Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Lutheran View on Consubstantiation and the Lord’s Supper

This post can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

In the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal (Vol. 35, No. 02), Rev. Dr. Michael Ross, a Presbyterian pastor, had this to say about the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper in his article titled “The Sacrament of the Supper”:
Consubstantiation (Lutheran view): The bread and wine remain just that, but through the liturgy (Word) and the Spirit they become vehicles to communicate to believers the body and blood of Christ. Christ is received “in, with and around” the Communion elements. Hence, con (with) substantiation (substance).
    “It is taught among us that the true body and blood of Christ are really present in the Supper of our Lord under the form of bread and wine and are there distributed and received. The contrary doctrine is therefore rejected.”
Putting the best construction on Dr. Ross’s remarks, it appears that he was trying to articulate the Lutheran position, even quoting Article X of the Augsburg Confession in the second paragraph, but his use of the word consubstantiation confuses the issue. Lutherans do not believe in consubstantiation in the historical sense of the word, but rather repudiate that position.

Lutherans believe that Christ’s true body, the same body that was incarnate in the Virgin Mary, crucified on the cross, touched by the apostles, and ascended into heaven, is essentially (truly and substantially) present here on earth in the Supper, although invisibly in a way beyond understanding. It is received orally with the bread by the godly and the wicked alike, because the Sacrament is not founded on people’s holiness, but upon God’s Word; likewise Christ’s blood with the wine. Thus, the Holy Supper works consolation and life in the believing, and condemnation in the unbelieving.

Just as Christ’s unchanged human and divine natures are inseparably united, so the natural bread and Christ’s true natural body are united (likewise the wine and the blood). This is not a personal union (as that of the two natures of Christ), or a mystical union (as that between Christ and the believer), but a unique and incomprehensible sacramental union; not a natural or spatial combination, mixture, or fusion, but a supernatural union.

The definition of consubstantiation, taken from the Lutheran Christian Cyclopedia, which is an online version of the original print edition published in 1954 says
View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a “3d substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner.
Dr. Francis Pieper, in Christian Dogmatics, the three-volume standard that was used by nearly every Lutheran seminary in the United States in the 20th century, states:
The same principle of a solely local and visible mode of presence results in a polemic against the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper on the part of the Reformed which is untruthful through and through. Because the Reformed, the moment they hear of a true presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, always visualize only their visible and local presence, “as the peasant fills out jacket and breeches,” they ascribe to us Lutherans a local inclusion (localis inclusion, Hodge, Syst. Theol., I, 83) of the body of Christ in the bread, or a local consubstantiation (consubstantiatio), or even a physical compounding (permixtio) of bread and body of Christ. Because of the same bias they apply to us Lutherans the titles “carnivorous beasts,” “blood guzzlers,” and “cannibals,” and call the Supper instituted by Christ, with the real presence of the body and blood of Christ which is given and shed for us, a “Cyclopean meal” and a “Thyestean banquet.” All this is the result of their adoption of the thesis that Christ’s body can have only a visible and local mode of presence as their principle of Scripture interpretation. [Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950) 326-27.]

The discussion of the twofold material and the unio sacramentalis gives rise to the question how to define more definitely the manner (modus) of the taking of body and blood. We say: (1) Because the twofold material is combined into a sacramental unity, that is, since Christ gives His body with the bread and His blood with the wine, we receive with the mouth (manducatio oralis) not merely the bread and wine, but also the body and blood of Christ. (2) Since, however, the union of the material coelestis with the material terrena is not a natural or local, but a supernatural union (no localis inclusio, impanatio, consubstantiatio), we receive the body and blood of Christ with the mouth not in a natural, but in a supernatural manner. On the basis of the unio sacramentalis the Formula of Concord, on the one hand, adheres to the oral receiving of Christ’s body and blood; on the other hand, to the supernatural manner of the reception. It says: “When at the table and during the Supper [mensaie assidens], He [Christ] offers His disciples natural bread and natural wine, which He calls His true body and true blood, at the same time saying: ‘Eat and drink.’ For in view of the circumstances this command evidently cannot be understood otherwise than of oral eating and drinking, however, not in a gross, carnal, Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, incomprehensible way.” (Trigl. 995, Sol. Decl., VII, 64.) [Pieper, Vol. III, 362]

