Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on the Consensus Tigurinus

The following observation of Bruce Gordon is worthy of careful consideration. Gordon was previously at St Andrews, Scotland, and is now at Yale. This comment of his is typical of his perceptive scholarship:

“Both men (ie Calvin and Bullinger) understood the need for unity, but they also understood how deep the divisions within the Protestant world ran, and it is a measure of their desire for mutual support that they could put their names to a document on the Lord’s Supper, the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549. Too much has been made of this agreement, which was, for the most part, a practical arrangement which suited both men. It was a partnership which worked well: Bullinger supported Calvin both openly and tacitly, agreeing not to disagree in public, and together they formed a common front against Lutheran opponents, such as Joichim Westphal, who wrote against the Swiss in the mid-1550’s” (Architect of Reformation, p20).

In an earlier post I suggested that it was Calvin who was more keen to have such a jointly signed agreement.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peter Stephens on Bullinger and the Sacraments

In Peter Stephens’ article on Zwingli and Bullinger on the sacraments (see previous post) I am pleased to note that Stephens has acknowledged the independence of Bullinger’s thought vis-à-vis that of Zwingli. He writes:

“Although Bullinger’s theology was similar to Zwingli’s, he became a reformer independently of Zwingli. (Indeed the influences on him included the works of Luther and Melanchthon.) He also came to his understanding of the sacraments independently of Zwingli. Even though he and Zwingli had a broadly symbolic view of the sacraments, their thinking on them was shaped in part by different people and different texts.”

Stephens points out that in the period of the First Helvetic Confession:

“Often in the 1530’s Bullinger states that he has difficulty with words such as instrument and exhibit. To him the word instrument seems to make the sacraments effective regardless of the faith of the recipient and the word exhibit seems to ascribe power to the minister or the sacrament rather than to God. It is significant that in the First Helvetic Confession it is not the sacraments which exhibit but God, while the word instrument is not used.”

With respect to the First Helvetic Confession Stephens points out that three of the twenty seven articles explicitly refer to the sacraments and concludes:

“What is most striking about them is their essentially positive language about the sacraments and their affirmation of what God does in them. God is the subject of the sacraments. They are signs of divine grace. The articles speak differently from Zwingli of what the Lord does in the sacraments. Thus In the Lord’s Supper These article are in keeping with the article on Ministers. It states that ministers are co-workers through whom But it adds, and this is later applied to the sacraments, and not to something created; and he

Stephens goes on to point out: “It is important to note that the confession speaks about what God does and not what the sacraments do.”

Stephens’ conclusion concerning the First Helvetic Confession is: “The Confession, however, unlike much in Zwingli is an affirmation of what the sacraments are rather than a repudiation of what they are not, and it states in various ways what God offers and imparts in them. Luther’s positive, though critical, response to the Latin text is, therefore, not surprising.”

Stephens makes the following analysis of the response of Bullinger and the Zurich ministers to Luther’s Brief Confession:

“It has a Zwinglian character with the centrality of remembrance and a strong emphasis on faith. Yet there are divergences from Zwingli. Thus, although remembering appears to be our remembering, yet the summary states that the church of the Lord holds his suffering and our redemption in fresh remembrance. Again, although it is their faith in Christ which feeds believers and makes them participants in God’s grace and forgiveness and communion with Christ, yet in communion an unbeliever may become a believer and then share in Christ.”

With respect to the events leading up to the Consensus Tigurinus Stephens notes:

“The central issues can be focused in the use of certain words: exhibit, instrument, through, and at the same time. Bullinger disputed the statement that Calvin did not bind grace to the sacraments by reference to Calvin’s assertions that what is figured in the sacraments is exhibited to the elect and that those receiving baptism at the same time receive forgiveness of sins. To Bullinger Calvin does not differ from the papists who teach that the sacraments confer grace on all those who receive them. Bullinger objected to the use of through as seeming to attribute something to inanimate signs and proposed 'God acts and works in the hearts of the faithful while (dum) the sacraments are received> instead of Bullinger also challenged Calvin’s statement that 'the sacraments are instruments of the grace of God.' It seemed to attribute something to the sacraments, unless instrument means sign. It is God who confers grace and the gift of salvation. It is he who exhibits these things (not, as Calvin says, the sacraments), and he does so through the Holy Spirit and faith, faith being the gift of God through which we receive his gifts. Bulligner can accept Calvin’s statement that the sign is not empty, it that means not useless, but not if it means that the sign contains what it represents.”

Stephens further noted that Calvin replied as follows:

“Calvin drew on the New Testament in rejecting the opposition in Bullinger between God and the role of instruments, and also Bullinger’s apparent view that if God as then instruments cease. The Holy Spirit uses the sacrament as an instrument, but is the author of what is given. The effectiveness of the sacraments is related to God’s truthfulness, for God would appear to deceive in his promises, if believers did not receive what is offered in the sacraments. Calvin explained that simul was used in the sense of similiter (similalrly). He distinguished his position from that of the papists, as unlike them he held that not all but only the elect receive what the sacraments offer. The whole effect depends on election and the sign is useless unless God works in us through the Spirit. Calvin does not regard the sacraments as containing what they figure literally, but in the sense that the Lord performs inwardly by the power of his Spirit what is testified by the outward sign. Calvin notes Bullinger’s reference to the Eucharistic signs as commemorating the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for us, but also his neglect of the daily offering of Christ for us, that we may be one with him. The body sacrificed for us is daily food for us. There is a repeated stress on communion with Christ.”

