“Is” Redivivus: Some Thoughts on FC TD VII 78,

The Synodical Conference and Bill Clinton

ramblings by John W. Berg 

Footnote 1128 of the Starr Report records the now infamous words, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” I suspect that among conservative “Synodical Conference” types this parsing of the word “is” by former President Clinton was mocked with great delight and though accused of trying to weasel out of a perjury charge, the President neatly summed up the heart of the 16th century debate on the matter of the real presence. It did depend on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Our Lord’s “is” was at the crux of the controversy along with those crucified on its right and left. As the blessed Dr. Luther noted, “Dr. Carlstadt tortures the word ‘this,’ Zwingli tortures the word ‘is,’ Oecolampadius tortures the word ‘body’” (AE 37 p. 41).  


When it comes to the speaking of God, however, there is no clever parsing of words. When God calls something, something, it is that something. No tergiversating here. As Dr. Luther wrote in reference to the creative word of God, 


[God] does not speak grammatical words; He speaks true and existent realities. Accordingly, that which among us has the sound of a word is a reality with God… Thus the Words of God are realities, not bare words (AE 1:21f). 


Thus when our Lord Christ said, “This is my body,” he spoke a reality, not a potentiality, not proleptically or preclusively as some “conservative” Lutherans have parsed that word. In his great “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528” Dr. Luther wrote


For there stands an “is” in the text, and it demands a body of Christ which is present and is called Christ’s body (AE 37 p. 257).


Now unless one is willing to sacrifice the body and blood of Christ on the altar of accommodation for the sake of ecumenical progress (thus ELCA) it would seem there should be no debate among Lutherans over what “is” is.  Yet, the debate does continue among the members of the now defunct Synodical Conference (LCMS, WELS, ELS).  The issue, however, is not whether “is” meant “is” in Paschal feast in the upper room, but whether “is” means “is” in the Paschal feast today. That is, when the celebrant says in the Supper today, “This is my body,” can we say with certainty that this (hoc) bread, over which he speaks these words, is (est) his body (corpus)? Some will say “yes,” some “no,” some, “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” 


Well, I believe what Luther believed, that, when I stand at the altar in the name and the stead of Christ during the mass and say about the bread in the ciborium which I hold “This is my body,” then it is His body.  Et tu? You should, that is, if the Formula of Concord which I just quoted rules your confession and if you dare to don chasuble, stole and maniple.


Now saying “yes” in old Synodical Conference circles will garner you the charge that you are setting, nay, obsessing over a “moment” of presence and you can be assured that Luther’s words addressing the old scholastic argument over on what syllable the hocus pocus1 change occurs (“we do not prescribe moments or times to God, but it is enough for us simply to believe that what God says shall happen or be”) will be the flaming faggot produced to burn this straw man at the stake.


This straw man is caricaturized as being more concerned about a presence on the altar than in the bread and wine to be given the faithful. For example, the official WELS’s web site’s Q/A which now speaks “unofficially” (except when divining the synod’s opinion of this rag, cf. MM Vol. II: 1, p. 17) caricaturized those such as I who believe that when we say “this is my body” we can be certain this bread is, as those who


Insist and demand that the body and blood be acknowledged with the consecrated elements on the altar or in the hand (or chalice or cup) (Emphasis added).2


One can almost envision these chasubled and beribboned dandies stomping around as motley as magpies amidst smells and bells demanding that the words they speak “This is my body” can actually be believed! However, the charge that these Latter Day Lutherans make against their contemporaries must be retroactively leveled against Dr. Luther as well, along with the Melanchthonian charge of practicing artolatria thrown in for extra mockery(I suppose unless it is a proleptically proffered prostration) for as Dr. Luther says, “is” demands a body.


Unfortunately, this is how the issue is usually addressed in the reliquiae3 of the Synodical Conference (and Lutheran Orthodoxy) and is nothing other than throwing dust in the air. Rather, I contend these Synodical conference fossils are they who have obsessively injected the “moment of presence” issue and doubt into a Sacrament that is all about certainty.


