(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 15)
Chapter 14. Of the sacraments. 
    This chapter consists of two principal parts, - I. Of 
sacraments in general. The sum of the doctrine stated, sec. 1-6. Two 
classes of opponents to be guarded against, viz., those who 
undervalue the power of the sacraments, sec. 7-13; and those who 
attribute too much to the sacraments, sec. 14-17. II. Of the 
sacraments in particular, both of the Old and the New Testament. 
Their scope and meaning. Refutation of those who have either too 
high or too low ideas of the sacraments. 
1. Of the sacraments in general. A sacrament defined. 
2. Meaning of the word sacrament. 
3. Definition explained. Why God seals his promises to us by 
4. The word which ought to accompany the element, that the sacrament 
    may be complete. 
5. Error of those who attempt to separate the word, or promise of 
    God, from the element. 
6. Why sacraments are called Signs of the Covenant. 
7. They are such signs, though the wicked should receive them, but 
    are signs of grace only to believers. 
8. Objections to this view answered. 
9. No secret virtue in the sacraments. Their whole efficacy depends 
    on the inward operation of the Spirit. 
10. Objections answered. Illustrated by a simile. 
11. Of the increase of faith by the preaching of the word. 
12. In what way, and how far, the sacraments are confirmations of 
    our faith. 
13. Some regard the sacraments as mere signs. This view refuted. 
14. Some again attribute too much to the sacraments. Refutation. 
15. Refutation confirmed by a passage from Augustine. 
16. Previous views more fully explained. 
17. The matter of the sacrament always present when the sacrament is 
    duly administered. 
18. Extensive meaning of the term sacrament. 
19. The ordinary sacraments in the Church. How necessary they are. 
20. The sacraments of the Old and of the New Testament. The end of 
    both the same, viz., to lead us to Christ. 
21. This apparent in the Sacraments of the Old Testament. 
22. Apparent also in the Sacraments of the New Testament. 
23. Impious doctrine of the Schoolmen as to the difference between 
    the Old and the New Testaments. 
24. Scholastic objection answered. 
25. Another objection answered. 
26. Sacraments of the New Testament sometimes excessively extolled 
    by early Theologians. Their meaning explained. 
    1. Akin to the preaching of the gospel, we have another help to 
our faith in the sacraments in regard to which, it greatly concerns 
us that some sure doctrine should be delivered, informing us both of 
the end for which they were instituted, and of their present use. 
First, we must attend to what a sacrament is. It seems to me, then, 
a simple and appropriate definition to say, that it is an external 
sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of 
good-will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, 
and we in our turn testify our piety towards him, both before 
himself and before angels as well as men. We may also define more 
briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, 
confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of 
our faith towards Him. You may make your choice of these 
definitions, which, in meaning, differ not from that of Augustine, 
which defines a sacrament to be a visible sign of a sacred thing, or 
a visible form of an invisible grace, but does not contain a better 
or surer explanation. As its brevity makes it somewhat obscure, and 
thereby misleads the more illiterate, I wished to remove all doubt, 
and make the definition fuller by stating it at greater length. 
    2. The reason why the ancients used the term in this sense is 
not obscure. The old interpreter, whenever he wished to render the 
Greek term "musterion" into Latin, especially when it was used with 
reference to divine things, used the word sacramentum. Thus in 
Ephesians, "Having made known unto us the mystery (sacramentum) of 
his will;" and again, "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the 
grace of God, which is given me to you-wards, how that by revelation 
he made known unto me the mystery" (sacramentum,) (Eph. 1: 9; 3: 2.) 
In the Colossians, "Even the mystery which has been hid from ages 
and from generations, but is now made manifest to his saints, to 
whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this 
mystery," (sacramentum,) (Col. 1: 26.) Also in the First Epistle to 
Timothy, "Without controversy, great is the mystery (sacramentum) of 
godliness: God was manifest in the flesh," (1 Tim. 3: 16.) He was 
unwilling to use the word arcanum, (secret,) lest the word should 
seem beneath the magnitude of the thing meant. When the thing, 
therefore, was sacred and secret, he used the term sacramentum. In 
this sense it frequently occurs in ecclesiastical writers. And it is 
well known, that what the Latins call sacramental the Greeks call 
"musteria" (mysteries.) The sameness of meaning removes all dispute. 
Hence it is that the term was applied to those signs which gave an 
august representation of things spiritual and sublime. This is also 
observed by Augustine, "It were tedious to discourse of the variety 
of signs; those which relate to divine things are called 
sacraments," (August. Ep. 5. ad Marcell.) 
    3. From the definition which we have given, we perceive that 
there never is a sacrament without an antecedent promise, the 
sacrament being added as a kind of appendix, with the view of 
confirming and sealing the promise, and giving a better attestation, 
or rather, in a manner, confirming it. In this way God provides 
first for our ignorance and sluggishness and, secondly, for our 
infirmity; and yet, properly speaking, it does not so much confirm 
his word as establish us in the faith of it. For the truth of God is 
in itself sufficiently stable and certain, and cannot receive a 
better confirmation from any other quarter than from itself. But as 
our faith is slender and weak, so if it be not propped up on every 
side, and supported by all kinds of means, it is forthwith shaken 
and tossed to and fro, wavers, and even falls. And here, indeed, our 
merciful Lord, with boundless condescension, so accommodates himself 
to our capacity, that seeing how from our animal nature we are 
always creeping on the ground, and cleaving to the flesh, having no 
thought of what is spiritual, and not even forming an idea of it, he 
declines not by means of these earthly elements to lead us to 
himself, and even in the flesh to exhibit a mirror of spiritual 
blessings. For, as Chrysostom says, (Hom. 60, ad Popul.) "Were we 
incorporeal, he would give us these things in a naked and 
incorporeal form. Now because our souls are implanted in bodies, he 
delivers spiritual things under things visible. Not that the 
qualities which are set before us in the sacraments are inherent in 
the nature of the things, but God gives them this signification." 
