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§ 59. The Consensus of Zurich. A.D. 1549.


I. Consensio Mutua in re Sacramentaria ministrorum Tigurinæ Ecclesiæ et J. Calvini ministri Genevensis Ecclesiæ jam nunc ab ipsis autoribus edita. Tiguri, 1549. In Opera, Vol. VII. pp. 689–748. Comp. Proleg. pp. xliv. sqq. Defensio sanæ et orthodoxæ de sacramentis eorumque vi, fine, et usu, et fructu quam pastores et ministri Tigurinæ ecclesiæ et Genevensis antehac brevi Consensionis mutuæ formula complexi sunt. Johanne Calvino autore, Tiguri, 1555, in Opera, Vol. IX. pp. 1–40. The same volume contains the later eucharistic tracts of Calvin against the attacks of Joachim Westphal (1556 and 1557) and Tilemann Heshusius (1561).

The Consensus Tigurinus with Calvin's Exposition is also reprinted in Niemeyer's Collect. pp. 191–217; a German translation (in part) in Beck and Böckel.

II. On the History of the Zurich Consensus, see Calvin's correspondence with Bullinger, 1548 and 1549, Opera, Vols. XII. and XIII. Hundeshagen: Conflicte des Zwinglianismus, etc.; Henry: Calvin, Vol. II. pp.128 sqq.; Ebrard: Das Dogma vom heil. Abendmahl, Vol. II. pp. 484–524; Pestalozzi: Bullinger, pp. 373–387; Stähelin: Calvin, Vol. II. pp. 112–124.


In the sacramental controversy—the most violent, distracting, and unprofitable in the history of the Reformation—Calvin stood midway between Luther and Zwingli, and endeavored to unite the elements of truth on both sides, in his theory of a spiritual real presence and fruition of Christ by faith.895895   See § 57, pp. 455 sqq. This satisfied neither the rigid Lutherans nor the rigid Zwinglians. The former could see no material difference between Calvin and Zwingli, since both denied the literal interpretation of 'this is my body,' and a corporeal presence and manducation. The latter suspected Calvin of leaning towards Lutheran consubstantiation and working into the hands of Bucer, who had made himself obnoxious by his facile compromises and ill-concealed concessions to the Lutheran view in the Wittenberg Concordia (1536).

The wound was reopened by Luther's fierce attack on the Zwinglians (1545), and their sharp reply. Calvin was displeased with both parties, and counselled moderation. It was very desirable to harmonize the teaching of the Swiss Churches. Bullinger, who first advanced beyond the original Zwinglian ground, and appreciated the deeper theology of Calvin, sent him his book on the Sacraments, in manuscript (1546), with the request to express his opinion. Calvin, did this with great frankness, and a degree of censure which at first 472irritated Bullinger. Then followed a correspondence and personal conference at Zurich, which resulted in a complete union of the Calvinistic and Zwinglian sections of the Swiss Churches on this vexed subject. The negotiations reflect great credit on both parties, and reveal an admirable spirit of frankness, moderation, forbearance, and patience, which triumphed over all personal sensibilities and irritations.896896   See the details in Ebrard, Pestalozzi, and Stähelin, who speak in the highest terms of the truly Christian spirit which characterized the two leaders of the Swiss Reformation.

The first draft of the Consensus Tigurinus, from November, 1548, consists of twenty-four brief propositions drawn up by Calvin, with annotations by Bullinger, to which Calvin responded in January, 1549. They assert that the Sacraments are not in and of themselves effective and conferring grace, but that God, through the Holy Spirit, acts through them as means; that the internal effect appears only in the elect; that the good of the Sacraments consists in leading us to Christ, and being instruments of the grace of God, which is sincerely offered to all; that in baptism we receive the remission of sins, although this proceeds primarily not from baptism, but from the blood of Christ; that in the Lord's Supper we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, not, however, by means of a carnal presence of Christ's human nature, which is in heaven, but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the devout elevation of our soul to heaven.897897   Opera, Vol. VII. pp. 693 sqq.