Stephens notes that article 12 of Consensus Tigurinus “speaks of the sacraments as instruments which God uses and by which he acts efficaciously. (The word is organum not, as in the Bern articles, instrumentum.) But lest this be misunderstood, the article at once states that the sacraments, like ministers, are nothing unless God makes them effective. God acts efficaciously through them, but certain qualifications are made about the sacraments, the minister, and the recipient.”

He further states that “The Zurich Agreement is neither Bullingerian nor Calvinian. Both would have expressed their views differently, but both could affirm what it affirmed, even if offering their own interpretations. It could be described as a Calvinian view expressed within the constraints imposed by Bullinger’s theology or Bullinger’s view stretched to embrace Calvin’s.”

Stephens continues to make the following perceptive observation:

“One may question whether Zwingli taught as Calvin taught, but it is still possible to argue that Zwingli could have signed the Zurich Agreement. At first sight this may cause surprise, as some positive affirmations about the sacraments go beyond what Zwingli wrote. However, key elements of his theology are present and the qualifications added to non-Zwinglian statements could well have satisfied him as they did Bullinger. Most importantly the Agreement denied that the sacraments confer grace, rejected the bodily presence and the bodily eating of Christ, and opposed trust in created things. It affirmed the centrality and necessity of faith, the sovereignty of the Spirit, the distinction between the sign and what it signifies, the eucharist as a testimony and a memorial, the presence of Christ’s body in heaven, the figurative interpretation of the words of institution, and the relevance of John 6:63.”

Stephens has a detailed comparison between The Second Helvetic Confession and Zwingli. The reader is encourage to read the article for himself/herself. The point that Stephens makes is that that is much in common between Zwingli and Bullinger though the nuanced differences in Bullinger are evident in The Second Helvetic Confession. Thus, Stephens concludes: The various differences between the Confession and Zwingli’s presentation of the sacraments are clear evidence that the Confession is not Zwinglian. It is, however, possible that Zwingli could have affirmed it, as it safeguarded the major concerns which he expressed. Despite their differences, Zwingli’s later works and the Confession have a family likeness.”

In his conclusion, Stephens writes:

“One of the clearest differences in sacramental theology between Zwingli and Bullinger is that in Bullinger it is God who is the subject of the sacraments.”

“There are other differences, most notable the role of election and that of the Holy Spirit. Election is used by Zwingli in defence of infant baptism, but not in his exposition of the sacraments nor in particular of their effectiveness. It is however, used in all these confessions.”

One of the most surprising differences between Bullinger and Zwingli is in the use of the word instrument (instrumentum). Bullinger criticizes the use of the word and avoids it, even in the Zurich Agreement, where he accepts the word organum. For him the word instrument implies that the sacraments have something of their own, apart from God. Zwingli, however, has no difficulty with the word instrument because of his insistence that God is the cause of all things.”

Stephens finally points out that Bullinger had a more positive view than Zwingli of the positive relation of the outward and inward in the sacraments: “his positive presentation of what the sacraments are and of what “God does in them, and the need, both theological and political, to seek unity with the other Swiss churches as well as with Luther.”

Stephens article is a mine of information and reflection. He is to be applauded for such an important contribution to an understanding of Swiss theology.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bullinger and Zwingli on the Sacraments

Peter Stephens, formerly of Aberdeen and now writing from his base at Penzance, has written extensively in recent years on Bullinger. His writings on Zwingli have been highly acclaimed. He has done us a great service in a meticulous study comparing Bullinger and Zwingli on the sacraments in his article “The Sacraments in the Confessions of 1536, 1549, and 1566 – Bullinger’s Understanding in the Light of Zwingli’s” in Zwingliana vol XXXIII (2006), pp51-76.

The works of Bullinger that Stephens studies are: The First Helvetic Confession (1536), The Consensus Tigurinus ( which Stephens refers to as the Zurich Agreement – 1549) and The Second Helvetic Confession (1566). Interestingly, there appears to be no reference to the Decades.

We are truly in debt to Stephens for such a detailed study which should, once and for all, clear up misconceptions about Zwingli’s understanding of the sacraments. At the same time, Stephens gives us more more background to what was in Bullinger’s mind in his extensive correspondence with Calvin vis-à-vis the sacraments. The following is a summary of some salient points of this article.

The article begins with comments from Stephens which, to me at least, indicate that he has shifted somewhat in his understanding and appreciation of Bullinger. In Stephens’ earlier writings Bullinger is clearly Zwingli’s Nachfolger.

Stephens commences his article thus: “The names of Zwingli and Bullinger are joined in such a way that it is natural to think if Bullinger not only as the successor of Zwingli but also as a continuation of Zwingli. There is indeed continuity in their ministry and their theology, but Bullinger is also distinctive both as a reformer and as a theologian. This is true for his view of the sacraments. As we look at Bullinger’s understanding of the sacraments in the confessions of 1536, 1549, and 1566, it is instructive to see similarities and differences between him and Zwingli, as well as the developments in his thought.”

I would like to propose that from the very beginning, while Zwingli was alive and Bullinger still a very young man, that Bullinger had some differences vis-à-vis Zwingli re the sacraments but that, in order to foster a positive view of Zwingli’s contribution in the early years of Bullinger’s time as Antistes in Zurich, he patiently waited until an appropriate time to put in writng his distinctive views.

