Thursday, October 20, 2011

Luther and Chemnitz vs. Walther and Pieper: Sorry, but, no contest

In preparing to speak on "Consecrationism vs. Receptionism" at the recent Indiana District Church Workers' Conference (17-18 October), various points became increasingly obvious, some of them new and surprising to me, and others already familiar, confirming and clarifying what I already knew and understood from past reading.

It is certainly clear enough, and really beyond any reasonable doubt, that Luther and Chemnitz were "consecrationists." That is to say, they consistently taught and confessed that, by and with and at the speaking of the Verba, the bread becomes and is the Body of Christ, and the wine becomes and is the Blood of Christ. It is the Word and work of the Lord Jesus that does this and gives this. As Herman Sasse, Tom Hardt, Bjarne Teigen, Scott Murray, John Stephenson, et al. have pointed out, this "consecrationist" theology of Luther and Chemnitz flows from and with the doctrine of justification and the authority of the Word of God. It is not only what I was taught, or at least understood, from my seminary professors, but what I have always understood and believed from the Words of Christ Jesus, my Lord. And, as it is the clear teaching of Luther and Chemnitz, it is likewise clear that "consecrationism" is the teaching of the Formula of Concord, which was authored chiefly by Martin Chemnitz (echoing much of what he wrote in his Examination of the Council of Trent), and which explicitly cites Dr. Luther as the foremost interpreter of the Augsburg Confession.

It is also clear and straightforwardly obvious, that Walther and Pieper, following the 17th-century Lutheran scholastics, were "receptionists." That is to say, they taught that the Body and Blood of Christ were present only in and with the actual eating and drinking, and neither before nor after nor apart from that eating and drinking. This "receptionist" teaching follows from the emphases of Melanchthon, which stood in tension with Luther's emphases while both men were still alive, but which developed and sharpened in Melanchthon, in his students and beyond, in the years following Luther's death. Resulting controversies over a right understanding of the axiom, that "nothing has the character of a Sacrament outside of its intended use," were addressed by the Formula of Concord. However, in spite of the Formula's clarification, and in spite of Luther's and Chemnitz's understanding and explanation of the axiom in question, subsequent generations of Lutheran scholars adopted and taught a "receptionist" interpretation of the axiom, and, therefore, of the Sacrament. This view was fostered and solidified by a reliance on Aristotelian philosophy, or, rather, on a misunderstanding and misuse of Aristotle's "four causes." Walther and Pieper followed the Lutheran scholastics in this vein, and read back into Luther and Chemnitz and the Formula of Concord that "receptionist" view, which came to predominate.

It is a daunting thing to be in the position of saying that Walther and Pieper (and the 17th-century Lutheran scholastics) were wrong, but, on this point, they were. I'll stand with Luther and Chemnitz vis-a-vis Walther and Pieper, eight days a week. Even more important and to the point, I'll stand with the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ against anything and everything else in heaven and on earth. What He speaks, is so. It is, at once, the most profound Mystery and the simplest thing imaginable.

To answer the question that was put to me at the end of my presentation: No, I don't think that Walther and Pieper were Zwinglians, and I have no desire or intention of making any such claim. They certainly taught and confessed that the true Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ were received and eaten with the bodily mouths of the communicants, and in this faithful confession they were as far from Zwingli as the heavens from the earth. But in their "receptionist" position, they weakened and undermined the fundamental power and definitive authority of the Word of Christ, and allowed human philosophy and participation to intrude upon the Mysteries of God. It was one of Pieper's famous "felicitous inconsistencies" that preserved their faithful confession of the "Real Presence" alongside their "receptionism." Perhaps in largest part because their practice preserved a care and reverence for the consecrated elements that belied their theoretical teaching on the presence. Carefully consecrating only as many elements as would be needed for the Holy Communion, but also using a second consecration whenever additional elements were required to complete the distribution, and then consuming any and all remaining consecrated elements, rather than ever mixing consecrated with unconsecrated elements, made a strong ceremonial confession of the central and definitive significance of the Verba-consecration.