The File Drawer Problem


When examining the issue, especially in the Wisconsin Synod, one repeatedly encounters “the file drawer problem.” For example, a Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (84:2) reviewer of Professor Bjarne Teigen’s excellent book “The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz,” (which reviewer, Wilbert Gawrisch, earlier heaped scorn on its author for ignoring context) chastised his ELS brother for his, and thus Chemnitz’, view that one can speak of the presence after the consecration, which this reviewer deliberately miscasts as Teigen insisting on some precise “moment” – a favorite diversionary and dishonest tactic - and writes


Herman Sasse is therefore entirely correct when he notes, “Luther and the early Lutheran church avoided forming any theory about the ‘moment’ when the Real Presence begins, and the ‘moment’ when it ceases,” because such questions “cannot be answered from the Word of God.”


Yet, strangely, this reviewer conveniently ignores what Sasse writes in that very same paragraph and becomes guilty of the very thing of which he accuses Teigen! Speaking for himself so that those after him may not twist his confession, Sasse plainly writes


As far as Luther himself is concerned, there cannot be the slightest doubt that he ever limited the Real Presence to the instant of distribution and reception. He never abandoned the view that by the words of consecration bread and wine ‘become’ the body and blood of Christ (This is My Body Openbook 1977, p. 139).


A current Wisconsin Synod Seminary professor, Forrest Bivens, is likewise guilty of making use of the same Sasse caution for the same purpose thus attempting to enlist what would be a very determined and perturbed opponent, Luther himself. 4 (Sasse’s criticisms of the Wisconsin Synod and his defense of Tom Hardt did not endeared himself to the lads from Wisconsin.)


It is an incontrovertible truth that Drs. Luther and Chemnitz believed that the words of consecration assure us that the bread and wine before us, yes, on the altar, are the body and blood of Christ and yet at the same time cautioned that one cannot ascribe “moments to God.”  It is obvious they did not consider their view of the consecration to be “pinpointing” a moment. Now to prove Drs. Luther and Chemnitz believed this, is to prove Drs. Luther and Chemnitz believed this, as one is often reminded. However, their view, we shall see, is Formula VII’s.


Stopped Beating Your Wife Yet?


Asking the wrong or a skewered question will always get you a wrong and skewered answer. The question here is not “can we pinpoint a moment of presence?” but, “are the words of Christ true in our speaking?” The question for Formula VII is not when it is, but what it is and what it is that tells us what it is. That issue is settled in FC TD VII, specifically 73 to 87, in which there are two intimately related issues,


Misunderstanding and division has also arisen among some teachers of the Augsburg Confession regarding consecration and the common rule that there is no sacrament outside its use according to Christ’s institution (FC TD VII 73).


The matter of the consecration addressed the question of the Sacramentarians (from gross Zwinglians to the crypto-Phillipists) as to whether the Supper celebrated by Christ in the upper room is the Supper celebrated by the church today. This led to a second, logical question, then what about the Papal abuses, that of taking these “consecrated” elements and locking them up or parading them about?


FC TD VII 78 - Antidote to Receptionism


At the heart of the discussion in the Formula we find quoted Dr. Luther from his “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528.” These words were written in the crucible of the battle, Luther v. Zwingli et al. By appealing to the types of words used by Christ, Zwingli sought to separate the first supper from subsequent suppers. There are imperatives or command words (Heissende/Heissel Wort), he maintained, and declarative or action words (Thettel/T├Ątliche Wort) which simply describe what happened. Luther summarizes Zwingli’s argument


Therefore, although in the Supper Christ gave his body when he said, “this is my body,” it does not follow that if I repeated the same words, Christ’s body would immediately be present; for Christ nowhere commanded that his body should come into being out of my word (AE 37, p. 181).


