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Albert Schweitzer's Theology of the Eucharist: A Critical Analysis

This paper will explore Alberts Schweitzer’s eucharistic theology. Schweitzer’s work in this area became the starting point for his position on the life of Jesus as a Jewish prophet of apocalyptic eschatology; Schweitzer famously proposed what would later become known as consistent eschatology. This paper will not investigate the accuracy of Schweitzer’s claim in this area, much scholarly investigation has taken place in the many years since Schweitzer’s publications which deal with the debate.[1] Those in disagreement notably include C.H. Dodd[2] and Rudolf Otto.[3] This paper will instead explore the impact that Schweitzer’s position has on the sacramental nature of the Eucharist, little work has been conducted in this area. The paper will have a brief description of what Schweitzer called ‘the problem of the Lord’s Supper’ and how Schweitzer’s research concluded; this is important to understand the context in which Schweitzer’s eucharistic theology sat. We will look at the eschatological nature of sacraments and confirm a claim made by Schweitzer that ‘all sacraments are eschatological’.[4] We will briefly explore Schweitzer’s ambiguous Christology which this paper will argue has major consequence for the sacramental nature of the Eucharist. Finally, we will explore Schweitzer’s view around the discourse that surrounded the historical celebration and investigate the impact this has on sacramentality.


Schweitzer’s problem of the Lord’s Supper

In his 1900 thesis, Schweitzer addresses the Lord’s Supper directly. He believed that a series of individual questions, which in various interpretations are answered differently, were all in fact all related. For example, does the significance of the figurative sayings lie in the fact that Jesus breaks the bread and passes around wine in a cup, or does it depend on the fact the disciples eat this bread and drink this wine? Schweitzer realised that the significance of the act must include not only the presentation of elements by Jesus, but also in the partaking by the disciples just as Calvin recognised. However, Schweitzer was dissatisfied by the way previous scholarship had related the two.[5] He pondered if the historic meal had taken place in connection with the Passover meal. If it had, then passover conceptions must be presupposed for Jesus’ words and their understanding; yet the chronology of the event differs in John’s gospel. How do we explain the absence of the historical account from the fourth gospel even though chapter 6 obviously presupposes the celebration? Schweitzer wanted to understand if the Agape and the Lord’s meal were separated, were they somehow connected, or were they identical? The command to repeat the rite is only attested in some gospel accounts, what then was to be understood as the proper representation. How is it possible the ‘founder’ (Schweitzer’s terminology) required them to repeat his own words, which have meaning only in his mouth and in that historical moment? There are various other questions that Schweitzer sought to address, a full reading of them can be found at the beginning of his thesis paper.[6] Schweitzer would go on to address the problem through the lens of Jesus’ life, believing this to be the unifying factor missed by his forerunners. He proposed his ‘thorough-going eschatology’, in which he believed all his questions could be answered. His work into the life of Jesus was so thorough that it ended the so-called 1st quest for the Historical Jesus. The events of the Lord’s Supper, for Schweitzer, demanded a new view of the life of Jesus. He made his famous statement: the problem of the Lord’s Supper is the problem of the Life of Jesus.[7]


1.0 An Outline of Schweitzer’s Life of Jesus

It was in 1894 whilst on military manoeuvres Albert Schweitzer discovered what he called the ‘eschatological clue’ to life of Jesus; the key to understanding his viewpoint is in Matthew chapters 10 and 11. Jesus sends out his disciples during his ministry, he explains to them to expect persecution but that the Son of Man will arrive before they return from their expedition. For Schweitzer, Jesus fully expected the supernatural intervention of God within His own lifetime. Jesus, who had a Jewish Apocalyptic eschatology, believed John to be Elijah which indicated a period of radical repentance would soon be underway, there would be an uprising of evil forces dubbed the ‘messianic woes’, which God would quell by sending the Kingdom of God. However, when the disciples return to Jesus and no such events have occurred, Jesus, realising he is wrong, figures that he himself must bear the messianic woes. Jesus considers himself the long-expected Messiah, who will be transformed into the Apocalyptic Son of Man; he understands that he must provoke the authorities to take action against him so that he will be put to death and trigger the eschaton. Schweitzer believed that a culture of fellowship meals had become the norm for Jesus and his disciples in his mendicant ministry as they travelled through Galilee; the events of the last supper took place in this context but with the significance arising from this being the final meal; the expected eschaton, that Jesus had come to believe, would occur.


