Zwingli's View of the Lord's Supper?

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Casey, Dec 8, 2008.

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  1. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    Zwingli is the "commemorative view" whipping boy of the Reformed and I want to know if it's true that he held to a substantially different view than the other (Reformed) Reformers. I only found one thread where this was discussed tangentially (in which Pastor Winzer argued, I think, that his view wasn't different). Are there any primary source documents of Zwingli's available online that I could read and decide for myself? Could someone point me to proof, one way or the other, that his view was different or the same? Thanks. :)
  2. Augusta

    Augusta Puritan Board Doctor

    This is an exerpt from Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 1, 1523–1552

    Prof. Dennison even commented at the presentation of the book on this subject. He disagreed that Zwingli had a mere commemorative or memorial view of the supper. I found this here.

  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    "Exposition of the Christian Faith" is available in Works, vol. 2, which can be found at For secondary materials I would begin with the level-headed discussions of William Cunningham, "Zwingle and the Sacraments" in Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, and Charles Hodge's section on the Lord's Supper in vol. 3 of his Systematic Theology.
  4. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    Also see Bavinck, RD IV:557-558. :book2:
  5. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    "To eat the body of Christ sacramentally, if we wish to speak accurately, is to eat the body of Christ in heart and spirit with the accompaniment of the sacrament...You eat the body of Christ spiritually, though not sacramentally, every time you comfort your heart in its anxious query 'How will you be saved'...When you comfort yourself thus, I say, you eat his body spiritually, that is, you stand unterrified in God against all attacks of despair, through confidence in the humanity he took upon himself for you.

    But when you come to the Lord's Supper with this spiritual participation and give thanks unto the Lord for his kindness, for the deliverance of your soul, through which you have been delivered from the destruction of despair, and for the pledge by which you have been made sure of everlasting blessedness, and along with the brethren partake of the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body of Christ, then you eat him sacramentally, in the proper sense of the term, when you do internally what you represent externally, when your heart is refreshed by this faith to which you bear witness by these symbols" (Zwingli's Fidei Expositio in "Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries pp.190-191).
  6. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Peter (W P) Stephens gives readers the idea that Zwingli was much closer to Calvin and the later Reformed than he was. Adam's quotation illustrates the problems with that claim however.

    When Zwingli says "heart and spirit" we can see immediately that he was speaking in psychological categories not in objective categories. Spirit here refers to the human spirit not to the Spirit of God. To put it bluntly, even crassly, even in Zwingli's very latest writings, Zwingli was still teaching only the intense psychological experience of remembering Jesus' death.

    Even Zwingli's "highest" language is some ways from the language of Calvin, the Heidelberg or the Belgic. Zwingli would never say with the Belgic that, in the Supper, by the mysterious operation of the Spirit, believers eat the "proper and natural" body and blood of Christ!

    BC Art 35 says:

    HC 75 says, "that with His crucified body and shed blood He Himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life...."

    This wasn't Zwingli's doctrine of the Supper. What takes place in the Supper is, at most, an internal psychological (I don't mean only intellectual, but also emotional) experience of remembering. For Calvin, the HC, the BC, and, I think, the Westminster Standards there is undeniably a memorial aspect to the Supper but that memorial aspect exhausts neither the Supper nor the operation of the Spirit through the Supper.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 11:44:45 EST-----

    ps. Here's an essay on the Supper - free and online! This is my penance for always flogging books and published essays.

    pps: I no longer agree with what I wrote (in '95 or '96) that, "Even Zwingli, who has sometimes been criticized for teaching that the Supper was a mere memorial of Christ’s death, taught that Christ strengthens us through the Supper."

    [​IMG]postscript #3. Okay, I figured out how to turn this post into a way to flog a book! There is a chapter on the Supper and Christology in Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant -- recently republished by RHB.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2008
  7. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark,

    What about Luther's letter to his wife after Luther and Zwingli met in Marburg, Germany, in 1529, where Luther comments to his wife that, "Our opponents will only allow Christ spiritually in the bread."
  8. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    And your question is?

    It comes down to what was intended by "spiritually." Does it mean "metaphorically" or "symbolically" or "figuratively" or does it mean more than that? Calvin and the BC and HC taught/teach more than a mere metaphor, symbol, or figure. Even Bullinger advanced beyond that.
  9. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    That Luther understood Zwingli view of the Lord's Supper to be "spiritually" and not literally like the Lutherans and Papist. I think Zwingli by "spiritually" he meant nothing that pertains to the elements of this world.

    Is your point that Zwingli view of the Lord's Supper was "memorial" and that he did not changed his view on this?

    In the Lord's Supper how did Zwingli agreed and disagreed with Calvin/BC/HC.

    It seems to me that it depends who Zwingli is talking to (the papist, Lutherans, Anabaptis, etc.). In other words, he was careful not to make the Lord's Supper into an Idolatry.

    Also, what do you mean when someone has a "higher view" of the Lord's Supper? Can we really have a "higher view" of the Lord's Supper from what we find from the Scriptures. Did Calvin had this "higher view"?

    The HC does not make the Lord's Supper a means of "Grace" like the Westminster Standards/Divines, right. Do you agreed with this?
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2008
  10. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    There's a long history in Western theology of using the adverb "spiritually" as a synonym for "figuratively," going back to the 9th century.

    Yes. I don't think that the evidence supports the claims that Zwingli's views matured toward the end of his life, thus closing the gap between Zwingli's view and the later Reformed view.

    It is an interesting fact that Zwingli's name does not occur in the text of the Institutes. My perception of Calvin is that he was mostly critical of Zwingli.

