Two Sacraments – and Reception in Both Kinds

Earlier, we noted how the theologians of the early Middle Ages reached agreement on a definition of a sacrament which allowed seven such sacraments to be identified: baptism; confirmation; the eucharist; marriage; penance; ordination; and extreme unction (2.3.5). This understanding of the nature of a sacrament was subjected to critical scrutiny by early Protestant writers. The result of this process of review and revision was that only two sacraments were recognized by Protestants: baptism and the eucharist (or Lord’s Supper).


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Yet there was a second matter relating to the sacraments that emerged as significant in the sixteenth-century debates. In a communion service, were the laity allowed to receive both bread and wine, or only the bread? Early Protestant writers were severely critical of the medieval practice of “communion in one kind” (in other words, giving the laity bread alone, and not bread and wine). Until the twelfth century, it was the general practice to allow all present at Mass to consume both the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine. However, it seems that during the eleventh century, increasing offense arose through some of the laity being careless with the wine when receiving it, and spilling what was now, according to the emerging theology of transubstantiation, the blood of Christ over church floors. By the thirteenth century, only clergy were permitted to receive wine.

According to Luther, this was indefensible, partly in that it lacked any biblical or histori- cal precedent. Yet Luther also declared that the clerical refusal to offer the chalice (the vessel containing the wine) to the laity was unacceptable on theological grounds. If the laity were prevented from having access to the wine, they were also prevented from having access to what the wine signified.

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