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.
- 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.
- Unlike Calvin, Musculus does not assume that believers’ children who are not yet of capacity to examine themselves can thereby subject themselves to judgment.
- 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.
- 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!