Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Luther's Preface To The Swabian Syngramma

And now for probably the first time in cyber space, here is Luther's Preface To The Swabian Syngramma (1526). I've pointed out that there are really only three main writings from Luther directed toward Zwingli, and this is the first. This has interest to me as verification that the Luther quote I've been looking at is from That These Words of Christ, “This Is My Body,” Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics (1527). The below translation is from Ian Siggins, Luther (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972) pp.111-114.

German text here, introduction begins on page 447, the text itself on page 457.

The deepest dissension in infant Protestantism was that between the Lutherans and the Swiss over the eucharist. Luther and Zwingli did not clash directly until 1527, but in 1526 Luther had reviewed the dispute in his preface to Johann Brenz's Swabian Syngramma. (Latin text in WA 19, 457-461.)

Martin Luther to all dear friends in Christ.

Grace and peace in Christ, our Lord and Saviour. This is a Latin booklet called Syngramma, published by the preacher in Swabia against the new rabble who are introducing novel dreams about the sacraments and disrupting the world. I find the book so pleasing that I was prepared to translate it into German, since, with many other things to write and do taking precedence, I have not been able to write a special treatment quickly. But now that my translation in turn has been delayed, a German version has been produced by my good friend. Master Johann Agricola, teacher at Eisleben, and I have been spared the trouble. Even when I wrote against the heavenly prophets and attacked Carlstadt's 'touto', I anticipated that others in succession (especially educated men) would follow with 'est' and 'significat'; yet this is really such a childish, incompetent argument. There is no example of it in Scripture, and even if there were examples, it could not thereby be proved that the words, 'This is my body', should and must be so taken. They will never prove it—that I know for sure. For it is a completely different thing to say: 'It may mean this' and to say: 'It must mean this and cannot mean anything else.' The conscience cannot rely on the first version, but it can rely on the second. I thought, and I still think, that in my book against Caristadt I had established this point sufficiently well that no one could refute it; and I still do not see that the principle I stated there has been genuinely assailed or shaken. But what I wrote is so despised by these exalted spirits that they do not even look at it, and after a mere glance in its direction conclude that it is all worthless, and that I must offer something quite different. Well, then, since I did not have time to write against this spirit in particular, I will bear witness to my faith with this foreword, and sincerely counsel those who will let themselves be warned to beware of these false prophets who call our God a 'baked God', a 'breaden God'; they call us 'God's flesh-eaters', 'God's blood-drinkers', and I know not how many other horribly blasphemous names, and yet they stay amongst patient, meek people who suffer great persecution and confess Christ aright. But the devil rules the patient and meek who overthrow the faith! I hope that such horrible blaspheming will come to a swift end, and he along with it. Even so, we have really deserved such pitiful beings and sects through our own ingratitude and persecution of the gospel, and through our wickedness we deserve still more the even greater distress to come.

First, this sect is so prolific that it has grown five or six heads withina single year.[3] The first was Dr Caristadt with his 'touto'. The second was Ulrich Zwingli with his 'significat'. The third is Johann Oecolampadius with his 'figure of the body'. The fourth is transposing the word-order of the text. A fifth is on the way, which rearranges the words. A sixth is now being born, who tosses the words like dice. Perhaps a seventh will show up as well and shuffle cards! Each individual wants to come out on top here. Look, has God's Spirit not forewarned us enough about such sects which divide up like this from the start?Where else does this portrait belong but with the beasts of the Apocalypse, where there are also beasts with one body and many heads [Revelation 13] ? These sects hold precisely the same thing in the long run, like one body, but in motives and basis each individual gang has proclaimed its own head and its own style, even though they are all set up to blaspheme one and the same Christian truth. Anyone who by now is not repelled or forewarned by such a horrible picture and God's admonition deserves to have to believe not only that there is mere bread and wine in the sacrament, but that it is mere mushroom or morel!

Secondly, the true Spirit not only takes care to avoid rebellious arguments and to present always a single ground of belief to all the world throughout his preaching (for he is not a God of duplicity, but of simplicity); no, he presents unwavering arguments, so that the longer one resists them, the stronger they become and grow. But with this beast it is quite different. Its first head, Carlstadt's 'touto', is drooping already and has not been able to sustain a single blow; so even they have to admit themselves that he was wrong, and the Spirit could not have dwelt there. The excuse that holy people sometimes stumble in faith and life does not help here, even though it is true. No, the Spirit has never let his own teachers err in promulgating the fundamentals of doctrine, especially when new ones are springing up as they are now. Certainly,he lets the arguments be weak, but he does not let them fail or be overthrown. Rather (as I said) he makes them grow and prevail—not like Carlstadt's 'touto', lying prostrate. The same thing is true of Zwingli's 'significat'; its head, too, has drooped and faded right away. For there is no single instance in Scripture where 'signifies' can be derived from 'is'; and if, after all, some instance were produced (which it cannot be), they will still never be able to derive 'signifies' from 'is' in the Supper. So here, too, his spirit has erred and fallen. That makes two major cautions and warnings from God to all who fear him and wish to believe truly. In fact, there is no surer way to recognise the devil than by lying and duplicity in the faith, and there is no better way to recognise the Spirit of God than by the truth. But this does not help: the world must and will be seduced, just as in Arius's day, when the same sorts of lies should also have served as warnings but did not help.

