AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
During the initial decade of the Protestant Reformation, the German Anabaptist theologian Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528) (1) functioned as a transitional figure between radical and magisterial reform. This observation is seen most clearly in the fact that Hubmaier, while concurring with his Anabaptist coreligionists on the necessity of believers' baptism, dissented from their anti-statism and strict pacifism. (2) Earning his doctor theologiae from the University of Ingolstadt under famous Catholic polemicist John Eck in 1512, Hubmaier was an essentially independent thinker who employed his academic training in an attempt to formulate doctrine that not only transcended the controversies of his day but also pointed Christians to the necessity of spiritual formation within a life of common discipleship. With this approach, Hubmaier turned to the Eucharist, second only to justification as the most divisive doctrine of the sixteenth century) Hubmaier objected to Roman Catholic transubstantiation, Lutheran consubstantiation, and Zwinglian sacramentarianism on the grounds that all of them, in their concern with the status of the elements, had lost sight of the internal transformation that Christ accomplishes in the faithful during the meal.
This piece will argue that Hubmaier articulated an original doctrine of the Eucharist in which believers themselves, not the bread and wine, serve as the bearers of the real presence of Christ. For Hubmaier, the congregation as a whole and its individual members are literally consubstantiated into the physical body of Christ, as they simultaneously possess Christ's human Wesen (essence or substance) and their own human Wesen during the Supper. My thesis is simultaneously an advance of and a challenge to current scholarship on Hubmaier. It is an advance of current scholarship in that the premises from which it is derived have been established by John D. Rempel, Eddie Mabry, and Torsten Bergsten, the three scholars who have addressed the topic of Hubmaier's Eucharistic theology since 1960. (4) But it is a challenge to these scholars' shared conclusion that Hubmaier's Eucharist is exclusively an ethical reality in which Christ is not substantially present. (5) Although this conclusion admittedly presents all three scholars with troublesome Hubmaier loci that they are forced to explain away either as inconsistencies in the Reformer's thought or as metaphorical language, it is the only conclusion that can be reached if one assumes, as is typically taken for granted, that the elements constitute the sole possible vehicles for Christ's substantial presence. (6) However, I will show that it is precisely this presupposition that ought to be questioned, as it significantly underestimates the radical nature of Hubmaier's Eucharistic theology. Such radicalism is to be found not only in the ethical fruits of the Eucharist but also in the fundamental structure of the Eucharist itself.
Accordingly, this piece will first explain the theological and scriptural building blocks of Hubmaier's Eucharistic theology and then delineate its profound ethical implications. For through this consubstantiation, contended Hubmaier, Jesus anoints believers with the necessary and sufficient grace for going out into the world and there bearing the fruit of the Spirit, performing compassionate deeds, and living in self-sacrificial love.
* Theological Presuppositions of Hubmaier's Eucharist
Parting company from the typical Anabaptist view that the Eucharist is an ordinance that merely symbolizes a previously existing spiritual reality, Hubmaier recognized the Eucharist as a sacrament in the classical sense of the term, i.e., the visible sign that communicates the invisible grace that it signifies. (7) This fact is revealed by his description of what happens when the congregation partakes of the elements coupled with his explicit classification of the Eucharist as "the sacrament" (das Sacrament) and "the sacrament of the altar" (das Sacrament des Altars). (8) In his Eucharistic liturgy, Eine Form des Nachtmals Christi, Hubmaier directed the celebrant (an ordained pastor by virtue of the congregation's previous commission to preach and administer the sacraments (9)) to inform the congregation both before and after consuming the bread and wine that they respectively are about to receive and have just received the grace of God. Immediately before breaking the bread, the minister must instruct the flock, "Now eat and drink with one another in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.... May the Lord communicate to us his grace. Amen." (10) Similarly, after everyone has drunk the wine, the pastor is to summon the congregation to be seated in order to hear the "conclusion": "Arise and depart in the peace of Christ Jesus. The grace of God be with us all. Amen." (11) Here we see that for Hubmaier, the dispensation of grace in the Eucharist amounts to more than simply a theological point: it is a living reality that the laity needs to appreciate. This observation is reinforced by one negative and one positive piece of evidence. Negatively, Hubmaier made no attempt to explain to his congregation how grace is communicated. While we shall treat Hubmaier's proposal of the manner in which grace is communicated later in this piece, at this juncture it suffices to point out Hubmaier's concern with the laity's knowledge that they are receiving grace and not their knowledge of how such reception transpires. Positively, Hubmaier insisted that only church members "with reverence and hearts desiring grace" (12) can participate in the sacred meal. Given the classical definition of a sacrament, the foregoing evidence proves that Hubmaier both regarded and taught his spiritual charges to regard the Eucharist as a sacrament.
