History of the christian church



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We shall first trace the external history of this controversy, and then present the different theories with the arguments.
§ 104. Luther’s Theory before the Controversy.
Luther rejected, in his work on the "Babylonish Captivity of the Church" (1520), the doctrine of the mass, transubstantiation, and the withdrawal of the cup, as strongholds of the Papal tyranny. From this position he never receded. In the same work he clearly intimated his own view, which he had learned from Pierre d’Ailly, Cardinal of Cambray (Cameracensis),825 in these words: —
Formerly, when I was imbibing the scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambray gave me occasion for reflection, by arguing most acutely, in the Fourth Book of the Sentences, that it would be much more probable, and that fewer superfluous miracles would have to be introduced, if real bread and real wine, and not only their accidents, were understood to be upon the altar, unless the Church had determined the contrary. Afterwards, when I saw what the church was, which had thus determined,—namely, the Thomistic, that is, the Aristotelian Church,—I became bolder; and, whereas I had been before in great straits of doubt, I now at length established my conscience in the former opinion: namely, that there were real bread and real wine, in which were the real flesh and real blood of Christ in no other manner and in no less degree than the other party assert them to be under the accidents.826... Why should not Christ be able to include his body within the substance of bread, as well as within the accidents? Fire and iron, two different substances, are so mingled in red-hot iron that every part of it is both fire and iron. Why may not the glorious body of Christ much more be in every part of the substance of the bread? ... I rejoice greatly, that, at least among the common people, there remains a simple faith in this sacrament. They neither understand nor argue whether there are accidents in it or substance, but believe, with simple faith, that the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in it, leaving to these men of leisure the task of arguing as to what it contains."
At that time of departure from Romanism he would have been very glad, as he confessed five years later, to become convinced that there was nothing in the Lord’s Supper but bread and wine. Yea, his old Adam was still inclined to such a view; but he dared not doubt the literal meaning of the words of institution.827 In his book on the "Adoration of the Sacrament" (1523), addressed to the Waldensian Brethren in Bohemia, he rejects their symbolical theory, as well as the Romish transub-stantiation, and insists on the real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharistic elements; but treats them very kindly, notwithstanding their supposed error, and commends them for their piety and discipline, in which they excelled the Germans.828

In his conviction of the real presence, he was greatly strengthened by the personal attacks and perverse exegesis of Carlstadt. Henceforth he advocated the point of agreement with the Catholics more strenuously than he had formerly opposed the points in which he differed from them. He changed the tone of moderation which he had shown in his address to the Bohemians, and treated his Protestant opponents with as great severity as the Papists. His peculiar view of the eucharist became the most, almost the only, serious doctrinal difference between the two wings of the Reformation, and has kept them apart ever since.


§ 105. Luther and Carlstadt.
The first outward impulse to the eucharistic controversy came from Holland in the summer of 1522, when Henry Rhodius brought from Utrecht a collection of the writings of John Wessel to Wittenberg, which he had received from a distinguished Dutch jurist, Cornelius Honius (Hoen). Wessel, one of the chief forerunners of the Reformation (d. 1489), proposed, in a tract "De Coena," a figurative interpretation of the words of institution, which seems to have influenced the opinions of Erasmus, Carlstadt, and Zwingli on this subject.829

But Luther was so much pleased with the agreement on other points that he overlooked the difference, and lauded Wessel as a theologian truly taught of God, and endowed with a high mind and wonderful gifts; yea, so fully in harmony with him, that the Papists might charge Luther with having derived all his doctrines from Wessel, had he known his writings before.830

The controversy was opened in earnest by Carlstadt, Luther’s older colleague and former friend, who gave him infinite trouble, and forced him into self-defense and into the development of the conservative and churchly elements in his theology.831 He smarted under the defeat he had suffered in 1522, and first silently, then openly, opposed Luther, regarding him henceforth as his enemy, and as the author of all his misfortunes. In this way he mixed, from the start, the gall of personal bitterness into the eucharistic controversy. Luther would probably have been more moderate if it had been free from those complications.