2.0 Implications on the Sacramental nature

Mystery and Sacrament are closely linked in Christianity: when Hebrew and Greek manuscripts were translated to become the Latin Vulgate, μυστήροιν was translated as sacramentum. The ‘mystery’ for Paul, and for the authors of the synoptic accounts of the gospel, was always associated with the coming Kingdom of God. The early Church tried to distance itself from the ‘pagan mystery religions’, so the word ‘mystery’ was dropped from within the context of worship and replaced with the word sacrament.[8] Therefore the idea put forward by Schweitzer that all ‘sacraments are eschatological’ seems credible.[9] Schweitzer believed that Jesus’ teachings were always eschatological in nature, and that soon after the Lord’s Supper would be the coming Messianic Kingdom. Schweitzer speaks of the Lord’s Supper as a teaching moment in Jesus’ ministry that reveals this mystery.


 

2.1 The Eucharist as a Sacrament of the Eschaton

Although Schweitzer continually refers to the ‘Lord’s supper’, he uses this term not only to mean the historic event but also his eucharistic theology.  Dermont Lane explores the link between the Eucharist and eschatology and in a manner comes close to Schweitzer’s position. He writes:


It is within the celebration of the Eucharist that the historical drama of Christian eschatology unfolds uniting past, present and future; it is in the Eucharist that the eschaton (the end of times) is sacramentally represented to the Christian community. Above all it is the celebration of the Eucharist that keeps hope alive within the Christian community.[10]


Lane is happy to not confine the Eucharist to merely the eschatological, accepting the other aspects of meaning: elements of sacrifice, meal, fellowship, covenant, and corporate worship. As we shall see, Schweitzer did not necessarily deny that these additional elements were present in the Lord’s supper, but unlike Lane, the eschatological element was very much the primary driver of Schweitzer’s eucharistic theology.


Lane notes what he calls the ‘traditional link’ that exists between the memorial act (anamnesis) and the liturgy which surrounds the act. Quoting David Power, he remarks that ‘the relation of the remembered event to the present, and its continued influence on history is the crux of a current eucharistic theology’.[11] Lane tries to recapture the power of the Eucharist and distance it from a mere act of remembrance by calling it a counter-culture sign. The communal nature of the event represents a newly established eschatological Reign of God: he explains, ‘it disallows unfair distribution, refuses individualism and division, negates self-interest of political and economic powers, opposes all relationships of domination,’ in effect it could ultimately be understood as ‘the sacrament of equality in an unequal world’.[12] Very strong words that begin to bring into focus the future-looking qualities of the Christian celebration. Geoffrey Wainwright, puts this ‘rediscovery of the eschatological dimension’ in part to Schweitzer’s adoption, development, and broadcast of Johannes Weiss’s thesis into the concept of the Kingdom of God.[13] Wainwright expounds:


When Paul writes to the Corinthians that the Lord’s supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26) he is not merely giving them a negative warning that the eucharist is not a celebration of unbridled eschatological joy but is under the banner of the Lord’s death until His final advent: he is also opening up the prospect of the realization of the purposes of God and is setting the eucharist in that context.[14]

 

2.2 The Messianic Banquet and Looking to the Future

Schweitzer’s view is that Jesus continued the work of the Old Testament Prophets, carrying on the expectation of the messianic banquet of the last days. The interpretive clue, for him, was found in the feeding of the 5000 by the lake in Mark 6:30-44; this had the effect of consecrating his disciples and followers as companions in the messianic feast of the kingdom;[15] according to Reumann, Schweitzer called this ‘the first Eucharist’.[16] So for Schweitzer, the future-looking element was always present and paramount. Despite Schweitzer’s robust questioning of the Lord’s supper, he continually affirmed the celebration as authorised, imperative and necessary, due to the fact that the early Church gathered to mark it. There is a great appeal to the Christian hope in Schweitzer’s view. Lane adopts a similar position to Schweitzer and writes further about this ‘celebration of the future’; ‘we have become so accustomed to understanding the Eucharist as putting us in touch with the past and the present that we have lost sight of its prophetic significance’.[17]Schweitzer never seems to have lost focus on the prophetic significance, nor does it seem had the early Church. This was important for Schweitzer to understand as to why the celebration was continued. Schweitzer affirmed Schleiermacher’s view that there was no command from Jesus to repeat the rite; yet, despite this, accepted that the early Church recognised the significance of the act and continued it.[18] To further explain Lane writes:

The earliest accounts of the Eucharist available in Corinthians and in the Didache 10:6, are deeply conscious of the link with the future, symbolised in the prayer ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Maranatha). This prayer of the early Church accompanying the Eucharist is understood by many to have a had a double point of reference, namely a prayer for the Second Coming of Christ (Parousia) ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ as well as a confession of faith recognizing the eschatological advent of Christ in the Eucharist: ‘the Lord has come’.[19]


The earliest liturgies of the Church contained the μαραναθα prayer in association with the Eucharist. A more complete survey can be found in Wainwright’s work.[20]Finally, it is to Wainwright we turn to bring it all together and to fully affirm that Schweitzer’s eschatological view of the Eucharist is justifiable. Wainwright also recognises the symbolism of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and how it can be viewed in a temporal sense. He writes:

The word projection may be used to express the relation between the final advent of Christ and His coming at the eucharist: Christ’s coming at the eucharist is a projection in the temporal sense that it is ‘throwing forward’ of Christ’s final advent into the present. Christ’s coming at the eucharist is a projection of His final advent in something like a map-maker’s sense of projection. That is to say, it is a representation of a large reality by means of a set of comprehensible symbols.[21]

 

2.3 Is the Lord’s Supper a sacrament in Schweitzer’s theology?

Sacraments are themselves reserved for life within the Church; Cyprian of Carthage established that there could be no true a sacrament outwith the church, as only salvation could be found within.[22] As a result sacramental theology has developed as a corollary to Christian soteriology, so we find a tension in Schweitzer’s assessment. Although he continues to speak of the Lord’s supper imbued with eschatological and salvific overtones, he seems to deny the deity of Jesus and the purpose of his actions at the historic event. The problem of Schweitzer’s eucharistic theology does not reside in the eschatological but in the sacramental as we shall see.


Defining what a sacrament is has always had difficulty; much groundwork was laid by Augustine of Hippo. He viewed sacraments as symbolic, but symbolic of the spiritual reality of God’s grace.[23] In letter 138, written by Augustine in AD412, he more narrowly defined them as ‘symbolic actions pertaining to divine things.’[24] It becomes, then, an impossible task to separate sacramentality from the divine; when Schweitzer paints his portrait of Jesus as an odd apocalyptic prophet with misplaced eschatological hopes, he strays far from the Christian orthodoxy and damages Jesus’ divinity. John Colwell grounds sacramentality in the doctrine of God the following way:

The most basic definition of sacramentality, assumed and accepted by both Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, is that a sacrament is a means of grace. The definition of sacramentality, therefore, is itself dependent upon definitions of these two dynamics, the dynamic of mediation (means) and the dynamic of presence and transformation (grace). And grace – at least as I have tried to define Trinitarianly – is a dynamic. That which is mediated sacramentally is the presence and action of this one who loves in freedom…it is God’s presence and action that is communicated sacramentally.[25]


Jesus’ actions can be considered eschatological as Schweitzer rightly proposed, and as this paper has shown above. It is also true that sacraments can be considered eschatological. Yet for an act to remain sacramental, it must convey a sense of God’s grace; this remains a hurdle that potentially cannot be overcome whilst maintaining Schweitzer’s eucharistic theology. If Jesus was doing anything other than conveying the presence and action of God in the upper room, then the Lord’s Supper is no longer sacramental in nature. Schweitzer only ever explicitly recognises Jesus as offering thanks for fellowship and the promise that those present will have a place beside him in the coming Messianic Kingdom. Although Schweitzer maintains the Jewish association of the messianic banquet with salvation, he does not necessitate it with God’s grace. Furthermore, Christ’s actual presence as the historic event, for Schweitzer, may not constitute a divine presence. Schweitzer’s view on the deity of Christ is complex.


