Thursday, July 27, 2006

What Am I Reading? Peter Martyr Vermigli

Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Treatise on the Sacrament of the Eucharist,” pp. 1-125 in The Peter Martyr Library, vol. 7 (Translated and Edited by Joseph C. McLelland; Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press, 2000).

If you are interested in biographical information on Vermigli, here is a decent place to start.


So far I have only scratched the surface of this treatise and this is my first foray into the world of this author, so I do not have very much to say about it yet. However, I am intimately acquainted with the broader eucharistic conflict of the Reformation and with the positions of Luther and Calvin on the matter, so I am not without perspective. Here are just a few points that I have noted so far:

(1) Calvin has been alluded to favorably while, as best as I can tell, Luther has been alluded too with less favor.

(2) Vermigli is adamant that the Holy Spirit does something during the Lord’s Supper, and he speaks of this most often as a form of ‘union’ or ‘joining’ with Christ. Also, I was pleased to note that Vermigli sets forth the logic that since our union with Christ is not corporeal but spiritual, so Christ’s presence in the elements is not corporeal but spiritual (cf. 14).

(3) Vermigli is well aware of the social impact of the Supper, noting that it instructs us to live a common life and that at the Supper we have present not only Christ’s body in the elements but in the gathered community (cf. 12).

(4) In Vermigli’s scheme of things, even though the Spirit is active in joining us to Christ during the Supper, this activity depends on the presence of our faith in a very serious way. This raises some warning lights for me, but given a broader systematic context it is not necessarily problematic (if the presence of faith in us is purely a matter of the work of the Spirit, then we have simply pushed the preceding activity of God back one step). Still, I will be looking for a properly asymmetrical account of the relationship between divine and human agency.

In many ways (but not necessarily in all the things listed above), Vermigli seems to be on the same page as Calvin on the issue. Finally, I will leave you with Vermigli’s own summary of his position:

“I declare that they [Christ’s body and blood] are truly given and offered to us, by both words and symbols, which signify them powerfully and most effectively. We truly receive in communicating when with full and solid assent of faith we grasp those things offered by the signification of words and signs. It follows that we are most closely joined to Christ; and whom we have obtained in baptism by the benefit of regeneration, him we put on still more and more by the sacrament of food, since nature provides that we are nourished by the same things of which we consist” (20).

1 comment:

Kristen said...

My goodness: lots of work and excellent material here. I will have to come back to read more of it. Meanwhile my regards to your wife.