Academic journal article Trames

The Concept of the Communication of the Majesty in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz

Academic journal article Trames

The Concept of the Communication of the Majesty in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz

Article excerpt


Christology has been one of the special features of the Lutheran theological tradition that has distinguished it from other theological traditions. This specific Lutheran Christology emerged in the theological controversies among the Protestants in the sixteenth century. There were a number of controversies inside the emerging Protestantism. One of them started as a dispute over the Lord's Supper. The principal issue was the presence of Christ's body and blood in the sacrament. Soon the argument moved to Christology as the basis of the Eucharistic doctrine. This controversy had both historical and theological implications. Historically the controversy was one of the main reasons of division of the Protestant movement into two main branches--into Lutheran and Calvinist or Reformed traditions. The issues connected with understanding the Eucharist separate the two Protestant traditions even nowadays. Theologically this controversy was the main impetus for conceptualisation and development of the Lutheran Christology. And through Christology it had a considerable influence on the whole of the Lutheran theology and spirituality. (1)

Initially the controversy started in the third decade of the sixteenth century as a debate between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. Mutatis mutandis it continued after Luther's death. According to Luther and his followers the body and blood of Christ are really present in the Eucharist and according to their adversaries, at first Zwingli and later Calvin and his followers, the presence is not real in the same way.

Although after Luther's death Melanchthon became the theological leader of the Protestants he nevertheless tried to avoid a clear confession and did not take a firm position in this subject (Seeberg 1959:509). He agreed that the divinity of Christ was present in the Lord's Supper but he did not believe in the unity of the body of Christ and bread in the Eucharist (Seeberg 1959:447, Lohse 1998;130; Green 1978:211).

At first the main defender of the Lutheran position was Johannes Brenz (1499-1570). For defending the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist he developed a special Christology. According to Brenz the two natures of Christ--his divinity and humanity--are so closely connected that the properties of the divine nature are transferred to Christ's human nature (Brandy 1992:172, 180ff). Among other divine properties the humanity of Christ receives the property of omnipresence. Because of this the body of Christ fills the whole universe. The technical term for the omnipresence of Christ's human nature is ubiquitas, ubiquity. (2) Because of this ubiquity the body and blood of Christ are present in the Eucharist.

The concept of ubiquity was criticised not only by the Reformed adversaries but by a number of Lutheran theologians as well (Lohse 1998:132). One of those was Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), a former student of Melanchthon who was appointed superintendent in 1567 in Brunswick. He did not accept Brenz's idea of replacement of human properties by divine properties in Christ. For him there are essential properties that are not transferable (Lohse 1998:132). Chemnitz grounded the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist not in the christological consideration but in the words of institution (Ibid.) For Chemnitz the function of Christology was more limited. Its aim was only to demonstrate the possibility of the real presence of the body and blood, not to guarantee the ubiquity of Christ's human nature, the necessary implication of which were the real presence of His body and blood in the Eucharist. In the course of the controversy he developed his own Christology. In 1570 he wrote and published his main christological treatise titled "On the Two Natures in Christ, Concerning Their Hypostatic Union, the Communication of Attributes, and Other Related Questions." (3) This work became one of the classical Lutheran Christologies. …

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