Friday, November 12, 2021

A real Real Presence. . .

I am told that the more common usage of the term Real Presence is most probably a Reformation term, though not from the Lutheran side of things.  It is claimed by some that medieval terminology was simply the real body and the real blood of Christ.  Of course, the terminology is not entirely new.  One of the earlier uses of the term probably comes from Pope Urban IV, in his Bull Transiturus of 1264, wherein he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi as a command to be observed in the whole Western church.  His use of the term contrasts the memorial of the Lord’s Supper with the memorial of other things.  Then Duns Scotus picked it up and it became a more common theological term.  Then Gabriel Biel helped the term become almost normative.  Lutherans did not use the term in their Confessions but Rome did use the term in the Council of Trent, chapter 1 of Session XIII:  “The Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.”

Protestants picked up the term both as a negative term against Rome and a positive expression of belief without transubstantiation.  Then Anglicans used it in their dialog with the Lutherans.  Bishop Nicholas Ridley in 1555 said that there is both a spiritual and material understanding to the term Real Presence but it did not help; he was burned at the stake.  Only later, especially with Bishop Jeremy Taylor, did the more modern term Real Presence come to be normative among Anglicans who wanted to distinguish their belief from Transubstantiation while affirming a real and substantial, albeit spiritual presence of Christ in bread and wine.  Only in 1855 did Edward Bouverie Pusey take up the term with such a defense of a spiritual but real presence that the Lutherans could no longer avoid it.  I must say that it came as a surprise to me.  I really had not bothered about the history of the term or its usage.  But it makes some sense.  If you have more to add, I would welcome the instruction.

In any case, the term is probably not as serviceable as we would want.  We have all heard Baptists and Methodists and a host of others use the term, insisting that “I believe in the Real Presence.”   In the end what they mean is something quite different.  They mean a feeling and not a corporeal presence of Christ's flesh located in bread and His blood located in wine.  They feel really close to Jesus when they have a communion service and snap open the hermetically sealed little plastic enshrined bits of cracker and Welch's.  We may be happy for them but that is not what we confess as Lutherans.  Even though it just might be closer to what many of our folks actually believe when they come up to the rail to spend a moment in time with Jesus -- coming alone to walk and talk with Him and be told He loves them more than any other. . .   Everyone wants to believe Jesus is really present but there does not seem to be much agreement about what really present means.  Pusey hit the nail on the head -- "there is no physical union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine."  Though Pusey's view might be normative for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and even Lutherans in the pews, it is certainly not what real presence means in terms of doctrine.  The Lutheran position, inaccurately called consubstantiation, is actually about a sacramental union, not without parallel to the incarnation.

Where is Jesus?  That is the question.  For the Lutheran, Jesus is where He has said He is -- in the bread and in the wine.  We do not bother going beyond that except to say that this is not simply a spiritual presence.  Luther famously said "it is enough that Christ's blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills.  Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics I would agree with the pope that there is only blood."  Unlike Zwingli, Luther refused to put reason above the words of Christ and insist that is cannot mean is.  So Luther sings in his hymn on the Lord's Supper, "Thy holy body, Lord, the same Which from Thine own mother Mary came" (The Lutheran Hymnary, 156; cf. The Lutheran Hymnal, 313).

Lutheran theology, in holding that "the bread is the true body of Christ" or "a participation in the body of Christ," at times used other formulas. These formulas were: "under the bread, with the bread, in the bread, the body of Christ is present and offered" (SD, VII, 35; the last eight words are a Latin addition, F. Bente, p. 983). These phrases, as T. Hardt has noted, were not coined by the Lutherans but came from the Middle Ages, nor "were they intended to deny the superiority of the original, Biblical 'the bread is the body' " (Hardt, 1973, p. 5). As far as I know, the Reformers did not use the phrase, "in, with, and under," as is so commonly used today. The most commonly used terms were "under the bread" and "in the bread," although "with the bread" is occasionally used.  B. Teigen in CTQ 41:2

Luther was hesitant to go beyond the words of Scripture but it is pretty clear that even though many use the term real presence they refuse to go as far as Scripture.  For the ELCA, there is no need to go beyond the phrase to declare fellowship but without explication of what that phrase, real presence, means, it has become an almost useless turn of the tongue that means only what the people using it choose it to mean.  And that is the problem.  Those who welcome all to the Lord's Table who believe in the real presence are in reality welcoming everyone to believe what they will instead of witnessing to the Scriptures.  While Lutherans might be hard pressed to go beyond the Scriptures, Rome has shown that even Transubstantiation seems ill-equipped to prevent the people in the pews from believing something different than their church teaches.  And thus we learn why catechesis is not and can never be optional.

8 comments:

Steve said...

