TO ALL HONEST MINISTERS OF CHRIST, AND SINCERE WORSHIPPERS OF GOD, WHO OBSERVE AND FOLLOW THE PURE DOCTRINE OF THE GOSPEL IN THE CHURCHES OF SAXONY AND LOWER GERMANY, JOHN CALVIN WITH BROTHERLY AFFECTION WISHES INCREASE OF GRACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
ALTHOUGH I am perfectly conscious to myself that the cause which I have undertaken to defend in this book is right and just, and that I have acted faithfully in pleading it, yet, as the full conviction of my own mind does not satisfy me unless I study to approve my conduct to all the children of God, I have thought it of importance, venerable and beloved brethren, to protest to you at the outset that this book has been extorted from me if I were not by my silence to betray the truth of Christ, in oppressing which certain ferocious men exceed the barbarism of the Papacy.
A dispute unhappily carried on among the learned for more than twenty years on the subject ofTHE SACRAMENTS having been somewhat calmed, and menís minds disposed to moderation, nothing seemed so likely to lead to a full settlement as to give an attested statement in few and simple terms of the doctrine which THE CHURCHES OF SWITZERLAND follow. For as long as the contest raged, and the minds of both parties were exasperated, it is probable that the subject was not expounded with sufficient clearness, nor the words employed duly weighed. Most of you are well aware of the short description which we published five years ago under the name ofAGREEMENT, and in which, without attacking any one, and without any asperity of language, we not only arranged the substance of the whole controversy under distinct heads, but also endeavored, in so far as a candid confession of the truth allowed, entirely to remove all offenses. It ought also to have had the effect of appeasing the minds of any who were less disposed to take an equitable view that we offered, in case any were not satisfied, to exert ourselves in adding an explanation. We also promised that we would be open to instruction and obedient to better counsels should any one show that the matter had not been properly handled.
About two years after arose one Joachim Westphal, who, so far from being softened to concord by that temperate simplicity of doctrine, seized upon the name of Agreement as a kind of Furies torch to rekindle the flame. For he avowedly collected from all quarters opinions which he would have to be thought adverse to each other, that he might thus destroy our Agreement; and showed himself to be inflamed with such a hatred of peace, that he vented his peculiar venom against us, for no other reason but because he was annoyed by our thinking and speaking the same thing.
He writes that my books were highly esteemed and relished by the men of his sect, at the time when they thought that I differed from the teachers of the Church of Zurich. Whence the sudden alienation now? Is it because I have abandoned my opinion? Even he himself does not disguise, nay, he has written on the margin of his book, that every thing which our Agreement contains occurs throughout my writings. Who now sees not that the hatred which this man bears to those against whom he has once declared war is so implacable, that he assails the very doctrine which he formerly favoured, in order that he may have nothing in common with them?
His apology is, that he is the enemy of nothing but a dissembled concord.
But how comes it that the doctrine which formerly pleased him in my writings, excites his deep aversion now that it has come from the Zurichers!! However he may hide the sore, assuredly nothing has impelled him but a wish to furnish a new defense to the inflexible pertinacity of some persons in not yielding to the plain truth.
The perverse attack of this man I was forced to repel in a short treatise.
He, as if an inexpiable crime had been committed, has flamed forth with much greater impetuosity. It has now become necessary for me to repress his insolence. Should I inveigh rather vehemently against him, be pleased of your prudence and equity to consider what provocation I have had.
Heresies and heretics, diabolical blasphemies, impious denial of Scripture, subversion of all that is sacred, and similar opprobrious epithets, are the words ever in his mouth. In short, his book has no other apparent object than to precipitate us by the thunderbolts of anathemas to the lower regions. What was left for me but to apply a hard wedge to a bad knot, and not allow him to have too much complacency in his savage temper? Were there any hope of mollifying those men, I would not refuse to humble myself, and by supplicating them, purchase the peace of the Church. But to what lengths they are borne by their violence is notorious to all.
Therefore my austerity in rebuking their hard-heartedness has the sanction of God himself, who not only declares ( Psalm 18) that to the forward he will show himself without mercy, but will treat them forwardly. But though it was my most earnest wish to proceed directly to the point, and digress as little as possible from the discussion of it, yet as my opponent, leaping from this topic to that, according to his humor, has not allowed me to proceed in regular order, it will be proper briefly to glance at the substance of the whole matter in dispute.
That I have written reverently of the legitimate use, dignity, and efficacy of the sacraments, even he himself does not deny. How skilfully or learnedly in his judgment! care not, since it is enough to be commended for piety by an enemy. The contest remaining with him embraces three articles. First, he insists that the bread of the Supper is substantially the body of Christ. Secondly, in order that Christ may exhibit himself present to believers, he insists that his body is immense, and exists everywhere without place. Thirdly, he insists that no figure is to be admitted in the words of Christ, whatever agreement there may be as to the thing. Of such importance does he deem it to stick doggedly to the words, that he would sooner see the whole globe convulsed than admit any exposition. We maintain that the body and blood of Christ are truly offered to us in the Supper in order to give life to our souls, and we explain, without ambiguity, that our souls are invigorated by this spiritual aliment which is offered us in the Supper, just as our bodies are nourished by earthly bread.
Therefore we hold, that in the Supper there is a true partaking of the flesh and blood of Christ. Should any one arise a dispute as to the word substance, we assert that Christ, from the substance of his flesh, breathes life into our souls; nay, infuses his own life into us, provided always that no transfusion of substance be imagined.
