This is My Body: A Reformational Comparison Between Calvin and Luther’s Sacramentology, Part V

For Luther, Jesus’ words were simple and clear. And for those who would oppose its literal rendering he had strict condemnation. According to Luther’s crucial work on the words of Jesus called: “That these words of Christ, ‘This is my Body,’ Etc., stand firm against the fanatics,” 1 he argues vociferously against his opponents whom he calls “fanatics.” He writes: “Now you demand Scripture from us, dear fanatics? Here it is: ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ Torment yourselves for now with this text; later you shall have more.” 2

Turning back to the matter of the ubiquity of Christ, what is Luther’s reasoning behind it? General reference is made to the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This would entail that he is in one place. But Luther contests this idea when he says 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 and determine and measured, for it is uncircumscribed and immeasurable, beyond and above all that is or may be.” 3 Luther goes on to give a more thorough defense of his position. Though there are legitimate responses to Luther, it must be acknowledged that he dedicated a substantial amount of his writings to answering them. 4 Further, like Calvin, Luther, too, saw a strong connection between Word and Sacrament. Hence, Christ was not alone in the Sacrament, but was accompanied by His word. Listen to Luther’s insightful words: “ For there stands God’s words, ‘This is my body,’ which grasp, comprehend, and give us physically the body of Christ; therefore the body of Christ must be useful through the Word. Indeed, even if it were true that Christ’s flesh were merely a piece of beef, and yet God’s Word were there bidding us to eat of it, it would nevertheless be useful on account of the Word.” 5 The Word is therefore in Luther’s view inseparable from the body.

As it has been stressed in so many ways, Martin Luther drew extensively from the words of institution given by our Lord in the Last Supper. If no other passage solved the matter appropriately, then according to Luther one need only turn to “This is my body.” There, he believed, was incontrovertible evidence that Christ’s body was truly present in the Eucharist. On the other hand, though Calvin was more sympathetic to Luther than Zwingli, he saw in Luther’s interpretation a fundamental error, namely a confusion of the natures of Christ. If Christ’s body was present in the Eucharist He could no longer be seated at the right hand of the Father as the exalted Lord. For Calvin, believers partook of the body of Christ by faith and in so doing they were elevated to the heavens. 6 Calvin believed that the saints enjoyed him in heaven whereas Luther saw it necessary that Christ’s words in the gospel meant that his physical body descended to the Eucharist. 7 Luther believed in a mystical union between the recipient and Christ himself, but Luther’s emphasis is that the believer can be sacramentally united to the body of Christ himself in the Eucharist.

 

  1. These long titles were common in the 16th century Reformation. One need only look through the myriad of titles Calvin had for his Institutes. I would favor a return to long titles as opposed to cliché titles given to modern books. With long titles you can give an exact demonstration of your intention throughout the book, whereas titles like “1984” by Orwell say nothing about the content of the book. [ back]
  2. Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works Volume 37 Word and Sacrament, Ed. Robert H. Fischer. Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1961, pg. 50. [ back]
  3. 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 and determine and measured, for it is uncircumscribed and immeasurable, beyond and above all that is or may be.” [ back]
  4. The majority of Luther’s works are dedicated to responding to his opponents. The majority of his critiques are against the Roman Catholic apologists and Zwinglians. [ back]
  5. Ibid., pg. 134. [ back]
  6. Reference to Ephesians 2:6. [ back]
  7. Christ is in, with, and under the elements. This has traditionally been called: “Consubstantiation.” Though as Keith Mathison has pointed out, Lutherans prefer the language of “Sacramental Union.” [ back]

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Calvin/Calvinism, Luther/Lutheranism, Word/Sacrament. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s