Lutheranism, Philosophy, and Transubstantiation

As a Lutheran, I have often been told that we ought not believe in Transubstantiation, the Roman Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought rather, it’s told, to hold to what is called ‘sacramental union.’

Now, the reason for that, we are often told, is that we ought not use unbiblical terms like ‘substance’ and ‘accident,’ since they are not from Scripture, and since they rely upon Aristotelian philosophy. The word ‘philosophising’ is often thrown around, together with claims that the categories of ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ aren’t helpful and that we should embrace ‘mystery.’ But the same arguments are completely forgotten the second we come to the Nicene Creed. Why are none of these people saying that the category of homousios is ‘unhelpful’? Why is it all of a sudden OK to use philosophy when a Nicean Father does it? And why is the category of substance all of a sudden ‘helpful’ (since they acknowledge that Christ is of ‘one substance with the Father’)?

Is it just a case of ‘Platonism good, Aristotelianism bad’? Why is it that using philosophy is wrong, in principle, when it comes to the Scholastics and the Eucharist, while it is of utmost importance when it comes to Church Fathers and Christology?

It seems to me to be a dishonest way of arguing when the real reason is that one disagrees with a doctrine or idea.

But today I found something interesting, while reading in the Book of Concord. There I stumbled upon this section, from the Epitome of the Formula of Concord (part I:13), in reference to the doctrine of Original Sin:

But as to the Latin terms substantia and accidens, because they are not words of Holy Scripture, and besides unknown to the ordinary man, they should not be used in sermons before ordinary, uninstructed people, but simple people should be spared them.

But in the schools, among the learned, these words are rightly retained in disputations concerning original sin, because they are well known and used without any misunderstanding, to distinguish exactly between the essence of a thing and what attaches to it in an accidental way.

For the distinction between God’s work and that of the devil is thereby designated in the clearest way, because the devil can create no substance, but can only, in an accidental way, by the providence of God [God permitting], corrupt the substance created by God.

Now, why is it OK to use the categories of ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ with reference to Original Sin, and not with reference to the Eucharist? Is the Eucharist off bound when it comes to philosophical speculation and terminology, while God and Original Sin is fair game?

And even if many Lutherans do not use the name, is there really any difference between Luther’s ‘sacramental union’, and the later consubstantiation? If the categories of ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ are OK to use (as they are, according to the Epitome of the Formula of Concord), what makes it wrong for a Lutheran to believe in Transubstantiation?

Transubstantiation has been part of the Western Church since the 13th century. Is it just the classic fear of the Scholastic movement, coupled with the irrational far of anything medieval?

Do this in remembrance of me

I often hear that the reason we share the Eucharist, the reason we participate in communion, is that Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.”

While it is true that he did say so, the only two (three) places in which this is found, Luke 22:19 and 1Cor. 11:24.25, the reference is not the sharing, the consummation of communion, but the actions of Christ. To reference liturgical scholar Dom Gregory Dix, these actions, in their ‘bulked up’ four-part version, are (1) taking/offering bread and wine (the Offertory); (2) blessing, giving thanks (the Eucharistic prayer); (3) breaking the bread (the Fraction); and (4) distributing the elements (the Communion).[1] We consume the elements in answer to the remembrance, but this is not the remembrance in itself. The remembrance is to do what Christ did.

The question then becomes: When Christ uttered these words to the Apostles (“do this in remembrance of me”), was he addressing them as Apostles or as Christians? The former is the interpretation commonly favoured by Catholics (including, but not limited to, Roman Catholics and Orthodox), and it ties to the question of when a Eucharist is a Eucharist. Is it a Eucharist when it is ‘performed’ by someone who is not ordained? That is an important question.


[1] Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (Second ed. London: A&C Black 1945, reprint 1975), pp.48-50.

The Offertory

Referencing an article by David Ganz,[1] Reformed theologian Peter J. Leithart points out that in the early middle ages, at the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, a decree was made, with these words:

We have learned from the report of the brethren that some churches in some places have deviated from the divine command in not offering a host at the altar. Wherefore we decree that on every Sunday an offering of both bread and wine be made to the altar by all men and women, that by these oblations they may obtain the remission of their sins.[2]

One interesting note to make here, is that this is not written in what is commonly referred to as ‘the dark middle ages.’ This is a very early period of the medieval times, during the period often referred to by talking of ‘the undivided Church’ or ‘the undivided Church of the first millenium.’

