(This presentation primarily discusses Protestant perspectives on the Eucharist. At the end of this presentation are links to Catholic and Jewish perspectives, and a more general presentation on the Eucharist that includes presentation of the Orthodox perspective.)
The meal shared by Jesus Christ and his disciples on the night before he was crucified is called the Last Supper (Matt. 26:20 - 29; Mark 14:17 - 25; Luke 22:14 - 38; John 13:1 - 17:26). It was the occasion of his institution of the Eucharist, when he identified the broken bread with his body and the cup of wine with his blood of the new Covenant. The ritual was that of a Jewish religious meal, which was given new meaning for Jesus' followers when they performed it in remembrance of him. Christians differ as to the meaning of the words of Jesus, the exact relationship of the bread and wine to his body and blood, and the frequency with which the rite is to be repeated. The Last Supper was also the occasion on which Jesus washed his disciples' feet and commanded them to wash one another's feet. It has been the subject of art from earliest times.
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O Cullman, Early Christian Worship (1953); G Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (1945); J Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (1955); J Kodell, The Eucharist in the New Testament (1988); L L Mitchell, The Meaning of Ritual (1977).
There are several distinct understandings of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in modern Churches.
According to this position, the substance, or inner reality, of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, but the accidents, or external qualities known through the senses (color, weight, taste), remain unchanged.
Catholics believe this transformation occurs at the moment of the Priest's enunciating the words. Orthodox believe that they must invoke the Holy Spirit to accomplish the transformation. Catholics believe the Mass/Eucharist/Lord's Supper has a 'sacrificial' nature, where Christ is the SAME victim in the Eucharist as He was on the Cross.
All of the Protestant views below considered Transubstantiation to be "bloody" and disgusting!
Luther believed that the words "This is my body, this is my blood" must be interpreted literally as teaching that Christ's body and blood were present in the sacrament "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine. Furthermore, he viewed the sacrament as a means of grace by which the participant's faith is strengthened. This still signifies a 'physical' presence of Christ in the Supper, but not in a 'bloody' way.
Zwingli did not accept a 'real' presence of Christ in the Supper, and didn't see a 'real' feeding of the faithful on Him.
Luther and Calvin agreed that communion with a present Christ who actually feeds believers with his body and blood is what makes the sacrament. The question between them was the manner in which Christ's body exists and is given to believers.
Calvin held that, while Christ is bodily in heaven, distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit, who vivifies believers with Christ's flesh. Thus the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with his body and blood. "We must hold in regard to the mode, that it is not necessary that the essence of the flesh should descend from heaven in order to our being fed upon it, the virtue of the Spirit being sufficient to break through all impediments and surmount any distance of place.
The real difference between Luther and Calvin lay in the present existence of Christ's body. Calvin held that it is in a place, Heaven, while Luther said that it has the same omnipresence as Christ's divine nature.
BELIEVE includes a number of presentations which discuss these approaches, including the Churches and the individuals who first presented the concepts.
The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of the New Testament, instituted by Jesus Christ; wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to his appointment, his death is shown forth, - 1Co 11:23-26
and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporeal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace. - 1Co 10:16
What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord's Supper? It is required of them who would worthily partake of the Lord's Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, - 1Co 11:28,29
of their faith to feed upon him, - 2Co 13:5
of their repentance, - 1Co 11:31
love, - 1Co 11:18-20
and new obedience, - 1Co 5:8
lest coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves. - 1Co 11:27-29
What is meant by the words, "until he come," which are used by the apostle Paul in reference to the Lord's Supper? They plainly teach us that our Lord Jesus Christ will come a second time; which is the joy and hope of all believers. - Ac 1:11 1Th 4:16
In each of the four accounts of the Lord's Supper in the NT (Matt. 26:26 - 30; Mark 14:22 - 26; Luke 22:14 - 20; 1 Cor. 1:23 - 26) all the main features are included. The accounts of Matthew and Mark have close formal affinities. So have those of Luke and Paul. The main differences between the two groups are that Mark omits the words "This do in remembrance of me" and includes "shed for many" after the reference to the blood of the covenant. Instead of the Lord's reference to his reunion with the disciples in the fulfilled kingdom of God, common to the Synoptic Gospels, Paul has a reference to proclaiming the Lord's death "till he come."
The meaning of Jesus' action has to be seen against its OT background. Questions are legitimately raised, however, about the actual nature and timing of the meal. The accounts seem to be at variance. The Fourth Gospel says that Jesus died on the afternoon when the passover lamb was slain (John 18:28). The Synoptic accounts, however, suggest that the meal was prepared for, and eaten, as if it were part of the community celebration of the passover feast that year in Jerusalem after the slaying of the lambs in the temple.
The Synoptic accounts raise further problems. It has been thought unlikely that the arrest of Jesus, the meeting of the Sanhedrin, and the carrying of arms by the disciples could have taken place if the meal had coincided with the official passover date. Could Simon of Cyrene have been met coming apparently from work in the country, or could a linen cloth have been purchased for Jesus' body, if the feast was in progress?
To meet all such difficulties several suggestions have been made. Some have held that the meal took the form of a kiddush, a ceremony held by a family or brotherhood in preparation for the Sabbath or for a feast day. It has also been suggested that the meal could have been the solemn climax, before Jesus' death, of other significant messianic meals which he had been accustomed to share with his disciples, in which he and they looked forward to a glorious fulfillment of hope in the coming kingdom of God.
