Written By: Albert Schweitzer
Translated By: A. J. Mattill, Jr.
Reviewed English Edition: Mercer University Press, 1982
Originally Published As:
Das Abendmahlsproblem auf Grund der wissenschaftlichen Forschung des 19. Jahrhunderts und der historischen Berichte, Heft 1: Das Abendmahl im Zusammenhang mit dem Leben Jesu und der Geschichte des Urchristentums, 1901
Hardcover, 144 pages
Table of Contents
Laymen and laywomen may be forgiven for being surprised to find that there is a problem with the Lord's Supper (that is, the eucharist). After all, the blessing and consumption of bread and wine has been celebrated in Christian churches since the founding of Christianity. However, scholars have known for centuries that there are in fact a number of peculiarities and apparent inconsistencies in New Testament accounts of the Lord's Supper. To simplify one particular concern, the blessings and consumptions appear in different orders: the bread is blessed and then consumed, while the wine is consumed and then blessed. It may seem a trivial difference, but it raises important questions that, at least until recently, sharply divided churches and, indeed, individual scholars within various traditions. In particular, did (and does) the blessing confer redemption, or did (and does) the significance of the Lord's Supper rely on the actual consumption? Or was it all intended as figurative, with the real significance lying in the disciples increased understanding of Messiahship and the Kingdom?
The answers to these and other questions seem to differ in various Gospels, and, importantly, the early Christian tradition of the eucharist departs substantially from most Gospel accounts. Schweitzer resolves these problems by accepting Mark's Gospel as the most historically reliable account within the Gospels, and emphasizing the eschatological features of Mark's (and other) accounts. Since the world did not immediately end, early Christians would have had to de-emphasize eschatological meaning and develop new understandings. Paul, in particular, developed a theologically complex and internally consistent understanding of Christ's work on Earth and a person's proper relationship to Christ. However, Schweitzer only hints at his solution in this book. A fuller explanation had to wait until his The Mystery of the Kingdom of God and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, among other works. Therefore The Problem of the Lord's Supper> is not a fully satisfying book, but does point the way to Schweitzer's later works, both with respect to approach and theology.
[From the introduction by John Reumann] "We conclude with a paradox. Schweitzer's work on the Lord's Supper has left little mark from its survey of research, none in practical worship life in Strassburg or elsewhere, and had a mixed reception at best in the history of interpreation of the Lord's Supper texts. Yet what he emphasized--the church's meal as an eschatological feast, a foretaste of one to come in the kingdom; the mood of "holy hilarity," as in Acts 1-2; de-emphasis of the cross and death of Jesus; of confession of sins, and Good-Friday piety, and even of the words of institution, which have been replaced by, or incorporated into, a "eucharistic prayer"--all that has simply become commonplace in much recent liturgy-making, post-Vatican II Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, even Presbyterian-Reformed and Free Church. How did that come about?"
[note: By 'the primitive Christian celebration', Schweitzer means the eucharist celebration as it was following the crucification of Jesus; by 'the historical celebration' he mean the eucharist celebration as described in the synoptic Gospels, especially Mark.] "The interpretations with a one-sided emphasis upon the moment of partaking can explain only the primitive Christian celebration, never the historical celebration.
The interpretations with a one-sided emphasis upon the moment of presentation can explain only the historical celebration, never the primitive Christian celebration.
The two-sided interpretations can explain the historical celebration only to the extent that they do not explain the primitive Christian celebration, and vice versa.
"Now it is the peculiarity of all modern historical interpretations of the Lord's Supper that they do not stress the eschatological thought in the celebration. They do not utitize the saying about drinking the new wine in the Father's kingdom as a statement which constitutes the essence of the final meal, but at the most they make out of it a supplementary saying."
"The problem of the Lord's Supper is the problem of the life of Jesus! A new interpretation of the Lord's Supper can be built only upon a new interpretation of the life of Jesus, an interpretation which so contains the secrets of the messiahship and of the passion that his solemn action at the final meal becomes comprehensible and understandable. A new life of Jesus: that is the only way to the solution of the problem of the Lord's Supper."
Editor's Preface Introduction, by John Reumann
- The Context in Schweitzer's Career
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