John Calvin on Stupid Eucharist Theology (Happy Corpus Christi)


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Yesterday was the Christian Church Holiday of Corpus Christi, where we celebrate that Jesus actually meets us in the Bread and Wine of Communion. It’s not merely a symbol to make us think of certain doctrinal ideas, but there are very real spiritual things happening in those elements. I’ve written elsewhere about this in detail.

Today, however, I want to offer you a funny little rant John Calvin goes on in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it, he is responding to those that accused the Reformed tradition of making the Eucharist way too heady and rationalistic of an idea, sapping all beauty and mystery out of it. Here was Calvin’s response, encouraging us all to embrace the beauty and awe of Communion:

“[Critics] boast that we are so bound to human reason that we attribute no more to the power of God than the order of nature allows and common sense dictates…. I ask you whether it is from physics we have learned that Christ feeds our souls from heaven with his flesh, but our bodies are nourished by bread and wine. Whence does this power to quicken souls come to flesh? All men will say it comes not by nature. It will be no more pleasing to human reason that Christ’s flesh enters into us to be our food. In short, anyone who has tasted our doctrine will be seized with admiration for God’s secret power.

We say Christ descends to us both by the outward symbol [of bread and wine] and by his Spirit, so he may truly quicken our souls by the substance of his flesh and of his blood. He who does not perceive that many miracles are found in these few words is more than stupid. For nothing is more beyond the natural than that souls should borrow spiritual and heavenly life from a flesh that had its origin from earth, and underwent death. There is nothing more incredible than that things severed and removed from one another by the whole space between heaven and earth should not only be connected across such a great distance but also be united, so that souls may receive nourishment from Christ’s flesh.

Therefore, let the perverse cease to engender hatred toward us by the foul misstatement that with wicked intent we would somewhat restrict God’s boundless power. For here either they are too stupidly mistaken or they are basely lying.”

–From John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 17, Section 24

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