History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 106. Luther and Zwingli.

But now two more formidable opponents appeared on the field, who, by independent study, had arrived at a far more sensible interpretation of the words of institution than that of Carlstadt, and supported it with strong exegetical and rational arguments. Zwingli, the Luther of Switzerland, and Oecolampadius, its Melanchthon, gave the controversy a new and more serious turn.

Zwingli received the first suggestion of a figurative interpretation (est = significat) from Erasmus and Wessel through Honius; as Luther derived his first idea of a corporal presence in the unchanged elements from Pierre d’Ailly.829829    The assertion of some biographers of Zwingli, that he already at Glarus became acquainted with the writings of Ratramnus and Wiclif, is without proof. He first intimates his view in a letter to his teacher Wyttenbach, June 15, 1523, but as a secret. (Opera, VII., 1. 297.) He published the letter of Honius, which explains the est to be equivalent to significat, at Zürich in March, 1525, but had received it in 1521 from two learned visitors, Rhodius and Sagarus. See Gieseler, III. 1, 192 sq., note 27 (Germ. ed.); and especially Ullmann, l.c., II. 569 sq. He communicated his view, in a confidential Latin letter, Nov. 16, 1524, to the Lutheran preacher, Matthaeus Alber in Reutlingen, an opponent of Carlstadt, and based it on Christ’s word, John 6:63, as excluding a carnal or material manducation of his body and blood.830830    Opera, III. 589. Walch gives a German translation, XVII. 1881. Planck (II. 261 sqq.) quotes all the important points of this letter.

A few months later (March, 1525) he openly expressed his view with the same arguments in the "Commentary on the True and False Religion."831831    Opera, III. 145. The section on the Lord’s Supper appeared also in a German translation. Planck, II. 265 sqq. This was three months after Luther had published his book against Carlstadt. He does not men-tion Luther in either of these two writings, but evidently aimed at him, and speaks of his view almost as contemptuously as Luther had spoken of Carlstadt’s view.

In the same year Oecolampadius, one of the most learned and pious men of his age, appeared with a very able work in defense of the same theory, except that he put the figure in the predicate, and explained the words of institution (like Tertullian): "hoc est figura corporis mei." He lays, how-ever, no stress on this difference, as the sense is the same. He wrote with as much modesty and moderation as learning and acuteness. He first made use of testimonies of the church fathers, especially Augustin, who favors a spiritual fruition of Christ by faith. Erasmus judged the arguments of Oecolampadius to be strong enough to seduce the very elect.832832    Ep. ad Budam Episc. Lingonensem, Oct. 2, 1525 (Op., III. 1, 892): "Exortum est novum dogma, in Eucharistia nihil esse praeter panem et vinum. Id ut sit difficillimum refellere, fecit Io. Oecolampadius qui tot testimoniis, tot argumentis eam opinionem communiit, ut seduci posse videantur etiam electi." Planck (II. 274): "Dass Oecolampad in dieser Schrift die ausgebreitetste Gelehrsamkeit und den blendendsten oder treffendsten Scharfsinn zeigte, dies haben selbst seine parteyischsten Gegner niemals geläugnet; aber sie hätten wohl auch gestehen dürfen, dass er die anständigste Bescheidenheit, die würdigste Mässigung und gewiss auch die redlichste Wahrheitsliebe darin gezeigt habe." Dr. Baur also, in his Kirchengesch. IV. 90, speaks very highly of the book of Oecolampadius, and gives a summary of it. Baur and Gieseler, among modern church historians, clearly betray their Swiss sympathy in this controversy, as well as Planck, although all of them are Germans of Lutheran descent.

The Lutherans were not slow to reply to the Swiss.

Bugenhagen, a good pastor, but poor theologian, published a letter to Hess of Breslau against Zwingli.833833    In German translation, Walch, XX. 641. He argues, that, if the substantive verb in the words of institution is figurative, it must always be figurative; e.g., "Peter is a man," would mean, "Peter signifies a man."834834    Luther had used the same weak argument before, in his Address to the Bohemians (1523), where he says (Erl. ed., XXVIII. 393 sq.): "Wo man Solchen Frevel an einem Ort zuliesse, dass man ohn Grund der Schrift möcht sagen, das Wörtlin ’Ist’ heisst so viel als das Wörtlin ’Bedeut,’ so könnt mans auch an keinem andern Ort wehren, und würde die ganze Schrift zunichte; sintemal keine Ursach wäre, warum solcher Frevel an einem Ort gülte, und nicht an alten Oertern. So möcht man denn sagen, dass Maria ist Jungfrau und Mutter Gottes, sei so viel gesagt, Maria bedeut eine Jungfrau und Gottes Mutter. Item, Christus ist Gott und Mensch, das ist, Christus bedeut Gott und Mensch. Item, Rom. 1:16, Das Evangelium ist Gottes Kraft, das ist, das Evangelium bedeut Gottes Kraft. Siehe, welch ein greulich Wesen wollt hieraus werden." He also appeals to 1 Cor. 11:27, where Paul says that unworthy communicants are guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not of bread and wine. Zwingli had easy work to dispose of such an opponent.835835    In his Responsio ad Bugenhagii Epistolam, 1525. Opera, III. 604-614. In German, Walch, XX. 648.

