Summary of Doctrine concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments

by John Calvin


THE GENERAL REASONS FOR THE INCLUSION OF THIS document are given elsewhere. Here attention may be drawn to the exiguous evidence for and against its authenticity. C.R. cites Beza and an impressive list of later editions of Calvin's works as including this writing. The first seems to attempt to remove suspicion of its genuineness, and makes the title run: "Summary of a certain doctrine, the name of the author being not added." But where this lack occurred, from what source the writing is drawn, and what the reason is for its inclusion unless genuine, are questions for which neither Beza nor any other witness provide answers. C.R. ventures the cautious judgment, that the withdrawal of this document from the Calvinist corpus would leave his reputation unimpaired. One would not have to be very bold to say something more daring than this, and, in the absence of stronger evidence for its wrongful inclusion in early editions of Calvin's works, the inherent interest of its subject matter justifies its inclusion here. (See C.R. IX, lxi.)

Summary of Doctrine concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments


The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God, the fountain of all felicity, communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ's himself.

2 Thess 2:14: "he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."


We believe this communication to be (a) mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and (b) spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit; to whom, since he is the virtue of the living God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, we ascribe omnipotence, by which he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

(a) Eph. 5:32: "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church."

(b) 1 Cor. 6:17: "But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit."

Augustine, Ep. 57 ad Dard.: "Without God, sin is committed; there is no righteousness without God. Hence we do not die, unless we come by way of carnal propagation from the members of sin; nor do we live, unless by spiritual union we be members of him."


That we believe the Holy Spirit to effect this union rests on a certain ground, namely this: Whatever (a) the Father or (b) the Son does to bring the faithful to salvation, Holy Scripture testifies that each operates through the Holy Spirit; and that (c) Christ does not otherwise dwell in us than through his Spirit, nor in any other way communicates himself to us than through the same Spirit.

(a) John 14:16: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, and so on."

And a little later, 25: "These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

(b) John 15:26: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." So too John 16:7: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."

(c) Rom. 8:9: "But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." So too a little later, verse 11: "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." And a little later, verse 14: "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Also 1 Cor. 6:19: "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?" Also 1 Cor. 3:16: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"


To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.


When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The (a) external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

(a) 1 Cor. 3:5, 6, 7: Concerning the whole ministry, Paul speaks as follows: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."


In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears (a). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ, to the souls of all who will, so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.

(a) Acts 16:14: "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul."


In Baptism (a), the external minister baptizes with an external element, that is water, which is received bodily (b). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, baptizes with the blood of the spotless Lamb, so that he that is baptized is endowed with the whole Christ, true God and true man (Gal. 3:27); thus it is not necessary to receive Christ by the organs of the body, in order that our souls be washed by his blood; but the secret and most potent operation of the Holy Spirit suffices.

(a) Matt. 3:11; John 1:26: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance."

(b) Titus 3:5: "He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

1 Cor. 6:11: "And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."


In the Supper of the Lord, the external minister holds forth the external symbols, the bread of the Lord and the wine of the Lord, which are perceived by the organs of our body, consumed and swallowed (a). The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, not by external organs of the body, but by his secret virtue, feeds the souls of the faithful, both truly and efficaciously, with the body and the blood of the Lord unto eternal life, as truly as they know themselves to be nourished for this mortal life by bread and wine.

(a) 1 Cor. 10:3 f: "And did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."


When we are fed with the body of Christ to life eternal, Christ does not wish us to believe that his own body or his own blood descends from heaven upon the altar or about the altar, in the bread or under the bread, or not distant from the bread. There is no more need for this than that in Baptism, in order that we be made true members of the body of Christ, the body of Christ itself should descend from heaven into the water or under the water or stand not far from the water. Similarly there is no need for the descent of the body in such literal sense, for us to be made partakers of the whole of Christ; we believe that enough of the power of the Spirit of the Lord, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is in us, for us in Baptism to be made members of his body, which yet is and remains in heaven. And in the Holy Supper, the same body remaining in heaven, he nourishes us more and more through his secret and most efficacious power and virtue.

