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The Large Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther

Part 3 out of 3

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water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul
to apprehend. Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism,
therefore body and soul must be saved and live forever: the soul
through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united
with the soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend
it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul, for by it we
are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon
earth, can attain.

Let this suffice respecting the nature, blessing, and use of Baptism,
for it answers the present purpose.

[Part Fifth.]


In the same manner as we have heard regarding Holy Baptism, we must
speak also concerning the other Sacrament, namely, these three points:
What is it? What are its benefits? and, Who is to receive it? And all
these are established by the words by which Christ has instituted it,
and which every one who desires to be a Christian and go to the
Sacrament should know. For it is not our intention to admit to it and
to administer it to those who know not what they seek, or why they
come. The words, however, are these:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took
bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His
disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for
this do in remembrance of Me.

After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, gave
thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is
the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission
of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.

Here also we do not wish to enter into controversy and contend with the
traducers and blasphemers of this Sacrament, but to learn first (as we
did regarding Baptism) what is of the greatest importance, namely that
the chief point is the Word and ordinance or command of God. For it has
not been invented nor introduced by any man, but without any one's
counsel and deliberation it has been instituted by Christ. Therefore,
just as the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed retain
their nature and worth although you never keep, pray, or believe them,
so also does this venerable Sacrament remain undisturbed, so that
nothing is detracted or taken from it, even though we employ and
dispense it unworthily. What do you think God cares about what we do or
believe, so that on that account He should suffer His ordinance to be
changed? Why, in all worldly matters every thing remains as God has
created and ordered it, no matter how we employ or use it. This must
always be urged, for thereby the prating of nearly all the fanatical
spirits can be repelled. For they regard the Sacraments, aside from the
Word of God, as something that we do.

Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar!

Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and
under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word
of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it
is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and
wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the
table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word
of God.

It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so
that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and
blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et At
sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element it becomes a
Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put
that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a
Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is
not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime
Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as
He says, and accept it with all reverence fear, and humility.

With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and say: If a
hundred thousand devils, together with all fanatics, should rush
forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of
Christ? etc., I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as
wise as is the Divine Majesty in His little finger. Now here stands the
Word of Christ: Take, eat; this is My body; Drink ye all of it; this is
the new testament in My blood, etc. Here we abide, and would like to
see those who will constitute themselves His masters, and make it
different from what He has spoken. It is true, indeed, that if you take
away the Word or regard it without the words, you have nothing but mere
bread and wine. But if the words remain with them as they shall and
must, then, in virtue of the same, it is truly the body and blood of
Christ. For as the lips of Christ say and speak, so it is, as He can
never lie or deceive.

Hence it is easy to reply to all manner of questions about which men
are troubled at the present time, such as this one: Whether even a
wicked priest can minister at, and dispense, the Sacrament, and
whatever other questions like this there may be. For here we conclude
and say: Even though a knave takes or distributes the Sacrament, he
receives the true Sacrament, that is, the true body and blood of
Christ, just as truly as he who [receives or] administers it in the
most worthy manner. For it is not founded upon the holiness of men, but
upon the Word of God. And as no saint upon earth, yea, no angel in
heaven, can make bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ, so
also can no one change or alter it, even though it be misused. For the
Word by which it became a Sacrament and was instituted does not become
false because of the person or his unbelief. For He does not say: If
you believe or are worthy, you receive My body and blood, but: Take,
eat and drink; this is By body and blood. Likewise: Do this (namely,
what I now do, institute, give, and bid you take) . That is as much as
to say, No matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His
body and blood by virtue of these words which are added to the bread
and wine. Only note and remember this well; for upon these words rest
all our foundation, protection, and defense against all errors and
deception that have ever come or may yet come.

