The Self-Serve Eucharist

It started with Martin Luther declaring in The Babylonian Captivity (1520) that the bread and wine in the Eucharist, though containing the Real Presence of Christ, are not a means of remembrance of and communion with Christ, as in the traditional Eucharist and as Jesus taught in the Gospels, but rather a “sign and memorial” of Christ’s promise of forgiveness; and also with Luther’s declaration that priests have no higher spiritual status than lay people, because all true Christians are priests.

And now, after six centuries,—and in the very Church which Luther rejected and which fought against him—it’s come to this perfect expression of the reductive, abstracted, self-centered Christianity that Luther (whether intentionally or not) initiated: the self-serve communion. Look, Ma, no priests! Or rather: Look, Ma, no (priests’) hands!


See Laura Wood’s discussion of this latest stage of degradation. She asks, What’s next? Take-out?

- end of initial entry -

Debra C. writes:

Luther did not teach that Communion was “a sign and memorial.” You have him confused with Zwingli and the Calvinists. I must protest your errant reading of Luther’s teaching.

Or perhaps you’re thinking of Melancthon, who parted with Luther in his teaching of the Real Presence and instead a sided with the Calvinists on this issue.

As I am on my way to Bible Study tonight, I haven’t the time to pull out my references to demonstrate my contention. Nevertheless, take it from me, you have grossly misrepresented Luther’s teaching on Communion.

LA replies:

I quoted it directly from my copy of The Babylonian Captivity, a passage I had underlined and made marginal notes in decades ago. The passage comes a few pages after a new section beginning, “The third captivity of this sacrament is by far the most wicked of all…. ” It comes in a paragraph that begins, “According to its substance, therefore, the mass is nothing but the aforesaid words of Christ … ” And the sentence it appears in (which is part of Luther’s imaginary quotation of Christ, as if he were speaking) is: “And that you may be absolutely certain of this irrevocable promise of mine [of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting], I shall give my body and pour out my blood, confirming this promise by my very death, and leaving you my body and blood as a sign and memorial of this same promise.”

Buck writes:

Wow. Synchronicity. Though you posted this entry two hours ago, I just turned to it by happenstance. I am watching Empires: Martin Luther (2002) on NetFlix. The Seven Catholic Sacraments were just mentioned as part of the telling about Martin Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity. I paused a moment to google The Seven Catholic Sacraments to review them and then, rather than return to the program straight away, I thought to click on VFR to see what’s up. There it is. Your entry is on the very thing that I am watching, at the very moment that I am watching it.

LA replies:

To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Falstaff (in Henry IV Part II, Act I, Scene 2), I am not only synchronicitous in myself, but the cause that synchronicity is in other men. :-)

Here’s the whole passage:

Men of all sorts take a pride to gird at me: the
brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not
able to invent anything that tends to laughter, more
than I invent or is invented on me: I am not only
witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other
men. I do here walk before thee like a sow that
hath overwhelmed all her litter but one.

Falstaff’s remark about wit is indeed very witty, but also it shows how full of himself he has become, and pride comes before a fall, as he is soon to be rejected by his friend Prince Hal.

November 15

Debra C. writes:

During the entire thirty-minute drive into town for Bible Study I chastised myself for being so abrupt and terse with you in my earlier missive. There was so much that I wanted to say, felt compelled to write to correct immediately what I saw was a false reading of Luther (to correct for your benefit and for that of your impressionable (?) readers) that I let tact fly out the window. I’m sorry. I don’t like to be testy; and I was. I also felt frustrated because I wish I had a pastor’s knowledge and could summon at will the medicine I thought needed to be delivered. [LA replies: I didn’t feel at all that you were being testy. Put your mind to rest on that. Also, I’m aware there’s a large controversy about what Luther said about the communion. I’m aware of his own later statements strongly disputing the claim that he said that the bread and wine were a sign; I googled the issue yesterday and read them while I was preparing the post. But there it is, in the passage from The Babylonian Captivity that I quoted.]

What bothered me was that to say Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper amounted to “a sign and memorial”—only—was not giving Luther credit for his battles against the representationalism espoused by Zwingli, Calvin, and Melanchthon, all influenced unduly by rationalism. And adding insult to injury was that you ascribed to Luther the blame for the sorry state of the church today, that portion of the church that has so abandoned God’s clear word, I Corinthians 10:16-17 and I Cor. 11:27-29, that it dispenses even with the over-shepherd in administering the Sacrament.

It is true that in Luther’s time many priests in northern Germany withheld the cup from the laity in order, we believe, to elevate the priesthood above the flock; the Catholic Church claimed they were low on wine (and so near too, to France and the Rhineland). Yet Scripture teaches clearly the priesthood of all believers; and we are all saints, too. There is, however, something of a hierarchy in the ministry according to one’s role or function, but not according to our position in Christ, which issue I think may have prompted your post this afternoon, as you seemed to be lamenting, rightly, the sorry state of Christendom—a result of radical egalitarianism??

At any rate, I will always defend Luther, who brought us out of the darkness of the false teaching of Rome and into the light of God’s free forgiveness in Christ. That later generations have deformed the truths of Scripture he set forth redounds to their shame, not his.

LA replies:

I don’t have enough knowledge of this issue to respond to you properly. My view of it was formed by the quoted passage in The Babylonian Captivity which I read many years ago. I felt that when Luther said that taking the bread and wine was a “sign” of faith and not an act of substantive communion with Jesus Christ, he had gone beyond attacking abuses, and was redefining the core of Christianity (the core of Christianity that had personally converted me to Christianity) into a mental event, an assertion of one’s faith that one is saved, rather than a relationship with Christ. As I mentioned above, I am aware that Luther strongly disputed the claim that he had said that the bread and wine were a “sign.” But he did say it. At the same time I admit that I need to read further to have a better understanding of the issue.

Also, ironically, just the other day I was reading The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, by Roland Bainton (1952), and came upon the following passage discussing Erasmus, the Catholic reformer who had previously defended Luther:

But when Luther in the summer of 1520 came out with his tract entitled The Babylonian Captivity, in which he enunciated the view of the sacrements already described, Erasmus explained, “The breach is irreparable!”

I thought that was so funny, because it was Luther’s view of the sacraments that had also persuaded me, many years ago, that he had gone too far and was attacking Christianity itself.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 14, 2012 06:28 PM | Send

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