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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 27. The Eucharistic Controversy. Zwingli and Luther.


Zwingli’s eucharistic writings: On the Canon of the Mass (1523); On the same, against Emser (1524); Letter to Matthew Alber at Reutlingen (1524); The 17th ch. of his Com. on the True and False Religion (in Latin and German, March 23, 1525); Answer to Bugenhagen (1525); Letter to Billicanus and Urbanus Rhegius (1526); Address to Osiander of Nürnberg (1527); Friendly Exegesis, addressed to Luther (Feb. 20, 1527); Reply to Luther on the true sense of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper (1527); The report on the Marburg Colloquy (1529). In Opera, vol. II. B., III., IV. 173 sqq.


For an exposition of Zwingli’s doctrine on the Lord’s Supper and his controversy with Luther, see vol. VI. 520–550 and 669–682; and A. Baur, Zwingli’s Theol. II. 268 sqq. (very full and fair).


The eucharistic controversy between Zwingli and Luther has been already considered in connection with the German Reformation, and requires only a brief notice here. It lasted from 1524 to 1529, and culminated in the Colloquy at Marburg, where the two views came into closer contact and collision than ever before or since, and where every argument for or against the literal interpretation of the words of institution and the corporal presence was set forth with the clearness and force of the two champions.

Zwingli and Luther agreed in the principle of a state-church or people’s church (Volks-Kirche), as opposed to individualism, separatism, and schism. Both defended the historic continuity of the Church, and put down the revolutionary radicalism which constructed a new church on the voluntary principle. Both retained infant baptism as a part of Christian family religion, against the Anabaptists, who introduced a new baptism with their new church of converts. Luther never appreciated this agreement in the general standpoint, and made at the outset the radical mistake of confounding Zwingli with Carlstadt and the Radicals.146146    A. Baur (Zw. Theol., II. 811) says on this misunderstanding: "Luther warf von Anfang an Zwingli mit Münzer und Karlstadt zusammen. Kein Vorwurf und Vorurtheil gegen Zwingli ist ungerechter, aber auch kein Vorwurf glänzender widerlegt, als dieser, und zwar eben durch die Klarheit und Bestimmtheit, mit welcher Zwingli seine Principien gegen die Wiedertäufer entfaltet. Im Gegentheil; die maasslose Subjectivität die bei Münzer, Karlstadt, bei den Wiedertäufern zum Ausbruch kommt, und die solche Willkühr bleibt, auch wenn sie sich auf den Buchstaben der Schrift beruft, ist das vollständige Gegentheil der Principien Zwingli’s."

But there was a characteristic difference between the two Reformers in the general theory of the sacraments, and especially the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli stood midway between Luther and the Anabaptists. He regarded the sacraments as signs and seals of a grace already received rather than as means of a grace to be received. They set forth and confirm, but do not create, the thing signified. He rejected the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and of the corporal presence; while Luther adhered to both with intense earnestness and treated a departure as damnable heresy. Zwingli’s theory reveals the spiritualizing and rationalizing tendency of his mind; while Luther’s theory reveals his realistic and mystical tendency. Yet both were equally earnest in their devotion to the Scriptures as the Word of God and the supreme rule of faith and practice.

When they met face to face at Marburg,—once, and only once, in this life,—they came to agree in fourteen out of fifteen articles, and even in the fifteenth article they agreed in the principal part, namely, the spiritual presence and fruition of Christ’s body and blood, differing only in regard to the corporal presence and oral manducation, which the one denied, the other asserted. Zwingli showed on that occasion marked ability as a debater, and superior courtesy and liberality as a gentleman. Luther received the impression that Zwingli was a "very good man,"147147    He called Zwingli "optimus vir," in a letter to Bullinger, written nine years later (1538). yet of a "different spirit," and hence refused to accept his hand of fellowship offered to him with tears. The two men were differently constituted, differently educated, differently situated and equipped, each for his own people and country; and yet the results of their labors, as history has proved, are substantially the same.



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