Thirdly, this spirit is above all a fickle, volatile spirit which does not stand still on any issue, as I have proved both orally and in writing. If one demands of them that they demonstrate that the saying, 'This is my body' or its parallels, used to be understood in their sense, and otherwise than the plain, common, natural words indicate, they take up another little tune—they are simply full of words and ideas! Here they explain from John 6 that there are two kinds of eating, spiritual and physical, as if no one knew that before; or sometimes they praise themselves for being so pious and enduring so much; or they deny that there is any need to insist that Christ's body and blood are present; or else they snatch at something to the effect that 'they do not have to stick to the words anyway'—otherwise they would be caught! In this way they fill up pages and ears with fruitless words, so that one cannot fail to see how Satan twists and changes himself into every shape to avoid being ensnared in his own lie. I say, then, that such falderols and flights of fancy have nothing to do with the case; I say they should stick to the words and demonstrate their understanding from the self-same passage of the text—oh yes, now they take me back to John 6 or to the monkey's tail, and in the meantime the issue is lost in the babble and still nothing is settled. It is the true mark of Satan's skill to nicker in this way, like night fires in the fields at evening.

I therefore state my judgement; however intensely it displeases them, I am nevertheless sure that it is true, for in this case I am thoroughly conversant both with the faith and with the devil. Their error rests on two grounds; first, it seems such an ungainly idea by rational standards, and secondly, it seems unnecessary, that Christ's body and blood should be in the bread and wine—that would be absurdity, not necessity. They have clung to these two points, and through Satan's temptation it has so penetrated into them—'as oil soaks into bone' (Ps. 109) [: 18; Vulg.108 : 18]—that they cannot get rid of it. Accordingly, now they wear such distorting glasses before their eyes that they come toddling to Scripture to see how can they drag their own opinion in and force the Scripture to their interpretation. In this way the Word may not be understood to mean what it says; you have to mould it and produce here a 'touto', there a 'significaf, here a 'figura', now transpose the words, now rearrange the text, now shuffle the text like a pack of cards. See, this is where the sects come from; but if they stuck to the words as they stood, or demonstrated from the text and sequence, or on other good grounds, that the words were to be understood differently from what they say, they would not give rise to any such factions.

If, now, they want to establish their interpretation, they will really have to take a different sword in hand; the treatises they have submitted, if they are like the Subsidium or the Antisyngramma,[4] will not do it; they can lead many astray, but they can settle nothing fundamentally. Hereby I also wish to warn all pious Christians to be prepared for these sects, and to abide by the pure, unalloyed words of Christ; indeed, we have the advantage that we dare not twist or bend the words as they do. I also ask that you will read this booklet diligently. If God gives me time, I will write specifically on this subject, but meanwhile I thank my God that he does not let the devil produce more potent lies than these are. God's grace be with us all.


3 The 'six heads' are the following new interpretations of 'This is my body which is given for you': 1. Andreas Caristadt: When Christ said 'This (touto) is my body', he was pointing to his own body, not the bread. 2. Ulrich Zwingli: 'This is my body' meant 'This signifies my body' (est = significat). 3. Johann Oecolampadius: 'This is a figure of my body (figura corporis), a logical refinement of Zwingli's position. 4. A view, attributed in a letter of Luther's only to 'C——': 'That which is given for you is my body.' 5. Caspar Schwenkfeld and Valentin Krautwold: 'My body, which is given for you, is this (namely, spiritual food).' 6. Melanchthon had heard by letter of yet another arrangement, attributed to a citizen of Cologne, but Luther had no specific information.

4 Ulrich Zwingli, Subsidium sive coronis de eucharistia, August 1525, JohannOecolampadius, Antisyngramma, February 1526, a reply to the Latin first editionofBrenz's Svnsramma.

1 comment:

Paul Hoffer said...

Mr. Swan, The version that I have that I mentioned in my e-mail to you is from Ian Siggins' hardbound edition published by Oliver & Boyd of Edinburgh also in 1972. Aside from some of the words being italicized in my version, it appears to be the same as my version.