Vol. 7, Chapter VII. The Sacramentarian Controversies


101. Sacerdotalism and Sacramentalism

The Catholic system of Christianity, both Greek and Roman, is sacramental and sacerdotal. The saving grace of Christ is conveyed to men through the channel of seven sacraments, or “mysteries,” administered by ordained priests, who receive members into the church by baptism, accompany them through the various stages of life, and dismiss them by extreme unction into the other world. A literal priesthood requires a literal sacrifice, and this is the repetition of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross offered by the priest in the mass from day to day. The power of the mass extends not only to the living, but even to departed spirits in purgatory, abridging their sufferings, and hastening their release and transfer to heaven.

The Reformers rejected the sacerdotal system altogether, and substituted for it the general priesthood of believers, who have direct access to Christ as our only Mediator and Advocate, and are to offer the spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praise, and intercession. They rejected the sacrifice of the mass, and the theory of transubstantiation, and restored the cup to the laity. They also agreed in raising the Word of God, as the chief means of grace, above the sacraments, and in reducing the number of the sacraments. They retained Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Christ for universal and perpetual observance.

But here begins the difference. It consists in the extent of departure from the sacramental system of the Roman Church. The Lutheran Confession is, we may say, semi-sacramental, or much more sacramental than the Reformed (if we except the Anglican communion). It retained the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, with the rite of exorcism, and the corporal presence in the eucharist. The Augsburg Confession makes the sacraments an essential criterion of the church. Luther’s Catechism assigns to them an independent place alongside of the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. It adds to baptism and the Lord’s Supper confession and absolution as a third sacrament. At a later period, confirmation was restored to the position of a quasi-sacrament as a supplement of infant-baptism.

Zwingli and Calvin reduced the sacraments to signs and seals of grace which is inwardly communicated by the Holy Spirit. They asserted the sovereign causality of God, and the independence of the Spirit who “bloweth where it willeth” (Joh_3:8). God can communicate his gifts freely as he chooses. We are, however, bound to his prescribed means. The Swiss Reformers also emphasized the necessity of faith, not only for a profitable use of the sacrament (which is conceded by the Lutherans), but for the reception of the sacrament itself. Unworthy communicants receive only the visible sign, not the thing signified, and they receive the sign to their own injury.

The Anabaptists went still farther, and rejected infant-baptism because it lacks the element of faith on the part of the baptized. They were the forerunners of the Quakers, who dispensed with the external sacraments altogether, retaining, however, the spiritual fact of regeneration and communion with Christ, which the sacraments symbolize to the senses. The Quakers protested against forms when they were made substitutes for the spirit, and furnished the historic proof that the spirit in cases of necessity may live without forms, while forms without the spirit are dead.

It was the will of Providence that different theories on the means of grace should be developed. These theories are not isolated; they proceed from different philosophical and theological standpoints, and affect other doctrines. Luther was not quite wrong when he said to Zwingli at Marburg “You have a different spirit.” Luther took his stand on the doctrine of justification by faith; Zwingli and Calvin, on the doctrine of divine causality and sovereignty, or eternal election. Luther proceeded anthropologically and soteriologically from man to God, Zwingli and Calvin proceeded theologically from God to man.

The difference culminates in the doctrine of the eucharistic presence, which called forth the fiercest controversies, and still divides Western Christendom into hostile camps. The eucharistic theories reveal an underlying difference of views on the relation of God to man, of the supernatural to the natural, of invisible grace to the visible means. The Roman doctrine of transubstantiation is the outgrowth of a magical supernaturalism which absorbs and annihilates the natural and human, leaving only the empty form. The Lutheran doctrine implies an interpenetration of the divine and human. The commemorative theory of Zwingli saves the integrity and peculiar character of the divine and human, but keeps them separate and distinct. The eucharistic theory affects Christology, the relation of church and state, and in some measure the character of piety. Lutheranism inclines to the Eutychian, Zwinglianism to the Nestorian, Christology. The former fosters a mystical, the latter a practical, type of piety.

Calvin, who appeared on the stage of public action five years after Zwingli’s, and ten years before Luther’s, death, advocated with great ability a eucharistic theory which mediates between the Lutheran realism and the Zwinglian spiritualism, and which passed into the Reformed confessions Luther had to deal with Zwingli, and never came into contact with Calvin. If he had, the controversy might have taken a different shape; but he would have maintained his own view of the real presence, and refused the figurative interpretation of the words of institution.

With the doctrine of the eucharist are connected some minor ritualistic differences, as the use of the wafer, and the kneeling posture of the communicants, which the Lutherans retained from the Catholic Church; while the Reformed restored the primitive practice of the breaking of bread, and the standing or sitting posture. Some Lutheran churches retained also the elevation of the host; Luther himself declared it a matter of indifference, and abolished it at Wittenberg in 1542.


102. The Anabaptist Controversy. Luther and Hübmaier

Luther: Von der Wiedertaufe, an zwei Pfarrherrn. Wittenberg, 1528. In Walch, XXVII. 2643 sqq.; Erl. ed. XXVI. 254-294. Justus Menius: Der Wiedertäufer Lehre und Geheimniss, with a Preface by Luther, 1530. In the Erl. ed. LXIII. 290 sqq. Melanchthon: Contra Anabaptistas Judicium, “Corp. Reform.” I. 953 sqq.

On the Baptist side the writings of Hübmaier, or, as he wrote his name, Hübmör, which are very rare, and ought to be collected and republished. Calvary, in “Mittheilungen aus dem Antiquariate,” vol. I. Berlin, 1870, gives a complete list of them. The most important are Von dem christlichen Tauf der Gläubigen (1525); Eine Stimme eines ganzen christlichen Lebens (1525); Von Ketzern und ihren Verbrennern; Schlussreden (Axiomata); Ein Form des Nachtmals Christi; Von der Freiwilligkeit des Menschen (to show that God gives to all men an opportunity to become his children by free choice); Zwölf Artikel des christlichen Glaubens, etc.

On Hübmaier, see Schreiber in the “Taschenbuch für Gesch. und Alterthum Süddeutschlands,” Freiburg, 1839 and 40. Cunitz in Herzog’s “Encykl.,” 2d ed. VI. 344. Ranke, II. 118, 126; III. 366, 369. Janssen, II. 387, 486.