In subsequent generations, a breakdown in practice, supported and defended by an appeal to "receptionism," has eroded confidence in and reverence for the Verba and the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, the historic Lutheran doctrine and practice spiral downward together.

In saying that Walther and Pieper were wrong on this point, in deference to Luther and Chemnitz and our Lutheran Confessions, and above all in deference to the clear Words of Christ, I do not dishonor those faithful men, who were far stronger and much better theologians than I am. But those who would appeal to Walther and Pieper (over against Luther and Chemnitz) in defense of a careless, sloppy, or otherwise irreverent practice, do those men a grave injustice. Worse is the dishonor that is perpetrated against the Word and Sacrament of Christ, our Lord.


  1. *they were as far from Zwingli as the heavens from the earth* ha!

    Could you address the retort or defensive manoeuvre that would make of consecrationism a burdensome law and of receptionism a liberating Gospel?

  2. Lest there be those who want to take this in a direction that places Walther at odds with other Confessional Lutherans of the day (hyper-euro, if you will), we should also remember, Löhe, is also to be numbered with Walther and Pieper on this point.

  3. Then, as much as it pains me, James, I should have to say that Loehe was wrong on this point, as well. And yet, with him also, perhaps even more so, a reverent practice prevailed, which kept the ravages of theoretical receptionism at bay.

    Matthew, I'm not sure how to interpret such an argument: Can you play devil's advocate long enough to lay it out there for me? It is hard for me to understand how the Body and Blood of Christ should be viewed as burdensome, whereas bread and wine should be regarded as liberating? Unless such reasoning is offered as an excuse for laziness, sloppiness, irreverence, and a basic lack of care and concern for the Sacrament. Perhaps we would also view a visit from Jesus in our homes and at our tables as burdensome? Mary knew what to do in such a case, whereas Martha seems to have missed the point, at least to some extent. "Listen to Him," the Father says; and receive what He gives by and with His Word.

  4. I would suggest that receptionism is part of a larger trend in Lutheranism. Kolb tells us rightly that it was Martini and the Helmstedt theologians who were responsible for the Aristotelian renaissance. Scherzer, et al., existed in that time when Ramism, Cartesianism, and later, Spinozism were swirling around to affect Lutheranism. Conservative Pietists rejected Spinozism, but liberal Pietists supported it to a man. (See Beiser, The Fate of Reason). Even so, the "moderate" philosophy of Wolff and Leibniz found its voice at Jena with Carpov. Lutheran hermeneutics stopped finding "cosmographical" locations for heaven and hell, instead, they "kicked them upstairs/downstairs" as states of being. Lutherans generally focused on the immanent over the transcendent, making the flow from supranaturalism to rationalism easy, thus, from Reinhard to von Ammon. That helped to spark the Saxon immigration. Yet when the early LCMS people try to be orthodox, reaching across the centuries, they often do so for different reasons than the orthodox themselves. Even as the orthodoxy of the orthodox differed from true statements of belief before them. Even as our attempts at orthodoxy often waver and flicker today.

    It is best to point people to the grammar and content of Scripture and let the Holy Spirit work. It is a poor show when we rely on heroes and institutions to do our God-given work for us.

  5. I agree that our strongest and best place to be is with the Word of our Lord, as recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures. If I have given the impression of "hero-worship," I regret that and apologize. I do think it is fair and right, and even necessary, to ask and consider what Luther and the other confessors taught, in cases of clarifying our own confession as Lutherans. But faithfulness rests upon the Word of the Lord, which alone remains forever.

    In any case, thank you for your comments, Verbo Solo. Your insights and the information that you have shared are instructive and helpful to an understanding of our history. I appreciate your input.

  6. Thanks, Rick, for lending your typically careful and thorough research to this topic.


  7. Fr. Stuckwisch, well said.

    I want to probe this, as you suggest.

