'Lift Up Your Hearts': a Contribution to the Understanding of John Calvin's Teaching on the Eucharist and its Setting Within his Theology
Smith, Allan Robert
This dissertation considers the possibility that, flowing from his broader theological framework and historical background, John Calvin’s eucharistic theology ‘re-invents’ a doctrine where the ‘substance’ (meaning) of the elements becomes the body and blood of Christ, and the believer who receives them is drawn, through understanding, into participation in Christ. The study begins with the historical setting and the second chapter sketches Calvin’s life. Chapter 3 considers epistemology and the impact of classical rhetoric on Calvin’s approach to knowledge. The following chapter considers Calvin’s understanding of our relationship with the Father, and of Christ as Mediator and as means of salvation. Chapter 5 considers the work of the Spirit in nurturing faith, a ‘higher knowledge’, through preparing us for knowledge of Christ and mediating our understanding of and participation in him. In this manner the Spirit acts as an instrument of revelation to enable us to participate in Christ. Chapters 6 and 7 move to consider Calvin’s writing on the Sacraments, their nature as sign and seals of the promise made in Christ, their substance and their role in our participation in Christ and, in the light of the duplex gratia, as gateways to participation. In Chapter 8 Calvin’s teaching is examined in terms of his opposition to the doctrine of transubstantiation, and his understanding of substance is considered. The possibility that Calvin ‘re-invents’ the doctrine is proposed. This is not to suggest that there is a conscious copying of the doctrine, but that through the process of forming his doctrine, using an alternate philosophical framework, Calvin’s understanding bears significant similarities to the doctrine he so deeply opposed. His key opposition to transubstantiation can then be seen to be to the materialist interpretations that impede the ability of the believer to lift his attention beyond the physical elements to the divine offer they represent. The study concludes by briefly considering the significance of Calvin’s ‘reinvention’ for contemporary understandings.