Saturday, November 07, 2009

Catholic Answers on Luther and the Real Presence


Over the years I've come across some Roman Catholics using Luther's views on the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in two similar ways:

1.Luther's view is proof for the legitimacy the Roman Catholic view: Roman Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so did Luther.

2.Many Protestants don't believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but Luther did.

The goal is to show Protestants that it's reasonable, biblical, and Roman to believe in the the real presence. If the most famous Reformer believed in it, so should all Protestants.

The problem though with Roman Catholics using Luther's view is that it typically ignores the differences with the Roman view. Luther came to reject transubstantiation as well as the sacrifice of the mass. Rejecting these is no little difference.

I was very pleased to hear the following explanation of this from Catholic apologist Tim Staples:

Tim Staples on Luther and the Real Presence

Staples doesn't try to place Luther on the Roman Catholic side. He points out the differences between Rome and Luther are essential and radical differences. Staples also declares "Lutherans" aren't actually a church.

I'm so used to Luther being used as a propaganda tool, that I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing while listening to Staples.

"The body and blood of Christ are distributed under the bread and wine in the Sacrament, that is, bread and wine are present as well as body and blood. The bread and wine are not changed into body and blood- as the Roman Catholic Church teaches- but are in a mysterious way united with the body and blood. In other words, we receive both bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament" [An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism (Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1947), pp. 180-181].

22 comments:

Darlene said...

Mr. Swan,

I find it perplexing that you address this matter of the differences between Luther's view of the Eucharist and the RCC's view. Not that I disagree, for any serious Lutheran would be emphatic about these differences.

Rather, that you highly regard Luther on one hand, yet deviate from some of his major teachings, ones that he would not have compromised on for he believed that the "sacrament is the gospel."

How is it that one like yourself can defend Luther in many and varied ways, yet disregard his teaching on the sacraments? I have often asked other Reformed Christians basically the same question and their reply is, "Luther wasn't perfect." or "The Scriptures are my guide" (or somethg similar). However, Luther would say that he, too, was convinced by the Scriptures to believe and teach the things he did.

So then I ask, how do you know you have the correct understanding on the Sacraments (Lord's Supper, Baptism)and Luther, though well-intentioned, had an erroneous understanding? Or, do you overlook his teachings on the sacraments and agree to disagree, finding it not to be a significant problem?

I am not a Roman Catholic and have no desire to be. Yet, for some years now I just can't quite get my brain around this idea of Reformed Christians who vigorously defend Luther on one hand, yet disagree with teachings he never would have budged on.

Can you unequivocally and without doubt declare that Luther misinterpreted the Scriptures regarding major doctrines of the Christian faith? Are you certain that the Reformed view you hold to is correct? If so, then how can these differences between Lutherans and Reformed Calvinists not significantly affect your (referring to both Lutherans and Calvinists) soteriology and Christology? If you were to talk to Luther today, do you think he would merely agree to disagree with your understanding of the sacraments, or do you think he would admonish you for adhering to the Reformed view?

I look forward to your answers and anyone else who would like to comment.

Churchmouse said...

Hi Darlene,

I don't see a dilemma in contrasting Luther's position, such as on the issue of the Eucharist, with those of Roman Catholics for the purpose of correcting those who claim that Luther believed the same. All too often, Roman Catholics attempt to use Luther as a hostile witness against Protestants by claiming he held to a Catholic distinctive, such as the Eucharist. Jim has done a fine job of countering these polemics via his research. He simply allows Luther to be Luther. However, I don't see how this demands that we must agree with Luther on all things. Although there are some clear distinctions in doctrinal views between Lutherans and Calvinists (i.e. Uncondition Predestination/Election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, etc.) it doesn't provide the type of divide that won't allow us to embrace one another as brethren, especially in light of the five Solas. Luther abhored the idea of popery, recognized his humanity, and didn't claim infallibility. Thus, to disagree with some of Luther's teachings doesn't negate us from citing him, recognizing his teachings, or even embracing him. We simply allow the Scriptures to be our common ground even if we don't agree on every nuance of interpretation.

James Swan said...

