Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Schoolwork: Bread and Wine, Body and Blood: Luther and Zwingli's Debate Over the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

Well, I'm still listening to Tessellate (this week's Sunday Songs post) a lot, but here's something a bit different. Live trumpet over EDM isn't what I thought I'd hear a couple days ago. But I like it! It's novel and intriguing. It's pulsing with energy and yet gives its most unique component, the trumpet, center stage over the electronica. And while the trumpet's lines would probably start to get stale on their own, the lightly shifting beat keeps it fresh. I want to hear more of this guy!

Well damn if the title isn't super long, but this is the second essay I have. With a required length of 2500 words, I hit about 2639 words.

So this was for my class on Martin Luther. Each class member chose a topic that Luther discussed and researched it independently and then gave a presentation and wrote a full paper on it. I picked Luther's argument with Zwingli about Identical Predication and Real Presence in the Eucharist. This is a pretty heady religion subject, but as an academic class there should be nothing really inflammatory here on my part. My main document was Luther's "Confession Concerning Christ's Supper," which was a direct response to Zwingli over a subject previously discussed in his work "This Is My Body." There is also modern scholarship cited. One of the citations of a Dr. Torvend is actually of a speech he gave at a Lutheran conference this year which is not available online - I only have it because Torvend was my professor.

There isn't really a set prompt here. We were presenting findings on a subject Luther wrote on, with support from scholarly sources. Other than that we were pretty free.

As usual, this is my essay, made available so I can potentially receive feedback and to help others learn what I'm learning myself. I'm no expert, so seriously, none of the would-be paper thieves out there should use or even cite this. Still, I think I learned a lot to be able to write the essay, and hopefully you learn something too!
And if you know something about the subject, let me know if I got something right/wrong, or if you have interesting insights or thoughts about it! Same with folks who know things about writing essays! And I do love hearing when just other regular folks get some education out of my work.

As an added note, since this is a religion thing that's actually probably practiced by some of you folks, I'm interested in discourse about this stuff, but I'd rather not get into any arguments over Luther's actual position and its right-ness; I'm nonreligious after all, I'm not on any side trying to convince.

