John Calvin (1509-1564): I come now to the question out of which such violent and bitter conflicts have arisen,―of what nature is the communion of our Lord’s body and blood in the holy supper? We have not given a definition of it before refuting the figment of a local presence, and explaining the meaning of the words of Christ, as to which there has heretofore been too much contention. But our purpose is to meet the objections of captious and unlearned men, who are borne headlong by a blind impulse to slander, or to pacify the honest and simple whom they have imbued with their deleterious speeches, I will now begin with that third article.
First, then, we acknowledge that Christ truly performs what he figures by the symbols of bread and wine, nourishing our souls with the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. Away, then, with the vile calumny, that it would be theatrical show if the Lord did not perform in truth what he shows by the sign; as if we said that any thing is shown which is not truly given. The Lord bids us take bread and wine. At the same time he declares that he gives the spiritual nourishment of his flesh and blood. John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments, Mutual Consent in regard to the Sacraments between the Ministers of the Church of Zurich and John Calvin, Minister of the Church of Geneva, Exposition of the Heads of Agreement, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), pp. 237-238.
John Calvin (1509-1564): None of us denies that the body and blood of Christ are communicated to us. But the question is, what is the nature of this communication of our Lord’s body and blood? I wonder how these men dare to assert simply and openly that it is carnal. When we say that it is spiritual, they roar out as if by this term we are making it not to be what they commonly call real. If they will use real for true, and oppose it to fallacious or imaginary, we will rather speak barbarously than afford material for strife. We are aware how little strivings about words become the servants of Christ, but as nothing is gained be making concessions to men who are in all ways implacable, I wish to declare to peaceful and moderate men, , that according to us the spiritual mode of communion is such that we enjoy Christ in reality. Let us be contented with this reason, against which no man, unless he is very quarrelsome, will rebel, that the flesh of Christ gives us life, inasmuch as Christ by it instills spiritual life into our souls, and that it is also eaten by us when by faith we grow up into one body with Christ, that he being ours imparts to us all that is his. John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments, Mutual Consent in regard to the Sacraments between the Ministers of the Church of Zurich and John Calvin, Minister of the Church of Geneva, Exposition of the Heads of Agreement, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), pp. 239-240.
John Calvin (1509-1564): Christ then is absent from us in rfespect of his body, but dwelling in us by his Spirit he raises us to heaven to himself, transfusing into us the vivifying vigour of his flesh, just as the rays of the sun invigorate us by his vital warmth. John Calvin,Treatises on the Sacraments, Mutual Consent in regard to the Sacraments between the Ministers of the Church of Zurich and John Calvin, Minister of the Church of Geneva, Exposition of the Heads of Agreement, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), p. 240.
Section 5. How Christ, the Bread of Life, is to be received by us. Two faults to be avoided. The receiving of it must bear reference both to faith and the effect of faith. What meant by eating Christ. In what sense Christ the bread of life.
It only remains that the whole become ours by application. This is done by means of the gospel, and more clearly by the sacred Supper, where Christ offers himself to us with all his blessings, and we receive him in faith. The sacrament, therefore, does not make Christ become for the first time the bread of life; but, while it calls to remembrance that Christ was made the bread of life that we may constantly eat him, it gives us a taste and relish for that bread, and makes us feel its efficacy. For it assures us, first, that whatever Christ did or suffered was done to give us life; and, secondly, that this quickening is eternal; by it we are ceaselessly nourished, sustained, and preserved in life. For as Christ could not have been the bread of life to us if he had not been born, if he had not died and risen again; so he could not now be the bread of life, were not the efficacy and fruit of his nativity death, and resurrection, eternal. All this Christ has elegantly expressed in these words, “The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” (John 6: 51); doubtless intimating, that his body will be as bread in regard to the spiritual life of the soul, because it was to be delivered to death for our salvation, and that he extends it to us for food when he makes us partakers of it by faith. Wherefore he once gave himself that he might become bread, when he gave himself to be crucified for the redemption of the world; and he gives himself daily, when in the word of the gospel he offers himself to be partaken by us, inasmuch as he was crucified, when he seals that offer by the sacred mystery of the Supper, and when he accomplishes inwardly what he externally designates. Moreover, two faults are here to be avoided. We must neither, by setting too little value on the signs, dissever them from their meanings to which they are in some degree annexed, nor by immoderately extolling them, seem somewhat to obscure the mysteries themselves. That Christ is the bread of life by which believers are nourished unto eternal life, no man is so utterly devoid of religion as not to acknowledge. But all are not agreed as to the mode of partaking of him. For there are some who define the eating of the flesh of Christ, and the drinking of his blood, to be, in one word, nothing more than believing in Christ himself. But Christ seems to me to have intended to teach something more express and more sublime in that noble discourse, in which he recommends the eating of his flesh, viz., that we are quickened by the true partaking of him, which he designated by the terms eating and drinking, lest any one should suppose that the life which we obtain from him is obtained by simple knowledge. For as it is not the sight but the eating of bread that gives nourishment to the body, so the soul must partake of Christ truly and thoroughly, that by his energy it may grow up into spiritual life. Meanwhile, we admit that this is nothing else than the eating of faith, and that no other eating can be imagined. but there is this difference between their mode of speaking and mine. According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith; or, if you will have it more clearly, according to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith. The difference is little in words, but not little in reality. For, although the apostle teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, (Eph 3: 17), no one will interpret that dwelling to be faith. All see that it explains the admirable effect of faith, because to it, it is owing that believers have Christ dwelling in them. In this way, the Lord was pleased, by calling himself the bread of life, not only to teach that our salvation is treasured up in the faith of his death and resurrection, but also, by virtue of true communication with him, his life passes into us and becomes ours, just as bread when taken for food gives vigour to the body.
Section 10. No distance of place can impede it. In the Supper it is not presented as an empty symbol, but, as the apostle testifies, we receive the reality. Objection, that the expression is figurative. Answer. A sure rule with regard to the sacraments.
The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal 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. For this reason the apostle said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1Co 10: 16). There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true, let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us.