This is My Body Pt. 2

In the first installment in this series on the Lord’s supper I made the argument that the Lutheran claim to take Christ’s words of institution at the supper at face value, in distinction from other protestants, falls flat. In short my argument is that the Lutheran apologetic over against the “sacramentarians” fails to meet it’s own demands. A couple of excerpts from the first article should suffice to restate my main assertion in a basic way:

“I hasten to point out, as have others, that if “is” must mean literally “is” in it’s most literal sense, then as soon as is means “present in, with, and under” the Lutheran argument no longer bears the weight of it’s own demand for a literal reading of the words of institution.”

“So my question is: Is the definition “Present in, with, and under in an illocal, supernatural, yet real way” really just a plain understanding of the word “is”? No, rather the allegedly literal, or plain reading as they are want to call it, ends up defining “is” as “is present with” and then redefining “is present with” as “is not physically present with”. Whatever this interpretation of the words of institution is, it isn’t a literal one.”

Upon reading the article a couple of my Lutheran friends suggested that my source for dogmatic definitions concerning the Lord’s supper was not a great one. I quoted two or three times from Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics, which I understood to be a standard Lutheran work. But I must have missed something because my Lutheran friends seem to view Mueller as somewhat rationalistic and too Reformed sounding(rationalistic and Reformed are almost synonymous to many Lutherans). So I decided, given the general lukewarmness of my Lutheran friends for Mueller, that it would only be fair to examine The Book of Concord (BoC hereafter) and see from the source whether my observations have any merit. For the purposes of this article I will be referencing The Formula of Concord, Epitome, section VII.

As I read some of the relevant material in the BoC I kept in mind the question “Do the Lutheran confessions say anything that would either confirm or disprove my argument regarding the Lutheran doctrine of the supper?”. That is, do the confessions speak, unlike Mueller, of an understanding of “is” that actually meets the demands of Lutheran theology itself and the resulting polemics? Or do the confessions end up defining “is” in a somewhat less than truly literal manner like John Mueller?

The Epitome defines the nature of the controversy between the Lutherans and the Sacramentarians with this question:

“Whether in the Holy Supper the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are truly and essentially present, are distributed with the bread and wine, and received with the mouth by all those who use this Sacrament, whether they be worthy or unworthy, godly or ungodly, believing or unbelieving; by the believing for consolation and life, by the unbelieving for judgment? The Sacramentarians say, No; we say, Yes.” (Paragraph 2)

The document then goes on to concisely lay out the Lutheran teaching on the nature of the supper in ten affirmative theses. I will quote a few here:

“We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine.” (Thesis 1)

“We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the testament of Christ are not to be understood otherwise than as they read, according to the letter, so that the bread does not signify the absent body and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that, on account of the sacramental union, they [the bread and wine] are truly the body and blood of Christ.” (Thesis 2)

“We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles; for it is written Mark 14:23: And they all drank of it. St. Paul likewise says, 1 Cor. 10:16: The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? that is: He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, unanimously testify.” (Thesis 6)

There are two points brought out in these three theses and the previous quotation that I want to address with the remainder of this article. The first is the language of “essentially present…with the bread and wine” and how that relates to the Lutheran claim to take Jesus words “as they read, according to the letter”. The second point I will address is the concept of the sacramental union and whether that concept is biblical and whether it is really arrived at by simply taking Jesus’ words at face value.

So do the Lutheran confessions give us a doctrine of the Lord’s supper that simply takes Jesus’ words at face value? I suggest that they do not. I do not see an essential difference between what Mueller had to say about the Lord’s supper and the confessional definition found in the Formula of Concord. How is “this is my body” in any way propositionally equative with “the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine“? Jesus did not say “my body is truly and essentially present with this bread and wine. He said “this is my body”. So how can a Lutheran claim to just take Jesus’ words at face value all the while chiding other Christians for not doing so? I am afraid my critique on this point stands. The Lutheran position and the attendant polemical argumentation fails to bear the weight of its own demand.

