Confession of Faith (AA Hodge)

Hodge, A. A. The Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1869 [reprint 1958].

A. A. Hodge’s genius is in organization, much like that of his father, Charles. There is some overlap with his Outlines of Theology, but there is also new material relating to the law of God, the civil magistrate, and church courts.  Of particular interest are the study questions at the end of each chapter.

The Decree

Hodge distinguishes between “an event conditioned on other events, and the decree of God with reference to that event being conditioned” (65).  “The decree determines the nature of the events” (66).  In other words, an event is not always reduced to God’s efficient cause only.

The system of events is absolutely certain.  That in no way impedes the free actions of free agents.


Another evidence of the harmony between God’s decree and our free actions is our own self-consciousness. So Hodge: “We are conscious of acting freely according to the law of our own constitution as free agents” (96). Hodge is only noting that even given the truth of the divine decree, we have no evidence that we are automatons, quite the opposite.

Christ the Mediator

Christ’s mediation is indexed to his being Savior and Head of the Church. We prove this by noting what he specifically received when he discharged the terms of the covenant: upbuilding of the redeemed church (137).

When Hodge explains the unity of the two natures, he is on very dangerous ground. He writes, “It is impossible for us to explain philosophically how two self-conscious intelligences, how two self-determined free agents, can constitute one person” (141). At first glance it seems that this is Nestorianism, since he places two self-conscious intelligences within the God-man. I don’t think he is saying that, though.  Intelligences are minds, not persons. This is very thin ice, but Hodge is able to run across it quickly.

Free Will

We have free actions because “we are conscious, in every deliberate action of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise.” Moreover, we act from a “purpose or desire,” with “the internal state or heart, which prompted the act” (160).

Effectual Calling

Men are “entirely passive with respect to the special act of the Spirit whereby they are regenerated; nevertheless, in consequence of the change wrought in them by regeneration, they obey the call….” and are active (169). Regeneration and conversion are not identical. After regeneration, “the soul itself, in conversion, immediately acts under the guidance of this new principle in turning from sin unto God through Christ” (171).  “Making a man willing is different from his acting willingly” (172).


If one holds to the moral influence of the atonement, it’s hard to see how justification is any different from sanctification (180).

Faith = “assent of the mind to the truth of that of which we have not an immediate cognition” (202).

Knowledge = “perception of the truth of that of which we have an immediate cognition” (202).

Faith doesn’t mean there is no evidence.  It simply notes that the evidence is not immediately apparent to cognition.

Good works

Hodge has a good section refuting “works of supererogation.” Such a work, in theory, goes beyond what the law demands. This is false because God’s law is perfect and one cannot go beyond it.  Moreover, even the best saint in this life is unable to perfectly meet God’s law (225).

Following this, Hodge refutes the distinction between “commands” and “counsels.” He notes “that which is right under any relation is intrinsically obligatory upon the moral agent standing in that relation. If it is not obligatory, it is not moral.  If it is not moral, it is, of course, of no moral value or merit.  If it is obligatory, it is not supererogatory” (226).


Every covenant God made with mankind included children (346). The Old Testament church is the same as the New Testament church. “Infants were members of the Old Testament church” (347). Christ and his disciples speak and act on the assumption that the children are in the same relation as they have always been.

The Lord’s Supper

The church must use “the common bread of daily life” (358). (No stale chiclets.)

Transubstantiation contradicts our senses and reason, for “reason teaches that qualities cannot exist except they inhere in some substance” (360). 

The true, Reformed position, rather, teaches “the body and blood are present, therefore, only virtually” (362). We receive Christ by faith, not by the mouth. The reader can decide for himself how close to Calvin’s view this is.

This is a handy volume on the Westminster Confession for study groups.

The Certainty of Faith (Bavinck)

Bavinck, Herman. The Certainty of Faith. St Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1980.

This is one of those rare books that is able to make profound epistemological points while always remaining at the level of the layman. Reformed people might claim they are above the charismatic desire for “experience” and “emotion.” I suggest many are on the same level. If your faith is pointed towards the intensity of your emotions, if you don’t like celebrating the Lord’s Supper often (not necessarily weekly) because it wouldn’t be spay-shul, then I suggest you are much closer to the charismatic than you might want to admit.