All the Reformers retained the custom of infant-baptism, and opposed rebaptism (Wiedertaufe) as a heresy. So far they agreed with the Catholics against the Anabaptists, or Catabaptists as they were called, although they rejected the name, because in their view the baptism of infants was no baptism at all.

The Anabaptists or Baptists (as distinct from Pedobaptists) sprang up in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, and organized independent congregations. Their leaders were Hübmaier, Denck, Hätzer, and Grebel. They thought that the Reformers stopped half-way, and did not go to the root of the evil. They broke with the historical tradition, and constructed a new church of believers on the voluntary principle. Their fundamental doctrine was, that baptism is a voluntary act, and requires personal repentance, and faith in Christ. They rejected infant-baptism as an anti-scriptural invention. They could find no trace of it in the New Testament, the only authority in matters of faith. They were cruelly persecuted in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic countries. We must carefully distinguish the better class of Baptists and the Mennonites from the restless revolutionary radicals and fanatics, like Carlstadt, Münzer, and the leaders of the Münster tragedy.

The mode of baptism was not an article of controversy at that time; for the Reformers either preferred immersion (Luther), or held the mode to be a matter of indifference (Calvin).

Luther agreed substantially with the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptism. His Taufbüchlein of 1523 is a translation of the Latin baptismal service, including the formula of exorcism, the sign of the cross, and the dipping. The second edition (1526) is abridged, and omits the use of chrisma, salt, and spittle. He defeated Carlstadt, Münzer, and the Zwickau Prophets, who rejected infant-baptism, and embarrassed even Melanchthon. Saxony was cleared of Anabaptists; but their progress in other parts of Germany induced him a few years later to write a special book against Hübmaier, who appealed to his authority, and ascribed to him similar views.

Balthasar Hübmaier, or Hübmör, was born near Augsburg, 1480; studied under Dr. Eck at Freiburg-i.-B. and Ingolstadt, and acquired the degree of doctor of divinity. He became a famous preacher in the cathedral at Regensburg, and occasioned the expulsion of the Jews in 1519, whose synagogue was converted into a chapel of St. Mary. In 1522 he embraced Protestant opinions, and became pastor at Waldshut on the Rhine, on the borders of Switzerland. He visited Erasmus at Basel, and Zwingli at Zürich, and aided the latter in the introduction of the Reformation. The Austrian government threatened violent measures, and demanded the surrender of his person. He left Waldshut, and took refuge in a convent of Schaffhausen, but afterwards returned. He openly expressed his dissent from Zwingli and Oecolampadius on the subject of infant-baptism. Zwingli was right, he said, in maintaining that baptism was a mere sign, but the significance of this sign was the pledge of faith and obedience unto death, and such a pledge a child could not make; therefore the baptism of a child had no meaning, and was invalid. Faith must be present, and cannot be taken for granted as a future certainly. Instead of baptism he introduced a solemn presentation or consecration of children before the congregation. He made common cause with the Anabaptists of Zürich, and with Thomas Münzer, who came into the neighborhood of Waldshut, and kindled the flame of the Peasants’ War. He is supposed by some to be the author of the Twelve Articles of the Peasants. He was rebaptized about Easter, 1525, and re-baptized many others. He abolished the mass, and removed the altar, baptismal font, pictures and crosses from the church.

The triumph of the re-action against the rebellious peasants forced him to flee to Zürich (December, 1525). He had a public disputation with Zwingli, who had himself formerly leaned to the view that it would be better to put off baptism to riper years of responsibility, though he never condemned infant-baptism. He retracted under pressure and protest, and was dismissed with some aid. He went to Nikolsburg in Moravia, published a number of books in German, having brought a printing-press with him from Switzerland, and gathered the Baptist “Brethren” into congregations. But when Moravia, after the death of Louis of Hungary, fell into the possession of King Ferdinand of Austria, Hübmaier was arrested with his wife, sent to Vienna, charged with complicity in the Peasants’ War, and burned to death, March 10, 1528. He died with serene courage and pious resignation. His wife, who had strengthened him in his faith, was drowned three days later in the Danube. Zwingli, after his quarrel with Hübmaier, speaks unfavorably of his character; Vadian of St. Gall, and Bullinger, give him credit for great eloquence and learning, but charge him with a restless spirit of innovation. He was an advocate of the voluntary principle and a martyr of religious freedom. Heretics, he maintained, are those only who wickedly oppose the Holy Sciptures, and should be won by instruction and persuasion. To use force is to deny Christ, who came to save, not to destroy.

A few months before Hübmaier’s death, Luther wrote, rather hastily, a tract against the Anabaptists (January or February, 1528), in the shape of a letter to two unnamed ministers in Catholic territory. “I know well enough,” he begins, “that Balthasar Hübmör quotes me among others by name, in his blasphemous book on Re-baptism, as if I were of his foolish mind. But I take comfort in the fact that neither friend nor foe will believe such a lie, since I have sufficiently in my sermons shown my faith in infant-baptism.” He expressed his dissent from the harsh and cruel treatment of the Anabaptists, and maintained that they ought to be resisted only by the Word of God and arguments, not by fire and sword, unless they preach insurrection and resist the civil magistrate. At the same time he ungenerously depreciated the constancy of their martyrs, and compared them to the Jewish martyrs at the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Donatist martyrs. He thought it served the papists right, to be troubled with such sectaries of the Devil in punishment for not tolerating the gospel. He then proceeds to refute their objections to infant-baptism.

1. Infant-baptism is wrong because it comes from the pope, who is Antichrist. But then we ought to reject the Scriptures, and Christianity itself, which we have in common with Rome. Christ found many abuses among the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Jewish people, but did not reject the Old Testament, and told his disciples to observe their doctrines (Mat_23:3). Here Luther pays a striking tribute to the Roman church, and supports it by the very fact that the pope is Antichrist, and reveals his tyranny in the temple of God, that is, within the Christian Church, and not outside of it. By such an argument the Anabaptists weaken the cause of Christianity, and deceive themselves.

2. Infants know nothing of their baptism, and have to learn it afterwards from their parents or sponsors. But we know nothing of our natural birth and of many other things, except on the testimony of others.