    4. This is commonly expressed by saying that a sacrament 
consists of the word and the external sign. By the word we ought to 
understand not one which, muttered without meaning and without 
faith, by its sound merely, as by a magical incantation, has the 
effect of consecrating the element, but one which, preached, makes 
us understand what the visible sign means. The thing, therefore, 
which was frequently done, under the tyranny of the Pope, was not 
free from great profanation of the mystery, for they deemed it 
sufficient if the priest muttered the formula of consecration, while 
the people, without understanding, looked stupidly on. Nay, this was 
done for the express purpose of preventing any instruction from 
thereby reaching the people: for all was said in Latin to illiterate 
hearers. Superstition afterwards was carried to such a height, that 
the consecration was thought not to be duly performed except in a 
low grumble, which few could hear. Very different is the doctrine of 
Augustine concerning the sacramental word. "Let the word be added to 
the element, and it will become a sacrament. For whence can there be 
so much virtue in water as to touch the body and cleanse the heart, 
unless by the agency of the word, and this not because it is said, 
but because it is believed? For even in the word the transient sound 
is one thing, the permanent power another. This is the word of faith 
which we preach, says the Apostle, (Rom. 10: 8.) Hence, in the Acts 
of the Apostles, we have the expressions "Purifying their hearts by 
faith," (Acts 15: 9.) And the Apostle Peter says, "The like figure 
whereunto even baptism does now save us, (not the putting away of 
the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience,") (1 
Pet. 3: 21.) "This is the word of faith which we preach: by which 
word doubtless baptism also, in order that it may be able to 
cleanse, is consecrated," (August. Hom. in Joann. 13.) You see how 
he requires preaching to the production of faith. And we need not 
labour to prove this, since there is not the least room for doubt as 
to what Christ did and commanded us to do, as to what the apostles 
followed and a purer Church observed. Nay, it is known that, from 
the very beginning of the world, whenever God offered any sign to 
the holy Patriarchs, it was inseparably attached to doctrine, 
without which our senses would gaze bewildered on an unmeaning 
object. Therefore, when we hear mention made of the sacramental 
word, let us understand the promise which, proclaimed aloud by the 
minister, leads the people by the hand to that to which the sign 
tends and directs us. 
    5. Nor are those to be listened to who oppose this view with a 
more subtle than solid dilemma. They argue thus: We either know that 
the word of God which precedes the sacrament is the true will of 
God, or we do not know it. ]f we know it, we learn nothing new from 
the sacrament which succeeds. If we do not know it, we cannot learn 
it from the sacrament, whose whole efficacy depends on the word. Our 
brief reply is: The seals which are affixed to diplomas, and other 
public deeds, are nothing considered in themselves, and would be 
affixed to no purpose if nothing was written on the parchment, and 
yet this does not prevent them from sealing and confirming when they 
are appended to writings. It cannot be alleged that this comparison 
is a recent fiction of our own, since Paul himself used it, terming 
circumcision a seal, (Rom. 4: 11,) where he expressly maintains that 
the circumcision of Abraham was not for justifications but was an 
attestation to the covenant, by the faith of which he had been 
previously justified. And how, pray, can any one be greatly offended 
when we teach that the promise is sealed by the sacrament, since it 
is plain, from the promises themselves, that one promise confirms 
another? The clearer any evidence is, the fitter is it to support 
our faith. But sacraments bring with them the clearest promises, 
and, when compared with the word, have this peculiarity, that they 
represent promises to the life, as if painted in a picture. Nor 
ought we to be moved by an objection founded on the distinction 
between sacraments and the seals of documents, viz., that since both 
consist of the carnal elements of this world, the former cannot be 
sufficient or adequate to seal the promises of God, which are 
spiritual and eternal, though the latter may be employed to seal the 
edicts of princes concerning fleeting and fading things. But the 
believer, when the sacraments are presented to his eye, does not 
stop short at the carnal spectacle, but by the steps of analogy 
which I have indicated, rises with pious consideration to the 
sublime mysteries which lie hidden in the sacraments. 
    6. As the Lord calls his promises covenants, (Gen. 6: 18; 9: 9; 
17: 2,) and sacraments signs of the covenants, so something similar 
may be inferred from human covenants. What could the slaughter of a 
hog effect, unless words were interposed or rather preceded? Swine 
are often killed without any interior or occult mystery. What could 
be gained by pledging the right hand, since hands are not 
infrequently joined in giving battle? But when words have preceded, 
then by such symbols of covenant sanction is given to laws, though 
previously conceived, digested, and enacted by words. Sacraments, 
therefore, are exercises which confirm our faith in the word of God; 
and because we are carnal, they are exhibited under carnal objects, 
that thus they may train us in accommodation to our sluggish 
capacity, just as nurses lead children by the hand. And hence 
Augustine calls a sacrament a visible word, (August. In Joann. Hom. 
89,) because it represents the promises of God as in a picture, and 
places them in our view in a graphic bodily form, (August. cont. 
Faust. Lib. 19.) We might refer to other similitudes, by which 
sacraments are more plainly designated, as when they are called the 
pillars of our faith. For just as a building stands and leans on its 
foundation, and yet is rendered more stable when supported by 
pillars, so faith leans on the word of God as its proper foundation, 
and yet when sacraments are added leans more firmly, as if resting 
on pillars. Or we may call them mirrors, in which we may contemplate 
the riches of the grace which God bestows upon us. For then, as has 
been said, he manifests himself to us in as far as our dullness can 
enable us to recognise him, and testifies his love and kindness to 
us more expressly than by word. 
    7. It is irrational to contend that sacraments are not 
manifestations of divine grace toward us, because they are held 
forth to the ungodly also, who, however, so far from experiencing 
God to be more propitious to them, only incur greater condemnation. 
By the same reasoning, the gospel will be no manifestation of the 
grace of God, because it is spurned by many who hear it; nor will 
Christ himself be a manifestation of grace, because of the many by 
whom he was seen and known, very few received him. Something similar 
may be seen in public enactments. A great part of the body of the 
people deride and evade the authenticating seal, though they know it 
was employed by their sovereign to confirm his will; others trample 
it under foot, as a matter by no means appertaining to them; while 
others even execrate it: so that, seeing the condition of the two 
things to be alike, the appropriateness of the comparison which I 
made above ought to be more readily allowed. It is certain, 
therefore, that the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his 
grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments; but it is not 
apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with 
firm faith: in like manner as Christ, though offered and held forth 
for salvation to all, is not, however, acknowledged and received by 
all. Augustine, when intending to intimate this, said that the 
efficacy of the word is produced in the sacrament not because it is 
spoken, but because it is believed. Hence Paul, addressing 
believers, includes communion with Christ in the sacraments, as when 
he says, "As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put 
on Christ," (Gal. 3: 27.) Again, "For by one Spirit we are all 
baptised into one body," (1 Cor. 12: 13.) But when he speaks of a 
preposterous use of the sacraments, he attributes nothing more to 
them than to frigid empty figures; thereby intimating, that however 
the ungodly and hypocrites may, by their perverseness either 
suppress, or obscure, or impede the effect of divine grace in the 
sacraments, that does not prevent them, where and whenever God is so 
pleased, from giving a true evidence of communion with Christ, or 
prevent them from exhibiting, and the Spirit of God from performing, 
the very thing which they promise. We conclude, therefore, that the 
sacraments are truly termed evidences of divine grace, and, as it 
were, seals of the goodwill which he entertains toward us. They, by 
sealing it to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith. 