The cause of the implacable wrath of Westphal is this. While we confess that the flesh of Christ gives life, and that we are truly made partakers of it in the Supper, he, not contented with this simplicity, urges and contends that the bread is substantially the body. From this springs the other dogma, that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are taken into the mouth of a wicked man in the very same way as bread and wine. For how comes he to affirm so pertinaciously that the body of Christ was taken by Judas no less than by Peter, unless it be because the substance of the sign is not changed by manís unbelief? He, moreover, imagines a substance which is by no means agreeable to the word of God, viz., that Christ affixes his own flesh substantially to the bread.
The pretext, that it is absurd to make the truth of the divine promise depend on manís faith, is easily disposed of. We distinctly declare that no unbelief prevents the sacred ordinance of Christ from retaining its force and nature; prevents his flesh from being offered and given to all as spiritual food, and his blood as spiritual drink; prevents the bread from being a true symbol of flesh, and the wine of blood; prevents that which Christ pronounces from heaven to be firm and sure, viz., that the body which he once offered to the Father in sacrifice he now offers as food to men. If the wicked defraud themselves of this benefit, and their unbelief causes that the fruition does not reach them, we deny that any thing is lost to the sacrament on this account, inasmuch as it remains entire.
The second question has no other source than the mode of communion, which Westphal supposes to be necessarily conjoined with the immensity of Christís body. He holds that if the body of Christ be not actually placed before us, there is no real communion. We, on the contrary maintain that no extent of space interferes with the boundless energy of the Spirit, which transfuses life into us from the flesh of Christ. And here we detest the dishonesty of those who invidiously disseminate among the people that we take away the presence of Christ from the Supper, and measure the power of God by our own sense. As if the sublimity of this mystery, viz., that Christ, though remaining in heaven as to the locality of his body, yet descends to us by the secret agency of his Spirit, so as to unite us with him and make us partakers of his life ó did not transcend the reach of human intellect, or as if the power of God were less magnificently extolled by him who teaches that life flows into us from the flesh of Christ, than by him who brings his flesh out of heaven to enable it to give us life. These points I now merely allude to, as you will find them more fully and copiously expounded in their proper place.
Not to detain you longer from the perusal of the work, I will now advert to the third article. He thinks it unlawful to inquire into what Jesus Christ meant when he said, that the bread is his body, the clearness of the terms precluding all exposition. We again appeal to the familiar and well known usage of Scripture, which, whenever the sacraments are treated of, transfers the name of the thing signified to the sign. Examples of this occur not once or twice, but among those skilled in Scripture its frequency makes it to be regarded as the common rule. Still, we do not feed the eyes of believers with an empty figure, since we distinctly declare that what the Lord testifies he really performs. We only insist on the distinction, that an analogy is drawn between the sign and the visible action and the spiritual reality. For to what end does Christ hold forth a pledge of his flesh and blood under earthly elements unless it be to raise us upwards? If they are helps to our weakness, no man will ever attain to the reality, but he who thus assisted shall climb, as it were, step by step from earth to heaven.
Those, therefore, who deny that the body of Christ is represented to us under the symbol of bread, not only pervert the whole order of Christ, but deprive the Spirit of God of his wonted mode of speech. Westphal attributes the name of body to the bread. But where is the modesty of being so extravagant in doing this, as to keep crying that interpretation must be regarded as the height of sacrilege?
We thought it right thus to point, as with the finger, to the sources of the whole controversy, to make it plain that a dissension which ought to have been extinct is again kindled, more from proud disdain in the opposite party than from any just cause. If you fear a lamentable and fatal result, (and there is certainly ground to fear it,) I beseech you by the sacred name of Christ and the bond of our unity in him, that you earnestly endeavor to find a remedy. Whatever be the method of conciliation offered, I declare that I will not only be disposed but eager to embrace it.
On your part, also, it may bet expected from your piety and humanity that you will rather assist one whom you know to bestow all his studies and labors, for the edification of the Church in the best faith, and with results not to be repented of, than allow him to be trampled upon by the insolent caprice of an intractable individual. But why do I speak of myself personally? You must rather take into account the holy union of so many Churches which that man is laboring to destroy. Whatever he may babble to the contrary, it is certain that this concert in faith, after the miserable scattering of the Papacy, was not of manís devising.
In regard to the one God and his true and legitimate worship, the corruption of human nature, free salvation, the mode of obtaining justification, the office and power of Christ, repentance and its exercises, faith which, relying on the promises of the gospel, gives us assurance of salvation, prayer to God, and other leading articles, the same doctrine is preached by both. We call on one God the Father, trusting to the same Mediator; the same Spirit of adoption is the earnest of our future inheritance. Christ has reconciled us all by the same sacrifice. In that righteousness which he has purchased for us, our minds are at peace and we glory in the same head. It is strange if Christ, whom we preach as our peace, and who, removing the ground of disagreement, appeased to us our Father in heaven, do not also cause us mutually to cultivate brotherly peace on earth. What shall I say of our having to fight daily under the same banner against Antichrist and his tyranny, against the foul corruptions of the Christian religion, against impious superstitions, and the profanation of all that is sacred. To disregard these many pledges of sacred unity, and this concert which has visibly been sanctioned by heaven, and plot disunion among those who are fighting ill the same service, is a not less cruel than impious laceration of the members of Christ. This it were most; unjust in you to favor of countenance in any way. Farewell, respected brethren. May the Lord defend you and govern you by his Spirit, and bless you more and more.
GENEVA 5th January 1556.