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Chytraeus on Presence in the Coena Domini

Recently Eric Parker posted on a thesis concerning the sacraments from a 1581 disputation at Rostock. Rostock was the primary site of the labors of the mediating Lutheran theologian David Chytraeus, on whose Catechism I posted several times a couple of years ago (you can find these in the archives by searching for “David Chytraeus”).

I have no idea whether he was present at or participated in the disputation Eric mentions, but I thought I would use the opportunity to throw some additional light on Rostockian (sic) sacramental theology, because in Chytraeus’ definition of the Supper one can see the irenicism of at least part of the Protestant tradition.

The reason I say this is because Chytraeus offers two different definitions of the Lord’s Supper–one that sounds much like the traditional teaching of the Lutheran confessions (Chytraeus was one of the authors of the Formula of Concord) , and one much closer, I think, to the sort of thing advocated by Ursinus in the previous post. Here, then, is the first of his two definitions.

Quid est Coena Domini?

Sacramentum altaris, est verum corpus et verus sanguis domini nostri Iesu Christi, sub pane et vino nobis Christianis ad comededendum et bibendum a Christo ipso institutum. vel:

What is the Lord’s Supper?

The sacrament of the altar is the true body and true blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, [given] under bread and wine to us Christians for eating and drinking, instituted by Christ himself. Or:

There is a certain kind of objectivity here, where the Savior’s body and blood are located (somehow) “under” elements that are connected with an “altar.” Nothing is said about faith in this passage, or about the promises of God.1 But then there is that “or”; after it, Chytraeus offers a second definition:

COENA DOMINI, est actio sacra, a filio Dei instituta, in qua sumpto pane et vino, sumitur verum corpus et verus sanguis Domini nostri Iesu Christi, ut hoc pignore accipientes commonefacti de promissione Evangelij propria fidem confirment et obsignent.

The Lord’s Super is a sacred action, instituted by the Son of God, in which, when bread and wine have been consumed, the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is consumed, in order that those who receive, reminded by this pledge of the promise that belongs to the Gospel, may strengthen and seal their faith.2

In this latter definition, the Supper is defined not primarily as objective, static elements, but as action (actio) in which we partake of the Lord’s body and blood. Instead of an explicitly localized presence in the bread and wine, Chytraeus uses an ablative absolute as a kind of temporal adjunct: when these things are done, the recipient partakes of Christ. From this description, then, one might conclude that Christ’s presence is to be located in the rite as a whole rather than in the elements per se.

Now, moreover, the Supper is described as “pledge,” something that testifies to the faithfulness of God to his promises. Indeed, the purpose of the meal is to remind us of the promise of the Gospel, and to confirm and “seal” (typical Reformed language) our faith in it.3

Note that this second definition is offered as an alternative to the first, and so it would be reasonable to conclude that Chytraeus thought it sufficient to stand on its own. And it is one that many of the Reformed, I think, would have been comfortable with. If that is the case, we have perhaps gotten a glimpse into the deeper background of Eric’s post yesterday and the sorts of options (all the rage right now!) for construing the mode of the Lord’s presence in the Supper that were on the table in the late sixteenth century. Vivat via Irenicorum!



  1. To be clear, I am not saying that traditional Lutheran teaching omits talk of faith in discussions of the Supper, for that would be foolish: faith does play a role, but the true body and blood are received both spiritually by faith and orally by the mouth–and that last by both believers and unbelievers. Cf. here.
  2. The translations are my own.
  3. The Lutheran confessions also talk of the Supper as “seal” and “pledge,” but do not limit the Supper to such things. Cf. one of the negative theses of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord here: “That the bread and wine are no more than a memorial, seal, and pledge, through which we are assured that when faith elevates itself to heaven, it there becomes partaker of the body and blood of Christ as truly as we eat bread and drink wine in the Supper.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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