Although we must yet call attention to the Reformed conception of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we may now present, in brief, the three. Protestant theories of this means of grace. As far as the Zwinglian theory is concerned, that has been commonly defined as the commemoration theory, according to which the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is merely a remembrance feast, a remembrance of the death of our departed Friend. However, his last word on the subject of the Eucharist (in a writing to King Francis I) is this: “We believe that Christ is truly present in the Lord’s Supper; yea, that there is no communion without such presence . . . We believe that the true body of Christ is eaten in the communion, not in a gross and carnal manner, but in a sacramental and spiritual manner by the religious, believing and pious heart.” This passage certainly is very similar to the Calvinistic view.
Calvin was surely the greatest theologian and best writer among the Reformers. He accepts the symbolical meaning of the words of institution: “This is my body;” he rejects the corporal presence, the oral manducation, the participation of the body and blood by unbelievers, and the ubiquity of Christ’s body. At the same time, however, he strongly asserts a spiritual real presence, and a spiritual real participation of Christ’s body and blood by faith. While the mouth receives the visible signs of bread and wine, the soul receives by faith, and by faith alone, the things signified and sealed thereby. He combines the crucified Christ with the glorifies Christ, and brings the believer into contact with the whole Christ. He lays great stress upon the agency of the Holy Spirit in the ordinance.
All three reformers (Luther, Zwingli and Calvin) agree, negatively, in opposition to the Romish dogma of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity; positively, they agree in these essential points: the Divine institution and perpetuity of the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual presence of Christ, and the commemorative character of the ordinance as the celebration of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, its importance as the highest act of worship and communion with Christ, and its special blessing to all who partake of it worthily. Luther teaches a real and substantial presence of the very body and blood of Christ, in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine, and the oral manducation of both substances by all communicants, unworthy and unbelieving, as well as worthy and believing, though with opposite effects. This simultaneous co-existence of the two substances (Christ’s body and blood and the bread and wine) is not a mixture of the two substances into one, nor is it permanent; it ceases with the sacramental action, the earthly elements remain unchanged and distinct in their substance and power, but they become the divinely appointed media for communicating the heavenly substance of the body and blood of Christ. They become so, not by priestly consecration, as in the doctrine of transubstantiation, but by the power and Word of God. The eating of the body is surely by the mouth, yet is not Capemaitic; and it differs from the eating of ordinary food. The object and use of the Lord’s Supper is chiefly the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, to the comfort of the believer. This is the Lutheran conception of the Lords Supper.
Luther’s severe treatment and denunciation of the other reformers (whom he called the sacramentarians) was greatly occasioned by a certain Carlstadt, one of his former colleagues and friends, who later became his enemy. In 1523 he addressed a certain book to the Waldensian brethren in Bohemia. In that book, Luther rejects their symbolical theory, as well as the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation, and insists on the real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. But, also in that same book, he treats them very kindly, and he also commends them for their piety and discipline in which they excelled the Germans. However, personal attacks of Carlstadt upon Luther had a marked effect upon the German reformer. His tone of moderation was replaced by one of great severity, and he began to treat his Protestant opponents with as great severity as the Papists. His peculiar view of the Lord’s Supper became almost the sole serious doctrinal difference between these two parts of the Reformation; and it has kept them apart ever since.
The split within the ranks of Protestantism, to which we referred in our preceding article, is surely to be laid at the door of the German reformer. Concerning this, there cannot possibly be any doubt, The split occurred because Luther insisted upon his view of the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, as recorded in Matt. 26:26. This insistence of Luther upon his interpretation of these words of Christ must not be ascribed, it is agreed, to de reformer’s obstinacy or pride, although we cannot refrain from remarking that the Christian is very imperfect here in the midst of the world, and always wonder how large a role one’s old man of sin plays in these controversies. Luther undoubtedly acted from his inmost conviction. He surely regarded the real presence of the Lord in the Lord’s Supper as a fundamental article of faith, and he feared that the rejection of this article would lead consistently to the rejection of all mysteries and of Christianity itself. Luther, however, must be blamed for the split.