Bavinck’s profound insight is that knowledge isn’t the same thing as certainty. He writes,

Truth is agreement between thought and reality and thus expresses a relation between the contents of our consciousness and the object of our knowledge. Certainty, however, is not a relationship but a capacity, a quality, a state of the knowing subject. One’s spirit may assume different states in reaction to different statements or propositions (Bavinck 19).

If you can’t grasp and appreciate this distinction, then you will be fair game for all sorts of philosophical con artists. In other words, how I feel about the truth is quite irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the proposition.

Pietism: The Harbinger of Humanism

The early Reformers certainly had their doubts like us. There was a crucial difference, though. Bavinck writes,

But the difference between the Reformers and their later disciples was that they did not foster or feed such a
condition. They saw no good in it and were not content to remain in doubt (39).

We can add one more point: you can look to the intensity of your emotions or you can look to Christ (corollary: The Lord’s Supper helps. Take it). Bavinck doesn’t mention it but this is the problem of the terrible Halfway Covenant. You didn’t look to Christ. You had to convince the sessions of the intensity of your emotional experience. The sick irony is that the membership requirements for Halfway members were the same as the membership requirements of full members in the better Calvinist churches on the continent.

A few pages later Bavinck notes that this pietism paved the way for secularism. He is correct but he doesn’t develop the point. I think it can be argued like this. This leads to common-ground, emotionally-based political orders. While it isn’t clear how that then leads to liberalism, it almost always does.

I truly hate pietism with all my heart.

Bavinck has a side line on the nature of revelation that is sometimes controversial but nevertheless correct: “Revelation is an organism with a life of its own” (61). He doesn’t mean it evolves evolutionistically or in a Hegelian fashion (fun fact: Hegel was actually skeptical of evolution, if only because he didn’t come up with it). Rather, it ties all facts together under a single idea. It is its own idea by which it must be grasped.

Another fatal problem with experience-based religion is that none of the essentials of the Christian faith can be deduced from experience. Nothing in my day-to-day life tells me of substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, or the Resurrection.

Faithful to covenant thinking, Bavinck contrasts experience-based religion with that of judicial, ethical choice. I either choose to believe in Christ or I don’t. Experience isn’t all that relevant (78ff). If faith includes understanding, either I believe in the promises or I don’t. I don’t have to answer “Do you know that you know that you really know” type questions.

That doesn’t mean emotions are wrong. Far from it. Bavinck is working with a creational view of man: man believes with his heart, his totality of existence (including both reason and emotion, the latter never controls the former).

The Mechanics of Faith

For more info, see Bavinck’s Prolegomena.

“Promise and faith are correlates. They address themselves to one another” (83). Moreover, “Faith is not the ground which carries the truth, nor is it the source from which knowledge flows to him. Rather, it is the soul’s organ.”

But can faith be certain? Answering this question might be tricky. We’ve already established that I can have varying degrees of certainty regarding something. Bavinck, however, suggests that faith can be absolutely certain. What is he getting at? This certainty is not something added on from the outside. Rather, it “is contained in faith from the outside and in time organically issues from it” (85). In other words, I do not trust salvation on the grounds of my faith but through it.

Bavinck has an admirable final section on the sacraments. It’s strange (well, not really) that many discussions on certainty and assurance often ignore the sacraments. The sacraments seal the promise of God to me (89). The final two pages end with the “cultural mandate,” though Bavinck doesn’t call it such. I share in Christ’s anointing and am a prophet, priest, and king.

The Mystical Presence and the Doctrine of the Reformed Church (Nevin)

The Mystical Presence: And The Doctrine of the Reformed Church on ...

Nevin taught himself German so he could read Neander in the original. 

Even in Pennsylvania, Nevin was attacked for criticizing slavery.

Part 1: The Mystical Presence

Argument: if the Incarnation is the fact and principle of a new supernatural order of life, then the church can be no abstraction.

Outward social worship is essential to piety. 

Chapter 1: The Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper

Nevin’s burden is that the Supper cannot be separated from the life-giving Person of Christ, and as such it cannot be an abstraction from the church.  Of course, Nevin will also avoid any claim to eating the local humanity of Christ.  Our life as a whole cannot be separated from how we commune with our savior.

In the first chapter Nevin says we are “mystically inserted into Christ.”  I’m not sure what he means by that.  I understand why people chant “pantheist” when they read Nevin.  They are wrong, of course, but I get it. If we read on to the next sentence, it clarifies: a real participation in the living Christ by which we are transformed into his image.