What we see here is the Offertory, that the Church, by her members and through the priest, is offering up bread and wine to God, representing themselves. It can be seen as an expression of what Paul, in Romans 12:1, calls a ‘reasonable service,’[3] the offering up of our bodies, ourselves, as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,”[4] and of what Peter, in 1. Peter 2:5, calls us to when he urges us to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Leithart makes the point that “it is the gathering up of the communal oblation in the Mass that has [the effects described], but the point is that the people participate in offering the host by providing the materials for the immolation of the Mass.” We can see this expressed by Paul elsewhere. In Romans 15:16, Paul points out that he has received a grace from God “to be a minister[5] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest[6] with the Gospel of God, so that the offering[7] of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified in the Holy Spirit.” (My translation)

Note that Paul, through his ministry, is offering up the offerings of the Church. The use of the Genitive here (“the offering of the Gentiles”) can be seen both as subjective (the offerings that the Gentiles are offering up) and objective (that the Gentiles themselves are being offered up). It is a self-offering. We see this also elsewhere, where Paul, writing to the Philippians (Phil 2:17), reference his service and “the sacrificial offering of your faith” or “the sacrifice and service of your faith” (my translation).

But the main point I want to point out is that the offerings written of in the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, and mentioned by Leithart, were not only offered up as thanks and praise, but with the express purpose that “by these oblations [the people] may obtain the remission of their sins.” The question now becomes: What does this text say: Does it say that the offering, the giving up of these gifts grant forgiveness, or does it say that through these offerings, which will be consecrated and will become the body and blood of Christ, the Church will receive forgiveness?

It seems to me that the latter is the ‘correct’ approach. The decree, it seems, doesn’t say that these offerings merits forgiveness, in and of themselves, but that the sacrifice of Christ is made present in these offerings through the Eucharistic celebration, and that these offerings are then given back to the Church, and that the Church receives forgiveness though partaking of these consecrated gifts. This perspective is also found in the Roman Canon, the way this is expressed in the first Eucharistic prayer of the Ordinary Form of the liturgy of the Catholic Church.[8] We read there, in the prayer just after the Sanctus (holy, holy, holy), and before the consecration:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.

Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.

In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary,[9] Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, (…) and all your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.[10]

The Roman Canon is filled with sacrificial language, and the priest offering the prayer asks that God accept the offerings — of prayers, of thanks, of praise, of bread and wine — “for the redemption of their souls.” This recalls the words of the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, stating that the Christians should each Sunday offer bread and wine on the altar, “that by these oblations they may obtain the remission of their sins.” It is understandable if this is weird, but if we read this in light of teaching as a whole, it is my understanding that neither this decree nor the Roman Canon say that we merit our own salvation, but that when we offer our gifts to God, in praise and thanksgiving, they are transformed. And through this transformation they “become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,” to use the words of the Roman Canon.

Both in Lutheran and Catholic theology we emphasize that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the elements of the sacrament, bread and wine, our gifts, the fruits of the earth, of the wine, and of human labour, are consecrated, sanctified, and that Christ becomes present in the sacrament through this consecration. Contemplating this, and contemplating the fact that the word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving,’ consider the following words by St. Paul, translated by your truly: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is consecrated through the word of God and prayer.” (1. Timothy 4:4-5)


[1] David Ganz, “Giving to God in the Mass: the experience of the Offertory” (The Languages of Gift in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre. Cambridge University Press 2010), p.21 (18-32).

[2] Peter J. Leithart, “Offering the host” (Peter Leithart’s Blog, Dec. 12, 2012). Retrieved Dec. 19, 2012.

[3] Gk. λογικός λατρεία (logikós latreía).

[4] If not otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, RSV.

[5] Gk. λειτουργός (leitourgós).

[6] Gk. ἱερουργοῦντα (hierourgounta), participle form of ἱερουργέω (hierourgéō).

[7] Gk. προσφορά (prosphorá).

[8] See Thomas E. Woods Jr., “Extraordinary Form 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Old Latin Mass.” This Rock Magazine 19:9, pp.6-11. For a popularized introduction to the Roman Canon, in its present day ‘ordinary’ form, see Milton Walsh, In Memory of Me: A Meditation on the Roman Canon (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 2011). I use the translation from this book when I quote the Roman Canon.