Such theories present as many new difficulties as those they claim to solve. Moreover, many of the features and details of the meal accounted for indicate that it was a passover meal. (They met at night, within the city; they reclined as they ate; the wine was red; wine was a preliminary dish.) Jesus himself was concerned to explain what he was doing in terms of the passover celebration. Scholars who regard the meal as a passover explain the attendant strange circumstances, and various theories have been produced to harmonize all the accounts. One theory is that disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees led to different dates being fixed for the celebration of the feast in this year.
Another theory suggests that Jesus held an irregular passover, the illegality of which contributed to his being betrayed by Judas and arrested. (Such a theory could explain why there is no mention of a passover lamb in the account.) Attention has been drawn to the existence of an ancient calendar in which the calculations of the date of the passover were made on premises different from those made in official circles. The following of such a calendar would have fixed the date of the feast a few days earlier than that of its official celebration.
There is no doubt that Jesus' words and actions are best understood if the meal is regarded as taking place within the context of the Jewish passover. In this the people of God not only remembered, but again lived through, the events of their deliverance from Egypt under the sign of the sacrificed paschal lamb as if they themselves participated in them (see Exod. 12). In this context, giving the bread and wine as his body and blood, with the words, "this do in remembrance of me," Jesus points to himself as the true substitute for the paschal lamb and to his death as the saving event which will deliver the new Israel, represented in his disciples, from all bondage. His blood is to be henceforth the sign under which God will remember his people in himself.
In his words at the table Jesus speaks of himself not only as the paschal lamb but also as a sacrifice in accordance with other OT analogies. In the sacrificial ritual the portion of peace offering not consumed by fire and thus not offered to God as his food (cf. Lev. 3:1 - 11; Num. 28:2) was eaten by priest and people (Lev. 19:5 - 6; 1 Sam. 9:13) in an act of fellowship with the altar and the sacrifice (Exod. 24:1 - 11; Deut. 27:7; cf. Num. 25:1 - 5; 1 Cor. 10). Jesus in giving the elements thus gave to his disciples a sign of their own fellowship and participation in the event of his sacrificial death.
Moreover, Jesus included in the Last Supper the ritual not only of the paschal and sacrificial meal but also of a covenant meal. In the OT the making of a covenant was followed by a meal in which the participants had fellowship and were pledged to loyalty one to another (Gen. 26:30; 31:54; 2 Sam. 3:20). The covenant between God and Israel at Sinai was likewise followed by a meal in which the people "ate and drank and saw God." The new covenant (Jer. 31:1 - 34) between the Lord and his people was thus ratified by Jesus in a meal.
In celebrating the Supper, Jesus emphasized the messianic and eschatological significance of the passover meal. At this feast the Jews looked forward to a future deliverance which was foreshadowed in type by that from Egypt. A cup was set aside for the Messiah lest he should come that very night to bring about this deliverance and fulfill the promise of the messianic banquet (cf. Isa. 25 - 26; 65:13, etc.). It may have been this cup which Jesus took in the institution of the new rite, indicating that even now the Messiah was present to feast with his people.
After the resurrection, in their frequent celebration of the Supper (Acts 2:42 - 46; 20:7), the disciples would see the climax of the table fellowship which Jesus had had with publicans and sinners (Luke 15:2; Matt. 11:18 - 19) and of their own day - to - day meals with him. They would interpret it not only as a bare prophecy but as a real foretaste of the future messianic banquet, and as a sign of the presence of the mystery of the kingdom of God in their midst in the person of Jesus (Matt. 8:11; cf. Mark 10:35 - 36; Luke 14:15 - 24). They would see its meaning in relation to his living presence in the church, brought out fully in the Easter meals they had shared with him (Luke 24:13 - 35; John 21:1 - 14; Acts 10:41). It was a supper in the presence of the risen Lord as their host. They would see, in the messianic miracle of his feeding the multitude, his words about himself as the bread of life, a sign of his continual hidden self giving in the mystery of the Lord's Supper.
But they would not forget the sacrificial and paschal aspect of the Supper. The table fellowship they looked back on was the fellowship of the Messiah with sinners which reached its climax in his self identification with the sin of the world on Calvary. They had fellowship with the resurrected Jesus through remembrance of his death. As the Lord's Supper related them to the coming kingdom and glory of Christ, so did it also relate them to his once - for - all death.
It is against this background of thought that we should interpret the words of Jesus at the table and the NT statements about the Supper. There is a real life giving relationship of communion between the events and realities, past, present, and future, symbolized in the Supper and those who participate in it (John 6:51; 1 Cor. 10:16). This communion is so inseparable from participation in the Supper that we can speak of the bread and the wine as if they were indeed the body and blood of Christ (Mark 14:22, "This is my body"; cf. John 6:53). It is by the Holy Spirit alone (John 6:53) that the bread and wine, as they are partaken by faith, convey the realities they represent, and that the Supper gives us participation in the death and resurrection of Christ and the kingdom of God. It is by faith alone that Christ is received into the heart at the Supper (Eph. 3:17), and as faith is inseparable from the word, the Lord's Supper is nothing without the word.
Christ is Lord at his table, the risen and unseen host (John 14:19). He is not there at the disposal of the church, to be given and received automatically in the mere performance of a ritual. Yet he is there according to his promise to seeking and adoring faith. He is present also in such a way that though the careless and unbelieving cannot receive him, they nevertheless eat and drink judgment to themselves (1 Cor. 11:27).
In participating by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ which was offered once - for - all on the cross, the members of the church are stimulated and enabled by the same Holy Spirit to offer themselves to the Father in eucharistic sacrifice, to serve one another in love within the body, and to fulfill their sacrificial function as the body of Christ in the service of the need of the whole world which God has reconciled to himself in Christ (1 Cor. 10:17; Rom. 12:1).