3. Infants cannot believe. Luther denied this, and appealed to the word of Christ, who declared them fit for the kingdom of heaven (Mat_19:14), and to the example of John the Baptist, who believed in the mother’s womb (Luk_1:41). Reformed divines, while admitting the capacity or germ of faith in infants, base infant-baptism on the vicarious faith of parents, and the covenant blessing of Abraham which extends to his seed (Gen_17:7). Luther mentions this also.

4. The absence of a command to baptize children. But they are included in the command to baptize all nations (Mat_28:19). The burden of proof lies on the Anabaptists to show that infant-baptism is forbidden in the Bible, before they abolish such an old and venerable institution of the whole Christian Church.

5. Among the positive arguments, Luther mentions the analogy of circumcision, Christ’s treatment of children, the cases of family baptisms, Act_2:39; Act_16:15, Act_16:33; 1Co_1:16.

Melanchthon quoted also the testimonies of Origen, Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustin, for the apostolic origin of infant-baptism.


103. The Eucharistic Controversy

I. Sources (1) Lutheran. Luther: Wider die himmlischen Propheten, Jan. 1525 (against Carlstadt and the Enthusiasts). Dass die Worte, “Das ist mein Leib,” noch fest stehen (wider die Schwarmgeister), 1527. Grosses Bekenntniss vom Abendmahl, March, 1528 (against Zwingli and Oecolampadius). Kurzes Bekenntniss rom heil. Sacrament, 1544. All these tracts in the Erl. ed. vols. XXVI. 254; XXIX. 134, 348; XXX. 14, 151; XXXII. 396. Walch, Vol. XX. 1-2955, gives the eucharistic writings, for and against Luther, together with a history.

Bugenhagen: Contra novum errorem de sacramento corporis et sanguinis Christi. 1525. Also in German. In Walch, XX. 641 sqq. Brentz and Schnepf: Syngramma Suevicum super verbis coenae Dominicae “Hoc est corpus meum,” etc., signed by fourteen Swabian preachers, Oct. 21, 1525. Against Oecolampadius, see Walch, XX. 34, 667 sqq.

(2) On the Zwinglian side. Zwingli: Letter to Rev. Mathaeus Alber, Nov. 16, 1524; Commentarius de vera et falsa religione, 1525; Amica exegesis, id est, Expositio eucharistiae negotii ad M. Lutherum, 1526; Dass diese Worte Jesu Christi: “Das ist myn Lychnam,” ewiglich den alten eynigen Sinn haben werden, 1527; and several other eucharistic tracts. Oecolampadius: De genuina verborum Domini: “Hoc est corpus meum,” juxta vetustissimos auctores expositione, Basel, 1525; Antisyngramma ad ecclesiastas Suevos (with two sermons on the sacrament), 1526. Oecolampadius and Zwingli: Ueber Luther’s Buch Bekenntniss genannt, zwo Antworten, 1528. See Zwingli: Opera, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, vol. II. Part II. 1-223; III. 145; 459 sqq.; 589 sqq.; 604 sqq. Also Walch, vol. XX. Extracts in Usteri and Vögelin, M. H. Zwingli’s Sämmtl. Schriften im Auszuge, vol. II. Part I., pp. 3-187.

II. The historical works on the eucharistic controversies of the Reformation period, by Lavater (Historia Sacramentaria, Tig. 1563): Selnecker and Chemnitz (Hist. des sacram. Streits, Leipz., 1583 and 1593); Hospinian (Hist. Sacramentaria, Tig. 1603, 2 vols.); Löscher (Hist. Motuum, in 3 Parts, Leipz., second ed., 1723); Ebrard (Das Dogma vom heil. Abendmahl und seine Geschichte, 2 vols., 1846); Kahnis (1851); Dieckhoff (1854); H. Schmid (1873).

III. The respective sections in the General Church Histories, and the Histories of the Reformation, especially Seckendorf, Gieseler, Baur, Hagenbach, Merle, Fisher. Planck, in his Geschichte des Protest. Lehrbegriffs (Leipz. second revised ed., 1792, vol. II., Books V. and VI.), gives a very full and accurate account of the eucharistic controversy, although he calls it “die unseligste alter Streitigkeiten” (II. 205).

IV. Special discussions. Dorner: Geschichte der protestant. Theologie (München, 1867), pp. 296-329. Jul. Müller: Vergleichung der Lehren Luther’s und Calvin’s über das heil. Abendmahl, in his “Dogmatische Abhandlungen” (Bremen, 1870, pp. 404-467). Köstlin: Luther’s Theologie, II. 100 sqq., 511 sqq.; Mart. Luther, I. 715-725; II. 65-110 (Luther und Zwingli); 127 sqq.; 363-369. August Baur: Zwingli’s Theologie (Halle, 1885; second vol. has not yet appeared).

American discussions of the eucharistic controversies. J. W. Nevin (Reformed, d. 1886): The Mystical Presence, Philadelphia, 1846; Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper, in “The Mercersburg Review,” 1850, pp. 421-549. Ch. Hodge (Presbyt, d. 1878): in “The Princeton Review” for April, 1848; Systematic Theology, New York, 1873, vol. III., 626-677. C. P. Krauth (Luth., d. 1883): The Conservative Reformation (Philadelphia, 1872), p. 585 sqq. H. J. Van Dyke (Calvinist): The Lord’s Supper, 2 arts. in “The Presbyterian Review,” New York, 1887, pp. 193 and 472 sqq. J. W. Richard (Luth.), in the “Bibliotheca Sacra” (Oberlin, O.), Oct. 1887, p. 667 sqq., and Jan. 1888, p. 110 sqq.

See, also, the Lit. quoted in Schaff, Church Hist., vol. I. and IV.

While the Reformers were agreed on the question of infant-baptism against the Anabaptists, they disagreed on the mode and extent of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper.

The eucharistic controversies of the sixteenth century present a sad and disheartening spectacle of human passion and violence, and inflicted great injury to the progress of the Reformation by preventing united action, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy; but they were overruled for the clearer development and statement of truth, like the equally violent Trinitarian, Christological, and other controversies in the ancient church. It is a humiliating fact, that the feast of union and communion of believers with Christ and with each other, wherein they engage in the highest act of worship, and make the nearest approach to heaven, should have become the innocent occasion of bitter contests among brethren professing the same faith and the same devotion to Christ and his gospel. The person of Christ and the supper of Christ have stirred up the deepest passions of love and hatred. Fortunately, the practical benefit of the sacrament depends upon God’s promise, and simple and childlike faith in Christ, and not upon any scholastic theory, any more than the benefit of the Sacred Scriptures depends upon a critical knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.

