John Calvin was relatively quiet. Alistair McGrath writes that “Calvin was clearly aware of the divergences between Luther and Zwingli, and he attempted to steer a middle course between their rival points.” Euan Cameron says that Calvin took the positive elements of both Luther and Zwingli and reconciled it into a complete system. Calvin often referred to the formula “ideas may be distinguished but not separated”. Therefore “in the case of the sacraments, the sign signified may be distinguished, but not separated from each other.”

Calvin’s view of the Eucharist contained ‘three truths’. Firstly, it had a meaning. Believers are to be reassured because it confirms the promises of God. The second truth refers to the substance of matter. By receiving the sign, we are receiving at the same time the body of Christ itself. The third and final truth refers to virtue and effect. The believer participates by faith in all the benefits of Christ imparted to us spiritually. What Calvin is saying is this; Yes, Christ is definitely present during communion. This is because the sign, that is the bread and the wine, symbolizes the real and true presence of Christ. However, he also agreed with Zwingli in that the words “This is my body” is a figure of speech. Christ’s body was not physically present in the ‘gross sense.’

Calvin appears to remove himself from the dispute between Luther and Zwingli. Unlike Bucer, who was actively involved in bringing the parties together, Calvin remained in the background, if not silent. In 1540 Calvin wrote a treatise for the person in the pew on the basic meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Calling the dispute between Luther and Zwingli ‘unfavorable’ he goes on to say, ‘the devil has stirred this controversy to impede the advance of the gospel or even to obstruct it all together.’ Calvin comments on both the positive side of their arguments as well as the weaknesses. He rebukes Luther for not stating how his position differs from the roman catholic conception, while Zwingli is rebuked for not making an association between the sign and the truth signified “thereby leaving the impression that they intended to push real communion with Christ in the Lord’s Supper into the background.” Both sides erred, according to Calvin, in that they did not listen to each other patiently and were not really committed to finding the truth together.


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