How is it that one like yourself can defend Luther in many and varied ways, yet disregard his teaching on the sacraments?

I'm on my out the door to the Islam debate, so I'll have to tackle these over the next few days.

I'm not a Lutheran, and there are plenty of areas I disagree with Luther on. I'm interested in Reformation history, as it helps me better understand my own Reformed history, and church history as well.

I always take comfort in the fact that one of the leading experts on Jonathan Edwards wasn't even a Christian. I would dare say even an atheist could be a good Bible scholar (in fact, Satan himself has a better understanding of theology than any of us). So, it doesn't follow that to "defend" or interpret Luther means I need to agree with everything Luther ever said or did.

Where Luther was in history, I wouldn't expect him to interpret the Bible as I would 500 years later. I'm amazed he went as far as he did with dumping extra-biblical tradition and culturally ingrained understandings of the Bible.

Tim Enloe said...

I second Darlene's request for a broader focus. I keep coming back here because I learn many good things from the essays on Luther as contrasted with Catholic apologist distortions of him. Analyses of Luther and the Peasant's Revolt, or of "snow covered dung heap" language in Piers Plowman are most excellent, and ought to be read by everyone who cares about truth.

Nevertheless, this site has a very serious downside in that it continually focuses only on soteriological issues, as if the Reformation was some modern day evangelical crusade to "get souls saved" and retreat from active engagement with the space and time world in the name of pursuing "spiritual" things.

This is not Reformational at all, but Anabaptistic, and behind that, it is the same "monkishness" that Luther fought so vehemently against. Michael Horton says that when asked what he'd do if he knew Christ was coming back tomorrow, Luther answered, "I would plant a tree." Similarly, when a cobbler asked him what he should do now that he'd become a Christian (see, he wanted to be "spiritual"), Luther said, "Make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price."

Contrast that with, say, a Rhology who thinks that the main point of being on Facebook is to "challenge people with the Gospel," or even a James Swan, who claims that his lessening interest in physical things these days is maybe a sign of his advancing sanctification. Uh, no, what these kinds of things are, inclusive of the absolute obsession with soteriology and mere aping of Reformation language about "papists" and "false gospels", is just another form of the theologia gloriae you're always rightly denouncing. Protestantism is more than "sound doctrine" and the Gospel is more than a formula about justification - as even its early Roman critic, Thomas More, recognized when he said the Protestants' problem was that they took the physical world too seriously and their theology was "too glad to be true."

You guys need to quit playing around on the edges of Reformation theology and history. It was about so much more than damning Romanists and talking endlessly about justification and "the five solas." The Reformation was a whole vision for life in this world under the Lordship of Christ. If you allow soteriology and "spiritual" things to overwhelm all else, none of you will be truly faithful to the Reformation. You will instead just be inviting Sungenis to write another "Not By" book - this one called "Not By Soteriology Alone."

Don't fool yourselves: the "papists" already know all of this. If you don't want to face it, that's your call, but you're only giving them more ammunition and keeping yourselves from, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, moving "further up and further in."

Rhology said...

Darlene,

Replace "Scripture" with "sacred tradition" in your comment, then ask yourself the exact same questions with respect to EO-dox and RCs. Then you'll see how the Reformed answer your questions.

Ken said...

Tim,
There is some really interesting messages at the recent Conference on Calvin sponsored by Desiring God.

they address more of what you want


I am sure you would like Doug Wilson and Marvin Olasky's messages.

The question and answer time was very interesting also.

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/44/

Ken said...

Tim,
There was also a great 2 hour discussion on Eschatology with Piper, Doug Wilson, Sam Storms and Jim Hamilton


http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/10/06/eschatology-discussion-piper-storms-wilson-and-hamilton/

my3sons said...

I agree with Darlene and Tim. I appreciate what Mr. Swan does to defend Luther, but would be in much disagreement about the Sacraments. I am a former RC, then attended the OPC, but always believed in the Real Presence and not the way the OPC defined Real Presence. I am Lutheran now and very blessed, with my family, to be coming into full communion with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

my3sons said...

