Today is the anniversary of the start of a meeting of the early Christian reformers -- a meeting that produced one of my favorite stories.
The Marburg Colloquy (depicted here) started on Oct. 1, 1529, as an effort by leaders of the Protestant Reformation to agree on matters of doctrine. In large measure they succeeded, finding common ground on more than a dozen matters.
But when it came to Holy Communion, also known as the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, the views of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli simply could not be brought into harmony, and the effort fell apart. In some ways it was a foretaste of what would become the atomization of the Protestant movement, which today is divided into hundreds of different denominations and branches.
So after four days the colloquy broke up.
But while they were arguing over what happens in the Eucharist, here's my brief version of how things developed, drawn from several accounts:
Luther argued that when Jesus said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood," he meant it. Zingli, by contrast, was convinced that Jesus was being metaphorical. Back and forth the argument went.
Finally Luther wrote these words on the table, "Hoc Est Corpus Meum," the Latin for This Is My Body. That, said Luther, is what Jesus said and that is what Jesus meant at the Last Supper.
No, said Zwingli. Jesus, he pointed out, didn't speak Latin. He spoke Aramaic. And, said Zwingli, in Aramaic there would have been no "is" verb. The phrase would have been, roughly, "This: my body." So he meant the bread and wine to be representative, symbolic.
(Remind you of a recent president who argued that the answer to a question depended on what the meaning of the word "is" is? I thought so.)
In the end, Luther declared that he would rather drink blood with the papists than mere wine with the Zwinglians.
And still today you have branches of Christianity that are Zwinglian in their approach to the Eucharist, meaning they are "memorialists." That is to say, they view the sacrament as a way of memorializing Jesus and remembering his life and ministry. Other branches, however, are referred to as "Real Presence" groups. Which is to say that they believe that somehow Christ is really present in the sacrament. Now, there are several different explanations of how that Real Presence happens, including the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the Lutheran doctrine called consubstantiation.
And it is not unusual to find members of Real Presence churches (such as my Presbyterian Church [USA] denomination) who do not know the difference between a Real Presence belief and a memorialist belief and who have no idea where their denomination stands.
But if we get into the subject of biblical and theological ignorance and illiteracy among people in the pews, we'll be here all through October at least.
(I've seen the artwork I used here today in several places around the Internet but haven't been able to identify the artist. Anyone know?)
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AND DON'T SLAM THE DOOR ON YOUR WAY OUT
Six of the 28 members of a Texas panel created to decide which science textbooks should be used in public schools there reject the theory of evolution, it's reported. The idea of Texas seceding from the U.S. seems somehow more acceptable every day.
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P.S.: The Pew Research Center today issued an intriguing report called "A Portrait of Jewish Americans." I plan to write about it later this week.