There is in the Lord's Supper a constant renewal of the covenant between God and the church. The word "remembrance" (anamnesis) refers not simply to man's remembering of the Lord but also to God's remembrance of his Messiah and his covenant, and of his promise to restore the kingdom. At the Supper all this is brought before God in true intercessory prayer.
R S Wallace
J Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus; A J B Higgins, The Lord's Supper in the NT; G Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology; I H Marshall, Lord's Supper and Last Supper; F J Leenhardt and O Cullmann, Essays in the Lord's Supper; J J von Allmen, The Lord's Supper; M Thurian, The Eucharistic Memorial; E J F Arndt, The Font and the Table; M Marty, The Lord's Supper; E Schillebeeckx, ed., Sacramental Reconciliation.
The Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:20), called also "the Lord's table" (10:21), "communion," "cup of blessing" (10:16), and "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42). In the early Church it was called also "eucharist," or giving of thanks (comp. Matt. 26:27), and generally by the Latin Church "mass," a name derived from the formula of dismission, Ite, missa est, i.e., "Go, it is discharged." The account of the institution of this ordinance is given in Matt. 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19, 20, and 1 Cor. 11: 24-26. It is not mentioned by John. It was designed, (1.) To commemorate the death of Christ: "This do in remembrance of me." (2.) To signify, seal, and apply to believers all the benefits of the new covenant. In this ordinance Christ ratifies his promises to his people, and they on their part solemnly consecrate themselves to him and to his entire service. (3.) To be a badge of the Christian profession. (4.) To indicate and to promote the communion of believers with Christ. (5.) To represent the mutual communion of believers with each other. The elements used to represent Christ's body and blood are bread and wine. The kind of bread, whether leavened or unleavened, is not specified. Christ used unleavened bread simply because it was at that moment on the paschal table. Wine, and no other liquid, is to be used (Matt. 26:26-29). Believers "feed" on Christ's body and blood, (1) not with the mouth in any manner, but (2) by the soul alone, and (3) by faith, which is the mouth or hand of the soul. This they do (4) by the power of the Holy Ghost. This "feeding" on Christ, however, takes place not in the Lord's Supper alone, but whenever faith in him is exercised. This is a permanent ordinance in the Church of Christ, and is to be observed "till he come" again.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
The NT teaches that Christians must partake of Christ in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23 - 32; cf. Matt. 26:26 - 29; Luke 22:14 - 23; Mark 14:22 - 25). In a remarkable discourse Jesus said that his disciples had to feed on him if they were to have eternal life (John 6:53 - 57). The setting of that discourse was the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus used the occasion to tell the multitude that it should not be as concerned about perishable food as about the food that lasts forever, which he gives them. That food is himself, his body and his blood. Those who believe in him must eat his flesh and drink his blood, not literally, but symbolically and sacramentally, in the rite he gave the church. Through faith in him and partaking of him they would live forever, for union with him means salvation.
The setting for the institution of the Lord's Supper was the passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Matt. 26:17; John 13:1; Exod. 13:1 - 10). In calling the bread and wine his body and blood, and saying, "Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus was naming himself the true lamb of the passover whose death would deliver God's people from the bondage of sin. Thus Paul writes, "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7; cf. John 1:29).
With sensitivity he held that the whole Christ (totus Christus) is given the believer spiritually as he receives bread and wine. The elements remain unchanged but are invested with new meaning; they represent the body and blood of the Savior. This view was out of step with the times, however, and transubstantiation was declared the faith of the church in 1059, although the term itself was not used officially until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
The medieval church continued and refined the teaching of transubstantiation, adding such subtleties as (1) concomitance, i.e., that both the body and blood of Christ are in each element; hence, when the cup is withheld from the laity the whole Christ, body and blood, is received in the bread alone; (2) consecration, i.e., the teaching that the high moment in the Eucharist is not communion with Christ but the change of the elements by their consecration into the very body and blood of Christ, an act performed by the priest alone; (3) that, inasmuch as there is the real presence of Christ in the Supper, body, blood, soul, and divinity, a sacrifice is offered to God; (4) that the sacrifice offered is propitiatory; (5) that the consecrated elements, or host, may be reserved for later use; (6) that the elements thus reserved should be venerated as the living Christ. The Council of Trent (1545 - 63) confirmed these teachings in its thirteenth and twenty second sessions, adding that the veneration given the consecrated elements is adoration (latria), the same worship that is given God.
In it he charges the church with a threefold bondage in its doctrine and practice concerning the Supper, withholding the cup from the people, transubstantiation, and the teaching that the Supper is a sacrifice offered to God. Luther tells about his earlier instruction in the theology of the sacrament and of some of his doubts:
"When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this, namely the Thomistic, that is, the Aristotelian church, I grew bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, I at last found rest for my conscience in the above view, namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ's real flesh and real blood are present in no other way and to no less a degree than the others assert them to be under their accidents.
"I reached this conclusion because I saw that the opinions of the Thomists, whether approved by pope or by council, remain only opinions, and would not become articles of faith even if an angel from heaven were to decree otherwise (Gal. 1:8). For what is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed. But this opinion of Thomas hangs so completely in the air without support of Scripture or reason that it seems to me he knows neither his philosophy nor his logic. For Aristotle speaks of subject and accidents so very differently from St. Thomas that it seems to me this great man is to be pitied not only for attempting to draw his opinions in matters of faith from Aristotle, but also for attempting to base them upon a man whom he did not understand, thus building an unfortunate superstructure upon an unfortunate foundation." (Works, XXXVI, 29)
Luther was feeling his way into a new understanding of the sacrament at this time, but he believed it legitimate to hold that there are real bread and real wine on the altar. He rejected the Thomistic position of a change in the substance of the elements while the accidents remain, inasmuch as Aristotle, from whom the terms "substance" and "accidents" were borrowed, allowed no such separation. The "third captivity," the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass, Luther declared to be "by far the most wicked of all" for in it a priest claims to offer to God the very body and blood of Christ as a repetition of the atoning sacrifice of the cross, only in an unbloody manner, whereas the true sacrament of the altar is a "promise of the forgiveness of sins made to us by God, and such a promise as has been confirmed by the death of the Son of God." Since it is a promise, access to God is not gained by works or merits by which we try to please him but by faith alone. "For where there is the Word of the promising God, there must necessarily be the faith of the accepting man."