Our union with Christ: it is not simply that of a common humanity derived from Adam. While we share the consequences of Adam’s fall, we don’t have a direct communion with his person.

Further, the relation is more than a moral union. Throughout this opening chapter Nevin insists that this view on union will preserve the Reformed church from rationalism.  Lest he be seen as capitulating to Rome, he offers the standard criticisms of transubstantiation.

Nevin is aware of the connotations of “substance” in his discussion on Calvin.  He doesn’t give up on it, though.  He wants a strong “union” with Christ, per Calvin, that allows a “substantial vigor to flow down.”  

Heidelberg: questions 75-79. It rejects an oral manducation but nonetheless affirms a participation in the body and blood of Christ.  Question 76 makes it clear that Christ is in heaven, but the Holy Spirit unites us to his body, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.  Nevin drives the point home that to reduce “besides that” to a mere moral union is to introduce a gross tautology. Granting that the language is not carnal, Nevin points out that if it were only to signify a mental projection, then Ursinus and Olevianus were extremely careless and dangerous in their language.

Ursinus: we reject an imaginary figure but affirm the true body of Christ, albeit in heaven.

Modern Puritan Theory

Older Reformed view: it is an exhibition of saving grace.  For the elect, inward and outward aren’t divorced, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, but are made to flow together to the believer. It includes the idea of an objective force.

Modern Puritan (by which he means New England) view: Christ is present the same way he is present everywhere.

The heart of the matter: with Calvin do we say that we have participation and communion with Christ’s humanity, or is that semi-popish mysticism?

Calvin Among the Hegelians

I don’t think Nevin was a Hegelian, nor do I think that 99% of the people who use that charge know what Hegel taught.  Notwithstanding, I understand why people get nervous.  Let’s not dismiss him too quickly.  He does a good job in showing how far Calvin’s language can take us and where exactly it breaks down.

The organic law: Nevin doesn’t develop this point directly, but moves into something resembling Theseus’s Ship and the problem of an oral manducation.   The point is that the principle of life cannot be reduced to the body. 

The Doctrine Positively Stated

1. The union from our first parent descends from his entire person, body and soul.
2. Our union with the savior is not a naturalistic one; nevertheless, it is a union with the whole savior, the Word made flesh.

3) The power of Christ’s life passes into his people, the Church.  The Church is located in history and experiences growth.

4) The humanity of Christ is the indispensable medium of our participation in him.

5) The medium is faith, but we still have a real communion with the Person of the savior.

6) Christ’s Spirit constitutes the form and power of his presence.


While there are aspects of Puritanism that can be legitimately critiqued, Nevin is sometimes broad and sloppy in his criticism of “the Puritan principle.”

The editors overplay the “Calvin vs. Calvinist” scheme at times.  It is true Nevin rejected a merely extrinsic forensic element in our soteriology.  Further, it is true that Nevin was on point with Calvin in the Supper.  This does not mean, however, that Calvin’s view of union with Christ can be played off against imputation, as they suggest in note 17 of chapter 1.


Given for You (Mathison)

Review of Keith Mathison’s Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

Thesis: The modern Reformed church has lost sight of Calvin’s robust view of the Supper leading to a neglect of the Supper in general.

Exposition of Calvin’s view of the Supper: Calvin defined sacraments as “visible words from God” (7); the offer in the sacrament is objective, but can only be received by faith. The sign and seal of a sacrament must be distinguished but can never be separated. It is a seal of the promise that believers who truly partake of it partake of the body and blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the bond of the mystical union between the believer and Christ. We are united to Christ in baptism and grow in this union in participation in the Lord’s Supper (19).

How Is Christ Present? Christ is bodily in heaven and the reality and benefits of Christ are channeled to us by means of the Holy Spirit. The flesh, indeed the whole Christ, is given to us by means of the Holy Spirit (29):

  1. The body of Christ remains in heaven and retains all its properties.
  2. The Holy Spirit lifts our souls to heaven whereby we partake of the body of Christ.
  3. Eating Christ is a heavenly action in a spiritual [read Holy Spirit] manner.
  4. The presence of Christ is a real presence and a real descent effected by the Holy Spirit.