Stephens has written elsewhere about the development of Zwingli’s understanding of the sacraments and of the Lord’s Supper, in particular. This has been referred to in previous posts of this blog. This is alluded to in the following extract from the article:

“The writings of Zwingli most obviously comparable with these confessions are the Sixty-Seven Articles (1523) and the Marburg Articles (1529). However, these do not reflect Zwingli’s theology in his final years and it is this to which Bullinger naturally refers. Three of his works from 1530-31, to which Bullinger does refer, are: Account of the Faith presented to the Emperor at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Letter to the Princes of Germany again for the Diet in August 1530, in reply to Eck’s attack on Account of the Faith, and Exposition of the Faith for the King of France in 1531, published by Bullinger in 1536.”

With respect to my comment above that Bullinger was keen to ‘defend’ and promote Zwingli to keep Zurich united and growing it is noted that Bullinger made a specific effort to publish Zwingli’s Exposition of the Faith.

Stephens’ summary of developments in Zwingli's thought is as follows:

“There were changes and developments as well as considerable continuity in Zwingli’s understanding of the sacraments. From the beginning his theology was compatible with a symbolic interpretation of the sacraments, whether or not he had a symbolic view then or moved to that view from the end of 1524. The subjective emphasis, which is a continuing element in his theology, is also evident in his preference for memorial to testament. (however the stress on faith in all his works is not simply subjective, as faith is the work of the Spirit.) Moreover, the emphasis on the community rather than just the individual is present from an early stage, as is the conviction that the sacraments are a public witness to a person’s membership of the church. At one point, he spoke of the sacraments as our pledge or covenant with us. Originally he had related sacrament (meaning and oath) to God’s instituting something as surely as with an oath, but at the end of 1524 to our uniting with each other in one body as with an oath. (Z II 120.23-30, III 348.17-22) Although Zwingli challenged the radicals on the sacraments, especially baptism, it is primarily in controversy with Lutheran and Roman views that he developed his sacramental theology. That is also the context for understanding his final works.”

In a footnote at this point Stephens points the reader to his The Theology of Huldrych Zwingli (1986) and his “The Soteriological Motive in the Eucharistic Controversy” in Willem van’t Spijker (ed.), Erbe und Auftrag (Kampen, 1991), pp203-213.

These following comments of Stephens’ re Zwingli are worth noting:

“Thus the article on the sacraments in Account of the Faith begins, ‘I believe, indeed I know, that all the sacraments are so far from conferring grace that they do not even convey or dispense it.’”

“Zwingli insists on the sovereignty of the Spirit, who blows where he wills. This means that he cannot be bound to the sacraments. Rather people need the Spirit in order to receive the sacrament.”

“There is first the traditional definition of a sacrament as a sign of a sacred thing, but Zwingli refers to grace which has been given and not to grace which is being given.”

“His discussion of the eucharist begins positively with the affirmation that the true body of Christ is present by the contemplation of faith.”

“Zwingli insists on the presence of Christ in the supper, asserting that it is not the Lord’s Supper, if Christ is not present. This is confirmed by Christ’s word ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, to which Zwingli adds, ‘How much more is he present where the whole church is gathered?’”

“The sacrament does not confer grace, but it is a sign of or testimony to grace already given.”

“The presence of Christ in the eucharist is affirmed,as is the presence of the true body and blood. However, Zwingli denies both bodily presence, as Chist’s body is heaven, and bodily eating, as the flesh is of no avail.”

On another occasion I hope, deo volente, to summarize what Stephens says about Bullinger on the sacraments vis-à-vis Zwingli.

Someone once commented of me with respect to this blog “Du wärst problemlos in der Lage, so etwas zu schreiben”. Actually, I have a busy pastoral ministry with several challenges to face together with my colleague and this blog helps to keep me balanced!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bullinger on Calvin on the Lord’s Supper

Bullinger writes about the Lord Supper in sermon 5.ix of the Decades and concludes this sermon in the following way:

“Neither will I here stick to recite word for word the comfort of Master John Calvin, a godly and learned man, who with great commendation teacheth in the church at this day, my fellow minister and most well-beloved and dear brother, which he hath set down for the afflicted in this case. ‘Let us call to remembrance.’ Saith he, ‘that this holy banquet is a medicine for the sick, a comfort for the sinful, a largess to the poor; which to the whole, righteous, and rich, if there could any such be found, would bring small vantage. For seeing that in this banquet Christ is given unto us to be eaten, we understand that without him we faint, fail, and are forsaken. Moreover, seeing he is given unto us to be eaten, we understand that without him we faint, fail, and are forsaken. Moreover, seeing he is given to us to be our life, we understand that without him we are but dead. Wherefore this is the greatest and only worthiness which we can give unto God, if we lay before him our own vileness and unworthiness, that through his mercy he may make us worthy of himself; if we despair in ourselves, that we may be comforted in him; if we humble ourselves, that we may be lifted up by him; if we accuse ourselves, that we may be justified by him. Moreover, if we attain unto that unity which he commendeth unto us in the supper; and, like as he maketh us all to dwell in him, so that we may wish likewise that there were one soul, one heart, and one tongue in us all; if we well weigh and meditate these things, then shall these thoughts never trouble us: We that are naked and destitute of all goodness, we that are stained with spots of sin, we that are half-dead, how should we worthily eat the Lord’s body?Let us rather think, that we being poor do come to a plentiful giver, we that are sick come to a physician, we that are sinful come to a Saviour; that the worthiness, which is commanded by God, consisteth in faith chiefly, which reposeth all in God and nothing in ourselves: secondly, in charity; and such charity, as it is sufficient if we offer it unto God unperfect, that he may increase it to the better, seeing we cannot perform it absolute as it ought to be.’ Thus far he.

