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Luther and Zwingli’s Definition of Sacrament…

October 6, 2016

1.5. The Reformation and the Definition of a Sacrament

1.5.1. Luther’s Definition of a Sacrament

Martin Luther (1483-1546) narrowed the definition of a Sacrament, emphasizing the need for a physical or material element, its efficacy to forgive sins, and its institution of by Jesus.

1. a “physical or material” element pointing to a spiritual reality (e.g. water in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist)

by again requiring that the sacrament must have a physical or material element, Luther excluded Penance (which early in his writings he had included)

2. a resemblance to the reality pointed to (e.g. wine resembles blood)

3. an efficacy to forgive sins

4. an authorization by Jesus, documented in the Bible to:

to signify the sacred reality

to forgive sins of the believer

Or more succinctly: a physical sign instituted by Jesus with the power to forgive sins

Only 2 of the 7 Catholic sacraments met this strict definition:



1.5.2. Zwingli’s Definition of a Sacrament

Ulrich Zwingli (1481-1531, Swiss Reformer) said a sacrament (he accepted Luther’s two, Baptism and the Eucharist) is a sign instituted by Jesus, which signifies the commitment and loyalty of the believer. He denied that a sacrament had efficacy — that is, that they bestowed grace or the forgiveness of sins.

*Zwingli, one of the early Swiss Reformers was close to Luther, but held that the sacrament had no efficacy on its own merit, they were as Augustine later noted, ‘a sign and seal’, but not the reality themselves of salvation and forgiveness. I surely agree!  (Fr. R.)

And Luther’s idea of Sacrament cannot be pressed into the full Roman Catholic idea.  Which we actually see in many Lutheran Church’s and their theology today. But in my opinion, this is NOT Luther’s real doctrine and teaching.. which is more Augustinian.

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