Lutheran belief - Sacramental Union (not Consubstantiation)

Several posters in this section of the forums have asked what the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper truly is. This thread is intended to try to explain what Lutherans believe.

Firstly, let’s start with what Lutherans do not believe:

Consubstantiation: View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a “3d substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner.

Mistakenly, many Roman Catholics identify Lutheran belief as “Consubstantiation.” This is due, in part, to the Roman Catholic understanding of the Sacrament being a bit more “explained” and seemingly Aristotelian (at least, on the surface). It’s also not helped by the fact that many authoritative Roman Catholic sources surprisingly define ‘Consubstantiation’ in the negative; in other words, anything that proclaims the Real Presence and is not Transubstantiation is deemed to be Consubstantiation.

What we Lutherans actually profess is:

Sacramental Union; (Lat. unio sacramentalis). Union of bread and body, wine and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

We do not attempt to explain how this happens - it is a Divine Mystery. This is why Lutherans are a bit apprehensive when we hear Transubstantiation explained; it seems as though Roman Catholics are attempting to explain how the Sacrament happens (I recognize that Roman Catholics do not think this to be the case, I’m simply explaining).

Those seeking a more in-depth understanding can peruse the following links:

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Is this belief universal to all Lutherans, or just LCMS? I can tell you with 100% certainty that the time I was introduced to consubstantiation was at a Lutheran church in the pastor’s sermon.

I have had a Lutheran Pastor online (have no clue what synod) use the term consubstantiation as well.



From your own quotes:

Consubstantiation: View, falsely charged to Lutheranism, that bread and body form 1 substance (a “3d substance”) in Communion (similarly wine and blood) or that body and blood are present, like bread and wine, in a natural manner.

Sacramental Union; (Lat. unio sacramentalis). Union of bread and body, wine and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So what is the difference? :confused:

Consub says form one substance…or the elements unite. SU basically say the same thing…the union of bread and body and wine and blood…:confused:

So, one is called consub and the Lutheran name is SU?

There is no variation in what Lutherans believe. The same applies with the Eucharist; it is as steido01 points out.

Blame John Calvin - he assigned ‘consubstantiation’ to Lutherans as a form of polemics. That there are confused Lutheran pastors is sadly no surprise. :frowning:

From here:

I don’t think it is necessary for Lutherans to shrink from the word “consubstantiation.” The Catholic Encyclopedia gives the definition: “According to [consubstantiation], the substance of Christ’s Body exists together with the substance of bread, and in like manner the substance of His Blood together with the substance of wine.” This
is exactly what the Formula of Concord teaches. Nowhere does it say that this means that the substances are combined to form a new third substance or that it means Christ is present in a “natural” manner (especially since transubstantiation does not consist in Christ being present in a “natural” manner). Furthermore, since Lutherans do not use the term consubstantiation, being a term foisted on them by outsiders, it seems that it is up to us non-Lutherans to define what it means anyway. :stuck_out_tongue:

I also take issue with the argument that transubstantiation defines “how” the real presence occurs and sacramental union does not. Transubstantiation describes what occurs, not how it is done. The primary difference between the Catholic and Lutheran positions is that Catholics teach that the bread is converted into Christ’s body while Lutherans teach that the substance of Christ’s body is sacramentally united to the substance of bread (“in, under and with”), so that the substance of bread remains after consecration.

Really, I think the rejection of “consubstantiation” stems from a misunderstanding of transubstantiation. A common Lutheran objection to “consubstantiation” is that it implies that Christ’s physical body is made locally present, presumably because this is what they believe about transubstantiation. Of course, transubstantiation does not mean that Christ’s body is locally present, but many Lutherans probably do not realize this. This is why it is important to read each other’s writings to know what they believe.

I have never heard a Lutheran pastor refer to the Real Presence as consubstantiation.

Sounds like the Orthodox understanding.

Lutherans believe in the Real Presence, preach the RP and celebrate holy Mass.

Good post. Also, we don’t have adoration or parades etc. The Eucharist is made to be consumed by the faithful.

On holy Thursday, some parishes move the reserved sacrament from the ambry/ tabernacle in procession; the parishioner kneels/ genuflects.

I haven’t either - but I’ve heard enough evidence from our Catholic friends that there are some that do.

My hunch is that any pastor that does so probably does it out of simple ignorance.

I think our Lutheran friends that post regularly have done a great job of refuting the use of consubstantiation for Lutherans.


I think I understand what you’re saying in that there’s nothing too horrible about consubstantiation or transubstantiation as a useful tool to teach those that need a rational understanding of what is happening.

However, Lutherans are absolutely vehement that the Eucharist is a sacred mystery that can’t be fully understood by us humans - and reading what Catholic theologians say, it seems that Catholics do to.

From here, it appears that Transubstantiation is basically a bulwark against the heresies going around in the 16th century, and if underwood as such, then really it wouldn’t be a barrier to reunification between Lutherans and Catholics.

The Lutheran position is rather simple when it comes to the mysteries of God in that Theology trumps Philosophy.