In 1524 Carlstadt came out with a new and absurd interpretation of the words of institution (Matt. 26:26 and parallel passages); holding that the Greek word for "this" being neuter (tou'to), could not refer to the bread, which is masculine in Greek (a[rto"), but must refer to the body of Christ (to; sw'ma), to which the Saviour pointed, so as to say, "Take, eat! This here [this body] is my body [which will soon be] broken for you; this [blood] is my blood [which will be] shed for you." This resolves the words into a tautology and platitude. At the same time Carlstadt opposed infant-baptism, and traced his crude novelties to higher inspiration.832 After his expulsion from Saxony he propagated them, together with slanderous assaults upon Luther as, a double Papist," in several publications which appeared in Basel and Strasburg.833 He excited some interest among the Swiss Reformers, who sympathized with his misfortunes, and agreed with his opposition to the theory of a corporal presence and oral manducation, but dissented entirely from his exegesis, his mysticism, and radicalism. Capito and Bucer, the Reformers of Strassburg, leaned to the Swiss view, but regretted the controversy, and sent a deacon with Carlstadt’s tracts to Luther for advice.

Luther exhorted the Strassburgers, in a vigorous letter (Dec. 14, 1524), to hold fast to the evangelical doctrines, and warned them against the dangerous vagaries of Carlstadt. At the same time he issued an elaborate refutation of Carlstadt, in a book "Against the Heavenly Prophets" (December, 1524, and January, 1525, in two parts). It is written with great ability and great violence. "A new storm is arising," he begins. "Dr. Andreas Carlstadt is fallen away from us, and has become our worst enemy." He thought the poor man had committed the unpardonable sin.834 He describes, in vivid colors, the wild and misty mysticism and false legalism of these self-styled prophets, and defends the real presence. He despised the objections of reason, which was the mistress of the Devil. It is characteristic, that, from this time on, he lowered his estimate of the value of reason in theology, although he used it very freely and effectually in this very book.835
§ 106. Luther and Zwingli.
But now two more formidable opponents appeared on the field, who, by independent study, had arrived at a far more sensible interpretation of the words of institution than that of Carlstadt, and supported it with strong exegetical and rational arguments. Zwingli, the Luther of Switzerland, and Oecolampadius, its Melanchthon, gave the controversy a new and more serious turn.

Zwingli received the first suggestion of a figurative interpretation (est = significat) from Erasmus and Wessel through Honius; as Luther derived his first idea of a corporal presence in the unchanged elements from Pierre d’Ailly.836 He communicated his view, in a confidential Latin letter, Nov. 16, 1524, to the Lutheran preacher, Matthaeus Alber in Reutlingen, an opponent of Carlstadt, and based it on Christ’s word, John 6:63, as excluding a carnal or material manducation of his body and blood.837

A few months later (March, 1525) he openly expressed his view with the same arguments in the "Commentary on the True and False Religion."838 This was three months after Luther had published his book against Carlstadt. He does not men-tion Luther in either of these two writings, but evidently aimed at him, and speaks of his view almost as contemptuously as Luther had spoken of Carlstadt’s view.

In the same year Oecolampadius, one of the most learned and pious men of his age, appeared with a very able work in defense of the same theory, except that he put the figure in the predicate, and explained the words of institution (like Tertullian): "hoc est figura corporis mei." He lays, how-ever, no stress on this difference, as the sense is the same. He wrote with as much modesty and moderation as learning and acuteness. He first made use of testimonies of the church fathers, especially Augustin, who favors a spiritual fruition of Christ by faith. Erasmus judged the arguments of Oecolampadius to be strong enough to seduce the very elect.839

The Lutherans were not slow to reply to the Swiss.

