Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 17: Jeremiah and Lamentations, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE,
LORD PALATINE OF THE RHINE, AND ELECTOR OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, ETC.,
AND HIS MOST BENEVOLENT LORD,
WISHES ALL HAPPINESS.
As your heroic valor, Most Illustrious Prince, has been acknowledged by superior men and competent judges, and especially your singular piety, your labor to cherish and to promote true Religion, and uniform moderation through life; and also your great courtesy, such as can hardly be found in a private individual, and which I have not only known by report, but have also myself experienced, I have long wished by some public act to testify to posterity the high regard I entertain for you, being not satisfied with having it only in secret. This is well known to the noble — minded Edward, the Count or Espach, whom I have consulted on the subject.
But to discharge this duty at this time, not only an opportunity seems to be offered to me, but a certain necessity appears to constrain me; for, as you have reverently embraced the sound and orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Supper of Christ, and have not hesitated freely and wisely to avow the same in your dominion, so turbulent and unreasonable men rage against you, as though you had upset all Germany! Hence they rush headlong to assail your Highness with violent clamors; and as they cannot prevail by authority and power, being full of presumption and insolence, they hesitate not to vomit forth their curses, of which men in their right mind would be ashamed; and not only so, but as it is not in their power to kill you, they fabricate shameful rumors respecting your death, as though a plot of flies were sufficient to darken the sun. And you, indeed, Most Illustrious Prince, according to the magnanimity of your mind, and in accordance with the high dignity in which God has placed you, do altogether disregard their mad conduct; but as they so busily labor to provoke you, and at the same time bring in my name to create an ill — will to you, I have thought it my duty, in refuting these calumnies, to set up as a shield against them the very name which they wish to make so odious; for certainly they are wholly unworthy that your Highness should raise your little finger against them, or utter the smallest word. Were I indeed disposed to expostulate with them on account of their madness in hating so much a man who has done something for the Church of God, and of whose labors they avail themselves with the unlearned, though they acknowledge it not, they would have no plea for their ingratitude. While, then, they endeavor, by bringing forward Calvinism, to affix to your Highness some mark of infamy, they do nothing more than betray their own perversity, and also their folly and disgrace. But if they think that they gain something among those who are like themselves, my voice, on the other hand, in speaking of your just praises, will, I hope, be attended to by the godly, the well — informed, and men of calm minds and sound judgment.
Unprincipled men of this character do indeed pretend and loudly exclaim that they fight for God and their country; but whether it be so, it is easy for any one to judge: and I will not indeed discuss at large their delirious notions, as the greater part of them understand not what they vainly talk; I will only touch briefly on the main points in which we differ from their masters, for whom, nevertheless, I have a sincere regard.
That we really feed in the Holy Supper on the flesh and blood of Christ, no otherwise than as bread and wine are the aliments of our bodies, we freely confess. If a clearer explanation is asked, we say, that the substance of Christ’s flesh and blood is our spiritual life, and that it is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine; for Christ, in instituting the mystery of The Supper, promised nothing falsely, nor mocked us with a vain shew, but represented by external signs what he has really given us.
Now the question rests on the mode of communication; and hence the conflict arises, because we refuse to subscribe to their fancy respecting a local presence. We say, that though Christ is in heaven, yet through the hidden and incomprehensible power of his Spirit, this favor comes to us that His flesh becomes life to us, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bones of his bones. (Eph 5:30.) By them, on the contrary, it is maintained, that except Christ comes down on earth, there is no participation. That they may, however, get rid of the absurdity of a local presence, it has been found necessary to fabricate the strange notion of ubiquity; which, if we think it not possible to reconcile to the principles of faith, we must beg them at least to pardon our ignorance. Here we follow not our own understanding; but according to the knowledge given us from above, we cannot comprehend that it is at all agreeable to Scripture to say that the body of Christ is everywhere. Both Christ himself and His Apostles clearly shew that the immensity of God does not belong to the flesh; a personal union is what they teach; and no one, except Eutyches, has hitherto taught, that the two natures became so blended, that when Christ became man, the attributes of Deity were communicated to his human nature. I am not indeed disposed to raise an odium against them by means of a man who has been condemned; they are yet to be reminded to think more attentively, and to consider how contention leads astray even good, learned, and acute men, when they are led away only by a desire to defend their own cause. Doubtless the best and the shortest way of confronting Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus would have been to say, that personal union communicates to two natures what is peculiar to each: to adduce this no one thought of doing on account of its absolute absurdity. I therefore greatly wonder that they who oppose us do not consider into what labyrinth they plunge themselves.