Zwingli consequently maintained that if we speak the action words “This is my body” nothing would happen because these are not command words. Dr. Luther gleefully accepted Zwingli’s distinction (while in fine magpie fashion, mocking Ulrich’s grammar of which he was supremely proud) and seized the field


All he is doing thereby is to argue that in the first administration of the Supper our interpretation is correct, but not in the subsequent ones (p. 182).


Dr. Luther then counters and proceeds to secure the real presence for all subsequent Suppers,


[The action words, ‘This is my body’] are embraced in the imperative, and it is not right to separate them from the imperatives as this spirit outrageously does. Now if the action-words stand in a context of imperatives, they are no longer simple declaratives but imperatives also, for everything that the words declare does take place, by the power of the divine imperative through which they are spoken (p. 182f). 


Dr. Luther then delivers the denouement which forms our confession in this matter,


Here, too, if I were to say over all the bread there is, “This is the body of Christ,” nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Supper and say, “This is my body,” then it is his body, not because of our speaking or our declarative word, but because of his command in which he has told us so to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking (p. 184).


What God Has Joined Together…


The dominical promise and our confession is that Christ’s words are true in “our speaking” not because we are indelibly empowered, but because he has so commanded us to speak.  If “is” is “is” in Christ’s speaking, and if he has commanded us so to speak, then “is” is “is” in our speaking. To paraphrase Klaus Harms, if “is” was “is” at the Lord’s table in 33, it is at ours in 2004. This “is” is as His “is” is. We are not speaking about precise “moments” but about realities, what is, although Christ’s words were spoken in a moment of time, as are ours. However, at what precise moment in the mass, in time or in eternity this divine union takes place we do not know, but we do know what is in our speaking which is in time – the Christ’s word tell us, his body, his blood.  It is absurd to ask at what “point in time” were Christ’s words true at the first Supper, or to doubt that they are when we speak them according to his command in our Supper, they simply are, not may be, true. The present tense ejstin tells us what is and what is present. “Is” demands a presence; “is” invites faith; “is” demands an “Amen.”  


This moment issue is a red herring to divert us from the real issue of the real assurance by the real word of Christ as to the real presence of which the reality words “This is my body” assure and comfort us. Faith needs these words to know what is present, words which are not simply true in my eating, but are true because of “his command in which he has told us so to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking.” Indeed, these words are true not for the sake of themselves but for the sake of the believer to whom his body and blood are given for the forgiveness of sins.


If one wishes to argue that “is” is not “is” in our speaking, as do Becker and the Wisconsin Synod, then one must contend that “is” is not “is” in Christ’s, for Christ “has attached his own command and deed to our speaking.” (Please see the article in the next e-Magpie, Vol. 2:4, to see that the Wisconsin Synod has done precisely that!) Luther issues this challenge


We now ask further whether Christ has commanded us to speak falsely when he commands and bids us to speak these action-words, “take, eat, this is my body,” since they were spoken entirely in his own person and as his own words.  If he commands us to speak falsely, that is his affair; but if he commands us to speak the truth, his body must certainly be present in the Supper by virtue not of our speaking but of his command, bidding, and action (AE 37, p. 184).


The precise issue here with Zwingli is the certainty of the words “This is my body” in our speaking, which obviously means they are true in our eating. We do not know of a consecrated bread or cup that is not to be eaten and drunk. That Luther does not speak of the eating and drinking here and elsewhere is immaterial, obviously he is not obsessing about a moment or a presence that is not for eating and drinking. It is absurd to accuse Luther, as some do de facto by accusing others, of doing so for that was not the immediate issue. Yes, the words we speak are true about this bread and this cup which the celebrant holds and speaks the words “This is my body” which he gives to us to eat and drink. The words we speak are only true because “he has told us to speak and to do and has attached his own command deed to our speaking.” Yes, these words speak realities, not potentialities. They speak of what is, not of what propletically may be true. They confess a real communion, not a “preclusive uniting.”5 That is sophistry.


