Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, the Second Martin of Lutheran Orthodoxy
Today the Lutheran Church commemorates one of the great fathers of Lutheran Orthodoxy. Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586) is regarded after Martin Luther as the most important theologian in the history of the Lutheran Church. Chemnitz combined a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the church fathers with a genuine love for the church. When various doctrinal disagreements broke out after Luther’s death in 1546, Chemnitz determined to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of the Scriptures and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Chemnitz also authored the four volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565–1573), in which he rigorously subjected the teachings of this Roman Catholic Council to the judgment of Scripture and the ancient church fathers. The Examination became the definitive Lutheran answer to the Council of Trent, as well as a thorough exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession. A theologian and a churchman, Chemnitz was truly a gift of God to the Church.
In light of our study of the Lord’s Supper in Mark, the following are some comments from Chemnitz on the Eucharist:
On how we might prepare ourselves to eat of the Sacrament in a worthy manner:
This worthy eating does not consist in a man’s purity, holiness, or perfection. For they who are healthy do not need a doctor, but they who are not healthy (Mt 9:12). But, by way of contrast with the unworthy, one can understand very easily how that examination or exploration is to be undertaken, namely:
First, let the mind consider of what nature the act of this Supper is, who is present there, [and] what kind of food is offered and taken there, so that one might prepare himself with due humility and piety for its reception.
Second, let a man about to approach the Lord’s Table be endowed with the kind of heart that seriously acknowledges his sins and errors, and shudders at the wrath of God, and does not delight in sin, but is troubled and grieved [by it], and has the earnest purpose to amend [his life].
Third, that the mind sincerely give itself to this concern, that it might not perish in sins under the wrath of God, and therefore with ardent desire thirst for and long for the grace of God, so that by true faith in the obedience, passion, and death of Christ, that is, in the offering of [His] body and. shedding of His blood it seek, beg, lay hold on and apply to itself the grace of God, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses the Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment, but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from, the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.
Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, pp. 131-32 (St. Louis, CPH: 1981).
On how often one should partake of the Sacrament:
Christ did not want the use of this Sacrament to be bound either to a certain time or to certain days, except that Paul says that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated when the church gathers to commemorate the death of the Lord, 1 Cor. 11:18-26. But it is certain that God wants us to use this Sacrament not only once, as we are baptized once, but often and frequently, 1 Cor. 11:26. … It is not for any man to give a specific answer to this, either with a number or with a certain measure, other than as often as a troubled conscience feels and recognizes that it needs those benefits that are offered in the Supper for comfort and strengthening. Consciences are therefore not to be forced but aroused to frequent use of this Supper by earnest admonition and consideration of how necessary [and] likewise how salutary and profitable the use of this Supper is for us. But he that does not attend this most holy table thereby clearly shows that he is a Christian in name rather than in fact, namely that he is one who neglects and despises the command of his Savior, who says: Eat, drink, and do this as often etc.
Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, p. 128 (St. Louis, CPH: 1981).
On the Consecration and Sacramental Union (from Lutheran Theology Website):
…those act incorrectly who want to deduce from the description in Luke that Christ gave the bread to the disciples in such a way that they either might not use it at all or use it in any manner they chose, but that nevertheless the truth would be added and remain, “This is My body.” For Matthew, Mark, and Paul relate that Christ first of all commanded in express words that they should use that bread which He was giving, and that He prescribed the manner in which they should use it, namely, “Take and eat,” and that then He added the words, “This is My body.” Mark says in the description of the second part: “And they all drank of that cup,” and He said to them, “This is My blood.” Nevertheless the meaning is not that the blessed bread which is divided, which is offered, and which the apostles received from the hand of Christ was not the body of Christ but becomes the body of Christ when the eating of it is begun. For the whole action of the institution hangs together, and the words, “This is My body,” belong to the entire action. Therefore it is concerning that bread which is blessed, which is broken or divided, which is offered, received, and eaten – I say, it is concerning that bread that Christ says, “This is My body.” And Paul says of this broken bread that it is “a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). Moreover, he says in the words of institution, “This is My body, which is broken for you,” that is, what is divided in the Supper is the body of Christ. Therefore Christ, God and man, is present in the total action of the Supper instituted by Him, and offers to those who eat it his body and blood. For it is He Himself who through the ministry blesses, who divides, who offers, who says, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978], p. 248)
We grant, with Irenaeus, that after the blessing in the Eucharist the bread is no longer common bread but the Eucharist of the body of Christ, which now consists of two things – the earthly, that is, bread and wine, and the heavenly, that is, the body and blood of Christ. This is certainly a great, miraculous, and truly divine change, since before it was simply and only ordinary bread and common wine. What now, after the blessing, is truly and substantially present, offered, and received is truly the body and blood of Christ. Therefore we grant that a certain change has taken place, so that it can be truly said of the bread that it is the body of Christ. But we deny that it follows from this that we must therefore assert the kind of transubstantiation which the Papalists teach. (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, pp. 257-58)
