Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Understand Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin on the Lord's Supper (Part Two)

Luther's Written Debate with Zwingli

Between 1526-1528 Luther and Zwingli debate via written exchanges. Luther stresses the Lord's Supper as God’s gift of the Son to us, Zwingli stresses the Lord's Supper as our act of remembrance and loyalty to Christ. The following is a brief synopsis of their dialog.

Luther criticizes Zwingli:
Zwingli is too rationalistic: he doesn’t really believe what the Word of God says (“This is my body.”) Luther understands Zwingli to be saying, “This signifies my body” and is insisting on submitting what we find in the Bible to his own human reason. Luther finds Zwingli to be in error like Rome- allowing "reason" to dictate doctrine. Luther therefore viewed Zwingli as not really being freed from the Roman bondage by his rationalizing of the Scriptures.

Zwingli responds:
Luther is being too mystical; he is refusing to use his mind. The words of the Bible have to be interpreted in the whole context of what it says. Accusations of being a rationalist is refusing to think. For instance, Jesus said “I am the door”….well? Is he really a door? Luther has contented himself with a mystical approach to scripture. Luther has allowed his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to become too objective. He planted Christ in the elements and has not given enough place to faith. Whatever blessings that come through the Lord's Supper come by faith.

Luther responds:
Zwingli is too subjective. He has not given enough stress to God’s gift. God’s promise is to give his own Son to be a blessing to us through the use of the Supper. Zwinlgi has failed to realize there really is a “communion” that occurs in the Lord’s Supper.

Luther grants that it is true that unless there’s faith one doesn’t receive the blessing of Christ; but since Christ is present by the appointment of God, one who receives the elements receives Christ. If one receives him without faith, one receives condemnation. Luther holds we have to stress the communion between Christ and the believer.

Luther posits Zwingli had not given enough stress to the body of Christ in our salvation. He feels Zwingli’s position will logically lead to a denial of the cross and the incarnation. Zwingli’s stress on “spiritual realities” leaves no place for the body of Christ as the key to our redemption. Christ has promised that just as He died upon the cross in his body and blood to redeem us, so he continues to strengthen us by his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. This is the way he continues to be our savior and mediator. We are never freed from the need of the body and blood of Christ. The Lord’s Supper ministers it to us to be built up in the faith.

Zwingli responds:
Luther is forgetting that the Bible says the body of Christ was taken up into heaven. It is not on earth. Zwingli focuses on Christ's ascension, and says Luther does not give the ascension its proper place. Christ cannot be present, “In, with, and under the bread” because he has ascended.

Luther responds:
Luther offered the explanation of "Ubiquity". When Christ was glorified, his two natures (human, divine) began to share attributes (communicatio idiomatum= the communication of properties). With the Lord’s Supper, Luther is interested in the divine quality of omnipresence: The glorified Christ becomes omnipresent not only in his divinity, but also in his humanity…the humanity of Christ is so glorified in heaven, that it takes on the divine attribute of omnipresence. Therefore the body of Christ can be everywhere at once. Since it can be everywhere at once, it can be in the Lord’s Supper. Luther still holds Zwingli to be just a rationalist: he doesn’t want to believe the body and blood can be everywhere at once- he doesn’t really believe the Gospel.

Luther would reason, “Don’t say, ‘The body is at the right hand of God.’ Where is God’s right hand? It is everywhere...like every part of Him. The very phrase “right hand of God” supports ubiquity, not Zwingli’s position.

Zwingli responds:
Luther’s doctrine of ubiquity undermines the true humanity of Christ, the very thing Luther wanted to defend and maintain. If you have a human body that is everywhere…is it really a human body?



Robbie said...

"When Christ was glorified, his two natures (human, divine) began to share attributes (communicatio idiomatum= the communication of properties)."

Ahhhh yes. The "Communication of Attributes." This is something else I've never really understood.I have read a paper on it:


I'll admit that after reading it, I went "HUH?"

Is there any chance you can explain that one?

Anyway, thank you for your previous answer.


James Swan said...


my apologies- I haven't had time to read the link yet- I plan on doing so and then i'll get back to you.

My gut feeling is ubiquity and the "Communication of Attributes" is philosophical speculation on a topic that shouldn't be speculated about.