The Consensus Tigurinus

-- John Calvin (1549) translated by Ian D. Bunting


Agreement of the Ministers of the Church of Zurich and John Calvin, Minister of the Church of Geneva, on the Subject of the Sacrament.

Article 1. The Whole Spiritual Government of the Church Leads us to Christ.

Since Christ is the end of the law, and knowledge of him comprehends, in itself, the whole sum of the gospel, there is no doubt that the whole spiritual government of the church aims to bring us to Christ: for it is through him alone that a man comes to God, who is the ultimate end of a blessed life. And so whoever draws away from this in the slightest point will never be able to speak rightly or appositely of any of God's ordinances.

Article 2. A True Knowledge of the Sacraments from the Knowledge of Christ.

Since the sacraments are appendices to the gospel, one can only speak fittingly and usefully of their nature, force, office and fruit when one starts from Christ. And one is not only to touch lightly upon the name of Christ, but one is to hold true to the purpose for which he was given to us by the Father and to those good things which he has brought us.

Article 3. The Nature of the Knowledge of Christ.

Thus it is to be maintained that Christ, being the eternal Son of God of the same glory and essence with the Father, has taken upon himself our flesh to bring to us, by right of adoption,what belonged to him by nature: namely, that we may be sons of God. This happens when we, ingrafted by faith into the body of Christ and that by virtue of the Holy Spirit, are first accounted just by a free imputation of righteousness and then are regenerated into a new life, whereby being formed again in the image of our heavenly Father, we renounce the old man.

Article 4. Christ a Priest: Christ as a King.

Thus we have to consider Christ in his flesh as priest, who expiated our sins by the unique sacrifice of his own death. It is he who has put away all our iniquities by his obedience, who has acquired for us perfect righteousness and who now intercedes for us to give us access to God. He must be reckoned too as an expiatory victim by which God is reconciled to the world. He is also to be reckoned a brother who has made us blessed sons of God who were once miserable sons of Adam. He is also to be reckoned as a repairer who reforms whatever is vicious in us by the virtue of his Spirit, so that we may cease to live after the world and the flesh and so that God himself may abide in us. He must be reckoned as king, who enriches us with every kind of good thing, who rules and protects us by his power, who provides us with spiritual weapons that we may stand unconquered against the world and the devil, who frees us from all harm and who governs us and guides us by the sceptre of his mouth. And he is to be so reckoned in all his qualities that he may bring us to himself as true God and to the Father, until that which will be at the end is fulfilled; namely, until God is all in all.

Article 5. How Christ Communicates Himself to Us.

Moreover, in order that Christ may exhibit himself to us in this way and produce these effects in us, we must be made one with him and grow together into his body. For he does not pour out his life into us unless he is our head from which the whole body, compacted and connected through every joint of supply, makes for the increase of each member of the body by proportion according to his working.

Article 6. Spiritual Communion. The Sacraments Instituted.

This spiritual communion which we have with the Son of God, when he lives in us by his Spirit, makes every believer a partaker of all the blessings which reside in him. To testify to this, the preaching of the gospel was instituted and the use of the sacraments was intrusted to us, namely the sacraments of holy Baptism and the holy Supper.

Article 7. The Ends of the Sacraments

The ends of the sacraments are that they be marks and badges of Christian profession and our community or brotherhood, to incite us to thanksgiving and exercises of faith and godly living and to be contracts binding us to this. But the end which is first among the others is that through them God may testify, represent and seal his grace to us. For although they signify nothing that is not announced by the Word, yet it is a great benefit that there is cast before our eyes, as it were, living pictures which influence our senses in a deeper way, as if leading up to the thing itself; while they recall to our memory the death of Christ and all his benefits so that our faith may better be exercised. It is also a great benefit that what God has pronounced with his mouth, is confirmed and ratified as if by seals.

Article 8. The Lord Truly Presents What the Sacraments Truly Figure. Thanksgiving.

