Lutheran Voices on the Theology and Practice of Infant Communion


1.      From the theologians of Tubingen University -- including Jacob Andreae, contributor to the Formula of Concord:

We often exhort our people who have repented to partake frequently of the Lord's Supper.  However, we do not commune the infants, for Paul says:  "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the Lord's body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself" [1 Cor 11:28-29].  And since the children are not able to examine themselves and, thus, cannot discern the Lord's body, we think that the ceremony of the baptism is sufficient for their salvation, and also the hidden faith with which the Lord has bestowed them.  For through this faith they spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, even if they do not, in the communion of the supper, physically eat it.  That spiritual eating, which Christ speaks of in Saint John's Gospel, is always necessary; but the other, the mystical one [the Lord's Supper], is not always necessary.


Source:  George Mastrantonis (translator), Augsburg and Constantinople:  The Correspondence between the Tubingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession (Brookline, Massachusetts:  Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), p. 143.  (The excerpt quoted above was written in 1577.)

2.      From Martin Chemnitz:

It is clear that one cannot deal with infants through the bare preaching of repentance and remission of sins, for that requires hearing (Rom. 10:17), deliberation and meditation (Ps. 119), understanding (Matt. 13:51), which are not found in infants.  With regard to the Lord's Supper Paul says:  "Let a man examine himself."  Likewise:  "Let him discern the Lord's body," a thing which cannot be ascribed to infants.  Moreover, Christ instituted His Supper for such as had already become His disciples. In the Old Testament infants were circumcised on the eighth day, but they were admitted to the eating of the Passover lamb when they were able to ask:  "What do you mean by this service?" (Ex. 12:26).  There remains therefore of the means of grace in the New Testament only the sacrament of Baptism.


Source:  Martin Chemnitz (Fred Kramer, translator), Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II (St. Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1978), pp. 165-166.

3.      Regarding Lutheran practice in the sixteenth century:

A third broad generalization that may be made [regarding confirmation among Lutherans in the sixteenth century] is that confirmation was directly associated with both sacraments ...  The pastor's instruction was to assure him that the obligation to instruct, which parents and sponsors  had assumed with the child's baptism, had been met and that the catechumen was now ready for the second sacrament.


A fourth broad generalization is that the usual age of the catechumen who partook of his first Communion was quite early when compared to present-day practice.  Indeed, age was not regarded an important criterion.  The major criterion was the catechumen's readiness to partake of the Sacrament.  Almost invariably the church orders used an expression such as "when the children have come of age."  According to German law, this was at age 12; according to Roman canon law, it could be interpreted variously as from 7 to 12.


Where a reference to confirmation age appears, the age is rarely higher than 12.  Thus Hohenlohe, 1577, and Ansbach, 1564, specify 12.  The same age is suggested by Allstedt, 1533, and Lindow in Pomerania, 1571.  The former states that persons over 12 are to be subject to a personal tax, while the latter requires 12-year-olds to contribute to the pastor’s support.  In both instances, it may be assumed that the age was set at 12 because persons were normally confirmed or communicants by that time.  Lower Austria, 1571, sets a range between 10 and 15.  Brandenburg-Ansbach-Kulmbach, 1556, indicates that the age for first Communion was to be 12 or over.  Braunschweig, 1542, suggests that the former custom of confirming at 10 or 11 be retained.  The Church Order of Sweden, drawn up by Laurentius Petri (1499-1573) in 1571, states that no child younger than 9, or 8 at the least, should attend the Lord’s Supper.  “For younger children can have little exact knowledge of the Sacrament.” During the 16th century the children in Denmark were often admitted to Communion when they were only 6 or 7.


Source:  Arthur C. Repp, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (St. Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1964), pp. 56-57.

4.     From Johann Gerhard:

Since the Apostle Paul expressly requires in 1 Cor. 11:28,29 that a person first examine himself and then eat of the consecrated bread and drink of the consecrated chalice, so that he does not become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord through an unworthy reception, it thus indisputably follows that not only Christians ... are to be admitted to the holy Supper, but specifically those who examine themselves; that is, those who judge themselves, 1 Cor. 11:31, discern the Lord's body, v. 29, and proclaim His death, v. 26.  Therefore, the following are herewith excluded:


... [then follows a list of those excluded, with the ninth and final in the list being:]  The minor children, who have not yet arrived at the age of understanding, for they cannot examine themselves and discern the body of Christ.


Source:  Johann Gerhard (Elmer Hohle, translator), A Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Malone, Texas:  Repristination Press, 1996), pp. 427,430.  (Original published in 1610.)

5.      From C.F.W. Walther:

Since according to God's Word everyone who wants to go to the Lord's Table should first examine himself and discern the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:28-29), the holy Supper is not to be administered to children who are still incapable of doing so.  It was an obvious misuse when it [communing children] was rather generally done, from the the third to the fifth centuries, out of a misunderstanding of John 6:53, which was [incorrectly] understood as referring to receiving the Sacrament.  This misuse was also practiced by the Bohemian Hussites and is the rule still today in the Greek church.


Luther writes:  "I cannot consider it right that the Bohemians give the same (the holy Supper) to the children, even though I do not call them heretics because of it" (1523 letter to Hausmann).


Source:  C.F.W. Walther, Pastoral Theology (New Haven, Missouri:  1995),  pp. 146-147.  Translated and abridged by John M. Drickamer from the fifth edition, 1906.

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