The Thing and Effect Are Joined to the Figure

And so here we are. Oberman quoted this part, and it is the reason I had to get the book for myself. Speaking of God dwelling between the cherubim (2 Sam. 6:2), Calvin writes:

Nevertheless, in order that we might know that God does not want to frustrate us, and that the signs which he gives us are not frivolous and empty baggage, like toys for little children, it says that God truly dwells between the cherubim. This does not mean that his essence is enclosed in the ark, but that he wishes to display his virtue there for the salvation of his people. Similarly, today in the waters of baptism, it is the same as if the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ poured down from heaven to water our souls and cleanse them from their uncleanness. When we have the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, it is the same as if Jesus Christ were coming down from heaven and making himself our food, so that we could be filled with him. We must not, therefore, take these signs as visible things and figures which are to feed our spiritual senses, but are to realise that God joins his virtue and truth to them, so that the thing and the effect are joined to the figure. There, in sum, is what we must keep in mind from the statement that the ark of God has the name: the name of God of hosts, dwelling between the cherubim.

~ Sermons on 2 Samuel (Banner of Truth) pg. 236.

So is this the “Lutheran” Calvin? I mean, jeepers.

God wishes to display his virtue in the visible means for the salvation of the people.

Baptism is as if Jesus’ blood is being poured down from heaven to nourish our souls.

The Lord’s Supper is as if Jesus were coming down to earth to feed us his flesh.

And then we get a rather technical phrase, “God joins his virtue and truth to them, so that the thing and the effect are joined to the figure.” That is the sacramental union. The res is joined to the sign.

That last part really cannot be overstated. It is systematic language. The place of the “joining” is the sign. However the joining works, and it is most certainly the mystical union, it cannot be construed to mean “not joined.”

For Calvin, it is true that the blood of Christ is joined to the waters of baptism. For Calvin, it is true that the Body of Christ is joined to the Bread.

The means of reception, that is, our part of the deal, is faith.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in calvin, church history by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, FL. He is also a founder and general editor of The Calvinist International. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), a full-time minister, and occasional classical school teacher, Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, and daughter.

13 thoughts on “The Thing and Effect Are Joined to the Figure

  1. There’s also this curious statement in his Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper: “We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it. Though there should be nothing more, we have good cause to be satisfied, when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all his blessings.” (pp. 172, 173)

    The question remains: What did Calvin mean by substance? There’s a good article out there on Calvin’s use of “substance” but I can’t find it. This passage in the institutes, I think, comes close to a definition: “For it is enough for us that, from the substance of his flesh Christ breathes life into our souls – indeed, pours forth his very life into us – even though Christ’s flesh itself does not enter into us.” (Institutes, IV.27.32) It seems that he would define “substance” as “that being which exists in itself rather than in another” (IOW, “his very life”) – which is thoroughly Aristotelian. Aquinas considered the substantial form of humans to be the soul. So, Christ’s soul is “his very life.”

  2. I don’t see what’s “Lutheran” about it. It’s very, very much Calvin. No one who is familiar with the section on the Eucharist in his Institutes would be surprised by what he says here. It’s not any great secret that Calvin often spoke of things like “virtue” and “effects” being somehow “joined to the signs” so that we “truly partake” of them. However, he always means these things in his own “Calvinist” way rather than a “Lutheran” way.

  3. From the standpoint of 21st cent. Calvinism, to say that the res is joined to the sign is to get yourself painted Lutheran.

    I really don’t think there’s as much difference on *what* the sacraments are between Calvin and Luther as there is on *how* they are.

  4. The big difference is whether they are what they are independent of whether I believe it. In the 16th century, the Shibboleth question was “What do unbelievers, the impious, and the unrepentant receive?” The Reformed answer was “Nothing but bread and wine,” and the Lutheran answer was “Christ’s body and blood, which they receive to their condemnation.” That is definitely a “what” and not a “how.” And to my knowledge, that’s still the answer of even the most high-church sort of Calvinists, who will go all the way up to saying that Christ’s body and blood are “truly offered, exhibited, shown forth,” etc, but will not say that unbelievers eat and drink of them.

