Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Father of Receptionism
The comments are now at 205 in the continued discussion, all of which can be accessed under the label "reservation of the elements."
It is undeniable that receptionism was afoot in Lutheran circles from the start. Not only is it possible that Andrae had receptionist leanings, and that the tension between those leanings and Chemintz' aversion to them is reflected in the Formula of Concord itself; it is clear that the tension existed a generation earlier, between Melanchthon and Luther. Jurgen Diestelmann has recently provided some compelling data on that tension, though his work is only available in German.
But even without that data, Luther scholars have long pointed to a fundamental difference in orientation between the Reformer and his closest compatriot, a difference of which he may even have been naively unaware.
The language of Luther in connection with the Sacrament tends to focus on what it is, while the language of Melanchthon tends to focus on what it does. This difference cannot be overestimated.
Hence we see from Luther the Small Catechism's first question on the matter: "What is the Sacrament of the Altar?" But from Melanchthon we see a whole host of meanderings culminating in the Variata of the Augsburg Confession, which could only go as far as to say that the body and blood of Christ are "shown" to the recipient: "Concerning the Lord's Supper our churches teach that with bread and wine the body and blood are truly shown to those who eat in the Lord's Supper." This statement is true as far as it goes, but the tragedy here is that it is Melanchthon's "improvement"; what it replaces is a confession "that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord."
What resulted was much ado about Something. Friedrich Bente aptly described the fallout from this little change in his historical introduction to the Book of Concord, "The changes made in the Augsburg Confession brought great distress, heavy cares, and bitter struggles upon the Lutheran Church, both from within and without."
You can say that again. Not only in our history, as Bente reports: "Church history records the manifold and sinister ways in which they were exploited by the Reformed as well as the Papists; especially by the latter (the Jesuits) at the religious colloquies, beginning 1540, until far into the time of the Thirty Years' War, in order to deprive the Lutherans of the blessings guaranteed by the religious Peace of Augsburg, 1555"; but also right down to the moment: receptionism is arguably the most salient controversy among us today, and is at least partly responsible for the 205 comments and counting on this thread.
Luther was dedicated to his friend Melanchthon, and as far as I am concerned, his dedication to him is the primary reason he was not more forthright in recognizing and dealing with the man's receptionism. Melanchthon was, in Luther's estimation, a Greek scholar second to none, a brilliant thinker and writer, and, most importantly, a close companion and confidant in the midst of some life-and-death theological struggles which were very personal. One does not easily part ways with someone in whom so much personal approbation is invested.
Hence we may attribute a certain blindness on the part of Luther to the true leanings of his partner.
But there was no blindness in him regarding the Sacrament. None of the ambiguities in Melanchthon can be found in Luther. His well-known insistence at the Marburg Colloquy on the meaning of "is" in the Sacrament may be contrasted with his consternation over the fact that Melanchthon, who was sitting right next to him, would not do more of the talking.
Luther's death in 1546 prevented him from learning of the degree to which Melanchthon desired to form alliances with the Calvinists, which is now a matter of record.
In short, receptionism never arose in the heart of Luther. The birth of that dragon may be traced to Melanchthon.
Several years ago I paid my respects at Luther's grave before the pulpit in the Castle Church at Wittenberg. The church was filled with pilgrims and distractions that day, which may explain why I neglected to remember that Melanchthon's grave is there too, on the other side of the nave, before the lectern. Or perhaps it was Providence which kept me from Melanchthon's side. It certainly is Providence which has kept my heart stayed on the words This is my body which, evidently, are farther from Melanchthon's side than we might have thought.