I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lutherans' Consubstantiation: Trampling Under Foot All Reason, Sense, and Understanding

Martin Luther once stated “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.” He might as well have included biblical truth and sound doctrine in this list. This is precisely what he and his successors did in their formulation of their understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, the doctrine commonly called consubstantiation.

Lutherans’ confessional commitment to consubstantiation, their view of the Eucharist, must be considered heresy in that it contradicts the orthodox formulation of Christology as prescribed in the Creed of Chalcedon, which reads, “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly...” This clause was in response to the original heresy of Eutyches, which was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

How, though, does the Lutheran confessional stance on the Eucharist confuse Christ’s two natures?

The Epitome, one of the central Lutheran confessional documents, contains a blatant contradiction, which leads to the contradicting of the Chalcedonian Christology. In chapter eight, “The Person of Christ,” the Epitome affirms the following.

VIII. The Person of Christ: Affirmative Theses

[6] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the divine and human natures are not mingled into one substance, nor the one changed into the other, but that each retains its own essential properties, which [can] never become the properties of the other nature.

[7] 3. The properties of the divine nature are: to be almighty, eternal, infinite (that is, boundless and without spatial limitation [KS]), and to be, according to the property of its nature and its natural essence, of itself, everywhere present, to know everything, etc.; which never become properties of the human nature.

[8] 4. The properties of the human nature are: to be a corporeal creature, to be flesh and blood, to be finite and circumscribed, to suffer, to die, to ascend and descend, to move from one place to another, to suffer hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and the like; which never become properties of the divine nature.

Here are some clear points that may be adduced from these theses.

1. The divine and human natures do not comingle; each nature retains its own properties, which are never communicated to the other nature (from [6]2).

2.  Omnipresence and infinity are properties of the divine nature, and never become properties of the human nature (from [7]3).

3. Flesh and blood and finitude are properties of the human nature (from [8]4).

These are some of the most basic doctrines of Christology and are worthy of full acknowledgement and confession by any claiming to be faithful Christians. So, from these three general propositions, one can make the following synthesis.

C1. The flesh and blood of Christ (human nature) can never possess the properties of omnipresence and infinity (of the divine nature, being “everywhere present”).

This seems to be a necessary implication of the three theses from the Epitome, chapter 8, on the Person of Christ. This then is a foundational belief for a faithful Christology, according to both the Chalcedonian Creed and the Epitome-Concord; and, I’d argue, the scriptures. Concluding this, we have a good starting point to go back one chapter in the Epitome, chapter 7, and consider its theses on the Eucharist.

For clarity’s sake, I’ll use just a few theses from the Negativa, namely [32]11—[34]13. First, though, I’ll include this section’s prefatory remarks. The preface reads,

[21] On the other hand, we unanimously reject and condemn all the following erroneous articles, which are opposed and contrary to the doctrine presented above, the simple faith, and the [pure] confession concerning the Lord's Supper...

The following articles read as follow.

[32] 11. That the body of Christ is so enclosed in heaven that it can in no way be at once and at one time in many or all places upon earth where His Holy Supper is celebrated.

[33] 12. That Christ has not promised, neither could have effected, the essential presence of His body and blood in the Holy Supper, because the nature and property of His assumed human nature cannot suffer nor permit it.

[34] 13. That God, according to [even by] all His omnipotence (which is dreadful to hear), is not able to cause His body to be essentially present in more than one place at one time.

Of course, as part of the Negativa, these theses, as the preface makes clear, are those that are denied by Lutherans. Again, a positive statement of synthesis necessarily follows from the above theses.

C2. The body (i.e., flesh and blood; human nature) of Christ can be omnipresent, “at one time in many or all places upon the earth” (divine nature).

Now, let’s put these two propositions together, one a conclusion from chapter 8 and the other a conclusion from chapter 7, and see if they can be maintained in any sort of meaningful relationship.

C1. The flesh and blood of Christ (human nature) can never possess the properties of omnipresence and infinity (of the divine nature, being “everywhere present”).


C2. The flesh and blood of Christ (human nature) can be omnipresent, everywhere present (divine nature).

Coming now to these two conclusions, which I believe are very fair inferences from the Epitome’s theses, there are only a couple of options available to us.

Option 1. We allow the more basic, foundational doctrine of Christology (C1) to cause us to reevaluate and reformulate as necessary the doctrine of the Eucharist (C2). Granting that we are over 500 years removed from formulation and confession of the formula of the doctrine of the Eucharist, this doesn’t seem likely.

Option 2. We maintain the two doctrines of the Concord stand in clear contradiction. If we were to try to synthesize C1 and C2, it would look something like this.