"Who in the world is so foolish as to regard a promise received by him, or a testament given to him, as a good work, which he renders to the testator by his acceptance of it? What heir will imagine that he is doing his departed father a kindness by accepting the terms of the will and the inheritance it bequeaths to him? What godless audacity is it, therefore, when we who are to receive the testament of God come as those who would perform a good work for him! This ignorance of the testament, this captivity of so great a sacrament, are they not too sad for tears? When we ought to be grateful for benefits received, we come arrogantly to give that which we ought to take. With unheard of perversity we mock the mercy of the giver by giving as a work the thing we receive as a gift, so that the testator, instead of being a dispenser of his own goods, becomes the recipient of ours. Woe to such sacrilege!" (Works, XXXVI, 47 - 48)
In his determination to break the bondage of superstition in which the church was held, Luther wrote four more tracts against the medieval perversion of the Lord's Supper. However, he also fought doctrinal developments on the other side. Some who with him rejected Roman Catholic error were denying any real presence of Christ in the Supper; against them, beginning in 1524, Luther directed an attack. In these five writings he showed that, while he rejected transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass, he still believed that Christ is bodily present in the Lord's Supper and that his body is received by all who partake of the elements.
"On this we take our stand, and we also believe and teach that in the Supper we eat and take to ourselves Christ's body truly and physically." While he acknowledge the mystery, he was certain of the fact of Christ's real corporeal presence inasmuch as he had said when he instituted the Supper, "This is my body." If Scripture cannot be taken literally here, it cannot be believed anywhere, Luther held, and we are on the way to "the virtual denial of Christ, God, and everything." (Works, XXXVII, 29, 53)
"As the one was by disposition and discipline a schoolman who loved the Saints and the Sacraments of the Church, the other was a humanist who appreciated the thinkers of antiquity and the reason in whose name they spoke. Luther never escaped from the feelings of the monk and associations of the cloister; but Zwingli studied his New Testament with a fine sense of the sanity of its thought, the combined purity and practicability of its ideals, and the majesty of its spirit; and his ambition was to realize a religion after its model, free from the traditions and superstitions of men. It was this that made him so tolerant of Luther, and Luther so intolerant of him. The differences of character were insuperable." (H M Fairbairn, The Cambridge Modern History, II)
The chief differences between Luther and Zwingli theologically were Luther's inability to think of Christ's presence in the Supper in any other than a physical way and a heavy dualism that runs through much of Zwingli's thought. The latter is seen in Zwingli's doctrine of the Word of God as both inward and outward, the church as both visible and invisible, and his conception of the means of grace as having both an external form and an inward grace given by the Holy Spirit. No physical element can affect the soul, but only God in his sovereign grace. Thus there must be no identification of the sign with that which it signifies, but through the use of the sign one rises above the world of sense to the spiritual reality signified. By contrast, Luther held that God comes to us precisely in physical realities discerned by sense.
Zwingli interpreted the words of Jesus, "This is my body," in harmony with John 6, where Jesus spoke of eating and drinking his body and blood, especially vs. 63: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." Therefore, he reasoned, not only is transubstantiation, that somehow Christ is corporeally in, under, and with the elements. The doctrine of physical eating is absurd and repugnant to common sense. Moreover, God does not ask us to believe that which is contrary to sense experience. The word "is" in the words of institution means "signifies," or "represents," and must be interpreted figuratively, as is done in other "I am" passages in the Bible. Christ's ascension means that he took his body from earth to heaven.
Zwingli's shortcoming was his lack of appreciation for the real presence of Christ in the Supper in his Holy Spirit and a real feeding of the faithful on Him. What he needed for an adequate doctrine was Luther's belief in the reality of communion with Christ and a reception of Him in the Supper. This was to be found in Calvin.
With Luther, Calvin believed that the elements in the Supper are signs which exhibit the fact that Christ is truly present, and he repudiated Zwingli's belief that the elements are signs which represent what is absent. Inasmuch as the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Supper was the key issue in the eucharistic debate, it is obvious that Luther and Calvin agreed more than did Calvin and Zwingli. The latter's conception of Christ's presence was "by the contemplation of faith" but not "in essence and reality." For Luther and Calvin communion with a present Christ who actually feeds believers with his body and blood is what makes the sacrament. The question between them was the manner in which Christ's body exists and is given to believers.
In his response to this question Calvin rejected the Eutychian doctrine of the absorption of Christ's humanity by his divinity, an idea he found in some of his Lutheran opponents, and any weakening of the idea of a local presence of the flesh of Christ in heaven. While Christ is bodily in heaven, distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit, who vivifies believers with Christ's flesh. Thus the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with his body and blood. "We must hold in regard to the mode, that it is not necessary that the essence of the flesh should descend from heaven in order to our being fed upon it, the virtue of the Spirit being sufficient to break through all impediments and surmount any distance of place.
