Recently, while trying to figure out a few things about the textual history of Martin Luther’s 1535 Galatians commentary, I stumbled across an excerpt from a contemporary (i.e., 1535) letter from Martin Bucer to Heinrich Bullinger that mentions the commentary. When I looked up the rest of the letter, I was surprised to find a fascinating document touching on many of the major controversies of the Christianity of the sixteenth century (and today)–for example, the Lord’s Supper, scholasticism, what non-Lutherans should think of Luther, the role of the magistrate in the Christian faith, how the churches of different nations and ethnicities should relate to one another, and so on.
The letter is found as a supplement to Philip Melanchthon’s correspondence in Corpus Reformatorum 10, but the text is kind of a mess in places. Thankfully, there is another open-access version in Bullinger’s correspondence. This text is much better, though I’ve found in a few places that it should be corrected against the CR version.
To my knowledge, the letter does not exist in English, though I could be wrong. I plan to translate substantial excerpts from it here. It should be noted that I do this simply as historical reportage. Retweets ≠ endorsements.
Our first topic is the Lord’s Supper, and this one will be broken up into a few installments. (It will also be revisited after some other topics are treated, since I will proceed in the order of Bucer’s presentation.) So, without further ado, here is Part 1.
Bucer to Bullinger on the Lord’s Supper
Concerning your confession: When you make the dispute a matter of the spiritual and carnal presence of Christ in the Supper, you show that you do not yet understand where the point of controversy is located. For no one defends a carnal presence. Thus no one demands that we say that the bread is the body of Christ, and all approve of taking care that the simple not venerate the signs instead of the realities. The contention is this: Since the words, “Take, eat, this is my body” etc. are the words of the Lord who gives–and not bread only, but also his body, which was handed over for us–and since Christ says these things through us, his ministers, he uses us as the stewards of his mysteries, so that we might believe and confess that the very body of the Lord is given in the sacred Supper together with the bread (that is, the exhibitive sign), just as regeneration is given together with the water of baptism, and in former times communion in the divine covenant was given through circumcision, the Holy Spirit was given together with the breath of the Lord, and the blessing of the Lord and various gifts were given together with the laying on of hands. The Passover was a commemorative, not an exhibitive, sign.