Thus much have I said hitherto of the most holy supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most excellent and wholesome sacrament of Christians; for which even from the very beginning, and while the apostles were yet living, Satan, the most deadly enemy to our salvation, lying in wait, hath gone about to overthrow by many corruptions and defilings; from which being now for a time faithfully cleansed, yet doth he not so leave it, but intermingles and throws an heap of contentions into it, being made unto the church the token of a covenant never to be broken. Whereupon the thing itself and our salvation requireth, that we be circumspect, and give no place to the tempter; but agreeing altogether in Christ, and being joined into one body by faithful celebrating of the supper, we may love one another, and give everlasting thanks to our Redeemer and Lord Christ; to whom be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen. Amen.” (Parker edition pp476-478)

“Ich möchte hier gerne das Trostwort des gottesfürchtigen und gelehrten Johannes Calvin, meines lieben und verehrten Kollegen und Bruders, wörtlich vorlesen, der auch jetzt noch mit großen Lob in der Kirche lehrt. Denen, die hierüber bekümmert sind, spendet er diesen Trost: >Erinnen wir uns daran, dass dieses heilige Mahl eine Arznei für die Krankn, ein Trost für die Sünder und ein Geschenk für die Armen ist, das den Gesunden, Gerechten und Reichen, wenn es sie denn gäbe, nichts bringen würde. Denn indem sich uns Christus darin zur Speise gibt, erkennen wir, das wir ohne ihn verderben, verlassen warden und untergehen. Und da er uns zum Leben gegeben wird, erkennen wir zudem, das wir ohne ihn, in uns selbst, völlig tot wären. Daher ist die einzige und beste Würdigkeit, die wir Gott entgegenbringen können, wenn wir unsere Fehlerhaftigkeit und, um es so sagen, unsere Unwürdigkeit vor ihnbringen, damit er uns mit seiner Barmherzigkeit würdig macht, wenn wir uns erniedrigen, damit wir von ihm aufgerichtet werden, wenn wir uns anklagen, damit wir von ihm gerechgesprochen werden, und schließlich, wenn wir die Einigkeit anstreben, die er uns in seinem Abendmahl anempfiehlt. Und wie er uns in ihm selbst alle eins macht, so wünschen wir uns allen ein Herz, eine Seele und eine Zunge. Wenn wir das bedacht und erwogen haben, werden uns solche Anmutungan nicht mehr verwirren: Wir, die wir arm und bloß sind, ohne alle Güter, die wir unrein sind durch den Schmutz der Sünden und halbot, wie können wir den Leib des Herrn auf würdige Weise essen? Vielmehr werden wir denken, dass wir Armen zu einem gütigen Spender, wir Kranken zu einem Artz, wir Sünder zum Erlöser kommen und dass die Würdigkeit, die von Gott gefordet wird, von allem in Glauben besteht, der nichts auf uns, sondern alles auf Gott setzt, und in der Liebe, und zwar in der Liebe, die genügt, auch wenn man sie Gott unvollkommen spendet, damit er sie verbesset und vemehrt, wenn sie sich nicht als stark genug erweist.< So weit Calvin.

So viel zum heiligen Abendmahl unseres Herrn Jesu Christi, zu dem vorzüglichsten und heilsamsten Sakrament der Christen, dem gleich schon am Anfang und noch zu Lebzeiten der Apostel der Teufel, der erbittertste Feind unseres Heils, anchstellte und das er mit vielen Verunreinigungen zugrunde zu richten versuchte. Und obwohl es davon schon eine Weile tüchtig gesäubert worden ist, hört er nicht auf, dieses Sakrament, das der Kirche zu einem Zeichen des unauflöslichen Bundes geworden ist, wie einen Zankapfel herumzuwerfen und zu brauchen. Daher erfordert es die Sache selbst und erfordet es unser Heil, dass wir wachsam sind und dem Versucher keinem Raum lassen, sondern alle einträchtig in Christus sind, durch das gläubige Feiern des Abendmahls zu einem Leib verbunden werden, einander lieben und Christus, unserem Herrn und Erlöser, unaufhörlich Dank sagen. Ihm sei Lob und Ehre jetzt und in Ewigkeit. Amen.” (Heinrich Bullinger Schriften, TVZ 2006, p223-225)

The citation from Calvin’s Institutes is from 4.17.42.

This is an interesting example of where Bullinger cites Calvin without making too much comment on what Calvin has to say in the whole of 4.17. Bullinger’s sermon is clearly aimed at the ‘layperson’ as many ‘practical’ comments are given in it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Richard Muller on Calvin’s Early Eucharistic Thought

Richard Muller has recently written an article on the early eucharistic thought in Calvin’s early period: “From Zurich or from Wittenberg? An Examination of Calvin’s Early Eucharistic Thought”, Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 45 (n0.2), 2010, pp243-255.

