I shall strike such fear into the hearts of those of you who survive in the countries of their enemies that the sound of a falling leaf will set them fleeing; they will flee as though fleeing from the sword, and fall when no one is pursuing. (Lev. 26:36)
In 1561, a Eucharistic controversy erupted in Danzig of the sixteenth century, sparked by disagreements on the real presence and the practical treatment of the Eucharistic elements. It was one of many inner-Lutheran struggles over the Lord’s Supper in the years following the Reformation and therefore Bjørn Ole Hovda supplements the scientific studies on that topic. Different understandings of the presence of Christ during the Lord’s Supper formed different religious norms of practice. On the one hand, the controversy is here analyzed as a discussion on doctrine between opposing ecclesiastical factions, set in the context of reformatory theology and liturgical practice. The theological discussions had important practical and cultic implications. One the other hand – and in contrast with the most of earlier works – the study seeks to treat with equal seriousness the wider societal and political aspects of the controversy. Hovda shows how deeply embedded the Eucharist was within broader discourses of culture, society and politics. Far from being just an abstruse ecclesiastical matter, it was a question of great sociopolitical interest and potency. The Eucharist served both as the prime symbol of Christian unity, as well as a confessional border stone between rivaling groups.Other important aspects of this wider analysis are tensions between the ordained ministry and the city council regarding authority, internal social tensions within the city, as well as the strategic interests of the city in its relations to the Polish crown, the Hanseatic league and the emerging new trading powers, among others.Through a close study of one particular controversy, light is cast on a variety of issues with relevance to the broader field of Reformation studies, especially concerning the centrality of the Eucharist.
This volume arrived from the publisher a while back. It has to be said, first, that the table of contents (which is meticulously full) and the front matter are available to readers at the link in the sentence above. And second, it has to be said that this present study is a very important contribution to a very important sub-field of Reformation History.
It’s a well known fact that the Eucharistic Controversy was the core conflict among the Reformers. But that conflict didn’t end with Luther and Zwingli. Among Luther’s own followers there was serious doubt cast on Luther’s reading of the Supper. This revised doctoral dissertation takes us on a guided tour of just one sliver of that widespread debate.
The Eucharistic controversy in Danzig (Dantzigk) began in 1561, when the minister (Prediger) Erhard Sperber accused his colleague, Veit Neuber, of irreverent treatment of the remaining elements of the Lord’s Supper, and of rejecting a continuing real presence after communion. In response, Sperber was accused of a new sort of “Papism.” Anxious to avoid unrest, the city council started a process of investigation and interrogation in order to resolve the conflict. Sperber was deported, and Neuber later left the city. Among the clergy, however, the controversy over the understanding of the real presence and the practical treatment of the sacrament continued.
Having thus set the stage, Hovda specifies further
The furious tensions in the controversy are striking. The object of disagreement must have been regarded as something tremendously important. It was not only intellectualistic hairsplitting; it was an integral element of devotion, faith, identity, society and politics. When we study this controversy, it is natural to inquire into the background and the reason for the tensions, and the reason for the success of one of the parties. The present study hopes to shed light on central aspects of the diversity of early Lutheran tradition, and on the role of the Eucharistic controversies on the road to parallel and uniform confessions.
It is the fact of diversity within the Lutheran communion itself which will strike readers most forcefully. Luther’s bold declarations at Marburg were not adhered to even by his closest friend, Melanchthon.
Melanchthon rejects the idea that “the bread is substantially the body of Christ,” as well as that “the bread is the true body of Christ.” Instead, he claims that the bread is “united with” (consociatio cum) the body of Christ, and only “in the use” and “not without cognition,” not in such a way that it could be eaten by mice. He rejects the idea that the body is “in the bread or in the species of the bread, as if the true sacrament was instituted for the sake of the bread and the Papist adoration.”
Lutherans may be shocked by that viewpoint but readers of this volume will discover a range of belief within their camp which they never imagined existed. Luther persuaded Luther- but he didn’t persuade Zwingli or Melanchthon or Calvin or Bullinger or many, many Lutherans.
As the study fleshes itself out, we are informed that:
Each party in the controversy in Danzig held that the opposite party did not understand the doctrine of Extra usum correctly. As we have seen, this axiom, developed by Melanchthon, was interpreted quite heterogeneously within Lutheranism. The difference in the interpretations was closely integrated into the disagreement over Eucharistic practice and the understanding of the mode and duration of the real presence and of how it came into existence.
And by the 17th century, we are gloriously informed:
… there appears to have been no theologian who defended the worship of Christ’s flesh in the sacrament. In this regard, the Melanchthonian Eucharistic theology prevailed at the cost of Luther’s.
This is a fantastic study and worth the reader’s rapt attention. Especially will those who hold to the false notion that Luther’s views were Lutheran views benefit from an accurate historical examination.
Two weeks ago, Tavis Bohlinger wrote a blogpost in which he encouraged students and scholars of the New Testament to focus on the “common dialect,” ἡ κοινὴ διάλεκτος of the Greek language—that is, the Greek spoken roughly between 300 BCE and 300 CE. In the German-speaking sphere, from which I come, many students of theology still learn “Classical Greek” as it was used between 500 and 300 BCE (well, at least the Attic dialect of that time).
Etc. I love this kid. He is, without question, the brightest rising star in New Testament studies. When he hits his stride later in life he will be known as his generation’s Peter Stuhlmacher or Rudolf Bultmann (not because he’s like them, but because his contributions will equal theirs in importance).
“Accursed be anyone who violates the rights of the foreigner, the orphan and the widow.” And the people must all say, Amen”. (Deut. 27:19)
Reform began slowly but surely, first with worship. Lent was abandoned as a man made tradition in 1522 and by 1523 the Mass itself was replaced with ‘The Lord’s Supper’. Silver ‘Mass utensils’, cups, and bowls were replaced with common wood. Tables were set up in the Sanctuary so that the Supper more resembled a supper. Images were removed, worship was reorganized, and the Reform gained speed and strength through a series of public debates which Zwingli and his colleagues in Reform easily won.*
*Jim West, “Christ Our Captain”: An Introduction to Huldrych Zwingli (Quartz Hill, CA: Quartz Hill Publishing House, 2011), 15–16.