Meanwhile, we deny not that this mode is incomprehensible to the human mind; because neither can flesh naturally be the life of the soul, nor exert its power upon us from heaven, nor without reason is the communion which makes us flesh of the flesh of Christ, and bone of his bones, called by Paul, 'A great mystery' (Eph. 5:30). Therefore, in the sacred Supper, we acknowledge a miracle which surpasses both the limits of nature and the measure of our sense, while the life of Christ is common to us, and his flesh is given us for food. But we must have done with all inventions inconsistent with the explanation lately given, such as the ubiquity of the body, the secret inclosing under the symbol of bread, and the substantial presence on earth." (Tracts, II, 577)
Calvin held that the essence of Christ's body was its power. In itself it is of little value since it "had its origin from earth, and underwent death" (Inst. 4.17.24), but the Holy Spirit, who gave Christ a body, communicates its power to us so that we receive the whole Christ in Communion. The difference from Luther here is not great, for he held that the "right hand of God" to which Christ ascended meant God's power, and that power is everywhere. The real difference between Luther and Calvin lay in the present existence of Christ's body. Calvin held that it is in a place, heaven, while Luther said that it has the same omnipresence as Christ's divine nature. Both agreed that there is deep mystery here which can be accepted though not understood. "If anyone should ask me how this (partaking of the whole Christ) takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. . . I rather experience than understand it." (Inst. 4.17.32)
M E Osterhaven
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
"The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent," in Creeds of Christendom, II, ed. P Schaff; J Pelikan and H T Lehmann, eds., Luther's Works; J Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. J T McNeill, and Tracts Relating to the Reformation; G W Bromiley, ed., Zwingli and Bullinger; K McDonnell, John Calvin, the Church, and the Eucharist; D Bridge and D Phypers, Communion: The Meal That Unites?
The meal held by Christ and His disciples on the eve of His Passion at which He instituted the Holy Eucharist.
The Evangelists and critics generally agree that the Last Supper was on a Thursday, that Christ suffered and died on Friday, and that He arose from the dead on Sunday. As to the day of the month there seems a difference between the record of the synoptic Gospels and that of St. John. In consequence some critics have rejected the authenticity of either account or of both. Since Christians, accepting the inspiration of the Scriptures, cannot admit contradictions in the sacred writers, various attempts have been made to reconcile the statements. Matthew 26:17 says, "And on the first day of the Azymes"; Mark 14:12, "Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the pasch"; Luke 22:7, "And the day of the unleavened bread came, on which it was necessary that the pasch should be killed". From these passages it seems to follow that Jesus and his disciples conformed to the ordinary custom, that the Last Supper took place on the 14th of Nisan, and that the Crucifixion was on the l5th, the great festival of the Jews. This opinion, held by Tolet, Cornelius a Lapide, Patrizi, Corluy, Hengstenberg, Ohlshausen, and Tholuck, is confirmed by the custom of the early Eastern Church which, looking to the day of the month, celebrated the commemoration of the Lord's Last Supper on the 14th of Nisan, without paying any attention to the day of the week. This was done in conformity with the teaching of St. John the Evangelist. But in his Gospel, St. John seems to indicate that Friday was the 14th of Nisan, for (18:28) on the morning of this day the Jews "went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch". Various things were done on this Friday which could not be done on a feast, viz., Christ is arrested, tried, crucified; His body is taken down" (because it was the parasceve) that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day)"; the shroud and ointments are bought, and so on.
The defenders of this opinion claim that there is only an apparent contradiction and that the differing statements may be reconciled. For the Jews calculated their festivals and Sabbaths from sunset to sunset: thus the Sabbath began after sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday. This style is employed by the synoptic Gospels, while St. John, writing about twenty-six years after the destruction of Jerusalem, when Jewish law and customs no longer prevailed, may well have used the Roman method of computing time from midnight to midnight. The word pasch does not exclusively apply to the paschal lamb on the eve of the feast, but is used in the Scriptures and in the Talmud in a wider sense for the entire festivity, including the chagigah; any legal defilement could have been removed by the evening ablutions; trials, and even executions and many servile works, though forbidden on the Sabbath, were not forbidden on feasts (Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:23). The word parasceve may denote the preparation for any Sabbath and may be the common designation for any Friday, and its connexion with pasch need not mean preparation for the Passover but Friday of the Passover season and hence this Sabbath was a great Sabbath. Moreover it seems quite certain that if St. John intended to give a different date from that given by the Synoptics and sanctioned by the custom of his own Church at Ephesus, he would have said so expressly. Others accept the apparent statement of St. John that the Last Supper was on the 13th of Nisan and try to reconcile the account of the Synoptics. To this class belong Paul of Burgos, Maldonatus, Pétau, Hardouin, Tillemont, and others. Peter of Alexandria (P.G., XCII, 78) says: "In previous years Jesus had kept the Passover and eaten the paschal lamb, but on the day before He suffered as the true Paschal Lamb He taught His disciples the mystery of the type." Others say: Since the Pasch, falling that year on a Friday, was reckoned as a Sabbath, the Jews, to avoid the inconvenience of two successive Sabbaths, had postponed the Passover for a day, and Jesus adhered to the day fixed by law; others think that Jesus anticipated the celebration, knowing that the proper time He would be in the grave.