Bugenhagen, a good pastor, but poor theologian, published a letter to Hess of Breslau against Zwingli.840 He argues, that, if the substantive verb in the words of institution is figurative, it must always be figurative; e.g., "Peter is a man," would mean, "Peter signifies a man."841 He also appeals to 1 Cor. 11:27, where Paul says that unworthy communicants are guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not of bread and wine. Zwingli had easy work to dispose of such an opponent.842

Several Swabian preachers, under the lead of Brentius of Hall, replied to Oecolampadius, who (himself a Swabian by birth) had dedicated his book to them with the request to examine and review it. Their Syngramma Suevicum is much more important than Bugenhagen’s epistle. They put forth the peculiar view that the word of Christ puts into bread and wine the very body and blood of Christ; as the word of Moses imparted a hearing power to the brazen serpent; as the word of Christ, "Peace be unto you," imparts peace; and the word, "Thy sins be forgiven," imparts pardon. But, by denying that the body of Christ is broken by the hands, and chewed with the teeth, they unwittingly approached the Swiss idea of a purely spiritual manducation. Oecolampadius clearly demonstrated this inconsistency in his Anti-syngramma (1526).843 Pirkheimer of Nuernberg, and Billicum of Nördlingen, likewise wrote against Oecolampadius, but without adding any thing new.

The controversy reached its height in 1527 and 1528, when Zwingli and Luther came into direct conflict. Zwingli combated Luther’s view vigorously, but respectfully, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo, in a Latin book, under the peaceful title, "Friendly Exegesis," and sent a copy to Luther with a letter, April 1, 1527.844 Luther appeared nearly at the same time (early in 1527), but in a very different tone, with a German book against Zwingli and Oecolampadius, under the title, "That the Words of Christ: ’This is my Body,’ stand fast. Against the Fanatics (Schwarmgeister)."845 Here he derives the Swiss view directly from the inspiration of the Devil. "How true it is," he begins, "that the Devil is a master of a thousand arts!846 He proves this powerfully in the external rule of this world by bodily lusts, tricks, sins, murder, ruin, etc., but especially, and above all measure, in spiritual and external things which affect God’s honor and our conscience. How he can turn and twist, and throw all sorts of obstacles in the way, to prevent men from being saved and abiding in the Christian truth!" Luther goes on to trace the working of the Devil from the first corruptions of the gospel by heretics, popes, and Councils, down to Carlstadt and the Zwinglians, and mentions the Devil on every page. This is characteristic of his style of polemics against the Sacramentarians, as well as the Papists. He refers all evil in the world to the Prince of evil. He believed in his presence and power as much as in the omnipresence of God and the ubiquity of Christ’s body.

He dwells at length on the meaning of the words of institution: "This is my body." They must be taken literally, unless the contrary can be proved. Every departure from the literal sense is a device of Satan, by which, in his pride and malice, he would rob man of respect for God’s Word, and of the benefit of the sacrament. He makes much account of the disagreement of his opponents, and returns to it again and again, as if it were conclusive against them. Carlstadt tortures the word "this" in the sacred text; Zwingli, the word "is;" "Oecolampadius, the word "body;"847 others torture and murder the whole text. All alike destroy the sacraments. He allows no figurative meaning even in such passages as 1 Cor. 10:4; John 15:1; Gen. 41:26; Exod. 12:11, 12. When Paul says, Christ is a rock, he means that he is truly a spiritual rock. When Christ says, "I am the vine," he means a true spiritual vine. But what else is this than a figurative interpretation in another form?

A great part of the book is devoted to the proof of the ubiquity of Christ’s body. He explains "the right hand of God" to mean his "almighty power." Here he falls himself into a figurative interpretation. He ridicules the childish notion which he ascribes to his opponents, although they never dreamed of it, that Christ is literally seated, and immovably fastened, on a golden throne in heaven, with a golden crown on his head.848 He does not go so far as to deny the realness of Christ’s ascension, which implies a removal of his corporal presence. There is, in this reasoning, a strange combination of literal and figurative interpretation. But he very forcibly argues from the personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ, for the possibility of a real presence; only he errs in confounding real with corporal. He forgets that the spiritual is even more real than the corporal, and that the corporal is worth nothing without the spiritual.

