Let us be Content With “Is”

               20th Century Confessional Lutheran theologian Sasse said that the offense that once rested on the Cross now rests on the Altar. What follows are quotes and thoughts collected from many sources over many years that help to retain and glory in the offense rightly.

               Our 1529 Small Catechism answers “What is the Sacrament of the Altar” with, “It is the true Body and Blood of Christ under the Bread and Wine given for us Christians to eat and drink.”

               Our 1577 Formula of Concord, goes on to say the 1530 Augsburg Confession teaches from God’s Word concerning the Lord’s Supper that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Holy Supper under the form of bread and wine, and are there dispensed and received (FC, SD, VII, 9). Then it continues by pointing out Luther more amply expounded and confirmed this opinion from God’s Word in the Large Catechism, where it is written: “What, then, is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine, which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink” (Ibid. 20).

               In addition to how Christ and Paul express what Communion is (i.e. the bread in the Supper is the body of Christ or the communion of the body of Christ), we also use the forms: under the bread, with the bread, in the bread. We explain in the Formula that we do this so that by means of them the papistical transubstantiation may be rejected and the sacramental union of the unchanged essence of the bread and of the body of Christ is indicated (Ibid., 35).

               We go on to say in Formula of Concord VII that although this union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is not a personal union as the two natures in Christ is, Luther and our theologians, in the Articles of Agreement in the year 1536 and in other places call it a sacramental union. They do this, we say, to indicate that, although they also us the formulas: in pane, sub pane, cum pane, that is, in the bread, under the bread, with the bread, yet they have received the words of Christ properly and have understood the proposition, that is, the words of Christ’s testament, “This is My body”, are not a figurative, allegorical expression or comment, but as an unusual expression (Ibid., 38).

Here’s some other quotes to muse over on this matter:

Communion – In, with, and under – Christ says, “This is My Body,” not “My Body is in, with, or under the bread.” Had he said the latter and not the former says Luther, “a thousand evasions and glosses would have been devised over the words ‘in, with, and under, no doubt with greater plausibility and less chance of stopping it than now” (LW, 37, 306).

Communion – Infant -“…by the third century at the latest, the baptism of infants and small children (and by implication their communion) was apparently widespread in both East and West” (68). However, “No one in the Reformation seriously challenged the withholding of communion from baptized infants” (Oxford History of Worship, 325-26).

Communion – Is – How can “I am the Vine” be a symbol and “This is My body” not? “The resolution into the literal lies in the word rock not in the word ‘is.’ So when we say, Christ is the door, the vine, the foundation, the corner-stone, the resolution of the expression into what is absolutely literal, turns not upon the word ‘is,’ but on the word ‘door,’ ‘vine,’ or other noun, as the case may be”(Krauth,  Conservative Reformation, 613). “…language itself would commit suicide if it could tolerate the idea that the substantive verb shall express not substance but symbol” (Ibid.,619).

Communion – Luther vs. Melanchthon – “..Melanchthon wanted to emphasize the presence of the person of Christ and not that of his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper…” (Brecht, Luther III, 329). The Reformed can live with Melanchthon’s way of speaking (PRH).

Communion – Luther’s rejection of philosophy – “Luther also rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation as a philosophical construct that was not in the Bible. One could not appropriately express the union of Christ’s body and blood or the human and divine natures in Christ in Aristotelian categories” (Brecht, Luther III, 225).

Communion – Not a disagreement over how – Reformed want to say the controversy is about the mode of presence not the presence itself. It’s about how the body and blood are present. That they are present, the Reformed maintain, everyone agrees. “To this, the old orthodox theologians countered that this way any doctrinal question could be easily set aside. One could say that between the Arians and the Nicaeans there was complete unity regarding the biblical statement ‘God was in Christ,’ they just could not agree on the how of this presence” (Sasse, The Lonely Way, II, 88).

Communion – Real Presence Supernatural – “The senses may be competent to decide on the presence and reality of what is offered to them, but may be incompetent to decide whether a thing is really present, which does not come within their sphere. That I see the furniture in my room is proof that there is furniture there; but I do not see the air in my room is no proof that air is not there. That I see the bread is the Supper is proof that bread is there; but that I do not see the body is not proof that the body is not there” (Krauth, Conservative Reformation, 809).

Real Presence – Below is the Calvinist’s view according to 17th century Lutheran theologian Nicolaus Hunnius – “‘Christ has never promised this, however: that, when the words of the Supper are recited, His body will be substantially in the bread so that one eats it with his mouth. It is, therefore, an idol….This tragic corruption obviously obscures the use of the Sacrament and draws minds away from an understanding thereof to the idol which they imagine is concealed in the bread'” (Hunnius, Diaskepsis, 271).

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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