Eucharist and Protestant Reformers


The Protestant reformers were directed by a fundamental consciousness of the power of the Word of God, Faith and forgiveness of sins. They tried to restore the original meal setting of the Eucharist, and prefer to call the Lord’s Supper. They stressed little of the sacrificial aspect of the mass.

Martin Luther

He considered three things of the medieval theology of the Eucharist could lead to disastrous consequences.

            1) The Doctrine of Concomitance: According to the Luther the faithful should be given the cup by all means otherwise they will be receiving communion in a spiritual way – only seeing the chalice with the consecrated wine and share the cup in desire. The Meal setting was not there if the chalice is not given to the faithful. For him Jesus’ command “do this in remembrance of me” which is to be related to both bread and cup. Then he argued that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper more attention must be given to the proclamation of the Word and to the communion and it is not enough to emphasizing the consecration of the bread and wine alone.

            2) Real Presence: He believed in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine and he based his belief in the NT accounts of the institution and of John chapter 6. He accepted the words “this is my body, this is my blood” as a real identification. No further explanation was needed for him he did not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation as it was just a private opinion for him. He proposed a new term “consubstantiation”. Luther develops the idea of “ubiquity” ie., the capacity to be in many places at once (belongs to the divine nature of Christ is communicated to the human nature of Christ). Hence Christ is not confined to a physical space but can be present in many places in the sacrament of the altar. He also taught that the sacramental presence is limited to the celebration; it is an event confined by certain time, so as soon as the communion is over presence of Christ in the elements too is over. He rejected the Eucharistic devotion or preservation of the sacred species.

            3) The Sacrifice of Mass: Luther considered Eucharist as a gift that we receive from God; it is not a work of a man. He felt that the official teaching of the Church treated mass as a sacrifice, a human work, a merit, these ideas we do not find in the New Testament. He says…. ‘No priest can offer a sacrifice as Christ has offered for all once for all…’ He relies on the Letter to the Hebrews 10:10-14.

Ulrich Zwingli

For him any sacrament is not capable of giving us grace; it is from Christ through the Spirit alone that we receive grace and faith. He says eating the flesh of Christ means believing in Him according to John 6: 63. He argues that Christ is neither present in a bodily manner in the Eucharist nor can be eaten in a bodily manner. He is present in the Eucharist only through the Spirit and only eaten spiritually by faith. A sacrament is there only to testify our faith, to unite us in the community of the body of Christ, and as an act of thanksgiving and remembrance for the saving death of Christ. So for him the words of Jesus “this is my body” must be interpreted as “this signifies my body”.

John Calvin

The Teaching of Calvin (1509-64) about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist draws from Luther and Zwingli. But he criticizes both; he criticizes Zwingli for not giving sufficient force to the real presence of Christ, by treating the bread and wine merely as symbols and Luther for not rejecting forcefully the notion of transubstantiation. For Calvin the presence of Christ in the elements is the effect of Power (virtues) of Christ. This power is the real substance of the sacrament. It is not something exercised from afar but constituted a real, mysterious presence of Christ in the bread and wine.

Recommended Articles and Books


A)    Eucharist and Controversies

B)    First Eucharistic Controversy: RADBERTUS AND RATRAMNUS

C)    Second Eucharistic Controversy: BERENGAR AND LANFRANC

D)    Eucharist and Scholastic Theology

E)     Eucharist and Doctrine of Concomitance

F)     Eucharist and St. Thomas Aquinas

G)    Eucharist and Protestant Reformers

H)    Eucharist and Council of Trent

I)       Eucharist and Post-Council of Trent



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