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.


Paul McCain said...

Aside from the obviously bad understanding of what the controversy over receptionism was, and what it is not, I'll make this final observation, and then, much to the relief of the ardent Tabernaclelizer Eckardt, take my leave of this blog-o-mess, the following:

It is truly a shame you simply do not follow the counsel to which our Lutheran Confessions explicitly point us on these issues: consume what remains of the consecrated bread and wine and be done forever with all such foolish speculations, accusations, and logomachy.

Bryce P Wandrey said...

The number of times you have felt the need to take your leave of blogs and forums is mind boggling. Why do you always find yourself in a position to withdraw from conversations and forums? There are really only two possible answers to that question: either everyone you dialogue with is the problem or you are the problem.

p.s. Don't worry Paul, I don't expect you to answer that question. You have obviously shown that dialoguing with me is below you. I probably shouldn't even post this comment, but here goes anyway...

Mike Baker said...

Yes. You probably should have listened to your conscience and not posted that comment.

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Oh Mike. I have read far worse from Paul's pen about me in the past. And I didn't even answer my question.

Mike Baker said... we forgive those who trespass against us.

Bryce P Wandrey said...

Not sure forgiveness (properly speaking) really enters into this situation.

...But lest I become the secondary reason for this post going absolutely off the tracks...

I have always had a bit of an affinity for Melanchthon. I know he has always been seen as a compromiser by some but I have appreciated his theological approach. I remember coming away with a good impression of him from Kolb's book, Bound Choice.

Jeff said...

I've always felt partial to Melanchton after reading how he signed his name in the Smalcald Articles.

Not that I totally agree with his signature mind you, but I admire anyone who can't leave things well enough alone and insists on throwing in that parting jab.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

And so we witness yet another instance of what it usually means when someone uses the word "obviously."

. . . sigh . . .

Jeff said...

Clearly he's not aware what the word means.

Ryan said...

I'm curious, did Receptionism exist in any form pre-Reformation/Melanchthon? I think Thomas Cranmer and the early Anglicans held to it... but that may be a Melancthonian influence.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Now that you mention it, there was a precursor to receptionism in one Peter the Stammerer, a teacher at Paris in the 13th century, who held to the odd view that the elements did not become the body and blood of Christ until after the entire canon was completed.

The elevation of the host is the result of that controversy, since the confessional backlash that arose against him was seen in the ordering, by some of the French bishops, of the elevation of the Host immediately after its consecration.

I call it a precursor to receptionism only because it marked perhaps the first philosophical departure from the belief that the Words of Institution alone are what make the elements the body and blood of Christ.

Fr John W Fenton said...

The notion that "the Words of Institution alone are what make the elements the body and blood of Christ" is a development within Western medieval theology after the Schism of 1054. Bouyer maintains (correctly, I think) that Luther was a staunch defender of this medieval innovation.

A reaction to it, in the East, was greater emphasis on the epiklesis as the defining moment. Both depart from the patristic view which maintained that (a) a moment in time cannot define an event in eternity (see Augustine) and (b) the entire Mass "defines" the action, which the Words of Christ make clear to faith. Chemnitz seems to capture this view in the Formula.

Receptionism simply draws the medieval "moment notion" tighter than what is sometimes called "consecrationism."

Jeff said...


Fr John W Fenton said...


The epiklesis is a prayer within the anaphora or canon (i.e., Eucharistic prayer) invoking the Holy Spirit upon the faithful and the gifts (bread and wine). Eastern churches once taught (and sometimes still teach) that it is the "moment" when the bread and wine are changed into (St John Chrysostom) or shown to be (St Basil) the body and blood of Christ.

Here and here is more information.

Jeff said...

Ah, ok. Thank you- I'd heard it referred to but never by that name.

Also, I'd never seen the OrthodoxWiki before. Looks like a great resource, so thanks for that as well :)

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Pr. McCain,
You recommend as the best course: "consume what remains...and be done forever with all such foolish speculations, accusations, and logomachy."

I must simply point out the irony involved here. For receptionism, and quasi-receptionist notions, are the foolish speculations; the confession that the promise of our Lord's presence in the Sacrament has not a time limit, on the other hand, is the opposite of speculation; it is faith.

Moreover, the present controversy is hardly a matter of logomachy. That term best applies to a situation in which the disputants agree in substance, yet fight over words. The Blessed Reformer applied this term to Carlstadt, but I wonder if he was being overly generous. Important distinctions are at stake here, and it is good that they are being aired out in a relatively reasonable manner.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

The truth is that when I that "the Words of Institution alone are what make the elements the body and blood of Christ," I paused and thought for a minute that somebody was probably going to object to this stark declaration, but then decided to let them stand and see what happened.

The phrase is true enough, but could benefit from some qualification: the Words of Institution which came forth out of the mouth of Christ are what make the Sacrament the body and blood of Christ.

That is, a distinction needs to be drawn: one may refer on the one hand to the words as repeated by the priest in the context of the Mass (said to "confect" the Sacrament), or, simply, to the fact that the Lord Jesus spoke these words, and because of this, the Sacrament is what it is. In the former case, the context of the canon, the Church, etc. all come into play; in the latter case, what is in view is the word spoken by the Incarnate one.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...


Note that Ed. McCain calls our words "foolish speculations, accusations, and logomachy," by which, unwittingly, he refers to himself.

speculations: who is calling into question the reality of the Real Presence? Surely not I.

accusations: consider this post. Who in present company have I accused? No one. But who, in thread, is being accused of foolishness?

logomachy: heavens, I'm still reeling from the word written over my head: "Tabernacletizer"!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer said...

Fr. Eckardt,

Editor McCain would never dream of calling you a "Tabernacletizer"! You are, in his estimation, merely a "Tabernaclelizer." I think the latter is actually a term of endearment, much like I'm taking his "fawning acolyte" logomachy to be. :)

You can't make this stuff up! :)

Jeff said...

Ah, and so it seems the conversation dies... not with a bang, but a whimper.

Venkman said...

I suppose all good things must come to an end.

What I found so interesting about Rev. McCain's comment is the following: "Aside from the obviously bad understanding of what the controversy over receptionism was, and what it is not..." That to me seems to imply, "Hey guys, don't misunderstand me. I'm a receptionist, but it's ok. I'm the good kind of receptionist who consumes everything after the service even though I don't know what it is. I'm not one of those horrible, horrible bad kind of receptonist who throws it away in the trash." *sigh*

So now I suppose there are protestant receptionists and so called Lutheran receptionists. Let us not confuse the two, but agree that these two groups have more in common with one another than us Romanist pigs.

*oink, oink*

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

Just discovering this thread recently...

Here's an interesting article on this topic:

The point is, Luther and Melanchthon did not make this a church-divisive issue, as long as the practice of consuming all the reliquiae at the end of the service was maintained. I agree with Luther, not with Melanchthon, but I would not like to be so hostile towards M. and his followers on this issue as to consider them adversaries.

You have probably discussed it already, but the issue of faith and the Word is important here. If I am to believe that this bread is the true body of Christ, and I have only the pastor's word to go on--that it was properly consecrated at some time in the past--then I am being asked to believe in and even worship something of which I have not heard from the mouth of Christ that it is the body of Christ. In this way, doubt is introduced and doubt is opposed to faith, of course. For this reason especially, I think a pastor should always consecrate in the presence of the communicants, no matter how unworthy the locale is (e.g., hospital room). Faith needs to be certain.