Wittenberg Concord on Body and Bread

Wittenberg Concord on Body and Bread

Luther arrived to the Wittenberg conference with dark suspicions in his mind. Just when agreement between German and Swiss Protestants seemed to be on track, Heinrich Bullinger had issued a new edition of Ulrich Zwingli's work, praising a man whose theology Luther loathed. And Martin Bucer, who was spearheading this reconciliation, had penned the preface to an edition of Oecolampadius' letters. Oecolampadius held Zwinglian views. What kind of signal were these two sending? Well he, Luther, wouldn't back down an inch from his doctrine!

Martin Bucer had worked for seven years to bring off this conference between Lutheran and Swiss theologians. Protestants were divided on how to view the sacraments. Some felt Christ's body and blood were actually present in the bread and wine. Others said the bread and wine were no more than symbols. Because of this disagreement, Protestants found it hard to fellowship with each other. Martin Bucer was convinced that agreement could be reached and said so to anyone who would listen and some who wouldn't.

At first few seemed interested. But Bucer persisted. His optimism had its effect. He had a good talk with Luther's right hand man, Philip Melanchthon, and Melanchthon became hopeful. Luther himself began to think that disagreements could be worked out.

Then the publication of the two books slapped him in his face. When the meeting got under way, he said he'd not take up any other discussion until the difficulties over the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) were resolved.

After Bucer protested his innocence against Luther's suspicions, Luther questioned other Swiss delegates. Finally, he was satisfied that there was indeed substantial agreement. Melanchthon, sure that nothing good could come from the meeting, had tried to block it from opening and showed up late. Luther asked Melanchthon to draft an agreement.

Still doubtful about the whole thing, Melanchthon did as asked. He presented the draft of a concord on this day, May 26, 1536. It stated that Christ's real body was taken with the bread--essentially the Lutheran position. Those who took it unworthily damned themselves.

That Sunday, Swiss and Lutherans joined in communion together. On Monday the delegates signed the concord with the understanding that it would not go into effect until their churches agreed and everyone left Wittenberg hopeful of ultimate agreement.

It was a hope doomed to disappointment. Bucer had given Luther a copy of the Swiss confession of faith. Luther could not accept it. And earlier, Luther had called the now-dead Zwingli a Nestorian, an insult the Swiss were unwilling to overlook. The moment for agreement passed. Polite discussion continued for some years, but in the end, Bucer himself lost interest and the effort died.

Bibliography:

  1. Manschreck, Clyde Leonard. Melanchthon, the Quiet Reformer. New York, Abingdon Press, 1958.
  2. "Wittenberg, Concord of." Schaff-Herzog New Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1949 - 1950.
  3. "Wittenberg, Concord of." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  4. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007.

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