I meant to say that Mr. Swan is in disagreement. Sorry.

Chuck Williams said...

Mr. Swan, when did you stop being Lutheran? i seem to remember at one time in Dr. White at one time saying that you are not a Baptist calvinist but that you were Lutheran. Did i mishear him? Or perhaps did you stop being Lutheran at some point?

James Swan said...

I find it perplexing that you address this matter of the differences between Luther's view of the Eucharist and the RCC's view. Not that I disagree, for any serious Lutheran would be emphatic about these differences. Rather, that you highly regard Luther on one hand, yet deviate from some of his major teachings, ones that he would not have compromised on for he believed that the "sacrament is the gospel."

You shouldn't be perplexed. In the past, I have highlighted the differences between Luther's views and Roman Catholic views. I do so because Roman Catholics will sometimes use Luther's areas of agreement (or alleged agreement) to their advantage as an apologetic tool to lead people into the church of Rome. For example, I have tackled Luther's Mariology at length for this very reason. 10 years ago, it wasn't uncommon to find Roman Catholics citing out-of-context statements from Luther about Mary attempting to make him sound like a full-fledged Mary worshipper. There are areas in Luther's Mariology that I find entirely unbiblical (like his belief in Mary's perpetual virginity). This though does not mean I can't defend what Luther actually did believe against those who cite him out-of-context. Go ahead and study Luther's Mariology against modern day Roman Catholicism. His views aren't my Reformed views, but they're not full-fledged Roman Catholicism either. Let Luther be Luther. He shouldn't be used for propaganda.

True, I do highly regard Luther. I respect his stand against church corruption, and I do admire certain aspects of his theology. This doesn't mean though that I have to agree with everything he said or believed. I adore R.C. Sproul (who is Reformed like I am), yet I don't agree with everything he says. Keep in mind, I'm not a Reformed Baptist, but I spent last night watching Dr. White interact with a Muslim apologist. My respect and admiration for Dr. White should be obvious. I follow no man, and never will, be it Luther, Sproul, White, Calvin, etc.

As to Luther's "the sacrament is the gospel", If you're referring to the quote from LW 36, in context Luther is arguing against the sacrifice of the mass. Luther says it's "the worst of all and the most heretical. It was invented by the Antichrist, the pope and his followers. This error consists of the fact that they have made of the sacrament a sacrifice and a good work and thereby have deceived everybody." Luther then explains how Christ gives himself as a gift for us. "Just as you cannot make out of the gospel a sacrifice or a work, so you cannot make a sacrifice or a work out of this sacrament; for this sacrament is the gospel."

Darlene, If you have an understanding of this context from Luther you'd like to share, please do. I agree with Luther that there is a tremendous difference between what Roman Catholics think of the mass, and the actual Lord's Supper, which is indeed just another form of the Gospel.

Even in my own church, In the Reformed formulary my church uses, we recite the following during the Lord's Supper:

...as often as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you shall thereby, as by a sure remembrance and pledge, be admonished and assured of this My hearty love and faithfulness toward you; that, whereas otherwise you should have suffered eternal death, I give My body in death on the tree of the cross and shed my blood for you, and nourish and refresh your hungry souls with My crucified body and shed blood to everlasting life, as certainly as this bread is broken before your eyes and this cup is given to you, and you eat and drink with your mouth in remembrance of Me.

James Swan said...

I have often asked other Reformed Christians basically the same question and their reply is, "Luther wasn't perfect." or "The Scriptures are my guide" (or smooth similar). However, Luther would say that he, too, was convinced by the Scriptures to believe and teach the things he did.So then I ask, how do you know you have the correct understanding on the Sacraments (Lord's Supper, Baptism)and Luther, though well-intentioned, had an erroneous understanding? Or, do you overlook his teachings on the sacraments and agree to disagree, finding it not to be a significant problem?

You're asking a fundamental question of epistemology. This is the point in which a Roman Catholic jumps out with a Catholic Answers Superhero Costume with a shiny giant sword on and claims to save the day with, "We've got an infallible interpreter, so that's how we know what the correct interpretation of Scripture is."