    Advocatus diaboli: "Oh, no no, good Teacher, the Body and Blood aren't burdensome, just all your manmade rules. It is the corollaries which you make of this idea (which is really neither here nor there) that are burdensome: consuming the host?! keeping consecrated elements separated?! counting beforehand?! making a fuss over some crumbs or a little spill? cutting up the chancel plush? Has God said it is sinful, then, to dump out consecrated things into the ground or mix them back up with unconsecrated things (one has to be sparing these days)? What about all the individual glasses. Surely those undrainable last drops aren't sinful (though perhaps not very efficient). If it's all a gift and forgiveness and love as you say, why then, surely He won't be so mean and strict and bothersome about it. Where's the love? What's taken and eaten is Body and Blood, sure, but what ends up not being taken and eaten isn't, so there's no need to worry, right? Or will you hold me responsible for accidents? (It's why we went with the wine-colored carpet for the chancel in the first place)."

    Whew, that gave me a headache.

  8. You know the story about Judas at the Last Supper where he had so much on his mind that he absent-mindedly spilled the wine on the cuff of his new robe. He passed on the cup without drinking while fussing over the wine spot on his special garment purchased just for that evening. Of course, this story is apocryphal because nobody cared about what Judas wore. Then the servants rushed in, snatched up the drinking cups and food trays, shook out the table cloth, and rushed off the diners to prepare for the next dining party.

    Does the non-apocryphal story, the one that makes it into the three gospels, mention any concern, at all, over bread crumbs or drops of wine after Jesus has give his disciples his body and blood? Any concern mentioned about the wine goblet or the bread plate? Who do you think owned them and how did they get cleaned that night? We should match our concern for these matters of dishes and table cloths to that shown in the Word.

    Now, that night Jesus began the mystery with the consecration by adding his Word to the elements, then he distributed the consecrated elements to his disciples and they ate and drank, supper/mystery ended.

    "Nothing has the character of a sacrament outside of its intended use." That apocryphal drop of wine on Judas cuff, was unintended, was it not? And a supper is a continuum, a thing that starts, continues, and then stops, over time. If a consecrated wafer falls to the floor, it can be seen to have fallen outside of its intended use. The same for those awful plastic thimble thingies that waste so much of the communion wine, wine drops go everywhere with those, but if the elements are not consummed at that supper, they return to a non-intended state.

    Consecration begins the mystical union and reception completes it, then the ending of the supper closes the window of mystical intention. The blood of God cannot be dropped on the floor (it has fallen outside of the intended reception) and the body of Christ cannot be taken home and nailed to the wall (window of intention has closed). The mystical union between elements and body/blood dissolved the instant the journey toward reception stopped.

    And still the elements that once carried the body and blood of Christ are due our deepest respect and an honorable disposal. The fallen wafer should be taken up from the floor (some would brush it off and eat it). Wine left in the chalice should be consumed by the pastor or poured into the earth. There are several excellent traditional practices for honorable treatment of consecrated but unused elements. Because Jesus passed that way.

    Now, having said all that, is Receptionism the belief that the bread and wine do not become the body and blood until they are received; and that they do not become the bread and wine during the consecration?

  9. Joanne: Perhaps Rev. Stuckwisch will correct me on this, which will be fine. I am a bit confused by your post. You make the comment that we should pay attention to the Word. Yet, you proceed to give your attention to the way something was or was not handled in the apocryphal (or non-apocryphal story as you put it) literature.

    If you want to pay attention to the Word, perhaps you should remember what God commanded regarding the handling of the Passover after its celebration. Of course, we know who the true Passover Lamb is.

    Also, in the Gospel of John, if Jesus did not care how the remaining fragments (John 6:12) were to be handled, He would not have said anything. Isn't it interesting how His disciples were the ones to distribute what He gave them, and then, they were the ones to gather the fragments so that nothing is lost (John 6:12). It is quite obvious that Jesus was not serving a picnic.

    Also, 12 baskets of fragments were gathered. And, it is not until this is entirely completed that we hear these words: Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." Of course it is true, they simply believed He was a bread king, for He knew they were out to take Him by force and make Him king (6:15).