Historical and Biblical Surveys

Mathison then surveys the field of church history and the Old and New Testaments to bolster his thesis that Calvin’s view is the biblical view.  This is where the real money of the book is.   The heart of this section is the Nevin-Hodge debate, and on Mathison’s reading Nevin was the winner (as far as church history goes).

Hodge’s view: Hodge’s view in his ST hovers around Calvin’s view, as he uses language like “believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (Hodge III: 622). At the end of the day, he rejects Calvin’s view and says it is “peculiar” (630).  Indeed, Christ is present to us by our “intellectual cognition” as “the body and blood fill our thoughts” (641-642).

Nevin’s view: by the power of the Holy Spirit, the obstacle of distance, of Christ’s body being in heaven, is overcome (Nevin, Mystical Presence 60-61).

Hodge’s review: Hodge doubles down on his position that Christ is present to the mind and it is a presence of virtue and efficacy (Hodge. “Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper, Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 20 (1848): 227-228. Hodge ends his review critiquing Nevin’s soteriology, and this is probably the only part where Hodge might be right.

Nevin’s response: Nevin doubled down on his historical analysis, which was a smart move as Nevin had the high ground on this point.  What is the positive import of 16th century sacramental language?  For Nevin the real presence is neither carnal location nor a mere object of thought.

The rest of this chapter surveys Reformed theologians’ views on the Supper.  It’s quite interesting, but it doesn’t compare to the Nevin-Hodge debate.

Practical Conclusions

Mathison critiques inadequate views of the Supper (Zwingli, Lutheran, and Roman) and ends with a call for: 1) using real wine; 2) having the supper weekly or frequently and 3) and the problem of paedocommunion.

Per (1), real wine is preferable to grape juice but it is still close enough that it functions as a sign and it can be performed by the same actions.  This is my response, not Mathison’s.

Per (2), I no longer argue for weekly communion.  I think monthly is better than quarterly, and quarterly better than a few times a year, which is just sad. I am more concerned that we don’t use terrible reasons for rejecting eating often with Jesus.  If your view is that too much of the Supper with Jesus would make it lose its “specialness” or that it feels too “Roman Catholicky,” then….well, that’s just sad.

Per (3), he dodged the issue.


Eternal Word in Broken Bread (Letham)

Letham, Robert. The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2001.

The Reformers wrote more polemics on the Lord’s Supper than anything else, yet you wouldn’t know this from a survey of American Christianity today.  This booklet should be on every Reformed church table.  

He briefly surveys the New Testament data on the Lord’s Supper and then moves into a historical survey.  He notes the problems with transubstantiation. I won’t spend too much time on transubstantiation, since refutations of it can be found in most good dogmatics texts.  I do want to show some problems in memorialism, though.  Let’s first start with a good Calvin quote:

“Accordingly, he shows that in his humanity there also dwells fullness of life, so that whoever has partaken of his flesh and blood may at the same time enjoy participation in life…

…in like manner the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing from the Godhead into itself” (ICR 4.17.9).

Memorialism, by contrast, asserts that there is nothing “more in the Lord’s Supper than the action on the part of the recipients in focusing their minds on Christ” (Letham 25).  Letham lists some problems:

1) If by the Holy Spirit Christ is present everywhere, it seems odd to stress his absence in the Lord’s Supper.
2) It can’t make sense of Jesus’s realism language in John 6.
3) It divorces sign from thing signified.

Letham, following Calvin probably, advocates “Real Spiritual Presence” (28ff). We do more than just think about Jesus.  Rather, “Christ gives himself to be eaten and drunk in faith.  This eating and drinking is not physical but is nonetheless real and true” (28). Christ is present to us by his Holy Spirit, yet he is also united to his flesh.  This is the objective pole.  The subjective pole is that we must receive him by faith.

More on the Reformed Doctrine

The supper signs and seals in our consciences the promises of the gospel. As Christ “is the sum of the Supper, the true communication of Christ is vital to understand” (33). Even though the bread and wine are signs, “the name and title of the body and blood are attributed to them since they are instruments by which Jesus Christ distributes them to us.”

Christ “pours his very life into us,” even if we don’t get his flesh (Calvin 4.17.32).

Reformed Practice

1) The Word creates the sacraments.