Muller specifically studied the first edition of Calvin’s Institutio (1536), the French and Latin catechism and confession of 1537-1538 and the early Confessio fidei de Eucharistia (1537). He pays attention to Calvin’s use of key terms such as substantia, exhibere, adesse, corpus.

Muller argues for the influence of Melanchthon on the early Calvin. The following is part of his conclusions:

“Four conclusions can be drawn from these usages. Arguably, first, Calvin evidences two connotations of substantia. One is a looser construction not drawing on the technical philosophical meaning associated with individual things, which is to say, not primary substance in the Aristolean sense, and the other is a strict use of the technical sense of the term. According to the looser usage, Christ’s body becomes one substance with believers in a spiritual sense – in the sense of the presence and influence of Christ that are held forth in sacramental signs. Indeed, there is a positive association between the use of exhibere and this understanding of substantia. Second, in his denial of the substantial presence of Christ’s body, Calvin appears to use the standard philosophical sense of substantia as the primary substance or individual. This reading is confirmed by his pairing of substantial with real, the realis having here, certainly, the technical connotation of ‘thingish’ or substantial implied by its etymological root, res. Here, moreover, Calvin explicitly distances the notion of Christ exhibited from the language of substance: that which is exhibited is not the corporeal presence of Christ. Third, if Calvin’s denial of a substantial presence in the strict sense can be identified as a Zwinglian accent, his use of exhibere indicates a distancing from Zwingli already in 1536. The Christological understanding of a presence is coupled with the use of exhibere and with Calvin’s language of true, effective presence (eg vere, efficaciter, praesens, adest) in a manner that resonates more with Melanchthon and points rather clearly to a Lutheran referent of Calvin’s argumentation. Fourth, Calvin’s recognition that Christ’s ascension undermined a local, corporeal presence, coupled with is insistence that the sesio Christi ad dexteram Patris, rendered Christ present in a powerful sense that could be understood eucharistically and points more probably toward concord with the Lutherans based on largely Melanchthonian language.”

Muller ends his article with the following conclusion:

“Some conclusions are in order,Calvin’s earliest thought ought not to be described either as ambiguous or as Zwinglian. Nor is it taken from Luther. Rather, it is distinctly Melanchthonian. Of great interest here is that the 1536 Institutio, despite its denial of a substantial presence of Christ’s natural body, does not develop anything like his later doctrine of Christ’s eucharistic presence as a sursum corda, namely as a work of the Holy Spirit raising the heart of the believer and joining together in heavenly places things otherwise disparate. Instead, Calvin argues, that, given Christ’s ascension to heaven, he cannot be corporeally present on earth; but, inasmuch as he now sits at the right hand of God, his kingdom and power extend everywhere, and he can hold forth his body and blood to believers. Calvin’s focus is on a presence understood christologically, not pneumatologically. Not only does Calvin’s use of exhibere, verum and adsum lean toward a Melanchthonian doctrine, so also does the way that he understands a local ascension to a non local divine right hand. Significantly also, Calvin’s denial of a real presence of the substance of Christ is not yet a denial of any Lutheran teaching. The Lutheran confessional documents to which he was party had not used the term, and the other language Calvin uses to explain Christ’s presence is not only Melanchthonian but evidences a close relationship to the apology of the Augsburg Confession and the Wittenberg Concord. The positive elements of this early teaching, moreover, carry over into the catechisms of 1537 and 1538 and, to a certain extent, the Confessio fidei de Eucharistia (1537) in which the denial of substantial presence has dropped out. Inasmuch, moreover, as Bucer and Capito had signed the Wittenberg Concord, Calvin’s Melanchthonian language also pointed him toward agreement with Strasbourg.”

Muller has provided us with a stimulating study of the early Calvin vis-à-vis his understanding of the Eucharist. However, it is appropriate to ask a few questions.

1. Although at this early stage Calvin had not yet moved to Strasbourg he had, nonetheless, presumably, read some of Bucer’s works as so we might ask – to what extent was Calvin’s thought influenced by that of Bucer?

2. Since the use of Latin terms in this period of the 16th century would have been somewhat fluid – what lexicological studies have been done that might throw some light on the debate?

3. To what extent was Calvin writing in reaction to the Roman understanding of the Mass rather than on an a priori basis explaining the sacraments from Scripture?

4. Muller may have done a study on Calvin’s early understanding of the Eucharist but the bottom line is – what light does this shed on what Scripture teaches? Ie how faithful is Calvin to Scripture?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Calvin and the Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

This is how Selderhuis summarizes Calvin’s effort at seeking to grapple with the presence of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in the midst of the differences between Luther and Zurich:

“Calvin tried to resolve things by combining the elements that both Luther and Zwingli insisted on. He thus arrived at a belief in the real presence of Christ through the Spirit, a solution through which some kind of unity was established both with the Wittenbergers and with the Swiss. Unfortunately, a three-party consensus was never achieved. Calvin was honest enough to admit that he did not fully understand Christ’s presence. ‘If someone were to question me as to its mode, I would without shame admit that the mystery is too great to be grasped by my understanding or to be expressed in words. To be honest, I experience it more than I understand it’” (John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life p94 – Calvin’s quote is from the Institutes 4.17.32)

Bullinger and Calvin and the Consensus Tigurinus

The previous post referred to some of the background leading up to the signing of the Consensus Tigurinus.

The historical events aside two questions need to be asked.

