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Wolfgang Musculus on paedocommunion

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The Validity of Children at the Lord's Table in the Words of an Early Reformed Theologian

Wolfgang Musculus

Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) was an important figure in the development of the Reformed faith. Richard A. Muller describes him as one of the "important second-generation codifiers of the Reformed faith," alongside Calvin, Vermigli, and Hyperius (Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 31). He is described by Farmer as a leading Reformer in the cities of Augsburg and Berne. In Berne, he was theology professor, as well as an influential ecclesiastical advisor. His commentaries were very popular in their own day, seeing widespread use throughout Reformed Europe, and going through numerous printings (see Craig S. Farmer, "Wolfgang Musculus's Commentary on John," in Richard A. Muller and John L. Thompson, eds., Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation, pp. 216ff.).

Thanks to the kindness of Dr. Matthew Colvin, who invested time, labour, and the use of his library privileges to procure it for us, we are able to present here Musculus's discussion of paedocommunion, drawn from his 1560 opus, the Loci Communes Sacrae Theologiae (known in English as the Common Places of the Christian Religion). The Loci Communes is essentially a systematic theology, although Farmer notes that the material is "culled from his commentaries and were written in the service of exegesis" (Farmer, p. 216, note 1). The version here is from the English translation of John Man, published in London in 1578. Page numbers refer to this edition. We have left the original cumbersome translation structure intact, despite the awkwardness of some of the phrasing. We have taken the liberty, however, of updating the spelling, and where possible, updating archaic words (original wording is in brackets). Since the original text had very few paragraph breaks, we have also provided these.

It will be duly noted that Musculus himself did not advocate a return to the practice of paedocommunion. This much the reader will discover toward the end of his treatment below. He was apparently hesitant to push the issue, given that he fully agreed with the other Reformers that participation in the sacrament was not necessary to the salvation of believers' children. At the same time, as will be seen, he is cautionary about censuring the Fathers of the Early Church for their practice. As will become evident, in his view, the early practice was based squarely upon Scripture, and Musculus soundly disagrees with the frequent appeal to 1 Corinthians 11:28 (Paul's exhortation to "prove" or "examine" oneself prior to participating) as supposedly demonstrating that children were unqualified to participate. One of his strongest contributions to the conversation is his observation that it is not the ability to examine onself that qualifies participants, in any case; self-examination is a means to protect oneself against divine judgment - a judgment which Musculus asserts will not befall believers' children.

We may thus compare and contrast Musculus to Calvin on several points.

  1. Unlike Calvin, Musculus pays very close attention to Passover in his broader treatment of the sacrament, and also unlike Calvin, Musculus firmly believes that children were admitted to Passover.
  2. Unlike Calvin, Musculus does not assume that believers' children who are not yet of capacity to examine themselves can thereby subject themselves to judgment.
  3. Related to (2), Musculus denies what Calvin seems to implicitly assume, namely, that self-examination has some sort of constitutive role to play with regard to the Supper. For Musculus, self-examination is preventative medicine, not a means whereby one becomes qualified for participation.
  4. Underlying all of this is Musculus's stress upon the Supper being "public and common unto the whole church." This accent can be discerned in Calvin, but is not so explicit and central as it is in the treatment of Musculus. It is this understanding of the Church as the eucharistic community that undergirds the whole of Musculus's position.

So much for our comments. On to the original source!


(The following material is found under the heading: "To Whom the Lord's Supper is to be Ministered and to whom not.")

p. 757

The administration of the Supper standeth not in a private usage, as belonging to some chosen and appointed persons, but it is public and common unto the whole church, so that as many as be reckoned among the members of the church, for whom Christ's body was given, and his blood shed upon the cross, are to be admitted thereunto. And the very tradition of the Apostle, and the custom of the primitive church doth sufficiently declare, that the use thereof is common unto all faithful, in so much that the fathers did admit the infants of the faithful also, as we may see in Cyprian and Augustine.

pp. 761-764

It is known that the sacrament was given to the children of the faithful also in the time of Pope Innocent, Cyprian, and of Augustine, as well in Europe as in Africa. Neither do I read that the custom was contrary in any place of Asia. There is a story read in the Sermon of Cyprian, De Lapsis, of a young wench that was brought by her nurse in the time of persecution to the sacrifices of the Gentiles, which was afterwards, when all was quiet, brought by the mother to the sacrament of thanksgiving of the faithful. There is mention made in many places of Augustine of the sacrament of thanksgiving, given to little children.

