In explaining the relationship between the sign and the seal in the sacraments Calvin shows the similarity between the sacramental offer to unbelievers and the free offer of the gospel to unbelievers:
They are not reasoning closely enough when they argue that the sacraments are not testimonies of God’s grace because they are also offered to the wicked, who, however, do not find God more favorable but rather incur a heavier condemnation. For by the same argument, because the gospel is heard but rejected by many, and because Christ was seen and recognized by many but very few of them accepted him, neither gospel nor Christ would be a testimony of God’s grace […] It is therefore certain that the Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments. But it is understood only by those who take Word and sacraments with sure faith, just as Christ is offered and held forth by the Father to all unto salvation. (Institutes, IV.14.7.)
I’m presently combing modern Thomist interpretations of the Eucharist in an effort to find similarities between St. Thomas and St. Calvin (as one professor here calls him). I’ve realized that Thomas’ commentary on the Gospel of John is a good place to start. See this quote, for instance:
What our Lord said about eating his flesh is interpreted in a material way when it is understood in its superficial meaning, and as pertaining to the nature of flesh. And it was in this way that the Jews understood them. But our Lord said that he would give himself to them as spiritual food, not as though the true flesh of Christ is not present in this sacrament of the altar, but because it is eaten in a certain spiritual and divine way. Thus, the correct meaning of these words is spiritual, not material. So he says, The words that I have spoken to you, about eating my flesh, are spirit and life, that is, they have a spiritual meaning, and understood in this way they give life. (Commentary on John 6, p. 42)
I know there are definite disagreements, but I think the idea of spiritually partaking of Christ through faith could be the Archimedean point I’m looking for. There is also some parallel in the objective nature of the offering.
Q: Does faith unite one to Christ?
Q: Is Christ God?
Well, there you have it. Now one must go on to question what sort of union believers have in Christ. I haven’t quoted Nevin in a while, and I’ve recently been looking back through his The Mystical Presence. What an excellent book. This paragraph in particular is VERY IMPORTANT:
The relation of believers to Christ, then, is more again than that of simply legal union. He is indeed the representative of his people, and what he has done and suffered on their behalf is counted to their benefit, as though it had been done by themselves. They have an interest in his merits, a title to all the advantages secured by his life and death. But this external imputation rests at last on an inward, real unity of life, without which it could have no reason or force. Our interest in Christ’s merits and benefits can be based only upon a previous interest in his person; so in the Lord’s Supper, we are made to participate, not merely in the advantages secured by his mediatorial work, the rewards of his obedience, the fruits of his bitter passion, the virtue of his atonement, and the power of his preistly intercession, but also in his true and proper life itself, We partake of his merits and benefits only so far as we partake of his substance …. In the Lord’s Supper, accordingly, the believer communicates not only with the Spirit of Christ, or with his divine nature, but with Christ himself in his whole living person; so that they may be said to be fed and nourished by his very flesh and blood. (The Mystical Presence, 53, 54.)
Therefore, believers are united to Christ’s substance. His body and blood truly dwells in us – in a spiritual, non corporeal manner. If this ain’t theosis then call me a Zwinglian. It’s o.k. to say this. Don’t worry…this is Reformed.
A common speculation regarding the Lord’s Supper is that there is no special partaking of Christ for the believing subject in the event of eating and drinking the elements. If the sacrament is a means of grace (WCF 27) and grace only comes through union with Christ then what more should one expect from the sacraments? Are they not redundant? Peter Martyr Vermigli states,
… I cannot admit or acknowledge a real or substantial or corporeal presence of Christ’s body, whether in the signs or in the communicants themselves. Yet I do not doubt but insist rather that there is a spiritual communion and participation in his body and blood given to the communicants. Although this is enjoyed even before the eating of the sacrament, it is increased by an exercise of faith in eating the mystery. (Peter Martyr Reader, 161.).
Continue reading “An Increased Union with Christ”