The issue of sacramental union is related directly to this problem. Read again the words of the Epitome:

We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink…”

This explanation is every bit as strained as Mueller’s. We have here again the language of “with” rather than “is”. But Beyond that a distinction is introduced, defended by the concept of the “sacramental union”, between the oral reception of Christ’s body in the sacrament and a “Capernaitic” eating, referring of course to the incident at Capernaum in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel.

But again I ask, is this explanation arrived at simply by taking Christ’s words at face value? Or is the “sacramental union” marshaled as a philosophical rescue device? When the confessional document quoted above designates the nature of the eating of Christ’s body and drinking of His blood as not done in a Capernaitic manner, ie not cannibalism, but rather in a supernatural, heavenly way, does this not go well beyond the simple statement that “this is my body”? Is this not the same type of meaningless distinction employed by Mueller?

If the bread is the body of Christ, then it is. If it is present with His body, then it isn’t His body. He did not say “this accompanies my body”. Nor did He say “take, eat, but not in a Capernaitic way, in a supernatural, heavenly way. My body is present with this bread through the sacramental union”. No, my Lutheran friends, yours is not an understanding of Christ’s words “as the read, according to the letter”. You could never pull these dogmatic definitions out of that simple phrase “this is my body”. The question then as it pertains to Lutherans and the rest of Protestantism is not the question of who takes Christ’s words of institution literally, or according to the letter. The question is rather which non-literal understanding is correct?

*Note: The Formula of Concord, Epitome is so named because it is a synopsis of The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. I chose The Formula because it most directly deals with disagreements Lutherans have with the Reformed. If you do not have a paper copy of the Book of Concord and would like to investigate further, it is available online. I recommend especially Luther’s treatment of the commandments in his large catechism and the treatment of original sin and salvation by faith in The Apology to the Augsburg Confession. It’s really good stuff.* (Part 3)

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20 Responses to This is My Body Pt. 2

  1. Nathan says:

    I suppose it depends on your definition of cannibalism. Is it:

    “the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being”? But of what kind is this “ritualistic eating” in the general definition? Is it a sacrificial eating with the emphasis on our sacrifice? I think yes – that is what most will associate this with, for good reason. Is it a sacramental eating with the emphasis on what God gives us, apart from any action or worthiness on our part? I think no.

    “Jesus did not say “my body is truly and essentially present with this bread and wine“. He said “this is my body”. So how can a Lutheran claim to just take Jesus’ words at face value all the while chiding other Christians for not doing so? I am afraid my critique on this point stands.”

    Yes, it is His body. Full stop. To say that it is “essentially present” with this bread and wine is simply to point out, as the Apostle Paul does, that there is some real sense in which the body and blood of Christ are also associated with things Paul really does call “bread” and “wine” as well.

    The RCs, following Thomas, go with transubstantiation, which denies that there are real bread and wine but rather only the appearance of the bread and wine. The best Lutherans, like the EO, do not call this consubstantiation. They call it mystery.

    +Nathan

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    • Andrew says:

      Well sir, I suspect that you and I will not see eye to eye on this. But my question would again be is “is” propositionally equative of “associated with in some real sense”? If not, then how can you claim to be taking “is” at face value? Invoking mystery might be helpful, but it really doesn’t solve the problem of your position not bearing the weight of it’s own demand.

      You mentioned the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. As far fetched as the philosophical gymnastics are in the explanation of that particular position, it seems to me like they are really the only ones that take “is” at face value.

      I appreciate the feedback.

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      • infanttheology says:

        Andrew,

        I don’t think there is any equivocation here whatsoever. It is his body, period. It is bread, period. It is both/and. Like we can talk about the two natures of Christ. Like we can talk about really and truly being sinners and saints at the same time, even as we put the emphasis on saint as being our true identity.

