Lee Palmer Wandel. The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xi + 302 pp. $79.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-85679-9; $25.99 (paper), ISBN 978-0-521-67312-9.
Reviewed by Amy Nelson Burnett (Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Published on H-German (June, 2006)
Theology and Ritual in the Sixteenth Century
This book had its genesis, so the author informs us in her acknowledgments, in a passing remark that "no one work treated the liturgies of the major Christian traditions that were articulated in the sixteenth century" (p. ix). Lee Palmer Wandel has undertaken to provide such a work by examining the differences between Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed understandings of the Eucharist and considering the implications of those differences for ritual practice. The book's subtitle highlights the two threads that run through the book: incarnation (or divergent understandings of Christ's presence in the sacrament) and liturgy (as it was shaped to express and reflect that understanding). In some ways, this book sets out to do for the sixteenth century what Miri Rubin's book on the Eucharist did for the Middle Ages: both the approach and, at times, the language, are similar.
Wandel's book is structured both chronologically and thematically. The strongest chapters are those that open and close the volume, which deal with the Catholic mass before the Reformation and then again at the Council of Trent and after. The first chapter lays the foundation for all that follows by describing the practice of the Eucharist in the late medieval church. Drawing on the work of art historians and scholars of medieval drama, Wandel emphasizes the performative and sensory aspects of the mass. This focus on sense perception is heightened by a rhetorical strategy that uses sensory language and the repetition of words and phrases to emphasize the visual, aural and tangible aspects of the medieval mass. The chapter is particularly useful for those unfamiliar with the ritual complexity of medieval worship, for it includes definitions and explanations of a range of objects and actions integral to the celebration of the mass, from the vestments worn by the priest to the various books prescribing the elements of the mass--whether chant, prayers or the proper Scripture passages to be read. Wandel rightly emphasizes the significance of Lateran IV in 1215 for endorsing the doctrine of transubstantiation and for giving special status to ordained priests who alone had the authority to effect the miraculous transformation of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood.
The theme connecting the two chapters on the Catholic Eucharist is the contrast between the diversity of local practices in the late medieval church and the emphasis on uniformity and the precise regulation of ritual actions imposed by the Tridentine Missal. Wandel's description of the rubrics of the Tridentine Missal is as illuminating as her discussion of terms in the first chapter, but it also subtly undermines her argument concerning the significance of the diversity within the late medieval church. There was certainly considerable variety of practice at the local level in the pre-Reformation church, but many of the variations were fairly minor, such as whether a prayer was said before or after a particular action. The variations are further relativized by two factors: the comparatively limited mobility of most of the population, which meant that they were less likely to be aware of significant regional differences in how the mass was celebrated, and the fact that the mass was not only said in Latin, but that a substantial portion of the Eucharistic liturgy was recited quietly and so was not heard even by those who could understand it. While Wandel emphasizes the diversity, the reader is just as easily struck by the prominence and the continuity of core elements of Catholic Eucharistic doctrine and practice before and after the Reformation. All Catholics venerated the consecrated host as Christ's body, recognized the priest's authority and accepted the sacrificial nature of the mass. On particularities of practice, there might have been diversity, but these did not obscure the key teachings of the Church regarding the theology and performance of the mass.
Problems with Wandel's interpretation of Eucharistic theology and liturgical praxis become more apparent in the next two chapters, which deal with developments in Germany after the outbreak of the Reformation. Wandel has no interest in explaining the theological intricacies of the Eucharistic conflict that divided the evangelical movement and eventually led to the creation of Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Instead, she moves from the place of the Eucharist at the local level in the first two decades of the Reformation to broader statements of theology and practice for Lutheran Germany. Although her approach may appeal to readers uninterested in this most arcane of sixteenth-century quarrels, her lack of sensitivity to theological formulations significantly weakens her discussion of the Eucharist within the Lutheran church.
The second chapter focuses on debates within the city of Augsburg from the early 1520s through the city's official adoption of the Reformation in 1537. Throughout the chapter, Wandel stresses the diversity of views taught by the city's pastors, but at key points she fails to support her assertions, such as when she lists names and titles of works printed in the city, but says nothing about the content of any of them (pp. 68-69, 73). In other places, the evidence she cites to support her claim of diversity actually contradicts it. Her description of Augsburg's preachers, for instance, shows not a "wide diversity of educations and training" as she claims (p. 56), but instead a degree of homogeneity unusual among the late medieval clergy: formal theological training resulting (in all but one case) in a doctorate; study at many of the same universities; and involvement in humanist circles. In addition, Wandel's presentation is flawed by her apparent ignorance of even the most basic stages of development of the Eucharistic controversy during this period: the first disagreements between Luther and Zwingli at the end of 1524, and the shift from polemics to negotiation in the wake of the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, culminating in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536. Thus a statement by Oecolampadius concerning the sacrament written in 1527 can scarcely be used to illustrate his preaching in Augsburg in 1521, when he had not yet broken with the Catholic Church, let alone become a partisan of Zwingli's theology (p. 60).
