Thursday, November 6, 2014

This is My Body: Martin Luther on the Lord's Supper

Earlier I posted Ulrich Zwingli's thoughts on the Lord's Supper, a position I hold. Below, however, I want to highlight Luther's argument for consubstantiation for the simple reason that he is fun to read even when he is wrong and disagreeable.

Here is Luther in his book, with the lively title, That These Words "This is my body," etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics:
Our adversary says that mere bread and win are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they believe and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world. . . .

Neither does it help them to assert that at all other points they have a high and noble regard for god's words and the entire gospel, except in this matter. My friend, God's Word s God's Word; this point does not require much haggling! When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire god and makes light of all blasphemy. . . .

The sum and substance of all this is that we have on our side the clear, distinct Scripture which reads, "Take, eat; this is my body," and we are not under obligation nor will we be pressed to cite Scripture beyond this text - though we could do so abundantly. On the contrary, they should produce Scripture which reads, "This represents my body," or, "This is a sign of my body." . . .

Suppose they say: The Scriptures contradict themselves, and no one reconciles them unless he believes that mere bread and wine are present in the Supper. Answer: What Scripture? Suppose they say: Oh, where the article of faith is established that Christ ascended to heaven and sits on the right hand of God in his glory. Again, eating flesh is of no avail, John 6[:63], "The flesh is of no avail." So, if flesh and blood are in the Supper, Christ could not be sitting at the right hand of God in his glory, and he would be giving us something to eat which is of no use for salvation. Therefore name any Scripture you will, it must make of Christ's body a "sign of the body," and this must be the text of the Supper!

Who would have expected such lofty wisdom from the fanatics? here you see the best single arugment that they have. . . .

Now anyone who asks too many questions becomes unwelcome, but I must ask some more, that I may become still more clever. How do we become certain, good gentlemen, that a body may not through the power of God be at the same time in heaven and in the Supper, since the power of God has neither measure nor number, and does things which no mind can comprehend but must simply be believed? When he says, "This is my body," how shall I calm my heart and convince it that God has no means or power to do what his Word says? . . .

Here perhaps they may say: We can prove it very well. Once we climbed up to heaven secretly, just at midnight, when God was most soundly asleep. We had a lantern and a master key with us, broke into his most secret chamber, and unlocked all his chests and strongboxes in which his power lay. We took gold scales so that we could weigh our look accurately adn be sure to hit it just right. But we found no power that can enable a body to be at the same time n heaven and in the Supper. Therefore it is certain that "body" must mean "sign of the body." May God repay you, Satan, you damnable wretch, for the shameful and cocksure way you ridicule us! But my ridicule in turn will tickle you, too, what do you bet? . . .

The Scriptures teach us, however, that the right hand of God is not a specific place in which a body must or may be, such as on a golden throne, but is the almighty power of God, which at one and the same time can be nowhere and yet must be everywhere. It cannot be at any one place, I say. For if it were at some specific place, it would have to be there in a circumscribed an determinate manner, as everything which is at one place must be at that place determinately and measurably, so that it cannot meanwhile be at any other place. But the power of God cannot be so determined and measured, for it is uncircumscribed and immeasurable, beyond and above all that is or may be.

On the other hand, it must be essentially present at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf. The reason is this: It is God who crates, effects, and preserves all things through his almighty power and right hand, as our Creed confesses. for he dispatches no officials or angels when he creates or preserves something, but all this is the work of his divine power itself. If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects. . . . 

Listen now, you pig, dog, or fanatic, whatever kind of unreasonable ass you are: Even if Christ's body is everywhere, you do not therefore immediately eat or drink or touch him; nor do I talk with you about such tings in this manner, either; go back to your pigpen and your filth. I said above that the right hand of God is everywhere, but at the same time nowhere and uncircumscribed, above and apart form all creatures. Three is a difference between his being present and your touching. He is free and unbound wherever he is, and he does not have to stand there like a rogue set in a pillory, or his neck in irons.


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