Thursday, June 25, 2009

Calvin's Floating Communion Service

I'm still puzzled about why Genevans objected to Calvin's program of having Communion services at different churches every Sunday since such a policy would have been permissive. If someone wanted to go for Communion every Sunday they could--by going to a different church every Sunday. If they didn't want to go for Communion every Sunday, they didn't have to. They could stick with the same church and go for Communion whenever it was offered there. Or, for that matter, they could go for Communion as frequently or infrequently as they pleased.

Even assuming that every Genevan was required to go to church every Sunday, given this policy, no one would have to go for Communion more (or less) often than he wanted to. So where was the the beef? Am I missing something? Why would anyone oppose merely making it feasible for individuals to go for Communion every Sunday if that was what they preferred?


  1. This is armchair historical speculation, but mightn't there be a simple pragmatic explanation: if the city council was expected to see to it that the celebrants were worthy of receiving communion (as was indeed the expectation at the time), then weekly communion would lead to a huge amount of work for the council.

  2. Cripes, I never realized the city council was checking up on such things. As I understand it in the wake of the English Reformation no one checked up on anyone's inner states: "it is not our business to make windows into men's souls."

  3. Yeah, those were the days, I guess. Then, I'm not sure the council was really checking up on *inner* states; I take it there was more than enough checking to do on people's outer states.

    Here's another speculative explanation: what if the city council and/or Calvin were afraid that weekly Communion would 'commodify' or 'degrade' it, making it seem less holy and special to (lay)people? This might well be an unintended side-effect of weekly Communion, especially given the earlier practice of hardly ever participating in the Eucharist.

    I actually found a quote from Calvin that might be read to support this: '[…] because the frailty of the people is still so great, there is danger that this sacred and so excellent mystery be misunderstood if it be celebrated so often.'

    It's on the top of p. 50.

  4. I had a read. Interesting. When weekly Communion became the industry standard in the Episcopal Church some complained that it would make it less of a big deal. Also that they'd lose High Morning Prayer which was a jewel. (Prior to that practices varied widely though I think it was pretty well universal that even if the main Sunday service wasn't Communion every week there was generally an early service every week that was).