Anyone though with even a an ounce of scruples sees this answer is bogus, and the superhero is simply a misguided logician who dies by his own sword. Each of us has to decide what is true or false. Even the Roman Catholic has to personally decide if the magisterium is true or false. The philosophic fact is, you'll never escape yourself. Ultimately, each of us has decide for ourselves if we've got the correct understanding of anything. So, when any of us approach understanding the sacraments or a Biblical passage, we do so fundamentally, alone. We're responsible for doing the work necessary to interpret anything placed before us- whether it's the Bible or a papal encyclical. No one chooses for us. You, I, and every Roman Catholic has to decide true, false, right, and wrong. Each of us has to interpret what's placed before us. True, others of much greater intelligence came before me, so studying church history likewise helps me navigate through theology.

Why don't I agree with all of Luther's views? Because when I study the Scriptures, I'm not convinced he accurately interpreted the Bible on certain things. Like when he tells his readers not to probe into the secret council of the hidden God- that's true, but when the revealed God gives us John 6, Romans 8-9, and Ephesians 1-2, It's best not conclude one can't know anything positive about predestination, or to avoid the subject entirely as many Lutherans do.

How do I know I'm right on anything? I don't ultimately know, I have faith that I am, but I'm not so arrogant as to suggest that I'm infallible, and each person reading this hopefully is just as honest. I don't know infallibly or ultimately the chair I'm sitting in won't collapse in 10 minutes. I have faith it won't, but I can't ultimately know infallibly it won't. Even our Roman Catholic friends only have faith that their alleged infallible interpreter is such. They can't themselves infallibly know the interpreter is infallible. The human condition is such, that our finiteness places us all on the same page. We're all beggars, that is true.

I read the text of Scriptures as honestly as I can, and I study them with whatever tools of higher learning in my reach. For instance, better minds than mine were able to navigate the Greek language and point out the Granville Sharp rule at Titus 2:13. I would be a fool not to consider the exegetical work of others in my studies. If someone wants to convince me of a particular view, saying "Luther said..." or "The magisterium says..." or "Calvin says..." while interesting, won't convince me of anything. If any of them produce exegetical work on a subject, well, let's look at that, and follow their arguments. Ultimately, I'm responsible before God for the views I hold.

-continued-

James Swan said...

-continued-

Consider Luther's views on the Jews. He makes Biblical arguments against them, and concludes their houses should be burned down and they should be run out of Germany. I looked at his arguments, and did my best to see if his conclusions were Biblical. They were not.

Each of us should take studying the Bible with seriousness and humbleness. I believe it's God's word, so I don't glibly throw Bible verses out at people. There are areas in the Bible (like the sacraments) that deserve special care, because they aren't so easily navigated through (like baptism), and Christians can come to different conclusions. Other areas of Biblical inquiry aren't as difficult, in fact they're quite perspicuous, and a person of reasonable intelligence should be able to follow Paul's long argument in Romans on justification.

James Swan said...

I am not a Roman Catholic and have no desire to be. Yet, for some years now I just can't quite get my brain around this idea of Reformed Christians who vigorously defend Luther on one hand, yet disagree with teachings he never would have budged on.

I defend Luther seemingly against everyone, even Reformed people (see my recent Iron Sharpens Iron broadcast). I'm not sure why this doesn't make sense to you. I've defended particular church fathers as well, and I wouldn't agree with everything they held either. My interests are in Reformation history. It just isn't logical to conclude one must defend only those they have 100% agreement with.


Can you unequivocally and without doubt declare that Luther misinterpreted the Scriptures regarding major doctrines of the Christian faith?

I would simply point you to my comments above. I would have no problem concluding Luther was wrong on anything, but I would do so via argumentation.

Are you certain that the Reformed view you hold to is correct?

I have faith I'm correct, as you have faith you're correct. None of us has an infallible certainty on anything. My bookshelves contain many books against Reformed theology. I've yet to be persuaded to cease being Reformed from anything I've read.