This bread, which is his body, is the bread spoken about, is the bread he gives, is the bread we eat. To say that we can only be certain that the words are true in our eating is to teach a “moment of certainty” and casts doubt about the words the celebrant speaks, “This is my body.” “Why are they not true in his speaking” one must ask these receptionists. As Dr. Luther said to Zwingli, an uncertain text is no text, and quipped about him, “Here no one is at home” (AE 37 p. 168). God’s word is powerful, what it calls, is. And what is true in Christ’s speaking, is true in ours. It is axiomatic that there is a separation in time from our speaking and our eating which naturally follows. Indeed, the next section of the Formula (79-82) gives us three reasons why this speaking must precede, in time, the distribution, the third of which speaks specifically to this issue


Third, it is done so that the elements of bread and wine are sanctified and consecrated in this holy practice, whereby Christ’s body and blood are offered to us to eat and to drink, as Paul says [1 Cor. 10:16], “This cup of blessing that we bless…” This of course takes place in no other way than through the repetition and recitation of the Words of Institution (FC TD VII 82).


The Sacrament is bound up in time and moments because we are, something my back reminds me of every moment. Yes, we do not “ascribe moments” to God, but he does to us with the word “is.” To cast doubt about the truthfulness of the words of the consecrator/Christ can only harm faith, that is, to say that our speaking of the words “this is my body” means “well, they may or may not be true at this moment, we don’t know, but we can be certain they will be true when we eat and drink.” In an effort to rescue the body of Christ from marauding mice, sudden outbreaks of fire or adoration, some inject doubt into the Sacrament under the guise of “not setting a precise moment.” Why do some “insist and demand” that we cannot be sure if the words spoken by the pastor are true about the bread and wine before him? As Luther asked, “Are those same action-words of Christ false or true words?” (AE 37 p. 181).


Our Lord did not say, “Take, eat, this is my body at this precise moment.” Nor did he say, “Take, eat, this is my body when you eat it.” He said, “Take eat, this IS my body.” True at the moment he spoke, true when we speak. Yes, we don’t know when, but we know what is and which words tell us that, the words “This is his body” spoken in time about an eternal banquet.


… Let Not Man Separate


The discussion from which FC TD VII 78 is drawn centers on the command words “Do this” which give efficacy and truth to the words “This is my body” spoken by the celebrant. The point is that the command words unite Christ’s powerful instituting word to our speaking of that word, which word and power is not ours, but Christ’s.  Therefore it strikes one odd that what Lutherans should be joining together, there enters a strange “distinguishing” among Wisconsin Synod theologians. We turn to the seminal paper on this issue for the Wisconsin Synod teaching entitled, “The Lord’s Supper: Consecration and Moment”6 by the sainted Dr. Seigbert Becker whose impressive scholarly palmar├Ęs and involvement in this issue are well known. He writes,


It is of the greatest significance also that the Formula [VII] distinguishes sharply in this connection between the words spoken by the minister and the words spoken by Christ at the first Supper. Those who ascribe a Romanizing power to the words of institution usually stress the fact that the Savior at every celebration is speaking through the mouth of His called and ordained servant. But while there is an element of truth in that assertion, yet it should be noted clearly how the Confessions here so clearly draw a contrast between the speaking of the pastor and the speaking of Christ (p. 4, emphasis added).


I can only ask what Lutheran teaches a character indelebilis or a transubstantiation that these words of Becker are here necessary?  Is it a Romanizing belief to say that the words of the celebrant are the words of Christ and speak of the same reality? Of course not. The sharp distinction and contrast between our speaking and Christ’s was drawn by Zwingli, not by Luther and the Confessors who joined them together with the binding words “Do this”!  


Dr. Becker, unlike most Synodical Conference writers who invariably ignore it, actually tackles the key passage 


The next words [FC TD VII 78] quoted from the Formula might conceivably be understood as favoring the view that the bread and wine become the body of Christ in the very moment of the consecration. Yet a careful reading will show that Luther guards against this view.


