John Calvin’s True Beliefs About The Lord’s Supper: The Importance of the Consensus Tigurinus
The Consenus Tigurinus is relatively unknown but very important for conclusively demonstrating how far apart Lutheranism is from Calvinism when it comes to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. This confession of faith was written by John Calvin himself, who leaves no doubt that he comes down quite decidedly on the side of the spiritualizing interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, as held by Zwingli and his later followers, and thus effectively denies the actual presence of the body and blood of Christ under the bread and wine, referring to this belief in this document as a “perverse and impious superstition.” This is a very important document for understanding the context in which Lutheran had to do battle against the false doctrine of the Reformed Church, as led by Calvin. The Formula of Concord, prepared in 1577, was a decisive response that unified Lutherans in their opposition to Calvinism, and to those who were secretly or openly attempting to move the Lutheran Church away from Luther’s teachings of the Supper and toward the Reformed/Calvinist view.
The Consensus Tigurinus is clearly in view when the Saxon Visitation Articles were prepared in the early 1590s. The position on the Lord’s Supper articulated in this statement by Calvin remains the formal position of the Reformed Church. Calvinist speaks very carefully about the “presence of Christ” but is equally careful to make clear the presence is spiritual only and is a matter of the human soul’s ascent to the Ascended Lord, where there is a spiritual eating and drinking, by faith. This is directly contradictory of the Biblical, hence Lutheran, confession of the Lord’s Supper.
The following comments are drawn from a Calvinist source, thus demonstrating that our interpretation and understanding of the Consensus Tigurinus are by no means simply a Lutheran bias or distortion of the facts.
“The Consensus Tigurinus was composed by Calvin himself, in 1549, and was adopted by the Zurich theologians. It comprises twenty-six articles, which treat only of the sacrament of the Supper. It grew out of a desire upon the part of Calvin, to effect a union among the Reformed upon the doctrine of the Eucharist. The attitude of Calvin respecting the Sacramentarian question was regarded by the Lutherans, as favourable rather than otherwise to their peculiar views. His close and cordial agreement with Luther upon the fundamental points in theology, together with the strength of his phraseology when speaking of the nature of the Eucharist, led the Swiss Zuinglians to deem him as on the whole further from them than from their opponents. In this Consensus Tigurinus, he defines his statements more distinctly, and left no doubt in the minds of the Zurichers that he adopted heartily the spiritual and symbolical theory of the Lord’s Supper. The course of events afterwards showed that Calvin’s theory really harmonized with Zuingle’s.” [Source: A History of Christian Doctrine By William Greenough Thayer Shedd, 1863.].
You can read the entire Consensus Tigurinus at bookofconcord.org