    Also, for Luther, the forgiveness of sins is the chief thing on offer in the Lord’s Supper. My reading of Calvin, and perhaps this is completely incorrect, is that the purpose of the Supper is to serve as some sort of mystical source of energy for the sanctification of the soul. I think he really stands more in the tradition of Catholic theology here.

    Since for Luther, objectivity and forgiveness are the central concerns, I don’t think you can say the difference is just “how.” It’s really “what,” “how,” and “why.”

  5. Steven W … you are exactly correct. Calvin’s view would be considered Lutheran, and the reason is that Calvin is not far from Luther except, as you say, *how* Christ is present in the elements of the Supper.

    This is especially apparent in Calvin’s tract against Heshusius, where he expounds on Christ’s *real* *spiritual* presence in the elements and rebuts the Lutheran view.

    So I’m with you. Good post!

  6. I agree that to say this sort of thing right now in some Reformed circles is to paint yourself a little bit Lutheran, but I think Josh S is right here…there’s still that difference.

    In Lutheranism, everyone who partakes of the Eucharist partakes of bread, wine, body, and blood. Faith is not the issue here as far as what they partake. If they eat and drink judgment, they still receive Christ; they just receive Him to their condemnation.

    I am not sure Calvin would ever go this far. He’s happy to talk about the union between the thing and the sign, but we obtain this by faith. Would Calvin ever say that those who do not partake in faith still truly feed on Christ?

    The Lutheran view is far more objective as far as I understand it and Calvin’s view far more subjective. I guess while they agree that the sign and thing the sign represents are truly joined, Lutherans look at Calvin’s view and see inconsistency. Because we don’t really mean they’re joined no matter what…we mean they’re joined for those who partake in faith.

    To them, I think, the union cannot really be real unless it is always real for everyone. Objectively real. The only subjective element is whether they partake to their benefit or to their judgment. But they all still truly partake.

    So, yes, I guess *technically* the what is the same, but it’s not really the same at all.

  7. In Lutheranism, everyone who partakes of the Eucharist partakes of bread, wine, body, and blood. Faith is not the issue here as far as what they partake. If they eat and drink judgment, they still receive Christ; they just receive Him to their condemnation.

    I am not sure Calvin would ever go this far.

    He says that the receive Him as a judge. For Calvin, “eat” means blessing:

    I agree with him, that Christ is present as a strict judge when his Supper is profaned. But it is one thing to be eaten, and another to be a judge.

    Calvin also says:

    He might have some color for this, if I denied that the body of Christ is given to the unworthy; but as they impiously reject what is liberally offered to them, they are deservedly condemned for profane and brutish contempt, inasmuch as they set at nought that victim by which the sins of the world were expiated, and men reconciled to God.

    The expiation of the sins of the world is given to them, and they reject it.

    We’d have to get into Calvin’s definition of faith too, as many later Calvinists are operating on different principles.

  8. “We’d have to get into Calvin’s definition of faith too, as many later Calvinists are operating on different principles.”

    Could you please elaborate?

  9. The union is always real for everyone. The personal reception is not.

    That sounds like a contradiction in terms. If the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ “for everyone,” then what everyone eats and drinks is the body and blood of Christ. And I mean “eating and drinking” in a non-metaphorical way.

    Taken in context, it appears that what Calvin means is that the bread and wine by virtue of what they signify within the rite offer the opportunity to receive Christ, who is mystically present with the congregation via the Holy Spirit. This opportunity is either accepted (faith) or rejected (unbelief). The key is a distinction between “essence” and “virtue.” Christ’s body and blood are not essentially or substantially in the bread and wine, but their virtue is exhibited there by way of what the elements signify within the rite, so they are only “joined to” the bread in that manner. The response of faith to what is exhibited in the bread connects you to Christ.

    But that’s not “Lutheran” at all, no matter how many fine scholastic distinctions you pile on top of it. That’s very much “Calvinist,” even thought it’s not “Zwinglian.” If it were “Lutheran,” elevation of the host wouldn’t be considered idolatry.

  10. Josh,

    The bit about the “Lutheran Calvin” was a bit of in-house rhetoric. Sorry that it bugs you so.

    You’re quite right that the two schools have their distinctives.

    I do tend to agree with Oberman, however, that Calvin and Luther were closer to one another than their respective schools.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s