Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Understanding Luther, Zwingli and Calvin on the Lord’s Supper (Part 3)

"Zwingli, with tears in his eyes, said he would rather be on friendly terms with Luther and Melanchthon than with any other two men."


The written debate between Luther and Zwingli led to the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, where Luther and Zwingli met face to face. Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 articles of doctrine. They disagreed on point 15: The Lord’s Supper.

The fifteenth points reads:

"Although we are not at this time agreed, as to whether the true Body and Blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless the one party should show to the other Christian love, so far as conscience can permit, and both should fervently pray God almighty, that, by His Spirit, He would confirm us in the true understanding."

Source: Clyde Manschreck, Melanchthon: The quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, MCMLVIII), 171.

Not many Lutherans will tell you about the 14 points Luther and Zwingli agreed on! Even in that 15th article, there was some agreement:

-The mass was not a sacrifice

-Both Luther and Zwingli rejected transubstantiation

-Both Luther and Zwingli held the bread and wine should be given to communicants

-Both Luther and Zwingli agreed in theory in a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, and that every Christian needed to partake spiritually of the body and blood of Christ.

In the last point, Zwingli seems to be acquiescing to Luther. He does seem to recognize there is something given by God in the Lord’s Supper, but as the discussion unfolded, harmony between the two Reformers did not come.

There was disagreement: Is there a bodily presence of Christ? Luther tried one last time for harmony with Zwingli: “Jesus is present in his body essentially and substantively, but not qualitatively, quantitatively, or locally.” Luther in this statement is appealing back to his medieval training. He is saying, “Let’s say Christ is really present in his body in the bread, but let’s not get that presence there in such a way that it could conceivably be an object of worship.” Zwingli said no. The formulation is still too close to the Roman notion of transubstantiation.

Luther and Zwingli, though agreeing on majority of points of doctrine, ultimately disagreed on the Lord’s Supper. The Zwinglians pushed for the Lutherans to accept them- it is reported that Luther at one point considered doing so- but was advised by Melanchthon not to- because it would impede any future union with Roman Catholics sympathetic to the Reformation.


Gavin said...

Good series. I'm still curious as to where Calvin fits into all of this. It's of course been said that Calvin is "between" Zwingli and Luther.

A main question though: can you provide something of a source as to Luther considering adopting the Zwinglian doctrine (which you mentioned at the bottom)? This is a topic of heated discussion between myself (CRC) and my girlfriend (LC-MS), as well as election.

James Swan said...

Hi Gavin-

Calvin will be the next blog entry-

Luther would never "adopt" Zwinglian doctrine- but, I think politically he realized the strength of the Reformation would be much better with unity with Zwingli. Melanchthon at the colloquy charged Zwingli with misunderstanding many points of doctrine and said he was a poor theologian!

I've read in a few places that in the 15 points of almost unanimous agreement, Luther considered accepting the Zwinglians as brethren. The source that I used for this current blog was the biography of Melanchthon mentioned in this very entry. On page 171-172, Manschreck says,

"Luther at one point was apparently willing to be ambiguous enough to accept the Zwinglians until Melanchthon pointed out that this unity would close the door to any agreement with the 'right wing.' Union with the Roman Catholics was attempted at Augsburg the following year without success."

In Luther's Works, there is a specific work on the Marburg Colloquy- which has much greater detail about the whole affair. Since I have the CD-ROM, I can copy the text and e-mail it to you if you're interested. I also have an article on it from the Westminster journal which gives an interesting review as to why Luther and Zwingli never arrived at agreement- I can send that as well.


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother James,

I just finished reading all three parts of your article on The Lord's Supper, and it was very helpful! I am teaching on this subject in Discipleship Training class this Sunday evening, and you added quite a bit to my understanding. Thanks!

Love in Christ,


James Swan said...

Hi Pastor Jeff,

Thank you so much for reading the blog- glad I could be helpful-