Nitzsch and Köstlin are right when they say that both Zwingli and Luther "assume qualities of the glorified body of Christ, of which we can know nothing; the one by asserting a spacial inclusion of that body in heaven, the other by asserting dogmatically its divine omnipresence on earth."849 We may add, that the Reformers proceeded on an assumption of the locality of heaven, which is made impossible by the Copernican system. For aught we know, heaven may be very near, and round about as well as above us.

Zwingli answered Luther without delay, in an elaborate treatise, likewise in German (but in the Swiss dialect), and under a similar title ("That the words, ’This is my body,’ have still the old and only sense," etc.).850 It is addressed to the Elector John of Saxony, and dated June 20, 1527. Zwingli follows Luther step by step, answers every argument, defends the figurative interpretation of the words of institution by many parallel passages (Gen. 41:26; Exod. 12:11; Gal. 4:24; Matt. 11:14; 1 Cor. 10:4, etc.), and discusses also the relation of the two natures in Christ.

He disowns the imputed literal understanding of God’s almighty hand, and says, "We have known long since that God’s power is everywhere, that he is the Being of beings, and that his omnipresence upholds all things. We know that where Christ is, there is God, and where God is, there is Christ. But we distinguish between the two natures, and between the person of Christ and the body of Christ." He charges Luther with confounding the two. The attributes of the infinite nature of God are not communicable to the finite nature of man, except by an exchange which is called in rhetoric alloeosis. The ubiquity of Christ’s body is a contradiction. Christ is everywhere, but his body cannot be everywhere without ceasing to be a body, in any proper sense of the term.

This book of Zwingli is much sharper than his former writings on the subject. He abstains indeed from abusive language, and says that God’s Word must decide the controversy, and not opprobrious terms, as fanatic, devil, murderer, heretic, hypocrite, which Luther deals out so freely.851 But he and his friends applied also very unjust terms against the Lutherans, such as Capernaites, flesh-eaters, blood-drinkers, and called their communion bread a baked God.852 Moreover, Zwingli assumes an offensive and provoking tone of superiority, which cut to the quick of Luther’s sensibilities. Take the opening sentence: "To Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli wishes grace and peace from God through Jesus Christ the living Son of God, who, for our salvation, suffered death, and then left this world in his body and ascended to heaven, where he sits until he shall return on the last day, according to his own word, so that you may know that he dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17), and not by bodily eating through the mouth, as thou wouldest teach without God’s Word." Towards the end he says, with reference to Luther’s attack upon Bucer: "Christ teaches us to return good for evil. Antichrist reverses the maxim, and you have followed him by abusing the pious and learned Bucer for translating and spreading your books .... Dear Luther, I humbly beseech you not to be so furious in this matter as heretofore. If you are Christ’s, so are we. It behooves us to contend only with the Word of God, and to observe Christian self-control. We must not fight against God, nor cloak our errors by his Word. God grant unto you the knowledge of truth, and of thyself, that you may remain Luther, and not become louvtrion.853 The truth will prevail. Amen."

Oecolampadius wrote likewise a book in self-defense.854 Luther now came out, in March, 1528, with his Great "Confession on the Lord’s Supper," which he intended to be his last word in this controversy.855 It is his most elaborate treatise on the eucharist, full of force and depth, but also full of wrath. He begins again with the Devil, and rejoices that he had provoked his fury by the defense of the holy sacrament. He compares the writings of his opponents to venomous adders. I shall waste, he says, no more paper on their mad lies and nonsense, lest the Devil might be made still more furious. May the merciful God convert them, and deliver them from the bonds of Satan! I can do no more. A heretic we must reject, after the first and second admonition (Tit. 3:10). Nevertheless, he proceeds to an elaborate assault on the Devil and his fanatical crew.

The "Confession" is divided into three parts. The first is a refutation of the arguments of Zwingli and Oecolampadius; the second, an explanation of the passages which treat of the Lord’s Supper; the third, a statement of all the articles of his faith, against old and new heresies.