Again, after misrepresenting the issue as one about “the very moment,” Dr. Becker, after quoting FC TD VII 78 conveniently only in the German, bluntly concludes


It is crystal clear in this quotation [FC TD VII 78] that when Luther and the Confessions speak of our speaking or recitation in the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, they had in mind just our speaking of the words “This is my body.” When we speak these words, our words do not have a special efficacy, as is the case in Roman theology (p. 4).


Dr. Becker wrests the words (which he cites the Latin) non propter nostrum pronuntiationes, aut quod haec verba pronuntiata hanc habeant efficacium7 from their connective context. Yes, our words alone with no command have no efficacy, but only because Christ “has attached his own command and deed to our speaking” they do. Dr. Becker turns the Confessional quote on its head and offers Zwingli’s argument here!  Yes our words do have a special efficacy, not as Rome claims (character indelibis), but because of his command that we speak and do.


Becker’s conclusion “when we speak these words, our words do not have a special efficacy, as is the case in Roman theology” inserts a disconcerting and misleading note in this discussion. The issue at hand is not the character indelebilis of Rome, although FC TD VII 78 can be used against that excremental raving of Rome, but our words do have this efficacy because they are Christ’s words “attached to his own command and deed.”


This essential point is also obscured by Wisconsin Synod Seminary Professor Forrest Bivens in his course notes on this matter.  Paraphrasing Dr. Becker he writes,


[FC VII] does a couple of significant things in this connection. First it sharply distinguishes between Christ’s first, original words of institution and our recitation and speaking in connection with our celebrations (p. 30, emphasis added).


Bivens then proceeds to quote FC TD VII 75 – 77 which he incorrectly attributes as 77-79, but conveniently omits this vital center section!


For where His institution is observed and His words are spoken over bread and cup [wine], and the consecrated bread and cup [wine] are distributed, Christ Himself, through the spoken words, is still efficacious by virtue of the first institution, through His word, which He wishes to be there repeated. As Chrysostom says (in Serm. de Pass.) in his Sermon on the Passion: Christ Himself prepares this table and blesses it; for no man makes the bread and wine set before us the body and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The words are spoken by the mouth of the priest, but by God’s power and grace, by the word, where He speaks: “This is My body,” the elements presented are consecrated in the Supper (Triglotta p. 999, emphasis in the original).


Professor Gawrisch in his scathing critique of Teigen’s book offers a quote attributed as “SD VII, 74, 75”  actually quotes SD VII 74, 75a, leaving off the last sentence of 75 (the first sentence in the above quote).  Bivens concludes his truncation by casting the same “Romanizing” taint on this issue as Dr. Becker 


This emphasis should serve as an antidote to all Romanizing voices who in an improper or imbalanced way ascribe power to words spoken through ordained servants (p. 30).


Later in a discussion of the necessity of using the conflation of texts (the so-called Words of Institution) Professor Bivens quotes FC TC VII 79, in which the Confessors note that the recitation of them should “… in no way should be omitted” and concludes


When we remember that the real presence is brought about through Christ’s original word, command, and promise rather than by the speaking of the officiant, the tendency to insist on a rigid liturgical formula will hopefully be resisted. 


How that conclusion can be drawn from a quote stressing the necessity of using the Verba is a mystery to me, but the implication is clear, the recitation of the Verba is something separate from the instituting word of Christ. Dr. Luther addresses this separating in these words which immediately follow the Confessional citation


But if, according to this spirit’s celebrated reasoning, it were proper to separate God’s command and our speaking, he would not need to teach us that our speaking would accomplish nothing (AE 37 p. 185).


Why some Wisconsin Synod teachers feel this need, following Zwingli, is a mystery to me.


