Friday, November 12, 2010

This is My Body by Heramann Sasse

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of This is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar by Hermann Sasse. It is truly one of the best books on the Sacrament of the Altar in print. It's not the easiest read but if someone has a serious interest he work his way through it. There are Latin and German footnotes and a little bit of Latin in the main body of the text but knowledge of Latin and German are not required to understand what Sasse is saying. The book is clearly written with the pastor or seminary student in mind but it is not unnecessarily complicated as some books written for that audience are. Sasse is extraordinarily gifted. He is able to take complex theological debates and explain them in relatively simple terms. He gets to the heart of the issues. He honestly represents his theological opponents. He knows the differences between Calvinism and Zwinglianism and what they hold in common. Sasse knows the difference between real and imagined problems with the Roman Catholic teaching on the Sacrament.

The book traces the history of the theology of the Sacrament through the middle ages and through the time of Luther. The Marburg Colloquoy makes up the biggest section of the book and this is perhaps the book's most unique feature. Sasse provides the reader with an English reconstruction of the debate based on the various sources available. This section should be required reading for seminary students in the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Zwinglian traditions. It would clear up many of the misconceptions being taught today and perhaps could lead to a modern debate. Sasse's book is cited in some books on the Sacrament written from a Calvinist perspective but based on how these other books understand the Lutheran teaching I have to wonder if these people have actually read Sasse's book. Most of the Calvinist books that I've read attack the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament by attacking consubstantiation but Sasse makes it abundantly clear that Lutherans do not teach consubstantiation.

Sasse's book is full of theological insight on every page. Just read the footnote 10 on page 21:

It is noteworthy that the Reformed confessions used to have an article on the Sacraments before dealing with the individual sacraments. The Lutheran Church has no dogma de sacramentis. In the Augsburg Confession an article on the use (or purpose) of the Sacraments follows the articles on Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Confession and Penance. At any rate, the attempts to understand the Sacrament of the Altar from the general concept of a sacrament should be abandoned; they have no biblical foundation. It is really astonishing that the churches which claim the sola Scriptura so emphatically, as e.g. the Calvinistic churches, have accepted so much from Augustine without asking whether or not these doctrines are truly scriptural. How amazing is the power of tradition in the church!

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