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Sacraments are Media of Cognition

Zacharius Ursinus, the famed theology professor at the University of Heidelberg and author of the Heidelberg Catechism, took part in a public disputation on the sacraments at the Academy of Rostock in the year 1581. It is not clear from the text whether he was present at the disputation, but he apparently made annotations on the topics that were to be raised and defended by Luca Bachmeister, a professor at Rostock. Just two years prior to his death, while he was a professor at the University of Neustadt, Ursinus was still laboring away in his vocation, defending the Reformed view of the sacraments from the attacks of apologists from various corners of Christendom. Below is my translation of the 1st thesis of the disputation along with Ursinus’s annotation.1

Translation: Zacharius Ursinus, De Sacramentis2

Thesis I

There are two media through which God communicates true recognition of Himself, grace, and his own benefits to humanity, that is, the word that is handed down through the Prophets, the Son of God, & the Apostles, as well as the Sacraments added to the word.

Annotation

I. The media of the knowledge of God and of the communication of God’s grace & the benefits of Christ are external things coming in through the senses, as is apparent in every part of the ministry, in word & sacrament.

II. The sacraments are media of the knowledge [of God] and of the communication of the grace of God’s promises in the Gospel, which are received by faith alone. To orally eat the flesh of Christ is not grace, nor is it part of God’s grace. For, according to the defenders [of this idea, the grace of God] is not received by faith. Therefore, it is neither known nor communicated in the Supper of the Lord. Since, therefore, whatever is given is either the medium of communication or the thing communicated, [and] neither can be eaten by the mouth, [orally eating the flesh of Christ] has no place in the Supper.

III. Through the media of the knowledge [of God] and the communication of God’s grace, that is, through every part of the ministry, the same benefits are signified and communicated. The Supper of the Lord is a medium of the knowledge and communication of God’s grace. Therefore, no other communion with Christ is signified & given by it than [is signified & given] by the word of the Gospel & Baptism.

IV. Through the media of the knowledge [of God] & the communication of God’s grace, externally and visibly, are indeed signified His benefits, internally & [in]visibly, to both the pious and impious, but they are given only to those who believe what is signified by the words & symbols. The Supper of the Lord is a medium in this way. Therefore, through it is signified & offered communion in Christ, to the faithful as well as the unfaithful, but it is given only to those who believe what the rite, or the external symbol, signifies.

  1. The reader may consult the Latin text here.
  2. De sacramentis Theses Theologicae Ad Disputatinem propositae Anno M. D. LXXXI, in Academia Rostochiana, à Luca Bachmeistero Theologiae Doctore & Professore: Cum annotationibus D. Zachariae Ursin,(Neustadt: Matthaeus Harnisch, 1613), 1-2.

By Eric Parker

Eric Parker (PhD McGill University) is the editor of the Library of Early English Protestantism (LEEP) at the Davenant Institute. He lives in the deep South with his wife and two children, where he is currently preparing for ordination to the diaconate in the Reformed Episcopal Church.

4 replies on “Sacraments are Media of Cognition”

Fantastic stuff–so this would have occurred when the irenic Lutheran David Chytraeus was professor at Rostock. Any idea about whether he would have participated in this disputation?

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