This doctrine, that there is no descent of the body of Christ, or any downward passage visible or invisible, is grounded on the clearest testimony of Scripture. For just as Christ is man, so Scripture testifies that he parted from them (Luke 24:51), went away (John 14:2), left this world (John 16:28), was carried upwards (Acts 1:11), into the holy places not made with hands (Heb. 9:11, 24), to be enclosed in heaven until the time of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21).

Nor do the words of Christ conflict with this doctrine: This is my body which is broken, and so on. For Christ's own best interpreter is Paul, who interprets: The bread which we break, in this way; and who interprets the words of Christ: is my body, as meaning: is the communion of the body of Christ.

But it was shown before that this is the sole ground of communion, that we are by the Holy Spirit made partakers of him, who effects this communion, since he is the virtue of the living God proceeding from the Father and the Son.

This doctrine is also in harmony with the Apostolic Symbol or Apostles' Creed, which ought to be held to possess an inviolable and most simple certitude; with this namely: he ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.

Augustine understands these articles of faith as we do Ep.57 ad Dardanum), where he calls these articles the Christian Confession, and forbids retreat from them. Do not doubt, he says, Jesus Christ the man is now there whence he will come again; recollect in memory and hold faithfully the Christian confession, that he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and, from no other place than that where he is gone, will come to judge the quick and the dead. And he will come, this angelic voice testifies, just as he was seen to go into heaven: in the same form and substance of flesh; for certainly he does not destroy the nature of that to which he gives immortality. Since this is his form, he is not to be thought of as diffused everywhere. For we must watch lest we so construe the divinity of the man as to deny the reality of the body. But it does not follow that what is in God is everywhere as God; for concerning ourselves, Scripture most truly says, that in him we live and move and have our being. But we are not altogether as he is, but a man is in God and God is in man differently, each in his appropriate and particular way. For God and man are one person; and each one is Christ Jesus, ubiquitous in that he is God, but in heaven in that he is man. Thus Augustine.

The doctrine harmonizes also with the article concerning the assumption of true human nature (a), all of whose conditions, sin only excepted, Christ willingly took upon himself, and (b) after his glorification he gave immortality to his flesh, without destroying its nature.

(a) Heb. 4:15: "For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

(b) Luke 24:39: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have."

Augustine (in Joann. ev. Tract. 5): "According to his majesty, according to his providence, according to his ineffable and invisible grace, what he said is fulfilled: Behold I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. According to the flesh which the Word assumed, in that he was born of the Virgin, in that he was seized by the Jews, was nailed to the wood, was taken down from the cross, was wound in linen, was laid in the sepulchre, was manifest in the resurrection: You will not always have this with you. Why? Because he lived as to bodily presence for forty days with his disciples, and, they remaining, not following but looking on, he ascends into heaven, and is no more here. For there he is, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and here he is, for he has not withdrawn the presence of his majesty. Otherwise said: as a presence in majesty, we have Christ always; as a presence in the flesh, it was rightly said to the disciples: Me ye have not always. For the Church had him in carnal presence for a few days, but by faith it holds what with the eyes it does not see."

The doctrine harmonizes also with the articles of faith concerning the divine nature of Christ, concerning omnipotence, and concerning the Holy Spirit. For we believe Christ to be really and most powerfully present to us (a) by his Spirit as he promises. Yet we do not believe his omnipotence to stretch to the denial of that article of faith, so that the body of Christ should not ascend to heaven, and not be seated at the right hand of God. Much rather we believe that omnipotence and the articles of our faith are precisely thus firmly established. For we believe this work to be done in us much more certainly by the secret and incomprehensible virtue of the Holy Spirit, than if the body of Christ should descend out of heaven upon the altar, and be proffered by the hands of the minister and be consumed by our bodily mouth. The operation of the Holy Spirit is so much more certain and powerful than this, just as the Creator himself is superior to all his creatures, however excellent.

(a) 1 Cor. 15:45: "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."

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