Several Swabian preachers, under the lead of Brentius of Hall, replied to Oecolampadius, who (himself a Swabian by birth) had dedicated his book to them with the request to examine and review it. Their Syngramma Suevicum is much more important than Bugenhagen’s epistle. They put forth the peculiar view that the word of Christ puts into bread and wine the very body and blood of Christ; as the word of Moses imparted a hearing power to the brazen serpent; as the word of Christ, "Peace be unto you," imparts peace; and the word, "Thy sins be forgiven," imparts pardon. But, by denying that the body of Christ is broken by the hands, and chewed with the teeth, they unwittingly approached the Swiss idea of a purely spiritual manducation. Oecolampadius clearly demonstrated this inconsistency in his Anti-syngramma (1526).836836    Walch, XX. 667; Planck, II. 281-311. Köstlin and Dorner say that the Syngramma is more Calvinistic than Lutheran. Pirkheimer of Nuernberg, and Billicum of Nördlingen, likewise wrote against Oecolampadius, but without adding any thing new.

The controversy reached its height in 1527 and 1528, when Zwingli and Luther came into direct conflict. Zwingli combated Luther’s view vigorously, but respectfully, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo, in a Latin book, under the peaceful title, "Friendly Exegesis," and sent a copy to Luther with a letter, April 1, 1527.837837    Even Löscher admits that Zwingli treated Luther with great respect in this book. Comp. Planck, II. 470 sq.; Köstlin, II. 94 sqq. Luther appeared nearly at the same time (early in 1527), but in a very different tone, with a German book against Zwingli and Oecolampadius, under the title, "That the Words of Christ: ’This is my Body,’ stand fast. Against the Fanatics (Schwarmgeister)."838838    He informed Stiefel, Jan. 1, 1527 (De Wette, !II. 148), that he was writing a book against the "sacramentarii turbatores." On March 2l, 1527 (III. 165), he informed the preacher Ursinus that he had finished it, and warned him to avoid the "Zwingliana et Oecolampadia sententia" as the very pest, since it was "blasphema in Christi verbum et fidem." The work was translated into German by M. Judex. The closing passages blaming Bucer for accompanying a Latin version of Luther’s Kirchenpostille and Bugenhagen’s commentary on the Psalms with Zwinglian notes are omitted in the Wittenberg edition of Luther’s Works, 1548. Amsdorf complained of this omission, which was traced by some to Melanchthon, by others to Rörer, the corrector of Luft’s printing establishment. See Walch, XX. 53, and Erl. ed., XXX. 15. Here he derives the Swiss view directly from the inspiration of the Devil. "How true it is," he begins, "that the Devil is a master of a thousand arts!839839    Ein Tausendkünstler, a myriad-minded trickster. He proves this powerfully in the external rule of this world by bodily lusts, tricks, sins, murder, ruin, etc., but especially, and above all measure, in spiritual and external things which affect God’s honor and our conscience. How he can turn and twist, and throw all sorts of obstacles in the way, to prevent men from being saved and abiding in the Christian truth!" Luther goes on to trace the working of the Devil from the first corruptions of the gospel by heretics, popes, and Councils, down to Carlstadt and the Zwinglians, and mentions the Devil on every page. This is characteristic of his style of polemics against the Sacramentarians, as well as the Papists. He refers all evil in the world to the Prince of evil. He believed in his presence and power as much as in the omnipresence of God and the ubiquity of Christ’s body.

He dwells at length on the meaning of the words of institution: "This is my body." They must be taken literally, unless the contrary can be proved. Every departure from the literal sense is a device of Satan, by which, in his pride and malice, he would rob man of respect for God’s Word, and of the benefit of the sacrament. He makes much account of the disagreement of his opponents, and returns to it again and again, as if it were conclusive against them. Carlstadt tortures the word "this" in the sacred text; Zwingli, the word "is;" "Oecolampadius, the word "body;"840840    He coins new names for the three parties, Tutisten, Tropisten, Deutisten. Erl. ed. XXX. 336. others torture and murder the whole text. All alike destroy the sacraments. He allows no figurative meaning even in such passages as 1 Cor. 10:4; John 15:1; Gen. 41:26; Exod. 12:11, 12. When Paul says, Christ is a rock, he means that he is truly a spiritual rock. When Christ says, "I am the vine," he means a true spiritual vine. But what else is this than a figurative interpretation in another form?