Firstly, why was Calvin so keen for such an agreement? Clearly he was somewhat irritated at the perceived tardiness of Bullinger leading up to the Consensus Tigurinus. What is more, he made several trips to Zurich. Why was Calvin willing to compromise so much, especially with respect to terminology (ie no reference to the sacraments as instruments of grace) despite his background as a legal expert and his attention to words and terms in other contexts? Could it be that he was keen on getting wider recognition amongst the Swiss?

Gäbler concluded as follows: “The question of Zwingli’s impact on John Calvin (1509-1564) has not been really answered: the Geneva reformer’s judgments on Zwingli are not consistent.Especially in his early period (before 1540-1541), Calvin criticized Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist and objected to the preference forZwingli over Luther on the part of Luther’s Swiss followers. The fault Calvin found with Zwingli’s doctrine of the Eucharist was that he had conceived the Lord’s Supper as a metaphorical event.

In 1549, however, Calvin and Bullinger succeeded in overcoming the differences between the Zurich and the Geneva conceptions of the Lord’s Supper. The so-called Zuirch Consensus (Consensus Tigurinus) declared that the Eucharist is not merely a metaphor for the spiritual meal. However, they retained their objection to Luther, insisting that the Spirit of God does not bind itself to the elements. Thus Calvin moved away from his original position, and Bullinger also abandoned Zwingli’s conviction – without a word – by conceding to the sacraments the function of an eternal sealing of an inner, invisible work. Zwingli would have repudiated such a link between inner and outer. The Zurich Consensus brought a rapprochement between the Geneva and Zurich churches and allowed Calvin to find his place within the Swiss Reformed Church. But it also created a wider gulf between Calvinism and Lutheranism” (Huldrych Zwingli: His Life and Work p159).

Secondly, why was Bullinger open to signing a joint document with Calvin if the Zurchers were still suspicious of Bucer’s influence in the background?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Calvin and Bullinger and the Lord’s Supper

Two recently acclaimed books on Calvin are Herman J. Selderhuis’ John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (IVP, 2009) and Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009). Selderhuis’ book has the very warm commendations of Frank A.James III, Lyle Bierma and Donald K.McKim. Both Gordon’s meticulous style and his thorough research are widely known.

The following is an extract from Selderhuis’ book on Calvin and Bullinger and the Lord’s Supper:

“…. Here too he was more flexible than the usual image of Calvin would lead us to think. Calvin engaged in an intensive correspondence with Bullinger in which he sought formulas that could satisfy the Swiss and yet also justify the Lutheran standpoint. Thus Calvin arrived at a formula that spoke of Christ as present and not present at the Lord’s Supper. He was not present physically, but he was fully present spiritually. Calvin made use of what he read in the Scriptures especially about the Holy Spirit and ensured that he could both relativize as well as uphold the importance of the external aspects of the Christian faith, such as baptism, preaching and the church. Calvin also understood, however, that the real presence of Christ was of enormous significance and he therefore sought a way to combine the Lutheran and the Swiss views, not merely as a tactical measure, but rather out of his conviction that they were both partly right, and that what was right in each of them could be combined into a complementary whole.” (pp154,155)

Calvin’s efforts with respect to finding unity on the Lord’s Supper needs to understood in the context of Calvin’s attitude to Luther as reflected by Selderhuis:

“At times, however, Calvin also expressed discontentment with Luther’s attitude. He was a great spiritual leader, but also a great problem, and Calvin was one of many who attempted to reckon with both aspects of Luther. To Bullinger, Calvin wrote that his Wittenberg colleague was ‘immoderately ardent and violent in character.’ Luther should have better controlled his temper and been more aware of his shortcomings. To Melanchthon, Calvin wrote that Luther lacked self-control and allowed himself to be worked up into a rage far too quickly. Behaving like this, Luther was a danger to the church, and it appeared that no-one would dare counter this behavior. Respect remained however, and – according to Calvin himself – even if Luther were to call him a devil, Calvin would still show him honor and tell him that he was a most special servant of God. In 1554 the Swiss reformers accused Calvin of being too lenient with Luther. He defended the German’s fierceness by saying that this was simply part of Luther’s character and that malicious men were consciously provoking him. In Calvin’s estimation, Luther remained a superb servant of Christ to whom all ere indebted. His wrongs ought only to be reproached in such a way that room remained for appreciation of his giftedness. Calvin’s defense of Luther’s turbulent character should come as no surprise; he was like that himself.” (p106)

Gordon points out that in Calvin’s 1545 commentary on 1 Corinthians that Calvin displayed “an excellent example of the manner in which he could tacitly support one side without openly saying so. He was emphatic that the Zwinglian teaching on the Lord’s Supper was wrong, but his approach to Luther’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was more nuanced, and his language carefully couched. The doctrine of ubiquity, for which he had no time, was not attributed to Luther or his supporters by name, but rather attacked or his supporters as a false teaching of the medieval scholastics. It was a brilliant tactical manoeuvre. At the same time, his insistence on the reality of Christ’s presence was never referenced to any of Luther’s writings, though a clear similarity is detectable.”

Gordon comments that after Luther published his Short Confession on the Lord’s Supper in September 1544: “Farel believed that Calvin could play a role in calming the Zurchers after this latest assault from Wittenberg, but Calvin himself was skeptical. ‘Already I fear the sort of answer they may return. They will not fail to dwell on the marvelous patience with which they have endeavored to assuage him (Luther). For even Bullinger himself, when he was complaining to me in a letter some months ago about Luther’s unkindness, highly commended his own forbearance and that of his friends.’ Calvin was aware nonetheless, that the aging and increasingly cantankerous Luther was a major part of the problem. ‘For at present the danger arises not so much from them as from Luther.’