The objections usually urged against this view are frivolous and 
weak. They say, that our faith, if it is good, cannot be made 
better; for there is no faith save that which leans unshakingly, 
firmly and undividedly, on the mercy of God. It had been better for 
the objectors to pray, with the apostles, "Lord, increase our 
faith," (Luke 17: 5,) than confidently to maintain a perfection of 
faith which none of the sons of men ever attained, none ever shall 
attain in this life. Let them explain what kind of faith his was who 
said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief," (Mark 9: 24.) That 
faith, though only commenced, was good, and might, by the removal of 
the unbelief be made better. But there is no better argument to 
refute them than their own consciousness. For if they confess 
themselves sinners, (this, whether they will or not, they cannot 
deny,) then they must of necessity impute this very quality to the 
imperfection of their faith. 
    8. But Philip, they say, replied to the eunuch who asked to be 
baptised, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest," 
(Acts 8: 37). What room is there for a confirmation of baptism when 
faith fills the whole heart? I, in my turn, ask them, Do they not 
feel that a good part of their heart is void of faith, - do they not 
perceive new additions to it every day? There was one who boasted 
that he grew old while learning. Thrice miserable then, are we 
Christians if we grow old without making progress, we whose faith 
ought to advance through every period of life until it grows up into 
a perfect man, (Eph. 4: 13.) In this passage, therefore to believe 
with the whole heart, is not to believe Christ perfectly, but only 
to embrace him sincerely with heart and soul; not to be filled with 
him, but with ardent affection to hunger and thirst, and sigh after 
him. It is usual in Scripture to say that a thing is done with the 
whole heart, when it is done sincerely and cordially. Of this 
description are the following passages: - "With my whole heart have 
I sought thee," (Ps. 119: 10;) "I will confess unto thee with my 
whole heart," &e. In like manner, when the fraudulent and deceitful 
are rebuked it is said, "with flattering lips, and with a double 
heart, do they speak," (Ps. 12: 2.) The objectors next add - "If 
faith is increased by means of the sacraments, the Holy Spirit is 
given in vain, seeing it is his office to begin, sustain, and 
consummate our faith." I admit, indeed, that faith is the proper and 
entire sock of the Holy Spirit, enlightened by whom we recognise God 
and the treasures of his grace, and without whose illumination our 
mind is so blind that it can see nothing, so stupid that it has no 
relish for spiritual things. But for the one Divine blessing which 
they proclaim we count three. For, first, the Lord teaches and 
trains us by his word; next, he confirms us by his sacraments; 
lastly, he illumines our mind by the light of his Holy Spirit, and 
opens up an entrance into our hearts for his word and sacraments, 
which would otherwise only strike our ears, and fall upon our sight, 
but by no means affect us inwardly. 
    9. Wherefore, with regard to the increase and confirmation of 
faith, I would remind the reader, (though I think I have already 
expressed it in unambiguous terms,) that in assigning this office to 
the sacraments, it is not as if I thought that there is a kind of 
secret efficacy perpetually inherent in them, by which they can of 
themselves promote or strengthen faith, but because our Lord has 
instituted them for the express purpose of helping to establish and 
increase our faith. The sacraments duly perform their office only 
when accompanied by the Spirit, the internal Master, whose energy 
alone penetrates the heart, stirs up the affections, and procures 
access for the sacraments into our souls. If he is wanting, the 
sacraments can avail us no more than the sun shining on the eyeballs 
of the blind, or sounds uttered in the ears of the deaf. Wherefore, 
in distributing between the Spirit and the sacraments I ascribe the 
whole energy to him, and leave only a ministry to them; this 
ministry, without the agency of the Spirit, is empty and frivolous, 
but when he acts within, and exerts his power, it is replete with 
energy. It is now clear in what way, according to this vies, a pious 
mind is confirmed in faith by means of the sacraments, viz., in the 
same way in which the light of the sun is seen by the eye, and the 
sound of the voice heard by the ear; the former of which would not 
be at all affected by the light unless it had a pupil on which the 
light might fall; nor the latter reached by any sound, however loud 
were it not naturally adapted for hearing. But if it is true, as has 
been explained, that in the eye it is the power of vision which 
enables it to see the light, and in the ear the power of hearing 
which enables it to perceive the voice, and that in our hearts it is 
the work of the Holy Spirit to commence, maintain, cherish, and 
establish faith, then it follows both that the sacraments do not 
avail one iota without the energy of the Holy Spirit; and that yet 
in hearts previously taught by that preceptor, there is nothing to 
prevent the sacraments from strengthening and increasing faith. 
There is only this difference, that the faculty of seeing and 
hearing is naturally implanted in the eye and ear; whereas, Christ 
acts in our minds above the measure of nature by special grace. 
    10. In this way, also, we dispose of certain objections by 
which some anxious minds are annoyed. If we ascribe either an 
increase or confirmation of faith to creatures, injustice is done to 
the Spirit of God, who alone ought to be regarded as its author. But 
we do not rob him of the merit of confirming and increasing faith; 
nay, rather, we maintain that that which confirms and increases 
faith, is nothing else than the preparing of our minds by his 
internal illumination to receive that confirmation which is set 
forth by the sacraments. But if the subject is still obscure, it 
will be made plain by the following similitude: Were you to begin to 
persuade a person by word to do something you would think of all the 
arguments by which he may be brought over to your view, and in a 
manner compelled to serve your purpose. But nothing is gained if the 
individual himself possess not a clear and acute judgement, by which 
he may be able to weigh the value of your arguments; if, moreover he 
is not of a docile disposition, and ready to listen to doctrine; if, 
in fine, he has no such idea of your faith and prudence as in a 
manner to prejudice him in your favour, and secure his assent. For 
there are many obstinate spirits who are not to be bent by any 
arguments; and where faith is suspected, or authority condemned, 
little progress is made even with the docile. On the other hand, 
when opposite feelings exist, the result will be, that the person 
whose interests you are consulting will acquiesce in the very 
counsels which he would otherwise have derided. The same work is 
performed in us by the Spirit. That the word may not fall upon our 
ear, or the sacraments be presented to our eye in vain, he shows 
that it is God who there speaks to us, softens our obdurate hearts, 
and frames them to the obedience which is due to his word; in short, 
transmits those external words and sacraments from the ear to the 
soul. Both word and sacraments, therefore, confirm our faith, 
bringing under view the kind intentions of our heavenly Father, in 
the knowledge of which the whole assurance of our faith depends, and 
by which its strength is increased; and the Spirit also confirms our 
faith when by engraving that assurance on our minds, he renders it 
effectual. Meanwhile, it is easy for the Father of lights, in like 
manner as he illumines the bodily eye by the rays of the sun, to 
illumine our minds by the sacraments, as by a kind of intermediate 
    11. This property our Lord showed to belong to the external 
word, when, in the parable, he compared it to seed, (Matth. 13: 4; 
Luke 8: 15.) For as the seed, when it falls on a deserted and 
neglected part of the field, can do nothing but die, but when thrown 
into ground properly laboured and cultivated, will yield a 
hundred-fold; so the word of God, when addressed to any stubborn 
spirit, will remain without fruit, as if thrown upon the barren 
waste, but when it meets with a soul which the hand of the heavenly 
Spirit has subdued, will be most fruitful. But if the case of the 
seed and of the word is the same, and from the seed corn can grow 
and increase, and attain to maturity, why may not faith also take 
its beginning, increase, and completion from the word? Both things 
are admirably explained by Paul in different passages. For when he 
would remind the Corinthians how God had given effect to his 
labours, he boasts that he possessed the ministry of the Spirit, (1 
Cor. 2: 4;) just as if his preaching were inseparably connected with 
the power of the Holy Spirit, in inwardly enlightening the mind, and 
stimulating it. But in another passage, when he would remind them 
what the power of the word is in itself, when preached by man, he 
compares ministers to husbandmen, who, after they have expended 
labour and industry in cultivating the ground, have nothing more 
that they can do. For what would sloughing, and sowing, and watering 
avail, unless that which was sown should, by the kindness of Heaven 
vegetate? Wherefore, he concludes, that he that planteth and he that 
watereth, is nothing, but that the whole is to be ascribed to God, 
who alone gives the increase. The apostle, therefore, exert the 
power of the Spirit in their preaching, inasmuch as God uses them as 
instruments which he has ordained for the unfolding of his spiritual 
grace. Still, however, we must not lose sight of the distinction, 
but remember what man is able of himself to do, and what is peculiar 
to God. 
