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  • JOHN CALVIN'S WRITINGS -
    LETTER 22.


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    CALVIN TO MARTYR SALUTEM DICIT.

    What I promised to write, concerning the secret communication which we have with Christ, I shall not perform so fully as you expected. Although the subject is of great importance, yet I think it may be sufficiently defined between you and myself in a few words. Of that communication which the Son of God hath with our nature, by assuming our flesh that be might become our brother, I shall say nothing, but I shall treat of that which emanates from his divine power, and communicates life to us, so that we are made to grow together into one body with him. At the same time that we receive Christ by faith, as he offers himself in the gospel, we are made truly members of him, and life flows unto us from him as a capite, from the head. In no other way does he reconcile us to God, by the sacrifice of his death, but as he is ours, and we are one with him. So I interpret the passage of Paul, where he says, the faithful are called into his [koinwnian], fellowship. 1 Corinthians 1:9. Nor does the word fellowship, or partnership, appear to me sufficiently to express his mind.

    He would designate that sacred oneness by which the Son of God would engraft us into his body, that he might make us partakers of his fullness.

    We so draw life from his flesh and blood, that we may, with propriety, call them our food. How that is done, I confess, is very far above the comprehension of my understanding. I rather humbly admire, than labor to comprehend this mystery. But this I confess, that by the divine power of the Spirit, life is poured from heaven upon the earth. For the flesh of Christ does not give life of itself, nor would its efficacy reach us, but by the incomprehensible operation of the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit, that Christ dwells in us, supports and nourishes us, and performs all the functions of a head. I preclude in this way all approach to the gross inventions about the intermixture of substances. It is sufficient for me, that while the body of Christ remains in celestial glory, life flows from him to us, as the root transmits the nourishment to the branches. Many of the ancient fathers, especially Hilary and Cyril, I perceive, were carried away much too far. I do not so exactly follow their hyperboles, but that I will always ingenuously oppose myself to their authority, when it is made to patronize error. While they contend that Christ is consubstantial, [omoousion ], with the Father, because it is written, I and the father are one; the Arians retort, what is presently added, that they also may be one in us. Thus are they taken its their own ignorance, and they have recourse to this miserable subterfuge, that we are of the same essence with Christ.

    This being confessed, they were of necessity involved in many other absurdities. But that these new fabricators may not produce against us the authority of the fathers, it will be sufficient for me to say that I do subscribe to them, that I may not willingly draw them into the controversy.

    I now come to the second communication, which I consider as the effect and fruit of the former. For after Christ, by the internal operation of the Spirit, had subdued and united us to himself in his body, he continues to us a second operation of the Spirit, by which he enriches us with his gifts.

    If, therefore, we are strong in hope and patience, if we soberly and temperately abstain from the enticements of this world, if we earnestly endeavor to conquer the lusts of the flesh, if our zeal for righteousness and piety strengthens, if we are delighted and elevated with the meditation of a future life; this, I say, proceeds from that second communication, by which Christ, who does not idly dwell in us proves the efficacy of his Spirit in manifest gifts, Nor is it absurd that Christ, when we are united to his body, should communicate to us His Spirit, by whose secret operation he was first made ours; since the Scripture often attributes both these effects to his agency. But although the faithful come to this communion at the very time of their vocation; yet in as much as the life of Christ increases in them, he daily offers himself to be enjoyed by them. This is the communication which they receive in the Lordís Supper. I should explain this more fully to any one, whom I wished to instruct; but to you I have summed it up briefly, merely that you might see that we are of the same opinion. Farewell, most distinguished man, always respected by me in the Lord. Salute Sturmius, Zanchus and other friends affectionately.

    May the Lord always guard you, guide you by his Spirit, and follow you with his blessing.

    JOHN CALVIN.

    Geneva, August 8, 1555.

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