This Synodical Conference scotoma is seen again in a discussion of the purpose of the consecration (FC TD VII 79-82.) Dr. Becker summarizes the third of Formula’s three reasons this way, “to consecrate or bless the bread and wine for this holy use.” Period. Not included is the conclusion of the sentence


in order that the body and blood of Christ may therewith be administered to us to be eaten and to be drunk, as Paul declares [1 Cor. 10,16]: The cup of blessing which we bless, which indeed occurs in no other way than through the repetition and recitation of the words of institution (FC TC VII 82).


How ironic that the Wisconsin Synod view of the consecration “setting aside for a holy use” is the same as that of the “Confessio Helvetica Posterior of 1562, Article 19.” (Cf. Sasse’s This is My Body, page 132 fn. 66).


Swedish theologian Seth Erlandsson, no stranger to this debate, in an essay entitled “The Biblical and Lutheran Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper” also discusses this third of the three purposes and injects this thought,


The FC also rejects the “papistic consecration or blessing which ascribes to the speaking of the words, as a work of the priest, the power to effect the sacrament” (WLS Essay file, p. 8).


True enough, but what purpose does this have for the issue at hand, the discussion of the Lutheran view of the effective consecration? Nothing but to cloud the matter and mislead the reader. In this regard Sasse notes that the “fundamental difference” between the Roman (with its character indelebilis) and Lutheran understanding of the consecration that is, that the power is not in our, but in Christ’s words spoken by the celebrant “Zwingli and his followers failed to understand8”.


So, the words, it seems, that also need to be chalked on our tables today are the words “Do this” which give power to our speaking.9


Nihil Rule


Having established the power of the Words of Institution, the question naturally arises, what about the Roman private masses and when the “sacrament” is locked up or paraded around and not consumed?  Answer?


Nothing (Latin nihil) has the character of a sacrament apart from the use [usus] instituted by Christ or the divinely instituted action [actio]. (That is, when Christ’s institution is not observed as he established it, there is no sacrament) (FC TD VII 85).


Saving the involved history of the Nihil Rule for another day, suffice it to say, that in its use here in the Formula is primarily to address the Roman offenses, to which this view of the consecration might seem to leave the body of Christ vulnerable. No worries, my Australian mates would say. There is no sacrament here, no body and blood to desecrate. Rome, in this instance, has changed the word, the institution, for the Sacrament was instituted to be eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins. No hocus pocus allowed here. The Formula says,


But this “blessing” or the recitation of the Words of Institution of Christ by itself does not make a valid sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as Christ administered it, is not observed (as for example, when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, eaten but is instead locked up [in the tabernacle], make into a sacrifice, or carried around in a procession (FC TD VII 83).


The Nihil Rule Backwards


The key word in the Nihil Rule is “if” not “until”  - not “until” the entire action is observed, but “If” it is not. The Confessors are not saying that which is NOT YET distributed is not the body of Christ, but that which is consecrated NOT TO BE distributed. The “until” interpretation is the argument used by those obsessed over the moment issue and results in receptionism (crass and de facto). For example, Wisconsin Synod theologian Adolf Hoenecke, despite saying the union takes place through the Words of Institution, says “in the moment of eating Christ’s body and blood are under the bread and wine.”10  It is ironic that, in accusing those who believe that “when we say in the Supper, ‘This is my body’, then it is his body” of trying to set a moment of presence, these de facto receptionists do precisely that, set a moment of presence! The Nihil Rule is used backwards when it is used to deny that one can say there is a presence of Christ’s true body prior to the reception by the communicant in a properly administered celebration.


This de facto receptionism is seen on the WELS web site Q/A


There is a so-called “consecrationist” view that insists that the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood is a reality while or immediately after the words of institution or consecration are spoken. So they insist and demand that the body and blood be acknowledged with the consecrated elements on the altar or in the hand (or chalice or cup) of the distributing minister, even prior to distribution and reception.


The so-called “receptionist” view is that the real presence may be said to be a reality only as or after the communicant receives the consecrated elements. Prior to that point in time it is inappropriate to say the body and blood are present with the consecrated elements.