2.4 Schweitzer’s Christology

Henry B. Clark writes ‘it cannot be denied that Schweitzer’s theological position is permeated with ambiguity’; he goes on to state that a translated study of Schweitzer leaves substantial grounds to maintain that not only was he not a Christian, but he also wasn’t even a theist.[26] This is certainly an unfair representation of Schweitzer’s view on his own faith. Despite this, Oscar Cullman gives the appraisal that ‘it is utterly inconsistent for Schweitzer to pronounce himself a representative of distinctly Christian piety’, nevertheless, this paper again asserts that Schweitzer did have a deep faith in Jesus.[27] He was, however, reluctant to declare himself either theist or pantheist. He viewed God as a dynamic force, an operative force of will that is in all beings. For Schweitzer, deity and divinity were not a static essence, not something that could be known intellectually, only something felt experientially. Clark illustrates it this way:

[for Schweitzer] alongside the raw will-to-live which drives every living thing to preserve its own existence, man is encountered by a cosmic will-to-love that bids him devote himself to the service and care of other forms of life, in an effort to heal the division of life against itself which confronts us in nature.[28]


The ‘will-to-love’ is, in essence, how Schweitzer defined the divine. He believed that this was the nature of Christ’s divinity. He writes in his own biography ‘all living knowledge of God rests upon this foundation: that we experience Him in our lives as Will-to-Love’.[29] It begs the question of the historic Lord’s Supper, did the disciples experience the will-to-love by the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine? This we cannot prove either way. Schweitzer saw Jesus as having this force in abundance, alongside his great skill as an ethical teacher; Jesus’ actions in the upper room were another way in which He expressed this will-to-love. So, it was in this sense that the grace of God was present. Those present were loved so much that Jesus would give them the sign of the Messianic banquet. Schweitzer explains it this way:

The last Supper at Jerusalem was therefore in its essential nature, the same celebration with the multitude at the lake: a meal which Jesus gives thanks in prospect of the coming kingdom and Messianic Feast, and distributes to those present, the food which has in this way (i.e. touched by His own hands) been consecrated, thus recognising them as those who are to share with Him in the coming Messianic Feast.[30]


So how can we define Schweitzer’s Christology? Clark proposes it thus ‘Jesus is the Christ, first of all, because he is a teacher of universal ethical truth; secondly, because he is the incarnation of God as compassionate, self-giving, Will-to-Love’.[31] Schweitzer’s primary understanding of Jesus as a great ethical teacher, in no way assumes deity; it is the second view that affirms the incarnation.


So, indeed it was a divine being that not only mediated at the Lord’s supper, but also present was the divine presence as a dynamic force capable of transformation: this is what Schweitzer labels ‘will-to-love’. This may go some length to re-establish a sacramental nature to Schweitzer’s view of the eucharist without the explicit definition of God’s grace being mediated. However, we must also consider the following: Schweitzer’s tendency towards pantheism somewhat undermines the power of the eucharist. In his own words: ‘Every form of living Christianity is pantheistic in that it is bound to envisage everything that exists as having its being in the great First Cause of all things.’[32]Schweitzer believed in a close synthesis between theism and pantheism, he called it ethical mysticism.[33] This implies that even those present at the supper contained an element of divinity to them; the divine ministering to the divine isn’t so much sacramental as it is superfluous. What transformative power would be necessary for something that is already transformed? Unless we are to assume that those present did not have the will-to-love, or that Jesus’ great ethical teaching had failed to transform them. Neither of these options sufficiently reconcile Schweitzer’s theology. The disciples present, according to Schweitzer, were those destined to join Him in the Messianic feast. Brandt Pitre writes that the twelve disciples were probably looked upon by Jesus as the nucleus of the restored people of God in an eschatological sense.[34] Schweitzer’s apocalyptic understanding of Jesus’ ministry seems to align with this view, but without the will-to-love they could not be a restored group of people. Schweitzer considers them in a sense to be the elect, yet if they did not share the will-to-love they lacked what reformed theology would call regeneration and thus not destined for salvation.  As for the failed teachings of Jesus, Schweitzer would fully endorse Jesus’ failures in his lifework. This is a broader problem for Schweitzer’s view of Jesus’ divinity; he believes that it was ultimately Jesus’ failures that were the deciding factor that drove him to the cross. What Schweitzer called his ‘eschatological clue’, what arguably drove the entirety of his theology, was based on a failure of Christ: when Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 10:23 is not fulfilled, He must act himself to bring about the eschatological end.