    12. The sacraments are confirmations of our faith in such a 
sense, that the Lord, sometimes, when he sees meet to withdraw our 
assurance of the things which he had promised in the sacraments, 
takes away the sacraments themselves. When he deprives Adam of the 
gift of immortality, and expels him from the garden, "lest he put 
forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and live for 
ever," (Gen. 3: 22.) What is this we hear? Could that fruit have 
restored Adam to the immortality from which he had already fallen? 
By no means. It is just as if he had said, Lest he indulge in vain 
confidence, if allowed to retain the symbol of my promise, let that 
be withdrawn which might give him some hope of immortality. On this 
ground, when the apostle urges the Ephesians to remember, that they 
"were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, 
and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and 
without God in the world," (Eph. 2: 12,) he says that they were not 
partakers of circumcision. He thus intimates metonimically, that all 
were excluded from the promise who had not received the badge of the 
promise. To the other objection, viz., that when so much power is 
attributed to creatures, the glory of God is bestowed upon them, and 
thereby impaired, it is obvious to reply, that we attribute no power 
to the creatures. All we say is, that God uses the means and 
instruments which he sees to be expedient, in order that all things 
may be subservient to his glory, he being the Lord and disposer of 
all. Therefore, as by bread and other ailment he feeds our bodies, 
and by the sun he illumines, and by fire gives warmth to the world, 
and yet bread, sun, and fire, are nothing, save inasmuch as they are 
instruments under which he dispenses his blessings to us; so in like 
manner he spiritually nourishes our faith by means of the 
sacraments, whose only office is to make his promises visible to our 
eye, or rather, to be pledges of his promises. And as it is our duty 
in regard to the other creatures which the divine liberality and 
kindness has destined for our use, and by whose instrumentality he 
bestows the gifts of his goodness upon us, to put no confidence in 
them, nor to admire and extol them as the causes of our mercies; so 
neither ought our confidence to be fixed on the sacraments, nor 
ought the glory of God to be transferred to them, but passing beyond 
them all, our faith and confession should rise to Him who is the 
Author of the sacraments and of all things. 
    13. There is nothing in the argument which some found on the 
very term sacrament. This term, they say, while it has many 
significations in approved authors, has only one which is applicable 
to signs, namely, when it is used for the formal oath which the 
soldier gives to his commander on entering the service. For as by 
that military oath recruits bind themselves to be faithful to their 
commander, and make a profession of military service: so by our 
signs we acknowledge Christ to be our commander, and declare that we 
serve under his standard. They add similitudes, in order to make the 
matter more clear. As the toga distinguished the Romans from the 
Greeks, who wore the gallium; and as the different orders of Romans 
were distinguished from each other by their peculiar insignia; e.g., 
the senatorial from the equestrian by purple, and crescent shoes, 
and the equestrian from the plebeian by a ring, so we wear our 
symbols to distinguish us from the profane. But it is sufficiently 
clear from what has been said above, that the ancients, in giving 
the name of sacraments to signs, had not at all attended to the use 
of the term by Latin writers, but had, for the sake of convenience, 
given it this new signification, as a means of simply expressing 
sacred signs. But were we to argue more subtilely, we might say that 
they seem to have given the term this signification in a manner 
analogous to that in which they employ the term faith in the sense 
in which it is now used. For while faith is truth in performing 
promises, they have used it for the certainty or firm persuasion 
which is had of the truth. In this way, while a sacrament is the act 
of the soldier when he vows obedience to his commander, they made it 
the act by which the commander admits soldiers to the ranks. For in 
the sacraments the Lord promises that he will be our God, and we 
that we will be his people. But we omit such subtleties, since I 
think I have shown by arguments abundantly plain, that all which 
ancient writers intended was to intimate, that sacraments are the 
signs of sacred and spiritual things. The similitudes which are 
drawn from external objects, (chap. 15 sec. 1,) we indeed admit; but 
we approve not, that that which is a secondary thing in sacraments 
is by them made the first, and indeed the only thing. The first 
thing is, that they may contribute to our faith in God; the 
secondary, that they may attest our confession before men. These 
similitudes are applicable to the secondary reason. Let it therefore 
remain a fixed point, that mysteries would be frigid, (as has been 
seen,) were they not helps to our faith, and adjuncts annexed to 
doctrine for the same end and purpose. 
    14. On the other hand, it is to be observed, that as these 
objectors impair the force, and altogether overthrow the use of the 
sacraments, so there are others who ascribe to the sacraments a kind 
of secret virtue, which is nowhere said to have been implanted in 
them by God. By this error the more simple and unwary are perilously 
deceived while they are taught to seek the gifts of God where they 
cannot possibly be found, and are insensibly withdrawn from God, so 
as to embrace instead of his truth mere vanity. For the schools of 
the Sophists have taught with general consent that the sacraments of 
the new law, in other words, those now in use in the Christian 
Church, justify, and confer grace, provided only that we do not 
interpose the obstacle of mortal sin. It is impossible to describe 
how fatal and pestilential this sentiment is, and the more so, that 
for many ages it has, to the great loss of the Church, prevailed 
over a considerable part of the world. It is plainly of the devil: 
for, first, in promising a righteousness without faith, it drives 
souls headlong on destruction; secondly, in deriving a cause of 
righteousness from the sacraments, it entangles miserable minds, 
already of their own accord too much inclined to the earth, in a 
superstitious idea, which makes them acquiesce in the spectacle of a 
corporeal object rather than in God himself. I wish we had not such 
experience of both evils as to make it altogether unnecessary to 
give a lengthened proof of them. For what is a sacrament received 
without faith, but most certain destruction to the Church? For, 
seeing that nothing is to be expected beyond the promise, and the 
promise no less denounces wrath to the unbeliever than offers grace 
to the believer, it is an error to suppose that anything more is 
conferred by the sacraments than is offered by the word of God, and 
obtained by true faith. From this another thing follows, viz., that 
assurance of salvation does not depend on participation in the 
sacraments, as if justification consisted in it. This, which is 
treasured up in Christ alone, we know to be communicated, not less 
by the preaching of the Gospel than by the seal of a sacrament, and 
may be completely enjoyed without this seal. So true is it, as 
Augustine declares, that there may be invisible sanctification 
without a visible sign, and, on the other hand, a visible sign 
without true sanctification, (August. de Quest. Vet. Test. Lib. 3.) 