Calvin did intervene, however, and wrote to Bullinger in November urging restraint in response to Luther’s Short Confession. ‘I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us.’ Although he referred to the Zwinglians as ‘innocent people’, what followed was an extensive admonition to Bullinger to regard Luther’s greatness as a reformer of the Church.

‘I earnestly desire you to bear in mind in the first place how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments with which he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with such great skill, and with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement he has devoted to his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and, at the same time, to spread far and wide the doctrine of salvation. Often I have declared that even if he were to call me a devil, I should still nonetheless, hold him as an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endowed with rare and excellent virtues, he labors at the same time under serious faults. Would that he worked to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction.’

In acknowledging Luther’s harsh and crude manner, Calvin offered cold comfort to Bullinger on the Lord’s Supper. He refused to condemn Luther’s teaching, confining himself to the issue of peace within the Church. Citing Paul, he admonished Bullinger to look to the greater unity of the Church. Calvin’s evident sympathy with the Lutherans must have made uneasy reading in Zurich.” (pp167-169)

Both Selderhuis and Gordon have written from the perspective of the majority of scholars, who positive to Calvin, view Bullinger through the eyes of Calvin. For balance we should seek to view Calvin through the eyes of Bullinger. The quotations above reveal Calvin’s respect and honour for Luther. To what extent did this influence Calvin’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper and terminology he chose to use? In an earlier post we have seen how Bullinger had enormous respect and honour for Zwingli. To what extent did this influence Bullinger’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper? We know that Bullinger was particular about the Latin terms he used. In the correspondence with Calvin leading up to the Consensus Tigurinus this would have been particularly critical as the letters straddled Trent. I am of the opinion that Bullinger chose to use terminology used by the Church Fathers and, therefore, could not be rejected by the Roman Church.

The conclusions of both Selderhuis and Gordon reveal the role of interpretation of historical events. Was Calvin the one taking the initiative to hammer out a agreement with Bullinger re the Lord’s Supper? It may appear to be the case judging by some of Calvins’ comments in his letters concerning the tardiness in Bullinger’s replies in addition to the number of journeys that Calvin made to Zurich (1545, 1547, 1548 and 1549 – twice with Farel) whereas Bullinger never once went to Geneva. Or was it Bullinger who took the initiative to work out a joint statement on the Lord’s Supper with Calvin because he realized that there was no way forward with the German Lutherans, even though he and the Zurchers were deeply suspicious of the influence of Bucer?

We know that some of Bullinger’s friends, such as Kampius warned Bullinger of Calvin’s perceived fickleness. Kampius wrote form the church at Emden on 31 August 1545 with comments on Calvin’s catechism on the Lord’s Supper. Leonard Fry wrote from Biel complaining that Calvin asserted that Christ’s body was in heaven but that believers encountered Christ’s real flesh and blood in the sacrament. These warnings notwithstanding, Bullinger sent Calvin a copy of his Absoluta de Christi Domini et catholicae eius ecclesiae sacramentis tractio.

It is also known that from time to time Calvin was unwise what he put down in writing. He wrote to Viret: “Here you have Bullinger’s letter in which you will observe an astonishing obstinacy. I said to you once that the Zurich people always sing the same tune” (W. Kolfhaus “Der Verkehr Calvins mit Bullinger,” in Calvinstudien: Festschrift zum 400. Geburtstage Johann Calvins, ed. Josef Bohatec (Leipzig, 1909) p56). The reference to ‘obstinacy’ was Calvin’s reference emphasis on using the corrects words and terms. Some of the correspondence from Bullinger to Calvin are to do with terms that Calvin used which was an attempt to remove any ambiguous terms that might indicate a trace of Lutheranism.

In his letter to Calvin dated 15 March 1549 Bullinger wrote: “With your last answer, you have brought me a great step towards you, I know understand your latest letters better than I formerly did. Do not marvel that I wrote to you so bluntly. Today, we have highly educated men who change their opinions more than is good for them. I do not say that you belong to these, but I wanted to hear from you where you stood in plain words. By the way, I have not a bad opinion of you so please excuse my bluntness. I strive to formulate my opinions only in so much as they are true and you do not say that they are false. You say yourself that your disagreement with us is not a disagreement of heart and disposition. I cannot understand why you differ from us at all. When you have read my answer, you will, I trust, find no more disagreements…. I am satisfied that you love us sincerely. May we cease from provoking each other and love each other heartily to the edifying of our churches” (Kolfhaus, p65).

Bullinger explained that he and Calvin could find unity: “In the communion service, the Lord works internally through the power of the Spirit that which he externally seals through the symbol. He gives himself to us to nourish him in our hearts and renews and strengthens our fellowship with him” (Kolfhaus, p65).

The Consensus Tigurinus only had Calvin’s name printed on it. This could be interpreted as a sign of Bullinger’s humility who referred to the work as A Mutual Agreement Concerning the Sacraments between the Servants of the Church of Zurich and John Calvin, Servant of the Church at Geneva.

