Saturday, January 7, 2012

from the Great Confession

One of my favorite theological works of all time is Martin Luther's Confession Concerning Christ's Supper (usually referenced simply as The Great Confession) of 1528.  Besides being a brilliant work in terms of its spiritual, theological, and exegetical qualities, the reader also gets some delightful bonuses.  For example, in some places he gives the Zwinglians lessons in grammar.  In some, like what you will see below, he also gives them lessons in logic.  To round out the classic trivium, let me add that the whole book is a lesson in rhetoric.  I thought I'd share a particularly juicy passage from what is truly one of Luther's most important works.  Enjoy.

In the sixth place, he wishes to prove that Scripture also is opposed to our interpretation.  The first passage is precisely this one:  "This is my body which is given for you."  It is not true that this is Christ's body in the form in which it was given for us, for it was given visibly for us.  This we answered above, showing that this spirit makes a quality out of a substance, by a very faulty syllogism in which there are four terms, no universal premise, no essential predication, no distributed middle, and many other faults, for logicians know full well that "an accidental term cannot be subsumed under a substantial term."  Such reasoning, however, passes for Scripture and God's Word with this spirit!

In plain language, we do not say that Christ's body is present in the Supper in the same form in which he was given for us-who would say that?-but that it is the same body which was given for us, not in the same form or mode but in the same essence and nature.  Now a particular essence can very well be visible at one place and invisible at another.  Oh, this is fool's play!  No one will answer us.  All they want to do is talk twaddle and show off.

Again, it is allegedly opposed to the text, "As often as you eat this bread," etc. Because here the word "this" refers to the bread, therefore in the other expression, "This is my body," it must refer to mere bread, etc.  I reply, it is not necessarily so in every instance, nor can this be shown to be a necessary consequence; we have already proved the opposite, that in both places the word "this" refers to the bread, which is the body of Christ, and that neither refers to common bread only.

Again he cites St. Mark, "The Lord was taken up into heaven," and "I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16), and, "I am no more in the world, but they are in the world" (Jn 17), and many other passages in which Christ is declared to be in heaven.  Well, we also believe and teach all this.  We did not need to be taught it.  What they do need to teach, however, is that because Christ is in heaven, his body cannot be present in the Supper.  This "impossibility" they ought to prove, then we would be convinced that these passages are opposed to our interpretation.  But they always teach us with great loquacity what we already know, and meanwhile masterfully keep silent over points about which we are asking.  Therefore we must hold on to our interpretation. 

Indeed, Christ himself explains what "being in the world" means, in Luke 24, where he says, "These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you."  What! Was he not still with them?  And did he not eat with them after his resurrection?  Certainly he was no longer with them in the manner in which he had once been with them, in mortal form and limited to this life in the present world, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the natural and the spiritual man.  But from these expressions it cannot be proved that he cannot be present bodily.  For as has been said, he sat and ate and spoke with them-and yet he is no in the world.  Thus also, "You also have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you" (Mt 26).  What is meant here by the expression "with you" is explained by the text itself, and is easy to see, namely he is not with us in the same way as the poor are with us.  And so forth.  To whatever further passages they may introduce, one may briefly reply: Christ is not with us in mortal and earthly fashion, as the poor are.

Hence they cannot by this method succeed in proving that our interpretation is contrary to Scripture.  But it is Zwinglian logic to take substance for accident and "which" for "of what kind," as if I should say, "Christ is not present in the Supper in a certain form, therefore he is not present bodily"; "Christ is not with us in a certain form, therefore he is not with us at all," jumping right from a particular to a universal.  "The mayor is not in the bath in his red breeches, therefore he is not in the bath."  "The king is not at the table with his crown on, therefore he is not at the table."  All this is child's play and buffoonery, as the schools are well aware, but among these spirits it is supposed to pass for Scripture and the Christian faith.

If they insist on the basis of these passages that Christ is no longer with us, they must also conclude that Christ is not with us spiritually either.  For the words stand there clearly, "I am no more with you," which declares positively that he is not with us at all.  "Yes," they say, "bu we have clear passages to the contrary which assert that he is with us spiritually, such as John 16, "We will make our home with him," and Paul in Ephesians 3, "Christ dwells in your hearts," etc.  I reply: My friend, why shouldn't they also find the text in the Supper to be opposed to the same?  If Christ can be present with them in a certain form without contradicting the text, "I am not with you," then he can also be present with us in the Supper, notwithstanding the same text, "I am not with you."  If that text does not invalidate their passages concerning the spiritual nature of Christ, neither does it invalidate our text concerning the invisible nature of Christ in the Supper.

Thus their objection is as sharply opposed to them as to us, and by whatever means they extricate themselves they extricate us also.  And our interpretation remains unimpugned: "This is my body."  For if they prove anything with their passages, they prove that Christ is not present in the Supper in a visible, mortal, and earthly mode-a thing which it is not in the least necessary to prove, for we acknowledge it all.  But what they ought to prove is that our interpretation is false and that Christ lies when he says, "This is my body."  But no one steps forth to prove it, for they are nothing but fickle windbags, soiling a lot of good paper with vain and worthless words and making fools of poor simple Christians. 
(Robert H. Fischer's translation, AE 37)

1 comment:

Deacon Brian Hughes said...

It is in vain to reason from Scripture with those who see Christ and things supernatural as natural man has always seen God after the fall, he runs away from Him.