For as he elsewhere says, "Men put on Christ, sometimes to the 
extent of partaking in the sacrament, and sometimes to the extent of 
holiness of life," (August. de Bapt. Cont. Donat. cap. 24.) The 
former may be common to the good and the bad, the latter is peculiar 
to the good. 
    15. Hence the distinction, if properly understood, repeatedly 
made by Augustine between the sacrament and the matter of the 
sacrament. For he does not mean merely that the figure and truth are 
therein contained, but that they do not so cohere as not to be 
separable, and that in this connection it is always necessary to 
distinguish the thing from the sign, so as not to transfer to the 
one what belongs to the other. Augustine speaks of the separation 
when he says that in the elect alone the sacraments accomplish what 
they represent, (Augustin. de Bapt. Parvul.) Again, when speaking of 
the Jews, he says, "Though the sacraments were common to and the 
grace was not common: yet grace is the virtue of the sacraments. 
Thus, too, the laver of regeneration is now common to all, but the 
grace by which the members of Christ are regenerated with their head 
is not common to all," (August. in Ps. 78.) Again, in another place, 
speaking of the Lord's Supper, he says "We also this day receive 
visible food; but the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the 
sacrament another. Why is it that many partake of the altar and die, 
and die by partaking? For even the cup of the Lord was poison to 
Judas, not because he received what was evil, but being wicked he 
wickedly received what was good," (August. in Joann. Hom. 26.) A 
little after, he says, "The sacrament of this thing, that is, of the 
unity of the body and blood of Christ, is in some places prepared 
every day, in others at certain intervals at the Lord's table, which 
is partaken by some unto life, by others unto destruction. But the 
thing itself, of which there is a sacrament, is life to all, and 
destruction to none who partake of it." Some time before he had 
said, "He who may have eaten shall not die, but he must be one who 
attains to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible 
sacrament; who eats inwardly not outwardly; who eats with the heart, 
and not with the teeth." Here you are uniformly told that a 
sacrament is so separated from the reality by the unworthiness of 
the partaker, that nothing remains but an empty and useless figure. 
Now, in order that you may have not a sign devoid of truth, but the 
thing with the sign, the Word which is included in it must be 
apprehended by faith. Thus, in so far as by means of the sacraments 
you will profit in the communion of Christ, will you derive 
advantage from them. 
    16. If this is obscure from brevity, I will explain it more at 
length. I say that Christ is the matter, or, if you rather choose 
it, the substance of all the sacraments, since in him they have 
their whole solidity, and out of him promise nothing. Hence the less 
toleration is due to the error of Peter Lombard, who distinctly 
makes them causes of the righteousness and salvation of which they 
are parts, (Sent. Lib. 4 Dist. 1.) Bidding adieu to all other causes 
of righteousness which the wit of man devises, our duty is to hold 
by this only. In so far, therefore, as we are assisted by their 
instrumentality in cherishing, confirming, and increasing the true 
knowledge of Christ, so as both to possess him more fully, and enjoy 
him in all his richness, so far are they effectual in regard to us. 
This is the case when that which is there offered is received by us 
in true faith. Therefore, you will ask, Do the wicked, by their 
ingratitude, make the ordinance of God fruitless and void? I answer, 
that what I have said is not to be understood as if the power and 
truth of the sacrament depended on the condition or pleasure of him 
who receives it. That which God instituted continues firm, and 
retains its nature, however men may vary; but since it is one thing 
to offer, and another to receive, there is nothing to prevent a 
symbol, consecrated by the word of the Lord, from being truly what 
it is said to be, and preserving its power, though it may at the 
same time confer no benefit on the wicked and ungodly. This question 
is well solved by Augustine in a few words: "If you receive 
carnally, it ceases not to be spiritual, but it is not spiritual to 
you," (August. Hom. in Joan 26.) But as Augustine shows in the above 
passages that a sacrament is a thing of no value if separated from 
its truth; so also, when the two are conjoined, he reminds us that 
it is necessary to distinguish, in order that we may not cleave too 
much to the external sign. "As it is servile weakness to follow the 
latter, and take the signs for the thing signified, so to interpret 
the signs as of no use is an extravagant error," (August. de Doct. 
Christ. Lib. 3 c. 9.) He mentions two faults which are here to be 
avoided; the one when we receive the signs as if they had been given 
in vain, and by malignantly destroying or impairing their secret 
meanings, prevent them from yielding any fruit - the other, when by 
not raising our minds beyond the visible sign, we attribute to it 
blessings which are conferred upon us by Christ alone, and that by 
means of the holy Spirit, who makes us to be partakers of Christ, 
external signs assisting if they invite us to Christ; whereas, when 
wrested to any other purpose, their whole utility is overthrown. 
    17. Wherefore, let it be a fixed point, that the office of the 
sacraments differs not from the word of God; and this is to hold 
forth and offer Christ to us, and, in him, the treasures of heavenly 
grace. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in 
faith, just as wine and oil, or any other liquor, however large the 
quantity which you pour out, will run away and perish unless there 
be an open vessel to receive it. When the vessel is not open, though 
it may be sprinkled all over, it will nevertheless remain entirely 
empty. We must beware of being led into a kindred error by the 
terms, somewhat too extravagant, which ancient Christian writers 
have employed in extolling the dignity of the sacraments. We must 
not suppose that there is some latent virtue inherent in the 
sacraments, by which they, in themselves confer the gifts of the 
Holy Spirit upon us, in the same way in which wine is drunk out of a 
cup, since the only office divinely assigned them is to attest and 
ratify the benevolence of the Lord towards us; and they avail no 
farther than accompanied by the Holy Spirit to open our minds and 
hearts, and make us capable of receiving this testimony, in which 
various distinguished graces are clearly manifested. For the 
sacraments, as we lately observed, (chap. 13 sec. 6; and 14 sec. 6, 
7,) are to us what messengers of good news are to men, or earnests 
in ratifying pactions. They do not of themselves bestow any grace, 
but they announce and manifest it, and, like earnests and badges, 
give a ratification of the gifts which the Divine liberality has 
bestowed upon us. The Holy Spirit, whom the sacraments do not bring 
promiscuously to all, but whom the Lord especially confers on his 
people, brings the gifts of God along with him, makes way for the 
sacraments, and causes them to bear fruit. But though we deny not 
that God, by the immediate agency of his Spirit, countenances his 
own ordinance, preventing the administration of the sacraments which 
he has instituted from being fruitless and vain, still we maintain 
that the internal grace of the Spirit, as it is distinct from the 
external ministration, ought to be viewed and considered separately. 