For if the infinity of God appertains to the flesh of Christ, because God was manifested in the flesh, with equal reason His Divinity may be said to have grieved and to have been thirsty, and to have been subject to death, and, in short, to have died; for they cannot escape, as it is a similar mode of reasoning. Christ, while yet a mortal, declared that He knew not when the day of judgment would be. Does He not in these words clearly and distinctly ascribe something to His human nature which could not justly be ascribed to His Divinity? What they bring forward as to the communication of properties, it is unreasonable, and what I may say without offending them, they mistake in a matter that is very simple and plain; for to ascribe what is peculiar to Deity to the Son of man, and again to attribute to Deity what belongs only to humanity, is very improper and rash. To prevent the ignorant from stumbling by blending together different things, and to take away from the dishonest any occasion for contending, orthodox writers have called this figure, “The communication of properties.” 2
What they have said of certain expressions, has been with little thought applied to the subject. While Christ was on earth he said that the Son of man was in heaven. That no one, ill — informed, might think Christ’s body to be infinite, it has been deemed necessary to meet this case by a plain admonition, that on account of the unity of person what is suitable only to Divinity has been said of the Son of man. Paul says, as it is recorded by Luke, that God redeemed the Church by His own blood. (Ac 20:28.) Lest no one may hence conceive that God has blood, the same admonition ought to be sufficient to untie the knot; for as Christ was man and God, what is peculiar to His human nature is ascribed to His Divinity. As it was the Father’s design to employ this figure of speech for the purpose of teaching the simple and ignorant, it is absurd and even shameful to apply it for a different purpose, and to say that the communication of properties is the real blending of two natures.
But Christ, it is said, sits at the Father’s right hand, which is to be taken as meaning everywhere, confined within no limits. I indeed allow that God’s right hand is unlimited, and that wherever it is there is the kingdom of Christ; which is metaphorically represented in Scripture by the tern sitting: for whatever is declared of God is beyond controversy to be now ascribed to Christ; and therefore to sit, which means to govern the world, is what Christ has in common with the Father; and still more, as the Father by Him sustains the world, rules all things by His power, and especially manifests the presence of His grace in governing His Church, He may be said, strictly speaking, to reign in His own person. It hence follows, that he in a manner is everywhere; for He can be limited to no place who sustains and protects all parts of heaven and earth, and rules and regulates by His power all things above and below. When now I name Christ, I include the whole Person of the only — begotten Son, as manifested in the flesh. He, I say, God and man, is everywhere as to his authority and incomprehensible power, and infinite glory, according to what the faithful experience by evident effects, as they know and feel His presence. It is not then without reason that Paul declares, that He dwells in us. (Eph 3:17.) But to distort what is said of His infinite power, which is evident in His spiritual gifts, in the invisible aid which He affords, and in the whole of our salvation, and to apply it to His flesh, is by no means reasonable or consistent.
I wish that many of those who are with little reason angry with us, were at least to recall to mind that common and notable saying used in the Papal Schools, “Christ is whole everywhere, but not altogether.” 3 They may repeat’ it as it is in the barbarous language of Peter Lombard, which is not pleasant to their tender and delicate ears. It is yet wisely expressed, from whomsoever it may have come, and I willingly adopt it. But I wonder whence is this daintiness! Seeing the Recantation of Berengarius delights Westphalus and those who are like him that Christ’s body is broken by the teeth and digested by the stomach — why is this sober distinction to be loathed, that Christ our Mediator is every — where entire, but not as to His flesh, which is confined within certain limits, while this power is infinite, and its operation felt on earth as well as in heaven?
There are two words commonly used, Union (unio) and Unity (unitas;) the first is applied to the two Natures, and the second to the Person alone. To assert the unity of the flesh and of Divinity, those would be ashamed to do, if I am not deceived, who yet inconsiderately adopt this absurdity; for, except the flesh differs and is distinct in its own peculiar properties from the Divine nature, they are by blending together become one. They, cavilling, facetiously ask, “In what region of the empyreal heaven does Christ sit?” let them indeed enjoy these fine speculations. I am taught by the Holy Spirit, that He is above all heavens, (Eph 4:10) according to the common mode of speaking in Scripture, I call whatever is beyond the world heaven. Hence it is enough for me, when Christ is to be sought, that our minds are to be raised above, that they may not remain on the earth and be entangled in gross superstitions.