Thus we have briefly the first point which relates to the essence of
this Sacrament. Now examine further the efficacy and benefits on
account of which really the Sacrament was instituted; which is also its
most necessary part, that we may know what we should seek and obtain
there. Now this is plain and clear from the words just mentioned: This
is My body and blood, given and shed FOR YOU, for the remission of
sins. Briefly that is as much as to say: For this reason we go to the
Sacrament because there we receive such a treasure by and in which we
obtain forgiveness of sins. Why so? Because the words stand here and
give us this; for on this account He bids me eat and drink, that it may
be my own and may benefit me, as a sure pledge and token, yea, the very
same treasure that is appointed for me against my sins, death, and
every calamity.

On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes
and strengthens the new man. For by Baptism we are first born anew; but
(as we said before) there still remains, besides, the old vicious
nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and
temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary
and faint, and sometimes also stumble.

Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith
may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a
battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. For the new life must be
so regulated that it continually increase and progress, but it must
suffer much opposition. For the devil is such a furious enemy that when
he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot
topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides, tries
all devices, and does not desist until he finally wearies us, so that
we either renounce our faith or yield hands and feet and become
listless or impatient. Now to this end the consolation is here given
when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, that it may
here obtain new power and refreshment.

But here our wise spirits contort themselves with their great art and
wisdom, crying out and bawling: How can bread and wine forgive sins or
strengthen faith? Although they hear and know that we do not say this
of bread and wine, because in itself bread is bread, but of such bread
and wine as is the body and blood of Christ, and has the words attached
to it. That, we say, is verily the treasure, and nothing else, through
which such forgiveness is obtained. Now the only way in which it is
conveyed and appropriated to us is in the words (Given and shed for
you). For herein you have both truths, that it is the body and blood of
Christ, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now the body of
Christ can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, that effects or profits
nothing. Yet however great is the treasure in itself, it must be
comprehended in the Word and administered to us, else we should never
be able to know or seek it.

Therefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of
Christ are not given and shed for us in the Lord's Supper, hence we
could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For although the
work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross,
yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For
what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was
accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by
preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they
apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they
lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the
entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian
Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this
Sacrament and presented to us. Why, then, should we allow this treasure
to be torn from the Sacrament when they must confess that these are the
very words which we hear everywhere in the Gospel, and they cannot say
that these words in the Sacrament are of no use, as little as they dare
say that the entire Gospel or Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is
of no use?

Thus we have the entire Sacrament, both as to what it is in itself and
as to what it brings and profits. Now we must also see who is the
person that receives this power and benefit. That is answered briefly,
as we said above of Baptism and often elsewhere: Whoever believes it
has what the words declare and bring. For they are not spoken or
proclaimed to stone and wood, but to those who hear them, to whom He
says: Take and eat, etc. And because He offers and promises forgiveness
of sin, it cannot be received otherwise than by faith. This faith He
Himself demands in the Word when He says: Given and shed for you. As if
He said: For this reason I give it, and bid you eat and drink, that you
may claim it as yours and enjoy it. Whoever now accepts these words,
and believes that what they declare is true, has it. But whoever does
not believe it has nothing, as he allows it to be offered to him in
vain, and refuses to enjoy such a saving good. The treasure, indeed, is
opened and placed at every one's door, yea upon his table, but it is
necessary that you also claim it, and confidently view it as the words
suggest to you.

This, now, is the entire Christian preparation for receiving this
Sacrament worthily. For since this treasure is entirely presented in
the words, it cannot be apprehended and appropriated in any other way
than with the heart. For such a gift and eternal treasure cannot be
seized with the fist. Fasting and prayer, etc., may indeed be an
external preparation and discipline for children, that the body may
keep and bear itself modestly and reverently towards the body and blood
of Christ; yet what is given in and with it the body cannot seize and
appropriate. But this is done by the faith of the heart, which discerns
this treasure and desires it. This may suffice for what is necessary
as a general instruction respecting this Sacrament; for what is
further to be said of it belongs to another time.


