Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lord's Supper in light of Calvin and Roman Treatises

[X: The Holy Supper] Concerning the Lord’s Supper it is taught that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there. Rejected, there is also the contrary teaching.

The Holy Supper is no doubt one of the primary causes for the reformation. The laity was withheld from the Body and Blood of the Lord. The people became mere spectators just trying to catch up peek at the elevation of the host. The Romanist thought of the sacrifice as offering “holy sacrifices,” “presents,” and “offerings.” The Confessions points to the Scriptures which affirm that Christ comes into the midst of His gathered people to teach, feed, forgive, and ultimately offer His Body and Blood (the very sum and substance of the Gospel). In this way, the Confessions hold a profound recognition of Gottesdienst. With the Lord’s Supper and the Mass as a whole, it is God who is giving gifts and healing His people. Worship and the celebration of the Mass is not a human reaction but rather God’s service to us – in which He has His with us. It is God’s Divine Service for us – with Christ in the flesh for us.

The words of the institution of the Eucharist leave do doubt concerning the body and blood of the Lord, “touto estiv to swma mou…touto yap estiv to aima mou.” The voice of Jesus gently invites throughout all eternity, in the very halls of the heavenly banquet, that His natural body and blood are eaten and drunk by the mouths of all communicants. It has been argued that the Word of Institution function as tropes to point backwards, to non literal metaphors. Yet the Words of the Lord do not try to squeeze themselves into metaphors but rather bring about a greater reality - a fulfillment of salvific history. Likewise, old words are given new and greater meaning by Christ, not diminishing their inherit value but expressing the greater reality attached to them. This is true regarding the Lord’s Supper.” Luther writes concerning this controversy:

Now if Christ has intended to institute a Supper in which not his body and blood, but a likeness of his body and blood were present, he would properly have left us the old Mosaic supper with the paschal lamb… this represents and prefigures and typifies his body which was given for us and his blood which was shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, as all the world well knows. Why then should he be so foolish as to abolish this fine supper of the Old Testament and substitute a supper which in meaning and in essence is altogether insignificant in comparison with it.[1]

With this eating and drinking, the Apology emphasizes the sacramental unity in the body of Christ, aptly quoting, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 17). The communion of the oral act of eating and drinking a blest cup and the very Body of Christ is the koivwvia. The to swma mou to uper umwv is a promise in which the Risen Lord forgives and makes holy his people. This is not a figurative participation – it is not metaphoric of an alternative event – rather it is the true cataclysmic, cosmic reality of the blessed exchange with the Lamb of God.

The Romanist doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice would appear to celebrate Jesus’ atoning work to the utmost, while in reality it dismisses it. The catholic catechism describes the Lord’s Supper as instituted “that it might be the heavenly food of our souls, enabling us to support and preserve spiritual life” (para. 1389). The synergism finds it expression elsewhere in the Roman catechism:

The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She united herself to his intercession with the Father for all men (para 1360). It would seem that “she” is doing the work for salvation rather than a Christ who works all things for sinners. With Rome justification is a divine gift capable of increase through human effort. Likewise the Lord’s Supper requires a mystical participation in the sacrifice to reap its full benefits. This is why the Apology of the Augsburg Confession quotes Saint Cyril, who writes “We do not deny that we are joined spiritually to Christ by true faith and sincere love…For who has ever doubted that Christ is a vine in this way and we are truly the branches, deriving life from him for ourselves?” In this way the vine is organism in which the branches find any life at all.

Besides Rome, we might see the Confessions as they relate to a response against other reformation figures. Ulrich Zwingli sought the interpretation of scripture though human reason and therefore ran the Lord’s Supper through a filter in which the mysteries of the flesh of Christ for sinners was purged away. The “is” in “This is my Body” signified a figurative relationship. Spiritual blessing therefore come from a divine reflection on the Lord’s death through the eating and drinking of the sacraments.

For Calvin it would initially appear that he held a very high Christology and confession of article X: We all confess, the, with one mouth that, in receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the ordinance of the Lord, we are truly made partakers of the real substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”[2] Yet, Calvin was more concerned about the dependency of the reception upon the individual faith of the communicant as opposed to the mouth and ears of those passively receiving what the Lord promises. The bread and wine therefore act as a mirror in which a greater introspective relationship is taking place with a missing body of the Lord. In this way the Supper is given as a mirror, “in which we contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ crucified to abolish are faults and offenses…in which we contemplate Jesus Christ crucified to deliver us from damnation, and risen again to procure righteousness and eternal life for us.”[3]

The beauty of the Confessions and Luther’s theology is its’ steadfastness in the performative Word of God. Luther saw in the very Words of the Institution, the very rite of the Lord’s Supper, the fullness of the promise of the Lord. For Luther this is the same Lord who raises Lazarus from the dead, calms a violent sea, and says “let there be light.” When trying to unravel the Romanist view of the Lord’s Supper, one eventually realizes a lack of doctrine instead of one specific heretical doctrine – though the heresies do abound. More revealing with the Roman catechism is the discovery that there is no coherent exposition on the Lord’s Supper and the very nature of worship. If the Gottesdienst notion of worship is not held to, the teaching of the Eucharist would likewise not hold any water. The ambiguous teachings about one’s participation in His own salvation and the nature of worship are likely directly related to the foggy confession of the nature of the Lord’s Supper, in which man remains hanging on his cross wondering what he must do next.

[1] AE 37:264
[2] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper,” Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia:Westminster, 1954), 143.
[3] Ibid., 145

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