Friday, November 26, 2010

Zwingli and the Eucharist Further Observations

An earlier post has considered Zwingli and the eucharist. Carrie Euler in her meticulously researched book Couriers of the Gospel: England and Zurich, 1531-1558 (TVZ 2006) makes the following observations about Zwingli and the eucharist. As in our earlier post there is a timely reminder to consider the later writings of Zwingli when considering his understanding of the eucharist.

“Zwingli has gone down in history as a ‘memorialist’ and ‘rationalist’, one who maintained the bread and the wine were ‘empty signs’. These charges greatly oversimplify Zwingli’s position and his influence on the development of Reformed Eucharistic theology.

Zwingli’s writings between 1524 and 1529 do vigorously confute any real presence of Christ, corporeal or spiritual, in the supper, but it is misleading to say that the Zurich reformer relegated the bread and wine to the status of empty memorials. In addition to there being a physical similarity between the sign and the thing signified (wine looks like blood), there was, for Zwingli, an emotional and spiritual connection. For the Jews, the Passover lamb did not merely represent the feast of Passover, but liberation from bondage, the actual passing over of the first-born in Egypt the night before the Exodus. Similarly, the supper of the Lord brings to Christians’ minds their salvation through Christ (Zwingli, On the Lord’s Supper, pp225-227).

Zwingli’s later writings provide even more connection between the sign and the thing signified, for in the last years of his life he inclined towards accepting Christ’s spiritual presence in the bread and wine (Gäbler, Ulrich Zwingli, p137). In A Brief Exposition of the Faith (1531), he compared the sacramental signs to a betrothal ring. When a wife beholds the ring on her finger, she does not value it only for its gold substance, but her heart is warmed by the thought of her husband and her bond to him, of which the ring is a symbol (Zwingli, A Brief Exposition of the Faith, pp262-263). In this treatise, Zwingli introduced the phrase ‘sacramental eating’. ‘Spiritual eating’ was ‘trusting with heart and soul upon the mercy and goodness of God through Christ.’ We can do this at any time. But eating Christ sacramentally, Zwingli wrote was spiritual eating in conjunction with the communal celebration of the sacrament. At this time, ‘You do inwardly what you represent outwardly, your soul being strengthened by the faith which you attest in the tokens.’ Here and in his Account of Faith (1530), Zwingli allowed that the sacrament can ‘strengthen’ or ‘augment’ faith, but he was adamant that it could not convey faith. Those who partake of the sacrament without faith do not eat spiritually or sacramentally (A Brief Exposition of the Faith, pp260-261). A spiritual presence for the faithful was far from a bodily presence for all, however. In these later writings, he continued to defy Luther by asserting the spiritual/material divide and rejecting the ubiquity of Christ’s body (A Brief Exposition of the Faith, pp254-258)”.
(Couriers of the Gospel, pp22,23)

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