What is the Eucharist? Is it a sacrifice? A memorial? The means by which salvation is conferred? A simple sign? Those were the questions plaguing the Reformation beginning as early as 1522 and coming to a head in 1529 at the Marburg Colloquy.
In 1525 Huldrych Zwingli addressed the question in a quite scholarly volume titled Subsidium sive coronis de eucharistia and published on the 17th of August.
The story of Zwingli’s coming to a clear understanding, finally, of the meaning of the Eucharist is related by himself in this volume. He remarks that Exodus 12 came to mind while he was lying in bed and that he sprang to his feet, opened his Septuagint (which he apparently kept right at his bedside) and read it. The next day, they discussed it at the Prophezei and that discussion became the outline of the present book.
What, you may be wondering, has Ex 12 to do with the Eucharist? Zwingli noted in explaining his discovery that just as the events of the Passover were ‘memorialized’ in the passover meal, so too the death of Jesus was ‘memorialized’ in the Supper.
The book opens, after the dedication, with this scintillating sentence (a sentence which is typical and emblematic of Zwingli’s style) –
Scimus non defuturos esse, qui protinus, ut libri titulum intuiti sunt, ęqum esse dicant, ut copiis imbecillibus subsidium mittatur, quorum urbanitati respondere consilium non est, duplici nomine: Vel quod nunquam quicquam tam circumspecte dixeris, quod ipsi vertere in ludibrium non audeant; vel quod difficulter subsidio cedunt, in quos copię ipsę impressionem nullam facere potuerunt.
And the closing sentence:
Det deus optimus maximus lucem ac pacem, ut cognita veritate in veram animi pacem ac tranquillitatem restituamur. Amen!
And between those two bookends the – in my view – clearest exposition of the Supper written.