The eucharist was twice the subject of controversy in the Middle Ages, — first in the ninth, and then in the eleventh, century. The question in both cases turned on a grossly realistic and a spiritual conception of the sacramental presence and fruition of Christ’s body and blood; and the result was the triumph of the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, as advocated by Paschasius Radbertus against Ratramnus, and by Lanfranc against Berengar, and as finally sanctioned by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and the Council of Trent in 1551.

The Greek and Latin churches are substantially agreed on the doctrine of the communion and the mass, but divide on the ritual question of the use of leavened or unleavened bread. The withdrawal of the cup from the laity caused the bloody Hussite wars.

The eucharistic controversies of the Protestants assumed a different form. Transubstantiation was discarded by both parties. The question was not, whether the elements as to their substance are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ, but whether Christ was corporally or only spiritually (though no less really) present with the natural elements; and whether he was partaken of by all communicants through the mouth, or only by the worthy communicants through faith.

The controversy has two acts, each with several scenes: first, between Luther and Zwingli; secondly, between the Lutherans and Philippists and Calvinists. At last Luther’s theory triumphed in the Lutheran, Calvin’s theory in the Reformed churches. The Protestant denominations which have arisen since the Reformation on English and American soil, — Independents, Baptists, Methodists, etc., — have adopted the Reformed view. Luther’s theory is strictly confined to the church which bears his name. But, as the Melanchthonian and moderate Lutherans approach very nearly the Calvinistic view, so there are Calvinists, and especially Anglicans, who approach the Lutheran view more nearly than the Zwinglian. The fierce antagonism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has given way on both sides to a more dispassionate and charitable temper. This is a real progress.

We shall first trace the external history of this controversy, and then present the different theories with the arguments.


104. Luther’s Theory before the Controversy

Luther rejected, in his work on the “Babylonish Captivity of the Church” (1520), the doctrine of the mass, transubstantiation, and the withdrawal of the cup, as strongholds of the Papal tyranny. From this position he never receded. In the same work he clearly intimated his own view, which he had learned from Pierre d’Ailly, Cardinal of Cambray (Cameracensis), in these words: — 

Formerly, when I was imbibing the scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambray gave me occasion for reflection, by arguing most acutely, in the Fourth Book of the Sentences, that it would be much more probable, and that fewer superfluous miracles would have to be introduced, if real bread and real wine, and not only their accidents, were understood to be upon the altar, unless the Church had determined the contrary. Afterwards, when I saw what the church was, which had thus determined, — namely, the Thomistic, that is, the Aristotelian Church, — I became bolder; and, whereas I had been before in great straits of doubt, I now at length established my conscience in the former opinion: namely, that there were real bread and real wine, in which were the real flesh and real blood of Christ in no other manner and in no less degree than the other party assert them to be under the accidents…. Why should not Christ be able to include his body within the substance of bread, as well as within the accidents? Fire and iron, two different substances, are so mingled in red-hot iron that every part of it is both fire and iron. Why may not the glorious body of Christ much more be in every part of the substance of the bread? … I rejoice greatly, that, at least among the common people, there remains a simple faith in this sacrament. They neither understand nor argue whether there are accidents in it or substance, but believe, with simple faith, that the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in it, leaving to these men of leisure the task of arguing as to what it contains.”

At that time of departure from Romanism he would have been very glad, as he confessed five years later, to become convinced that there was nothing in the Lord’s Supper but bread and wine. Yea, his old Adam was still inclined to such a view; but he dared not doubt the literal meaning of the words of institution. In his book on the “Adoration of the Sacrament” (1523), addressed to the Waldensian Brethren in Bohemia, he rejects their symbolical theory, as well as the Romish transubstantiation, and insists on the real and substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharistic elements; but treats them very kindly, notwithstanding their supposed error, and commends them for their piety and discipline, in which they excelled the Germans.

In his conviction of the real presence, he was greatly strengthened by the personal attacks and perverse exegesis of Carlstadt. Henceforth he advocated the point of agreement with the Catholics more strenuously than he had formerly opposed the points in which he differed from them. He changed the tone of moderation which he had shown in his address to the Bohemians, and treated his Protestant opponents with as great severity as the Papists. His peculiar view of the eucharist became the most, almost the only, serious doctrinal difference between the two wings of the Reformation, and has kept them apart ever since.


105. Luther and Carlstadt

The first outward impulse to the eucharistic controversy came from Holland in the summer of 1522, when Henry Rhodius brought from Utrecht a collection of the writings of John Wessel to Wittenberg, which he had received from a distinguished Dutch jurist, Cornelius Honius (Hoen). Wessel, one of the chief forerunners of the Reformation (d. 1489), proposed, in a tract “De Coena,” a figurative interpretation of the words of institution, which seems to have influenced the opinions of Erasmus, Carlstadt, and Zwingli on this subject.

But Luther was so much pleased with the agreement on other points that he overlooked the difference, and lauded Wessel as a theologian truly taught of God, and endowed with a high mind and wonderful gifts; yea, so fully in harmony with him, that the Papists might charge Luther with having derived all his doctrines from Wessel, had he known his writings before.

The controversy was opened in earnest by Carlstadt, Luther’s older colleague and former friend, who gave him infinite trouble, and forced him into self-defense and into the development of the conservative and churchly elements in his theology. He smarted under the defeat he had suffered in 1522, and first silently, then openly, opposed Luther, regarding him henceforth as his enemy, and as the author of all his misfortunes. In this way he mixed, from the start, the gall of personal bitterness into the eucharistic controversy. Luther would probably have been more moderate if it had been free from those complications.

