Home > Lutheranism > A Minor Rant in E Major about Corpus Christi, Luther and Monasticism, etc.

A Minor Rant in E Major about Corpus Christi, Luther and Monasticism, etc.

June 16th, 2006
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Seems I have touched a bit of a nerve with my remarks about the "Corpus Christi" festival, which I regard as Romanist bunk and tomfoolery, while others insist is an entirely legitimate festival which, oh so sadly, Martin Luther abolished. Well…here is a short summary of the festival, its origin and its use. If you read this and still believe the Corpus Christi festival is just peachy for Lutherans to use today, well, I feel sorry for you. It’s a shame some Lutherans just can’t be comfortable with being Lutherans, but have this inferiority complex that leads them apparently even to trying to argue that Corpus Christi is something we would do well to do. I’m wondering why we bothered with the Reformation if Rome was so right on so many things. It must have been one big misunderstanding. That naughty Luther. One chap has recently informed me that Luther really didn’t give monasticism a fair shake. Of course, this is said by a 21st century American who has about as little real experience with monasticism as Luther did with the iPod. I’ll take Brother Martin’s word on the, let us say, less than good aspects of monasticism and I beg the good brother’s pardon for not leaping to the conclusion that Luther just really kind of went overboard on criticizing monasticism. I’m not really willing to dismiss the personal experiences of a man who actually lived through the hell of monasticism and also married a woman who had undergone the same abuse as a young girl and young woman. And, by the way, Luther did not learn his theology via monasticism, but via his university study, where, for the first time at 21 years of age, he was able finally to read and view his first complete Bible. Babbling through the Psalms every week was not the reason Luther came to recover the Gospel. Plenty of others were doing that for centuries without the same blessed result.

CORPUS CHRISTI, FEAST OF (Lat. festum corporis Christi,
i.e. festival of the Body of Christ, Fr. fite-Dieu orf fte du
sacrement, Ger. Frohnleichnamsfest), a festiv~al of the Roman Catholic
Church in honor of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the
altar, observed on. the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The
doctrine of transubstantiation was defined by the Lateran Council in
1215, and shortly afterwards the elevation and adoration of the Host
were formally enjoined. This naturally stimulated the popular devotion
to the Blessed Sacrament, which had been already widespread before the
definition of the dogma. The movement was especially strong in the
diocese of Liege, and when Julienne, prioress of Mont-Comn.illon near
Liege (1222 1258), had a vision in which the need for the establishment
of a festival in honor of the Sacrament was revealed to her, the matter
was taken up with enthusiasm by the clergy, and in 1246 Robert de
Torote, bishop of Liege, instituted such a festival for his diocese.
The idea, however, did not spread until, in 1261, Jacob Pantaleon,
archdeacon of Liege, ascended the papal throne as Urban IV. By a bull
of 1264 Urban made the festival, hitherto practically confined to the
diocese of Liege, obligatory on the whole Church,i and a new office for
the festival was written by Thomas Aquinas himself. As yet the stress
was laid on reverence for the Holy Sacrament as a whole; there is no
mention in Urbans bull of the solemn procession and exposition. of the
Host for the adoration of the faithful, which are the main features of
the festival as at present celebrated. Urbans bull was once more
promulgated, at the council of Vienne in 1311, by Pope Clement V.; and
the procession of the Host in connection with the festival was
instituted, if the accounts we possess are trustworthy, by Pope John

From this time onwards the festival increased in popularity
and in splendour. It became in. effect the principal feast of the
Church, the procession of the Sacrament a gorgeous pageant, in which
not only the members of the trade and craft gilds, with the magistrates
of the cities, took part, but princes and sovereigns. It thus became in
a high degree symbolical of the exaltation of the sacerdotal power.2 In
the 15th century the custom became almost universal of following the
procession with the performance of miracle-plays and mysteries,
generally arranged and acted by members of the gilds who had formed
part of the pageant.

The rejection of the doctrine of
transubstantiation at the Reformation naturally involved the
suppression of the festival of Corpus Christi in the reformed Churches.
Luther, in spite of his belief in the Real Presence, regarded it as the
most harmful of all the medieval festivals and, though he fully
realized its popularity, it was the first that he abolished. This
attitude of the reformers towards the festival, however, intensified by
their abhorrence of the traffic in indulgences with which it had become
closely associated, only tended to establish it more firmly among the
adherents of the old religion. The procession. of the Host on Corpus
Christi day became, as it were, a public demonstration of Catholic
orthodoxy against Protestantism and later against religious Liberalism.
In most countries where religious opinion is sharply divided the
procession of Corpus Christi is therefore now forbidden, even when
Catholicism is the dominant religion. In England occasional breaches of
the law in this respect have been for some time tolerated, as in the
case of the Corpus Christi procession. annually held by the Italian
community in London. An attempt to hold a public procession of the Host
in conn.exion with the Eucharistic Congress at Westminster in. 1908,
however, was the signal for the outburst of a considerable amount of
opposition, and was eventually abandoned owing to the personal
intervention of the prime minister.

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Holger Sonntag
    June 19th, 2006 at 18:20 | #1

    Reading the summary on the Corpus Christi festival (from New Advent’s online Catholic Encyclopedia?), I think we need not ask ourselves anymore: are we here talking about a basically sound practice that just went wrong or is CC something that’s rotten to the root and thus cannot be reformed without altering / abolishing its substance? Clearly, the latter is the case.
    McCain: Dr. Sonntag, yes, that’s precisely my concern. I don’t understand why men whom I respect can’t see this point.
    Certainly, the intention is all fine — celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. But well meant is not always well done. And CC has not been well done from its beginnings, for reasons clearly evident in the article, which is why Luther didn’t bother to reform it.
    As the article shows, after the Reformation it became what Walther would have termed a “confessional ceremony”: Partaking in a CC procession expressed and confessed before the world and God that you wanted to be known as a Catholic — just like breaking the bread confessed that you are Reformed.
    I really wonder how a reformed practice of CC could look like. Anybody here who’s got the power to extend the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the host beyond the sacramental action? No wonder, CC, in RC, “became in a high degree symbolical of the exaltation of the sacerdotal power.” Anybody in need of that?
    It’s interesting to see on RC apologetic (evangelistic) weblogs / websites the tendency to minimize the differences between Luther and RC (that’s at least one strategy: RC is like Lutheranism, just better). Another is certainly to state that Luther overdid it: his personal angst took him beyond what the church established (in Trent) as reasonable (maybe he did have a weird psychological disorder we today take medicine for and don’t leave the Church / monastery?). We also note the tendency, on the RC side, to seek unity in ceremonies first (we’re then “only doing” what they are doing (just better), not believing what they are superstitiously believing, of course) — but can we divorce faith from practice in this way?

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