In conclusion, since we have now the true understanding and doctrine of
the Sacrament, there is indeed need of some admonition and exhortation,
that men may not let so great a treasure which is daily administered
and distributed among Christians pass by unheeded, that is, that those
who would be Christians make ready to receive this venerable Sacrament
often. For we see that men seem weary and lazy with respect to it; and
there is a great multitude of such as hear the Gospel, and, because the
nonsense of the Pope has been abolished, and we are freed from his laws
and coercion, go one, two, three years, or even longer without the
Sacrament, as though they were such strong Christians that they have no
need of it; and some allow themselves to be prevented and deterred by
the pretense that we have taught that no one should approach it except
those who feel hunger and thirst, which urge them to it. Some pretend
that it is a matter of liberty and not necessary, and that it is
sufficient to believe without it; and thus for the most part they go so
far that they become quite brutish, and finally despise both the
Sacrament and the Word of God.

Now, it is true, as we have said, that no one should by any means be
coerced or compelled, lest we institute a new murdering of souls.
Nevertheless, it must be known that such people as deprive themselves
of, and withdraw from, the Sacrament so long a time are not to be
considered Christians. For Christ has not instituted it to be treated
as a show, but has commanded His Christians to eat and drink it, and
thereby remember Him.

And, indeed, those who are true Christians and esteem the Sacrament
precious and holy will urge and impel themselves unto it. Yet that the
simple-minded and the weak who also would like to be Christians be the
more incited to consider the cause and need which ought to impel them,
we will treat somewhat of this point. For as in other matters
pertaining to faith, love, and patience, it is not enough to teach and
instruct only, but there is need also of daily exhortation, so here
also there is need of continuing to preach that men may not become
weary and disgusted, since we know and feel how the devil always
opposes this and every Christian exercise, and drives and deters
therefrom as much as he can.

And we have, in the first place, the clear text in the very words of
Christ: Do this in remembrance of Me. These are bidding and commanding
words by which all who would be Christians are enjoined to partake of
this Sacrament. Therefore, whoever would be a disciple of Christ, with
whom He here speaks, must also consider and observe this, not from
compulsion, as being forced by men, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus
Christ, and to please Him. However, if you say: But the words are
added, As oft as ye do it; there He compels no one, but leaves it to
our free choice, answer: That is true, yet it is not written that we
should never do so. Yea, just because He speaks the words, As oft as ye
do it, it is nevertheless implied that we should do it often; and it is
added for the reason that He wishes to have the Sacrament free, not
limited to special times, like the Passover of the Jews, which they
were obliged to eat only once a year, and that just upon the fourteenth
day of the first full moon in the evening, and which they must not vary
a day. As if He would say by these words: I institute a Passover or
Supper for you which you shall enjoy not only once a year, just upon
this evening, but often, when and where you will, according to every
one's opportunity and necessity, bound to no place or appointed time;
although the Pope afterwards perverted it, and again made a Jewish
feast of it.

Thus, you perceive, it is not left free in the sense that we may
despise it. For that I call despising it if one allow so long a time to
elapse and with nothing to hinder him yet never feels a desire for it.
If you wish such liberty, you may just as well have the liberty to be
no Christian, and neither have to believe nor pray; for the one is just
as much the command of Christ as the other. But if you wish to be a
Christian, you must from time to time render satisfaction and obedience
to this commandment. For this commandment ought ever to move you to
examine yourself and to think: See, what sort of a Christian I am! If I
were one, I would certainly have some little longing for that which my
Lord has commanded [me] to do.

And, indeed, since we act such strangers to it, it is easily seen what
sort of Christians we were under the Papacy, namely, that we went from
mere compulsion and fear of human commandments, without inclination and
love, and never regarded the commandment of Christ. But we neither
force nor compel any one; nor need any one do it to serve or please us.
But this should induce and constrain you by itself, that He desires it
and that it is pleasing to Him. You must not suffer men to coerce you
unto faith or any good work. We are doing no more than to say and
exhort you as to what you ought to do, not for our sake, but for your
own sake. He invites and allures you; if you despise it, you must
answer for it yourself.

