Review ‘The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh’ by Robert J. Stamps

Robert J. Stamps, The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh (Wipf and Stock 2013); $ 39,- ($ 31,20 [web price])

In his book The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh, Robert J. Stamps engages with the sacramental theology of Thomas F. Torrance. It was his doctoral dissertation at the University of Nottingham, coStamp - Word made Fleshmpleted in 1986. It remained unpublished until 2007, when it was included in the Rutherford Studies in Contemporary Theology. And finally, in 2013 it was released in the USA by Wipf and Stock. The delayed date of publication seems not completely coïncidental, as the sacramental theology of T.F. Torrance didn’t catch much attention until the first decade of the 21th century. George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism (2008), preceded by his important essay ‘The Dimension of Depth’ (2001), is dedicated to the memory of T.F. Torrance and Hunsinger’s sacramental theology is deeply influenced by Torrance. Paul Molnar wrote about the same subject in 2005, in an essay (‘The Eucharist and the Mind of Christ. Some Trinitarian Implications of T.F. Torrance’s Sacramental Theology’) and, to mention just one more example, Myk Habets devotes several pages to the same topic as part of his book Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (2009). These and other recent publications are not mentioned in Stamps’ book, as its conception predates these books and articles.

Stamps starts his study with an outline of ‘the theological and cosmological framework’ for Torrance’s eucharistic theology. This first chapter functions as a very concise introduction of Thomas Torrance’s view on theology in relation with (modern) science and its epistemological implications. Not surprisingly then, we find in this chapter much interaction between the positions of Torrance and Barth. Stamps does a good job in his exposition of Torrance’s emphasis on God’s self-revelation, his aversion of dualism, and so forth.

The second chapter starts with a brief ‘rationale’ for the subsequent outline of the discussion of Torrance’s sacramental theology. Stamps chooses here for a revision of Calvin’s approach in the Institutes (IV,XVII,1): Signification; Substance of Matter; Effect or Action. In my view this approach is not completely satisfactory. Of course, especially in his early writings, Torrance often refers to Calvin’s sacramental theology and he employed Calvin’s outline himself, ‘though with considerable difficulty’ (60). However, as Stamps rightly remarks, Torrance offers an incisive reinterpretation of the material. Stamps consciously indicates these reinterpretations in the subsequent chapters. But they don’t become structurally visible in this way. And that’s a pity. To be fair, the strength of Stamp’s approach is that the points of divergence can be marked, step by step.

Chapter 3 ‘Sacramental Matter and Action: the Objective Christological Ground and Potential for the Sacrament’ maps the interconnections between Torrance’s christology and sacramental theology. The key to this is found in his most comprehensive treatment of eucharistic theology: “The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist’. His christological emphasis on the homo-ousios is the key for the interpretation of his sacramental theology. That has deep epistemological implications: ‘for God cannot be known in the revelatory ‘sacramental relation’, either in word or formal sacrament, except from the integrity of his incarnation.” (99). Moreover: “the worship of Christ is the ground for the Church’s worhsip. We can also understand why the Eucharist in his theology, answering as it does the worship of Christ, should be central to the life of a reconstituted, new humanity.” (109). It is this position that makes Torrance’s contribution unique, pointing to, what George Hunsinger rightly called, the ‘dimension of depth’.

While chapter 3 is the heart of the book, in my opinion, chapter 4 is less convincing: ‘Sacramental Effect: the Subjectification of the Objective Christological Reality’. The subtitle indicates the problem already. According to Stamps “Calvin dealt with sacramental action and effect together in his outline, whereas Torrance’s sacramental theology separates the effect from the action” (144). I don’t think so. In Conflict and Agreement (1960) he makes the distinction between the ‘action of Christ’ and ‘its effect in our reception of it’. But, as Stamps rightly says, “[t]his does nog designate two distinct actions” (ibid.). But then he adds “but [it designates, AT] the difference between Christ’s formal action and its subjectification within the Church” (ibid.). To be sure, Stamps is a very careful ‘exegete’ of Torrance. For a few lines later he writes that Torrance elsewhere (in his shorter article ‘The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist’ in The Liturgical Review (1976) “treats these two aspects of our sacramental communion specifically as the Real Presence and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Therefore, we shall discuss Sacramental Effect under these two headings” (145). Unfortunately, he seems to be unaware of the tension between the title of this chapter and the subheadings. The chapter offers for that matter brief comparisons with Luther’s and Calvin’s sacramental theologies (partly in the footnotes) that are right on target.