God, therefore, truly performs whatever he promises and figures by 
signs; nor are the signs without effect, for they prove that he is 
their true and faithful author. The only question here is, whether 
the Lord works by proper and intrinsic virtue, (as it is called,) or 
resigns his office to external symbols? We maintain, that whatever 
organs he employs detract nothing from his primary operation. In 
this doctrine of the sacraments, their dignity is highly extolled, 
their use plainly shown, their utility sufficiently proclaimed, and 
moderation in all things duly maintained; so that nothing is 
attributed to them which ought not to be attributed, and nothing 
denied them which they ought to possess. Meanwhile, we get rid of 
that fiction by which the cause of justification and the power of 
the Holy Spirit are included in elements as vessels and vehicles, 
and the special power which was overlooked is distinctly explained. 
Here, also, we ought to observe, that what the minister figures and 
attests by outward action, God performs inwardly, lest that which 
God claims for himself alone should be ascribed to mortal man. This 
Augustine is careful to observe: "How does both God and Moses 
sanctify? Not Moses for God, but Moses by visible sacraments through 
his ministry, God by invisible grace through the Holy Spirit. Herein 
is the whole fruit of visible sacraments; for what do these visible 
sacraments avail without that sanctification of invisible grace?" 
    18. The term sacrament, in the view we have hitherto taken of 
it, includes, generally, all the signs which God ever commanded men 
to use, that he might make them sure and confident of the truth of 
his promises. These he was pleased sometimes to place in natural 
objects - sometimes to exhibit in miracles. Of the former class we 
have an example, in his giving the tree of life to Adam and Eve, as 
an earnest of immortality, that they might feel confident of the 
promise as often as they ate of the fruit. Another example was, when 
he gave the bow in the cloud to Noah and his posterity, as a 
memorial that he would not again destroy the earth by a flood. These 
were to Adam and Noah as sacraments: not that the tree could give 
Adam and Eve the immortality which it could not give to itself; or 
the bow (which is only a reflection of the solar rays on the 
opposite clouds) could have the effect of confining the waters; but 
they had a mark engraven on them by the word of God, to be proofs 
and seals of his covenant. The tree was previously a tree, and the 
bow a bow; but when they were inscribed with the word of God, a new 
form was given to them: they began to be what they previously were 
not. Lest any one suppose that these things were said in vain, the 
bow is even in the present day a witness to us of the covenant which 
God made with Noah, (Calv. in Gen. 9: 6.) As often as we look upon 
it, we read this promise from God, that the earth will never be 
destroyed by a flood. Wherefore, if any philosophaster, to deride 
the simplicity of our faith, shall contend that the variety of 
colours arises naturally from the rays reflected by the opposite 
cloud, let us admit the fact; but, at the same time, deride his 
stupidity in not recognising God as the Lord and governor of nature, 
who, at his pleasure, makes all the elements subservient to his 
glory. If he had impressed memorials of this description on the sun, 
the star, the earth, and stones, they would all have been to us as 
sacraments. For why is the shapeless and the coined silver not of 
the same value, seeing they are the same metal? Just because the 
former has nothing but its own nature, whereas the latter, impressed 
with the public stamp, becomes money, and receives a new value. And 
shall the Lord not be able to stamp his creatures with his word, 
that things which were formerly bare elements may become sacraments? 
Examples of the second class were given when he showed light to 
Abraham in the smoking furnace, (Gen. 15: 17,) when he covered the 
fleece with dew while the ground was dry; And, on the other hand, 
when the dew covered the ground while the fleece was untouched, to 
assure Gideon of victory, (Judges 6: 37;) also, when he made the 
shadow go back ten degrees on the dial, to assure Hezekiah of his 
recovery, (2 Kings 20: 9; Isa. 38: 7.) These things, which were done 
to assist and establish their faith, were also sacraments. 
    19. But my present purpose is to discourse especially of those 
sacraments which the Lord has been pleased to institute as ordinary 
sacraments in his Church, to bring up his worshipers and servants in 
one faith, and the confession of one faith. For, to use the words of 
Augustine, "In no name of religion, true or false, can men be 
assembled, unless united by some common use of visible signs or 
sacraments," (August. cont. Faustum, Lib. 9 c. 11.) Our most 
merciful Father, foreseeing this necessity, from the very first 
appointed certain exercises of piety to his servants; these, Satan, 
by afterwards transferring, to impious and superstitious worship, in 
many ways corrupted and depraved. Hence those initiations of the 
Gentiles into their mysteries, and other degenerate rites. Yet, 
although they were full of error and superstitions they were, at the 
same time, an indication that men could not be without such external 
signs of religion. But, as they were neither founded on the word of 
God, nor bore reference to that truth which ought to be held forth 
by all signs, they are unworthy of being named when mention is made 
of the sacred symbols which were instituted by God, and have not 
been perverted from their end, viz., to be helps to true piety. And 
they consist not of simple signs, like the rainbow and the tree of 
life, but of ceremonies, or (if you prefer it) the signs here 
employed are ceremonies. But since, as has been said above, they are 
testimonies of grace and salvation from the Lord, so, in regard to 
us, they are marks of profession by which we openly swear by the 
name of God, binding ourselves to be faithful to him. Hence 
Chrysostom somewhere shrewdly gives them the name of factions, by 
which God enters into covenant with us, and we become bound to 
holiness and purity of life, because a mutual stipulation is here 
interposed between God and us. For as God there promises to cover 
and efface any guilt and penalty which we may have incurred by 
transgression, and reconciles us to himself in his only begotten 
Son; so we, in our turn, oblige ourselves by this profession to the 
study of piety and righteousness. And hence it may be justly said, 
that such sacraments are ceremonies, by which God is pleased to 
train his people, first, to excite, cherish, and strengthen faith 
within; and, secondly, to testify our religion to men. 