In earlier work, Gordon made the following comment about the Consensus Tigurinus: “Too much has been made of this agreement, which was, for the most part, a practical arrangement which suited both men. It was a partnership which worked well: Bullinger supported Calvin both openly and tacitly, agreeing not to disagree in public, and together they formed a common front against Lutheran opponents, such as Joachim Westphal, who wrote against the Swiss in the mid 1550’s” (Architect of Reformation p20).

A work that needs to be studied with respect to all this is Emidio Campi and Ruedi Reich (eds.), Consensus Tigurinus: Heinrich Bullinger und Johannes Calvin über das Abendmahl (Zurich: TVZ, 2009).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lillback on De Testamento

Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2001) has an extended section of Bullinger’s De Testamento which was Bullinger’s work on the covenant (1534). Lillback’s book represents a careful study of the primary sources. The book is based on his doctoral dissertation of the same title which has attached his translation of De Testamento. In The Binding of God LIllback makes several helpful observations and his book is helpful mine of information. However, I would humbly disagree with some of his conclusions.

The following extract (p113) is the concluding summary of Lillback’s assessment of De Testamento:

“Bullinger does not discuss the pre-fall relationship of God and Adam. There is no word of a covenant of creation or a covenant of works. Or does Bullinger consider the issue of covenant and election as Zwingli had done in his final work against the Anabaptists. There is no idea of a pre-temporal covenant of redemption. There is however, a full consideration of the one covenant of grace throughout the successive ages of redemptive history. Bullinger’s indebtedness to Zwingli can be seen by comparing Zwingli’s chart of Genesis 17 with Bullinger’s outline of his discussion of the covenant.

Zwingli’s Chart

1. God all-sufficient is our God.
2. We should walk uprightly before Him.
3. He is also the God of our see.
4. God has sent the Savior to us.
5. Covenant signs: baptism of young children and adults.
6. We teach the children when they are old enough.

Bullinger’s Outline

1. The Parties of the covenant.
2. The conditions of the covenant for God and Man.
3. Who are the seed of Abraham?
4. Unity and centrality of the covenant.
5. Circumcision, sacrament of the covenant.
6. The written documents of the covenant.

Bullinger’s exposition of the covenant is an amplification of the outline of Genesis 17 Zwingli presented in his reply to Hubmaier’s Book on Baptism.”

A few comments are in order here. Firstly, like many other scholars Lillback is in danger of reading into Bullinger the terminology and categories of later covenant theology rather than seeking to understand Bullinger on his own terms in his particular historical context. Closer comparison with The Old Faith (1537) and Bullinger’s extended references to the covenant in sermons 3.vi and 3.viii of The Decades will indicate that Bullinger’s focus on the covenant is on the postlapsarian heilsgeschichtlich plan of salvation which climax is the coming of the promised Messiah or promised seed of Adam and Eve resulting in justification by faith as an expression of God’s grace. Secondly, the comparison between “Zwingli’s Chart” and “Bullinger’s Outline” vis-à-vis Genesis 17 is somewhat contrived and is used by Lillback to reinforce the incorrect conclusion (in my view) that Bullinger followed Zwingli’s lead on the covenant and subsequently developed what Zwingli had already expounded.

These comments notwithstanding the following extract from The Binding of God (p112) is a summary that is spot on in providing a succinct and accurate understanding of De Testamento:

“Genesis 17 is an eternal covenant that is always the same in substance. The New Testament teaches that there is only one people of God made up by those of Old and New Testament who were in His church. The differences between the Old and new Testaments are explained by the ways God dealt with His people under different circumstances. The Old is ‘old’ because it was the preparation for Christ’s coming, and the New Testament in ‘new’ because Christ has now come. Yet the unity throughout the Testaments is unmistakeable in God’s provision and requirement of man’s faith and love. Even in the Old Testament there was the spiritual Israel and the Israel of the flesh, even as now there is a true Israel and a false Israel of the flesh. This distinction does not refer to the Old and New Covenants as though the Old is only the covenant of the flesh, and the New is the only covenant of the Spirit. Since the New Testament has come there are many things in which the Christians are more excellently blessed by God. These include the absence of all of the ceremonies, the full truth instead of shadows, the full blessing of the Holy Spirit, and the universal gospel witness. Matthew 5 is in no way contrary to the continuity of the covenant. Christ does not attack Moses, but the errors of the common people. Similarly, Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 is dealing with the false prophets’ views of Scripture. The contrast of letter and Spirit is not to be referred to the whole law, but only to those things which have been done away with by Christ. Nor is this the Ebionite error, since this view does no insist on carnal ceremonies with faith in Christ for salvation. The Deuteronomy 5 passage that states that this covenant was not made by God ‘with our fathers’ is to be explained as Augustine does. It is a synecdoche in which the fathers refers only to those who perished in the wilderness. In summation, John Oecolampadius’ phrase says it best. ‘That eternal covenant is one with God, which He arranges differently in various times.’ Finally,, to those who see the Old Testament Jews’ triumphs and victories in war as incongruent with the sufferings of the Christan, several things can be said. First, the Old Testament is filled with hardship, as is seen in Abraham himself who never received the promised land. If one thinks of the lives of Jacob, Moses, and David, he will see that they suffered greatly. The old time had its tyrants such as the Pharoahs, Ahab and Joaz, even as the early church had to face the Roman persecutions. Further, many Christians have lived obediently to the Lord throughout their lives and did not ever suffer persecution. Suffering is more than physical persecution.”