But after the time of those fathers, that universal custom began to decay by little and little, until that the contrary prevailed so much, that he is to be taken for a most rank heretic, that doth hold that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is to be given to infants. 

In Lorraine there is left until this day some piece of that custom. For there when the infant is baptized, the minister or priest which did baptize him, fetcheth out of the vestry to the altar the pire where in certain parcels of the sacramental bread, as they call them there be kept, and he holdeth one of the pieces up to the people: afterwards he layeth it up again in the pire, and putteth forth his two fingers wherein he had it, to the Deacon to wash with wine, and of that wine he doth drop into the mouth of the infant, saying: The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ profit thee to life everlasting. These leavings of the old custom remained not only in the Churches of Lorraine, but in many others also, as I suppose.

And that saying of Christ also did move the fathers to give the sacrament of the Supper unto infants: Unless you do eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. Whereupon they thought it necessary to admit the infants also unto the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, that they might be made partakers of the grace of Christ, and of life everlasting. For they did turn the same to the ceremony of the Sacrament, which Christ spake of the spiritual eating and drinking of his flesh and blood, and of the fruit of his death, and their aftercomers were moved by the saying of the Apostle, to withdraw the use of this sacrament from the infants: Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the cup. For they gathered upon that, Infants can not prove themselves, ergo it is not lawful for them to eat of this bread, and to drink of the Lord's cup.

Let them see here which do screech against [lit. crake upon] the fathers, that they do not in sundry wise, but agreeably expound the Scriptures. Cyprian, Augustine, and Pope Innocent knew well enough that the Apostle said: Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the cup. Neither were they such donkeys [lit. so very Asses], but that they knew that infants were not able to prove themselves. Again, they also which followed them, knew that the Lord had said: Unless you do eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.

Then how did the one sort so take the saying of the Apostle, that they judged it did not let, and the other judged that it doth let, that the infants may not be partakers of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper? Again, how did they understand the saying of Christ to gather upon it [i.e. derive from it], that the infants of Christian men could not be saved, unless they were partakers of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper: and yet these men have thought, that no such matter ought to be gathered upon it, insomuch that their opinion is, that the infants of the faithful may be saved without the sacramental communion?

This diversity of exposition is such, that the one doth reprove the other of error, and that in a matter of greater weight: that is, to wit, concerning the salvation of our Children, which we do care most for next after ourselves.

Is this expounding of Scriptures after an agreeable sense, I do not inveigh against the Fathers, God forbid: but I do blame their perverseness [lit. overthwartness] which do condemn the gifts of God for heresy, in them which do in this our age expound the Holy Scriptures, because that they do in many points differ from another. If the disagreeing exposition of Scriptures be heresy, let them charge the fathers also withal, or else hearken to that saying of the Lord: Judge not according to the outward appearance, but judge right judgment.

As for me, I am so far from condemning the labours of learned men, whether they be old or new, because that they do in some places sundry ways expound the Holy Scriptures, every one after his own understanding, that I do for that cause read them the rather, than if they were all so servilely restrained to some one Doctor's judgment, that no man might freely declare his own judgment. The diversity of opinions and expositions doth profit the wise man, so that no body do unadvisedly condemn him, which doth dissent from him, and so break the bond of peace in the Church.