In 1524 Carlstadt came out with a new and absurd interpretation of the words of institution (Mat_26:26 and parallel passages); holding that the Greek word for “this” being neuter (τοῦτο), could not refer to the bread, which is masculine in Greek (ἄρτος), but must refer to the body of Christ (τό σῶμα), to which the Saviour pointed, so as to say, “Take, eat! This here [this body] is my body [which will soon be] broken for you; this [blood] is my blood [which will be] shed for you.” This resolves the words into a tautology and platitude. At the same time Carlstadt opposed infant-baptism, and traced his crude novelties to higher inspiration. After his expulsion from Saxony he propagated them, together with slanderous assaults upon Luther as, a double Papist,” in several publications which appeared in Basel and Strasburg. He excited some interest among the Swiss Reformers, who sympathized with his misfortunes, and agreed with his opposition to the theory of a corporal presence and oral manducation, but dissented entirely from his exegesis, his mysticism, and radicalism. Capito and Bucer, the Reformers of Strassburg, leaned to the Swiss view, but regretted the controversy, and sent a deacon with Carlstadt’s tracts to Luther for advice.

Luther exhorted the Strassburgers, in a vigorous letter (Dec. 14, 1524), to hold fast to the evangelical doctrines, and warned them against the dangerous vagaries of Carlstadt. At the same time he issued an elaborate refutation of Carlstadt, in a book “Against the Heavenly Prophets” (December, 1524, and January, 1525, in two parts). It is written with great ability and great violence. “A new storm is arising,” he begins. “Dr. Andreas Carlstadt is fallen away from us, and has become our worst enemy.” He thought the poor man had committed the unpardonable sin. He describes, in vivid colors, the wild and misty mysticism and false legalism of these self-styled prophets, and defends the real presence. He despised the objections of reason, which was the mistress of the Devil. It is characteristic, that, from this time on, he lowered his estimate of the value of reason in theology, although he used it very freely and effectually in this very book.


106. Luther and Zwingli

But now two more formidable opponents appeared on the field, who, by independent study, had arrived at a far more sensible interpretation of the words of institution than that of Carlstadt, and supported it with strong exegetical and rational arguments. Zwingli, the Luther of Switzerland, and Oecolampadius, its Melanchthon, gave the controversy a new and more serious turn.

Zwingli received the first suggestion of a figurative interpretation (est = significat) from Erasmus and Wessel through Honius; as Luther derived his first idea of a corporal presence in the unchanged elements from Pierre d’Ailly. He communicated his view, in a confidential Latin letter, Nov. 16, 1524, to the Lutheran preacher, Matthaeus Alber in Reutlingen, an opponent of Carlstadt, and based it on Christ’s word, Joh_6:63, as excluding a carnal or material manducation of his body and blood.

A few months later (March, 1525) he openly expressed his view with the same arguments in the “Commentary on the True and False Religion.” This was three months after Luther had published his book against Carlstadt. He does not mention Luther in either of these two writings, but evidently aimed at him, and speaks of his view almost as contemptuously as Luther had spoken of Carlstadt’s view.

In the same year Oecolampadius, one of the most learned and pious men of his age, appeared with a very able work in defense of the same theory, except that he put the figure in the predicate, and explained the words of institution (like Tertullian): “hoc est figura corporis mei.” He lays, however, no stress on this difference, as the sense is the same. He wrote with as much modesty and moderation as learning and acuteness. He first made use of testimonies of the church fathers, especially Augustin, who favors a spiritual fruition of Christ by faith. Erasmus judged the arguments of Oecolampadius to be strong enough to seduce the very elect.

The Lutherans were not slow to reply to the Swiss.

Bugenhagen, a good pastor, but poor theologian, published a letter to Hess of Breslau against Zwingli. He argues, that, if the substantive verb in the words of institution is figurative, it must always be figurative; e.g., “Peter is a man,” would mean, “Peter signifies a man.” He also appeals to 1Co_11:27, where Paul says that unworthy communicants are guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not of bread and wine. Zwingli had easy work to dispose of such an opponent.

Several Swabian preachers, under the lead of Brentius of Hall, replied to Oecolampadius, who (himself a Swabian by birth) had dedicated his book to them with the request to examine and review it. Their Syngramma Suevicum is much more important than Bugenhagen’s epistle. They put forth the peculiar view that the word of Christ puts into bread and wine the very body and blood of Christ; as the word of Moses imparted a hearing power to the brazen serpent; as the word of Christ, “Peace be unto you,” imparts peace; and the word, “Thy sins be forgiven,” imparts pardon. But, by denying that the body of Christ is broken by the hands, and chewed with the teeth, they unwittingly approached the Swiss idea of a purely spiritual manducation. Oecolampadius clearly demonstrated this inconsistency in his Anti-syngramma (1526). Pirkheimer of Nürnberg, and Billicum of Nördlingen, likewise wrote against Oecolampadius, but without adding any thing new.

The controversy reached its height in 1527 and 1528, when Zwingli and Luther came into direct conflict. Zwingli combated Luther’s view vigorously, but respectfully, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo, in a Latin book, under the peaceful title, “Friendly Exegesis,” and sent a copy to Luther with a letter, April 1, 1527. Luther appeared nearly at the same time (early in 1527), but in a very different tone, with a German book against Zwingli and Oecolampadius, under the title, “That the Words of Christ: ‘This is my Body,’ stand fast. Against the Fanatics (Schwarmgeister).” Here he derives the Swiss view directly from the inspiration of the Devil. “How true it is,” he begins, “that the Devil is a master of a thousand arts! He proves this powerfully in the external rule of this world by bodily lusts, tricks, sins, murder, ruin, etc., but especially, and above all measure, in spiritual and external things which affect God’s honor and our conscience. How he can turn and twist, and throw all sorts of obstacles in the way, to prevent men from being saved and abiding in the Christian truth!” Luther goes on to trace the working of the Devil from the first corruptions of the gospel by heretics, popes, and Councils, down to Carlstadt and the Zwinglians, and mentions the Devil on every page. This is characteristic of his style of polemics against the Sacramentarians, as well as the Papists. He refers all evil in the world to the Prince of evil. He believed in his presence and power as much as in the omnipresence of God and the ubiquity of Christ’s body.