2) Single loaf (Letham 50).  This is where Letham probably loses people.  I get the argument for a single loaf. I just don’t know how that will work in a huge church. That said, we should do away with the “chiclets” approach to the Supper, which having no resemblance to bread (or even food), cannot function as a sign.

3) Single cup.  Same thing.

4) Wine. 

5) Leavened bread.  If the Lord’s Supper is not the continuation of the passover, then there is no point in using unleavened bread. Rome, by contrast, needs unleavened bread because the bread, being Jesus’s body, would crumble if it were leavened.  Further, the NT consistently uses artos, not azymos.

Letham ends this chapter by commending the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. I am not arguing for weekly communion.  I am simply arguing against bad reasons opposing it.  Please don’t say it sounds too Catholicky. 


Littlejohn on Vermigli on the Eucharist

Brad Littlejohn, the leading proponent of Richard Hooker today, gave a good paper defending the Protestant view of the Eucharist.  I highlight the key points here.

Click to access Hillsdale-sacraments-paper-2.2.pdf

Key argument 1:  We are so accustomed to hearing that the Reformation debate was over whether or not Christ’s body and blood were present in the Eucharist that we really need to pause to wrap our heads around this: the central debate, the issue for which many were to pay with their lives, was whether bread and wine were present in the Eucharist.

1.1.  If the Eucharist is parallel with the Incarnation, then the bread and wine need to be really present, otherwise we have docetism.

1.2.1. If Christ’s present, per transubstantiation, replaces the bread and wine, then the modern advocates of “Incarnationalism” are actually guilty of the very thing they accuse Reformed when they say we don’t have an “enchanted” view of creation.

2. How can a body, Christ’s, which is a quantum, be present yet not by way of quantity?  If they say he is present by quantity, then given multiple masses, he has multiple bodies.

3. The mode of Christ’s presence is the Holy Spirit. Christ is really present.



Review: Corpus Mysticum, de Lubac

Image result for henri de lubac

de Lubac, Henri.  Corpus Mysticum.

de Lubac outlines the origins and evolution of the “three-fold Body of Christ,” particularly as its known by the term “corpus mysticum,” the mystical body. It is tempting to read earlier phrases for the church—such as “the body of Christ”—back into the phrase “mystical body,” and define it that way. De Lubac warns against that move, since either the phrase “mystical body” (hereafter MB) is either rare in the Fathers or is not used in the later medieval sense. The threefold body is the Eucharist, the Church, and the historical body born of the Virgin Mary.

The problem with MB is its ambiguity. Pre-9th century writers used it as a helpful way to bring together many of the nuances in Eucharistic theology (de Lubac 79). However, intellectual moves would harden these nuances, place them in opposition with one another, and eventually see a body, or bodies of Christ, different from the one given to us in the Eucharist (162).

The Dialectic Breaks Down
Besides the relative scarcity of the term (MB) in the Fathers and early Middle Ages, it could still work as a Eucharistic term provided it was carefully defined. The problem arose when later theologians read current meanings back into the term. When that happened, the ambiguities in MB hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions broke the synthesis. De Lubac notes in the older sense of the word (mystery, mystical), the word conveys an action (49). The Eucharist brings unity to the church. This is contrasted with later developments: given the truth of Eucharistic realism (which no one would deny), the problem of “real presence” substituted itself for the real action accomplished in the Eucharist (164). No longer was the Eucharist seen as bringing unity to the church and uniting us to Christ, but it was seen as something for itself.

Why did Eucharist Realism bring about this problem? In one sense it did not. Rather, the nature of the terms were newly redefined, and this redefinition forced other equally valid definitions pertaining to the Eucharist into opposition with one another. As a result, theologians found themselves forced to choose between St Augustine and St Ambrose (and the rest of the Greek Church). The later medievals—just like today’s modernists—saw “real” as necessarily opposed to “mystery.” But for the ancients, mystery simply meant “conveyed an act” (49) and revealed the secrets of heaven (41). It did not mean “not-physical” or “not-real,” thus it did not see itself opposed to realism. However, men like Berengar and Ratramnus forced this opposition onto Augustinian texts. Their opponents, while rightly challenging their false doctrine, did not challenge the starting points of their presuppositions.

But what of the ancients that did speak of a “spiritual” body? Much like the word “mystical,” spiritual simply denoted supernatural or miraculous (141).