Even more seriously, Wandel's rhetorical decision to focus on "presence" and "body" rather than on the terms used by the parties to the Eucharistic controversy distorts her discussion of evangelical views of the Lord's Supper, since much of the debate, particularly in the years following Marburg, concerned precisely which terms were mutually acceptable. She persistently uses the adjective "real" to describe any presence of Christ in the elements, instead of clarifying the manner of that presence with the terms used by the preachers, not only "real," but also "true," "sacramental," "spiritual," "essential" or "substantial." This criticism may seem like a mere quibble, but the precise use of terms was vitally important in the Eucharistic controversy. Thus, as Joseph Tylenda has pointed out, Calvin could uphold Christ's "true presence" but not his "real presence'" in the Supper. Wandel's assertion that "Zwingli never denied 'real presence'" (p. 102) rests on a modern rather than a sixteenth-century definition of "real"--if Zwingli had indeed been willing to accept the phrase "real presence," Martin Bucer's efforts at concord in the wake of the Diet of Augsburg would have led to the rapid end of divisions between the two parties. Just as a politician's use of the phrase "right to life" conveys a whole complex of positions to a present-day audience, so a sixteenth-century preacher's use--or refusal to use--a specific adjective signaled to his audience his position within the Eucharistic controversy. It is ironic that an author so attuned to the resonances (to use one of Wandel's favorite terms) of the word "body" should have such a tin ear for the resonances of these technical terms for the theologians trained in Aristotelian philosophy who debated the meaning of the sacrament.
These flaws are most apparent in her description of the first few decades after the Reformation, when the rival understandings of the Lord's Supper were still being formulated. More problematic for her chapter on the Lutheran Eucharist is her decision to restrict her discussion to the period before the Peace of Augsburg. In addition to looking at Luther's writings, Wandel discusses the sections on the Lord's Supper from the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism. Despite their foundational nature, none of these texts is adequate for explaining later Lutheran Eucharistic theology and liturgy. She acknowledges that the Confession's Article X on the Lord's Supper is "stunningly brief…allow[ing] space for differentiated faith, for a range of understandings which, had they been articulated publicly, would have been not simply distinctive, but divergent" (p. 111), but she says nothing about how the public articulation of those divergent views tore the Lutheran Church apart after 1555. Lutheran Eucharistic doctrine and liturgical practice was elaborated and took its final shape in the second half of the sixteenth century, but because Wandel looks only at the earlier period, she can make only general statements about the proliferation of liturgies, without serious discussion of the relationship between them or of efforts to increase both doctrinal and liturgical uniformity among different territorial churches. Her discussion is therefore frustrating for those familiar with the theological issues and misleading for those who are not.
Because most Reformed practices developed after 1550, Wandel is able to draw on much more detailed presentations of eucharistic theology for her examination of the Reformed sacrament. She opens her chapter on the Reformed Eucharist with a superb summary of Calvin's Eucharistic theology as it fits within the larger context of the Institutes. But the brilliance of this analysis also has its negative side, for it seems to make Calvin's Eucharistic theology normative for the entire Reformed Church, thus downplaying the contributions of other Reformed theologians, and in particular ignoring the differences between Calvin and the Zurich theologians. This impression is reinforced by Wandel's comparisons of later national Reformed confessions to Calvin's position, which could be interpreted as demonstrating a "falling away" from the teachings of the Genevan reformer. Despite popular equation of the two, the Reformed tradition is broader than "Calvinism." This diversity comes out more clearly in Wandel's discussion of how the Lord's Supper was celebrated by French Huguenots, Scottish Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed. Although they shared a common emphasis on simplicity and worthy participation, each of these national churches had its own rituals for administering the sacrament that reflected its specific theological concerns.
The weaknesses of the central chapters perhaps explain why there has been no single book dealing with sixteenth-century liturgical traditions. Although developments within the Catholic Church are coherent and fairly easy to describe, the theological, political and national fragmentation within both the Lutheran and Reformed confessions make it more difficult to give a coherent overview of Protestant developments. And even though the focus of such a book is on ritual rather than theology, the author must have a firm grasp of the underlying theology to explain the significance of the ritual acts. Wandel has clearly made the connection between theology and practice in her discussion of the Catholic Eucharist, and because she examines the detailed descriptions of Eucharistic theology from Calvin and from later Reformed national confessions, she can also link a particular theology with specific practices. But her attempt to make sense of Eucharistic theology in Germany rests more on generalizations disguised by attractive rhetoric than on a deeper understanding of the arguments that divided the church there from the early Reformation to the end of the sixteenth century. The book therefore should be welcomed, but read with caution.
. Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
. Joseph Tylenda, "Calvin and Christ's Presence in the Supper--True or Real," Scottish Journal of Theology 27 (1974): pp. 65-75.
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Amy Nelson Burnett. Review of Wandel, Lee Palmer, The Eucharist in the Reformation: Incarnation and Liturgy.
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