THE GENERAL REASONS FOR THE INCLUSION OF THIS document are given elsewhere. Here attention may be drawn to the exiguous evidence for and against its authenticity. C.R. cites Beza and an impressive list of later editions of Calvin’s works as including this writing. The first seems to attempt to remove suspicion of its genuineness, and makes the title run: “Summary of a certain doctrine, the name of the author being not added.” But where this lack occurred, from what source the writing is drawn, and what the reason is for its inclusion unless genuine, are questions for which neither Beza nor any other witness provide answers. C.R. ventures the cautious judgment, that the withdrawal of this document from the Calvinist corpus would leave his reputation unimpaired. One would not have to be very bold to say something more daring than this, and, in the absence of stronger evidence for its wrongful inclusion in early editions of Calvin’s works, the inherent interest of its subject matter justifies its inclusion here. (See C.R. IX, lxi.)
The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God, the fountain of all felicity, communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him may enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.
We believe this communication to be (a) mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and (b) spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit; to whom, since he is the virtue of the living God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, we ascribe omnipotence, by which he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.
That we believe the Holy Spirit to effect this union rests on a certain ground, namely this: Whatever (a) the Father or (b) the Son does to bring the faithful to salvation, Holy Scripture testifies that each operates through the Holy Spirit; and that (c) Christ does not otherwise dwell in us than through his Spirit, nor in any other way communicates himself to us than through the same Spirit.
To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.
When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The (a) external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and in- destructible.
In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears (a). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ, to the souls of all who will, so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.
In Baptism (a), the external minister baptizes with an external element, that is water, which is received bodily (b). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, baptizes with the blood of the spotless Lamb, so that he that is baptized is endowed with the whole Christ, true God and true man (Gal. 3:27); thus it is not necessary to receive Christ by the organs of the body, in order that our souls be washed by his blood; but the secret and most potent operation of the Holy Spirit suffices.
(a) Matt. 3:11; John 1:26: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.”
(b) Titus 3:5: “He saved us by the washing
of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
In the Supper of the Lord, the external minister holds forth the external symbols, the bread of the Lord and the wine of the Lord, which are perceived by the organs of our body, consumed and swallowed (a). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, not by external organs of the body, but by his secret virtue, feeds the souls of the faithful, both truly and efficaciously, with the body and the blood of the Lord unto eternal life, as truly as they know themselves to be nourished for this mortal life by bread and wine.
When we are fed with the body of Christ to life eternal, Christ does not wish us to believe that his own body or his own blood descends from heaven upon the altar or about the altar, in the bread or under the bread, or not distant from the bread. There is no more need for this than that in Baptism, in order that we be made true members of the body of Christ, the body of Christ itself should descend from heaven into the water or under the water or stand not far from the water. Similarly there is no need for the descent of the body in such literal sense, for us to be made partakers of the whole of Christ; we believe that enough of the power of the Spirit of the Lord, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is in us, for us in Baptism to be made members of his body, which yet is and remains in heaven. And in the Holy Supper, the same body remaining in heaven, he nourishes us more and more through his secret and most efficacious power and virtue.
This doctrine, that there is no descent of the body of Christ, or any downward passage visible or invisible, is grounded on the clearest testimony of Scripture. For just as Christ is man, so Scripture testifies that he parted from them (Luke 24:51), went away (John 14:2), left this world (John 16:28), was carried upwards (Acts 1:11), into the holy places not made with hands (Heb. 9:11, 24), to be enclosed in heaven until the time of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21).
Nor do the words of Christ conflict with this doctrine: This is my body which is broken, and so on. For Christ’s own best interpreter is Paul, who interprets: The bread which we break, in this way; and who interprets the words of Christ: is my body, as meaning: is the communion of the body of Christ.
But it was shown before that this is the sole ground of communion, that we are by the Holy Spirit made partakers of him, who effects this communion, since he is the virtue of the living God proceeding from the Father and the Son.
This doctrine is also in harmony with the Apostolic Symbol or Apostles’ Creed, which ought to be held to possess an inviolable and most simple certitude; with this namely: he ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.
Augustine understands these articles of faith as we do (Ep. 57 ad Dardanum), where he calls these articles the Christian Confession, and forbids retreat from them. Do not doubt, he says, Jesus Christ the man is now there whence he will come again; recollect in memory and hold faithfully the Christian confession, that he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and, from no other place than that where he is gone, will come to judge the quick and the dead. And he will come, this angelic voice testifies, just as he was seen to go into heaven: in the same form and substance of flesh; for certainly he does not destroy the nature of that to which he gives immortality. Since this is his form, he is not to be thought of as diffused everywhere. For we must watch lest we so construe the divinity of the man as to deny the reality of the body. But it does not follow that what is in God is everywhere as God; for concerning ourselves, Scripture most truly says, that in him we live and move and have our being. But we are not altogether as he is, but a man is in God and God is in man differently, each in his appropriate and particular way. For God and man are one person; and each one is Christ Jesus, ubiquitous in that he is God, but in heaven in that he is man. Thus Augustine.
The doctrine harmonizes also with the article concerning the assumption of true human nature (a), all of whose conditions, sin only excepted, Christ willingly took upon himself and (b) after his glorification he gave immortality to his flesh, without destroying its nature.
The doctrine harmonizes also with the articles of faith concerning the divine nature of Christ, concerning omnipotence, and concerning the Holy Spirit. For we believe Christ to be really and most powerfully present to us (a) by his Spirit as he promises. Yet we do not believe his omnipotence to stretch to the denial of that article of faith, so that the body of Christ should not ascend to heaven, and not be seated at the right hand of God. Much rather we believe that omnipotence and the articles of our faith are precisely thus firmly established. For we believe this work to be done in us much more certainly by the secret and incomprehensible virtue of the Holy Spirit, than if the body of Christ should descend out of heaven upon the altar, and be proffered by the hands of the minister and be consumed by our bodily mouth. The operation of the Holy Spirit is so much more certain and powerful than this, just as the Creator himself is superior to all his creatures, however excellent.
This article was taken from Calvin: Theological Treatises Editor: J.K.S. Reid, published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1954, pp. 170-177.