The third view simply says that the real presence becomes a reality in the whole “usus” or “actio” (Latin words) of the Lord’s Supper – which consists of the consecration, distribution, and reception of the bread and wine, that is, the whole sacramental action. This view basically says the precise moment in time when the real presence begins or ends is not known and that Scripture simply doesn’t give information to satisfy human curiosity on the issue. But what we do know is that ultimately what is offered and received by communicants in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s true body and blood together with the bread and wine. (Can you say “consubstantiation?” Editor.)


One quickly notices how the anonymous (ah, such a luxury) writer caricatures the so-called “consecrationist” position; “satisfy human curiosity,” “precise moment,” “demand,” “insist.”  Who are these people, by the way?  Notice, too, the overt omission of any reference to the belief of these so-called “consecrationist” (a term not favored by most who do believe that when we say “This is My body,” it is his body) that the consecrated bread, the body of Christ, is to be distributed and received.


Now maybe I am missing something here, so maybe my ecclesial betters (who are legion) can tell me, how is the novel view called the “usist” position not, in reality, the “receptionist’s.” If one cannot assert that what the celebrant holds in his hand and cup (that which Christ calls his body and his blood) “even prior to distribution” – and that which is uncertain is not to be believed even as a private opinion, let alone adored - then how is that different in reality from the receptionist position which is described here as saying


That the real presence may be said to be a reality only as or after the communicant receives the consecrated elements. Prior to that point in time it is inappropriate to say the body and blood are present with the consecrated elements.


How can one say, as these “usists” say, the body of Christ is present in the consecration, but you cannot say the body of Christ is present in the consecration? This contradiction is explained variously as a “preclusive uniting,” a “prolepsis,” or here, “ultimately.” As fellow Magpie Fr. Peter Berg says, “Beware of the prolepsis, it’s the devil’s mask.” 


The key words in the description of the so called “usist” position are


The real presence becomes a reality in the whole “usus” or “actio” (Latin words) of the Lord’s Supper – which consists of the consecration, distribution, and reception of bread and wine (sic).


Does this anonymous author wish to say that the reception is a part of the reality-becoming of the body and blood in the Sacrament? Is there confusion between that which creates or produces or effects the true presence of Christ’s body and blood and that which constitutes a proper celebration of the Supper? Wisconsin Synod Professor Arnold Koelpin summarizes the Synodical Conference view, “In the sacrament, essence and use are one; and outside of the use, the essence is not there nor is Christ’s body and blood.”11


While we would agree that the essence of what constitutes a proper sacrament is the usus, (“present, distributed and received”) it is the Word “This is my body” which tells us what is present.  As Dr. Chemnitz notes in his Enchiridion


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 (Ministry, Word and Sacraments, CPH, 1981, p. 121).


The word of our Lord Jesus Christ, alone, produces the real presence; this real presence is instituted for our eating and drinking for the forgiveness of sins, not for locking up and parading around. That which is not consecrated to be eaten and drunk is not a sacrament, as Chemnitz again notes,


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 then, 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.  (ibid, p. 121)


Though Wisconsin Synod writers will speak of the presence in the “use” of the Sacrament, the test that they understand this differently than the Confessors is when you ask the simple question, “What is in my hand?” The answer you get is invariably “mush, mush.”


Not surprising is that the WELS’ web site’s description of the receptionist position is the Synodical Conference’s, which position was defended in a paper majestically entitled “A Reaffirmation of the Scripture-Based Teaching of the Synodical Conference on the Presence’s of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper” by Wisconsin Synod Professor Gawrisch who offers no mush-mush equivocation by the inclusion of this quote from Aegidius Hunnius used by Dr. C. F. W. Walter in his pastoral theology and quoted by Dr. Francis Pieper in his Dogmatics text (How about that provenance!)