This, then, is the sum and substance of the whole controversy, which the chief leaders of the adverse party too pertinaciously agitate, unless, indeed, we add another subject that the wicked, as they contend, partake of the flesh and blood of Christ no less than the true servants of God. And we indeed allow that they are equally offered to both; and that whatever may be the difference between men, yet God ever continues like himself the same; and that hence the difference in those who presumptuously thrust themselves does not arise from the nature of the sacrament. When, therefore, Christ gives his body to the unworthy, the difference proceeds from the manner in which it is received. But we deny that those are capable of receiving Christ whom the devil holds as his slaves, and in whom he has his habitation. We do not, however, reject the usual mode of speaking, that Christ is received by them sacramentally, provided absurd interpreters pervert not the words of Augustine, in which sacramental eating is said to be the reception of the substance without the grace; but this is a foolish remark, and unknown to Augustine. The reason they adduce, as it is weak, may easily be refuted. They say, that Christ came not only for salvation to the elect, but also for condemnation to the reprobate, because the Gospel being not received, but rejected, is the savor of death unto death to those who perish. But who has ever heard that the participation of Christ produces death? But if Christ be the occasion of condemnation to unbelievers because He is rejected by them, I see not how it can be that they procure for themselves condemnation by receiving his flesh. They answer and say, that they are, nevertheless, closed up so as not to admit His grace. But that they may gain credit to what they say, they must first prove their strange notion that those who are alienated from Christ eat His flesh, while it is to those without life destitute of its own virtue, and empty.
I have now faithfully and plainly explained why they who boast themselves to be the followers of Luther so hastily contend with us at this day. For the same reason they pour forth their execrations on Phillip Melancthon, now dead, a man who, for his incomparable knowledge in the highest branches of literature, his deep piety, and other endowments, deserves to be remembered by all ages, and whom they have hitherto regarded as their leader: and it is strange, that in order to obtain the favor of the public, they pretend to adopt that noble Confession Of Augsburg, of which he was especially the author, and ought to be deemed its true interpreter. I regard them as turbulent and unprincipled men, who possess no common courtesy, and feel no shame.
But there are those who, in this respect, are different, and observe some moderation: and yet I have a just reason to complain, for some of them have acted so unfairly as to give my name in what they have published in German, and to withhold it in the Latin editions. Now this is to curse the deaf!
But, to omit other things, I revert again to their violent clamors, which are similar to the clamors of those frantic zealots, mentioned by Josephus, through whose excesses a cruel war was kindled, which involved Judea in entire ruin. (De Bell. Jude., lib. 14 et 15.) They can find nothing more atrocious by which they can irritate your Highness, Most Illustrious Prince, than the word Calvinism. But whence this bitter hatred towards me it is not difficult to conjecture. For as they have thought the shortest way to victory to be by suppressing and concealing the real state of the case, and by dazzling the eyes of the simple, it is no wonder that they burn with rage when the clouds of ignorance in which they securely exulted were dissipated; and what especially drives them even to madness, is the fact, that they find that the whole subject is fully and really known by you, so that the doctrine, for which they triumphed while it was unknown, having obtained the patronage of high authority, and being supported by the pious and strong defense of a wise Prince, makes a freer progress.
It would indeed be superfluous to exhort you, who are of yourself sufficiently disposed, to persevere. That you may, however, disregard their impotency, and pursue the object so happily as well as judiciously undertaken, it seems not an useless attempt to confirm you in your course by leaving a pledge of the high regard I entertain for you. And I thought it no act of ingratitude for your incredible courtesy to dedicate to your renowned name my Commentaries On Jeremiah. I indeed confess that it has not been elucidated with that care which so excellent a Book deserves; for as I delivered the Lectures from the pulpit, they were taken from my mouth; and I have indeed been before ashamed, that what might have been more accurately revised and polished by a longer meditation has come forth to light. I am also afraid lest the malevolent should accuse me of arrogance, for having obtruded on the public discourses extemporaneous and unwritten, and designed for a small auditory. It is easy to reply to the latter charge, for the first volume was sent to press against my will. That I may not, however, be without excuse, what I have to say is, that I have been led by the judgment of others. I hear of impartial and plain readers, who declare that they have received no small benefit from this kind of labor. And further, some think that a good end may be attained by making known my extempore mode of teaching, as its simplicity may cure many, who are too anxious of display, of that vice. Though learning and aptness to teach cannot satisfy all, I have yet carefully endeavored that Religion and Faith should not be found wanting by the impartial and well disposed. Nor do I, indeed, fear the charge of arrogance, when I fully avow, that I would have by no means suffered this Book to go forth to the public had I not thought that it would be useful and profitable to the Church of God.