Max / Ego             Word Count: 2639
Bread and Wine, Body and Blood: Luther and Zwingli’s Debate
Over the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
In the 16th Century, the winds of change were blowing through Europe and the Catholic Church. It was not the first time the Church was undergoing changes and challenges to its supremacy, such as in the 13th Century with heretical sects like the Cathars or the Oxford Realists in the 14th Century[1], but unlike the previous reform movements and reinterpretations of Church doctrine, events leading to the 16th Century created the perfect environment for reform. The existing interpretations of Christ’s role in an individual’s life made it easy for the populace to interpret the Black Death, still felt across Europe despite 100 years having passed, as the wrath of God. Church corruption was more rampant than ever, with the Papacy’s vast riches ever more obvious to the common folk. The Great Schism was fresh in the minds of many, weakening peoples’ resolve in the complete authority of the pope and the question of who to owe loyalty to was made all the more complicated by the rise of secular kings and other leaders. This climate of discontent was punctuated by the sale of indulgences, Church-sponsored certificates that pardoned sins for a monetary cost. Indulgences widened the gap between the rich and the poor, with the Church coming out on top.
Amidst all of the silent discontent, one monk’s dissatisfaction with his own state of salvation was reaching a breaking point. This monk was Martin Luther, a scholastically-trained Augustinian monk in Wittenberg, Germany. After realizing an alternative lens (justification by grace or faith) through which to view salvation, Luther began to write papers questioning the methods of the Church and their basis in the Bible, ultimately being declared a heretic. Unlike all the other heretics that attempted reform in the past, this time Europe was ready for a change, and Luther built a substantial number of supporters. However, Luther had to contend with something he hadn’t expected: competition from other reformers building off of his ideas. The most important early competitor was Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss reformer who agreed on many points with Luther but differed on a single critical point: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and whether the principle of Identical Predication was applicable to the sacrament. Martin Luther was a stalwart opponent of Identical Predication with regard to the spiritual and a supporter of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and in Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper he directly dismantles the proposals of his opponents both theologically and grammatically.
One can’t fully understand the gravity of this conflict without understanding the rest of Luther’s and Zwingli’s theology, at least in a basic sense. Both Zwingli and Luther argue that the Word of God (primarily through Scripture) is the ultimate authority on matters of the spirit and that the Church had diverged radically from it. Both had histories in humanist scholasticism, and both were ordained by the Church. Both believed in justification by grace, rather than works as was believed by the Church, meaning that no external works (beyond Baptism) needed to be done in order to be saved to heaven.  This point formed the core of Luther’s theology, and from it he extrapolated many, many novel ideas about the meaning of Scripture, covering every topic from baptism to wealth. On the other hand, Zwingli’s writings were quite focused, revolving around a different concept: complete fidelity to the Scriptures, and only to what is directly prescribed in Scripture. If something was not commanded in Scripture, it was not meant to be a part of religious life. Luther was more conservative, only ruling out practices directly forbidden by Scripture, while allowing others to continue. Zwingli also considered many elements of the Bible to be purely symbolic, rather than rituals that were truly reoccurring in the Church.
            Turning away from overall theology to the specific issue at hand, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was the single issue that kept Zwingli and Luther from ever coming to any solid agreement. The idea of Real Presence is that, during the service of the mass, the priest re-enacts Christ’s presentation of the bread and wine, saying “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” and, through those re-enactments the bread and wine are filled with the presence of Christ and eaten to gain unity with Christ. The confusion comes from the process of Christ’s presence filling the bread and wine, with the problem stemming from two concepts: the location of Christ and the idea of Identical Predication. For the former, Zwingli believed that Christ could not be bodily present in two places at once. Referring to the Creed’s declaration that Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father,” Zwingli argued that he could not also be bodily present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Luther argued in return that God is omnipresent, present in, with, and under all things, and thus his right hand is also present in all things, including the bread and wine. Since the individual pieces of his argument, that God is omnipresent and that Jesus is at the right hand of God, were taken directly and explicitly from Scripture, Luther left his argument for the ubiquity of Christ to speak for itself, turning next to the difficulties posed by Identical Predication.[2]
Put simply, Identical Predication is a philosophical concept that two things of diverse natures cannot at once be one thing; a tree is not a rock, a chair is not a door, and so on. If two things cannot at once be one thing, then it would seem illogical that bread can also be the body of Christ, or that wine can also be the blood of Christ. Zwingli, seeing this, believed that there is no Real Presence in the bread or wine and the meal is purely symbolic and memorial of the Last Supper. The Catholics, faced with Identical Predication and a need for the Real Presence, proclaimed the doctrine of transubstantiation, that when the body of Christ fills the bread, the bread’s essence is annihilated, left only in form (or “accident”), with the essence being entirely that of Christ. Thus, the bread is bread, then it is the body of Christ, but is never essentially both, avoiding the issue of Identical Predication. Luther is different in that he simply denied that Identical Predication was an issue for the Eucharist, and that the bread does indeed also become the body of Christ. Explaining how this could be possible was the largest part of Luther’s Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, his open response to his opponents. Given that transubstantiation is significantly closer to Luther’s ideas than Zwingli’s symbolic Eucharist was, Luther found himself much more aligned with the Papacy than with his own fellow reformers.
            Luther’s argument takes several forms in his Confession and other works. One major point that Luther returns to repeatedly is how Zwingli’s unconventional interpretation leads to deeply problematic theological implications. More than any other point, this issue bothered Luther personally, and it was on this basis that he refers to Zwingli as a fanatic and a blasphemer. Luther was not only disapproving of the notions proposed by Zwingli, he considered them to be deeply and personally offensive. This wasn’t helped by Zwingli’s tone in his letters to Luther, where he came off as scolding and condescending, and while Zwingli believed reconciliation between them would be possible, sharp language and pointed jabs stood between them.[3] One passage that the argument hinges upon was John 6:63, which contains the phrase “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.”[4] The exact meaning of what is meant by flesh and spirit is the main point of contention between the two. Zwingli considered flesh to be the physical, with spiritual being the divine and those matters pertaining to God. Because “flesh is to no avail,” Zwingli understood that the embodiment of Christ in the bread and wine during the Eucharist “would not be sacramentally efficacious,”[5] and thus dismissed the importance of the Mass as a metaphorical ceremony rather than a literal one. Luther’s retort was that flesh in the Scripture does not refer to all physical things, but to humanity’s sinful nature. The spiritual is “all that comes from the Spirit or is used by the Spirit for spiritual purposes,”[6] which can include physical things. Luther continues that “Spirit consists in the use, not in the object.”[7] Luther is especially adamant because he cannot bear the implications brought by Zwingli’s ideas. He warns that denigrating Christ’s flesh devalues the entirety of Christianity. His argument was that if Christ’s flesh is of no avail, then “it can be of no avail on the cross or in heaven either!”[8]
Luther discredited Zwingli by equating his single proposal with disbelief of everything Christianity stood for, but that wasn’t enough for Luther. Turning to the law of Identical Predication specifically, he reached out to Scripture to prove that the Word does not contradict that law of identical predication. He does so rather resentfully, explaining first that it should not even be necessary, as humans must confess that they can “not comprehend his words and works,” and so should be content with taking them at face value.[9] But given that that argument would likely not convince Zwingli, he brings up examples such as Psalm 104 reading “He makes his angels winds and his ministers flames of fire,”[10] lumping multiple natures into one being. While this alone would refute Zwingli, he takes special care to also refute the Church and its doctrine of transubstantiation, noting that the angels remained complete, in substance and in accident, even after becoming wind.[11] He also makes reference to the Holy Spirit descending as a dove in John 1, and writes that where one nature is mentioned, it is sometimes referred to as the other nature, establishing that one thing is still a complete representative of both natures.[12] This is because to Luther, the two elements, while they can be referenced separately, have become a single new nature. He provides examples of when multiple natures are referred to as a single nature in common speech, such as “if I point to or hand over a bag or purse and say, ‘This is a hundred gulden,’ both the gesture and the word ‘this’ refer to the purse.”[13] Statements like these are made every day by all people, because when multiple natures are combined they form a new nature comprised of both component natures; the purse and the gulden are still purse and gulden, but are also now a purse full of gulden. In this way he denies that identical predication is no obstacle to the embodiment of Christ in the Eucharist, because when the priest performs the sacrament “it is no longer ordinary bread in the oven, but a ‘flesh-bread’ or ‘body-bread.’”[14] In this defense, his theology regarding the Trinity becomes obvious – there is no contradiction in having three separate natures (Father, Son, and Spirit) all be one God, as they are three separate facets of a single united nature known as God. Thus it can be true that one God can be three natures and still be one God. Following this pattern of thought, Luther was unswayingly devout in his belief in God’s nature as “a Trinity of divine persons whose works are…indivisible,” arguing fidelity to the doctrine of the Trinity that the Church had been practicing for centuries.[15]
            At this point Luther had made it abundantly clear that, theologically, no obstacles existed to Real Presence in the Eucharist. However, his argument was not complete as he turned to proving that even the idea that there is no Real Presence is irreconcilable with Scripture. Specifically, he focuses on the unambiguity of Christ’s saying “Take, eat; this is my body” and “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,”[16] and the variations of those phrases that appear in the gospels of Mark and Luke. Over the course of his Confession, Luther examines many permutations of the phrase, how those permutations could be construed as supporting his opponents’ views, and then breaking down why it is unacceptable to interpret the gospels to say that. Such permutations he denied included “Take, eat, in the bread is my body” and “With the bread is my body” and “Under the bread is my body,”[17] all of which are simply evasions of dealing with the Law of Identical Predication which would make the representational concept of Scripture valid, but are all different from what is really written. Luther attacks Zwingli and his followers when he declares that even if “God himself gave them their choice of a text, they would never fix on one as simple as this, yet they would always be finding more holes and gaps in it than they find in this one.”[18]
            Through his extensive and scholarly denial of any Scriptural reading of the Eucharist and his explanation of the problematic consequences that come with the beliefs carried by both the Church and by other reformers, Luther attempted to establish that no other theology could be correct. While debate continued, his words had a powerful effect, and the Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper is known as one of his most complete defenses of his treatment of the Eucharist in his new tradition. He re-examined the long-held philosophical Law of Identical Predication and tore down its relevance to Scripture, allowing his argument for consubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and reinforcing the doctrine of the Trinity. Future theologians would debate and augment his arguments, as John Calvin did when he adopted “the middle ground between Luther and Zwingli,” arguing that Luther was being too conservative while denying Zwingli as devaluing the Word of God.[19] The debate over real presence continues today with theologians such as John Macquarrie or J. de Baciocchi[20], Luther’s position on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist remains important for its historical opening of a dialogue regarding the sacrament and as a scholarly argument that provides the vital underpinnings of many of the theologies that grew out of the Reformation.

