Next month marks the 480th anniversary of the Wittenberg Concord, a document that resulted from discussions about the sacraments between German Lutherans and the Reformed of southwestern Germany and western Switzerland. It is the result, in other words, of the search for consensus among various parts of the Protestant world, intended to be an affirmation of commonly held views.
I’ve provided a translation of the articles on the Lord’s Supper below. A number of things stand out: (1) transubstantiation is denied, as is (2) a “local enclosure” of Christ in the elements, but (3) the real and substantial presence of Christ in the sacrament is affirmed, which (4) entails an affirmation of the real communing of the wicked (the manducatio impiorum), but only unto judgment; (5) this substantial presence, which occurs via “sacramental union,” is found in the sacrament only in usu, that is, only in the giving and receiving of the sacrament. It does not somehow abide in or as the elements when the celebration has been concluded.
The document was not final, as it had to be referred to others first, and in the long run it did not become a rallying-point for union–this in spite of the fact that the language at the end indicates that everyone present was happy with the Augsburg Confession and Apology as a common statement of faith, and these articles were intended to be acceptable to both the Lutherans and the Reformed.
Still, it is striking to note all those who did subscribe it: the signatories include Bucer, Capito, Musculus, Luther, and Melanchthon. This probably seems almost impossible now, and so it is a good reminder that the horizon of the possible is something that shifts over time; our own circumstances are not the permanent state of affairs, nor should they be perceived as a prison from which escape is out of the question.
The Concord between the Doctors of Wittenberg and the Doctors of the Imperial cities in Upper Germania. 1 On the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Written at the command and request of both parties by Philip Melanchthon. In the year of Christ 1536. 2
We heard Dr. Bucer explaining his own opinion and that of those who were present with him on the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood in the following way.
I. We confess, according to the words of Irenaeus, that the Eucharist consists of two things, one earthly and one heavenly. Therefore they think 3 and teach that Christ’s body and blood are truly and substantially present, exhibited, and taken with the bread and wine.
II. And although they deny that transubstantiation occurs and do not think that a local enclosing [of Christ’s body] in the bread occurs, or that there is a lasting conjunction [of the two] outside of the use of the Sacrament: nevertheless they grant that, by means of sacramental union, the bread is Christ’s body, that is, they think that, when the bread has been offered, Christ’s body at the same time is present and truly exhibited. For outside of use, when it is preserved in a box [the pyx], as is done by the papists, they think that Christ’s body is not present.
III. Next, they think that this institution of the sacrament has power in the church, and does not depend on the worthiness of the minister or of him who takes it. Wherefore, as Paul says, even the unworthy eat, they thus think that the Lord’s body and blood are truly offered even to the unworthy, and that the unworthy take, where Christ’s words and institution are maintained. But such people take to their judgment, as Paul says, because they abuse the Sacrament, since they use it without repentance and without faith. For it was designed for this purpose, in order that it might bear witness that Christ’s benefits are applied to those who repent and raise themselves up by faith in Christ, and that they are made Christ’s members, and are washed in Christ’s blood.
Since, however, only a few of us have come together, and there is need for each party to refer this matter to other leaders and superiors, it is not yet permitted to us to formalize agreement concerning the Concord, before we have referred it to others.
Since, however, all profess that they wish to think and teach according to the Confession and Apology of the princes who profess the Gospel in all its articles, we especially desire that the Concord be ratified and established. And we have hope that, if the rest from each party have so agreed, the Concord will be firm.[The following] subscribed:
Dr. Wolfgang Capito, minister of the church at Strasbourg.
Mr. Martin Bucer, minister of the church at Strasbourg.
Lic. (?) Martin Frecht, minister in the Word of the church at Ulm, Licentiate.
Lic. (?) Jacob Otther, licentiate of theology, minister of the church at Esslingen.
Mr. Bonifacius Wolfhart, 4 minister in the Word of the church at Augsburg.
Wolfgang Musculus, minister in the Word of the church at Augsburg.
Mr. Gervasius Scholasticus, pastor of the church at Memmingen.
Mr. Johann Bernard, minister of the church at Frankfurt.
Martinus Germani, minister of the church at Furfeld.
Mr. Matthäus Alber, pastor of the church at Reutlingen.
Johannes Schradinus, deacon at Reutlingen.
Martin Luther, doctor at Wittenberg.
Justus Jonas, doctor.
Caspar Cruciger, doctor.
Johannes Bugenhagen, doctor at Pommern.
Justus Menius of Eisenach.
Friedrich Myconius of Gotha.
Dr. Urbanus Rhegius, superintendent of the churches of the Duchy of Lüneburg.
Georg Spalatin, pastor of the church at Altenburg.
Dionysius Melander, minister of the church at Kassel.
And many others.