    20. Now, these have been different at different times, 
according to the dispensation which the Lord has seen meet to employ 
in manifesting himself to men. Circumcision was enjoined on Abraham 
and his posterity, and to it were afterwards added purifications and 
sacrifices and other rites of the mosaic Law. These were the 
sacraments of the Jews even until the advent of Christ. After these 
were abrogated the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, 
which the Christian Church now employs, were instituted. I speak of 
those which were instituted for the use of the whole Church. For the 
laying on of hands, by which the ministers of the Church are 
initiated into their office, though I have no objection to its being 
called a sacrament, I do not number among ordinary sacraments. The 
place to be assigned to the other commonly reputed sacrament, we 
shall see by and by. Still the ancient sacraments had the same end 
in view as our own, viz., to direct and almost lead us by the hand 
to Christ, or rather, were like images to represent him and hold him 
forth to our knowledge. But as we have already shown that sacraments 
are a kind of seals of the promises of God, so let us hold it as a 
most certain truth, that no divine promise has ever been offered to 
man except in Christ, and that hence when they remind us of any 
divine promise, they must of necessity exhibit Christ. Hence that 
heavenly pattern of the tabernacle and legal worship which was shown 
to Moses in the mount. There is only this difference, that while the 
former shadowed forth a promised Christ while be was still expected, 
the latter bear testimony to him as already come and manifested. 
    21. When these things are explained singly and separately, they 
will be much clearer. Circumcision was a sign by which the Jews were 
reminded that whatever comes of the seed of man - in other words, 
the whole nature of man - is corrupt, and requires to be cut off; 
moreover, it was a proof and memorial to confirm them in the promise 
made to Abraham, of a seed in whom all the nations of the earth 
should be blessed, and from whom they themselves were to look for a 
blessing. That saving seed, as we are taught by Paul, (Gal. 5: 16,) 
was Christ, in whom alone they trusted to recover what they had lost 
in Adam. Wherefore, circumcision was to them what Paul say, it was 
to Abraham, viz., a sign of the righteousness of faith, (Rom. 4: 
11;) viz., a seal by which they were more certainly assured that 
their faith in waiting for the Lord would be accepted by God for 
righteousness. But we shall have a better opportunity elsewhere 
(chap. 16 sec. 3, 4) of following out the comparison between 
circumcision and baptism. Their washings and purifications placed 
under their eye the uncleanness, defilement, and pollution with 
which they were naturally contaminated, and promised another laver 
in which all their impurities might be wiped and washed away. This 
laver was Christ, washed by whose blood we bring his purity into the 
sight of God, that he may cover all our defilements. The sacrifices 
convicted them of their unrighteousness, and at the same time taught 
that there was a necessity for paying some satisfaction to the 
justice of God; and that, therefore, there must be some high priest, 
some mediator between God and man, to satisfy God by the shedding of 
blood, and the immolation of a victim which might suffice for the 
remission of sins. The high priest was Christ: he shed his own 
blood, he was himself the victim: for, in obedience to the Father, 
he offered himself to death, and by this obedience abolished the 
disobedience by which man had provoked the indignation of God, 
(Phil. 2: 8; Rom. 5: 19.) 
    22. In regard to our sacraments, they present Christ the more 
clearly to us, the more familiarly he has been manifested to man, 
ever since he was exhibited by the Father, truly as he had been 
promised. For Baptism testifies that we are washed and purified; the 
Supper of the Eucharist that we are redeemed. Ablution is figured by 
water, satisfaction by blood. Both are found in Christ, who, as John 
says, "came by water and blood;" that is, to purify and redeem. Of 
this the Spirit of God also is a witness. Nay, there are three 
witnesses in one, water, Spirit, and blood. In the water and blood 
we have an evidence of purification and redemption, but the Spirit 
is the primary witness who gives us a full assurance of this 
testimony. This sublime mystery was illustriously displayed on the 
cross of Christ, when water and blood flowed from his sacred side, 
(John 19: 34;) which, for this reasons Augustine justly termed the 
fountain of our sacraments, (August. Hom. in Joann. 26.) Of these we 
shall shortly treat at greater length. There is no doubt that, if 
you compare time with time, the grace of the Spirit is now more 
abundantly displayed. For this forms part of the glory of the 
kingdom of Christ, as we gather from several passages, and 
especially from the seventh chapter of John. In this sense are we to 
understand the words of Paul, that the law was "a shadow of good 
things to come, but the body is of Christ," (Col. 2: 17.) His 
purpose is not to declare the inefficacy of those manifestations of 
grace in which God was pleased to prove his truth to the patriarchs, 
just as he proves it to us in the present day in Baptism and the 
Lord's Supper, but to contrast the two, and show the great value of 
what is given to us, that no one may think it strange that by the 
advent of Christ the ceremonies of the law have been abolished. 
    23. The Scholastic dogma, (to glance at it in passing,) by 
which the difference between the sacraments of the old and the new 
dispensation is made so great, that the former did nothing but 
shadow forth the grace of God, while the latter actually confer it, 
must be altogether exploded. Since the apostle speaks in no higher 
terms of the one than of the other, when he says that the fathers 
ate of the same spiritual food, and explains that that food was 
Christ, (1 Cor. 10: 3,) who will presume to regard as an empty sign 
that which gave a manifestation to the Jews of true communion with 
Christ? And the state of the case which the apostle is there 
treating militates strongly for our view. For to guard against 
confiding in a frigid knowledge of Christ, an empty title of 
Christianity and external observances, and thereby daring to condemn 
the judgement of God, he exhibits signal examples of divine severity 
in the Jews, to make us aware that if we indulge in the same vices, 
the same punishments which they suffered are impending over us. Now, 
to make the comparison appropriate, it was necessary to show that 
there is no inequality between us and them in those blessings in 
which he forbade us to glory. Therefore, he first makes them equal 
to us in the sacraments, and leaves us not one iota of privilege 
which could give us hopes of impunity. Nor can we justly attribute 
more to our baptism than he elsewhere attributes to circumcision, 
when he terms it a seal of the righteousness of faith, (Rom. 4: 11.) 
Whatever, therefore, is now exhibited to us in the sacraments, the 
Jews formerly received in theirs, viz., Christ, with his spiritual 
riches. The same efficacy which ours possess they experienced in 
theirs, viz., that they were seals of the divine favour toward them 
in regard to the hope of eternal salvation. Had the objectors been 
sound expounders of the Epistle to the Hebrews, they would not have 
been so deluded, but reading therein that sins were not expiated by 
legal ceremonies, nay, that the ancient shadows were of no 
importance to justification, they overlooked the contrast which is 
there drawn, and fastening on the single point, that the law in 
itself was of no avail to the worshipped, thought that they were 
mere figures, devoid of truth. The purpose of the apostle is to show 
that there is nothing in the ceremonial law until we arrive at 
Christ, on whom alone the whole efficacy depends. 