Since the testimonies and seals, which God has given us of his grace, are true; there can be no doubt that God grants within us by his Spirit that which the sacraments figure to our eyes and other senses. That is: that we may receive Christ, as the fountain of all good, both that we may be reconciled to God by means of his death and renewed by the Spirit to holiness of life, and that we may obtain righteousness and finally salvation. At the same time we give thanks for these benefits once exhibited on the cross, which we now perceive daily by faith.

Article 9. The Signs and the Things Signified Are Distinct.

Therefore although we draw a distinction, as we must, between the signs and the things signified, yet we do not disjoin the truth from the signs. But we acknowledge that all who embrace in faith the promises there offered, receive Christ spiritually with his spiritual gifts, and even those who for a long time have been partakers of Christ continue and renew that communion.

Article 10. It Is Principally the Promise That Is to Be Regarded in the Sacraments.

One must not look to the bare signs but rather to the promise attached to them. Inasmusch, therefore, as our faith profits from the promise offered, so that force and efficacy of which we speak displays itself. Thus the element of water, bread or wine by no means offers us Christ, nor makes us possessors of his spiritual gifts. Rather, one must look at the promise, whose office it is to lead us to Christ by the true way of faith, which makes us partakers of Christ.

Article 11. We Are Not to Gaze in Bewilderment at the Elements.

This defeats the error of those who gaze in bewilderment at the elements and attach to them their confidence of salvation. For the sacraments, separated from Christ, are nothing but empty masks: yet in them all a voice clearly resounds, telling us to hold fast to none other than Christ alone and to seek the grace of salvation nowhere else.

Article 12. The Sacraments Achieve Nothing of Themselves. Every Saving Act Is to Be Attributed to God Alone.

Besides, if any good thing is bestowed upon us through the sacraments, it is not because of any inherent virtue, not even if you understand by that the promise by which they are distinguished. For it is God alone who works by his Spirit. And although he uses the ministry of the sacraments, he neither infuses his own power into them nor does he derogate in any way from the efficacy of his Spirit: but according to our ignorance, he uses them as helps, yet so that all the power remains with him alone.

Article 13. God Uses the Instrument, but Only in Such a Way That All the Virtue Is His.

And so, as Paul warns us, he who sows or waters is nothing, but it is God alone who gives the increase. The same must be said of the sacraments, that they are nothing, because they will profit nothing unless God in all things makes them effective. They are indeed instruments by which God acts efficaciously, when he so pleases; yet in such a way that the whole work of our salvation must be ascribed to him alone.

Article 14. [In Bunting's translation there was no subtitle for this article. Another translator (Beveridge) subtitles it "The Whole Accomplished by Christ."]

We conclude therefore that it is Christ alone who truly baptizes within and who in the Supper makes us partakers of himself. In brief, it is he who fulfils what the sacraments figure, and he uses these aids in such a way that the whole effect rests in his Spirit.

Article 15. How the Sacraments Confirm.

In this way the sacraments are sometimes called seals, and are said to nourish, confirm and promote faith: and yet in the proper sense the Spirit alone is the seal, inasmuch as he is the one who begins and perfects faith. For all these attributes of the sacraments take an inferior place, so that not even the smallest portion of our salvation may be transferred from the single author of it, to the creatures or elements.

Article 16. Not All Partakers in the Sacrament Receive the Thing Itself.

Besides, we are careful to teach that God does not exert his power indiscriminately in all who receive the sacraments, but only in the elect. For as he only illuminates into faith those whom he has foreordained to life; so by the secret virtue of his Spirit, he works that the elect may receive what the sacraments offer.

Article 17. The Sacraments Do Not Confer Grace.

By this doctrine, that fiction of the sophists is refuted which teaches that the sacraments of the new law confer grace on all who do not interpose the obstacle of mortal sin. For besides the fact that nothing is received in the sacraments except by faith, it is also necessary to hold that the grace of God is certainly not so tied to them that whoever has the sign receives the thing itself. For the signs are administered to the reprobate as well as to the elect, but the reality only reaches the latter.

Article 18. The Gifts of God Are Offered to All but it is the Faithful Who Receive Them.