The words of the Supper are known, plain, and clear in their natural and true sense. When I ask, “What is present in the Lord’s Supper and offered by the hand of the minister and received by the mouth of those who use it? Is it only bread and wine?” He, who is Truth itself, answers: “This is My body; this is My blood.” Thus Paul says, 1 Co 10:16, that a breaking and communion, that is, distribution and partaking or receiving takes place in the Lord’s Supper, and that it takes place by outward eating and drinking with the mouth, for he says, “Eat and drink.” Now, if I ask: “What is distributed and received when the bread is distributed and received in the Lord’s Supper?” Paul answers that it is koinonia, that is, distribution and reception of Christ’s body, etc. … If, then, you want to know from Christ Himself, who instituted this Supper, who is Truth itself, and whom the Father commended to us from heaven to hear, what it is that is present in the Supper in, with, and under the bread and wine, and that is offered by the hand of the minister and received by the mouth of the body, He answers expressly, clearly, and plainly: This is My body, which is given for you; this is My blood, which is shed for you. (Martin Chemnitz,Ministry, Word, and Sacraments [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981], pp. 123-24)
Christ did not institute this Sacrament in such a way that, even if no one uses it, or if it is changed into something else than He Himself commanded, it nevertheless is His body and blood, but in the very words of institution He prescribed the form of that which was commanded, how it is to be observed and used, and that not only for a time but to the end of the world, 1 Co 11:26. And use surely does not make a Sacrament, but the Word, ordinance, and institution of Christ. And there is a difference between the essence of a Sacrament and its use. But Christ so ordered and arranged the words of institution in the form of a testament, as He wanted this Sacrament to be an act in which bread and wine are taken, blessed, or consecrated, as they say, then offered, received, eaten, and drunk. And Christ says of that which is blessed, which is offered, received, eaten and drunk: This is My body; this is My blood. Therefore when the bread is indeed blessed but neither distributed nor received, but enclosed, shown, and carried about, it is surely clear that the whole word of institution is not added to the element, for this part is lacking: He gave [it] to them and said, Take and eat. And when the word of institution is incomplete there can be no complete Sacrament. In the same way it is also not true Baptism if the Word is indeed spoken over the water, but if there is no one who is baptized. (Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, p. 121)
…the mind should be so elevated and faith should so meditate that it recognizes that on this sacred table has been placed the Lamb of God with his body and blood. On this table we see the bread and the cup placed and dealt with by the external action of the priests. And when we receive a little from the external bread and the cup in the Supper, then at the same time faith, on the basis of the Word, recognizes that we also truly receive the body and blood of Christ which are present on the table. (Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Supper [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979], p. 156)
…the fourth [Tridentine] canon adds that also after its use the body and blood of the Lord is in the Eucharist, i.e., in the bread and wine. We need to weigh what this means. Christ instituted that in the Lord’s Supper bread and wine should be means or instruments through which he wishes to offer and communicate His body and blood to those who eat, in order that He might be and remain in the believers not only through faith and Spirit but, as the ancients speak, also by natural or substantial participation and might thereafter be united with them more and more. Therefore after the use of the blessed bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper one ought not to dispute about the union of the bread and the body of Christ but there ought to be taught from the Word of God the sweetest consolation about the union of Christ, God and man, not with the bread which has just been eaten but with the soul and body of the believers, that He may bear, preserve, give life to, and rule us who have been inserted and as it were grafted into Him.
But this most useful teaching having been suppressed and buried, the gloss, De consecratione, dist. 2, Olim, teaches: “As quickly as the form is ground by the teeth, so quickly is the body of Christ snatched up into heaven,” namely, lest any consolation should remain from it for believers. The Tridentine fathers indeed do not now repeat the pleasant old song of the gloss, yet say nothing about the union of Christ, God and man, with believers after the use of the Supper, but argue that the body of Christ is in the bread also after the use. Perhaps they have looked back upon those shameful papalist precautions which institute an examination even into excrements. For if they can there distinguish the form in some way, they rave that the body of Christ is attached and clings there. Now I should think that by the words “after use” they would understand that which follows in Canon IV, namely, that the body of Christ remains in the consecrated particles which are left over after the Communion and reserved. But how can “after use” be said about those particles to which use has not yet come, that is, which have not been distributed, received, and eaten? (Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, pp. 251-52)
…by the external ministry of the Word and Sacraments God is truly present in the church, working with us and effectually acting in us through these means. He is present even in the external signs in the use of the Sacraments, dispensing and communicating through these visible signs His invisible grace, according to His Word. But the signs themselves, by themselves, add nothing toward this grace. God is not present with them inseparably, but because of the covenant and according to the Word they are not Sacraments apart from their use. When these Sacraments have been completed, they either pass away, as Augustine says, or are separated from the Sacramental union. (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 109)