But it may be that some rigid and severe critics will deem it a present unworthy of your Highness; but relying on your rare courtesy, Most Illustrious Prince, I hope it will be favorably accepted. And if Jeremiah himself were now alive on earth, he would add, if I am not deceived, his recommendation; for he would acknowledge that his Prophecies have been explained by me not less honestly than reverently; and further, that they have been usefully accommodated to present circumstances. I feel not, however, over anxious to find an excuse, provided I know that I have done no wrong, except through an excessive desire to testify the veneration with which I regard your Highness.
But, to omit now what I have slightly mentioned at the beginning, I should condemn myself for ingratitude, were I not to consider myself under obligations to you for being so ready and disposed to receive The Christian Exiles who flee to you. It is the saying of a heathen woman, as mentioned by a poet-
“Being acquainted with evil, I learn to aid the miserable.” 4
Let all who worship God and serve Christ be not ashamed, under similar circumstances, to be at least of the same mind. As my power of aiding is not equal to my wish, it becomes me at least to regard every kindness shewn to them as done to myself. Thirty years have passed away since my voluntary exile from France, because thence were exiled the truth of the Gospel, pure Religion, and the true Worship of God. I am now become so inured to my peregrination, that I feel no desire to return to my country. I am indeed here so far a stranger, (though once banished, I was yet so recalled, that I never feel ashamed,) that they deem me no more a foreigner than if I could name my ancestors as the citizens of this place. But the more kindly God has dealt with me, the greater concern ought I to feel for my brethren from France as well as from Flanders: and as they have been received with the same kindness by your Highness, this stimulates and constrains me to avow my gratitude to one so much entitled to it.
Nor let it cause you any regret, Most Illustrious Prince, that you have been sometimes deceived in foreigners, and indeed in men of our language, but go on in your wonted course of benevolence. All know how basely you have been deceived by that most audacious and unprincipled man, at the same time vile, proud, and perfidious-in short, a monster, made up of a mass of filthy materials, even Francis Baldwin, and yet a skillful collector of the Civil Law. For having been in The University Of Heidelberg, and having, under the pretext of the Gospel, been received under your patronage, and being made a Professor of the Civil Law through your liberality in The University Of Heidelberg, he ought to have considered himself as altogether bound by kindness to so munificent a Prince; but he regarded his elevation as advantageous to him to seek, after his own manner, a new situation. Hence, as soon as hope appeared, he deserted his station, having despised the honorable office which he had fraudulently attained, and passed over to the enemies of true and pure Religion, the name of which he had assumed. And first indeed (as though he retained some portion of shame) he went on stealthily in a clandestine manner, he discussed some secret treacheries with The Cardinal of Lorraine, into whose favor he had insinuated himself. The object of the whole was to subvert the Churches Of France by means of a spurious doctrine and a mixture of ceremonies. But as there appeared no reward for masked and hidden perfidy, he not only rushed headlong into open defection, but so insolently boasted of his wickedness, that he has surpassed similar apostates in canine wantonness. It is however well, that the perfidy of one unprincipled man does not stop the course of your kindness towards others; and you have some recompense for your perseverance, for among the ornaments of your University are to be found some foreigners well known for their high character, whom it is unnecessary for me to name.
Though I can add nothing to the character of your Highness, either by my praise or by the dedication of this Work, yet I could not restrain myself from doing what I thought to be my duty. Farewell, Most Illustrious Prince. May God enrich you more and more with His spiritual gifts, keep you long in safety, and render your dignified station prosperous to you and yours.
GENEVA, July 23, 1563.
Ιδιομάτων κοινώνιαν, which may be rendered “The communication of peculiarities.” — Ed
“Christus ubique totus est, sed non totum.” Lib. 3, Senten. dist. 22.
Non ignora mali, miseris succurrere disco