The End Result
The ambiguities hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions hardened into dialectics. Ancients saw the Eucharist as how the church was brought together into Christ. There could be no separation between the Eucharist, the Church, and the Historical Body for the ancients. But for the later medieval, per de Lubac’s gloss, it was hard to see how the separation would not have happened.

The book is a landmark book. It is a fresh discovery of older Patristic readings that were squeezed out by later Scholastic controversies. (A valuable project would be to investigate why de Lubac’s patristic project destroyed much of Vatican II liturgy afterwards, yet the Eastern Churches, using the same fathers, did not face that difficulty, at least not as acutely).

The book is not perfect, though. Like many of de Lubac’s books, the reader is usually unsure of de Lubac’s point. De Lubac rarely defines his thesis in clear terms, or if he does, it is only in passing. The book could have been one hundred pages shorter and much clearer had he removed a lot of extraneous material and sharpened his thesis. Secondly, and per the above point, it seems de Lubac’s method is to quote as many ancient texts as possible while avoiding integrating them into his argument. One feels like one is often reading a junior high term paper: the relevant sources are there, but it is difficult to see how they advance the argument. Other than that major problem, this book deserves a wide dissemination

Review: Steinmetz, Luther in Context


Biel:  God has established a covenant and promises to give saving grace to everyone who meets the terms of the covenant (6).  

Staupitz: Only God can make God dear to sinners (9).

Luther and Augustine on Romans 9

Early Augustine:  evil had its existence in the free operations of a rational will (14).  Justification begins with divine vocatio, initiated by God.   The response to this is human willing.  

Later Augustine:  election is a grace which cannot be merited.  Faith is a gift of God. He had not distinguished between a general and narrow call of God.  “If faith is not purely a human act, but a human act which is also a divine gift, then the explanation that God preferred Jacob because of his foreknowledge of the merit of Jacob’s entirely free act of faith becomes untenable” (16).

Image result for luther in context

Luther:  His exegesis introduces a number of themes not found in Augustine:  human virtue is a product of divine election (18). True, Luther’s understanding of God’s justice leans towards an Occamist reading, but to the degree that it is faithful to the text one shouldn’t worry about charges of nominalism.  

Steinmetz draws three conclusions (20):  

  1. Neither Augustine nor Luther is particularly concerned about the problem which is uppermost in Paul’s mind.” (???)
  2. The will of God–for Luther–is the cause of election.
  3. “While Augustine worries about free will and the justice of God, Luther devotes his attention to certitude of salvation and the understandable fears of the spiritually weak.”

Luther and the Hidden God

“The transcendence of God is not equivalent to his absence” (24).  It means that while God is present everywhere, his presence is inaccessible to me apart from his Word.  Luther warns against trying to uncover the naked being of God.

“The gospel is the good news that we are not required to ascend to God through prayer, self-denial, and the discipline of reason and desire.  God has descended to us as a child on its mother’s lap. He has met us at the bottom rung of the ladder” (25).

Predestination belongs to the deus absconditus.  Luther would have us look to the deus revelatus–God in Jesus Christ.  

Luther and Abraham

“The thesis that Abraham was justified by his faith became increasingly problematic in a Church which distinguished between fides informis (a faith that can coexist with mortal sin) and fides formata (faith active in love), fides implicita (a habitual belief in what the church teaches) and fides explicita (the conscious and explicit assent of the mind to Catholic truth), fides quae (the content of faith) and fides acquisita (faith acquired through natural means) and fides infusa (faith supernaturally infused), credulitas (intellectual assent to doctrine) and fiducia (trust in the promises of God)” (33).

Steinmetz surveys three late medieval and early Reformation commentators on St Paul (one of whom was Luther).  He notes several competing strands between these exegetes. “The dispute is intense because each interpretation of Paul presupposes, contains, and implies a competing vision of the nature of the religious life” (35).  

“If the literal sense of Augustine’s proposition is true–no virtue without charity–then it is impossible for a sinner to earn justifying grace by a merit of congruity (37).  

Luther on Faith

“When Luther insists that the object of faith is invisible, he does so for two reasons, neither of which has very much to do with Plato or heavenly archetypes.  The object of faith is invisible either because it is future (who of us can see next Wednesday?) or because it is hidden in the present under the form of a contrary and contradictory appearance” (39).  

Luther among the anti-Thomists

Luther first encountered Thomas in an Occamist context (48).

