bruce, the Israelites were literally baptized? Sprinkled, immersed? Did they even get wet?

    Jonathan, your idea of “present” would need to be explicated before I could comment on it. Zwingli would have agreed that Jesus is spiritually present, not literally (physically). Moreover, the psychological is the REASON for observing the Supper, as Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me.” (anamnesis = call to mind, remember) That the Supper, like baptism, signifies a spiritual reality does not subtract from the psychological imperative “do this in remembrance of Me.”

    As many have pointed out, if Christ were literally, physically present, why would there be any need to remember him? He’d be right there! Instead, his Spirit is present. Calvin, BTW, goes beyond Spiritual presence, and your exposition above does not fully express his views.

    Those who’ve been influenced by the FV and other Anglo-Catholic notions should try to understand that the Supper is analogous to Passover. The bread and wine that Jesus and his disciples ate was not metaphysical bread and wine, but was Jewish bread and Jewish wine.


  22. Scott,

    Was Passover a funeral or a feast?

    Depends on what you mean by means of grace. The only means of grace I can find in the NT is preaching. I.e., grace is not mediated by any rituals, but comes by the hearing of faith, and recipients gratefully respond in baptism and communion. The foolishness of preaching is the instrumentality that God has chosen to bring grace into the world.


  23. Vern,

    So I take it that you’re not too crazy about Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper, or that of the Belgic, the Heidelberg, or the Westminster Standards?

    Berkhof gives a pretty standard definition of means of grace. He defined them as “objective channels which Christ has instituted in the Church, and to which he ordinarily binds himself in the communication of his grace.” (ST, 604-5; RRC, 329). That’s what one finds in classic Reformed theology.

  24. Vern: “So Bruce, the Israelites were literally baptized? Sprinkled, immersed? Did they even get wet?”

    1) Yes.

    2) Sprinkled. Psa 77:17-20 “The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook. Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known. Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

    3) Yes, but their feet were dry, Ex.14:21; Ps.66:6.

    4) Bonus: The Egyptians were “baptized” too. That’s because baptism is also a sign of judgment. We’re saved through the water, just like Noah and the other seven, 1Pet.3:20-21.

  25. H Scott,
    I don’t have a problem with “means of grace” if it means something like means of sanctifying grace, but I do have a problem if it means the grace of salvation. As far as I can see it, the grace of salvation is never mediated through rituals or individuals (sacerdotalism), but comes through the means of preaching. Obviously, preaching isn’t automatic grace either, but at least the NT makes it clear that it’s God’s chosen way of bringing sinners to salvation, i.e., the means, the instrumentality, of grace.

    As over against FVists who want to “balance” the preaching of the Word with ritual and liturgy, I’d say, stick with the primacy of preaching.


  26. Vern

    “anamnesis” is a noun, not a verb. The terminology “call to mind” or “remember” is verbal, not nominal. The better translation would retain the nominal, and have the verse “do this for my memorial”. This is important because it emphasizes the fact that the eating and drinking of bread and wine which is declared by his own Word to be his body and blood is the rite which commemorates our Lord’s death. Jesus does not say there that the purpose of the rite is solely for us to remember him. (And again, if this is the sole import of the rite, then why would it be excluded from the accounts of Mark and Matthew? ) Rather, he declares that he instituted the sacrament as the rite which commemorates his sacrificial death. This in no way excludes the fact that he is made truly present there by the Holy Ghost. And, when we consider the rest of the biblical material on the Supper (the unqualified “estin”, along with the language of participation in Paul’s account), we must conclude that more is going on there than that which is confined to our own thoughts.

    And Calvin does not go beyond “spiritual” presence, so long as “spiritual” is rightly understood as “brought about by the operation of the Holy Spirit.” As he says, “For us the manner is spiritual because the secret power of the Spirit is the bond of our union with Christ.” (Institutes IV.17.33.) If, however, we define “spiritual” as “disembodied” or “present in divinity only” then yes, Calvin goes far beyond this for, as he tells Heshusius, “I speak everywhere of a substantial presence.”