A great part of the book is devoted to the proof of the ubiquity of Christ’s body. He explains "the right hand of God" to mean his "almighty power." Here he falls himself into a figurative interpretation. He ridicules the childish notion which he ascribes to his opponents, although they never dreamed of it, that Christ is literally seated, and immovably fastened, on a golden throne in heaven, with a golden crown on his head.841841    "Wie man den Kindern pflegt fürzubilden einen Gaukelhimmel, darin ein gülden Stuhl stehe und Christus neben dem Vater sitze in einer Chorkappen und gülden Krone, gleichwie es die Mäler malen. Denn wo sie nicht solche kindische, fleischliche Gedanken hätten von der rechten Hand Gottes, würden sie freilich sich nicht so lassen anfechten den Leib Christi im Abendmahl, oder sich bläün mit dem Spruch Augustini (welchem sie doch sonst nichts gläuben noch keinem andern), Christus muss an einem Ort leiblichsein, aber seine Wahrheit [Gottheit?] is allenthalben." Erl. ed. XXX. 56. He does not go so far as to deny the realness of Christ’s ascension, which implies a removal of his corporal presence. There is, in this reasoning, a strange combination of literal and figurative interpretation. But he very forcibly argues from the personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ, for the possibility of a real presence; only he errs in confounding real with corporal. He forgets that the spiritual is even more real than the corporal, and that the corporal is worth nothing without the spiritual.

Nitzsch and Köstlin are right when they say that both Zwingli and Luther "assume qualities of the glorified body of Christ, of which we can know nothing; the one by asserting a spacial inclusion of that body in heaven, the other by asserting dogmatically its divine omnipresence on earth."842842    Köstlin, M. Luther, II. 96 and 642; and Luthers Theologie, II. 172 sqq. We may add, that the Reformers proceeded on an assumption of the locality of heaven, which is made impossible by the Copernican system. For aught we know, heaven may be very near, and round about as well as above us.

Zwingli answered Luther without delay, in an elaborate treatise, likewise in German (but in the Swiss dialect), and under a similar title ("That the words, ’This is my body,’ have still the old and only sense," etc.).843843    Werke, vol. II. Part II. 16-93. Afterwards translated into Latin by Gualter, Opera Lat.II. 374-416. It is addressed to the Elector John of Saxony, and dated June 20, 1527. Zwingli follows Luther step by step, answers every argument, defends the figurative interpretation of the words of institution by many parallel passages (Gen. 41:26; Exod. 12:11; Gal. 4:24; Matt. 11:14; 1 Cor. 10:4, etc.), and discusses also the relation of the two natures in Christ.

He disowns the imputed literal understanding of God’s almighty hand, and says, "We have known long since that God’s power is everywhere, that he is the Being of beings, and that his omnipresence upholds all things. We know that where Christ is, there is God, and where God is, there is Christ. But we distinguish between the two natures, and between the person of Christ and the body of Christ." He charges Luther with confounding the two. The attributes of the infinite nature of God are not communicable to the finite nature of man, except by an exchange which is called in rhetoric alloeosis. The ubiquity of Christ’s body is a contradiction. Christ is everywhere, but his body cannot be everywhere without ceasing to be a body, in any proper sense of the term.

This book of Zwingli is much sharper than his former writings on the subject. He abstains indeed from abusive language, and says that God’s Word must decide the controversy, and not opprobrious terms, as fanatic, devil, murderer, heretic, hypocrite, which Luther deals out so freely.844844    "Es wirt hie Gottes Wort Oberhand gwünnen, nit ’Schwärmer, Tüfel, Schalk, Ketzer, Mörder, Ufrührer, Glychsner [Gleissner] oder Hüchler, trotz, potz, plotz, blitz, donder [Donner], Po, pu, pa, plump,’ und derglychen Schelt-, Schmütz-, und Schänzelwort."Werke, II. Part II. 29. But he and his friends applied also very unjust terms against the Lutherans, such as Capernaites, flesh-eaters, blood-drinkers, and called their communion bread a baked God.845845    Fleischfresser, Blutsäufer, Anthropophagos, Capernaiten, brödern Gott, gebratener Gott. Luther indignantly protests against these opprobrious epithets in his Short Confession, "als wären wir solche tolle, unsinnige, rasende Leute, die Christum im Sacrament localiter hielten, und stückweise zerfrässen, wie der Wolf ein Schaaf, und Blut söffen, wie eine Kuh das Wasser." But in the same breath he pays the opponents back with interest, and calls them "Brotfresser, Weinsäufer, Seelenfresser, Seelenmörder, eingeteufelt, durchteufelt, überteufelt." Erl. ed. XXXII. 402-404. Moreover, Zwingli assumes an offensive and provoking tone of superiority, which cut to the quick of Luther’s sensibilities. Take the opening sentence: "To Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli wishes grace and peace from God through Jesus Christ the living Son of God, who, for our salvation, suffered death, and then left this world in his body and ascended to heaven, where he sits until he shall return on the last day, according to his own word, so that you may know that he dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17), and not by bodily eating through the mouth, as thou wouldest teach without God’s Word." Towards the end he says, with reference to Luther’s attack upon Bucer: "Christ teaches us to return good for evil. Antichrist reverses the maxim, and you have followed him by abusing the pious and learned Bucer for translating and spreading your books .... Dear Luther, I humbly beseech you not to be so furious in this matter as heretofore. If you are Christ’s, so are we. It behooves us to contend only with the Word of God, and to observe Christian self-control. We must not fight against God, nor cloak our errors by his Word. God grant unto you the knowledge of truth, and of thyself, that you may remain Luther, and not become louvtrion.846846    Water that has been used in washing. The truth will prevail. Amen."

