“On the Recipients, Signs, and Promise of the Holy Sacrament, The Flesh and Blood of Christ”

Karlstadt, Andreas Bodenstein von (ca. 1480-1541)

Von den Empfahern: zeichen: und zusag des heylige(n) Sacraments, fleysch unnd bluts Christi.

Strasbourg: Johann Prüss the younger, 1521


Quarto: 19.6 x 14.9 cm. [12] leaves. Collation: A-C4 (final leaf blank and present)

One of five printings, all printed in 1521.

Bound in modern patterned wrappers. With a small woodcut depicting a mass on the title page. This copy is in excellent condition. This issue is not recorded by Freys & Barge, “Verzeichnis der gedruckten Schriften des Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt.” But cf. numbers 54-58.

Karlstadt’s first treatise on the Lord’s Supper of 1521. Karlstadt still holds to the doctrine of corporeal presence, but views it as a sign of divine promise. Karlstadt wrote numerous tracts on the reception of the sacrament in both kinds. This tract deals especially with those who receive the sacrament, what the signs of the sacrament signify, and what promises are given to those who partake.

“From Luther Karlstadt had learned to stress the centrality of faith, to conceive of the Eucharist in terms of sign and promise, and to reject the Catholic notions of transubstantiation and the Eucharistic sacrifice…. In areas such as the elevation of the elements, the problem of taking only one kind, and the specific signification of the bread and the wine, Karlstadt’s statements departed from Luther’s own. Karlstadt asserted the centrality of faith by reiterating the view that faith is the only thing that makes the recipient worthy of receiving the sacrament… No one can prepare for the sacrament by fasting, confession, or prayer. Unbelief is the only valid impediment…. To Luther’s life-long annoyance Karlstadt rejected the elevation of the sacrament. He accepted Luther’s rejection of the Eucharistic sacrifice and then concluded, unlike Luther, that since elevation was part of the Old Testament sacrificial ritual, it should be rejected. Karlstadt also went one better than Luther apropos the Catholic practice of withholding the cup from the laity. Whereas Luther was content to condemn the hierarchy for withholding the cup, Karlstadt condemned as sinful any communicant who took only one kind.”(Sider, Karlstadt’s Mature Wittenberg Theology, pp. 141-144)

“The first of Karlstadt’s pamphlets to address the sacrament of the Eucharist, ‘On the Recipients, Signs, and Promise of the Holy Sacrament, the Flesh and Blood of Christ’, was intended to help laymen and women prepare for worthy reception of the sacrament. This was a topic common to sermons preached the week before Easter, when all Christians were required to receive communion. Karlstadt’s pamphlet contains some of the same ideas as Luther’s given at Wittenberg parish church on Maundy Thursday of 1521. Both sermons opposed the traditional view that those intending to receive communion needed to prepare for it not only by making a full sacramental confession to a priest but also through prayer, meditation, and the other ascetic practices intended to make one pure. Such preparation, both Luther and Karlstadt argued, amounted to works righteousness. Instead, the only proper preparation for receiving communion was an awareness of one’s sinfulness and desire for God’s forgiveness. As Karlstadt put it, only the sick realized that they needed a physician. In the second part of his sermon, Karlstadt took up Luther’s definition of a sacrament as a promise and a sign. This part of the sermon was intended to counter popular preoccupation with the presence of Christ’s body in the consecrated host, which drew attention away from the promise of forgiveness. Karlstadt told his readers that signs were given to remind and reassure Christians of God’s promise and like Noah, Abraham, and Jacob in the Old Testament, they could hold to the promise attested to by the signs to give them firm assurance that God had forgiven their sins. The theme of sacrament as a sign and promise would recur in Karlstadt’s other pamphlets on the mass and would help spread this aspect of Wittenberg theology in the very early years of the Reformation.”(Burnet, “The Eucharistic Pamphlets of Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, pp. 6-7)

Cf. Freys & Barge 57