The last chapter is called: “An Appraisal of Torrance’s Eucharistic Theology with Open Questions”. Stamps refers in the beginning of this chapter to an personal interview he had with Thomas Torrance.

“When asked in 1985 what he would change if his earlier works on the Eucharist could be rewritten, Torrance stated that he would like to alter their context, i.e. not to discuss the issues so much from the perspective of the Reformation, as from that of the Eastern Fathers.” (240-241)

In the light of this quote, it becomes even more puzzling why Stamps chose to make Calvin’s approach leading for the outline of Torrance’s sacramental theology. He gives the answer by arguing that – in the end – Torrance’s eucharistic theology “finally ought not to be judged by what it aspires to be, but by what it actually is, a Eucharist [sic!] in the Reformed tradition operating from a highly developed christology richly informed by patristic sources” (244). Stamps notes in T.F. Torrance (lecturing)passing that (especially the early) Torrance is in some respects heavily indebted to Karl Barth (“an ‘actualist conception of God’s Word” (250)), but in the end, his analysis of Torrance’s sacramental theology boils down to the dilemma: either Calvin or Eastern Orthodoxy. That seems to me a serious flaw in his analysis. Torrance’s sacramental theology certainly isn’t purely Barthian, but can’t be properly understood by omitting the Barthian ‘overtones’ in the thought of Tom Torrance.

This is not to deny that Stamps offers in his book a thorough study of the sacramental theology of Thomas F. Torrance. As indicated, its strenght lies in the ‘exegetical’ reading of all the relevant texts of Torrance’s work. Its weakness is its systematic presentation and evaluation. But for sure: anyone who is on his way to study Torrance on the sacraments, will have to read this book and will definitely find it useful.

I would like to thank Wipf and Stock Publishers for providing the review copy!

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Wolterstorff’s Kantzer Lectures

Wolterstorff-Kanzter LecturesThose who follow the work of Nicholas Wolterstorff will have been looking forward to his Kantzer Lectures (October, 1-7). I was one of those, listening and watching at distance (thanks to the superb video-connection, still to be found here). In my opinion, it was a great series with references and excursions to theologians as Alexander Schmemann, Jean-Jaques von Allmen, Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. And those familiar with Wolterstorff’s own writings recognized hints from his earlier work (such as Divine Discourse (1995), derived from his Wilde Lectures in Oxford, 1993).The outline of his Kantzer Lectures looks like this:

Lecture 1: The Project: Liturgical Theology Lecture 2. God as Worthy of Worship Lecture 3. God as One Who Listens and Speaks Lecture 4. God as Listener Lecture 5. What Are We Saying When We Say that God Listens? Lecture 6. God as One Who Hears Favorably Lecture 7. God as One Who Speaks Lecture 8. The Understanding of God Implicit in the Eucharist

Those who have visited this blog before, won’t be surprised to hear that his last lecture aroused my interest most of all. I have to admit however that my expectations were somewhat ambiguous. Wolterstorff’s earlier writings on the subject emphasized that the Lord’s Supper is best understood in terms of action, rather than presence. And he offered a thorough analysis of ‘remembrance’ as practised in the liturgy. His take on these liturgical questions seemed to me indeed calvinistic, but, so I wondered, didn’t it have a zwinglian overtone? Could an analysis of the Lord’s Supper that is true to Calvin’s intentions be put merely in terms of action and remembrance? I didn’t and still don’t think so.

It did turn out in his Kantzer Lectures, that Wolterstorff doesn’t think so either. I had underestimated him as a careful interpreter of Calvin. In fact, he picked up the concept of ‘participation’ from Calvin’s writings about the Lord’s Supper in order to make it pivotal in his own analysis. By doing that he offered a ‘high’ interpretation of what is happening in the Lord’s Supper. With the conceptual tool of a theory of double action he interprets the distribution of bread and wine as counting as the offering of Christ’s body and blood. And he interprets our eating of the bread and drinking of the wine as counting as the receiving of his offering. Wolterstorff insisted – rightly so, I think – that for Calvin the sacrament is not to be regarded in terms of proclamation, be it as a kind of proclamation or as confirmation of proclamation. The eucharist is to be understood in terms of Christ’s offering of himself to us. There is much more to say about this lecture, but you really should listen yourself!