[1] Alessandro D. Conti, "Johannes Sharpe's Ontology and Semantic: Oxford Realism Revisited," Vivarium, 43, no. 1 (2005): 1-2,

[2] Torvend, Samuel, “Luther’s cosmic Christ and care for our wounded earth” (speech, September 26, 2013).
[3] Martin Luther, "Confession Concerning Christ's Supper," Luther's Works Volume 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Robert H. Fischer, Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 168
[4] John 6:63
[5] Kurt K. Hendel, "Finitum capax infiniti: Luther’s Radical Incarnational Perspective," Currents in Theology and Mission, 35, no. 6 (2008): 423.
[6] Kurt K. Hendel, "Finitum capax infiniti: Luther’s Radical Incarnational Perspective," Currents in Theology and Mission, 35, no. 6 (2008): 424.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Martin Luther, "Confession Concerning Christ's Supper," Luther's Works Volume 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Robert H. Fischer, Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 246-247.
[9] Ibid., p. 296.
[10] Ps 104:4
[11] Martin Luther, "Confession Concerning Christ's Supper," Luther's Works Volume 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Robert H. Fischer, Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 298.
[12] Ibid., p. 301.
[13] Ibid., p. 302.
[14] Ibid., p. 303.
[15] Mickey L. Mattox, "From Faith to the Text and Back Again: Martin Luther on the Trinity in the Old Testament," Pro Ecclesia, XV, no. 3 (2006): 287,
[16] Matt 26:26.
[17] Martin Luther, "Confession Concerning Christ's Supper," Luther's Works Volume 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Robert H. Fischer, Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 306.
[18] Ibid., p. 309.
[19] Ian Christopher Levy, "Affirming Real Presence from a Historical Perspective," Lexington Theological Quarterly, 38, no. 1 (2003): 36-37,
[20] Ibid., p. 38-40.

 Hope that was interesting and enjoyable folks! Back again soon with the final essay, and hopefully some AvW or MEHack stuff. I'll also be posting on Christmas about the cool stuff I'm getting.

Happy holidays I guess! Have a great Christmas Eve.
End Recording,

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