    Accidents are one thing. Carelessness and irreverence are quite another.

    Since part of Rev. Stuckwisch's post is regarding Luther, I may also note that Luther himself, when spilling some of the blood of Christ on the floor, went straight to the floor and licked it up. Would you consider that to be outside its intended use?

    You are right about one thing. Nobody cares about what Judas did, because the Last Supper is not about him.

  10. Dr. Stuckwisch,
    Is the paper available for those of us who are not in Indiana? Two questions, which you may or may not have answered are:
    1) When citing Walther and Pieper, was it the translations into English (which are problematic at times, if not downright intentionally deceptive) or the original texts?
    2)How much of their work was sampled on this? To my knowledge this wasn't a debate in their day, so I wouldn't be shocked to hear them speak in both ways (as yes, Luther may sound like a receptionist at times too).

    A little comment as part of this general discussion on the confessions when they say "apart from the use instituted by Christ", our confessions are not speaking about the reliquae, but where the elements are consecrated with the intent of NOT being eaten and drank, but rather paraded around and adored. In my opinion bringing up the discussion of the confessions of "apart from the use instituted by Christ" to this discussion is an absolute red herring which ignores what is actually being rejected and condemned in the Confessions.

  11. I'm not ignoring the other comments and questions, but simply waiting for a chance to give sufficient time and attention to answering.

    Briefly, though, in response to mlorfeld: Sadly, I'm working with the English translations, and my languages are sufficiently lacking as to limit my proficiency to delve deeper without assistance.

    I didn't prepare a written paper for the Conference, but it is my hope and intention to craft my notes and outline and research into a publishable article. In the meantime, I may do some additional blog posts, to keep the wheels turning and the juices flowing, and to solicit the fraternal input of colleagues.

    I agree with you concerning the intended use of the axiom. However, it simply cannot be ignored in discussing this topic, leastwise not within our extended Lutheran fellowship, because it has in fact been understood and used in teaching and supporting receptionism.

    Despite my lack of linguistic ability, I have yet to see any hint or indication that this was merely a passing glitch in Walther or Pieper. Others have verified that what I have read (in Walther's Pastoral Theology, and in Pieper's Dogmatics) is a fair presentation of their receptionist position. Various other scholars (such as Sasse, Hardt, Stephenson, and others) have also made reference to this, as well as the fact that receptionism was the position taken by the 17th-century Lutheran scholastics, including Quenstedt and Gerhard.

    But, again, you're absolutely right about the axiom: it was leveled Roman abuses, whereby the bread and wine were "consecrated" for other purposes instead of eating and drinking. Luther insists, against Wolferinus, that the axiom is not intended -- nor should it be used -- to divide the Sacrament within its proper action and use: which he defines as beginning with the Our Father and concluding with the consumption of all the elements. Within the divinely-instituted action and use (which I would identify as the administration of the Supper "in remembrance of" Christ Jesus), the bread becomes and is the Body of Christ, and the wine becomes and is the Blood of Christ, by and with and at the speaking of His Verba. And it is then eaten and drunk, according to His Word, because it is His Body and Blood.

    Thanks, all, for your comments and questions.

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  13. But neither Luther nor Chemnitz were "tabernacalist reservationists."

    That's a great new phrase that I really have come to appreciate, since I just made it up.

  14. pastor, what do you make of this quote, that seems approvingly quoted in the formula of concord as to the wittenberg concord:

    12] Afterwards, when those who at Augsburg delivered their own Confession concerning this article had
    allied themselves with the Confession of our churches [seemed to be willing to approve the Confession
    of our churches], the following Formula Concordiae, that is, articles of Christian agreement, between the
    Saxon theologians and those of Upper Germany was composed and signed at Wittenberg, in the year
    1536, by Dr. Martin Luther and other theologians on both sides:
    13] We have heard how Mr. Martin Bucer explained his own opinion, and that of the other preachers
    who came with him from the cities, concerning the holy Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ,
    namely, as follows:
    14] They confess, according to the words of Irenaeus, that in this Sacrament there are two things, a
    heavenly and an earthly. Accordingly, they hold and teach that with the bread and wine the body and
    blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, offered, and received. And although they believe in no
    transubstantiation, that is, an essential transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of
    Christ, nor hold that the body and blood of Christ are included in the bread localiter, that is, locally, or
    are otherwise permanently united therewith apart from the use of the Sacrament, yet they concede that
    through the sacramental union the bread is the body of Christ, etc. [that when the bread is offered, the
    Formula of Concord -- Solid Declaration
    http://wolf-359/boceng/Fc2eng.htm (49 of 97) [2/14/2001 10:24:48 AM]
    body of Christ is at the same time present, and is truly tendered]. 15] For apart from the use, when the
    bread is laid aside and preserved in the sacramental vessel [the pyx], or is carried about in the
    procession and exhibited, as is done in popery, they do not hold that the body of Christ is present.

    16] Secondly, they hold that the institution of this Sacrament made by Christ is efficacious in
    Christendom [the Church], and that it does not depend upon the worthiness or unworthiness of the
    minister who offers the Sacrament, or of the one who receives it. Therefore, as St. Paul says, that even
    the unworthy partake of the Sacrament, they hold that also to the unworthy the body and blood of Christ
    are truly offered, and the unworthy truly receive them, if [where] the institution and command of the
    Lord Christ are observed. But such persons receive them to condemnation, as St. Paul says; for they
    misuse the holy Sacrament, because they receive it without true repentance and without faith. For it was
    instituted for this purpose, that it might testify that to those who truly repent and comfort themselves by
    faith in Christ the grace and benefits of Christ

  15. this quote would officially define the position of both chemnits the author of the formula, and also Luther who participated in the wittenberg concord and was one of its signators.

    there they agtee that apart from the use, there is no real presence. It does seem that the concordia is agreeing with Bucer here. or am I missing something?

  16. Thanks for your comment and question, Frank. I agree that the quote is a challenging one, and it was part of what I spent a good deal of my time on this past fall. The biggest problem with the Wittenberg Concord was that it was subject to various interpretations. In order to understand the way that Luther and Chemnitz interpreted it, one has to look at contextual documentation. The bibliography that I included on the Blackbirds Blog includes some good discussions of that very thing. Luther's instructions to Melanchthon at the time when the Wittenberg Concord was being drafted make clear his own strong opinions. Chemnitz and his views are perhaps best clarified in the "Apology of the Formula of Concord," which features some of the strongest Consecration language of the 16th century. Although one can also see where Chemnitz stands in his Examination of Trent, much of which clearly underlies the Formula's article on this topic.

    But, on the surface of it, the Wittenberg Concord certainly can be understood in a correct -- Consecrationist -- fashion. The Lutherans were consistent in denying that the Roman abuses of the Sacrament were authentic administrations. Where bread and wine were dealt with apart from the Holy Communion, for the purpose, not of eating and drinking, but for being displayed, carried about, and worshiped, the Lutherans denied that this was the Sacrament at all; therefore, it was not to be regarded as the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a different situation altogether when one is speaking of the elements that have been consecrated within the Divine Service for the Holy Communion. But the ambiguity is there in the Wittenberg Concord.

    Martin Bucer appears to have been rather disingenuous in his approach to the Wittenberg Concord. He was pretty "Melanchthonian" in his willingness to compromise for the sake of reaching an agreement. He operated with a fairly unique set of definitions, which enabled him to speak in a way that sounded "Lutheran," whereas in other conversation it became clear that wasn't what meant at all. When his Zwinglian friends faulted him for the Wittenberg Concord, he basically pleaded that, "well, you know how Luther is." Yet, for all of that, the Wittenberg Concord is included in the Formula, where it is intended to be read in a decisively Lutheran manner. Even the immediate context within the Formula clarifies the point.

    I hope this quick and off-the-cuff response is helpful. Thanks again for your comment and question.


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