In the month of March Calvin sent twenty Articles to the Synod of Berne,898898   Ibid. pp. 717 sqq. but in this canton there was strong opposition to Calvin's rigorism, which subsided only after his death.899899   See Hundeshagen, and Stähelin, Vol. II. pp. 125 sqq. Calvin complained on his deathbed of the ill-treatment he had repeatedly received from the government of Berne.

In May, 1549, he had, in company with Farel, a personal interview with Bullinger in Zurich at his cordial invitation, and drew up the Consensus as it now stands, in Twenty-six Articles. It was published in 1551 at Zurich and at Geneva.900900   Opera, Vol. VII. pp. 733 sqq. These Twenty-six Articles alone are given, with Calvin's Exposition of 1554, in Niemeyer's Collectio, pp. 191–217. It contains the Calvinistic doctrine, adjusted as nearly as possible to the Zwinglian in its advanced form, but with a disturbing predestinarian restriction of the sacramental 473grace to the elect.901901   Art. XVI. 'Præterea sedulo docemus, Deum non promiscue vim suam exserere in omnibus qui sacramenta recipiunt: sed tantum in electis. Nam quemadmodum non alios in fidem illuminat, quam quos præordinavit ad vitam, ita arcana Spiritus sui virtute efficit, ut percipiant electi quod offerunt sacramenta.' Yet this is qualified in Art. XVIII. 'Certum quidem est, offeri communiter omnibus Christum cum suis donis, nec hominum infidelitate labefactari Dei veritatem, quin semper vim suam retineant sacramenta: sed non omnes Christi et donorum ejus sunt capaces. Itaque ex Dei parte nihil mutatur: quantum vero ad homines spectat, quisque pro fidei suæ mensura accipit.' See the lengthy discussion of Ebrard, 1.c. pp. 503 sqq. He fully adopts the doctrine of the Consensus with the exception of the predestinarian restriction, which, however, is inseparable from the Calvinistic system, as formerly held by Ebrard himself. The truth of the Zwinglian view is fully acknowledged in opposition to transubstantiation and consubstantiation, but the real life union with Christ in the sacrament is as clearly asserted, and made still more plain in the 'Exposition' of the Consensus which Calvin wrote four years afterwards (1554). 'The Sacraments,' he declares, 'are helps and media (adminicula et media), by which we are either inserted into the body of Christ, or being so inserted coalesce with it more and more, till he unites us with himself in full in the heavenly life. . . . The Sacraments are neither empty figures, nor outward badges merely of piety, but seals of the promises of God, attestations of spiritual grace for cherishing and confirming faith, organs also by which God efficaciously works in his elect.'902902   'Sacramenta neque inanes esse figuras neque externa tantum pietatis insignia, sed promissionum Dei sigilla, testimonia spiritualis gratiæ ad fidem fovendam et confirmandam, item organa esse quibus efficaciter agit Deus in suis electis, ideoque, licet a rebus signatis distincta sint signa, non tamen disjungi ac separari,' etc. Niemeyer, p. 204.

The Consensus was adopted by the Churches of Zurich, Geneva, St. Gall, Schaffhausen, the Grisons, Neuchatel, and, after some hesitation, by Basle, and was favorably received in France, England, and parts of Germany. Melanchthon declared to Lavater (Bullinger's son-in-law) that he then for the first time understood the Swiss, and would never again write against them; but he erased those passages of the Consensus which made the efficacy of the sacrament depend on election.

While the Consensus brought peace and harmony to the Swiss Churches, it was violently assailed by Joachim Westphal, of Hamburg (1552), in the interest of the ultra-Lutheran party in Germany, and became the innocent occasion of the second sacramental war, which has been noticed in the section on the Formula Concordiæ.903903   See pp. 279 sqq. A full account of the controversy of Calvin with Westphal is given by Ebrard, Vol. II. pp. 525 sqq., and by Nevin in the Mercersburg Review for 1850, pp. 486 sqq.

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