As the bread is the communion of the body of Christ only in the act of eating and not before, so too, the bread is not sacramentally united with the body till this communion and this reception takes place (WLS essay file, p. 2).


A Summary


The Formula’s answer to Zwinglians and cyrpto-Philippists is that our supper is the same as Christ, for his word is true in our speaking. This is not magic or hocus pocus, where by a recitation of the proper syllables the body and blood of Christ are called down. No, these words, spoken at his command, speak realities, so one should not accuse the Confessors of hocus pocus-Romanizing tendencies. The answer to Rome’s abuse was not that the bread is not the body of Christ until eaten, but their bread is nihil because they changed the word. The Confessors’ concern was not about “demanding” that the consecrated bread on the altar is the body of Christ, but their concern was about that word, spoken over that bread, which is true in our speaking, which “demands” a body. I suspect they would demand to know why a Lutheran doesn’t believe that.


Confessing what the Formula confesses will have great implications for one’s practice, how one handles and treats the elements. For that reason I think many fear to truly embrace the real presence as taught in Scripture and as confessed and practiced by the Confessors. I suspect it also has implications about what some have said about some theologians, some now sainted, one very recently. Apologies, even those given posthumously, are always owed. But most of all, it has to do with the care of souls to whom we direct the words of our Lord to cling to and to believe, “Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you.”  This is not leptological nit picking. We are reminded


For, we neither want to, are able to, nor ought to let any clever human ideas – no matter how attractive or impressive they may seem – lead us astray from the simple, clear, plain meaning of the Word and testament of Christ and into a foreign position, one which teaches other than the way the words read. Therefore, we shall instead understand and believe them in their simple sense (FC TD VII 92).


So what do I believe? I believe what Luther believe, which is what the Confessors believed, which is what Scripture teaches, and which every Lutheran pastor confesses and ought teach upon threat of being charged with perjury, and that is,


Here too if I were to say over all the bread there is, “This is the body of Christ,” nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Supper and say, “This is my body,” then it is his body, not because of our speaking or our declarative word, but because of his command in which he has told us to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking. (FC TD VII 78)


Yes, perhaps that old hound dog Bill was trying to slip the perjury charge by his parsing of the word “is,” but Lutherans shouldn’t, for finally, in its “simple sense,” “is” is “is.”    §



The Reverend John W. Berg serves Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California the Supper every service.



Hocus Pocus from the elision of hoc est corpus.

2 Like Martin Luther “for our sakes He suffers and is contemptuously handled both on cross and altar” (WA XXIII 156) or Martin Chemnitz citing the Nicene Canon “On the holy table of the Lord there lie two things which are present and set before us, [bread and cup] then also the Lamb of God Himself with His precious body and blood.”  The Lord’s Supper CPH, 1979 p. 155.

3 “what remains” My obligatory gratuitous use of Latin (see The Motley Magpie Vol. I:4, pp. 11-12).

4 Professor Forrest Bivens, summer quarter notes. p. 32.

5 Professor Arnold Koelpin in “The Sacramental Presence in the Theology of the Synodical Conference” WLQ Vol. 83:4 p. 268 cites Adolf Hoenecke’s Dogmatik Vol. IV p. 127f and writes “For this reason the uniting which occurs in the consecration is called preclusive, that is, its result first takes place in connection with the action of eating and drinking.”

6 January 8, 1979. Available for downloading from the essay file at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library.

7 “not on account of our speaking or because these words when pronounced have this efficacy” - which he notes is a translation of the German word “Thetelwort.”

8  This is My Body, Openbook Pub., Adelaide, 1977, p. 37.

8  Luther liked to have the thema probandum before him. In his battle with Zwingli he chalked “Hoc est corpus meum” on the table and covered it with the velvet tablecloth (AE  38 p. 52).

10 As quoted in “A Reaffirmation of the Scripture-Based Teaching of the Synodical Conference on the Presence’s of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.” Professor Wilbert Gawrisch. WLS essay file.

11 op. cit. p. 271.