The owner of the house in which was the upper room of the Last Supper is not mentioned in Scripture; but he must have been one of the disciples, since Christ bids Peter and John say, "The Master says". Some say it was Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea, or the mother of John Mark. The hall was large and furnished as a dining-room. In it Christ showed Himself after His Resurrection; here took place the election of Matthias to the Apostolate and the sending of the Holy Ghost; here the first Christians assembled for the breaking of bread; hither Peter and John came when they had given testimony after the cure of the man born lame, and Peter after his liberation from prison; here perhaps was the council of the Apostles held. It was for awhile the only church in Jerusalem, the mother of all churches, known as the Church of the Apostles or of Sion. It was visited in 404 by St. Paula of Rome. In the eleventh century it was destroyed by the Saracens, later rebuilt and given to the care of the Augustinians. Restored after a second destruction, it was placed in charge of the Franciscans, who were driven out in 1561. At present it is a Moslem mosque.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Some critics give the following harmonized order: washing of the feet of the Apostles, prediction of the betrayal and departure of Judas, institution of the Holy Eucharist. Others, believing that Judas made a sacrilegious communion, place the institution of the sacrament before the departure of Judas.
The Last Supper has been a favourite subject. In the catacombs we find representations of meals giving at least an idea of the surroundings of an ancient dining hall. Of the sixth century we have a bas-relief in the church at Monza in Italy, a picture in a Syrian codex of the Laurentian Library at Florence, and a mosaic in S. Apollmare Nuovo at Ravenna. One of the most popular pictures is that of Leonardo da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Among the modern school of German artists, the Last Supper of Gebhardt is regarded as a masterpiece.
Publication information Written by Francis Mershman. Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
FOUARD, The Christ, the Son of God, tr. GRIFFITH, II (London, 1895), 386; MADAME CECILIA, Cath. Scripture Manuals; St. Matthew, II, 197; The Expository Times, XX (Edinburgh, 1909), 514; Theolog. praktische Quartalschrift (1877), 425; LANGEN, Die letzten Lebenstage Jesu (Freiburg, 1864), 27; KRAUS, Gesch. der chr. Kunst, s. v. Abendmahl; Stimmen aus Maria Laach, XLIX, 146; CHWOLSON in Mém. de l'Acad. impér. des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg, 7th ser., XLI, p. 37; VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible (Paris, 1899), s. vv. Cène; Cénacle, where a full bibliography may be found.
Bias is very difficult to avoid and I am sure that you have done your best. Therefore, I expect you to receive this criticism as something beneficial for your service in educating people on the Christian faith.
On the topic of the Lord's Supper, you use the word, "Consubstantiation" to identify the Lutheran teaching. Lutherans don't use this word to describe their own teaching. It is rather the Reformed who use it to describe the Lutheran position. It is a misleading word. The Lutheran doctrine cares little about whether or not the bread remains bread. We simply won't impose a Thomistic (or any other) philosophy on a biblical doctrine. I know that it is quite common for the Reformed to use this word to describe the Lutheran teaching, but this does not make it acceptable. Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, and Lutheran Orthodoxy are far more critical of the view that the Supper is not Christ's true body and blood than they are of the view that the bread and wine have changed.
Furthermore, the assertion that Lutherans today are closer to Calvin's view of the real presence than to Luther's view is simply false witness. You really ought to correct this. I am a confessional Lutheran who subscribes without any reservation to the Lutheran Confessions. Ask your contributors to read our Confessions and then to write articles on our doctrine. It is unfair to appoint a writing task to one who is ignorant of his topic. If you would like further information, you may write to me, or to any of the seminary faculties of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Any one of these seminaries would be happy to correct for the benefit of your readers the various articles that are written concering the doctrine of Lutheranism.
Thank you for your kind consideration of my criticisms!
(Rev.) Rolf D. Preus, pastor
River Heights Lutheran Church (Evangelical Lutheran Synod)
It is generally accepted by Christian scholars that the last meal of Jesus was a (Jewish) Seder meal which is part of the Passover celebration. BELIEVE contains a presentation on the Seder which includes the specific foods and procedures involved, along with the Jewish (historic) reasons for them. References to Christian adaptations of the Seder are also included.
Luther, and Calvin, and others, each felt that this was an illogical conclusion, and, more specifically, that the Bible does not clearly support the "bloody" interpretation. Some Protestants came to conclude that the bread was "merely symbolic" of the Lord, while others (following Luther) felt it really became the Lord, but in a non-bloody way.
No one can either "prove" or "disprove" any of these viewpoints either.
It is a subject on which there can never be agreement! Each group has applied their own preconceptions and assumptions and decided on a specific conclusion/interpretation. Since the Bible does not include sufficient details to tell that one or another is more correct, they each should be considered "equally correct" (personal opinion), and therefore totally valid FOR THAT GROUP. Therefore, we see no cause or basis to criticize Catholics for their conclusion regarding Transubstantiation. But we also see no cause or basis to criticize Zwingli et al for a purely symbolic understanding.
Our Church feels that such arguments are pretty much irrelevant. What REALLY is important is how the Eucharist is perceived by and affects the specific person that partakes in it. If a person simply eats it, as a mundane piece of bread, it has no merit, in ANY Church! However, if the person's heart is deeply affected by the Rite (the REAL desire of the Lord), then it is valid, no matter what the opinions on interpretation might be.
We have a rather different thought to offer up on the subject! Modern science has proven that there are an unbelievable number of atoms in even a small amount of any liquid or solid (Avogadro's number). If there is a cup of coffee on your desk, or a glass of pop, or a Ritz cracker, or a candy bar, there are something like 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in it. When Jesus Lived, He breathed! Every breath He exhaled had water vapor in it and carbon dioxide, atoms and molecules that HAD BEEN PART OF HIS BODY. A number of years back, I studied this subject carefully. The winds of the world distribute such air, including those molecules, all around the world, within a couple years. As a wheat plant is growing in Kansas, it takes in carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air, which then become part of that plant! The point here is that some of those molecules had actually been part of the Body of Jesus 2000 years earlier! I did the math on this, and was amazed! Every mouthful of that coffee certainly contains around a MILLION atoms that had once physically been part of the Body of Jesus! Similar for crackers or candy bars!