Now, this is to be the first point, especially for those who are cold
and indifferent, that they may reflect upon and rouse themselves. For
this is certainly true, as I have found in my own experience, and as
every one will find in his own case, that if a person thus withdraw
from this Sacrament, he will daily become more and more callous and
cold, and will at last disregard it altogether. To avoid this, we must,
indeed, examine heart and conscience, and act like a person who desires
to be right with God. Now, the more this is done, the more will the
heart be warmed and enkindled, that it may not become entirely cold.

But if you say: How if I feel that I am not prepared? Answer: That is
also my scruple, especially from the old way under the Pope, in which a
person tortured himself to be so perfectly pure that God could not find
the least blemish in us. On this account we became so timid that every
one was instantly thrown into consternation and said to himself: Alas!
you are unworthy! For then nature and reason begin to reckon our
unworthiness in comparison with the great and precious good; and then
it appears like a dark lantern in contrast with the bright sun, or as
filth in comparison with precious stones. Because nature and reason see
this, they refuse to approach and tarry until they are prepared so long
that one week trails another, and one half year the other. But if you
are to regard how good and pure you are, and labor to have no
compunctions, you must never approach.

We must, therefore, make a distinction here among men. For those who
are wanton and dissolute must be told to stay away; for they are not
prepared to receive forgiveness of sin since they do not desire it and
do not wish to be godly. But the others, who are not such callous and
wicked people, and desire to be godly, must not absent themselves, even
though otherwise they be feeble and full of infirmities, as St. Hilary
also has said: If any one have not committed sin for which he can
rightly be put out of the congregation and esteemed as no Christian, he
ought not stay away from the Sacrament, lest he may deprive himself of
life. For no one will make such progress that he will not retain many
daily infirmities in flesh and blood.

Therefore such people must learn that it is the highest art to know
that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not
baptized because we are worthy and holy, nor do we go to confession
because we are pure and without sin, but the contrary because we are
poor miserable men and just because we are unworthy; unless it be some
one who desires no grace and absolution nor intends to reform.

But whoever would gladly obtain grace and consolation should impel
himself, and allow no one to frighten him away, but say: I, indeed,
would like to be worthy, but I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon
Thy Word, because Thou hast commanded it, as one who would gladly be
Thy disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness. But this is
difficult; for we always have this obstacle and hindrance to encounter,
that we look more upon ourselves than upon the Word and lips of Christ.
For nature desires so to act that it can stand and rest firmly on
itself, otherwise it refuses to make the approach. Let this suffice
concerning the first point.

In the second place, there is besides this command also a promise, as
we heard above, which ought most strongly to incite and encourage us.
For here stand the kind and precious words: This is My body, given for
you. This is My blood, shed for you, for the remission of sins. These
words, I have said, are not preached to wood and stone, but to me and
you; else He might just as well be silent and not institute a
Sacrament. Therefore consider, and put yourself into this YOU, that He
may not speak to you in vain.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for
us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with
the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11, 28: Come unto
Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Now it is surely a sin and a shame that He so cordially and faithfully
summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, and we act so
distantly with regard to it, and permit so long a time to pass [without
partaking of the Sacrament] that we grow quite cold and hardened, so
that we have no inclination or love for it. We must never regard the
Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee but as a
pure wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort,
which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where
the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, is it
that we act as if it were a poison, the eating of which would bring

To be sure, it is true that those who despise it and live in an
unchristian manner receive it to their hurt and damnation; for nothing
shall be good or wholesome to them, just as with a sick person who from
caprice eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician. But
those who are sensible of their weakness, desire to be rid of it and
long for help, should regard and use it only as a precious antidote
against the poison which they have in them. For here in the Sacrament
you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin which
contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all
His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil
and all misfortune.

Thus you have, on the part of God, both the command and the promise of
the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides this, on your part, your own distress
which is about your neck, and because of which this command, invitation
and promise are given, ought to impel you. For He Himself says: They
that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick; that is,
those who are weary and heavy-laden with their sins, with the fear of
death temptations of the flesh and of the devil. If therefore, you are
heavy-laden and feel your weakness, then go joyfully to this Sacrament
and obtain refreshment, consolation, and strength. For if you would
wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the
Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case
He pronounces sentence and says: If you are pure and godly, you have no
need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are
called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be
considered sinners.