[9] Just as a reminder for Lutherans: Luther, in the Smalcald Articles (part I:VI), held that Christ “was born of the pure, holy [and always] Virgin Mary.” He therefore held that Mary was ever-virgin.

[10] Walsh, op.cit., 2011, p.

Corpus Christi

I dag er det Corpus Christi, festen for Kristi lekam og blod, men mange kyrkjer feirar den på sundag.

Lesetekst: 1Mos 14:18-20; 1Kor 11:23-26.
Preiketekst: Luk 9:11b-17.

Dette heilage evangeliet står skrive hjå evangelisten Lukas (etter Bibelselskapets omsetjing frå 2011).

11b Kristus tok imot dei og tala til dei om Guds rike, og han lækte dei som trong å bli friske.

12 Då det leid mot kveld, kom dei tolv til han og sa: “Send folket frå deg, så dei kan gå bort i landsbyane og gardane her omkring. Der kan dei finna hus og få seg noko å eta. For her er vi på ein aud stad.” 13 “De skal gje dei mat!” svara Jesus. “Vi har ikkje meir enn fem brød og to fiskar”, sa dei, “om vi då ikkje sjølve skal gå og kjøpa mat til alt dette folket.” 14 Det var samla om lag fem tusen menn. Då sa han til læresveinane: “Lat dei setja seg i flokkar på femti.” 15 Dei gjorde som han sa, og lét alle setja seg. 16 Så tok han dei fem brøda og dei to fiskane, såg opp mot himmelen og velsigna dei. Og han braut dei og gav dei til læresveinane, så dei skulle by rundt til folket. 17 Og alle åt og vart mette. Etterpå samla dei opp dei stykka som var til overs, og det vart tolv korger.

Slik lyder det heilage evangeliet. Lova vere du, Kristus.
Heilage Far, helga oss i sanninga, ditt ord er sanning. Amen.

I dagens evangelium les vi Lukas sin versjon av hendinga der Kristus metta 5000 menn, forutan kvinner og born. Vi kjenner ‘alle’ til teksten, og eg skal ikkje her bruke mykje tid på ein gjennomgåande eksegese. Eg skal heller sjå på sjølve brødunderet (eller brød- og fiskunderet). Vi les i v.16: “Så tok han dei fem brøda og dei to fiskane, såg opp mot himmelen og velsigna dei. Og han braut dei og gav dei til læresveinane, så dei skulle by rundt til folket.” Her finn vi ein parallell til innsetjinga av nattverden. Det står at Kristus “såg opp mot himmelen,” før han ba om Guds velsigning over brøda og fiskane.[1] Dette var truleg dne jødiske takkebøna, som djupast sett er ei velsigning av Gud, som kjem tilbake som velsigning til maten, og til dei som et. “Deg Gud til ære, oss til gavn,” som vi syng i eit bordvers.

Men som sagt finn vi her ein parallell til innsetjinga av nattverden, slik vi les om i dagens andre lesetekst. Der finn vi nokre liknande verb: Kristus tar brød, han takkar (bed takkebøna), han bryt brødet og deler det ut. I nattverden vert evangelietekstens brødunder teke til eit nytt nivå: Ein får ikkje berre ein overflod av naturleg mat, mat som mettar for dagen, men vi får del i åndeleg (men også djupt fysisk) mat: Herrens lekam og blod. I Joh 6:1-15 finn vi ein av parallelltekstane til vår tekst frå Lukas. Men i dette kapitlet (v.22-59) får vi også ein lengre samtale omkring dette, mellom Jesus og dei som fylgde han, ein samtale som byrja ute, og etterkvart enda opp i synagogen i Kapernaum. Her finn vi klassiske ‘perler’ som dette: “Eg er livsens brød. Den som kjem til meg, skal ikkje hungra, og den som trur på meg, skal aldri tørsta.” (v.35) “Eg er det levande brødet som er kome ned frå himmelen. Den som et av dette brødet, skal leva til evig tid. Og det brødet eg vil gje, er kroppen min som eg gjev til liv for verda.” (v.51) Dette var (og er) hard kost (jf. v.60-65), og det vart endå meir eksplisitt i v.53-58, etter at folket reagerte. I staden for å prøve å forklare seg sjølv, om folket hadde misforstått han (noko ein finn mange dømer på i Johannesevangeliet), skrudde han berre opp ‘volumet’:

53 Jesus sa til dei: “Sanneleg, sanneleg, eg seier dykk: Dersom de ikkje et kroppen til Menneskesonen og drikk blodet hans, har de ikkje livet i dykk. 54 Den som et min kropp og drikk mitt blod, har evig liv, og eg skal reisa han opp på den siste dagen. 55 For kroppen min er sann mat, og blodet mitt er sann drikk. 56 Den som et min kropp og drikk mitt blod, blir verande i meg og eg i han. 57 Slik den levande Far har sendt meg og eg har liv ved han, slik skal òg den som et meg, ha liv ved meg. 58 Dette er det brødet som er kome ned frå himmelen. Det er ikkje det som fedrane åt, dei som døydde. Den som et dette brødet, skal leva i all æve.”

Dette er heilt avgjerande, sentrale ord. I nattverdens heilage sakrament vår vi del i Herrens lekam og blod, til frelse og til fred, og ved dette, ved Kristus, kan vi gå fram for Gud, i takkseiing, i lovprising, i tilbeding. (Les gjerne her, for nokre tankar omkring nattverdsteologi.) Evangeliet, dei gode nyhendene, som eg har skrive litt om, er at Kristus vart ein av oss, at han ofra seg for oss, og gjev oss del i dette. “Den gode nyhet,” skriv den katolske forfattaren Scott Hahn, “er at Kristus ble en av oss, for å frembære sin menneskenatur som et fullkomment offer. I messen forener vi vårt offer med hans, og denne foreningen gjør vårt offer fullkomment.”[2]

Kristus tolka sin død gjennom bønene ved det siste måltidet, og ved innsetjinga av nattverden. Ifylgje Joseph Ratzinger (pave emeritus Benedikt XVI) vart Kristi død, ved innsetjinga av nattverden, “transformed … into the act of adoration, which is offered to God, then from God is made available to men.”[3] Kristus ofra seg, og hans offer vert gjort konkret tilgjengeleg for oss i nådemidla: i Ordet, i dåpen, i nattverden. I nattverdsliturgien seier presten, rett før kommunionen: “Sjå det Guds Lam, som tek bort verdens synd. Sæle er dei som er innbudne til Lammets bryllaup.” (Jf. Joh 1:29; Op 19:9) Ved nådemidla, og spesielt ved nattverden, får vi på nytt del i frelsa. Der har vi del i Kristus. Del i hans offer. Del i fruktene frå krosstreet; frå livsens tre. Vi avsluttar med ein salme av Børre Knudsen, frå 1976 eller 1980 (legg spesielt merke til dei utheva plassane):[4]

Deg, Herre Jesus, vil vi bekjenne
som herlig prest og blodig offerlam.
Deg, Herre Jesus, deg vil vi prise
for det som er vår egen dype skam.

Du gikk til grunne for våre hender,
vi dømte deg, og dette er vår dom.
Men brødet brytes, og vinen skjenkes,
og dine hender gjør vår gjerning om.

I våre hender var kors og nagler
da dine hender løftet vin og brød,
da dine hender forvandlet drapet
til offergave og til soningsdød.

Du tolket korset, du tydet døden,
du gjorde pinen til din kongevei,
for da du viet deg selv til offer,
da måtte våre hender tjene deg.

Og som du gav deg i våre hender
da vi i tross fullbyrdet dine ord,
slik har du gitt deg i våre hender
som vin og brød på dette offerbord.

Deg, Herre Jesus, vil vi bekjenne
som blodig lam og herlig offerprest.
Vi bryter brødet, vi skjenker vinen,
vår dype skam er blitt vår høye fest.


[1] I den klassiske vestlege nattverdbøna, Den romerske kanon, har ein teke dette med i innsetjingsorda (omsett til nynorsk): “Dagen før han leid, tok han brødet i sine heilage og ærverdige hender, lyfta augo sine mot himmelen til deg, Gud, sin allmektige Far, takka og velsigna, braut brødet, gav det til læresveinane sine og sa…” For ei god gjennomgang av den primære (vestlege) katolske evkjaristibøna, sjå Milton Walsh, In Memory of Me: A Meditation on the Roman Canon (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 2011).

[2] Scott Hahn, Lammets nattverd. Messen som himmelen på jorden (Oslo: St. Olav 2007), s. 129.

[3] Sjå Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 2003), s.29-30.

[4] Den er er å finne her og her, og står også i den katolske salmeboka Lov Herren, nr. 788 (om eg ikkje hugsar feil).