It is quite certain that Christ, with his gifts, is offered communely to all, and that the truth of God is not overthrown by the unfaithfulness of men: the sacraments always retain their power, but all are not capable of Christ and his gifts. And so on God's part, nothing is changed, but as for men; each receives according to the measure of his faith.

Article 19. The Faithful Communicate in Christ Both Before and Outside the Use of the Sacraments.

And as the use of the sacraments is no more profitable to the unfaithful than if they abstained, yet is rather destructive to them: so on the other hand even outside the use of the sacraments the reality which is figured remains firm for the faithful. Thus the sins of Paul were washed away by baptism, although they had already been washed before Baptism. Likewise for Cornelius, Baptism was the laver of regeneration, although he had already received the Holy Spirit. Thus in the Supper Christ communicates himself to us, although he has imparted himself to us before and dwells within us for ever. For since all are commanded to examine themselves, it follows that faith is required of all before they approach the sacrament. And faith cannot exist without Christ; but inasmuch as faith is confirmed and increased by the sacraments, the gifts of God are confirmed in us and so, in a manner of speaking, Christ grows in us and we in him.

Article 20. The Grace Is Not so Tied to the Action of the Sacraments That the Fruit of Them May Not Be Received Some Time After the Action.

Moreover the benefit which we receive from the sacraments ought not to be restricted to the time at which they are administered to us, as though the visible sign, when it is offered, brought with it at that very moment the grace of God. For those who were baptized in first infancy God regenerates in childhood or at the start of adolescence or even sometimes in old age. So the benefit of Baptism stretches through the whole course of life, because the promise contained within it lives for ever. And sometimes it can happen that the use of the holy Supper, which in the action itself profits very little because of our thoughtlessness or slowness of heart, yet afterward bears its fruit.

Article 21. The Idea of a Local Presence Is to Be Rejected.

It is particularly necessary to reject every idea of a local presence. For as the signs are present in this world and are perceived with the eyes and touched with the hands, so Christ, as man, is nowhere but in heaven and is to be sought in no other way than by the mind and the understanding of faith. For this reason it is a perverse and impious superstition to enclose him under elements of this world.

Article 22. An Exposition of the Words of the Lord's Supper: This Is My Body.

We reject therefore those ridiculous interpreters who insist on what they call the precise literal sense of the solemn words of the Supper: This is my body, this is my blood. For without question we hold that they are to be taken figuratively, so that the bread and wine are said to be that which they signify. And it ought not to be thought new or insolent that by metonymy the name of the thing signified is transferred to the sign, since in the Scriptures the same modes of expression occur, and in speaking in this way we affirm nothing which is not prominent in the most ancient and famous writers of the Church.

Article 23. Concerning the Eating of Christ's Flesh.

Because Christ feeds our souls through faith by virtue of his Spirit, by the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood which are here figured, it is not therefore to be understood as though there was an intermingling or transfusion of substance. But we draw life from the flesh once offered in sacrifice and the blood poured out for expiation.

Article 24. Against Transubstantiation and Other Madnesses.

In this way not only the fiction of the Papists about transubstantiation is refuted, but also all stupid fantasies and worthless quibbles which either derogate from his heavenly glory or do not really agree with the truth of his human nature. And we judge that it is no less absurd to place Christ under the bread or to couple him with the bread than to transubstantiate the bread into his body.

Article 25. The Body of Christ is in Heaven as in a Place.

And in order that no ambiguity may remain; when we say that Christ is to be sought in heaven, this saying implies and expresses to us separation in space. For although, speaking philosophically, there is no place above the skies, yet the body of Christ, bearing the nature and fashion of a human body, is finite and is contained in heaven as in a place. It is necessary that it be separated from us by such an interval of space, in the same way as the heaven is separated from the earth.

Article 26. Christ is Not to Be Adored in the Bread or in the Sacrament.

And if it is not right to affix Christ to the bread and the wine by our imagination, much less is it lawful to adore him in the bread. For although the bread is given to us as a symbol and pledge of that communion which we have with Christ yet it is a sign and not the thing itself, and because it does not have the thing included in it or attached to it, therefore those who turn their minds to the thing, in adoring Christ, make an idol of it.