        +Nathan

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        • Andrew says:

          I don’t read Paul’s interpretation of the supper that way. When he says “the bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” it sounds to my ears more like the Reformed understanding. Why otherwise would he not have said “the bread that we break, is it not the body of Christ”?

          I do think that the comparison to the two natures of Christ is the strongest argument against the objections I have raised; but I am not convinced that demonstrating the possibility of something having two natures (which I don’t deny) is automatic proof of a particular thing having two natures.

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  2. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Would your more Reformed understanding go immediately to the mystical body here? In which case, what about the preceding verse: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?”

    We don’t deny that the mystical body figures in prominently here, only that the bread and cup – being the true body and blood of the God-man Jesus Christ that we receive with our mouths – are instrumental in grounding and establishing that mystical body.

    There is also this from chapter 11: ” Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”

    I’d be interested in hearing more about how you understand that.

    Thanks for the cordial exchange. I appreciate your looking into this so much – this is a very important issue to be sure, even if today many persons do not seem to think so.

    +Nathan

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    • Andrew says:

      What I see in Paul is a less than literal interpretation of “this is my body”. I don’t know exactly how all the Ts are crossed necessarily. But why not say “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the blood of Christ”? Paul’s interpretation seems to veer away from the literalism preferred by Lutherans.

      I do know that the blood of Christ was offered to the Father for our sins and that we are made partakers of the benefits of that through faith. What I see here is a participation in the covenant meal, wherein Christ (indeed the entire Godhead) is most certainly present. But I don’t see any reason to believe that I am actually eating Jesus. The odd metaphysical distinctions made between eating “capernaitically” and “supernatural, heavenly eating” and between a physical presence detectable by the senses and a presence by “sacramental union” just don’t seem any closer to being a “face value” understanding of “this is…”. And Paul’s words could just as easily be taken to refer to a spiritual partaking of Christ by faith.

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  3. pastor tony phelps says:

    Andrew, thanks for engaging this issue so carefully. There is often a lot of bluster on both sides. I think you are amply demonstrating that the popular Lutheran default – “we take the Words of Institution in their literal, plain sense (i.e., we believe the Bible!), so you Reformed types are rationalists!” – is a red herring / ad hominem. Oh, wait. I’m identifying logical fallacies. I must be a rationalist. ( Although I will grant to my Lutheran friends that at Marburg, Zwingli did come across as such!)

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    • Andrew says:

      Right, I don’t think it works to argue from what we might be able to conceive as being logically possible for God to do. We shouldn’t be rationalists, but in fairness I do see some rationalization in the Lutheran understanding of the supper. Granted there isn’t a lot of high, technical philosophical language used; but that doesn’t make those odd metaphysical distinctions to which I referred any less an attempt to rationalize.

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  4. Nathan says:

    Andrew,

    “And Paul’s words could just as easily be taken to refer to a spiritual partaking of Christ by faith.”

    Hmm. Blood is pretty earthy stuff. I grant that body is used in the N.T. in a way that clearly goes beyond a physical body the way we normally think about it (as in the body of Christ, meaning all those connected to the head by faith), but I don’t think we see a similar situation with blood.

    So, I think it behooves me to ask: in what unique way are those taking part in communion participating in the blood of Christ? And just how are those who drink unworthily guilty concerning the Lord’s blood?

    Yes, we do believe we eat Jesus and this eating is given to us that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation.

    Hopefully, I will check this weekend (I have a translation of parts of the Apology of the Formula of Concord), but my guess is that if the Lutherans thought that they needed to use such philosophical language, it was only because they were forced into it in order to make themselves clear in that context – we do not think that denying that one actually eats Christ’s body and blood by one’s mouth is a small matter, but one that touches the heart of our Christian experience.

