Monday, November 22, 2010

The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century by Jill Raitt

The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century by Jill Raitt is about the debate between Calvinists (represented by Theodore Beza) and Lutherans (represented by Jacob Andreae) over the Lord's Supper, the Person of Christ, Baptism, and Predestination. Raitt is a Roman Catholic and does a remarkable job of staying very objective throughout. She has dug deep into the primary source material and as far as historical theology goes it would be hard to imagine somebody doing a better job than she has. The book isn't cheap. It's published by Oxford University Press and retails for $111. However, you can find them going for around $15 used on Amazon.

The first two chapters deal with the political background of the Colloquy. Nobody comes away squeaky clean. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all end up looking pretty bad at various points throughout the period. Throughout the book both Andreae and Beza appear to be acting dishonestly at different points.

Chapter 3 deals with the debate over the Lord's Supper. Pages 98-99 give a nice summary provided by Beza of the agreements and disagreements between the Calvinists and the Lutherans. The Calvinists are referred to as the Swiss while the Lutherans are referred to as the Württembergers.

Agreements and Disagreements

With regard to the sacramental presence, we agree on the following:
  1. The Lord's Supper is composed of two things, the signs and the signified.
  2. By the Lord's command, the signs are bread and wine and the signified are his body and blood.
  3. Jesus Christ and his benefits are inseparable.
  4. The signs and the signified are joined by a sacramental conjunction.
  5. The signs are not bare and empty but present to both worthy and unworthy what they signify.
  6. The fathers have siad that the body of the Lord is In, Under, and With the bread.
There is disagreement on the following:

The mode of conjunction of the signs and the signified.

  1. The Württembergers teach that there is a real and substantial conjunction of the bread and body so that with the bread, the body is received into the mouth by both the worthy and the unworthy. The Swiss affirm a sacramental conjunction, which they teach is relative so that the body remains in heaven and the bread on earth. The body is therefore not presented in its corporeal essence to the mouth of the worthy and the unworthy.
  2. The Württembergers understand by the words In, With, or Under the bread and wine, the real and sacramental conjunction of substances her on earth. The bread is taken orally, but in an incomprehensible manner that is neither natural nor local. The Swiss teach that these words indicate a relative conjunction or a correspondence between the bread and the body by which the signs are offered to the mouth and the body and blood of the Lord to the soul.
There is agreement on the reception of the sacrament.

  1. All who approach receive the signs orally, but the worthy unto life and the unworthy unto condemnation.
  2. The spiritual reception by faith, proper to those who approach worthily and who alone receive the signified thing (res), is salutary.
  3. The manner of receiving the signified things is incomprehensible and a mystery better adored than too much investigated.
There is disagreement on the mode of manducation.

The Württembergers teach oral manducation of the body of Christ by both the worthy and the unworthy, the former to life and the latter to condemnation. The Swiss teach that the signified things are presented to the soul and so are received spiritually only by the faithful, since only they possess the instrument by which Christ and his benefits may be received. Consequently, the unworthy are culpable of the body and blood of the Lord not because they have taken them unworthily but because they have rejected them by their incredulity and impenitence.
Beza and Andreae both show that they understand the position of the other. But I wasn't very happy with the way the debate went. Both men seemed to be heavily influenced by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and St. John of Damascus (in that order) and much of the debate seemed to be wasted arguing over philosophical points. Andreae showed that he understood Aristotle better than Beza did and Beza proved himself to be the better logician but Luther did a much better job in his debate with Zwingli of sticking to the Biblical text itself in his arguments. The Calvinist position is certainly based upon philosophical presuppositions but the Lutheran view is not so I don't know why Andreae kept arguing like it was. Beza, just like most modern Calvinists, kept insisting that the Lutherans taught consubstantiation despite Andreae's attempts to correct him. Andreae seemed to be obsessed with defending the doctrine of the ubiquity even though not all Lutherans even believe this doctrine. Perhaps Andreae is responsible for modern Calvinists being convinced that if they attack the doctrine of the ubiquity somehow they have attacked the Lutheran position on the Lord's Supper. I wish that Andreae has simply confessed with the Scriptures teach. Jesus said, "This is my body." How can Jesus' body be on altars all over the world? I don't know, I simply trust in His promise. If He says He can do it, He can do it. Jesus all kinds of things with His body that I can't do. I can't pass through walls but He sure did. I'm not going to tell Jesus He can't pass through walls because that would destroy His true human nature.

Beza was hoping that the Lutherans would allow Calvinists to commune which is kind of interesting in itself. In some writings Beza seemed to regard the Lutheran position as idolatry but thought there was enough agreement to commune together. To the Calvinist, the Roman Catholic position was completely unacceptable but the Lutheran position was close enough. To the Lutheran, the Roman Catholic position was far more tolerable.

Chapter 4 deals with the debate between Calvinists and Lutherans over the doctrine of the Person of Christ--dealing mostly with the communication of the attributes. Each side declares the other to be Nestorian.