In the discussion afterwards, three questions striked me as remarkable:

  1. The first question asked whether Wolterstorff’s interpretation of Calvin’s theology of the Lord’s Supper in terms of a double action theory is fully adequate. Isn’t Calvin’s opinion different, in the sense that for him the eating and drinking doesn’t count as receiving Christ’s offering his flesh and blood, but as the occasion for God, by the Spirit, to do his work in us. Wolterstorff answered to this by pointing out that there are two double actions are going on in the Lord’s Supper, one action performed by God, the other performed by us. The question reminded me to his discussion of Calvin’s alleged occasionalism in his article ‘Sacrament as Action, not Presence’ (in: David Brown & Ann Loades, Christ: the Sacramental Word (1996)). In this article Wolterstorff is very emphatic in denying that Calvin was an occasionalist (p.107-108).
  2. A second question asked what exactly the difference was between instrumentalism, the view that is often ascribed to Calvin (f.ex. B.A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude (1993), p.167), and Wolterstorff’s own view. It appeared to be not easy to put this difference into words. Calvin does not say, according to Wolterstorff, that the bread and the wine effect the participation in Christ. Nor does he want to say that the presider’s offering bread and wine effects participation. Wolterstorff came forward with the term ‘relentlessly performative’, in order to specify that the bread and the wine are by no means arbitrary, but that they in the context of the liturgy enable the celebrants to partake in Christ.
  3. The second last question referred to Wolterstorff’s second lecture, where he spoke of the church actualizing itself in the enactment of the liturgy. In so far as the Eucharist is the climax of that liturgical enactment, how could this actualization be ‘fleshed out’ (think of De Lubac’s maxim). Characteristically, Wolterstorff admitted he hadn’t worked out his thoughts in this direction. But, he said, why don’t you flesh it out? And then he made a note for himself. I liked that answer for two reasons. First, Wolterstorff doesn’t hesitate to admit he hasn’t thought out all implications. That is, he is not pretending he’s got all the answers. And secondly, he challenges students and other scholars to take up the job of engaging with the project of the philosophical analysis of what is going on in the liturgy.

There is much more to say about this particular lecture and about the complete series. What to think for example of the closing section of this last lecture, in which he posed a couple of intriguing questions. What does it mean to think of God as the One Who not only acts ands speaks, but listens as well? Doesn’t that thought affect our understanding of God’s immutability and of his aseitas, for example? I have my doubts whether Wolterstorff interprets the theological tradition here correctly. But these questions have to wait for another day. Maybe the day that his book appears. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Robert Bruce and the Mystery of the Lord’s Supper

Recently, I bought and read The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper from Robert Bruce (1554-1631). I had two reasons for buying this book. My first, and main, reason was the introduction of Thomas Torrance. He translated and edited the book in 1957. And because I’m fond of Torrance, I wanted to read his Introduction in the first place. However, my second reason was my expectation of the book itself. So far I didn’t read anything from Bruce, nor did I know who the man was (Torrance’s Introduction however is most helpful in this respect), but the fact that he was a contemporary of John Craig made me look on expectantly. And indeed, these sermons of Robert Bruce are fantastic! Here we find a concise reformed eucharistic theology. For the moment I’ll postpone the exploration of his theology and limit myself to three impressions:

1. I’m fairly acquainted with Calvin’s sermons and his preaching style. The sermons of Robert Bruce are about three or four decades younger than Calvin’s, but the difference in style is enormous. It surprised me that Thomas Torrance, who happened to be an expert on Calvin’s theology, didn’t mention the difference in his Introduction. It would be unfair to characterize the style of Bruce as ‘scholastic’, but there is undeniably a scholastic touch in these sermons. Calvin’s sermons are much more exegetical, moving from passage to passage. He sometimes makes use of distinctions as well, but not to the sophisticated degree Bruce does. It seems however, that these sermons are intended somewhat more generally than Calvin’s Genevan sermons. Anyway, Robert Bruce was an outstanding theologian, so much is sure. Let me give an example. It’s a passage in which Bruce discusses an objection of his opponents, ‘that God by His omnipotence can make the Body of Christ be both in heaven and in the bread at the same time’. Bruce says that the question at stake is not whether God can do a thing or not, but whether He will do it or not or whether He may will it or not:

“These things are of two kinds: First, He may not will those things which are contrary to His nature, such as to be changeable, to decay, and so on (…); Secondly, God may not will some things, because He has already decreed the contrary. This is the kind of thing we are now discussing (…).” (p.129,130).

