Luther vs. Zwingli 5: Humanity and Omnipresence
Though Luther believed Zwingli’s view of “spiritual presence” downplayed Christ’s humanity, Zwingli argued that it was Luther’s view that actually demoted Christ from his proper place as fully Man.
According to Zwingli, Luther’s fusion of Christ’s divine and human natures was a dangerous flirtation with Eutychianism (the heresy that claimed Christ’s natures were fused together, creating a third kind of nature), or even worse, with Docetism (the heresy that Christ only appeared to be human). Zwingli believed Luther had so emphasized Christ’s divinity that the physical aspects of his humanity were being dismissed or worse, denied.
Zwingli appealed to Augustine as a supporter of his view that the sacrament is a sign and that Christ’s physical, human nature cannot be omnipresent. Zwingli also appealed to Scripture in his defense, not merely to reason. Zwingli insisted that Christ’s words of institution should be understood as “This signifies my body” instead of the literal “This is my body.”
As Zwingli cited the Greek text, Luther interrupted him and ordered him to read German or Latin. Zwingli continued to use Greek, as a scholar of the humanist tradition who believed that the language mattered very much. Translation did not equal equivalency. The absence of the word “is” in the Greek was important to Zwingli because Luther had chosen to hang his entire argument on the literal meaning of that word.
Luther remained adamant that the text should be interpreted literally. So Zwingli pushed back at Luther by telling him to interpret literally Jesus’ statement “I am no more in the world” with regard to the Eucharist. He also culled several examples from the Old Testament where “is” is interpreted metaphorically (Ezekiel 5:1, Isaiah 9:14, etc.).
The third session of the Marburg Colloquy (Sunday morning, October 3) featured the Christological debate that formed the heart of the entire controversy. Zwingli argued that Luther’s view denigrated the humanity of Christ by not allowing Christ’s human body to remain in heaven, at the right hand of the Father. Luther argued that Zwingli’s view denigrated Christ’s humanity by denying its presence in the Lord’s Supper.
Zwingli believed that Luther’s view was particularly dangerous, for if Christ’s humanity shares the attribute of omnipresence with his divinity, then one could naturally conclude that Christ’s body is in every piece of bread everywhere and even in every part of nature.
Because the Scriptures and the ecumenical creeds demanded a strict distinction between the natures of Christ, Zwingli sought to interpret the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper spiritually. For Zwingli, Luther’s affirmation of a human body’s omnipresence inevitably negated the very essence of what a human body is entirely.
Luther responded to Zwingli’s Christological argument by again appealing to Christ’s words of institution. If Jesus was speaking truthfully when he said “This is my body,” then God’s omnipotence must govern Christ’s body, so that his body is not corporeal in the same way other human bodies are.
Zwingli agreed that God has the power to make a body be in different places at the same time, but he saw no Scriptural proof to indicate that this happens in the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, Zwingli believed Luther’s interpretation weakened his Christology, neglecting important aspects of Christ’s identification with our humanity.
written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2008 Kingdom People Blog.