There are three sections to this volume. In the first section, Peters discusses Luther’s understanding of the sacraments. Some highlights are:
- Discussions of the early church fathers between the active “I baptize” or passive “is baptized” in the baptismal formula (16).
- The early church fathers’ observation: “The Baptism of those who were not yet able to speak on their own behalf was the strongest evidence for the early church fathers that God’s grace comes beforehand, which they cited when opposing the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians; before the child that had just been born could even think about its salvation, the Lord takes it into His covenant of grace” (17).
- Contrary to the Catholics, Luther’s understanding that the Lord’s Supper “is the summa et compendium Euangelii” (21).
- Luther noting that the Lord’s Supper and the Words of Absolution give the same thing “the removal of sin and eternal life” (29).
- Depending on one’s definition, individual Confession could be called a sacrament (52-55).
The second section deals with baptism, basically following the Large Catechism’s arrangement (75). Some highlights are:
- Luther on im Namen: “To be baptized in the name of God means that it is not done by human beings but one is baptized by God Himself” (87-88).
- Distinction between faith and one’s own work (97, cf. 103, 142).
- “For this reason, it is thus most simple to summarize it by noting that the power, usefulness, fruit, and goal of Baptism is that it gives you salvation” (99).
- The section on the “Fundamental Reasons for Infant Baptism in the Bible and in Church History” (118-122). Connected with this is the faith of children (134).
The third section deals with the Lord’s Supper, again following the Large Catechism’s arrangement (149). Some highlights are:
- Against the Catholic transubstantiation, Luther’s emphasis that the body and blood are there “because of His command, promise and effecting” (167).
- Especially in the Lord’s Supper, we should remember how limited our reason is compared to God’s power (185).
- Luther against Carlstadt and his followers: “The Word, the Word, the Word, listen to this as well, you lying spirit, the Word does it!” (197).
- Luther’s encouragement about taking the Lord’s Supper: “Truly I see that I am in the world, in the midst of all manner of sin and depravity into which I could certainly fall; therefore, so long as I am in the world, I certainly ought to make sure that I go to the sacrament, so that I hold fast to my Savior and strengthen my faith” (212-213).
- The interesting imagery which Luther received from the early church fathers and expanded upon for communio/koinonia: “many kernels become one in the one bread, just as many grapes have been pressed into one common drink in the Lord’s Supper” (218, cf. 219).
As anyone who has read the volumes in this commentary or reviews of these volumes will remember, Concordia Publishing House has published them only “as resources for study purposes” (ix). There are two caveats at the beginning of each volume. These volumes have not been submitted for doctrinal review to the LCMS and Peters uses the historical-critical exegetical method throughout the commentaries (x) e.g. “Christ event” (2, 12, 15, 23, 24, 103, 214). A few other examples of these caveats are (emphasis is the reviewer’s):
- Peters’ words to not take the “reports from the Gospels concerning the words and actions of Jesus and analyze them historically” (25).
- His comment: “For [Luther], the sacraments are first and foremost historical occurrences, by means of which God reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ” (37).
- His discussion of what happens when one partakes of the sacraments (66, 68, 90, 170).
- Peters on infants and reason: “Against this ‘simple disjunction’ between faith and reason, the objection has repeatedly been raised, and correctly so, that the issue is ‘that the infant lacks the “reason” needed for being able to believe, namely, the personal nature of his existence, by means of which I give myself up to God’s grace – certainly not “because of one’s own reason,” but with my reason” (132).
- His statement that Luther connected the body and blood’s presence in the Lord’s Supper with Christ’s ubiquity: “If Christ in fact rules over all creatures, and is even in the hearts of His opponents, how could He not be present in the Lord’s Supper as well?” (169).
- His criticism that Luther minimized “the implications of the universal dimension of the Lord’s Supper … the reformer permitted the scriptural statements that emphasize the universality of salvation to be bracketed by the statements that deal with predestination” (181).
- “… positing somehow that the Eucharistic meal can impact our physical body even when considered apart from whether there has been a decision about faith within the inner person?” (194).
- “The Spirit admittedly delivers forgiveness to us thereby, in that He makes it possible for us to recognize God’s fatherly heart in Christ’s sacrificial death and exaltation by faith” (204).
From the above sections, one can see that this volume should be read rather critically. (Maybe even more so than the other volumes reviewed by the Shepherd’s Study.) The most beneficial part of this volume (as with the other volumes) is the copious quotes from Luther and references to his works for further study. In this same vein, may this review finish with one final Luther quote to summarize this volume and the importance of these two sacraments: “We thus have two premier sacraments for the Church, Baptism and the bread; Baptism guides us forth into a new life on earth; the bread guides us through death into eternal life” (67).
Note: Albrecht Peters’ Commentary on Luther’s Catechism for the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer have already been reviewed for the Shepherd’s Study. Please also read those good reports and reviews of this commentary. A review of the final volume on Confession and Christian Life is forthcoming.
Albrecht Peters (1924-1987) was a professor at Ruprecht-Karl-Univeristät in Heidelberg, West Germany. Peters’ work on the Catechism began in the mid-1960s and was finished in the mid-1970s. However this was never published in his lifetime. It was posthumously gathered by his junior colleague Gottfried Seebass and published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in five volumes from 1990 to 1994. This volume on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is the fourth of this five volume commentary.
The translator, Thomas Trapp, was a LCMS full professor of religion and theology at Concordia University, St Paul, MN until 2012 and is currently a pastor at Emmaus Lutheran Church in St Paul. He was a Fulbright Scholarship student at Ruprecht-Karl-Univeristät in Heidelberg, West Germany, earning a doctorate in theology in 1980. He has numerous published translations of other German theological works. In addition to this work, he is also the translator of Peters’ commentary on the Creed and Confession and Christian Life.
Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Baptism and Lord’s Supper, by Albrecht Peters, (trans. Thomas Trapp). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2012. 270 pages.