But if you say: What, then, shall I do if I cannot feel such distress
or experience hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? Answer: For those
who are so minded that they do not realize their condition I know no
better counsel than that they put their hand into their bosom to
ascertain whether they also have flesh and blood. And if you find that
to be the case, then go, for your good, to St. Paul's Epistle to the
Galatians, and hear what sort of a fruit your flesh is: Now the works
of the flesh (he says [chap. 5, 19ff.]) are manifest, which are these:
Adultery fornication uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft,
hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

Therefore, if you cannot feel it, at least believe the Scriptures, they
will not lie to you and they know your flesh better than you yourself.
Yea, St. Paul further concludes in Rom. 7, 18: l know that in me, that
is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. If St. Paul may speak thus of
his flesh, we do not propose to be better nor more holy. But that we do
not feel it is so much the worse; for it is a sign that there is a
leprous flesh which feels nothing, and yet [the leprosy] rages and
keeps spreading. Yet as we have said, if you are quite dead to all
sensibility, still believe the Scriptures, which pronounce sentence
upon you. And, in short, the less you feel your sins and infirmities,
the more reason have you to go to the Sacrament to seek help and a

In the second place, look about you and see whether you are also in the
world, or if you do not know it, ask your neighbors about it. If you
are in the world, do not think that there will be lack of sins and
misery. For only begin to act as though you would be godly and adhere
to the Gospel, and see whether no one will become your enemy, and,
moreover, do you harm, wrong, and violence, and likewise give you cause
for sin and vice. If you have not experienced it, then let the
Scriptures tell you, which everywhere give this praise and testimony to
the world.

Besides this, you will also have the devil about you, whom you will not
entirely tread under foot, because our Lord Christ Himself could not
entirely avoid him. Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the
Scriptures call him, a liar and murderer. A liar, to lead the heart
astray from the Word of God, and to blind it, that you cannot feel your
distress or come to Christ. A murderer, who cannot bear to see you live
one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows
are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the
Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk so
securely and heedlessly, except that we neither think nor believe that
we are in the flesh, and in this wicked world or in the kingdom of the

Therefore, try this and practice it well, and do but examine yourself,
or look about you a little, and only keep to the Scriptures. If even
then you still feel nothing, you have so much the more misery to lament
both to God and to your brother. Then take advice and have others pray
for you, and do not desist until the stone be removed from your heart.
Then, indeed, the distress will not fail to become manifest, and you
will find that you have sunk twice as deep as any other poor sinner,
and are much more in need of the Sacrament against the misery which
unfortunately you do not see, so that, with the grace of God, you may
feel it more and become the more hungry for the Sacrament, especially
since the devil plies his force against you, and lies in wait for you
without ceasing, to seize and destroy you, soul and body, so that you
are not safe from him one hour. How soon can he have brought you
suddenly into misery and distress when you least expect it!

Let this, then, be said for exhortation, not only for those of us who
are old and grown, but also for the young people, who ought to be
brought up in the Christian doctrine and understanding. For thereby the
Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer might be the more
easily inculcated to our youth, so that they would receive them with
pleasure and earnestness, and thus would practice them from their youth
and accustom themselves to them. For the old are now well-nigh done
for, so that these and other things cannot be attained, unless we train
the people who are to come after us and succeed us in our office and
work, in order that they also may bring up their children successfully
that the Word of God and the Christian Church may be preserved.
Therefore let every father of a family know that it is his duty by the
injunction and command of God, to teach these things to his children,
or have them learn what they ought to know. For since they are baptized
and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this
communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be
useful to us; for they must all indeed help us to believe, love, pray,
and fight against the devil.

This text was converted to ASCII format for Project Wittenberg by
Allen Mulvey and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute,
copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to:
Rev. Robert E. Smith of the Walther Library at Concordia Theological

E-mail: bob_smith@mail.ctsfw.edu
Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (219) 452-3149 Fax: (219) 452-2126

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