Chapter 3, “Zwingli” pp. 92-106
Sasse turns his attention to the fundamental differences between Luther and Zwingli. Since they viewed life through very different lenses they had differences in their understanding of events. On p. 92 Sasse points out Zwingli as a politician. This would color his thinking. Luther, on the other hand (p. 93), was primarily an exegete and professor of theology. Luther was very anti-Aristotelian. Zwingli was “a Thomist for whom revelation can never contradict reason” (p. 93). As a result of this fundamental difference, Luther and Zwingli would necessarily understand theology differently.
How then did Zwingli view the Sacraments? Sasse follows Walter Koehler in asserting that Zwingli did not always hold the same view of the Sacraments. As late as 1523 (p. 95) he held, at least theoretically, to transubstantiation. In June 1523 (p. 96) he does accept some sort of real presence, though it appears to be operating spiritually and not entirely as Lutherans would confess, bodily and substantially. Key to Sasse’s interpretation of Zwingli is his statement on p. 97, “A spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Supper does not necessarily include a figurative interpretation of the sacramental words.” While accepting the Words of Institution it is still quite possible to assert a spiritual or allegorical presence. This is what Zwingli did. He then continued in the same vein as he decided to assert the faithful partaking as the most important part of communion, as opposed to the divine gift.
In this, Sasse says, Zwingli was influenced by Honius, who understood communion as our opportunity to receive Jesus’ pledge and remember his promises. Honius also developed the argument which said “is” meant “signifies” based on other uses of the copula in Scripture. These arguments were promptly rejected by Luther, but took firm root in the work of Zwingli and the other radical Reformers.
These moves of Zwingli associated him more closely with the revolutionary Anabaptists rather than with the conservative Reformation. At last, he reached a view of the Sacrament which was purely symbolic, containing no divine activity. From this point, Zwingli and his followers began to revise the liturgy, replacing the idea of communion as reception of the true body and blood of Jesus with an idea of communion as our expression of faith in the Jesus who makes us one. This set the stage for a great distinction between the conservative and radical branches of the Reformation.