Vol. 7, Chapter VII (Cont’d)- Reflections on the Ethics of the Eucharistic Controversy


Dogmatics and ethics, faith and conduct, should agree like the teaching and example of Christ from which they are to be drawn. But, in practice, they often conflict. History shows us many examples of ungodly champions of orthodoxy and godly champions of heterodoxy, of unholy churchmen and holy dissenters. The angel of Ephesus is commended for zeal against false apostles, and censured for leaving the first love; while the angel of Thyatira is praised for his good works, and reproved for tolerating error. Some are worse than their belief, and others are better than their misbelief or unbelief.

Luther and Zwingli are by no means opposed to each other as orthodox and heretic; they were essentially agreed in all fundamental articles of the evangelical faith, as the Marburg Conference proved. The difference between them is only a little more Catholic orthodoxy and intolerance in Luther, and a little more Christian charity and liberality in Zwingli. This difference is characteristic of the Reformers and of the denominations which they represent.

Luther had a sense of superiority, and claimed the credit of having begun the work of the Reformation. He supposed that the Swiss were indebted to him for what little knowledge they had of the gospel; while, in fact, they were as independent of him as the Swiss Republic was of the German Empire, and knew the gospel as well as he.

But it would be great injustice to attribute his conduct to obstinacy and pride, or any selfish motive. It proceeded from his inmost conviction. He regarded the real presence as a fundamental article of faith, inseparably connected with the incarnation, the union of the two natures of Christ, and the mystical union of believers with his divine-human personality. He feared that the denial of this article would consistently lead to the rejection of all mysteries, and of Christianity itself. He deemed it, moreover, most dangerous and horrible to depart from what had been the consensus of the Christian Church for so many centuries. His piety was deeply rooted in the historic Catholic faith, and it cost him a great struggle to break loose from popery. In the progress of the eucharistic controversy, all his Catholic instincts and abhorrence of heresy were aroused and intensified. In his zeal he could not do justice to his opponents, or appreciate their position. His sentiments are shared by millions of pious and devout Lutherans to this day, whose conscience forbids them to commune with Christians of Reformed churches. We may lament their narrowness, but must.respect their conviction, as we do the conviction of the far larger number of Roman Catholics, who devoutly believe in the miracle of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass.

In addition to Luther’s dogmatic standpoint we must take into account his ignorance of the true character of the Swiss, and their real doctrine. He had hardly heard of the Swiss Reformation when the controversy began. He did not even spell Zwingli’s name correctly (he always calls him “Zwingel”), and could not easily understand his Swiss dialect. He made a radical mistake by confounding him with Carlstadt and the fanatics. He charged him with reducing the Lord’s Supper to a common meal, and bread and wine to empty signs; and, although he found out his mistake at Marburg, he returned to it again in his last book, adding the additional charge of hypocrisy or apostasy. He treated him as a heathen, yea, worse than a heathen, as he treated Erasmus.

Zwingli was clear-headed, self-possessed, jejune, and sober (even in his radical departures from Rome), and farther removed from fanaticism than Luther himself. He was a pupil of the classical and humanistic school of Erasmus; he had never been so deeply rooted in the medieval faith, and it cost him much less trouble than Luther to break off from the old church; he was a man of reflection rather than of intuition, and had no mystic vein, but we may say a rationalistic bent. Nevertheless, he was as loyal to Christ, and believed in the Word of God and the supernatural as firmly, as Luther; and the Reformed churches to this day are as pure, faithful, devoted, and active in Christian works as any, and less affected by rationalism than the Lutheran, in part for the very reason that they allow reason its legitimate influence in dogmatic questions. If Zwingli believed in the salvation of the pious heathen and unbaptized infants, it was not because he doubted the absolute necessity of the saving grace of Christ, which he very strongly asserted, but simply because he extended this grace beyond the boundaries of the visible church, and the ordinary means of grace; and on this point, as on others, he anticipated modern ideas. He was inferior to Luther in genius, and depth of mind and heart, but his superior in tolerance, liberality, and courtesy; and in these qualities also he was in advance of his age, and has the sympathies of the best modern culture.

Making every allowance for Luther’s profound religious conviction, and for the misunderstanding of his opponent, nothing can justify the spirit and style of Luther’s polemics, especially his last book against the sacramentarians. He drew his inspiration for it from the imprecatory Psalms, not from the Sermon on the Mount. He spoke the truth in hatred and wrath, not in love.

This betrays an organic defect in his reformation; namely, the over-estimate of dogmatics over ethics, and a want of discipline and self-government. In the same year in which he wrote his fiercest book against the Sacramentarians, he seriously contemplated leaving Wittenberg as a veritable Sodom: so bad was the state of morals, according to his own testimony, in the very centre of his influence. It required a second reformation, and such men as Arnd, Andreae, Spener, and Franke, to supplement the one-sided Lutheran orthodoxy by practical piety. Calvin, on the other hand, left at his death the church of Geneva in such a flourishing condition that John Knox pronounced it the best school of Christ since the days of the Apostles, and that sixty years later John Valentin Andreae, one of the noblest and purest Lutheran divines of the seventeenth century, from personal observation held it up to the Lutheran Church as a model for imitation.

Luther’s polemics had a bad effect on the Lutheran Church. He set in motion that theological fury which raged for several generations after his death, and persecuted some of the best men in it, from Melanchthon down to Spener.

