Paedo-Communion Can’t Be A Reformed Position

I have been dialoging with a friend who believes that children should take Communion before they’ve made any profession of faith. I’ve tried to listen to the arguments and the reasoning from Scripture. There are a many hurdles that prevent me from embracing this doctrine. In this post I will discuss one that is not the primary but significant reason. I can see how Calvin must have felt over splits in the church over the Supper. An event that is supposed to bring union however causes division is very sad. Yet it is important to have a consistent theology that comes out of our Holy Scripture.

The challenge is based in how we regard the Supper as the body and blood of Christ. The debate goes back to Radbertus and Retramnus in the Medieval Church (circa 860). Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, Memorial? The Reformed response has been to deny all but to embrace the tension by recognizing the distinction between “accidents” and “substance”. A quick review of this old debate will be helpful.

The debate/conflict between Radbertus (d860) and Retramnus (d868) was in regards to the presence of Christ in the Supper. Radbertus who was well read in Scripture and the classics wrote a significant amount. His most famous work “The Body and Blood of the Lord” was the first treatise on “the Lord’s Supper”. Later the Lutherans would reprint this work as part of their case against the Zwinglians.

In short the argument of Radbertus was:

  •  at consecration Christ’s humanity is made miraculously present in the Supper.
  • at consecration a miracle happens
  • strongly emphasized sacrementum with mystery
  • Christ is God and he becomes the Supper. Whoever eats worthily will have eternal life.
  • The elements do not change in corporeal appearance and taste
  • The miracle changes not the accidents (things that can be changed but do not change what the object is. (Example you can have a red car or a blue car, the color changes but you still have a car))
  • The miracle also changes the substance (what makes an object what it is)
  • The faithful can perceive the change not with the senses but spiritually.
  • The purpose of the supper is to transform the Christian spiritually.
  • Only the faithful can actually partake, everyone else just eats.
  • Christ is eaten through faith, this later would be the argument for transubstantiation.
  • Even though this mystery occurs the lamb remains alive and whole. He is truly sacrificed each day in the mystery. In the 860s it is the beginning of the Eucharistic sacraments.
  • Hoc est corpus meum –  this is my body. argued for a complete ontological identity between the body and the elements of the Eucharist.

Retramnus wrote at the request of Charles the Bald. 1 book with 101 paragraphs. In 843 he wrote De Corpore at Sanguine (same name but different book). A summary of points of his argument:

  • Radbertus is eliminating the sacrament and making it the thing signified.
  • The body that Christ was born with and resurrected with is at the right hand of the Father. This is the body we feed on by faith but that body is represented to us in a figure in the elements that are not substantially changed at consecration.
  • the figure is a kind of overshadowing that reveals its intent under a veil. Truth however, has no veil.
  • Truth is a representation of clear fact not obscured by shadowy images. If the mystery of the sacrament is not performed by any figurative sense it’s not a mystery.
  • If the sacrament is a mystery then there must be a figure.
  • Exhibits one thing externally to the senses but proclaims one thing different to the mind of the faithful. Christ’s body is revealed.
  • At consecration something does happen – Retramnus says the elements become the body of Christ figuratively. It is literally bread and wine but they become to the soul Christ’s body and blood.
  • He wasn’t trying to remove Christ but ensure his presence.
  • If transubstantiation is true then there is nothing because faith is not operating and faith is the essence of the Supper. By definition faith is not sight, if it’s not faith it’s not a sacrament.
  • Radbertus has put the presence of Christ in jeopardy.
  • Appeal to baptism as a parallel. No one said baptism is transubstantiated the power comes from the Holy Spirit operating through the water. He’s not in it but operates through it. If its transubstantiated its not a sacrament. If it remains unchanged it is a sign and not the thing. They are not drinking and eating the body of Christ by faith.
  • It is admittedly a mystery, part of being a mystery is that an explanation is not attainable or needed.
  • If you try to explain the “how” you will erase the mystery. If this is true then how could the disciples eat the body as Christ was standing there?
  • Only the Spirit could feed the soul with the body of Christ.
  • Identification of the sign with the thing signified.

The Reformed view is that you are eating the body of Christ by the Spirit through the elements. As discussed above, faith in an integral part of the Supper. If those who hold to Paedo-Communion want to embrace transubstantiation then they are not Reformed and there is a different discussion all together. However, if they want to remain in the Reformed community it appears there is the big problem in regards to faith and its role in the Supper. The Reformed view is that we are only able to partake in the real body of Christ our Lord by faith. Therefore children who do not have faith are not feeding on the body and blood of our Lord. If the child is not feeding on the body and blood of Christ then the discussion needs to include a description of what is happening to the non-believer who partakes of the Supper.

In summary, a significant short coming of the paedo-communion position is that they have ignored the role of faith for those who participate in the Supper in order to partake in the blood and body of Jesus Christ our Lord.

2 thoughts on “Paedo-Communion Can’t Be A Reformed Position

  1. Hi Trey,

    Thank you for liking some of my articles and following my blog over at Draw Up for Battle. I will say I have already read some items on your blog that I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with. It is great to see a Christian brother delving into God’s word and the wonderful Reformed tradition. However, I disagree with the crux of your argument in this post.

    If I am understanding it correctly, young children who do not have faith (or perhaps the better term would be “express” or “articulate” faith) should not be permitted to the Supper. This is because we eat and drink of Christ by faith, and faith is crucial to the sacrament.

    Doesn’t this line of reasoning also preclude the bringing of infants and young children to the other sacrament, baptism? Sacraments are partaken of spiritually through faith, and infants come for baptism. These are both stalwarts of the Reformed tradition. There may be other biblical arguments for or against paedocommunion, but the Reformed treatment of baptism seems to rob this particular line of reasoning of all its force.


    1. Hi Drew

      In short, I would respond that in paedobaptism the participant is passive. The child is receiving a sign of the thing signified (the righteousness of God imputed by faith) in their baptism. However, faith appropriates that seal with the sign in God’s time. Therefore the requirement for a covenant child to enter the covenant is simply being born to at least one believing parent.

      The Supper however is active. In the Supper we meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus and judge ourselves. I would refer to WLC 174. The Supper while being a covenant meal is a meal for those specifically in union with Christ. The consequence of those who would take it unworthily would be judgment, there is no consequence of coming to baptism unworthily because children can’t come to baptism unworthily. Thanks.


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