Chapter 5 deals with Images, Baptism, and Predestination. Beza tried to avoid this debate but Andreae insisted. Andreae brought up the destruction of churches, images, organs and other such things by some Calvinists. Beza claimed that this destruction was done without Calvinist church authority and he disapproved of these actions. I was surprised to read that Beza was not absolutely opposed to images or musical instruments. He believed that they could lead to idolatry but did not consider them to be idolatrous in themselves. He did not believe the 2nd commandment forbade all images and regarded it as a matter of Christian liberty.

In the debate over baptism Andreae argued on the basis of Scripture that basis is not instituted as a sign of regeneration but to confer regeneration (p. 139) and argued that faith is actually given in baptism. Beza claimed that elect infants are "probably" regenerated at the time of baptism and that infants "probably receive remission of original sin and adoption as long as they do not repudiate these benefits as adults." (p. 139) Beza goes on to argue that infants are incapable of having faith despite Andreae's Scriptural examples. Beza seems to regard cognitive ability as a requirement for faith. I've written about this error elsewhere. Beza sounds more like a Baptist here although I've heard some in the Puritan tradition that sound very similar. I'm thankful that not all Calvinists regard infant faith as an impossibility. Denial of infant faith is the result of a complete misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is a gift of God. It is trust in God and manifests itself in different ways depending on a person's cognitive ability but lack of cognitive ability does not equal lack of faith.

Unfortunately both Lutherans and Calvinists have adopted practices that deny their confession of infant faith. Children's church jumps to mind but so does the age at which many first commune. Calvin considered age 12 to be the ordinary time at which people start taking communion. Most Reformed churches start giving communion to people at the age of 16 or 18. At the time of the Reformation many Luther taught that children should be taking their first communion between seven or eight years old and yet many Lutheran congregations do not give communion to a child until he is 12. I think there are good arguments on both sides for and against paedocommunion but have not read any good arguments for delaying the sacrament until the age of 12.

Within the context of the debate over baptism, Beza and Andreae argue over whether or not David lost the Holy Spirit which leads to an argument over whether or not there are mortal and venial sins. I found Beza to be more persuasive in this section. We are not specifically told that the Holy Spirit departed from David and the Scriptures do not make the distinction between mortal and venial sins that Andreae wants to make.

Next, they debated the issue of predestination. According to one Calvinist professor, the Lutherans asked the Calvinists what they believed about predestination and they answered, "We stand with Luther" and then the Lutherans said, "Next question." But that doesn't seem to be the case at all. Andreae taught single predestination and an unlimited atonement while Beza taught double predestination and a limited atonement. Beza tried to get out of this debate and first made the claim that there was no real difference in teaching. After he was forced to debate he gave a seven hour long lecture in defense of his position. Andreae spent some time playing on the emotions of his audience and then started quoting the "all" passages in Scripture. Beza claimed that these had reference to the elect while Andreae claimed that these had reference to every single person. It seems that time would have been better spent concentrating on a very small number of passages since the meaning of who or what the "all" is should be determined by the context. 1 Timothy 4:10 seems to say that Jesus died for a larger group than that of believers but this passage does not appear to have been brought up. Calvin explained the passage as teaching that God is a savior in a non-salvific way but that doesn't seem to fit the context. Some time could have been spent on passages like 2 Peter 2:1 where it speaks of those who deny the Lord who bought them.

After a good deal of arguing had already taken place, Beza started quoting from Luther's Bondage of the Will to try to prove that his position was the same as Luther's. Andreae did not respond directly to his Luther quotations (and I really wish he had) but he did continue to argue against Beza's position in general. He certainly did not say, "Next question." In Appendix 3, Jill Raitt seems to think that Beza proved that he took the same position as Luther. The modern Calvinist who is taught to read everything through a Calvinist Vs. Arminian paradigm also tends to think Luther is basically a Calvinist. But I don't think this is exactly true. Luther was addressing a particular issue and writing to a particular audience. Context must always be kept in mind. And although Luther went farther than many modern Lutherans would, there was a very significant difference he had with Beza. Luther may have acknowledged some kind of active reprobation in hidden will of God but he was always directing people away from the hidden will and to the revealed will of God found in Christ crucified. Luther wrote his commentary on Genesis after he wrote The Bondage of the Will and he made some interesting comments about his own teaching on predestination. I suggest clicking on the link and reading the whole thing. But it ends with something that seems to be directly opposed to doing what Beza was doing.

I have wanted to teach and transmit this in such a painstaking and accurate way because after my death many will publish my books and will prove from them errors of every kind and their own delusions. Among other things, however, I have written that everything is absolute and unavoidable; but at the same time I have added that one must look at the revealed God, as we sing in the hymn: Er heist Jesu Christ, der HERR Zebaoth, und ist kein ander Gott, “Jesus Christ is the Lord of hosts, and there is no other God”—and also in very many other places. But they will pass over all these places and take only those that deal with the hidden God. Accordingly, you who are listening to me now should remember that I have taught that one should not inquire into the predestination of the hidden God but should be satisfied with what is revealed through the calling and through the ministry of the Word. For then you can be sure about your faith and salvation and say: “I believe in the Son of God, who said (John 3:36): ‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life.’ ” Hence no condemnation or wrath rests on him, but he enjoys the good pleasure of God the Father. But I have publicly stated these same things elsewhere in my books, and now I am also teaching them by word of mouth. Therefore I am excused.

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