  27. I should clarify something, since after reading through my comment it seems unclear: the importance of retaining the nominal nature of “anamnesis” in translation is that it clarifies that Jesus is saying that the rite itself is the memorial. The point therefore has primarily to do with the meal itself as a comemmoration, not our subjective act of “remembering”. Though the idea of our remembrance would be included here, this is not all that Jesus has in mind when he commands “touto poieite eis ten emen anamnesin”.

  28. Jonathan, you are still not adequately expressing Calvin’s view. Calvin makes it clear that Christ’s flesh and blood are SUBSTANTIALLY present in the Supper, that the SUBSTANCE of Christ’s flesh and blood is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine. That’s Calvin’s terminology, and you and Scott ought to be held to it if you are going to recommend Calvin’s view.

    With respect to the translation, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Most Bible versions I’ve consulted translate it pretty much the same way. So also with 1 Cor. 11:23-25: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” (1 Cor 11:23-25.)

    I was only able to find one Bible version that used the term “commemoration” (Douay-Rheims). “Do this for a commemoration of me.” The D-R Bible is in fact a translation of the Latin Vulgate, and was intended to support Roman Catholic doctrines against Protestants. No other responsible Bible version translates it in such a way as to deny the psychological element or to suggest that “Do this” is telling the disciples to set up a commemoration rite. The imperative is directed to the mental, just as it was in Passover.

    “What do you mean by this service?” (Ex. 12:26), the children are to ask.

    “You shall eat…unleavened bread…that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may REMEMBER the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deut. 16:3; emphasis added).

    So also the Lord’s Supper. The psychology of remembering is basic in both the Old Covenant and in the New.


    “We believe that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper; yea, we believe that there is no communion without the presence of Christ.” —Zwingli

  29. Few OT scholars recognize the sort of 1:1 correspondence between the pascha and the Supper that you’re trying to establish Vern. I’m satisfied that there is a general correlation between the feasts (all of them) and the Supper but it’s more like shadow and fulfillment.

    In the Supper, God the Son incarnate said, “This is my body.” He didn’t say, “becomes” my body or “merely reminds” of my body or “my body is in, with, and under.”

    As to “substantial” yes, the Reformed are with Calvin, but are fed by Christ’s body and blood by the operation of the Spirit through the elements. That’s what the Reformed churches confess. This is why we’re not Zwinglians, but I guess that much is clear now.

  30. Vern,

    Did I miss the point in this discussion where all interlocutors were called upon to give a full, detailed explication of Calvin’s doctrine on all particulars in each comment made in this thread? I thought we were discussing things that are common knowledge between participants in the discussion.

    As it is, I’m quite acquainted with Calvin’s view, and would appreciate the benefit of the doubt that this is the case. But, since you insist on asserting that I am “not adequately expressing Calvin’s view”, it should be pointed out that nothing I’ve said above conflicts with Calvin’s understanding of a substantial presence wrought by the Holy Spirit. And I even provided a quote from Calvin’s last treatise against Heshusius where he says that he is speaking of a substantial presence, so how you could insinuate that I’m trying to hide this fact is beyond me.

    Calvin’s view of the presence, however, was not the point I was attempting to engage when I entered into this discussion. I was merely engaging (intially, at least) the assertion that the entire import of the sacrament is our remembrance of things past. I did not comment here in order to give a detailed exposition of Calvin’s doctrine (as if a comment thread would be an appropriate place to undertake such a thing anyway).

    But, just so we’re on the same page, I have, in fact, studied Calvin on these points in some depth, and have written a bit on his Eucharistic theology both formally and informally. As a recent example of the latter, I could point you here:

    If that’s not enough, I’d be happy to correspond with you through e-mail and pass along to you some of my more formal writings on the topic if you are still in doubt as to whether I am a competent expounder of Calvin’s sacramental theology.