He dwells at length on the meaning of the words of institution: “This is my body.” They must be taken literally, unless the contrary can be proved. Every departure from the literal sense is a device of Satan, by which, in his pride and malice, he would rob man of respect for God’s Word, and of the benefit of the sacrament. He makes much account of the disagreement of his opponents, and returns to it again and again, as if it were conclusive against them. Carlstadt tortures the word “this” in the sacred text; Zwingli, the word “is;” Oecolampadius, the word “body;” others torture and murder the whole text. All alike destroy the sacraments. He allows no figurative meaning even in such passages as 1Co_10:4; Joh_15:1; Gen_41:26; Exo_12:11, Exo_12:12. When Paul says, Christ is a rock, he means that he is truly a spiritual rock. When Christ says, “I am the vine,” he means a true spiritual vine. But what else is this than a figurative interpretation in another form?

A great part of the book is devoted to the proof of the ubiquity of Christ’s body. He explains “the right hand of God” to mean his “almighty power.” Here he falls himself into a figurative interpretation. He ridicules the childish notion which he ascribes to his opponents, although they never dreamed of it, that Christ is literally seated, and immovably fastened, on a golden throne in heaven, with a golden crown on his head. He does not go so far as to deny the realness of Christ’s ascension, which implies a removal of his corporal presence. There is, in this reasoning, a strange combination of literal and figurative interpretation. But he very forcibly argues from the personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ, for the possibility of a real presence; only he errs in confounding real with corporal. He forgets that the spiritual is even more real than the corporal, and that the corporal is worth nothing without the spiritual.

Nitzsch and Köstlin are right when they say that both Zwingli and Luther “assume qualities of the glorified body of Christ, of which we can know nothing; the one by asserting a spacial inclusion of that body in heaven, the other by asserting dogmatically its divine omnipresence on earth.” We may add, that the Reformers proceeded on an assumption of the locality of heaven, which is made impossible by the Copernican system. For aught we know, heaven may be very near, and round about as well as above us.

Zwingli answered Luther without delay, in an elaborate treatise, likewise in German (but in the Swiss dialect), and under a similar title (“That the words, ‘This is my body,’ have still the old and only sense,” etc.). It is addressed to the Elector John of Saxony, and dated June 20, 1527. Zwingli follows Luther step by step, answers every argument, defends the figurative interpretation of the words of institution by many parallel passages (Gen_41:26; Exo_12:11; Gal_4:24; Mat_11:14; 1Co_10:4, etc.), and discusses also the relation of the two natures in Christ.

He disowns the imputed literal understanding of God’s almighty hand, and says, “We have known long since that God’s power is everywhere, that he is the Being of beings, and that his omnipresence upholds all things. We know that where Christ is, there is God, and where God is, there is Christ. But we distinguish between the two natures, and between the person of Christ and the body of Christ.” He charges Luther with confounding the two. The attributes of the infinite nature of God are not communicable to the finite nature of man, except by an exchange which is called in rhetoric alloeosis. The ubiquity of Christ’s body is a contradiction. Christ is everywhere, but his body cannot be everywhere without ceasing to be a body, in any proper sense of the term.

This book of Zwingli is much sharper than his former writings on the subject. He abstains indeed from abusive language, and says that God’s Word must decide the controversy, and not opprobrious terms, as fanatic, devil, murderer, heretic, hypocrite, which Luther deals out so freely. But he and his friends applied also very unjust terms against the Lutherans, such as Capernaites, flesh-eaters, blood-drinkers, and called their communion bread a baked God. Moreover, Zwingli assumes an offensive and provoking tone of superiority, which cut to the quick of Luther’s sensibilities. Take the opening sentence: “To Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli wishes grace and peace from God through Jesus Christ the living Son of God, who, for our salvation, suffered death, and then left this world in his body and ascended to heaven, where he sits until he shall return on the last day, according to his own word, so that you may know that he dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph_3:17), and not by bodily eating through the mouth, as thou wouldest teach without God’s Word.” Towards the end he says, with reference to Luther’s attack upon Bucer: “Christ teaches us to return good for evil. Antichrist reverses the maxim, and you have followed him by abusing the pious and learned Bucer for translating and spreading your books …. Dear Luther, I humbly beseech you not to be so furious in this matter as heretofore. If you are Christ’s, so are we. It behooves us to contend only with the Word of God, and to observe Christian self-control. We must not fight against God, nor cloak our errors by his Word. God grant unto you the knowledge of truth, and of thyself, that you may remain Luther, and not become λούτριον. The truth will prevail. Amen.”

Oecolampadius wrote likewise a book in self-defense. Luther now came out, in March, 1528, with his Great “Confession on the Lord’s Supper,” which he intended to be his last word in this controversy. It is his most elaborate treatise on the eucharist, full of force and depth, but also full of wrath. He begins again with the Devil, and rejoices that he had provoked his fury by the defense of the holy sacrament. He compares the writings of his opponents to venomous adders. I shall waste, he says, no more paper on their mad lies and nonsense, lest the Devil might be made still more furious. May the merciful God convert them, and deliver them from the bonds of Satan! I can do no more. A heretic we must reject, after the first and second admonition (Tit_3:10). Nevertheless, he proceeds to an elaborate assault on the Devil and his fanatical crew.

The “Confession” is divided into three parts. The first is a refutation of the arguments of Zwingli and Oecolampadius; the second, an explanation of the passages which treat of the Lord’s Supper; the third, a statement of all the articles of his faith, against old and new heresies.

He devotes much space to a defense of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, which he derives from the unity of the two natures. He calls to aid the scholastic distinction between three modes of presence, — local, definitive, and repletive. He calls Zwingli’s alloeosis “a mask of the Devil.” He concludes with these words: “This is my faith, the faith of all true Christians, as taught in the Holy Scriptures. I beg all pious hearts to bear me witness, and to pray for me that I may stand firm in this faith to the end. For — which God forbid! — should I in the temptation and agony of death speak differently, it must be counted for nothing but an inspiration of the Devil. Thus help me my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, blessed forever. Amen.”

The “Confession” called out two lengthy answers of Zwingli and Oecolampadius, at the request of the Strassburg divines; but they add nothing new.

This bitter controversy fell in the most trying time of Luther, when he suffered greatly from physical infirmity and mental depression, and when a pestilence raged at Wittenberg (1527), which caused the temporary removal of the University to Jena. He remained on the post of danger, escaped the jaws of death, and measurably recovered his strength, but not his former cheerfulness, good humor, and buoyancy of spirit.


