Friday, April 24, 2009

Horton on Reformed View of the Eucharist

I've enjoyed reading Michael Horton's People and Place and particularly interesting was the chapter on Eurcharist (amazing still to see a conservative Reformed theologian even call it "Eucharist"). Horton wants to avoid the errors of transforming the sign into the signified (Rome) or completely separating the sign from the signified (Zwingli). Horton, pretty much piggy backing Calvin the whole way, asserts that the spiritual presence of Christ is not spatial nor imaginary, but relational and eschatological. The earthly sign has a heavenly reality and the supper if a fissure in the present age that has been opened up by the Spirit for our semirealized participation in the consummation. Horton detects in Calvin's eucharistic theology something of Patristic writings of the East whereby the Spirit communicates the energies of Christ's life-giving flesh in the sacrament. Horton qualifies that by saying that the East's category of energies is better translated into the covenantal idiom of the worksings of God, specifically, the redemptive speech-act of Father in the Son by the Spirit. While the person of Christ cannot be communicated through the sacament, the workings of Christ can be. Horton states: "It is through the working of God through Word and sacrament, received in faith, that the Spirit clothes us with Christ inwardly in this age and outwardly adorns us with righteousness, beauty, glory, and immortality in the age to come. Once more we recognize the point ... the emphasis on the sacraments as mediating God's presence-in-action rather than naked manifestation." Finally, Horton quotes B.A. Berrish about how Calvin's eucharistic theology has been received in the Reformed churches:

'Calvin's eucharistic piety has repeatedly been lost, or at least curtailed, in the churches that officially claim him as their Reformer but in fact have moved closer in their sacramental theology to the Zwinglian view, which Calvin rejected as "profane." it has even become commonplace to make a sharp distinction between "evangelical" and "sacramental" piety. The distinction, as such, could hardly find support in Calvin, for whom the Supper attested a communion with Christ's body and blood that is given precisely by the gospel.'

It's the best non-NT book I've read for a while!


Geoff Arnold said...

I agree with him that most churches (in my experience) that claim Calvin as their reformer often have a more Zwinglian theology on the Eucharist. I don't know Calvin's completely, though I was under the impression that he didn't see it as real as Luther did. From what I've read I thought Luther was more Eastern in his Eucharist and incarnation theology. I'm curious to know what you think of Luther's view compared to Calvin.

John McClean said...

Nice quote Mike.

I've been working on this for a paper at Moore College in Sept. I think Calvin's view is compelling when you trace the role of the incarnation in his account of salvation and then see that he is saying that we must participate in Christ's crucified and ascended body and the Supper seals that participation for us.

You can say Calvin held to a real presence, but not to a local presence (contra Luther).

Andrew Faris said...

Thanks to a prof of mine at Biola, I've been thinking for some time that the presence of Christ in communion is the wrong question.

It seems to me that more than anything else, the Eucharist is about your theological pet, incorporation. Thinking about our incorporation with Christ (our real, actual incorporation) in the Eucharist makes sense out of the whole thing for me.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like this is part of what Horton is getting at here, conscious or not.


jeff miller said...

The view of Zwingli and the view of Calvin do not have to be set against each other. What do you think about the direct interaction between the "Zwinglian view" and Calvin found in "The Zurich Agreement" aka "Consensus Tigurinus". I think letters written between Calvin and Bullinger leading to the agreement are also available. The consensus may hightlight what a contemporary Lutheran considered Calvin's intentional duplicity.

Anyway, I think a simpler approach to "Eucharist" would hold closer to the thinking of New Testament writers on this subject.

"Criticisms of the category 'means of grace'", "A new testament perspective on eating", and "Justin Martyr and a developing catholic eucharist," are my attempt at explaining this.

with interest,