2. There is another point in his sermons that striked me. It was something I hoped for. Let me call it the ‘Scottish flavour’ in the theology of the Lord’s Supper. I wrote about this some time ago, in relation to the Catechism of John Craig [link]. With ‘Scottish flavour’ I mean an emphasis on at least two things: on the empirical reality of Christ’s body and on the resurrection of Christ. Again a quote, by way of illustration:

“I prove my proposition (about the visibility and palpability of Christ’s body [AT]) by Christ’s own words, taken from Luke 24;24,39. In order to persuade the apostles of the reality of His Body, and to prove clearly that it was not a phantom, he uses the argument taken from these two qualities (…), as if He would say, ‘If I am visible and palpable, you may cease to doubt that I have a true body’. For as the poet says, whom Tertullian cites also for this same purpose: “Tangere enim et tani, nisi corpus, nulla potest res” (For nothing can touch or be touched exepct a body).” (p.125)

3. There is another remarkable feature in these sermons. Torrance points to it in his Introduction: ‘the doctrine of union with Christ and of our participation in his saving and sanctifying humanity‘ (p.23). Those familiar with the work of Thomas Torrance himself, will immediately recognize this theme, which was so important to him. Here we see a part of the roots of this theme of Torrance (the other part being the patristic tradition). Torrance claims this trait as distinctive for both John Calvin and the early Scottish Reformation. A quote once again:

“Christ Jesus, the Son of God, in the time appointed took true Flesh from the womb of the virgin, and united Himself with our nature, in a personal union, to the end that our nature, which fell altogether from its integrity in the first Adam, might recover the same in the second Adam – yes, not only the same, but much greater, as much as our second Adam in every way excels the first.” (p.123)

So, these sermons prove to be a treasure of reformed eucharistic theology. Or, to use the words of Thomas Torrance: “[T]he very marrow of our sacramental tradition in the Church of Scotland.”

The Lord’s Supper and Christ’s participation in our death

In about two weeks I will have to give a lecture about death and the Lord’s Supper. (By the way, that’s why I’ve been silent here for a couple of weeks.) In what sense does the celebration of the Lord’s Supper remind us of our own death? And in what way is the death of Jesus related to both our own death and the Lord’s Supper? The focus, thus, is not upon the atoning meaning of Christ’s death. The question is which meaning the ‘mere fact’ of his death has for us and in which way the Lord’s Supper can reveal that to us.

I will start with a short passage from Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book Lament for a son. In this book Wolterstorff describes what happened when he received a phone call that his son Eric had died in a mountain climbing accident. Somewhere in the book he tells about the funeral service. He writes:

“We celebrated the Eucharist, that sacrament of God’s participation in our brokenness. We came forward successively in groups, standing in circles around the coffin, passing the signs of Christ’s brokenness to each other.” (p.39,40)

The key-word here is ‘participation’. In what sense is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a participation of Christ in our brokenness? There are, at least, two possible directions here. One way is to focus upon the Lord’s Supper as a commemorative ritual. A rite invites us into a kind of participation, so it is argued, that transcends our rationality. We might even argue that in the ritual enacting of the Lord’s Supper we are – somehow – made one with the reality, to which the celebration refers. The problem, however, is located in this ‘somehow’. How do we have to understand that? Is this a kind of ‘Traumzeit’ (Josuttis), in which we forget about everything here and now? Or should we think of it as a kind of ‘game’, in which we are playing like children? When a child is playing fireman, he is a fireman. Is it something like this?

These proposals can’t convince me. First, they posit a relationship between the ritual and the reality it refers to in terms of a kind of (weak) analogy. And second, in this way we’ve lost the spiritual reality. There is no appeal to the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and no appeal to the reality of our sharing in his death and resurrection. That leads me to an alternative route: the route of exploring the resources of the eucharistic theology in the Reformation. I don’t think we have exhausted these resources. On the contrary, traditionally much attention is paid to the aspect of the atonement. But there is more to say. Three things, in fact, I’d like to call attention to in my lecture.