For Schweitzer, the failures of Jesus are imperative to his theology, yet the failures rule out omnipotence, lack of omnipotence rules out deity. What we are left with in the events of the Lord’s supper is a dichotomy that Schweitzer cannot reconcile: Jesus, in his divinity, either presided over an eschatological sacrament or Jesus is without his divinity and the sacramental nature of the Lord’s Supper is undermined. It remains unclear also in Schweitzer’s pantheistic understanding if the disciples already contained some measure of the divine essence or if it was still required to be imparted upon them? If Jesus could somehow activate the will-to-love within the bread and the wine the mechanism by which the disciples imbibe it is not made clear.


3.0 The Discourse of the Lord’s Supper

We return to Augustine to provide the components required for something to be recognised a sacrament:

1.    Outwardly visible element.

2.    The virtue – which Augustine defines as grace conditionally bestowed.

3.    The spoken formula or verbum which links the sign with its virtue.

4.    An agent of Sacrament – Christ himself.[35]

From the above list we can highlight some of the problems with Schweitzer’s view. He does not deny the outwardly visible element, nor does he deny the presence of Christ as agent of sacrament; as discussed above however, Schweitzer’s confusing stance on Jesus’ divinity may undermine the nature of the virtue or grace that was mediated in His actions. To be clear, Augustine did connect a further metaphysical quality to a sacrament, something associated with words, but going beyond a mere ethical teaching. Although writing about the sacrament of Baptism in John 15:1-3, it illustrates the point well:

‘Now you are clean by reason of the word that I have spoken to you’. Why does he not say, ‘you are clean by reason of baptism by which you were washed’, but says ‘by reason of the word that I have spoken to you’, except that in the water also the word cleansed? Take away the word, and what is the water except water? The word is added to elemental substance, and it becomes a sacrament, also itself, as it were, a visible word.[36]


We determine from above that sacraments receive their significance, and even their metaphysical power, from the words that accompany them. The Church has always linked word and sacrament, although Colwell sees the common juxtaposition as more suggestive of their distinction rather than relation.[37]  Schweitzer’s view around the words of institution is interesting. He writes:

The mysterious images which he used at the time of the distribution concerning atoning significance of His death do not touch the essence of the celebration, they are only discourse accompanying it.[38]

This view, for Pitre, becomes a large part of his criticism against the work of Schweitzer: although he agrees that the words spoken around the Lord’s supper can be dismissed as unhistorical and can even be reinterpreted to accommodate imminent eschatology, they simply cannot be ignored. He writes of Schweitzer ‘the words are not argued as unhistorical- there is too much evidence for them- he just dismisses them as insignificant’.[39] Where Schweitzer’s focus lay was always on the impending passion and in particular Jesus’ expectation to drink the fruit of the vine ‘new in in the kingdom of God’.

Although Schweitzer recognises the value in separating the events of the Lord’s supper into two divisions: the moment of presentation by Jesus, and the moment of partaking by the disciples. He ultimately sought the reason that unified the two moments. He thanks Zwingli for the focus on the moment of presentation. He writes of Zwingli:

To Zwingli belongs the credit for being the first to treat the problem of the Lord’s Supper in a scholarly way. According to Zwingli, the significance of the historical celebration rests on the symbolic action of Jesus. By breaking bread and offering the wine, The Lord proclaims his death.[40]


The coming passion, which would follow the Lord’s Supper, was extremely important to Schweitzer. Continually linking the feeding of the multitude at the seaside he writes of ‘two corresponding parables that suggest the secret of the passion.’ He continues:

In the neighbourhood of death Jesus draws himself up to the same triumphant stature as in the days by the seaside- for with death comes the Kingdom. For Jesus, the bread and wine which he hands them at the Supper are his body and his blood, for by the sacrifice of himself unto death he ushers in the messianic feast. The parabolic saying remained obscured to the disciples. It was not intended for them; its purpose was not to explain anything to them – for it was an enigma parable.[41]


For Schweitzer, the sacramental effect is completely independent of comprehension of the recipient. This may well undermine the sacramentality of the Lord’s Supper too. There is an inherent two-sidedness to sacramental theology that reconciles the divine with humanity. Malcolm Magee writes ‘sacraments are for men. The sacraments are for our use, given to us by an all-wise God who knows and respects the condition of the creatures he has made.’[42]