    24. But they will found on what Paul says of the circumcision 
of the letter, and object that it is in no esteem with God; that it 
confers nothing, is empty; that passages such as these seem to set 
it far beneath our baptism. But by no means. For the very same thing 
might justly be said of baptism. Indeed, it is said; first by Paul 
himself, when he shows that God regards not the external ablution by 
which we are initiated into religion, unless the mind is purified 
inwardly, and maintains its purity to the end; and, secondly, by 
Peter, when he declares that the reality of baptism consists not in 
external ablution, but in the testimony of a good conscience. But it 
seems that in another passage he speaks with the greatest contempt 
of circumcision made with hands, when he contrasts it with the 
circumcision made by Christ. I answer, that not even in that passage 
is there any thing derogatory to its dignity. Paul is there 
disputing against those who insisted upon it as necessary, after it 
had been abrogated. He therefore admonishes believers to lay aside 
ancient shadows, and cleave to truth. These teachers, he says, 
insist that your bodies shall be circumcised. But you have been 
spiritually circumcised both in soul and body. You have, therefore, 
a manifestation of the reality, and this is far better than the 
shadow. Still any one might have answered, that the figure was not 
to be despised because they had the reality, since among the fathers 
also was exemplified that putting off of the old man of which he was 
speaking, and yet to them external circumcision was not superfluous. 
This objection he anticipates, when he immediately adds, that the 
Colossians were buried together with Christ by baptism, thereby 
intimating that baptism is now to Christians what circumcision was 
to those of ancient times; and that the latter, therefore, could not 
be imposed on Christians without injury to the former. 
    24. But there is more difficulty in explaining the passage 
which follows, and which I lately quoted, viz., that all the Jewish 
ceremonies were shadows of things to come, but the body is of 
Christ, (Col. 2: 17.) The most difficult point of all, however, is 
that which is discussed in several chapters of the Epistle to the 
Hebrews, namely, that the blood of beasts did not reach to the 
conscience; that the law was a shadow of good things to come, but 
not the very image of the things, (Heb. 10: 1;) that worshipers 
under the Mosaic ceremonies obtained no degree of perfection, and so 
forth. I repeat what I have already hinted, that Paul does not 
represent the ceremonies as shadowy, because they had nothing solid 
in them, but because their completion was in a manner suspended 
until the manifestation of Christ. Again, I hold that the words are 
to be understood not of their efficiency, but rather of the mode of 
significance. For until Christ was manifested in the flesh, all 
signs shadowed him as absent, however he might inwardly exert the 
presence of his power, and consequently of his person on believers. 
But the most important observation is, that in all these passages 
Paul does not speak simply, but by way of reply. He was contending 
with false apostles, who maintained that piety consisted in mere 
ceremonies, without any respect to Christ: for their refutation it 
was sufficient merely to consider what effect ceremonies have in 
themselves. This, too, was the scope of the author of the Epistle to 
the Hebrews. Let us remember, therefore, that he is here treating of 
ceremonies not taken in their true and native signification, but 
when wrested to a false and vicious interpretation, not of the 
legitimate use, but of the superstitious abuse of them. What wonder, 
then, if ceremonies, when separated from Christ, are devoid of all 
virtue? All signs become null when the thing signified is taken a 
away. Thus Christ, when addressing those who thought that manna was 
nothing more than food for the body, accommodates his language to 
their gross opinion, and says, that he furnished a better food, one 
which fed souls for immortality. But if you require a clearer 
solution, the substance comes to this: First, the whole apparatus of 
ceremonies under the Mosaic law, unless directed to Christ, is 
evanescent and null. Secondly, these ceremonies had such respect to 
Christ, that they had their fulfilment only when Christ was 
manifested in the flesh. Lastly, at his advent they behaved to 
disappear, just as the shadow vanishes in the clear light of the 
sun. But I now touch more briefly on the point, because I defer the 
future consideration of it till I come to the place where I intend 
to compare baptism with circumcision. 
    26. Those wretched sophists are perhaps deceived by the 
extravagant eulogiums on our signs which occur in ancient writers: 
for instance, the following passage of Augustine: "The sacraments of 
the old law only promised a Saviour, whereas ours give salvation," 
(August. Proem. in Ps. 73.) Not perceiving that these and similar 
figures of speech are hyperbolical, they too have promulgated their 
hyperbolical dogmas, but in a sense altogether alien from that of 
ancient writers. For Augustine means nothing more than in another 
place where he says, "The sacraments of the Mosaic law foretold 
Christ, ours announce him," (Quest. sup. Numer. C. 33.) And again, 
"Those were promises of things to be fulfilled these indications of 
the fulfilments" (Contra Faustum,  Lib 19 c. 14;) as if he had said, 
Those figured him when he was still expected, ours, now that he has 
arrived, exhibit him as present. Moreover, with regard to the mode 
of signifying, he says, as he also elsewhere indicates, "The Law and 
the Prophets had sacraments foretelling a thing future, the 
sacraments of our time attest that what they foretold as to come has 
come," (Cont. Liter. Petit. Lib. 2. C. 37.) His sentiments 
concerning the reality and efficacy, he explains in several 
passages, as when he says, "The sacraments of the Jews were 
different in the signs, alike in the things signified; different in 
the visible appearance, alike in spiritual power," (Hom. in Joann. 
26.) Again, "In different signs there was the same faith: it was 
thus in different signs as in different words, because the words 
change the sound according to times, and yet words are nothing else 
than signs. The fathers drank of the same spiritual drink, but not 
of the same corporeal drink. See then how, while faith remains, 
signs vary. There the rock was Christ; to us that is Christ which is 
placed on the altar. They as a great sacrament drank of the water 
flowing from the rock: believers know what we drink. If you look at 
the visible appearance there was a difference; if at the 
intelligible signification, they drank of the same spiritual drink." 
Again, "In this mystery their food and drink are the same as ours: 
the same in meaning, not in form, for the same Christ was figured to 
them in the rock; to us he here been manifested in the flesh," (in 
Ps. 77.) Though we grant that in this respect also there is some 
difference. Both testify that the paternal kindness of God, and the 
graces of the spirit, are offered us in Christ, but ours more 
clearly and splendidly. In both there is an exhibition of Christ, 
but in ours it is more full and complete, in accordance with that 
distinction between the Old and New Testament, of which we have 
discoursed above. And this is the meaning of Augustine, (whom we 
quote more frequently, as being the best and most faithful witness 
of all antiquity,) where he says that after Christ was revealed, 
sacraments were instituted, fewer in number, but of more august 
significance and more excellent power, (De Doct. Christ. Lib. 3:; et 
Ep. ad Januar.) It is here proper to remind the reader, that all the 
trifling talk of the sophists concerning the opus operatum, is not 
only false, but repugnant to the very nature of sacraments, which 
God appointed in order that believers, who are void and in want of 
all good, might bring nothing of their own, but simply beg. Hence it 
follows, that in receiving them, they do nothing which deserves 
praise, and that in this action (which in respect of them is merely 
passive) no work can be ascribed to them. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 16...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvin4-15.txt