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!