Wilhelm Loehe on Child/Infant Communion

The following excerpt in translation is drawn from Wilhelm Loehe’s “Neuendettelsau Letters.” The letters were published in 1858 to explain and defend some of Loehe’s practices, chief among them the way he practiced confession in Neuendettelsau. Translated is only an excerpt relevant to the question of child/infant communion. It may be noted that the letters have no addressee. The appearance of one is a rhetorical device. The excerpt is drawn from Wilhelm Loehe. Gesammelte Werke v.3,1, pp 226–228. The bold print in the translation reflects that printing. – Jacob Corzine, 10 October 2014

Upon all of this and as the occasion allows it, I shall also touch on a concern which you have expressed. You connect the confession of children to the communion of children and deduce the latter from the former. You suggest that they have equal warrant, and you assume that I, in my heart, am as much in favor of the communion of children as of the confession of children. And I gladly concede to you that a conclusion in favor of the communion of children can be made on the basis of the confession of children. You also know yourself how much the church, carrying out pastoral care and administering the sacrament, was also moved in ancient times by the question of the communion of children, as well as in how many places and regions the communion of children was a common practice, even as it still is today in the Greek church. People viewed certain passages (for example, from John 6) as evidence that the Lord’s Supper is necessary for salvation as baptism is, and that on account of this, it could be denied to children as little as baptism may be. But in recognition of all of this, I must nevertheless admit to you that the well-known and in the protestant church often emphasized quote, “Let a person examine himself then, and so eat . . .” justifies, in my eyes, the Western Church when it does not administer the sacrament to those not of age (die Unmündigen) and to infants, and in fact strongly stresses that a person must first be able to examine himself, if he is to be allowed to the Lord’s table. - Admittedly, you will continue here and say: “But whoever can confess can also examine himself, and thus can also not be excluded from the sacrament on account of a lack of spiritual capability.” And thus we find ourselves before precisely your conclusion, of which I have already said that I cannot deny it. I recently read a short writing of the well-known Wilhelm Gottlieb Reiz: “The blessed youth of a noble child of Obergreiz who had reached five years of age” (the duchess Marie Theresia von Reuss-Greiz). For what reason this child should not have been able to receive the Lord’s Supper in the hour of her death, I do not know.

“Therefore,” you will say, “there we have it! What do you say to the churchly order, that the children must be thirteen or fourteen years old to be permitted to God’s table?” - Answer: “That it is a comfortable church order which is usefully applied in the case of most of the young children.” - And now that I have begun to enter into this dialogue, allow me to continue. I hear you saying: “Why do you call that a comfortable church order?” Answer: “Because it is comfortable not to ask when each individual child is ready for the sacrament, and rather to select an average and, reckoning with a general progress which the children tend to make in the thirteenth or fourteenth year, to maintain: “Whoever is thirteen or fourteen years old by such and such a day, may go to the sacrament.” In this way, one is free of all exceptions and has none to decide upon.

You: So you praise the church order?

I: As a rule, yes, even if I would prefer the older manner, by which the children after the eleventh or twelfth year were admitted to the sacrament, because I generally prefer to admit the children to the sacrament—the fountain of grace—as soon as possible.

You: So you think it right, when no exceptions are made?

I: No, I don’t approve of it. I have, in my twenty-eight years in the office, often been in the situation of wishing that not the age, but the readiness of the person would be the decisive factor. I have seen children with tears of longing at the later, whom I would have wished to give the sacrament. Even more often, I have seen fourteen-year-old children who would not have sought the Lord’s Supper apart from the custom and order, and to whom no pastor would have desired to give it, apart from the external occasion.

You: So you would wish that exceptions could be made?

I: Without a doubt, because it would be of greater blessing.

You: But consider, what sort of burden this would place on the consistories, if they would, as earlier, be tasked with deciding all exceptional cases? . . .

The Rev. Jacob Corzine (FELSISA) does Campus Ministry at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and is the English-Language Co-Secretary of the International Loehe Society.

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