They do seem similar, if not identical (save for some of the language used in understanding). The Lord’s Supper was not a major point of disagreement between Augsburg and Patriarch Jeremias. The Patriarch essentially agreed with the Augsburg Confession as it was presented to him, but asked for further information regarding some hearsay rumors. No one knows exactly what te Patriarch was referring to. Personally, I think he was concerned that the Lutherans still followed the Latin practice of using unleavened bread, but the reason is lost to history. :shrug: It’s always surprised me that Lutherans and Orthodox have not held closer relations, at least as far as sacraments are concerned.

Are these the Lutheran in name only parishes?

-]/-]My thesis is that the word consubstantiation fittingly and accurately describes the Lutheran doctrine of “sacramental union,” which is taught in the Formula of Concord. The Lutheran rejection of the term is a reaction to a misunderstanding of transubstantiation rather than any fault of the word “consubstantiation.” Or at least that is what I think is the case. At least, the doctrine of sacramental union is not any less a “rational understanding” than transubstantiation, since it is defined using the same terms and so it uses just as much human reason, and I certainly don’t think you are saying that the Lutheran position is an “irrational understanding!” :wink:

It is important to make clear when explaining Lutheran doctrine that Lutherans do not just define the bare outlines of the real presence while Catholics, building on that foundation, go much further by adding unnecessary and unhelpful philosophical details. Rather, the Lutherans very clearly staked out a contrary position making use of similar philosophical language. Here are a few big differences with Lutheran teaching on the real presence.

(1) The Formula of Concord teaches that the bread and wine retain their natural essence, denying like Wycliffe that there can remain accidents without a subject.

(2) It is denied that adoration is to be shown toward the sacrament.

(3) It is seemingly denied that the real presence ceases upon conclusion of the service.

Accordingly, with heart and mouth we reject and condemn as false, erroneous, and misleading all errors which are not in accordance with, but contrary and opposed to, the doctrine above mentioned and founded upon God’s Word, such as,

The papistic transubstantiation, when it is taught that the consecrated or blessed bread and wine in the Holy Supper lose entirely their substance and essence, and are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ in such a way that only the mere form of bread and wine is left, or accidentia sine subiecto (the accidents without the object); under which form of the bread, which nevertheless is bread no longer, but according to their assertion has lost its natural essence, the body of Christ is present even apart from the administration of the Holy Supper, when the bread is enclosed in the pyx or is carried about for display and adoration. For nothing can be a sacrament without God’s command and the appointed use for which it is instituted in God’s Word, as was shown above. (FC 7.107-108)

… 15. Likewise, when it is taught that the elements or the visible species or forms of the consecrated bread and wine must be adored. However, no one, unless he be an Arian heretic, can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the same, as also in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled. (7.122)

On the other hand, the Lutherans teach “the sacramental union of the unchanged essence of the bread and of the body of Christ.”

For the reason why, in addition to the expressions of Christ and St. Paul (the bread in the Supper is the body of Christ or the communion of the body of Christ), also the forms: under the bread, with the bread, in the bread [the body of Christ is present and offered], are employed, is that by means of them the papistical transubstantiation may be rejected and the sacramental union of the unchanged essence of the bread and of the body of Christ indicated; just as the expression, Verbum caro factum est, The Word was made flesh John 1:14 ], is repeated and explained by the equivalent expressions: The Word dwelt among us; likewise Col 2:9 ]: In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; likewise Acts 10:38 ]: God was with Him; likewise 2 Cor. 5:19 ]: God was in Christ, and the like; namely, that the divine essence is not changed into the human nature, but the two natures, unchanged, are personally united. [These phrases repeat and declare the expression of John, above mentioned, namely, that by the incarnation the divine essence is not changed into the human nature, but that the two natures without confusion are personally united.] Even as many eminent ancient teachers, Justin, Cyprian, Augustine, Leo, Gelasius, Chrysostom and others, use this simile concerning the words of Christ’s testament: This is My body, that just as in Christ two distinct, unchanged natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper the two substances, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here upon earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament. 38] Although this union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is not a personal union, as that of the two natures in Christ, but as Dr. Luther and our theologians, in the frequently mentioned Articles of Agreement [Formula of Concord] in the year 1536 and in other places call it sacramentatem unionem, that is, a sacramental union, by which they wish to indicate that, although they also employ the formas: in pane, sub pane, cum pane, that is, these distinctive modes of speech: in the bread, under the bread, with the bread, yet they have received the words of Christ properly and as they read, and have understood the proposition, that is, the words of Christ’s testament: Hoc est corpus meum, This is My body, not as a figuratam propositionem, but inusitatam (that is, not as a figurative, allegorical expression or comment, but as an unusual expression). For thus Justin says: This we receive not as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ, our Savior, through the Word of God became flesh, and on account of our salvation also had flesh and blood, so we believe that the food blessed by Him through the Word and prayer is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise Dr. Luther also in his Large and especially in his last Confession concerning the Lord’s Supper with great earnestness and zeal defends the very form of expression which Christ used at the first Supper. (7.35-40)

Also, the idea of transubstantiation goes back back much further than the Protestant Reformation, going at least back to 11th Century and being adopted as a dogmatic definition of the real presence at the Fourth Lateran Council. Actually, St. Thomas in the Summa Theologiae anticipates the chief Lutheran objections.

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