Young Calvin about the Lord’s Supper (2)

In my first post about the young Calvin and his thoughts about the Lord’s Supper, I cited his Epistolae Duae from January 12, 1537. His Articles concernant l’organisation de l’église et du culte a Genève, proposés au conseil par les ministres (Articles on the Organisation of the Church and its Worship at Geneva, proposed to the council by the ministers)are dated only four days later. In fact Calvin and his colleagues had been working on it since the Autumn of 1536. It is adressed to the council of Geneva, which was at that time (the bishop was expelled) in charge, of religious matters too. It would soon turn out, that the ministers’ proposals were, at least partially, too revolutionary. One of those points was the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. In the citations below you will read Calvin’s plea for a frequent celebration.

“Il seroyt bien a desirer que la communication de la saincte Cene de Iesuchrist fust tous les dimenches pour le moins en vsage quant leglise est assemblee en multitude veu la grande consolation que les fideles en recoipuent et le fruict qui en procede en toute maniere tant pour les promesses qui sont la presentees en nostre foy, cest que vrayment nous sommes faicts participans du corps et du sang de Iesus, de sa mort, de sa vie, de son esprit et de tous ses biens. (…) Et de faict elle naz pas este jnstituee de Iesus pour en fere commemoration deux ou troys foys lan, mays pour vng frequent exercice de nostre foy et charite.”

 Calvin’s Renaissance French is quite different from contemporary French, but here is my attempt to translate these words: “It were desirable that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper of Jesus Christ is held every sunday at least, when the congregation is assembled together. That is important  in view of the grand consolation for the believers and the fruit which springs from it in all kinds of ways because of the promises which are presented to our faith, that means: we are really participants of the body and blood of Jesus, of his death, his life, his Spirit and all his goods. (…) And indeed, the Supper hasn’t been instituted by Jesus for having a remembrance twice or three times a year, but as a frequent exercise of our faith and love”.

Calvin cites Acts 2:42 about the apostles’ devotion to the breaking of the bread. And he then continues by saying:

“(…) et telle az este tousjours la practique de lesglise ancienne iusques a ce que labomination des messes a este jntroduicte, en la quelle au lieu de ceste communication de tous les fideles a este dresse cest horrible sacrilege, que ung sacrifieroyt pour tous. En quoy la Cene a este du tout destruite et abolie. Mays pour ce que linfirmite du peuple est encore telle quil y avoyt dangier que ce sacre et tant exellent mestere ne vint en mespris sil estoyt si souuent celebre.”

 “This has always been the practice of the Ancient Church, until the abomination of the mass has been introduced, in which instead of the communication of all believers the horrible offence was elaborated that one man sacrifices for all. With that the Lord’s Supper has been totally destroyed and abolished. But because the weakness of the people is still such, that the danger exists that this holy and exalted mystery will be despised when it will be celebrated so often.” Calvin concludes this passage with a proposal to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every month, in one of the three different churches of GenevaGeneva 1550: St. Pierre, Rive and St. Gervais. However he stresses the intention that the celebration of the  Supper is ment, not only for a specific quarter, but for the whole city. The Geneva council didn’t agree with this proposal unfortunately and restricted the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to four times a year in the three churches. This has been the practice of many Reformed Churches up to this date, although there are exceptions to that rule. In the Netherlands these exceptions are pretty rare, regretfully. In my point of view this low frequency is one of the reasons for the lack of sacramental consciousness in the Calvinistic tradition. Isn’t it time to put into practice these words of Calvin? I think so!

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