This is really an entirely different subject, but it certainly is an established fact. I see it as sort of affecting such arguments regarding the Nature of the Eucharist. If someone wanted to think that the million atoms that ACTUALLY had been part of the Body of Jesus were "bloody", I cannot really argue against that, because some/most of those atoms certainly had been His blood and His flesh. However, if a different person would choose to look at that coffee as more "symbolic", well that is also sort of true!
This is brought up to try to show that "arguments" on "human important perceptions" are probably not really very important. Also, that you might look at EVERY piece of bread, and meat, and vegetable, and every glass of any liquid, in a new light! With the proper mind-set, I believe, one could see that EVERY bite of food and every sip of liquid is arguably "of Christ" in a VERY direct way! Instead of just sucking down a Pepsi, look at it for a moment, and contemplate these facts. I have a VERY large number of "religious experiences" in this way!
Some Christians might get upset over the molecule discussion above. NO, it is NOT meant as any replacement for Faith perceptions of the Eucharist! It is NOT to imply that Faith perceptions are incorrect or incomplete. Just the reverse! Our small Church encourages all Members to spend a few seconds contemplating the wafer or bread about to be taken in the Eucharist Rite, in order to realize, in ADDITION to the Faith importance as described by their Church, the ACTUAL FACT that they are looking at and about to ingest ACTUAL PHYSICAL PARTS of the Body of Jesus! Personally, I often get a shiver, in realizing just how intimately Jesus is to me in that Rite! We hope that is also true among the Congregation!
I will attempt to describe the issue, as best I understand it.
As far as we can find from research, the word Consubstantiation has absolutely no other usage other than to supposedly describe the Lutheran belief regarding the Eucharist. However, Lutheran Clergy seem to go ballistic regarding the very existence of the word! Now, if the "definition" of the word Consubstantiation is inaccurate, I could easily see why Lutherans would want to correct it. But that has never been their interest, in dozens of Lutheran Clergy who have complained about the above (scholar-written) articles. They always are intensely outraged (and most very clearly express extreme outrage!) at the very word itself! In every case, I have calmly tried to ask why, and none have ever responded to that question.
That attitude COULD make sense, IF the word Consubstantiation had some second meaning, a usage where the meaning is clearly different from Lutheran belief regarding the Eucharist. No Lutheran Clergy has never indicated that there is any other such usage.
This then seems REALLY confusing to me! At this point in each communication, I usually refer to the word "mousepad", which, as far as I know, only has a single usage, that little area on which a computer mouse moves around. If someone became intensely emotionally irritated by the word "mousepad", I would wonder why. With no other know usage, WHATEVER the definition of that word is, it MUST have something to do with a mouse and moving it around! So even if a definition was considered inaccurate, doesn't it make more sense to attempt to refine the definition to being more correct than to become abusive and mean-spirited because the word mousepad was used?
In my interactions with Lutheran Ministers on this one subject, I have started to wonder how well they have their acts together! Some have insisted that, yes, Luther described this view, but later abandoned it, and yes, Melanchthon first used that word but also later refuted it completely. Does this mean that Lutheran beliefs today are not compatible with what Luther had believed as he initiated the Protestant Reformation? (seems like a fair question). Other Lutheran Clergy have "announced" to me that Luther had never used such a word (which is true!) and that it first was used around 60 years later, around 1590. Yet other Lutheran Clergy insist that the word Consubstantiation was used (either 100 or 200 years) before Luther, and some of those claims say that Scotus first used it. But none have ever provided BELIEVE with actual texts of any of these things, and instead only refer to MODERN Lutheran texts. The standards of BELIEVE are such that that is not good enough! If we are to dump the work of a highly respected Christian scholar (our included texts), we would need REALLY good evidence and documentation!
Even if someone used that specific word prior to Luther, that does not necessarily mean that it did or didn't mean the same thing. The word "mouse" has been around for thousands of years, but never referred to any part of a computer until twenty years ago! Should we read a Shakespeare mention of a mouse with outrage, in not properly also referring to the computer?
In any case, all we want are actual facts. Except for these aberrant Lutheran Clergy Members, we actually strongly support the Lutheran Church and wish to improve BELIEVE to better present their beliefs. But, regarding this one word, Consubstantiation, they seem to immediately get angry and vengeful and go into attack-mode, without (yet) ever providing actual evidence (not counting recent articles of their peers) which is what we actually need. For example, if Scotus actually used the term Consubstantiation, we would just need the name of the book and the page number, so we could research the context in which the word was used.
This subject has been quite confusing to us at BELIEVE. We would have thought that the Lutheran Church would have LOVED to have a "special word" that referred ONLY to their unique belief on the Eucharist! No other Church other than the Roman Catholic Church has such a specific word associated with it. But it is clear that Lutherans would really wish to eliminate that word from our language! And we do not see why! We have made many offers to "correct an inaccurate definition" but Lutherans do not seem interested in that.
Name taken from I Cor. xi. 20, and given by the Christian world to the rite known as the eucharist, the partaking of the cup of wine and the bread offered in memory of Jesus' death and brought into connection with the story of his last meal, which he is said to have taken with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. According to the synoptic Gospels (Matt. xxvi. 26-29; Mark xiv. 23-25; Luke xxii. 15-18, 19), Jesus was partaking of the Passover meal with his disciples on the fourteenth of Nisan, before his capture by the officers of the high priest. The Gospel of John, however, knows nothing of the institution and assigns the crucifixion to the fourteenth day of Nisan, the day when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. This discrepancy shows that the identification of the "crucified Christ" with the "lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John i. 29 [adapted from Isa. liii. 7]; I Peter i. 19; Acts viii. 32; Rev. v. 6; and elsewhere) gradually led to an identification of Jesus with the Passover lamb also (see I Cor. v. 7).