    And, on the point of the translation of “anamnesin” in the accounts of the Supper: I know how the major translators have rendered the passage. I was talking about how I understand the passage in light of the Greek text. You may not have noticed, but the translation “in remembrance of me” retains the nominal sense of “anamnesin” for which I have been arguing. You asserted, “anamnesis = call to mind, remember”. Thus, the definition of the word which you provided is verbal. But, the translation you have given from “Most Bible versions” retains the nominal sense for which I have been arguing. So, my point on the text is actually quite consistent with the “majority” translation.

    However, I am going further than simply translation and offering an interpretation based on the context of the passage, and saying that what Christ means by “in remembrance” is that the meal itself is to serve as the commemoratory rite of his sacrificial death, and not that the only purpose of the Supper is *our* remembrance.

  31. Scott, WCF doesn’t use Calvin’s “substantial” language, so it’s hardly characteristic of Reformed thought. I’d say most Reformed people don’t even understand Calvin’s teachings, and I don’t blame them. Calvin doesn’t make much sense with his paradoxical formulations.

    Also, the idea that “is” means “identical with” is plain preposterous, despite papist or Lutheran assertions to the contrary.

    The correlation between the Supper and Passover is not absolute, of course, but it’s very close, and remembering is an essential part of both.

    Gotta go,


  32. Vern,

    How exactly did the rock “follow” the Israelites through the wilderness? Where in the Torah is the rock said to have followed them through the wilderness?

  33. Vern,

    You’re saying that the Westminster Divines needed you to explain Calvin to them?

    In what language do you read the Institutes? In what language do you think they read the Institutes?

  34. To Jonathan,

    Oh, sorry, I missed your last sentence. You did adequately express Calvin’s view, incoherent though it might be.

    To Scott,

    I don’t understand your comments about the “rock.” Also, WCF does not use the “substantial” terminology, which is why Calvin’s view is not confessionally required.


  35. Vern,

    Is it the case that, for the WCF to carry on Calvin’s view they must use the ipsissma verba?

    Paul says in 1 Cor 10 that “the Rock” followed God’s people through the wilderness.

    How did that happen? How does that following fit with your mere memorialist view?

  36. Scott,

    Christ was literally a rock? Or was he a “spiritual” Rock? Hmmm, where did you guys learn hermeneutics?

    With respect to WCF, yes, for anything to be confessionally binding, the actual words must be given. Are we bound by penumbra?


  37. Vern,

    I asked, how did the rock travel with them? You haven’t really answered the question. Was it by memory or by some other way? What is the role of the economic Trinity in the history of redemption before the incarnation?

    Why is asking questions a bad hermeneutic?

    I think this language is quite faithful to Calvin:

    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 their outward senses.

  38. Scott, Jonathan could take you to task here. Yes, WCF is faithful to Calvin up to a point, but if you look carefully, you may notice that WCF lacks the crucial terms “substantial” or “substance.” This is not a small omission.


  39. As I see it, to say that the WCF makes Calvin’s doctrine binding is a bit of an overstatement. The language of the WCF can certainly be interpreted in a Calvinist instrumentalist sense, but I do think it is ambiguous enough to allow for the parallelist views of a Bullinger as well. Old Princeton, for instance, did not follow Calvin in sacramental theology, and I don’t recall anyone ever accusing them of being unconfessional on this point. The only thing the WCF really rules out, in my view (other than the Roman and Lutheran conceptions) is the strict memorialist interpretation such as one may find in Zwingli or the Anabaptists.

    Though I can in good conscience confess my allegience with Westminster on the issue, because it is broad enough to allow for Calvin’s doctrine, I do much prefer the language of the Belgic, the Old Scottish, and the Gallican on the Sacraments.

  40. Dr. Clark,
    Do you where I could find an English translation of the Wittenberg Concord (1536)? I know that not to much actually came out of it, but it may help my research. All I can really find are a lot of comments on it.

    I know that Henry E. Jacobs did a translation that was published as part of a larger work on the the Book of Concord in 1908, but I can’t find out the publishers name. I know they were in Philadelphia but the buck stops there currently.

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