It is well known that John Calvin subscribed Melanchthon’s Variata version of the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) (1530), especially because of the revised article on the Lord’s Supper (Art. 10). Indeed, Philip Schaff writes that the alteration of this article “is by far the most important departure from the original edition, and has caused much controversy.” What I’d like to do in this post is to compare the language of the Art. 10 in the Latin text of the editio princeps of the Confession (1531; without the German additions) with the Latin text of the Variata. Again, my only purpose is to compare the language of the articles themselves, and not any later additions to or explications of them (e.g. the Defense given in response to the Confutation of the Confession).
The original article says this: De Cœna Domini docent, quod corpus et sanguis Christi vere adsint, et distribuantur vescentibus in Cœna Domini; et improbant secus docentes (“Concerning the Supper of the Lord, they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed [or communicated] to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord; and they disapprove of those who teach otherwise”).
The article is surprisingly economical and somewhat taciturn. Nothing is said about the mode of Christ’s presence (and, for that matter, Christ is said to be present “truly,” but not “corporeally”), nor is anything said about how that presence is related to the elements. The Body and Blood are “distributed” (a different verb is used from what is used in the article on baptism, where “the grace of God” is said to be “offered” [offeratur]) to those participating in the Supper (vescentibus in Coena Domini); nor is anything said about the role of faith.
Here is what we find in the Variata version: De cœna Domini docent quod cum pane et vino vere exhibeantur corpus et sanguis Christi vescentibus in Cœna Domini (“Concerning the Supper of the Lord, they teach that, together with the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ are truly exhibited to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord”; as Schaff points out, the final clause regarding disapproval of those of a different persuasion is left out).
In at least one way, the language is perhaps stronger (and yet this is the version Calvin subscribed): the Body and Blood are “truly exhibited” (the verb can also mean “to confer”) “together with the bread and wine”–now the elements are mentioned as explicitly linked to the Body and Blood in some way. Some may think that it is simultaneously weaker, not only because of the absence of disapproval, but because of the change from distribuantur to exhibeantur and because vere adsint (“they are truly present”) is omitted.
The first cause could, I suppose, be seen as a softening of a pure and originary doctrinal fidelity and rigor (though it need not be). The persuasive force of the latter two hypothetical objections is not at all evident to me. The fact that the Body and Blood are there to be “exhibited” or “conferred” means that they are, well, there; and the adverb vere has been retained to remove any doubt about the truthfulness or reality of the presence of the Body and Blood. And in each case that presence is vouchsafed in the context of the rite as a whole rather than partitioned off to some one piece of it: vescentibus in Coena Domini. This occurs, one might say, in the orbit of participation in the Supper.
So, to conclude, a question: how different in the end, really, are these two articles (especially when one bears in mind that Melanchthon was involved in both, first as one of the authors of the original and the editor of the editio princeps in Latin, and later as the architect of the Variata)? Speaking only for myself, I could happily subscribe either one. Via irenicorum, and all that.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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