The weakness for Schweitzer in Zwingli’s work is that he places his ‘chief emphasis solely upon Jesus’ actions, because of this and according to Schweitzer, Zwingli was only able to explain the historical celebration, but not the repetition. At no point does Schweitzer dismiss the historicity of the Lord’s Supper; the fact it has been repeated is his proof, although it is precisely the repetition of the event that causes problems for his theological view.  For the repetition of the events the stress ‘necessarily rests’ on the participants in partaking the bread and wine. For Schweitzer ‘Zwingli fails to enable us to understand why the disciples partook of the symbolic element’ and is even less successful in helping us to see why ‘later generations also still eat and drink in connection with the repetition instead of merely watching in order to be edified by Jesus’ action’.[43] It seems clear that Schweitzer held to Zwingli’s symbolic view regarding the nature of the elements of the bread and wine; indeed, Schweitzer never seems to have ventured far into any debate regarding the doctrine of transubstantiation or even to the Lutheran view of consubstantiation. He wrote that he saw ‘no profit in the transubstantiation interpretation of the words of institution, as they centred on the wrong theme of the figurative sayings or comparisons’.[44]He did not address the issue further than this, choosing instead to maintain his focus on Mark 14:25 and the promise not to drink the fruit of the vine until the day it is drunk in the kingdom of God.


To Calvin, he recognises his contribution, in that the symbolism is based equally upon what Jesus does with the elements and on what the participants do with them. Schweitzer writes ‘the scholarly strength of Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is due to his emphasis upon the offering and the appropriation as the two fundamental moments of the Lord’s Supper’; although, he goes on ‘Calvin’s explanation of the historical celebration is not as satisfactory as Zwingli’s; as a compensation for that deficiency, however, it is possible for Calvin to show clearly that the repetition is necessary’.[45] Schweitzer explains this by stating that with Calvin not focussing solely on the command of Jesus, he also placed a value on the partaking; this goes some length to justify the continuation of the celebration beyond the disciples and the early Church. Schweitzer believes that it was both the theological and scholarly interest found in Calvin that led to the ‘victory’ of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper over Zwingli’s. Yet for Schweitzer the widely spread two-sided nature of the interpretation, due to Calvin’s victory, loaded the historical researchers with the presupposition of the two-sidedness of the historical event. For Schweitzer’s eucharistic view, the idea of the eschatological immanence, it is vital that there is no command to repeat the celebration, even though Calvin provided a solid explanation for why it was repeated. If, as Schweitzer posited, ‘Jesus though the end at hand and the immediate coming of the last things’ there would be no logical reason for Him to ever command a repetition.[46]


So, both the presentation by Jesus and the participation by the disciples are important to Schweitzer even though the participatory side of the celebration brings difficulty to his theology.  He writes in his thesis ‘Now it is a matter of opening two doors: but the key in question fits only one door at a time’.[47]

In perhaps the most complicated part of his 1900 thesis, he endeavours to explain the difficulty outlined above. He writes:

every interpretation [of the Lord’s Supper] is conditioned by the formula which expresses the relation assumed by it at the moment of presentation to the moment of partaking. That is what really decides its attitude toward the individual questions – the command of repetition, the meaning of the figurative sayings, the form of the supposed primitive Christian celebration etc.[48]


Schweitzer is unable to hold the many components of his eucharistic theology together without the jettison of one of the elements. He opts to jettison what he calls the ‘figurative sayings’; as we have already determined from Augustine’s sacramental theology, it is precisely the words spoken over something that provide the sacramental nature to an external element.