Subsequently the mystic love-meals of the Mithra-worshipers, who also broke bread and drank the soma-wine in memory of Mithra's last supper (see T. Cumont, "Die Mysterien des Mithra," pp. 99-101, 118-119, Leipsic, 1903), caused the love-feasts of the early Christians to be celebrated as actual remembrances of the last supper eaten by Jesus; and so a special passage was inserted (I Cor. xi. 23-28, interrupting the context, and contradictory to ib. x. 4) in which the apostle rather oddly declares that he had received from Jesus by inspiration the statement that he had instituted the eucharist on the night of his betrayal, giving the formulas for the bread and the cup which, with some variations, appears in each of the three synoptic Gospels. Incompatible with the whole story, however, is the fact that the Christian Didache (ix. 1-4; comp. Jew. Encyc. iv. 587) gives the eucharist formulas for the cup and the wine used in Christian circles without any reference to the crucifixion or to the last supper. This makes it probable that the institution had developed out of the Essene communion-meals and was only at a later time referred to Jesus.
The original idea of the Essene communion-feasts, borrowed from Parseeism, remained attached to it: the hope for the banquets (of leviathan) in paradise; wherefore Jesus is reported as having especially referred to wine in the Kingdom of God (Matt. xxvi. 29; Mark xiv. 25; Luke xxii. 18, 30).
The whole story of the Passover celebration by Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion thus arose in circles where real familiarity with Jewish law and life no longer existed. It has, however, been argued that the ritual of the mass or communion service is derived from that of the Passover eve service (see Bickell, "Messe und Pascha").
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
I was browsing your article concerning the various views of the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist. You noted that none of the Lutheran pastors who have spoken with you could cite anything, beyond modern articles, asserting that the Lutheran position is not "consubstantiation." Allow me, first, to present a source from the time of the Reformation and, second, to add some clarification.
Nicolaus Selneccer(1530-1592), one of the authors/orchastrators of the Formula of Concord writes, "Although our churches use the old expressions 'in the bread', 'with the bread,' or 'under the bread' ... they do not teach an inclusio, consubstantiatio, or delitescentia. The meaning is rather that Christ, 'when giving the bread, gives us simultaneously His body to eat...'" Vom hl. Abendmahl des Herrn etc. (1591) Bl E 2.
The reason Lutheran pastors get upset over the attribution of the term "consubstantaion" to our theology is two-fold.
First, you may find in early Luther (the Luther of whom he himself writes, in his introduction to his Latin writings, was still a "raving papist.") that he preferred "consubstantiation," as argued by Peter d'Ailly's "Questiones on Peter Lombard." Luther preferred d'Ailly's view, however, largely for philosophical reasons. It required only a single miracle whereas transubstantiation, as it had been pushed from Aquinas to Duns Scotus required a second miracle: the annihilation of the substance of the bread. Though, at the time, Luther only argues that it is "better philosophy" and would be preferred only if transubstantiation hadn't already been declared by the Church. So, the first reason why Lutherans reject the idea of consubstantiation is that the term itself is wrapped up in the same philosophical categories as transubstantiation and is, therefore, rejected on those grounds. The Lutheran objection to transubstantation wasn't so much that they excluded the bread/wine, but that the theory had dogmatized Aristotle which, in turn, speaks where Scripture has remained silent. It forces theology in a way typical of Scholasticism: it sets up a principle (principium/Oberbegriff) as the "first thing," under which all our theology must be made to fit. The Lord can't be forced into our principium, therefore, where the Lord has not declared the "how," we are best never to dogmatize our theories about how it may have been possible. Notice these words from the Smalcald Articles, III, 6 "We care nothing about the sophistical subtlety by which they teach that bread and wine leave or lose their own natural substance, and that there remains only the appearance and colour of bread, and not true bread..." The criticism, here, isn't merely the conclusion (that bread is no longer) but the philosophical method, or "sophistical subtelty" which attempts to expalin the how. Lutherans were quite willing to allow for transubstantation, or even consubstantation, so long as the Church would not make a dogma of such. The reason, in the Babylonian Captivity, Luther cites transubstantiation as one of the "three walls" having obscured the Gospel of the Sacrament is not that they have gotten rid of bread, but they have dogmatized a theory that can't be scripturally substantiated. Thus, the reason we reject consubstantiation is for the very same reason we reject transubstantiation. Instead, we prefer to speak of the "Sacramental Union," or the "unio sacramentailis." The unio sacramentalis is the Lutheran counterpart to Roman transubstantiation, and Late Medieval consubstantiation, with which is it often mistakingly confounded. Like consubstantiation, unio sacramentalis presupposes the bread and body, wine and blood, exist together. Bread and wine are not destroyed or "transubstantiated." The difference, however, is that no theory is built up about the coexistence of two substances, reflecting the accidents of one to the exclusion of the other.
Second, we prefer not to be call "consubstantiationists," because the differentiation implied by the use of the term suggests that our primary "difference" in our confession of the Sacrament, against Rome, is that of bickering over the presence of bread and wine. This isn't the matter, at all. While we do believe Rome is wrong to dogmatize a philosophical theory (transubstantiation) our real "criticism" with the Roman doctrine of the Eucharist is the *sacrifice* of the mass. Hence, as Luther says in the Babylonian captivity, they have turned what is truly Gospel (beneficium) into law (sacrificium). That is, they have turned something that is primarilly God's gracious, Gospel-deliviering action *for us* into an action we offer to God in order to appease the wrath of the Father.
Ryan T. Fouts
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