1. The body of Christ is – at least for Calvin – the locus of our salvation. Therefore, Calvin is very insistent that we should lift up our hearts. That is because Christ is in heaven. Calvin does not want to depreciate the role of the senses or of the human body. On the contrary, the wounded and tortured body of Christ, the body that tasted death, is for him a very substantial and almost palpable reality. But He is in heaven! There we have to seek Him, not in the elements. And He nourishes us from above…

2. The Lord’s Supper is for Calvin also a pledge for our own resurrection. In the Catechism of John Craig this accent is even more pronounced. So, the Lord’s Supper has not only meaning for our souls, but also for our bodies! Because Christ is the Resurrected One, the Supper is a foretaste for our own resurrection. No doubt about that!

3. Thomas Torrance, and James Torrance in his trail, developed the view that for Calvin Christ’s priestly office meant that our worship is included in His worship, our response to God in His. The same applies to the Lord’s Supper. We are sharing in his death and resurrection, not in an analogical way, but as an ontological reality. In my previous post I expressed some doubts about this ontological thinking. However, the thought is precious to me, because it underlines the reality of our participation, where the ritual approach puts up with a weak analogy.

Well, in this direction my lecture will move. My question is: what do you think?

Torrance on the sacraments

In The School of Faith (1959) Torrance discusses the Reformed conception of the Covenant of Grace. He makes in this regard a sharp distinction between Mediaeval theology, thinking in sacramental terms and Reformed theology, thinking in convenantal terms. Whereas Mediaeval theology, according to Torrance, considered the church as the extension of the Incarnation, against the background of a sacramental universe, the Reformers employed the Biblical terminology of the Convenant of Grace and its total fulfilment in the Person and Work of Jezus Christ as the incarnate Son and Word of God (p.lii).

After citing Karl Barth’s formula of the Convenant as the inner ground and form of the creation and creation as the outer ground or form of the Convenant and Calvin’s statement that Godwrapped himself up in earthly signs and symbols, so that the whole of creation is to be regarded as a mirror or theatre, Torrance continues by saying:

“Thus while the whole of creation is formed to serve as the sphere of divine self-revelation, it cannot be interpreted or understood our of itself, as if it had an inherent relation of likeness or being to the Truth, but only in the light of the history of the Convenant of Grace and its appointed signs and orders and events in the life of the Convenant people, that is to say, according to its economy prior to the Incarnation and according to its economy after the Incarnation” (p.liii).

In short, Torrance seems to deny any intrinsic connection between the sacramental signs and their signification. That, however, raises several questions. Think, for example, of the Lord’s Supper. According to Torrance, it’s signification originates from Divine appointment, e.g. the words of institution spoken by Christ and repeated by the minister every time the Supper is celebrated. True as that is, does that mean that, say, its character as a meal is completely arbitrary? Could the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection as well have been instituted in the form of a shared dance around an old tree? Or would in that case the ritual have had a different meaning, at least partly? I think so.

It seems that Torrance, in his effort to avoid a sacramentalism based on a kind of natural theology, did cut off, not only the branches of the tree, but also some of its vital roots. Furthermore, while claiming to describe the Reformed position in sacramental theology, he seems to distantiate himself from the position of Calvin. For Calvin makes use of the analogy between our daily eating and drinking and the eating and drinking we have in the Lord’s Supper (for example in his sermon about Psalm 65, edited in Supplementa Calviniana VII (ed. E. Mülhaupt); p.32-40). Obviously, Calvin doesn´t want to know about an intrinsic sacramental operation. The signs and the rite don´t have an operation on their own, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. But that does not mean that the relation between the sacramental signs and their signification, between the rite and its operation is completely arbitrary.

Torrance, Craig’s Catechism, and the Lord’s Supper

Sometimes things nicely come together. Thanks to a little discussion about Thomas Torrance and (federal or evangelical) Calvinism, I took Torrance’s The School of Faith from the shelf. It’s one of his less well known books and it comprises an edition of all the Catechisms that were ‘officially authorised and employed by the Church of Scotland since the Reformation’ (1). It’s was first published in 1959. Torrance offers an excellent introduction to these writings in about 125 pages. These pages are in fact a very concise introduction to Torrance’s own theology, especially his thoughts about revelation and natural theology, incarnation and atonement, and his doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the church and the sacraments. It were these topics on which he lectured in the fifties at New College. These strands in his thinking have been attracting less attention then what he said and wrote about the incarnation and atonement and about science and theology.

