A lurker sends me an email from a friend of his, a Presbyterian “with Lutheran sympathies” who was sharing some thoughts as to whether the Westminster Confession of Faith really denies what Lutheranism affirms concerning the Lord’s Supper.
He looks at how the WCF and Lutheran confessions use the phrase “in, with and under”, and suggests that:
- the WCF’s denial of “in, with and under” is not in fact a denial of the Lutheran teaching of the Supper; and
- the Lutheran understanding of the Supper is in fact rather more “non-literal” than Lutherans claim.
In other words, the WCF is more “Lutheran” than you might think, and Lutherans are in fact less “Lutheran” than they might think, and so perhaps there is more room for us to meet in the middle than either side might think. (This is my summary of the full email, reproduced below, so I apologise if this summary misrepresents or distorts the enquirer’s argument.)
My immediate response to this was that it is an example of how Reformed Christians are far more focused on the phrase “in, with and under” than are Lutherans. For us, the key word is “is“, as in “this is my body”, with “in, with and under” just being a secondary formula to guard against certain misunderstandings.
However, our Presbyterian friend’s main query is whether “Reformed scholars have misread the WCF as contra confessional Lutheranism”. As he writes: “Give the Westminster Standards a non-TR reading, and I’m not sure how far they are from the Book of Concord when it comes to the sacraments.”
Assessing that point is somewhat above my pay-grade – beyond a vague sense that giving a “pro-Lutheran” reading to the WCF is reminiscent of John Henry Newman’s attempt in Tract 90 to read the Thirty-Nine Articles as consistent with Roman Catholicism. So I’ve asked for permission to post the email on here, after the fold, so that others with more knowledge (and time!) than I can tackle this in more detail, either in the comments thread or on your own blogs. Over to you!
Text of email:
I am writing regarding the phrase “in, with, and under” in discussing the sacrament of the altar.
It’s troubling to me as someone with Lutheran sympathies that the Westminster Confession specifically denies that Christ is present “in, with, or under” the bread and wine while the Strong Declaration of the Formula of Concord specifically affirms this.
However, upon further investigation, it appears to me that the denial and affirmation understand these words so differently that the WCF does not actually deny what the SD-FC affirms.
According to the SD-FC:
For the reason why, in addition to the expressions of Christ and St. Paul (the bread in the Supper is the body of Christ or the communion of the body of Christ), also the forms: under the bread, with the bread, in the bread [the body of Christ is present and offered], are employed, is that by means of them the papistical transubstantiation may be rejected and the sacramental union of the unchanged essence of the bread and of the body of Christ indicated …
Although this union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is not a personal union, as that of the two natures in Christ, but as Dr. Luther and our theologians, in the frequently mentioned Articles of Agreement [Smalcald Articles] in the year 1536 and in other places call it sacramentatem unionem, that is, a sacramental union, by which they wish to indicate that, although they also employ the formas: in pane, sub pane, cum pane, that is, these distinctive modes of speech: in the bread, under the bread, with the bread, yet they have received the words of Christ properly and as they read, and have understood the proposition, that is, the words of Christ’s testament: Hoc est corpus meum, This is My body, not as a figuratam propositionem, but inusitatam (that is, not as a figurative, allegorical expression or comment, but as an unusual expression). (9.35, 38)
The LC-MS website explains this a little more:
The language of “in, with, and under,” which is found also in Luther’s Small Catechism, was carefully chosen and was directed at specific errors encountered by the Lutheran confessors (for example, “in” was chosen to reject impanation and “with” to reject transubstantiation). Moreover, the expression “sacramental union” is used as a technical designation for the Lutheran understanding of the Real Presence.
The word “under” in the phrase “in, with and under” used to express the Lutheran understanding of the sacramental union serves as a reminder that Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are “hidden under” the earthly forms of bread and wine (like a “mask” hiding someone’s face – the face is “under” the mask). In fact, Luther often used the term “mask” to describe how God “hides” his work under humble, earthly, external means (sacramental and otherwise).
Thus, I think that the Lutherans AFFIRM the formula “in, with, and under” in order to DENY the very errors that the WCF DENIES in DENYING the formula.
As noted in other contexts, the Lutheran use of these words is surprisingly non-literal, in contrast to their insistence on a “literal” reading of the words of institution.
The cash value of this is that the WCF does not specifically reject the Lutheran teaching on the supper as clearly as one might suppose at first. It nowhere rejects the word “orally,” and in fact specifically ties the inward reception to the “outward partaking” (i.e., with one’s mouth).
It is also interesting that the SD-FC affirms the exact same analogy that Calvin cautiously embraces in the institutes – that the sacramental union of the elements and Christ’s body is like the personal union of Christ’s divine and human natures.
Considering that Bucer and Luther signed off on the Wittenberg Concord, I have to question whether even WCF 29.8 really denies the Lutheran teaching on the supper. It seems that Luther was at least agnostic about reception of the res by non-Christians even while insisting on a manducatio indignorum. Is the disagreeement then about the reception of the res by all, or about who is “unworthy”/”godless”? If the latter, then I’m not sure that even WCF 29.8 meant to (or if it meant to do so, that it successfully) denied the Lutheran understanding of the supper.
Give the Westminster Standards a non-TR reading, and I’m not sure how far they are from the Book of Concord when it comes to the sacraments.