    This is a large question but the short answer is that for Zwingli the supper is a memorial/funeral and for the later Reformed the Supper is a meal wherein believers are fed by Christ's flesh and blood by the mysterious work of the Spirit through the elements.

    Well, "higher" refers to understandings beyond the mere memorial. By implication the mere memorial view would be a "lower" view. Whether Scripture teaches a mere memorial is a disputed question. Of course all Reformed folk are trying to be faithful to Scripture. From the pov of later Reformed theology, Zwingli's account of the Scriptural teaching is defective because it was guilty of a certain rationalism.

    I think the authors of the HC would be quite surprised to learn that they did not teach the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments are "means of grace"! They certainly explained the catechism in those terms that said as much in HC 65. Certainly the substance of the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments as means of grace is taught clearly in HC 66:

  11. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Good discussion. I'm rating this a "5" out of "5".
  12. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I think one must deny the plain meaning of words to arrive at this answer, because Zwingli plainly says that the body of Christ is eaten sacramentally, and I doubt any reformed author would imply that this body is eaten any other way than "psychologically."
  13. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark, I'm not very familiar with Zwingli's writings and would like to hear it from the horse's mouth.

    Could you give me a quote, or a reference, of the "highest" language Zwingli uses? :think: Thanks!
  14. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    The language quoted above is representative. The "Ground of Faith" (Fidei Ratio) is among the later and "higher" statements by Zwingli on the Supper.

    As to whether all the Reformed would agree with Zwingli's subjective, psychological approach, I disagree. The language of Calvin, the BC, the HC, and even Bullinger in the Consensus moved beyond Zwingli's subjectivism and psychological language.

    It's true that most Reformed folk today, at least in North America, in my experience, are functional Zwinglians but our standards aren't and neither are most of our theologians after the 1540s and 50s.
  15. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There is the physical and the psychological side of man. Either man eats the body of Christ physically or psychologically. The Reformed deny that it is done physically; therefore the only alternative is that it is done psychologically. The difference between objective and subjective is simply the difference between that which the Holy Spirit does and that which the man himself experiences by faith. They are two sides to the same coin, and Zwingli recognises both.
  16. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    Zwingli on the Lord's Supper:

    IV. On True and False Religion, March 1525

    The Eucharist: I fear that if there is anywhere pernicious error in the adoration and worship of the one true God, it is the abuse of the Eucharist. Now we are all bent upon handling holy things rather than upon making ourselves holy. The results is that we worship with embraces and kisses wood, stone, earth, dust, shoes, vestments, rings, hats, swords, belts, bones, teeth, hair, milk, bread, tablets, wine, knives, jars, and anything that pious man have ever handled. When Christ said, "The bread which I am about to give to you is my flesh," he was not talking of sacramental eating but of the eating of faith. The flesh of Christ profiteth not by being eaten, but by being slain. I unwaveringly believe that there is one and only one way to heaven, firmly to believe and trust in the Son of God and to ascribe no power to any of the elements of this world, that is the things of sense, and those who say, "You seem to me to hold that the bodily flesh and also the blood of Christ are not present in the Eucharist," I answer, "The flesh profiteth nothing." Faith exist in our hearts by the spirit of God and we are sensible of it. That there is an inward change of heart is not an obscure matter but we do not come to it by means of the senses. Bainton, H. Roland, The Age of the Reformation. ps 126-27.
  17. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    The HC, the BC, and the Westm. Standards teach far more than a subjective, psychological experience. They teach that, as Van Mastricht put it, the supper is a sacrament of nutrition. We are not being nourished with mere memories. We are being nourished through instruments by the body and blood of Christ through the operation of the Spirit.

    Zwingli has none of that.

    -----Added 12/10/2008 at 01:23:58 EST-----

    ps. this discussion has been interesting in another respect. I've been trying to work out a theory of the Luther-phobia I've perceived in some quarters of the Reformed and Presbyterian world. I've wondered whether it might be that some are more rooted in Zwingli and others are more rooted in Calvin and Reformed orthodoxy. Some of the feedback I'm getting here and on the HB discussion at least suggest that there might be something to the theory.

    It's not Calvin v Calvinists but Zwinglians v the Calvinists perhaps.
  18. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    Yeap! Agreed. Maybe Zwingli during service taught otherwise, but we do not know. What we do have, which is sufficient and more clear, is our understanding of the Lord's Supper in our confessions/standards. However, I think the Church is stilled confused.

    Reason we need someone to come up with something (book/statement/article/essay) on the Lord's Supper for the Church in order for us to mature in our understanding of the Lord's Supper away from just a "memorial," perhaps communion will take place more in our Reformed and Presbyterian Churches.

    This will be a good thesis work if it hasn't been done.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2008
  19. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Reformed sacramentalism begins and ends with the concept that the sacramental elements and action are "signs" to the senses and "seals" to faith. They never cease being symbols. It is faith by the operation of the Holy Spirit which lays hold of the significance of the sacrament for the soul. WCF 29:2, the Lord's supper is fundamentally a commemoration of the one offering up which Christ made of Himself. All sacramental efficacy springs from this fundamental nature of the Lord's supper. Anything else is not reformed, call it by whatever name one pleases.
  20. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    What feedback here on the PB suggests to you that anyone here is "more rooted in Zwingli" than in Calvin? And I've heard in some quarters that American evangelicals are Zwingli's descendants in regards to their view on the Lord's Supper (assuming Zwingli actually taught a mere memorialism, which is the question of this thread). Could you explain the historical connection? I don't know of many evangelicals reading Zwingli . . .
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