Due to its notion of the real presence, Hubmaier's model of the Eucharist is distinctly predicated upon Luther's view of the communicatio idiomatum as opposed to both the prevailing Catholic view of the communicatio and the wholesale denial of the communicatio by Zwingli and Hubmaier's Anabaptist contemporaries. (13) This fact is altogether remarkable since neither Luther nor Catholic theologians based their doctrines of the real presence upon the communicatio. A doctrine with a long and complex historical development reaching back to at least the late fourth century, the communicatio achieved its Catholic definition through widespread consensus in High and Late Scholasticism. This consensus maintained that every necessary attribute of the divine Logos, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence or ubiquity, can also be predicated of Jesus's humanity, even though Jesus's human nature does not actually possess these attributes. Consequently, one can rightfully speak about the human Jesus having all power in heaven and earth in the sense that omnipotence belongs to the divine nature that Jesus possesses, but not in the sense that his human nature is omnipotent in and of itself. (14) With this nominal conception, sixteenth-century Catholic theologians neither could logically deduce nor did actually posit the communicatio as a basis for the real presence. Rather, they grounded the real presence in the sacrificial character of the mass and the theology of the priesthood. (15)
Against the backdrop of the Catholic view, Luther was the first to argue for what may be styled a realist communicatio idiomatum, in which every necessary attribute of the divine Logos is actually imparted to Jesus's human nature at the incarnation. For Luther, therefore, the human Jesus is omnipotent not merely because he possesses an omnipotent divine nature but also because his human nature is omnipotent in and of itself by virtue of the hypostatic union. (16) Luther emphasized this point in his polemical works against the Zwinglians and Spiritualists between 1525 and 1527, the years in which all of Hubmaier's Eucharistic writings were composed. (17) Hence Luther asserted:
Moreover, we believe that Christ, according to his human nature, is put over all creatures [Eph. 1:22] and fills all things, as Paul says in Eph. 4[:10]. Not only according to his divine nature, but also according to his human nature, he is a lord of all things, has all things in his hand, and is present everywhere. If I am to follow the fanatics who say that this is not fitting, then I must deny Christ. (18)
From this realist communicatio, Luther could have logically deduced (but, as we shall see, did not deduce) his doctrine of the real presence. For if Jesus's humanity, like his divinity, is present everywhere, then no theological barriers prevent that humanity from being specially present in the Eucharist. In his 1528 Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, Luther acknowledged the possibility of this deduction: "When I proved that Christ's body is everywhere because the right hand of God is everywhere, I did so--as I quite openly explained at the time--in order to show at least in one way how God could bring it about that Christ is in heaven and his body in the Supper at the same time." (19) But Luther insisted this was nothing more than a possibility in which he placed no personal stock. This is because, for Luther, humans lack the epistemic resources to know the actual way Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist: "For we also do not know how it occurs ... this mode is altogether incomprehensible, beyond our reason, and can be maintained only with faith, in the Word." (20) In short, given his realist view Luther could logically deduce but did not actually posit the communicatio as a basis for the real presence. Instead, Luther grounded the real presence in the truth of the Word of God, particularly in Christ's promise that hoc est corpus meum. As Luther famously explained in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church:
When I fail to understand how bread can be the body of Christ, I, for one, will take my understanding prisoner and bring it into obedience to Christ; and, holding fast with a simple mind to His words, I will firmly believe ... that the bread is the body of Christ.... Though philosophy cannot grasp it, yet faith can.... Why not ... hold to the words of Christ in simple faith, satisfied not to understand what takes place, and content to know that the true body of Christ is there by virtue of the words of institution? (21)
Hubmaier held a realist's view of the communicatio, for which he was directly indebted to Luther. This fact follows inescapably from the conjunction of three lines of evidence. First, Luther originally proposed this view in January 1525 (Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments), which predates Hubmaier's first articulation of it in April 1525 (Several Theses Concerning the Instruction of the Mass). Second, between January and April 1525, no theologian except Luther subscribed to the realist communicatio (and, incidentally, the only two …