If so, then how can these differences between Lutherans and Reformed Calvinists not significantly affect your (referring to both Lutherans and Calvinists) soteriology and Christology? If you were to talk to Luther today, do you think he would merely agree to disagree with your understanding of the sacraments, or do you think he would admonish you for adhering to the Reformed view?

It depends on the heart. When I listen to the Lutheran and Reformed men on the White Horse Inn, each respects the other enough to look past their differences on the sacraments, and look towards their significant agreements. From my readings of Luther, he didn't appear to be a man who could do this, and for that I would fault him.

James Swan said...

Jim has done a fine job of countering these polemics via his research. He simply allows Luther to be Luther. However, I don't see how this demands that we must agree with Luther on all things.

Thank you!

James Swan said...

Nevertheless, this site has a very serious downside in that it continually focuses only on soteriological issues, as if the Reformation was some modern day evangelical crusade to "get souls saved" and retreat from active engagement with the space and time world in the name of pursuing "spiritual" things.

I've never claimed to be anything other than a type of two trick pony: sola scriptura and sola fide. I don't apologize for that.

This is not Reformational at all, but Anabaptistic, and behind that, it is the same "monkishness" that Luther fought so vehemently against.

So be it. I generally don't delve into areas I know little or nothing about, or areas in which I have a cursory understanding of the issues. That's why there are subjects I rarely address. I do try to address areas that no one else has- which is why I've taken time to do basic high school level book reports on Luther quotes. No one is really doing that. If you want a full-fledged Reformed worldview taking on the world, you should probably find a blogger much smarter than I.

Contrast that with, say, a Rhology who thinks that the main point of being on Facebook is to "challenge people with the Gospel," or even a James Swan, who claims that his lessening interest in physical things these days is maybe a sign of his advancing sanctification.

I've heard the same White Horse Inn broadcasts, and I understand vocation, Reformed worldview, and the arminian notion of sticking a fish or a Bible verse on everything. However, Rhology has a gift for evangelism, so I would n't be so quick to chastise him in the same way the WHI gang does evangelicalism. In fact, if you read his Facebook page and comments, he's a far cry from those the WHI gang criticize. As to my comment about stuff, it was made in jest. I wasn't really being serious.

If you allow soteriology and "spiritual" things to overwhelm all else, none of you will be truly faithful to the Reformation. You will instead just be inviting Sungenis to write another "Not By" book - this one called "Not By Soteriology Alone."

Tim, I write about the issues and things that interest me. I write about what I do, because I'm selfish and I enjoy writing about the things I do. I'm not looking to do a blog encompassing all of reality from a Reformed perspective. Besides, much brighter and smarter people already do blogs like that. No, I stick to the things I enjoy writing about. Those who blog here can do likewise. If they focus on certain issues rather than others, that's their choice. I don't edit them.

As to the real world (that is, the world beyond the keyboard), I strive to live a consistent Reformed worldview. I have a high view of the arts and vocation, and doing everything to the glory of God, without slapping a Bible verse on everything. That this doesn't translate to the blog has more to do with the fact that I doubt people need to read my review of the recent pseudo-intellectual art film I've just seen, or the latest story by Joyce Carol Oates I've read. Nor do they need to hear about my favorite piece by the Kronos Quartet and trends in classical music and post-modernism. No, others can do that much better than I.

James Swan said...

Mr. Swan, when did you stop being Lutheran? I seem to remember at one time in Dr. White at one time saying that you are not a Baptist Calvinist but that you were Lutheran. Did I mishear him? Or perhaps did you stop being Lutheran at some point?

I've never been a Lutheran, and to my knowledge, Dr. White has never stated I was a Lutheran, either in print or on the DL. Likewise, I've never been a Baptist. No, the United Reformed Church has been stuck with me for the last 10 years. I'm a member of the Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church, and I have no plans of going elsewhere any time soon.

L P said...

it doesn't provide the type of divide that won't allow us to embrace one another as brethren, especially in light of the five Solas

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Supper Lutherans practice closed communion.

Here is the thing that RCs and generic Prots should understand about Lutherans:

Though we look the same as RCs, and even sound the same. We DO NOT MEAN THE SAME.

We use similar words but we mean differently by those words.

