Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Consubstantiation, Receptionism, and Other Myths about Lutherans

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and break it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.  

Those words of Elizabeth I are not half bad. The focus of Lutheran teaching with respect to the Sacrament of the Altar and when we can be assured that Christ is present in His body and blood with the bread and wine is an issue of the efficacy of the Word. Does the Word do what it says, deliver what it promises, and make that of which it speaks? Either yes or no...

Sometimes there are those who make this a transubstantiation issue but it is not. Transubstantiation has nothing to do with the sacramental moment but everything to do with trying to explain the what of Christ's presence. It insists upon a change (to the essence or substance, hence the name, while allowing the appearance or accidence to remain the same) which goes beyond Scripture. It is needless and fruitless as far as explanations go. It does little to assure and is, at best, a muddying of the waters. It pits what the eye sees against what the mind understands and in the end attempts to uncloak the mystery of the presence that can never be comprehended or explained but only believed and received.

The point here is the efficacy of the Word of God. Can we believe that it does what it says? It was a later generation of Lutheran dogmaticians that began to waver -- again in an attempt to distinguish Lutheran teaching from Rome. This was a foolish and dead end road that created more problems than it solved and posited the impetus for Christ's presence away from the Word of Christ to the mouth/faith of the receiver.

Much in the same way, Lutherans have been long accused of consubstantiation which holds that during the sacrament, the fundamental "substance" of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present.  Advocated by the medieval scholastic theologian Duns Scotus, consubstantiation has been erroneously identified as the eucharistic doctrine of Martin Luther.  Luther refused a philosophical construct to define Christ's presence and simply called it the sacramental union.

The connection for Lutherans is incarnational theology -- just as the union of the human and divine became the one person by the word, so that in Mary's womb the Son of God became human flesh by the power of the Spirit, so by the Word, a sacramental union is created in which the flesh and blood of Christ are united with the bread and wine of the Eucharist in such way that the bread and wine are not lost or overcome nor the body and blood of Christ in any diminished.  Lutherans understand the epiclesis to be implied in the agency of the Word and do not require a separate epiclesis apart from the way the Spirit works through the Word. Lutherans leave the mystery intact and let the Word be the focus and assurance that what is distributed by the hand of the priest (Pastor, if you prefer more modern parlance) and given to the communicant is nothing less than what that Word has promised -- hidden in bread the body of Christ and hidden in wine His blood just as in the incarnation hidden in human flesh is the fullness of the divine nature in the one flesh and blood person Jesus Christ.

This Word of Christ in the Words of Institution is no magical formula to effect the presence of Christ as some incantation to which Christ is obligated to submit but the Word He has given to His Church so that what He has given may be received.  This Word is not captive to man so that any sort of unbeliever may speak it over bread and wine and confect the presence of Christ nor would children "playing church"  inadvertently call down Christ's sacramental presence and it can also be said that when those who speak it have no intention of Christ's sacrament, there is no sacrament even though the Word be there and the elements be there (such as the Zwinglians who do not believe or intend the meal to be sacramental but merely symbolic).

So what supports this?  I Corinthians 10:16:  "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is not a communion of the body of Christ?"  AND Augsburg Confession, Article X:  "1] Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed 2] to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise."  AND Apology Article X "55] And we have ascertained that not only the Roman Church affirms the bodily presence of Christ, but the Greek Church also both now believes, and formerly believed, the same. For the canon of the Mass among them testifies to this, in which the priest clearly prays that the bread may be changed and become the very body of Christ. And Vulgarius, who seems to us to be not a silly writer, says distinctly that bread is not a mere figure, but 56] is truly changed into flesh." [NB the word "changed" there] AND the second Martin, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord adds: "Therefore it is not a man, the minister, who by his consecration and blessing makes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself, by means of His Word, is present in this action, and by means of the Word of His institution, which is spoken through the mouth of the minister, He brings it about that the bread is His body and the cup His blood.. .." Martin Chemnitz, Examen (English translation,Part II, CPH).   Too long to be posted here, but look up Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII.73-90.

This is what the Confessions speak to and how I was taught Eucharistic theology... While I know of other that claims to be Lutheran, this is what is true to the binding word of our Confessions...


Tapani Simojoki said...

Ja und amen to the substance (boom-boom!) of this post.

I must add, though, that the little ditty attributed variously to Queen Bess, John Donne, and various others in between, is understood on these shores (UK) to make a different point:

"I believe what Christ meant. Just don't ask me what that was."

In other words, it teaches a sly sort of receptionism, a eucharistic fides carbonarii. The great commentator on the 39 Articles, E.J. Bicknell, a defender of just such Anglican ambiguity, described these lines as follows: "Indifferent verse, admirable theology."

However, I would be the first to celebrate if we could co-opt the "indifferent verse" for the Lutheran, nay biblical, cause.

Anonymous said...

The Lutheran Confessions speak to
Receptionism in the Formula of
Concord, the Solid Declaration,
Article VII Lord's Supper Paragraph
15 "They (The Lutherans) do not
hold that the body of Christ is
present apart from reception."

Wengert/Kolb page 575

Anonymous said...

Pieper's Dogmatics Volume 3
Page 354, Footnote 95 reinforces
what LCMS seminarians have been
taught in the classroom:
"If a wafer happens to fall to the
floor during the distribution or some
of the wine is spilled, Christ's
body does not fall to the ground,
nor is Christ's blood spilled."

Receptionism is the teaching of our
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Phil said...


The "They" to whom you refer are not Lutherans but the party of Martin Bucer, the opinion of whom is noted but not adopted. Bucer did not understand the so-called "Wittenberg Concord" in the same way as Luther did. The sacramental actio or usus consists of the consecration and distribution as well as the reception. (FC SD Art VII, 86ff)

Receptionism is contrary to the Lutheran Confessions.

Pr. Peters,

Is it that the Zwinglians have no intention? I have always understood the Confessions to say that Zwinglians do not have the Supper, and therefore do not have the Real Presence, because they have attached different meanings to the words in Christ's institution by means of their public doctrine.

I have a hard time seeing how the notion of "intention" is not an intrusion of human willing and working into what is the sole work of Christ.

Pastor Peters said...

By intention I do not mean intent of the heart but that they have rejected the plain and usual sense of Christ's Word to believe something foreign to the Supper and to the Christian tradition -- intent in that they do not depart from the Real Presence by accident but by intent -- rejecting the accepted teaching that it is Christ's Body and Blood and choosing a symbolic or vague spiritualized presence.

Anonymous said...

From the LCMS web page -

4. Elements in the Sacrament. The heavenly elements in the Sacrament are the true body and the true blood of Christ; the earthly elements are true bread and true wine, for which no substitutes should be used, since the use of any substitute makes void, or at least renders uncertain, the Sacrament (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18; 1 Co 11:21). Jesus used not unfermented grape juice but wine, used in the OT on festive occasions (Gn 14:18; Jb 1:13; Is 5:12). Bread and wine are received in a natural manner; the body and blood of Christ, though received orally, are received in an incomprehensible, supernatural manner (no Capernaitic* eating; FC SD VII 64). The Sacrament should be received by all communicants sub utraque specie (“under both kinds”), acc. to Christ's instit. In RC practice the celebrating priest receives the bread and wine, other communicants usually only bread (sub una specie, “under 1 kind”).