Luther Visualized 13 – Sacramentarian Controversy

The Sacramentarian Controversy

Left: Hans Asper, Huldrychus Zvinglius (Ulrich Zwingli), woodcut, 1531. Right: Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) wins the award for longest book title in the Sacramentarian Controversy: That These Words of Jesus Christ, “This Is My Body Which Is Given for You,” Will Forever Retain Their Ancient, Single Meaning, and Martin Luther With His Latest Book Has by No Means Proved or Established His Own and the Pope’s View: Ulrich Zwingli’s Christian Answer (Zurich: Christoffel Froschouer, June 1527).

Martin Luther often cited the German proverb, “Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel nextdoor.” Nowhere was that more noticeably true in Luther’s lifetime than in the Sacramentarian Controversy. The two most public opponents of Luther in the controversy were Ulrich Zwingli, a priest in Zurich, Switzerland, and Johannes Oecolampadius, a professor and preacher in Basel, Switzerland. Both of them at first publicly declared their agreement with Luther’s teachings, including his teaching on the Lord’s Supper. But around 1524 and 1525, they began teaching that Christ was not really present, but only symbolically present in the Supper. When a literature battle between both sides ensued, Luther continually based his sacramental teaching on the clear words of Jesus and the apostle Paul in passages having to do with the Lord’s Supper, while Zwingli and Oecolampadius based their sacramental teaching on John 6 (where Jesus’ discourse predates his institution of Lord’s Supper and speaks of faith, not the Sacrament) and on human reasoning.

The controversy culminated at the Marburg Colloquy on October 1-4, 1529. While the in-person meeting did take the vitriol out of the controversy, it also confirmed that an irreparable rupture had divided the evangelical camp. Those present agreed to the first 14 of the so-called Marburg Articles that Luther drew up at the end of the meeting, but the Lutherans and the Zwinglians disagreed on the last point concerning the essence of the Lord’s Supper. As a result Luther said the Zwinglians did not have the same spirit, and Luther and his followers refused to acknowledge them as brothers and members of the body of Christ. And as it turned out, the unity on the other 14 articles was not as strong as it first appeared. The sixth, eighth, ninth, and fourteenth of the Marburg Articles affirmed God’s word and baptism as means of grace, but in the seventh point of the personal presentation of faith (fidei ratio) that Zwingli drew up for Emperor Charles V the following year, he rejected the concept of any means of grace.

Sources
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 293-334

Ulrich Zwingli, Das dise wort Jesu Christi / Das ist min lychnam der für üch hinggeben wirt / ewigklich den alten eynigen sinn haben werdend / vnd M. Luter mit sinem letsten buoch sinen vnd des Bapsts sinn / gar nit gelert noch bewaert hat. Huldrych Zuinglis Christenlich Antwurt. (Zurich: Christoffel Forschouer, June 1527)

“Die Marburger Artikel” in Weimarer Ausgabe 30/3:160-171

Ulrich Zwingli, Ad Carolum Romanorum Imperatorem Germaniae comitia Augustae celebrantem, Fidei Huldrychi Zuinglii ratio (Zurich: Christoffel Froschouer, July 1530)

Woodcut of Marburg from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographiae universalis Lib. VI. (Six Books of Universal Cosmography) (Basel: Henrich Petri, March 1552)

The Marburg Colloquy was held in the Royal Castle, pictured here on a hill in the center background. The city of Marburg is viewed from “Der Leynberg” or the Lahnberge, Striped Mountains, in the foreground (east), with St. Elizabeth Church on the right (north) and St. Mary’s Parish Church beneath the castle. The university is to the left (south) of St. Mary’s. The hill behind the castle to the southwest is identified as “Der Geyne” (in a 1572 woodcut from a different atlas, “Der Geine”), and the hill to the south of that as “Der Kesselberg” or Copper Mountain.

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Luther in Need of Every Comfort

Letter from Martin Luther to Nikolaus von Amsdorf in Magdeburg
Wittenberg, November 1, 1527

Sources

Translated from the WA Br, no. 1164; De Wette, no. 910; Enders, no. 1219. The German translation in StL-Walch, no. 1137, was also consulted.