In the meantime I’m preparing a lecture about the Lord’s Supper and our mortality. How does the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection enables us to live, while facing death, in us and around us? While turning over the pages in Torrance’s The School of Faith I stumbled upon Craig’s Catechism from 1581. I read it before and at that time it was completely unknown to me. But it struck me because of his very forceful style, with short questions and answers, but also because of its concreteness. There is quite a lot emphasis on our senses and our body, especially in the (large) section about the sacraments. Like the other Catechisms from the Reformation period, it stresses the fact that the elements, like water, bread, wine, don’t have an intrinsic power or efficacy. However, unlike these other Catechisms, Craig’s Catechism maintains very convincing that the bodily language of the sacraments do have an intrinsic worth. This worth is twofold: first of all epistemological. Consider for example these questions and answers (p.155):

Q. How does He (Christ) offer His body and blood?

A. By the Word and Sacraments.

Q. How do we receive His body and blood?

A. By our own lively faith alone.

Q. What follows upon this receiving by faith?

A. That Christ dwells in us, and we in Him.

Q. Is not this done by the Word and Baptism?

A. Yes, but our union with Christ is more evident and manifest here.

Q. Why is it more evident?

A. Because it is expressed by meat and drink joined with us inwardly in our bodies.

That’s the first point: the Supper makes the Union with Christ more evident, that is: evident inwardly in our bodies! No Platonic thinking here! No separation between soul and body! We are both body and soul and that’s why God gave us the sacraments! But there is another point to maken (p.157):

Q. Should we seek the food of our souls in the elements of bread and wine?

A. No, for they were not given to that end.

Q. To what end then were they given?

A. To lead us directly to Christ, who only is the food of our souls.

 Q. What profit should our bodies have by this Sacrament?

A. It is a pledge of our resurrection by Christ.

Q. How is that?

A. Because our bodies are partakers of the sign of life.

This is a very remarkable passage! The imagery of a ‘pledge’ is very common in Calvinistic theology. The Lord´s Supper is called a pledge of our salvation, a means to be sure of it. But, to the best of my knowledge, Calvin nowhere says that the Lord´s Supper is a pledge of our bodily resurrection. No wonder then, that Craig let his pupils ask: “How is that?” And his supreme answer: “Because our bodies are partakers of the sign of life”. Before this, Craig has explained that the giving of the bread and wine means a spiritual feeding of our souls with Christ’s body and blood (p.156). The ‘close conjunction’ with meat and drink means ‘the spiritual union which we have in Jesus Christ’. But there is also a bodily conjunction, so to speak. And that conjunction means participation in Christ’s bodily resurrection. We share in the sign of life!

Wolterstorff on Calvin on the Lord’s Supper

I have a tremendous respect for Nicholas Wolterstorff. Not only for the quantity and the quality of his work, but also for its diversity. He is one of very few philosophers who has been reflecting upon the phenonemon of ‘liturgy’. Besides, he has read a good deal of Calvin. Not only his Institution, but also his commentaries.

He offers some very interesting remarks on Calvin´s liturgy of the Lord´s Supper. According to Wolterstorff, the only way to fully understand his liturgy of the Lord´s Supper is to think of it, not merely in terms of presence, but (also) of action. I´m inclined to agree with him. Calvin does speak of the Lord´s Supper in his sermons in terms of (divine) action. He claims repeatedly for example that the Lord´s Supper is a testimony of the Holy Spirit. He assures and consoles us. However, one of the key terms of Calvin´s thinking about the Lord´s Supper is the word ´substance´. He uses it quite frequently, and (that´s important as well) in key phrases. It´s a difficult word to translate. Calvin obviously doesn´t think of ´substance´ in terms of scholastic definitions. Sometimes it means ´content´ or something like ´the real thing´. One is inclined to translate it in some passages as ´(real) presence´. That’s the point Calvin wants to stress repeatedly: it’s Christ Himself who is present and giving Himself in the Lord’s Supper.

If that, however, is correct, the assertion of Wolterstorff should be reformulated. It´s not a matter of presence or action, but of action through presence. It´s the real presence of Christ, through his Spirit, that consoles and assures us. I don’t think Wolterstorff would disagree with this. He would, I suspect, ask a couple of questions. For example: What kind of presence are we talking about? Is it a kind of ‘deputized action’ (compare Wolterstorff’s Divine Discourse, 43vv.)? Or should we think of God ‘appropriating’ our celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Divine Discourse, 51vv.)? I’m not sure Wolterstorff would suggest this line of thought. I’m however quite sure Calvin wouldn’t be satisfied with it. He believed in a stronger notion of presence: both real and spiritual.