Schweitzer writes ‘it is certain that the figurative passion sayings played no role in the primitive Christian celebration’.[49] He supports this claim by turning to the Didache, which outlines the earliest eucharistic prayers in chapter 9. In the Didache the words are absent. They are also absent from the earliest scriptural attestation by Paul in 1 Cor 11:23. Because Paul seems to remind the Corinthians of something they had previously forgotten or not included, Schweitzer explains it thus:

Therefore, the matter stood like this in primitive Christianity: it was well known that the figurative sayings had been spoken at the historical celebration; the congregational celebration was derived from the historical celebration; but still in doing so no one felt any need to reproduce the historical figurative sayings of Jesus in any way. Hence the historical celebration was, insofar as it was continued in this congregational celebration, independent of the figurative sayings, since otherwise the figurative sayings would also have been repeated.[50]


In what is possibly an act of sleight of hand, Schweitzer continues:

The problem of the Lord’s Supper no longer has anything to do with two impossible questions: How did Jesus give his disciples his body to eat and blood to drink? And how did they later reproduce this celebration in an appropriate way? Now the problem itself is entirely different. It is no more: what is the meaning of the figurative sayings so that we can explain the celebration? But what does the celebration mean so that we can explain the figurative sayings?[51]


Removing the words of institution has a dire effect on the sacramental nature of the celebration. Thomas Marsh notes that sometimes the words used in the celebration of sacraments are declarative, like in the case of the Eucharist, and sometimes they are deprecative i.e. the mediator asking God to grant an effect; even in this binary we see that it is the words, or the prayer spoken, that are the necessary cause of the sacramental nature, much like Augustine had already concluded.[52]


Conclusion

John Reumann believes that Albert Schweitzer’s overarching concern, after finding the eschatological clue, was figuring out the life of Jesus. He describes Schweitzer’s work around sacramental theology as a ‘mere intermezzo on his larger scheme’.[53] This is an unfair assumption that can be contested by the demonstrable years of scholarship that Schweitzer put into understanding sacraments; all told he spent around four years researching the Lord’s Supper and taught on the sacraments for ten. What this paper has shown is that Schweitzer’s ‘thorough-going eschatology’ as a hermeneutical base for Jesus’ ministry coloured much of his work in sacramental theology. What Schweitzer achieved was noble, bringing the eschatological dimension to much of the New Testament studies, this helped scholarship reassess the sacraments of the Church into an eschatological context: a place where they comfortably sit. The future-looking perspective on the Eucharist, not only maintains but also promotes a truly hopeful message for the worshipping Christian. The shift in focus away from an act of remembrance to a focus on immanent return enlivens Christian spirituality. Schweitzer’s strongly held ‘Christ-mysticism’ also maintains the sense of mystery which lies at the heart of eucharistic worship, his strong experiential sense of the reality of the spirit of the living Christ within the sacrament is expressed without debating transubstantiation or otherwise. However, it is precisely his complicated view of Christology that undermines the sacramental nature of the eucharist: Schweitzer is unable to fully explain that it the grace of God communicated to man that permeates the very nature of the Eucharist. He continues to undermine the sacramentality by doing away with the vital words of institution which are fundamental to the power of the celebration. Where Schweitzer believed he had solved the problem of the Lord’s Supper by bringing into focus a new view of the life of Jesus, he only created problems for the sacramental nature of a celebration that the Church had held in perpetuity since the days of Jesus.





 

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McEvoy, John A., ‘THE THESIS OF REALIZED ESCHATOLOGY: A Study in Form Criticism’, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 5.4 (1943), 396–407

Pitre, Brant, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017)

Reumann, John, ‘“The Problem of the Lord’s Supper” as Matrix for Albert Schweitzer’s “Quest of the Historical Jesus”’, New Testament Studies, 27.4 (1981), 475–87 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688500006858>

Schweitzer, Albert, Out of My Life and Thought : An Autobiography (New York : H. Holt, 1933) <http://archive.org/details/outofmylifethoug00schw_0> [accessed 6 March 2024]

———, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 3rd edn (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)

———, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts : Volume 1 [of] The Lord’s Supper in Relationship to the Life of Jesus and the History of the Early Church (Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, 1982) <http://archive.org/details/problemoflordssu0000schw> [accessed 4 October 2023]

———, The Theology of Albert Schweitzer for Christian Inquirers (London, Adam and Charles Black, 1950) <http://archive.org/details/theologyofalbert0000schw> [accessed 19 January 2024]

Wainwright, Geoffrey, Eucharist and Eschatology (New York : Oxford University Press, 1981) <http://archive.org/details/eucharisteschato0000wain> [accessed 7 March 2024]

 

 

 

 


[1] David E. Aune, ‘The Problem of the Messianic Secret’, Novum Testamentum, 11.1/2 (1969), 1–31 <https://doi.org/10.2307/1560210>.

