Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sasse, 1977. Chapter 4, “The Great Controversy”

Chapter 4, “The Great Controversy” pp. 107-150

Doctrinal controversies were nothing new to the Church of the 16th century. Ye they have always been disappointing and hurtful. The dispute between Luther and Zwingli was a very serious one with far-reaching consequences. In this chapter, Sasse considers the dispute over communion and its conclusion. Sasse emphasizes on p. 108 that sinful hatred and arrogance, as well as more overt sins, have no place in disputes among Christians.

In 1524 Zwingli accepted Honius’ doctrine of communion. Carlstadt wrote five treatises on it. The debate was clearly public. Luther weighed in as well. On p. 110 Sasse divides the dispute into three groups of combatants. First there were faithful Roman Catholics who denied transubstantiation. Second, there were those who, like Zwingli, accepted some sacramental grace but considered the words to be figurative. Finally, the Anabaptists considered the words figurative and denied sacramental grace.

Because the controversy took such varied forms it was a confusing battlefield. For some time Luther tried to avoid a conflict with Zwingli. He would discuss the Sacrament but never mention Zwingli by name. Finally in 1527 Zwingli wrote a treatise specifically aimed against Luther, to which Luther responded clearly and directly. Sasse (p. 115) considers that the exegetical debate which followed indicates there was no room for compromise, but that one would either have to side with Luther or Zwingli. Luther insisted on the Word of God as the authority, while Zwingli considered the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit as paramount. Because of this, Luther would insist on a real bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament while Zwingli would insist that a spiritual perception was greater.

Sasse further observes that Luther held to an interpretation of the natures of Christ as explained in the Athanasian Creed, while Zwingli would try to assign some acts of Christ to the human nature and some to the divine nature. This distinction would lead Luther to a view of ubiquity, that Christ is present everywhere, while Zwingli would hold to a view of Christ being localized in heaven. With no resolution to this dispute, Luther and Zwingli could not view the Sacrament in the same way.

On p. 131 Sasse begins to discuss consecration, another issue stemming from the dispute above. What effect does the consecration have? What changes, when, and how? Zwingli and all the Reformed churches after him considered the Words of Institution as an historical narrative, explaining what Jesus did. Luther saw the Words of Institution as a sacramental blessing, releasing the grace of forgiveness. Sasse discusses the implications of this sacramental view in some detail, including an explanation of the Lutheran view of the proper use of the elements - for consumption on the spot. While Zwingli would argue from a standpoint of logic about Jesus’ presence, Luther would argue that the Word of God asserts a real, bodily presence so it must be accepted. The Sacrament thus becomes food and drink which brings life.

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