107. The Marburg Conference, a.d. 1529. (With Facsimile of Signatures.)

I. Contemporary Reports. (1) Lutheran. Luther’s references to the Conference at Marburg, in Erl. ed. XXXII. 398, 403, 408; XXXVI. 320 sqq. (his report from the pulpit); LIV. 286; 83, 107 sq., 153; LV. 88. Letters of Luther to his wife, Philip of Hesse, Gerbel, Agricola, Amsdorf, Link, and Probst, from October, 1529, and later, in De Wette, III. 508 sqq; IV. 26 sq. Reports of Melanchthon, Jonas, Brenz, and Osiander, in “Corpus Reform.,” I. 1098, 1102 (Mel. in German); 1095 (Jonas), XXVI. 115; Seckendorf, II. 136; Walch, XVII. 2352-2379; Scultetus, Annal. evang., p. 215 sqq.; Riederer, Nachrichten, etc., II. 109 sqq.

(2) Reformed (Swiss and Strassburg) reports of Collin, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, are collected in Zwingli’s Opera, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, vol. IV. 173-204, and Hospinian’s Hist. Sacram., II. 74 sqq., 123 sqq. Bullinger: Reformationsgesch., II. 223 sqq. The reports of Bucer and Hedio are used by Baum in his Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), p. 453 sqq., and Erichson (see below). The MS. of Capito’s Itinerary was burned in 1870 with the library of the Protestant Seminary at Strassburg, but had previously been copied by Professor Baum.

II. The Marburg Articles in Walch, XVII. 2357 sqq.; Erl. ed. LXV. 88 sqq.; “Corp. Reform.,” XXVI. 121-128; H. Heppe: Die 15 Marburger Artikel vom 3 Oct., 1529, nach dent wieder aufgefundenen Autographon der Reformatoren als Facsimile veröffentlicht, Kassel, 1847, 2d ed. 1854 (from the archives at Kassel); another ed. from a MS. in Zürich by J. M. Usteri in the “Studien und Kritiken,” 1883, No. II., p. 400-413 (with facsimile). A list of older editions in the “Corpus Reform.,” XXVI. 113-118.

III. L. J. K. Schmitt: Das Religionsgespräch zu Marburg im J. 1529, Marb. 1840. J. Kradolfer: Das Marb. Religiogsgesprach im J. 1529, Berlin, 1871. Schirrmacher: Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte des Religionsgesprächs zu Marburg 1529 und des Reichstags zu Augsburg 1530 nach der Handschrift des Aurifaber, Gotha, 1876. M. Lenz: Zwingli und Landgraf Philipp, three articles in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für K. Gesch.,” 1879 (pp. 28, 220, and 429). Oswald Schmidt: in Herzog2, IX. (1881), 270-275. A. Erichson: Das Marburger Religionsgespräch i. J. 1529, nach ungedruckten strassburger Urkunden, Strassb. 1880. (Based upon Hedio’s unpublished Itinerarium ab Argentina Marpurgum super negotio Eucharistiae.) Frank H. Foster: The Historical Significance of the Marburg Colloquy, and its Bearing upon the New Departure (of Andover], in the “Bibliotheca Sacra,” Oberlin, Ohio, April, 1887, p. 363-369.

IV. See also the respective sections in Hospinian, Löscher (Historia Motuum, I. 143 sqq.), Planck (II. 515 sqq.), Marheineke, Hagenbach, Rommel (Phil. der Grossmüthige, I. 247 sqq., II. 219 sqq.), Hassencamp (Hessische K. G., II.), Merle D’Aubigné (bk. VIII. ch. VII.), Ebrard (Das Dogma vom heil. Abendmahl, II. 268 sqq.), and in the biographies of Luther, e.g., Köstlin: M. Luth. II. 127 sqq. (small biography, E. V. p. 391 sqq.), and of Zwingli, e.g., by Christoffel and Mörikofer. Comp. also Ranke, III. 116 sqq.; Janssen, III. 149-154

Illustration, Marburg Signatures

Facsimile of the Signatures to the Marburg Articles. (In the original copy at Zürich, the Swiss names are signed first.)

The eucharistic controversy broke the political force of Protestantism, and gave new strength to the Roman party, which achieved a decided victory in the Diet of Speier, April, 1529.

In this critical situation, the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse formed at Speier “a secret agreement” with the cities of Nürnberg, Ulm, Strassburg and St. Gall, for mutual protection (April 22, 1529). Strassburg and St. Gall sided with Zürich on the eucharistic question.

The situation became more threatening during the summer. The Emperor made peace with the Pope, June 29, and with France, July 19, pledging himself with his allies to extirpate the new deadly heresy; and was on the way to Augsburg, where the fate of Protestantism was to be decided. But while the nations of Europe aimed to emancipate themselves from the authority of the church and the clergy, the religious element was more powerful, — the hierarchical in the Roman, the evangelical in the Protestant party, — and overruled the political. This is the character of the sixteenth century: it was still a churchly and theological age.

Luther and Melanchthon opposed every alliance with the Zwinglians; they would not sacrifice a particle of their creed to any political advantage, being confident that the truth must prevail in the end, without secular aid. Their attitude in this matter was narrow and impolitic, but morally grand. In a letter to Elector John, March 6, 1530, Luther denied the right of resistance to the Emperor, even if he were wrong and used force against the gospel. “According to the Scriptures,” he says, “a Christian dare not resist the magistrate, right or wrong, but must suffer violence and injustice, especially from the magistrate.”

Luther, as soon as he heard of the agreement at Speier, persuaded the Elector to annul it. “How can we unite with people who strive against God and the sacrament? This is the road to damnation, for body and soul.” Melanchthon advised his friends in Nürnberg to withdraw from the alliance, “for the godless opinion of Zwingli should never be defended.” The agreement came to nothing.

Philip of Hesse stood alone. He was enthusiastic for an alliance, because he half sympathized with the Zwinglian theory, and deemed the controversy to be a battle of words. He hoped that a personal conference of the theological leaders would bring about an understanding.

After consulting Melanchthon personally in Speier, and Zwingli by letter, the Landgrave issued formal invitations to the Reformers, to meet at Marburg, and offered them a safe-conduct through his territory.