The Lutheran Confessions again reject consubstantiation in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, VII, 41-42:
41 20. Likewise, we also hand over all proud, frivolous, blasphemous questions (which decency forbids us to mention), and other expressions to God’s just judgment. Most blasphemously and with great offense ‹to the Church› such things are proposed by the Sacramentarians in a crass, carnal, Capernaitic way about the supernatural, heavenly mysteries of this Sacrament.
42 21. We utterly ‹reject and› condemn the Capernaitic eating of Christ’s body, as though ‹we taught that› His flesh were torn with the teeth and digested like other food. The Sacramentarians—against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests—willfully label us with this view. In this way they make our teaching hateful to their hearers. On the other hand, we hold and believe, according to the simple words of Christ’s testament, the true, yet supernatural eating of Christ’s body and also the drinking of His blood. Human senses and reason do not comprehend. But, as in all other articles of faith, our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5]. This mystery is not grasped in any other way than through faith alone, and it is revealed in the Word alone. [Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, ed. Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 490-91.]
19th century Lutheran theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth quotes 17th century Lutheran theologian Johann Benedict Carpzov, who has this to say:
…When this presence is called substantial and bodily, those words designate not the MODE of presence, but the OBJECT. When the words in, with, under, are used, our traducers know, as well as they know their own fingers, that they do NOT signify a CONSUBSTANTIATION, local co-existence, or impanation. The charge that we hold a local inclusion, or Consubstantiation, is a calumny. The eating and drinking are not physical, but mystical and sacramental. An action is not necessarily figurative because it is not physical. [Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007) 768.]
20th century Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse, puts it a little more delicately:
It is impossible to define Luther’s doctrine as consubstantiation. Even the words ‘in the bread’, ‘with the bread’, ‘under the bread’, or ‘in, with, and under the bread’, were never regarded by Luther as more than attempts to express in these old, popular terms inherited from the Middle Ages the great mystery that the bread is the body, the wine is the blood, as the Words of Institution say. [This is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, (Adelaide, South Australia: Openbook Publishers, 1959) 129.]

Since the phrase “in, with, and under” sometimes leads to confusion, the following two quotes are also provided:

From David P. Scaer’s essay titled “Lutheran View: Finding the Right Word” in the book Understanding Four Views on the Lord's Supper:
The Lutheran Confessions, in describing Christ’s body and blood as being “in, with and under” the bread and wine, may have allowed others to use “consubstantiation” to describe this view. These prepositions were intended to affirm that the earthly elements were really Christ’s body and blood and not to explain how earthly and divine elements were spatially related. In the earlier Lutheran Confessions, the three prepositions were not used together. [John H. Armstrong, Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), Kindle edition, location 1357.]
From John Theodore Mueller’s book Christian Dogmatics:
The phrase “in, with, and under” fittingly serves the purpose of repudiating the papistic error of transubstantiation and of affirming, in opposition to the error of the Reformed, the Scriptural doctrine of the sacramental union. [John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1934) 521.]
To unpack consubstantiation a bit more, Krauth also declares on page 130:
II. Consubstantiation. The charge that the Lutheran Church holds this monstrous doctrine has been repeated times without number. In the face of her solemn protestations the falsehood is still circulated. It would be easy to fill many pages with the declarations of the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and of her great theologians, who, without a dissenting voice, repudiate this doctrine, the name and the thing, in whole and in every one of its parts. In the “Wittenberg Concord,” (1536,) prepared and signed by Luther and the other great leaders in the Church, it is said: “We deny the doctrine of transubstantiation, as we do also deny that the body and blood of Christ are locally included in the bread.” …The manduction is not a thing of the senses or of reason, but supernatural, mysterious, and incomprehensible. The presence of Christ in the supper is not of a physical nature, nor earthly, nor Capernaitish, and yet it is most true.”
Krauth, in a discussion related to 19th century American Presbyterian theologian William G. T. Shedd’s treatment of the history and doctrine of Lutheranism in Shedd’s book History of Christian Doctrine, mentions on page 339 and following:
…This doctrine of Consubstantiation, according to which there are two factors, viz.: the material bread and wine, and the immaterial or spiritual body of Christ united or consubstantiated in the consecrated sacramental symbols, does not differ in kind from the Popish doctrine of Transubstantiation, according to which there is, indeed, but one element in the consecrated symbols, but that is the very body and blood of Christ into which the bread and wine have been transmuted.” Nothing is more difficult, than for a thinker or believer of one school, fairly to represent the opinions and faith of thinkers and believers of another school. On the points on which Dr. Shedd here dwells, his Puritanical tone of mind renders it so difficult for him to enter into the very heart of the historical faith of the Church, that we can hardly blame him, that if it were his duty to attempt to present, in his own language, the views of the Lutheran Church, he has not done it very successfully. From the moment he abandons the Lutheran sense of terms, and reads into them a Puritan construction, from that moment he wanders from the facts, and unconsciously misrepresents.
    In noticing Dr. Shedd’s critique on this alleged feature of Romanism, we would say in passing, that the Augsburg Confession does not teach the doctrine of Consubstantiation. From first to last, the Lutheran Church has rejected the name of Consubstantiation and everything which that name properly implies. Bold and uncompromising as our Confessors and Theologians have been, if the word Consubstantiation (which is not a more human term than Trinity and Original Sin are human terms,) had expressed correctly their doctrine, they would not have hesitated to use it. It is not used in any Confession of our Church, and we have never seen it used in any standard dogmatician of our communion, except to condemn the term, and to repudiate the idea that our Church held the doctrine it involves. We might adduce many of the leading evidences on this point; but for the present, we will refer to but a few. Bucer, in his Letter to Comander, confesses that “he had done injustice to Luther, in imputing to him this doctrine of Impanation,” and became a defender of the doctrine he had once rejected. Gerhard, that monarch among our theologians, says: “To meet the calumnies of opponents, we would remark, that we neither believe in Impanation nor Consubstantiation, nor in any physical or local presence whatsoever. Nor do we believe in that consubstantiative presence which some define to be the inclusion of one substance in another. Far from us be that figment. The heavenly thing and the earthly thing, in the Holy Supper, in the physical and natural sense, are not present with one another.” Baier, among our older divines, has written a dissertation expressly to refute this calumny, and to show, as Cotta expresses it, “that our theologians are entirely free from it (penitus abhorrere.)” Cotta, in his note on Gerhard, says: “The word Consubstantiation may be understood in different senses. Sometimes it denotes a local conjunction of two bodies, sometimes a commingling of them, as, for example, when it is alleged that the bread coalesces with the body, and the wine with the blood, into one substance. But in neither sense can that MONSTROUS DOCTRINE OF CONSUBSTANTIATION be attributed to our Church, since Lutherans do not believe either in that local conjunction of two bodies, nor in any commingling of bread and of Christ’s body, of wine and of His blood.” …REINHARD says: “Our Church has never taught that the emblems become one substance with the body and blood of Jesus, an opinion commonly denominated Consubstantiation.” MONSHEIM says: “Those err who say that we believe in Impanation. Nor are those more correct who charge us with believing Subpanation. Equally groundless is the charge of Consubstantiation. All these opinions differ very far from the doctrine of our Church.”
Sasse continues on page 130-31 of his book:
But the sacramental union has remained a characteristic feature of Lutheran doctrine on the Lord’s Supper, in contradistinction to Melanchthon and the Calvinists who denied this union, and found Christ’s presence not in the elements but in the sacred action in the celebration of the Supper. The unio sacramentalis is the Lutheran counterpart to Roman transubstantiation, and Late Medieval consubstantiation, with which it is often confounded. Like consubstantiation, sacramental union presupposes that bread and body, wine and blood, exist together. Bread and wine are not destroyed or ‘transubstantiated’. The difference, however, is that no theory is built up about the coexistence of two ‘substances’. The difference, over against Wyclif and his theory on remanence is this: For Wyclif, bread and wine remained what they were before; only sacramentally, that is, figuratively, they became the body and blood of Christ. For Luther, the bread is the body in an incomprehensible way; the union between the bread and the body cannot be expressed in terms of any philosophical theory or rational explanation; it is an object of faith, based solely on the words of Christ. The question which was put to him, not only by Zwingli, but also by his older adversaries, as to how the bread could be called the body of Christ if it still remained bread, was answered by Luther in pointing out the mode of speech called synecdoche. In his great controversy with Carlstadt he had already explained the words ‘This is my body’ as synecdoche. ‘This’ referred to what Jesus held in his hands, the bread, not (as Carlstadt’s impossible exegesis would suggest) to the body to which Jesus pointed. As a mother, pointing to the cradle in which her baby lies, says, ‘This is my child’, or as a man, pointing to a purse, may say, ‘Here is a hundred dollars’, so we say of the bread in a similar way, “This is the body of Christ’. This is a common mode of speech called synecdoche, an abbreviated speech in which the containing vessel is mentioned instead of its content. The objection, especially by Zwingli, that thus Luther himself did not understand the sacramental words literally, but figuratively, was refuted by Luther as not being to the point, because the reality of the body was not denied. In all other figures of speech, the words ‘body’ and ‘blood’ are understood figuratively; the synecdoche takes the reality of the elements as well as the reality of body and blood seriously.
The Lutheran view, therefore, cannot be put on the same level with the figurative understanding on the one hand, or with transubstantiation on the other hand, as was done by its critics on both sides. Luther was quite clear about the fact that the synecdoche is, also, only an attempt to describe a fact that defies human explanation. The Real Presence remained for him an inexplicable mystery. All his answers are nothing more than attempts to refute the denial of this miracle as something impossible. No human reason can explore how this miracle can take place.
We have not been commanded to inquire as to how it may come about that the bread becomes and is Christ’s body. But God’s Word is there to tell us so. With that we remain, and that we believe. [Luther quoted from Wider die himml. Propheten, WA 18, 206, 20]
Norman Nagel comments on the Lutheran view of consubstantiation for us in his essay titled “Consubstantiation” in the book Hermann Sasse: A Man for Our Times?:
Nothing then could be more un-Lutheran and un-catholic than to speak of consubstantiation, which, at the very least, would come under the same assessment as transubstantiation, “an unnecessary philosophical theory … a wrong attempt to explain the miracle of the Real Presence.” [John R. Stephenson, Hermann Sasse: A Man for Our Times? (Saint Louis: Concordia Academic Press, 1998), Kindle edition, location 5457.]
Sasse elegantly summarizes the Lutheran position on pages 82-83:
This miracle can be stated only as an article of faith, as Luther does at the beginning of the Article quoted:

Of the Sacrament of the Altar we hold that bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ, and are given and received not only by the godly, but also by wicked Christians. [Smalcald Articles III VI 1]

Nothing else is Lutheran doctrine: The consecrated bread is the body; the consecrated wine is the blood of Christ. How that is possible, no person on earth can say. What we know is that Christ himself gave this explanation by saying: ‘This is my body… This is my blood of the new covenant’. On the basis of these words of Christ, Luther believes in the Real Presence without trying to build up a theory comparable to the theories of impanation, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or whatever else the subtle minds of philosophers and theologians may have devised in order to answer the question: How could the Real Presence be possible?
In the end, Lutherans trust the words of Christ, going no further than the text allows, nor trying to explain the unexplainable. Our reason is captive to the Word of God:
In ordaining and instituting the Holy Supper He spoke these words about the bread, which He blessed and gave: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you,” and about the cup, or wine: “This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
45 We are certainly duty-bound not to interpret and explain these words in a different way. For these are the words of the eternal, true, and almighty Son of God, our Lord, Creator, and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. We cannot interpret them as allegorical, figurative, turns of phrases, in a way that seems agreeable to our reason. With simple faith and due obedience we receive the words as they read, in their proper and plain sense. We do not allow ourselves to be diverted ‹from Christ’s express words› by any objections or human contradictions spun from human reason, however appealing they may appear to reason. [Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article VII, 44-45. McCain, 570.]

This post can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

photo credit: LongitudeLatitude


Anonymous said...

Dear Scott,

Thank you very much for your
excellent explanation of the Lutheran understanding of Holy Communion.

I'm an Anglican looking for a faithful denomination, the leaders of the remnant within my own lacking the will to establish a separate confessing church in which believers need not be yoked with unbelievers.

The Church of England takes a Zwinglian memorialist approach
and I had picked up the Reformed idea that Confessional Lutherans believed in consubstantiation.

Your's is the best explanation of the nature of your belief in sacramental union on the net and a great help to enquirers.

There's only a tiny Confessing Lutheran Church in England, of course, but it now seems much more attractive.

Best wishes,


Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks for your comment Simon. I appreciate it. I frequently listen to a Lutheran talk radio show called Issues, Etc. They had a piece a while back on Lutheranism in England. I can't remember exactly what they talked about, but perhaps it might be helpful for you. The address for that segment of the show is http://issuesetc.org/2011/05/18/wednesday-may-18-2011/.
If there's any other way I can help with resources or to find a specific church let me know. You can email me by clicking "Email Scott" over in the right sidebar. Blessings as you look for a confessional church. Scott

Anonymous said...

Dear Scott, Thanks for this clarification. I'm a Christian who was raised Lutheran and thought there was a difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Lutheran view on this doctrine. I believe the argument for a figurative interpretation of the Words of Institution is correct, but that's not the point. The point is that the Lutheran position on this matter was never clearly presented to me until I read this article. Thank you.


Scott Diekmann said...

You're welcome Dean.