[2] C. H. (Charles Harold) Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (Glasgow : Fount Paperbacks, 1978) <http://archive.org/details/parablesofkingdo0000dodd> [accessed 15 April 2024].

[3] an overview can be found in the paper by John A. McEvoy, ‘THE THESIS OF REALIZED ESCHATOLOGY: A Study in Form Criticism’, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 5.4 (1943), 396–407.

[4] Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 3rd edn (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 243. 

[5] John Reumann, ‘“The Problem of the Lord’s Supper” as Matrix for Albert Schweitzer’s “Quest of the Historical Jesus”’, New Testament Studies, 27.4 (1981), 475–87 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688500006858>.

[6] Albert Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts : Volume 1 [of] The Lord’s Supper in Relationship to the Life of Jesus and the History of the Early Church (Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, 1982), pp. 59–61 <http://archive.org/details/problemoflordssu0000schw> [accessed 4 October 2023].

[7] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 137.

[8] Martin Davie, New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, (Nottingham: IVP, 2016) p 1181

[9] Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 243.

[10] Dermot A. Lane, ‘The Eucharist as Sacrament of the Eschaton’, The Furrow, 47.9 (1996), 467–73 (p. 467).

[11] Lane, p. 468.

[12] Lane, p. 468.

[13] Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 7 <http://archive.org/details/eucharisteschato0000wain> [accessed 7 March 2024].

[14] Wainwright, p. 60.

[15] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 31.

[16] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 31.

[17] Lane, p. 470.

[18] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 17.

[19] Lane, p. 470.

[20] Wainwright, pp. 60–93.

[21] Wainwright, p. 92.

[22] Darius Jankiewicz, ‘Sacramental Theology and Ecclesiastical Authority’, Andrews University Seminary Studies, 42.2 (2004), 361–82 (p. 363).

[23] Phillip Cary, Outward Signs: The powerlessness of External Things in Augustine’s thought, (London: Oxford University Press, 2008) p157

[24] David Heitzman, ‘Sermons 227 Thru 229A’ <https://david.heitzman.net/sermons227-229a.html> [accessed 6 March 2024].

[25] John Colwell, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2011), p. 29.

[26] Henry B. Clark, ‘Albert Schweitzer’s Understanding of Jesus as the Christ’, The Christian Scholar, 45.3 (1962), 230–37.

[27] Clark. p 232

[28] Clark, p. 232.

[29] Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought : An Autobiography (New York : H. Holt, 1933), p. 184 <http://archive.org/details/outofmylifethoug00schw_0> [accessed 6 March 2024].

[30] Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 242.

[31] Clark, p. 233.

[32] Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought, p. 185.

[33] Jackson Lee Ice, Schweitzer: Prophet of Radical Theology (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1971), p. 67 <http://archive.org/details/schweitzerprophe0000icej> [accessed 21 April 2024].

[34] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), p. 21.

[35] Martin Davie, New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic, (Nottingham: IVP, 2016) p 1181

 

[36] Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo), Tractates on the Gospel of John, 55-111 (CUA Press, 1994), p. 117.

[37] Colwell, p. 88.

[38] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Great Britain: A. & C. Black ltd, 1910) <http://archive.org/details/TheQuestOfTheHistoricalJesus> [accessed 6 March 2024].

[39] Pitre, p. 20.

[40] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 63.

[41] Albert Schweitzer, The Theology of Albert Schweitzer for Christian Inquirers (London, Adam and Charles Black, 1950), p. 53 <http://archive.org/details/theologyofalbert0000schw> [accessed 19 January 2024].

[42] Malcolm Magee, ‘Sacrament and Symbol’, Life of the Spirit (1946-1964), 12.141 (1958), 401–7 (p. 405).

[43] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 63.

[44] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 52.

[45] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 63.

[46] Albert Schweitzer, Quest for the Historical Jesus, pp. 330–97.

[47] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 108.

[48] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 106.

[49] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 11.

[50] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 110.

[51] Schweitzer, The Problem of the Lord’s Supper According to the Scholarly Research of the Nineteenth Century and the Historical Accounts, p. 110.

[52] Thomas Marsh, ‘Theology 9: Sacrament as Sign’, The Furrow, 22.10 (1971), 622–31 (p. 624).

[53] Reumann.

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