Zwingli received the invitation with joy, and hoped for the best. The magistrate of Zürich was opposed to his leaving; but he resolved to brave the danger of a long journey through hostile territory, and left his home in the night of Sept. 3, without waiting for the Landgrave’s safe-conduct, and without even informing his wife of his destination, beyond Basel. Accompanied by a single friend, the Greek professor Collin, he reached Basel safely on horseback, and on the 6th of September he embarked with Oecolampadius and several merchants on the Rhine for Strassburg, where they arrived after thirteen hours. The Reformers lodged in the house of Matthew Zell, the preacher in the cathedral, and were hospitably entertained by his wife Catharine, who cooked their meals, waited at the table, and conversed with them on theology so intelligently that they ranked her above many doctors. She often alluded in later years, with joy and pride, to her humble services to these illustrious men. They remained in Strassburg eleven days, in important consultation with the ministers and magistrates. Zwingli preached in the minister on Sunday, the 12th of September, in the morning, on our knowledge of truth, and our duty to obey it; Oecolampadius preached in the afternoon, on the new creature in Christ, and on faith operative in love (Gal_5:6). On the 19th of September, at six in the morning, they departed with the Strassburg delegates, Bucer, Hedio, and Jacob Sturm, the esteemed head of the city magistrate, under protection of five soldiers. They travelled on horseback over hills and dales, through forests and secret paths. At the Hessian frontier, they were received by forty cavaliers, and reached Marburg on the 27th of September, at four o’clock in the afternoon, and were cordially welcomed by the Landgrave in person. The same journey can now be made in a few hours. On the next days they preached.

Zwingli and Philip of Hesse had political and theological sympathies. Zwingli, who was a statesman as well as a reformer, conceived about that time far-reaching political combinations in the interest of religion. He aimed at no less than a Protestant alliance between Zürich, Hesse, Strassburg, France, Venice, and Denmark, against the Roman empire and the house of Habsburg. He believed in muscular, aggressive Christianity, and in rapid movements to anticipate an attack of the enemy, or to be at least fully prepared for it. The fiery and enthusiastic young Landgrave freely entered into these plans, which opened a tempting field to his ambition, and discussed them with Zwingli, probably already at Marburg, and afterwards in confidential letters, till the catastrophe at Cappel made an end to the correspondence, and the projected alliance.

The Wittenbergers, as already remarked, would have nothing to do with political alliances unless it were an alliance against foreign foes. They were monarchists and imperialists, and loyally attached to Charles V., “the noble blood,” as Luther called him. They feared that an alliance with the Swiss would alienate him still more from the Reformation, and destroy the prospect of reconciliation. In the same year Luther wrote two vigorous works (one dedicated to Philip of Hesse) against the Turks, in which, as a Christian, a citizen, and a patriot, he exhorted the German princes to aid the Emperor in protecting the German fatherland against those invaders whom he regarded as the Gog and Magog of prophecy, and as the instruments of God’s wrath for the punishment of corrupt Christendom. He had a still stronger religious motive to discourage a colloquy. He had denounced the Swiss divines as dangerous heretics, and was unwilling to negotiate with them, except on terms of absolute surrender such as could not be expected from men of honor and conscientious conviction.

The Wittenbergers, therefore, received the invitation to a colloquy with distrust, and resisted it. Luther declared that such a conference was useless, since he would not yield an inch to his opponents. Melanchthon even suggested to the Elector that he should forbid their attendance. They thought that “honorable Papists” should be invited as judges on a question touching the real presence! But the Elector was unwilling to displease the Landgrave, and commanded the Reformers to attend. When they arrived at the Hessian frontier, Luther declared that nothing could induce him to cross it without a safe-conduct from the Landgrave (which arrived in due time). They reached Marburg on the last of September, three days after the Swiss.

How different the three historic appearances of Luther in public! In the Leipzig disputation with Eck, we see him struggling in the twilight for emancipation from the bondage of popery. At Worms he stood before the Emperor, with invincible courage, as the heroic witness of the liberty of conscience. Marburg he entered reluctantly, at the noonday heat of his labors, in bad humor, firmly set in his churchly faith, imperious and obstinate, to face the Swiss Reformers, who were as honest and earnest as he, but more liberal and conciliatory. In Leipzig he protested as a Catholic against the infallibility of pope and council; in Worms he protested against the papal tyranny over the Bible and private judgment; in Marburg he protested as a conservative churchman against his fellow-Protestants, and in favor of the catholic faith in the mystery of the sacrament. On all occasions he was equally honest, firm, and immovable, true to his words at Worms, “Here I stand: I cannot do otherwise.” The conduct of the two parties at that Conference is typical of the two confessions in their subsequent dealings with each other.

The visitors stopped at an inn, but were at once invited to lodge in the castle, and treated by the Landgrave with princely hospitality.

The Reformed called upon the Lutherans, but met with a cool reception. Luther spoke a kind word to Oecolampadius; but when he first met his friend Bucer, who now sided with Zwingli, he shook his hand, and said, smiling, and pointing his finger at him, “You are a good-for-nothing knave.”

In that romantic old castle of Marburg which overlooks the quaint city, and the beautiful and fertile valley of the Lahn, the famous Conference was held on the first three days of October. It was the first council among Protestants, and the first attempt to unite them. It attracted general attention, and promised to become world-historical. Euricius Cordus, a professor of medicine at Marburg, addressed, in a Latin poem, “the penetrating Luther, the gentle Oecolampadius, the magnanimous Zwingli, the eloquent Melanchthon, the pious Schnepf, the brave Bucer, the true-hearted Hedio,” and all other divines who were assembled in Marburg, with an appeal to heal the schism. “The church,” he says, “falls weeping at your feet, and begs you, by the mercies of Christ, to consider the question with pure zeal for the welfare of believers, and to bring about a conclusion of which the world may say that it proceeded from the Holy Spirit.” Very touching is the prayer with which Zwingli entered upon the conference: “Fill us, O Lord and Father of us all, we beseech Thee, with thy gentle Spirit, and dispel on both sides all the clouds of misunderstanding and passion. Make an end to the strife of blind fury. Arise, O Christ, Thou Sun of righteousness, and shine upon us. Alas! while we contend, we only too often forget to strive after holiness which Thou requirest from us all. Guard us against abusing our powers, and enable us to employ them with all earnestness for the promotion of holiness.”