Luther and Hubmaier on the Freedom of the Will

Hubmaier saw clearly that Luther’s view on the human will undercut the anabaptist distinctives.  Luther didn’t see the need to deal in depth with Hubmaier.

Lord’s Supper

The Protestant sacramental debates are well-known and I won’t rehash them here.  Steinmetz does make some interesting points, though, that are worth reflection. “Zwingli’s exegesis…depended, at least in part, on his dualistic understanding of human nature” (75).  Luther, by contrast, read the NT anthropology in a way to suggest the unity between soul and body.

Of course, I do not agree with Luther’s conclusions but it does show that both Luther and Zwingli had good points, which further suggests that a mediating position like Calvin’s is the correct one.  

Some final notes

“God’s word, according to Luther, is a “Deed-Word,” which not only names but effects what it signifies.   Adam looks around him and says, ‘This is a cow and an owl and a horse and a mosquito.’ But God looks around him and says, ‘Let there be light,’ and there is light.”

“God’s word creates new possibilities where no possibilities existed before.  The Word of God is a Word that enriches the poor, releases captives, gives sight to the blind, and sets at liberty those who are oppressed.  It is a Word that meets men and women at the point of their greatest need and sets them free” (115).

“Preeminently for Luther it is Jesus Christ who is the Deed-Word of God.  It is he and no one else who has been anointed to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (116).


Review of Zwingli and Bullinger

Bromiley, G. W. ed.  Zwingli and Bullinger.

Zwingli is kind of like the definition of a classic. You think you know what he teaches, but you haven’t read him. He is remarkably clear (though not always profound). He excels at a negative critique but his positive construction is somewhat wanting. Bullinger is important because he provides a link between Continental and English Reformations.

On the Clarity of the Word of God

“Now, if we have found that the inward man is as stated, and that it delights in the law of God because it is created in the divine image in order to have fellowship with him, it follows necessarily that there is no law or word which will give greater delight to the inward man than the Word of God” (67).

He gives an interesting argument, though I think it needs to be modified. His preceding discourse sought to establish that God’s image is found more closely in man’s soul than body (and here he largely follows Augustine’s view). Zwingli does not see current, fallen man as twisted and depraved beyond rational hope. Man is a fallen sinner, to be sure, but sin has not so marred man’s constitution to make rational discourse impossible.

Why Have a Middle Man?

Zwingli gives a very penetrating and cogent response to those who say we can only know the Scriptures as the magisterium (or its like synonym) interprets them for us.   The problem, Zwingli notes, (and this is far more aggravated today with the myriad of exclusivist communions like RCC, EO, True Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, etc; asking which “true church” left the “true church” first is akin to asking which siamese twin left first after the surgery.  I well remember my own frustration.  I kept asking God, “Show me the true path!  Reveal which communion has the proper truth for me so I can know the truth.”  I long suspected something was wrong with that, but Zwingli exposed the irony:

“You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards  as sure and certain.  Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.  But why do you not say:  Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves, but you are the only, unconcealed Good; show me the way of salvation” (84).  

Baptism and Covenant

Interesting from an historical point of view. We see the opening moves for infant baptism that later Reformed thinkers would build on. Water Baptism is given to those who do not have faith (135). Zwingli employs the language of covenant much stronger than medieval defenses of infant baptism did.

Lord’s Supper

We like Zwingli’s negative critique. However, we go with Calvin on what the Lord’s Supper actually *does.* For Zwingli a sacrament is a sign of a holy thing (188). Zwingli then gives a long linguistic account of what ‘est’ means.


Much of Zwingli is better than I expected, yet much remains short. Zwingli correctly links the Lord’s Supper to the Ascension and Sessional rule of Christ. That’s why Christ isn’t present in the body. Yet in some real sense isn’t Christ present with us in the Supper? Yes, but how? Zwingli says he is present by his divine nature, which is everywhere. Well, that’s true, but is it not better to say with Calvin that we are brought near to Christ by the Spirit?

Lutheran and Reformed on Lord’s Supper

Lutherans believe in a sacramental union between the blood of Christ and the wine. Reformed believe in a sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified (promises of the covenant).

Lutherans:  Wine —> sacramental union —> Blood of Christ

Reformed:  Wine —> sacramental union —> New Covenant in my blood