As concerning this matter wherein we talk, I suppose we shall not unfitly consider it, if the doing of the Elders, which did admit infants unto the sacraments of thanksgiving, be discretely weighed apart from the reason of it, whereby they were moved unto it, and that we may judge thereof according unto other godly and probable reasons also, of which I will set forth some to be considered by the reader.

The first is, that the sign seemeth not to be denied unto him, which is partaker of the thing that is signified.

The second is, that Christ is the Saviour of the whole body, that is to say of the church, and that the infants also do belong unto the integrity and wholeness of the ecclesiastical body.

The third is, that Christ said himself: Let the little ones come unto me, and forbid them not: for to such doth belong the kingdom of heaven.

For upon these reasons me thinketh we may gather in this wise.

First, if he which is partaker of the thing that is signified, may be made partaker of the sign, and the children of them that do believe, be partakers of Christ's death, that is to say, of the redemption purchased by him: ergo they may be partakers also of the Lord's Supper.

Secondly, if our little children be parcel of the Church, which is the body of Christ: it followeth that they do pertain also to the communion, whereby according unto the saying of the Apostle, we be one body, which do participate of one bread, and of one cup. Christ is the feeding of his whole body, ergo of our children also. Wherefore like as the little children of the Jews did appertain to the Passover, the Sacrament of their redemption, as well as their parents: So our children also do as well belong unto the sacrament of our new Passover, as we.

Thirdly, if Christ did vouchsafe to have children come unto him to embrace them, to lay hands upon them, and bless them, how shall we judge them unworthy to be admitted unto the Sacrament of his body and blood, seeing that there is no man, I suppose, that will esteem it to be preferred above Christ himself?

And it seemeth that an answer may be shaped to the place of Paul: Let a man prove himself, and so eat of that bread, and drink of the cup:; that it is to be understood of them only, in whom it is dangerous, lest they should unworthily eat of the Lord's bread, and drink of the cup, and so becoming guilty of the Lord's body and blood, should eat and drink their own judgment: as the text itself doth evidently enough declare.

But there is none of this to be feared in the little children of them that do believe: which I see not why we should say, that they be unworthy of the Lord's table, seeing that they be worthy by the grace of Christ, to be incorporate[d] unto him by Baptism, although that they can not yet (because of their tender age) believe, much less confess their faith, and try themselves, which things be required of them that be of perfect years of understanding.

And whereas the Apostle doth warn us to try our selves before that we do participate of this bread and cup of the Lord's, it doth not serve to make us able to come to the Lord's table by this endeavour of proving our self: but that we should not rashly, lightly, and otherwise disposed than it becometh us, unworthily use, yea abuse the Sacrament of grace, and offend against the body and blood of the Lord. This reason doth not hinder, but that the little children of such as do believe, may be partakers of this bread and cup of the Lord's.

Thus I suppose a godly man may think of the doing of the elders: and may attribute the reason of him whom Augustine did greatly constrain unto the common opinion, whereby these things that are spoken of the spiritual eating, are drawn to the sacramental eating. And grace applied unto the sacramental signs.

Some man will say, Ergo, dost thou so allow the doing of the Elders, that thou dost condemn all that which hath been received in all other churches after them? I answer, I condemn nor this, nor that, nor I will not be author to any man, to go about to bring in the Communion of infants into the Church again. Or that he should judge it meet to be used, and give any occasion of strife.

So that those things which do concern their salvation in Christ, do remain fast and sure. To be short, I do not allow that saying of Augustine, that infants if they be taken out of this life without the outward participation of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, can not be saved: but I do allow that which is nowadays believed [lit - holden], that it is not necessary for them. Nor I will not strive, if it be said that for some incommodities, it is better that they should not be brought to the communion of the Church: but as for that, whether that it be lawful or no, that they may be admitted unto it, my opinion is, that it may be talked upon by wise men and discretely learned in Christ, so that it be done with a convenient temperance, and without all contentious reasoning.

But of this matter I have said peradventure more than enough, which I thought good to touch, to minister some matter to the settling of the consciences of godly folk, which are careful for the salvation of their little children.