Utraquism refers to the practice of offering communion to the laity in both kinds – that is, giving the laypeople both the consecrated bread and wine during the Eucharist. The term comes from the Latin phrase sub utraque specie, meaning “in both kinds.”
This practice stands in contrast to the Catholic custom of offering communion only in one kind to the laity – the bread alone – while reserving partaking of the wine for the officiating priest. The Catholic church restricted lay people to just the bread on the premise that Christ is fully present in either the bread or wine alone.
The roots of Utraquism lie in the teachings of Jan Hus, a 15th century Czech priest and reformer who heavily criticized certain practices of the Catholic church. Hus advocated for communion in both kinds for the laity, basing his stance on Scripture passages like Mark 14:23, Luke 22:17, 1 Corinthians 11:25 which depict Jesus sharing both the bread and cup with his disciples at the Last Supper.
Hus was declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415. His followers went on to lead the Hussite movement which continued to push for Utraquist reforms. In 1433, the Council of Basel granted the Hussites the right to offer communion in both kinds to laypeople in territories under their control. This concession was confirmed in 1485 by Pope Innocent VIII.
An Utraquist, then, refers to an adherent of Utraquism, someone who believes in and receives communion in both the consecrated bread and wine. The term applied especially to the Hussites and later Utraquists in Bohemia who practiced communion in this manner. Over time, Utraquism faded as other Protestant traditions arose. However, its influence remained in shaping later Protestant thought and practice regarding the Eucharist.
Some key biblical passages about partaking of communion in both kinds:
– Mark 14:22-25 – On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus shared the bread and then the cup with his disciples, indicating they were to partake of both elements. Jesus says regarding the cup, “Drink from it, all of you.”
– Luke 22:14-20 – Luke’s account of the Last Supper also describes Jesus giving the disciples both the bread and cup to eat and drink.
– 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 – Paul recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, in which Jesus shared the bread and the cup with his followers. Paul instructs that those who eat the bread and drink the cup proclaim Christ’s death until He comes again.
– Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-23 – The accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels all depict Jesus distributing both bread and wine to the disciples.
– Acts 2:42 – This mentions believers partaking of “the breaking of bread” together, implying sharing in the communal meal.
– 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – Paul refers to the “cup of blessing” and the “bread that we break” indicating partaking of both wine and bread were established communion practices in the early church.
While the Catholic church eventually prohibited the laity from partaking of the cup, the early church practice as portrayed in Scripture seems to be that all believers participated in both bread and wine as Jesus demonstrated. He shares the cup with his disciples explicitly, refuting the idea that bread alone is sufficient to fully observe what Christ instituted at the Last Supper.
Utraquists insisted upon partaking of both elements of communion based on an earnest desire to follow biblical principles. By restricting communion to bread alone, the Catholic church departed from the pattern exemplified by Christ and practiced by the earliest Christians according to scriptural accounts.
Modern Protestant traditions possess more of an Utraquist influence in communion philosophy and practice. Most Protestant churches offer both bread and wine to all believers during the Lord’s Supper, adhering to the precedent set by Scripture. Thus while Utraquism itself largely faded away, its legacy continues in restoring the layperson’s participation in the full Eucharistic rite.
In summary, Utraquism was a reformist movement centered on offering both bread and wine during communion to all church members. This contrasted with the Catholic custom of prohibiting the laity from partaking of the cup. An Utraquist was someone who believed in and practiced communion in both kinds, emphasizing it as the biblically-based model for the Eucharist. Though its influence waned over time, Utraquism left an indelible mark on Protestant views of the Lord’s Supper.
Utraquism arose from a close examination of Scripture, particularly the accounts of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples prior to the crucifixion. The Gospel accounts unambiguously depict both bread and wine being shared among all present at the meal. Jesus distributes the cup specifically “to them,” not solely to the apostles, and invites “all” to drink from it in Matthew 26:27. Paul later instructs that “all” should examine themselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup in 1 Corinthians 11:28.
This evidence motivated Utraquists to revive the practice of full communion for the laity in the life of the church. While disputed at the time, their stance aligns closely with the pattern in Scripture. The early church apparently understood Jesus’ words and example as instituting and mandating the sharing of bread and wine with all believers in the Lord’s Supper. Modern Protestants thus inherit at least this aspect of their theology of the Eucharist from Utraquism’s insistence upon adhering to biblical teaching and example.
Though derided as heretical or radical by the established church for a time, Utraquism represented an attempt to recapture a vital aspect of the authentic tradition passed down by Christ and the apostles themselves. By championing the layperson’s participation in the full Lord’s Supper, Utraquists challenged the Catholic church to conform its practice to the authoritative sources of Scripture and early church tradition.
While initially concentrated in Bohemia, Utraquist ideals did not remain isolated there. Other Protestant reformers expressed similar convictions regarding the Eucharist, often influenced by Utraquist writings and interactions. Huldrych Zwingli, in particular, propagated similar beliefs about the necessity of partaking in both elements of communion.
Elements of Utraquism also influenced the English and Scottish reformations. English reformer John Wycliffe, whose writings likely influenced Hus, questioned the Catholic church’s denial of the cup to the laity prior to the Hussites. Many historians believe Wycliffe’s theology played a key role in shaping the Hussite demands for offering both bread and wine.
In Scotland, John Knox too propagated Utraquist-style beliefs about the Lord’s Supper. During his exile in England and Switzerland, Knox likely came into contact with Utraquist ideas through influential Reformation figures like John Hooper and Heinrich Bullinger.
Through such interactions and shared writings between reformers across Europe, Utraquist theology exerted influence far beyond its regional roots in Bohemia. While not embracing every detail of Utraquism, many Protestant leaders arrived at similar conclusions about the necessity of partaking in both elements during communion based on their reading of Scripture.
This synergy indicates that Utraquism’s stance on the Eucharist arose from legitimate biblical and theological grounds, rather than mere innovation or radicalism as its critics alleged. By giving lay members access to the cup, Utraquists did not seek to introduce novelty for its own sake, but to recover a biblical practice they felt the church had wrongly abandoned to its detriment.
In its time, Utraquism represented a bold challenge to powerful ecclesiastical authorities and established tradition. Like other reformist movements, it was seen as rebellion and deviation from accepted orthodoxy. However, its ultimate triumph in restoring communion in both kinds reminds us that fidelity to Scripture should guide the practices and policies of the church.
Even respected traditions may warrant careful re-evaluation in light of God’s Word. Doctrines and rituals added centuries later by religious authorities do not necessarily carry the same weight as the teachings passed down directly from Christ and the apostles themselves. While reform often meets resistance, it frequently aims to refocus faith and practice back to biblical origins rather than introducing innovation or heresy.
Utraquism’s ties to other Protestant trajectories highlight that apparently “radical” movements often draw from shared wells of theological conviction and biblical reasoning. Calls for reform may arise independently within different branches due to common grounding in Scripture. This affirms the collective endeavor to continually shape doctrine and praxis according to God’s authoritative revelation.
As characters like Jan Hus were quick to point out in defending their stances, the Word of God stands above institutional policies and norms that may slowly depart from its principles over time. Faithfulness to revelation should be the church’s guide, not blind adherence to the status quo. Utraquism represented this impulse for critical fidelity to Scripture in order to pursue authentic Christian practice regarding the sacraments.