Letter

Grace and peace. As it pleases the Lord, so it happens, my Amsdorf, that I who used to comfort everyone else up till now, am now in need of every comfort myself. This one thing I ask, and you will ask it with me, that my Christ may do with me as he has pleased, only may he keep me from becoming an ingrate and an enemy of him whom I have preached and worshiped with such great zeal and fervor up till now, though not without sins many and great have I offended him during that same time.1 Satan is asking for a Job to be given to him once again,2 and to sift Peter with his brothers,3 but may Christ see fit to say to him, “Spare his life,”4 and to me, “I am your salvation,”5 even as I continue to hope that he will not be angry at my sins to the end. I wish to respond to the Sacramentarians, but until I get stronger in spirit, I can do nothing. I will keep your copy of the book,6 but will return it in due time.

A hospital has started up in my house. Augustin’s Hanna7 has been nursing the plague inside of her, but she is getting back on her feet. Margaretha Mochinna8 caused us some fright with a suspicious abscess and other symptoms, although she too is getting better. I am very fearful for my Katy, who is close to delivering,9 for my little son10 has also been sick for three days now and is not eating anything and is doing poorly; they say it’s violence of the teeth,11 and they believe that both are at very high risk.12 For Deacon Georg’s wife, also close to delivering herself, has been seized by the plague and is now busy trying to find out if there is any way the infant can be rescued.13 May the Lord Jesus mercifully stand by her side. Thus there are conflicts without, anxieties within,14 and sufficiently rough ones at that; Christ is visiting us. There is one consolation that we set against Satan as he rages, namely that at least we have the word of God for preserving the souls of believers, no matter how he may devour their bodies. Accordingly you may commend us to the brothers and to yourself, in order that you all might pray for us to endure the Lord’s hand bravely and to prevail against Satan’s might and cunning, whether through death or through life, Amen. At Wittenberg on the day of All Saints, in the tenth year of indulgences having been tread underfoot, in memory of which we are drinking at this hour, comforted on both sides, 1527.

Your Martin Luther.

Endnotes

1 This double negative construction seems to be as awkward in Latin as it is in English. A footnote in the St. Louis edition reads: “The reading non sine is so repulsive [anstößig] to us that we have employed sane [‘certainly’] in its place. It did not seem right to the former translator either” (21/1:1028, no. 1137). However, it is highly unlikely that sane was the original reading.

2 Cf. Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5.

3 Cf. Luke 22:31-32.

4 Job 2:6

5 Psalm 35:3 (34:3 Vulgate)

6 The book Das dise wort Jesu Christi / Das ist min lychnam der für üch hinggeben wirt / ewigklich den alten eynigen sinn haben werdend / und M. Luter mit seinem letsten büch sinen und des Bapsts sinn / gar nit gelert noch bewärt hat. Huldrych Zuinglis Christenlich Antwurt. (That These Words of Jesus Christ, “This Is My Body Which Is Given For You,” Will Forever Retain Their Ancient, Single Meaning, And Martin Luther With His Latest Book Has By No Means Proved or Established His Own and the Pope’s View: Ulrich Zwingli’s Christian Answer), published in Zurich in June 1527. Cf. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (1521-1532), p. 313-315.

7 Hanna or Anna, the daughter of the Torgau burgomaster Matthäus Moschwitz or Muschwitz, had married Augustin Schurf, professor of medicine in Wittenberg, prior to the fall of 1522. She died on January 26 or 27, 1540. Rf. Nikolaus Müller, Die Wittenberger Bewegung, p. 332.

8 Margaretha of Mochau from Seegrehna, probably a sister of Karlstadt’s wife

9 She gave birth to Elisabeth on December 10.

10 Johannes (Hans) Luther

11 That is, teething

12 That is, of falling victim to the plague

13 Deacon Georg Rörer had married Johannes Bugenhagen’s sister, Hanna, in 1525. She had given birth to their first son, Paul, on January 27, 1527. She died from the plague the day after Luther wrote this letter, a few hours after giving birth to a stillborn child. Cf. Brecht, op. cit., p. 208-209. As far as Hanna Rörer’s efforts to save her infant, performing a cesarean section on pregnant women who had passed away was already stipulated in the Royal Law (Lex Regia) at the time of Numa Pompilius. The Medieval Church firmly adhered to that stipulation, but this operation was not performed on living women until the 16th century (Heinrich Haeser, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Medizin und der epidemischen Krankheiten, 1:803; 2:209).

14 Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5.