Oecolampadius wrote likewise a book in self-defense.847847    Secunda, justa et aequa responsio ad Mart. Lutherum. The book is mentioned by Hospinian, but must be very rare, since neither Löscher nor Walch nor Planck has seen it. Luther now came out, in March, 1528, with his Great "Confession on the Lord’s Supper," which he intended to be his last word in this controversy.848848    It was afterwards called the "Great" Confession, to distinguish it from the "Small" Confession which he published sixteen years later (1544). Erl. ed. XXX. 151-373; Walch, XX. 11 18 sqq. In a letter dated March 28, 1528 (De Wette, III. 296), he informs Link that he sent copies of his Confession through John Hofmann to Nürnberg, and speaks with his usual contempt of the Sacramentarians. "Zwingel," he says, "est tam rudis, ut asino queat comparari." It is his most elaborate treatise on the eucharist, full of force and depth, but also full of wrath. He begins again with the Devil, and rejoices that he had provoked his fury by the defense of the holy sacrament. He compares the writings of his opponents to venomous adders. I shall waste, he says, no more paper on their mad lies and nonsense, lest the Devil might be made still more furious. May the merciful God convert them, and deliver them from the bonds of Satan! I can do no more. A heretic we must reject, after the first and second admonition (Tit. 3:10). Nevertheless, he proceeds to an elaborate assault on the Devil and his fanatical crew.

The "Confession" is divided into three parts. The first is a refutation of the arguments of Zwingli and Oecolampadius; the second, an explanation of the passages which treat of the Lord’s Supper; the third, a statement of all the articles of his faith, against old and new heresies.

He devotes much space to a defense of the ubiquity of Christ’s body, which he derives from the unity of the two natures. He calls to aid the scholastic distinction between three modes of presence,—local, definitive, and repletive.849849    "Es sind dreierlei Weise an einem Ort zu sein, localiter oder circumscriptive, definitive, repletive." He explains this at length (XXX. 207 sqq., Erl. ed.). Local or circumscriptive presence is the presence of wine in the barrel, where the body fills the space; definite presence is incomprehensible, as the presence of an angel or devil in a house or a man, or the passing of Christ through the tomb or through the closed door; repletive presence is the supernatural omnipresence of God which fills all space, and is confined by no space. When Christ walked on earth, he was locally present; after the resurrection, he appeared to the disciples definitively and incomprehensibly; after his ascension to the right hand of God, he is everywhere by virtue of the inseparable union of his humanity with his divinity. He calls Zwingli’s alloeosis "a mask of the Devil." He concludes with these words: "This is my faith, the faith of all true Christians, as taught in the Holy Scriptures. I beg all pious hearts to bear me witness, and to pray for me that I may stand firm in this faith to the end. For—which God forbid!—should I in the temptation and agony of death speak differently, it must be counted for nothing but an inspiration of the Devil.850850    Zwingli made the biting remark that Luther ends this book with the Devil, with whom he had begun his former book. Thus help me my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, blessed forever. Amen."

The "Confession" called out two lengthy answers of Zwingli and Oecolampadius, at the request of the Strassburg divines; but they add nothing new.851851    Zwingli’s answer in German is printed in Werke, II. Part II. 94-223; in Latin, Opera, II. 416-521. The answer of Oecolampadius, in Walch, XX. 1725 sqq.

This bitter controversy fell in the most trying time of Luther, when he suffered greatly from physical infirmity and mental depression, and when a pestilence raged at Wittenberg (1527), which caused the temporary removal of the University to Jena. He remained on the post of danger, escaped the jaws of death, and measurably recovered his strength, but not his former cheerfulness, good humor, and buoyancy of spirit.

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