His blind followers, in their controversies among themselves and with the Reformed, imitated his faults, without his genius and originality; and in their zeal for what they regarded the pure doctrine, they forgot the common duties of courtesy and kindness which we owe even to an enemy.

We may quote here a well-considered judgment of Dr. Dorner, one of the ablest and profoundest evangelical divines of Germany, who says in a confidential letter to his lifelong friend, Bishop Martensen of Denmark, — 

“I am more and more convinced that the deepest defect of Lutheran churchism heretofore has been a lack of the full appreciation of the ethical element of Christianity. This becomes manifest so often in the manner of the Lutheran champions. There is lacking the tenderness of conscience and thorough moral culture which deals conscientiously with the opponent. Justification by faith is made to cover, in advance, all sins, even the future ones; and this is only another form of indulgence. The Lutheran doctrine leads, if we look at the principle, to an establishment of ethics on the deepest foundation. But many treat justification, not only as the beginning, but also as the goal. Hence we see not seldom the justified and the old man side by side, and the old man is not a bit changed. Lutherans who show in their literary and social conduct the stamp of the old Adam would deal more strictly with themselves, and fear to fall from grace by such conduct, if they had a keener conscience, and could see the necessary requirements of the principle of justification; for then they would shrink from such conduct as a sin against conscience. But the doctrine of justification is often misused for lulling the conscience to sleep, instead of quickening it.”

Zwingli’s conduct towards Luther, judged from the ethical point of view, is much more gentlemanly and Christian, though by no means perfect. He, too, misunderstood and misrepresented Luther when he charged him with teaching a local presence and a carnal eating of Christ’s body. He, too, knew how to be severe, and to use the rapier and the knife against the club and sledge-hammer of the Wittenberg Reformer. But he never forgot, even in the heat of controversy, the great services of Luther, and more than once paid him the tribute of sincere admiration.

“For a thousand years,” says Zwingli, “no mightier investigator of the Holy Scriptures has appeared than Luther. No one has equaled him in manly and immovable courage with which he attacked popery. But whose work is it? God’s, or Luther’s? Ask Luther himself, and he will say God’s. He traces his doctrine to God and his eternal Word. As far as I have read his writings (although I have often purposely abstained from doing so), I find them well founded in the Scriptures: his only weak point is, that he yields too much to the Romanists in the matter of the sacraments, and the confession to the priest, and in tolerating the images in the churches. If he is sharp and racy in speech, it comes from a pious, honest heart, and a flaming love for the truth …. Others have come to know the true religion, but no one has ventured to attack the Goliath with his formidable armor; but Luther alone, as a true David, anointed by God, hurled the stones taken from the heavenly brook so skillfully that the giant fell prostrate on the ground. Therefore let us never cease to sing with joy: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’ (1Sa_18:7). He was the Hercules who slew the Roman boar …. I have always been grateful to my teachers, how much more to that excellent man whom I can never expect to equal in honor and merit! With no men on earth would I rather he agreed than with the Wittenbergers …. Many have found the true religion before Luther became famous; I have learnt the gospel from the same fountain of the Scriptures, and began to preach it in 1516 (at Einsiedeln), when I diligently studied and copied with mine own hand the Greek epistles of Paul, before I heard the name of Luther. He preaches Christ, so do I, thanks to God. And I will be called by no other name than that of my Captain Christ, whose soldiers we are.”

I may add here the impartial testimony of Dr. Köstlin, the best biographer of Luther, and himself a Lutheran: — 

“Zwingli knew how to keep himself under control. Even where he is indignant, and intentionally sharp and pointed, he avoids the tone of passionate excitement, and uses the calm and urbane language of a gentleman of humanistic culture, and thereby proves his superiority over his opponent, without justifying the suspicion of Luther that he was uncertain in his own mind, and that the attitude he assumed was only a feint. His polemics forms thus the complete opposite to Luther’s book, ‘That the words of Christ,’ etc. Yet it presents also another aspect. Zwingli characterizes, with select words of disregard, the writers and contents of the Syngramma, to which Luther had given his assent, and clearly hints at Luther’s wrath, spite, jealousy, audacity, and other faults poorly concealed under the cover of bravery, constancy, etc.; yea, here and there he calls his arguments ‘childish’ and ‘fantastic,’ etc. Hence his new writings were by no means so ‘friendly’ as the title indicates. What is more important, we miss in them a sense for the deeper, truly religious motives of Luther, as much as we miss in Luther an appreciation of like motives in Zwingli …. He sees in Luther obstinate blindness, while Luther discovered in him a devilish spirit.”


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 (1Co_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 communicants, 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. 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 Capernaitic, and differs from the eating of ordinary food. The object and use of the Lord’s Supper is chiefly the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, to the comfort of the believer.

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 Christ are truly present [under the form of bread and wine], and are [there] communicated to [and received by] those that eat in the Lord’s Supper. And they disapprove of those that teach otherwise.”


The Altered Augsburg Confession of 1540

Concerning the Supper of the Lord they teach that with bread and wine are truly exhibited the body and blood of Christ to those that eat in the Lord’s Supper.


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 received 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 Müller’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 sacramental 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 consent, 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 (1Co_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 (Mar_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 (1Co_11:27, 1Co_11:29).

“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 (Joh_3:18), ‘He that believeth not is condemned already.’ And this judgment is enhanced and aggravated by an unworthy use of the holy Supper (1Co_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 (Mat_9:12; Mat_11:5, Mat_11:28).

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.

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.

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.” 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. 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. 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.”

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.” 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.

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. 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.