    I don’t think this is hairsplitting and this is why: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/the-real-reason-there-are-no-lutheran-baptists-martin-luthers-500-year-battle-vs-protestant-liberalism-part-iii-of-iii/

    +Nathan

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  5. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Another factor here is that we really think that we should be focusing on Jesus’ words during the Supper in the Gospel. That is where we get the clearest sense of what He wants us to learn from this event. I only brought Paul up in the discussion to show that we can still legitimately say that we can really call the bread in the Supper “bread”! – which was necessary in order to address the approach you took in answering us in your post.

    We don’t go to these passages in Corinthians in order to prove that the bread somehow really is his body and the wine really is his blood. Christ’s words in the Gospels are enough for that – we don’t need to talk about the need for Scripture to interpret Scripture here – His words, and the title of your post, are pretty clear.

    +Nathan

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    • Andrew says:

      “So, I think it behooves me to ask: in what unique way are those taking part in communion participating in the blood of Christ?”

      Through faith in His atoning death. I look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians as an expansion on Christ’s words at the last supper. We are participating in His body and blood through faith. Otherwise why not say “the bread which we break, is it not the body of Christ” or “is it not the eating of Christ”?

      “And just how are those who drink unworthily guilty concerning the Lord’s blood?”

      They are partaking in the Lord’s supper while not believing in him. In essence saying “amen” while lacking faith.

      And I am going to have to disagree with you. We still need to let scripture interpret scripture here, as everywhere.

      “Yes, we do believe we eat Jesus and this eating is given to us that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation.”

      I will be attempting to tie this all together with an upcoming article which deals with that. In short, the internal logic of that doesn’t work. Christ’s body was sacrificed to the Father and our forgiveness comes on the basis of God being satisfied with the Son’s oblation. There is no reason to think a literal eating of Christ would be salvific. But as I said, I will write an article concerning that aspect soon. So let’s wait until then to get to that part of it.

      “Another factor here is that we really think that we should be focusing on Jesus’ words during the Supper in the Gospel.”

      Okay, but Jesus actually states the purpose of the action when he says “do this in remembrance of me”. You may want to respond by pointing out that Jesus said “This is my body, given for you”. I would simply respond preemptively by restating what I just pointed out. Jesus gives the purpose of the meal. The purpose of his blood shedding and body giving was to obtain forgiveness. The meal’s stated purpose in to remember those things.

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  6. Pingback: This is My Body Pt. 1 | Reformation500

  7. Andrew,

    Thanks – I’ll hold off replying again until that part III.

    +Nathan

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    • Andrew says:

      I only referred to the idea of obtaining forgiveness through the eating of Jesus. Feel free to respond to whatever else. Thanks again for the interaction. This sort of thing is important, even if it’s only a few of us here.

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  8. infanttheology says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks. I want to be careful/thoughtful/prayerful about how I answer – and to also read up on what’s been said by others before me…. so yes, maybe will answer here when I can.

    +Nathan

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  9. Pingback: This is My Body (Pt. 2 1/2) | Reformation500

  10. Pingback: Of bread, flesh and communion | Agellius's Blog

  11. Agellius says:

    Hey Andrew, long time no see.

    You write, “You mentioned the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. As far fetched as the philosophical gymnastics are in the explanation of that particular position, it seems to me like they are really the only ones that take “is” at face value.”

    I agree we’re the only ones who take “is” at face value. But the fact that some “philosophical gymnastics” are needed to explain how it can be, no more makes the doctrine farfetched, than Einstein’s “mathematical gymnastics” in explaining the Theory of Relativity. Yes, it takes a lot of work to explain how something so counterintuitive can be true, but it’s fallacious to conclude on that basis that the doctrine is either farfetched or false.

    You write, “There is no reason to think a literal eating of Christ would be salvific.”

    I think there’s a reason. But being too long to post in a comment, I have posted it on my own blog, here: http://agellius.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/of-bread-flesh-and-communion/.

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  12. Pingback: This is My Body (Pt. 3) | Reformation500

  13. infanttheology says:

    I continue the conversation with Andrew here: http://reformation500.com/2014/05/07/this-is-my-body-pt-3

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