Technically RCs do not believe in the means of grace like we do - in fact , non-Lutheran Prots do not share our view of the Means of Grace either.

LPC
LPC

Darlene said...

Dear Mr. Swan,

Thanks so much for your forthright and lengthy reply. I will have to "chew" on it and turn it over in my mind for some time. :)

I was among the Lutherans for awhile (though never a member) and appreciate the sacredness of their worship. I speak here of the conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans. I doubt you'll find a rocky, praise band among them. Nor a respy voiced preacher, hoarse from speaking abrasively through a squeaky microphone. Nor frilly, feel-good, relevant worship music. Nor many other things that have crept into a great many evangelical churches.

Darlene said...

James,

Also, while I am no expert on Luther, I would say that his equating the sacrament with the gospel reveals the high regard he had for the Lord's Supper. He did not consider it to be merely symbolic, nor merely a remembrance. My understanding from the Lutherans I met is that they take Christ's words for what they are face value when He spoke of the supper as, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." Lutherans thus believe that while the substance of bread and wine remain bread and wine, they are truly partaking of Christ and His body and blood in a mystical yet real way. They do not attempt detailed, philosophical explanations as to how it can be that the bread is Christ's body and the wine His blood. It is a holy mystery that the mind cannot comprehend nor logic explain.

The Lutherans I mingled with for a time also believed in public confession prior to taking the Lord's Supper, and private confession as well. And of course, infant baptism - but even more, that baptism is actually a necessary part of being saved and that grace and the life of God are imparted when the water mingled with the Word of God are applied.

And I agree with LP that Lutherans would not permit Reformed Calvinists of any stripe to partake of the Supper with them. The Lutheran pastor I knew spoke of Calvinists as being "heterodox" in many respects. Not sure if all Lutherans would hold to that view but these particular Lutherans did.

James Swan said...

Also, while I am no expert on Luther, I would say that his equating the sacrament with the gospel reveals the high regard he had for the Lord's Supper.

Simply because someone doesn't hold either the Roman Catholic view or the Lutheran view of the Lord's Supper does not mean they do not hold it in high regard. This doesn't follow, and it is an unprovable bias.

L P said...

Darlene,

Lutherans thus believe that while the substance of bread and wine remain bread and wine, they are truly partaking of Christ and His body and blood in a mystical yet real way. They do not attempt detailed, philosophical explanations as to how it can be that the bread is Christ's body and the wine His blood. It is a holy mystery that the mind cannot comprehend nor logic explain.

This is most certainly true.

The Scripture here is 1 Cor 10:16, and frankly that is the Scripture that opened me up to be a Lutheran.

When you let Scripture speak, IMHO without rational intrusion you will arrive at the spot where Luther stood.


Indeed, rationality is at play and is used in the Lutheran view no doubts about it, but the rationality that is operating is this - let rationalism take a back seat and let Scripture speak plainly. That is the rationality that is in effect.

However, it is different from the Roman view. Because for the Lutheran, that bread is body and wine is blood of Christ, the same one that hang and bled on the Cross, but what is offered is the Atonement of Jesus and hence, the forgiveness of sins - past, present, future. What is offered is the payment of Christ for you to enjoy and benefit from. The pastor is not offering a sacrifice to God, in fact it is the other way around, it is God offering it to you/us - the sinner, using the hands of the pastor. It is the "FOR YOU", in the Supper that is operative.


The passover pointed to this Supper. At the passover the Israelites ate the lamb but without the lamb, the death angel would have killed them.

So from the Lutheran standpoint this is again justification through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.

For Luther the Supper is the Gospel in visible form!

That is why Lutherans can have JBFA and have real Sacraments of Baptism and Supper. I am commenting on this so that the other Prots in here may get to understand why Lutherans are able to have JBFA and the sacraments of Baptism/Supper. The answer is simple - the Sacraments (for them) are gifts (gospel) in visible form.

Historically it can be traced in the Margburg Colloquy when Luther and Zwingli debated and agreed in all points but on this point of the Supper.

Luther eventually walked away declaring that Zwingli was of a different spirit. That is the ugly truth.



LPC