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Public domain originally from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

John Calvin writes this part of his treatise on communion in relationship to that which he considers to be the orthodox church view of Holy Communion as set forth by the early church fathers.  St. Augustine seems to be the main contributor to Calvin's thoughts as he uses his own polemical energies and skill to refute errors in Roman Catholic dogma concerning this holy matter. Calvin's view points on the significance of the sacred feast, as he calls the sacrament, will be highlighted in green as it references key opinions that I might agree with in principle concerning the holiness of the sacred supper.  The red commentary within the text of the document will be mine. Robert Glenn Pratten 2007

Institutes of the Christian Religion

By John Calvin: Published in 1536 at or about the age of 26


Book four CHAPTER 17.


This chapter is divided into two principal heads.óI. The first part shows what it is that God exhibits in the Holy Supper, sec. 1-4; and then in what way and how far it becomes ours, sec. 5-11. II. The second part is chiefly occupied with a refutation of the errors which superstition has introduced in regard to the Lordís Supper. And, first, Transubstantiation is refuted, sec. 12-15. Next, Consubstantiation and Ubiquity, sec. 16-19. Thirdly, It is shown that the institution itself is opposed to those hyperbolical doctors, sec. 20-25. Fourth, The orthodox view is confirmed by other arguments derived from Scripture, sec. 26-27. Fifth, The authority of the Fathers is shown to support the same view. Sixth, The presence for which opponents contend is overthrown, and another presence established, sec. 29-32. Seventh, What the nature of our communion ought to be, sec. 33, 34. Eighth, The adoration introduced by opponents refuted. For what end the Lordís Supper was instituted, sec. 35-39. Lastly, The examination of communicants is considered, sec. 40-42. Of the external rites to be observed. Of frequent communion in both kinds. Objections refuted, sec. 43-50.


1. Why the Holy Supper was instituted by Christ. The knowledge of the sacrament, how necessary. The signs used. Why there are no others appointed.

2. The manifold uses and advantages of this sacrament to the pious.

3. The Lordís Supper exhibits the great blessings of redemption, and even Christ himself. This even evident from the words of the institution. The thing specially to be considered in them. Congruity of the signs and the things signified.

4. The chief parts of this sacrament.

5. How Christ, the Bread of Life, is to be received by us. Two faults to be avoided. The receiving of it must bear reference both to faith and the effect of faith. What meant by eating Christ. In what sense Christ the bread of life.

6. This mode of eating confirmed by the authority of Augustine and Chrysostom.

7. It is not sufficient, while omitting all mention of flesh and blood, to recognize this communion merely as spiritual. It is impossible fully to comprehend it in the present life.

8. In explanation of it, it may be observed,óI. There is no life at all save in Christ. II. Christ has life in a twofold sense; first, in himself, as he is God; and, secondly, by transfusing it into the flesh which he assumed, that he might thereby communicate life to us.

9. This confirmed from Cyril, and by a familiar example. How the flesh of Christ gives life, and what the nature of our communion with Christ.

10. No distance of place can impede it. In the Supper it is not presented as an empty symbol, but, as the apostle testifies, we receive the reality. Objection, that the expression is figurative. Answer. A sure rule with regard to the sacraments.

11. Conclusion of the first part of the chapter. The sacrament of the Supper consists of two partsóviz. corporeal signs, and spiritual truth. These comprehend the meaning, matter, and effect. Christ truly exhibited to us by symbols.

12. Second part of the chapter, reduced to nine heads. The transubstantiation of the Papists considered and refuted. Its origin and absurdity. Why it should be exploded.

13. Transubstantiation as feigned by the Schoolmen. Refutation. The many superstitions introduced by their error.

14. The fiction of transubstantiation why invented contrary to Scripture, and the consent of antiquity. The term of transubstantiation never used in the early Church. Objection. Answer.

15. The error of transubstantiation favored by the consecration, which was a kind of magical incantation. The bread is not a sacrament to itself, but to those who receive it. The changing of the rod of Moses into a serpent gives no countenance to Popish transubstantiation. No resemblance between it and the words of institution in the Supper. Objection. Answer.

16. Refutation of consubstantiation; whence the idea of ubiquity.

17. This ubiquity confounds the natures of Christ. Subtleties answered.

18. Absurdities connected with consubstantiation. Candid exposition of the orthodox view.

19. The nature of the true presence of Christ in the Supper. The true and substantial communion of the body and blood of the Lord. This orthodox view assailed by turbulent spirits.

20. This view vindicated from their calumnies. The words of the institution explained in opposition to the glosses of transubstantiators and consubstantiators. Their subterfuges and absurd blasphemies.

21. Why the name of the thing signified is given to the sacramental symbols. This illustrated by passages of Scripture; also by a passage of Augustine.

22. Refutation of an objection founded on the words, This is. Objection answered.

23. Other objections answered.

24. Other objections answered. No question here as to the omnipotence of God.

25. Other objections answered.

26. The orthodox view further confirmed. I. By a consideration of the reality of Christís body. II. From our Savior's declaration that he would always be in the world. This confirmed by the exposition of Augustine.

27. Refutation of the sophisms of the Ubiquitists. The evasion of visible and invisible presence refuted.

28. The authority of Fathers not in favor of these errors as to Christís presence. Augustine opposed to them.

29. Refutation of the invisible presence maintained by opponents. Refutation from Tertullian, from a saying of Christ after his resurrection, from the definition of a true body, and from different passages of Scripture.

30. Ubiquity refuted by various arguments.

31. The imaginary presence of Transubstantiators, Consubstantiators, and Ubiquitists, contrasted with the orthodox doctrine.

32. The nature of our Savior's true presence explained. The mode of it incomprehensible.

33. Our communion in the blood and flesh of Christ. Spiritual not oral, and yet real. Erroneous view of the Schoolmen.

34. This view not favored by Augustine. How the wicked eat the body of Christ. Cyrilís sentiments as to the eating of the body of Christ.

35. Absurdity of the adoration of sacramental symbols.

36. This adoration condemned. I. By Christ himself. II. By the Council of Nice. III. By ancient custom. IV. By Scripture. This adoration is mere idolatry.

37. This adoration inconsistent with the nature and institution of the sacrament. Ends for which the sacrament was instituted.

38. Ends for which the sacrament was instituted.

39. True nature of the sacrament, contrasted with the Popish observance of it.

40. Nature of an unworthy approach to the Lordís table. The great danger of it. The proper remedy in serious self-examination.

41. The spurious examination introduced by the Papists. Refutation.

42. The nature of Christian examination.

43. External rites in the administration of the Supper. Many of them indifferent.

44. Duty of frequent communion. This proved by the practice of the Church in its purer state, and by the canons of the early bishops.

45. Frequent communion in the time of Augustine. The neglect of it censured by Chrysostom.

46. The Popish injunction to communicate once a-year an execrable invention.

47. Communion in one kind proved to be an invention of Satan.

48. Subterfuges of the Papists refuted.

49. The practice of the early Church further considered.

50. Conclusion.