He devotes much space to a defense of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, which he derives from the unity of the two natures. He calls to aid the scholastic distinction between three modes of presence,—local, definitive, and repletive.856 He calls Zwingli’s alloeosis "a mask of the Devil." He concludes with these words: "This is my faith, the faith of all true Christians, as taught in the Holy Scriptures. I beg all pious hearts to bear me witness, and to pray for me that I may stand firm in this faith to the end. For—which God forbid!—should I in the temptation and agony of death speak differently, it must be counted for nothing but an inspiration of the Devil.857 Thus help me my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, blessed forever. Amen."

The "Confession" called out two lengthy answers of Zwingli and Oecolampadius, at the request of the Strassburg divines; but they add nothing new.858

This bitter controversy fell in the most trying time of Luther, when he suffered greatly from physical infirmity and mental depression, and when a pestilence raged at Wittenberg (1527), which caused the temporary removal of the University to Jena. He remained on the post of danger, escaped the jaws of death, and measurably recovered his strength, but not his former cheerfulness, good humor, and buoyancy of spirit.
§ 107. The Marburg Conference, a.d. 1529. (With Facsimile of Signatures.)
I. Contemporary Reports. (1) Lutheran. Luther’s references to the Conference at Marburg, in Erl. ed. XXXII. 398, 403, 408; XXXVI. 320 sqq. (his report from the pulpit); LIV. 286; 83, 107 sq., 153; LV. 88. Letters of Luther to his wife, Philip of Hesse, Gerbel, Agricola, Amsdorf, Link, and Probst, from October, 1529, and later, in De Wette, III. 508 sqq; IV. 26 sq. Reports of Melanchthon, Jonas, Brenz, and Osiander, in "Corpus Reform.," I. 1098, 1102 (Mel. in German); 1095 (Jonas), XXVI. 115; Seckendorf, II. 136; Walch, XVII. 2352–2379; Scultetus, Annal. evang., p. 215 sqq.; Riederer, Nachrichten, etc., II. 109 sqq.

(2) Reformed (Swiss and Strassburg) reports of Collin, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, are collected in Zwingli’s Opera, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, vol. IV. 173–204, and Hospinian’s Hist. Sacram., II. 74 sqq., 123 sqq. Bullinger: Reformationsgesch., II. 223 sqq. The reports of Bucer and Hedio are used by Baum in his Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), p. 453 sqq., and Erichson (see below). The MS. of Capito’s Itinerary was burned in 1870 with the library of the Protestant Seminary at Strassburg, but had previously been copied by Professor Baum.

II. The Marburg Articles in Walch, XVII. 2357 sqq.; Erl. ed. LXV. 88 sqq.; "Corp. Reform.," XXVI. 121–128; H. Heppe: Die 15 Marburger Artikel vom 3 Oct., 1529, nach dent wieder aufgefundenen Autographon der Reformatoren als Facsimile veröffentlicht, Kassel, 1847, 2d ed. 1854 (from the archives at Kassel); another ed. from a MS. in Zuerich by J. M. Usteri in the "Studien und Kritiken," 1883, No. II., p. 400–413 (with facsimile). A list of older editions in the "Corpus Reform.," XXVI. 113–118.

III. L. J. K. Schmitt: Das Religionsgespräch zu Marburg im J. 1529, Marb. 1840. J. Kradolfer: Das Marb. Religiogsgesprach im J. 1529, Berlin, 1871. Schirrmacher: Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte des Religions-gesprächs zu Marburg 1529 und des Reichstags zu Augsburg 1530 nach der Handschrift des Aurifaber, Gotha, 1876. M. Lenz: Zwingli und Landgraf Philipp, three articles in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift fuer K. Gesch.," 1879 (pp. 28, 220, and 429). Oswald Schmidt: in Herzog2, IX. (1881), 270–275. A. Erichson: Das Marburger Religionsgespräch i. J. 1529, nach ungedruckten strassburger Urkunden, Strassb. 1880. (Based upon Hedio’s unpublished Itinerarium ab Argentina Marpurgum super negotio Eucharistiae.) Frank H. Foster: The Historical Significance of the Marburg Colloquy, and its Bearing upon the New Departure (of Andover], in the "Bibliotheca Sacra," Oberlin, Ohio, April, 1887, p. 363–369.

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