C3. It is the case that Christ’s human nature cannot possess the divine property of omnipresence; and, it is also that case that Christ’s human nature can possess the divine property of omnipresence.  

This is a particular violation of the general statement of the law of non-contradiction, a most basic law of logic: Something cannot be both A and not-A at the same time in the same sense. Or, to put it in our context: Christ’s human nature cannot be both omnipresent and not-omnipresent. However, that is what I understand, as illustrated above, the Formula of Concord to be saying. This is utter nonsense!

To invoke the miraculous nature of the Supper doesn’t help resolve this. In fact, I don’t question for one second the supernatural or miraculous nature of the Supper; it is nothing less! What I have trouble with, in fact must reject, is the idea that Christ’s institution would entail such a brazen contradiction as this does.

To be clear, I am not promoting rationalism. I don’t understand logic to be something extraneous to the Godhead, to which he is subject. Rather, logic is an expression of the divine nature itself, which was “declared” (exēgeomaito) to us in the incarnation of the Word, the eternal Logos (Jn. 1:18). Being part of the essential nature of God, he cannot contradict himself, or as St. Paul put it, “he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself,” thus, “he cannot lie” (2 Tim. 2:13; Tit. 1:2). And being created in his image, to reflect his glory, we also cannot violate logic, especially in our thoughts concerning his nature and this holy Supper, wherein he is present.

In chapter 8 of the Epitome, [13]5 of the Affirmative Theses rightly states, “That God's Word is not false, and does not deceive.” Elsewhere, the Formula confidently states that the doctrine of the Eucharist is based solely on the words of Christ, “according to the letter,” and the literal sense. However, if, as I’ve shown above, this doctrine entails a contradiction, then it is false by definition, not to mention deceptive. Moreover, if these doctrines are assuredly good and necessary deductions from the clear teaching of Scripture, then Scripture too must contain at least one contradiction, which would have obvious implications for our bibliology, namely the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy.

The good Dr. Luther, in spite of the huge debt of gratitude all Protestants owe him, and the mighty ways that God used him and his brilliant mind to contribute to the Reformation, saving the church from her Babylonian Captivity to Rome,  risks being condemned by his own words, when it comes to the doctrine of the Eucharist.

“You conduct yourself like one drunk or asleep, belching out between your snores, ‘Yes, No.’” –Martin Luther (The Bondage of the Will, Vol. 33 of Luther's Works, pp. 113).


  1. Hi Kevin,

    Terrific, and convincing argument. Found your post via Google.

    FWIW, I will cite it in this blog thread here:


    Much Thanks,

    Truth Unites... and Divides

  2. FWIW, my Lutheran interlocutor claims that your argument above is a strawman and he points me to his post as a rebuttal to yours:


  3. TUAD,

    Thank you for your reading and your valuation of the post. I also appreciate you including the link in your discussion over at Reformation500. Lastly, I appreciate your bloggin’ handle, Truth Unites...and Divides. Quite true, not least in this discussion, as historical theology has...and continues to remind us.

    As for Nathan’s, your interlocutor’s, claim that my argument is a strawman, on one level I would agree with him. I must confess that the truth value of some of the premises is very low; rather, it’s zero in some cases. This, though, is not to my or the Reformed camp’s shame but to the Lutherans’ and Nathan’s. That is because the premises are taken straight from their own confessional material. As for the reliability of the inferences, the validity of the arguments, I’m anxious to hear where I might have erred. As it is, they are sound, as far as I can tell.

    Another way to approach Nathan’s strawman charge is simple: It is both a strawman argument and not a strawman argument. In other words, if we take the Lutheran approach to this doctrine, then we can embrace a contradiction without consequence. We can even parade this step into irrationality as a badge of piety. The fact of the matter is, however, Nathan announcing strawman doesn’t address the arguments’ validity or soundness. That is yet to be seen.

    I’m certainly not the sharpest tack in the box, but I fail to see how his prescribed post is a refutation to my post above. Perhaps he can demonstrate this somehow, but the burden of proof is on him; he’s made the positive claim.

    My quote from Luther’s own pen at the beginning of the post says something directly about this entire discussion. Debate presupposes the laws of logic. But the Lutheran will inevitably scorn logic on this very point. In this, they do not do honor and service to he who said, “I AM...the Truth.” And they pit our reason against their “faith.” But in reality, because the entailments of that doctrine which they embrace by faith are contrary to the laws of thought, it is not really faith at all, but is, in the final analysis, fideism.

    I’ve enjoyed your discussion at Reformation500; keep defending the truth, and through it, his honor, who is Truth!

    Grace and peace to you, brother.