Luther and Calvin never met. However, Luther and Zwingli did meet. Zwingli interpreted the word, “is,” in the expression, “This is my body,” in a figurative sense, as meaning: “This represents my body;” and he based his view largely on the word of Christ of John 6:63. In the year 1527, Zwingli wrote a Latin book in which he strenuously opposed the viewpoint of Luther, and he sent a copy of this book to the German reformer. This book was respectfully written. Luther answered this writing of Zwingli, but in a very different tone. He ascribes the Swiss view to the inspiration of the devil (we must bear in mind, however, that Luther very quickly ascribed divergent views to the devil). He insists that the words, “This is my body,” be understood literally. He denies a figurative meaning even to passages as I Cor. 10:4, John 15:1, etc. When Paul says that Christ is a rock, this must truly mean aspiritual rock, and when we read in John 15:1 that Christ is a vine, this must mean a spiritual vine. However, is not Luther guilty of the same thing whereof he accuses others, namely, that he interprets expressions in the figurative sense? In this same book Luther ridicules the position of his opponents, that Christ is literally seated on God’s right hand, and immovably fastened, on a golden throne in heaven, with a golden crown upon his head, although his opponents never dreamed of such things. Upon Zwingli’s answer to this book, Luther wrote his “Great Confession on the Lord’s Supper,” which he intended to be his last word on the controversy. He begins also this book with the devil, likens the writings of his opponents to venomous adders, and asks the Lord to convert them, and to deliver them from the bonds of Satan. It is considered his most elaborate work on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
Luther and Zwingli met at what is known as the Marburg Conference in 1529, twelve years after his mailing of the 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. The Swiss reformers accepted the invitation to this conference with great joy and keen anticipation. However, this cannot be said of Martin Luther. He declared that a conference with the Swiss reformers (among whom were Zwingli, Bucer and Oecolampadius) would be completely useless. He stated vehemently that he knew what he believed, and that no man could possibly change him. He declared that he would never yield as much as an inch to his opponents. At Worms the German reformer stood before the Emperor, and with invincible courage he witnessed for what he believed to be the truth according to the Word of God. But he entered the conference at Marburg with considerable reluctance. This conference at Marburg was held during the first part of October in 1529. Luther’s reluctance to attend this conference could seem to indicate that the German reformer was not too sure of his stand, although one must also remember that he was a man of unalterable convictions; and it must have been his conviction that his view of the Lord’s Supper was in harmony with the Scriptures.
The conference was preceded or, shall we say, opened by private interviews between Luther and Oecolampadius on the one hand, and Zwingli and Melancthon on the other hand. Subjects such as the Trinity, original sin, and baptism were treated during these interviews; and we understand that the German reformers were considerably relieved to discover that the Swiss reformers were as sound as they were, although Luther must have handled his opponent more severely than Melancthon handled Zwingli (perhaps Zwingli was more than a match for Melancthon). Luther spoke first, and he declared emphatically that he would never change. He also protested against any arguments that would be derived from reason, and he wrote with a piece of chalk upon the table in large characters the words of institution with which he was determined to stand or fall: This is my body. Oecolampadius replies that he would not counter with philosophical arguments, and he appealed to the divine Scriptures. He quoted several passages that obviously have a figurative meaning, especially John 6:63. He contended that John 6:63 furnished the key to the entire problem, and that it excluded any possibility of a literal interpretation. Zwingli also entered into the discussions. He, too, quoted several figurative passages. Luther, however, was adamant, always pointing his finger to what he had written upon the table. And he denied that the passage of John 6 had anything to do with the controversy. Later, during this conference, the subject of Christology and our Lords ubiquity were also discussed.
When toward the end of the conference, Oecolampadius suggested that the discussion be closed, and it was urged upon the reformers to come to some kind of an understanding, Luther declared very emphatically that the only way to come to an understanding would be that their adversaries believe exactly as they did. At the end of the conference, Luther begged pardon for his harsh words, as he was a man of flesh and blood; and Zwingli, with tearful eyes, begged the German reformer to forgive him his harsh words, and assured him that there was no man in all the world whose friendship he desired more than that of the German reformers. However, when certain Swiss-representatives present at the conference maintained the orthodoxy of the Swiss, Luther’s reply was cold. Later, when Zwingli, with tears in his eyes, approached Luther and held out to him the hand of fellowship, Luther declined to take it, saying again that their spirit was different than that of the German reformers. Zwingli declared that their differences were non-essential and that they did not forbid Christian brotherhood. He would have them confess their union in all things in which they agreed, and, for the rest, to remember one another as brethren. This Luther refused. They could not acknowledge the Swiss as brethren, although they were willing to include them in that universal charity which we owe to our enemies. From all this we must conclude that the blame for the split within the ranks of Protestantism must be laid at the door of the German reformer.