There was perhaps no greater point of division, even among Lutherans, during the Reformation than the topic of the Lord’s Supper. When we talk about catechizing the laity on the topic, there will of course be differences between confessional Lutherans. Luther’s quote about drinking blood with the Catholics and Tom Hardt’s liturgical movement inspired views should not be sufficient. Rather, the Book of Concord is our source for catechesis. Luther’s definition in the Smalcald Articles is the most direct:

“Of the Sacrament of the Altar we hold that bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ,”

Luther elaborates this definition further as quoted in the Solid Declaration:
“[This is] the incomprehensible, spiritual mode, according to which He neither occupies nor vacates space, but penetrates all creatures wherever he pleases… [as] in the bread and wine in the Holy Supper”

Martin Chemnitz in the Solid Declaration defines the Lutheran doctrine further, as a spiritual presence:

“But when Dr. Luther or we employ this word spiritual in regard to this matter, we understand by it the spiritual, supernatural, heavenly mode, according to which Christ is present in the Holy Supper, working not only consolation and life in the believing, but also condemnation in the unbelieving; whereby we reject the Capernaitic thoughts of the gross [and] carnal presence which is ascribed to and forced upon our churches by the Sacramentarians against our manifold public protestations. In this sense we also say [wish the word spiritually to be understood when we say] that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are spiritually received, eaten, and drunk, although this participation occurs with the mouth, while the mode is spiritual.”

So if we are emphasizing in our teaching that the true presence (the term used by Chemnitz in the confessions for what we are calling the real presence) is not spiritual, then we are not teaching confessional Lutheran doctrine.

Pastor Peters said...

Or perhaps we are exactly teaching according to Luther and our confessions when we insist that it is not a spiritual presence in the sense of a mere spiritual presence which is the whole point of the Lutheran confession. Nobody says that there is nothing spiritual going on there but some are saying there’s also nothing “real“ or corporeal happening. The danger here is not failing to acknowledge the spiritual but failing to admit the real, corporeal, presence. Is it the body and blood of Christ in my heart and mind, or is it the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

Pastor Peters said...

Or perhaps we are exactly teaching according to Luther and our confessions when we insist that it is not a spiritual presence in the sense of a mere spiritual presence which is the whole point of the Lutheran confession. Nobody says that there is nothing spiritual going on there but some are saying there’s also nothing “real“ or corporeal happening. The danger here is not failing to acknowledge the spiritual but failing to admit the real, corporeal, presence. Is it the body and blood of Christ in my heart and mind, or is it the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

Pastor Peters said...

Or perhaps we are exactly teaching according to Luther and our confessions when we insist that it is not a spiritual presence in the sense of a mere spiritual presence which is the whole point of the Lutheran confession. Nobody says that there is nothing spiritual going on there but some are saying there’s also nothing “real“ or corporeal happening. The danger here is not failing to acknowledge the spiritual but failing to admit the real, corporeal, presence. Is it the body and blood of Christ in my heart and mind, or is it the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

Pastor Peters said...

Or perhaps we are exactly teaching according to Luther and our confessions when we insist that it is not a spiritual presence in the sense of a mere spiritual presence which is the whole point of the Lutheran confession. Nobody says that there is nothing spiritual going on there but some are saying there’s also nothing “real“ or corporeal happening. The danger here is not failing to acknowledge the spiritual but failing to admit the real, corporeal, presence. Is it the body and blood of Christ in my heart and mind, or is it the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

Pastor Peters said...

Or perhaps we are exactly teaching according to Luther and our confessions when we insist that it is not a spiritual presence in the sense of a mere spiritual presence which is the whole point of the Lutheran confession. Nobody says that there is nothing spiritual going on there but some are saying there’s also nothing “real“ or corporeal happening. The danger here is not failing to acknowledge the spiritual but failing to admit the real, corporeal, presence. Is it the body and blood of Christ in my heart and mind, or is it the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine.

Steve said...

Words used in the Lutheran Confessions to describe the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament:

True
Essential
Present
Distributed with the bread and wine and received orally
Not Capernaitic
Spiritual
Supernatural
Heavenly
Uncircumscribed

Words rejected by the Lutheran Confessions to describe the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament:

Transubstantiation
Physical
Carnal
Circumscribed
Not orally received
Absent in heaven
Signs alone
Memorial

As the Epitome well summarizes,

“Hence we hereby utterly [reject and] condemn the Capernaitic eating of the body of Christ, as though [we taught that] His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food, which the Sacramentarians, against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests, wilfully force upon us, and in this way make our doctrine odious to their hearers; and on the other hand, we maintain and believe, according to the simple words of the testament of Christ, the true, yet supernatural eating of the body of Christ, as also the drinking of His blood, which human senses and reason do not comprehend, but as in all other articles of faith our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and this mystery is not apprehended otherwise than by faith alone, and revealed in the Word alone.”

Steve said...

Corporeal is a synonym for carnal or Capernaitic eating, which the Lutheran Confessions vociferously reject.

Yet many confessional Lutheran pastors do use this word, which makes one think of crushing the body with the teeth.
The Lutheran doctrine is that the true body and blood are essentially present, distributed, and received orally, while the mode of presence is supernatural, heavenly, uncircumscribed by the elements, and spiritual, but not corporeal. There is therefore a twofold spiritual eating and drinking, one that receives Christ’s benefits through faith, and one that is the spiritual body and blood of Christ that work life and consolation in believers and judgment in unbelievers.