This quote shows how ready Luther is to accept unity with those who agree in doctrine, but also that he does not want others merely to think he is stubborn when he refuses unity.
To the venerable Mr. Martin Bucer, a minister of God’s Word in the church at Strassburg, my superior:
Grace and peace in Christ. We have read the small confession; which you, my Bucer, have sent, and we approve of it. We give thanks to God that we agree at least, as you write, insofar as we both confess that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the Lord’s Supper, and that together with the Words [of Institution] they are distributed as food of the soul. I am amazed, however, that you think that Zwingli and Oecolampadius also share this opinion or position. But now let me speak to you.
If, then, we confess that the body of Christ is truly distributed to the soul as food, and if there is no reason for us not to say that the body of Christ is also distributed in this way to the unbelieving soul, although the unbelieving soul does not receive it—just as the light of the sun is offered equally to the seeing and to the blind—I am wondering why it bothers you people to confess also that the body of Christ is offered, together with the bread, externally to the mouth of the believer and unbeliever alike; for through the concession that the body of Christ is distributed to individual souls it is, of course, necessarily granted that the body is present and can be distributed in many places at the same time.
If this thought has not yet matured among you people, however, then I think this matter should be postponed and further divine grace should be awaited. I am unable to abandon this position, and if, as you write, you do not think that this position is demanded by Christ’s words, my conscience nevertheless holds that it is required. Therefore I am unable to confess with you that total unity exists between us, if I do not wish to harm my conscience, [or] rather, if I do not wish to sow among us the seed of far worse turmoil for our congregations, and of more dreadful future dissension among us. [This would be the result,] if we had created unity among us in this way.
I ask you, therefore, for the sake of conscience and peace in your congregations and in ours, not to let it go so far that we stir up more disturbances and scandals through this remedy for schism, but to entrust this matter to God. In the meantime let us be guardians of whatever peace and agreement thus far has been established, as we declare that the body of the Lord is truly present and distributed inwardly to the believing soul. For you people can easily understand that, if unity were established between us, some of your people would commune in our congregations, and also some of ours in your congregations.
Those who would commune with a different faith and with a different attitude of conscience would necessarily on both sides receive something different from that which they believe [they are receiving]. Thus it would be unavoidable that through the ministry [of the sacrament] and our consciences either their faith would be made a mockery through hidden deceit and lies if the communicants were unaware of this difference, or, if they were aware of the difference, then their faith would be destroyed through a public sacrilege. You can see how devout and Christian this would be. For this reason let us select rather the lesser of two evils, if one of the two must be endured at all. Let us therefore rather put up with this smaller disagreement, together with a limited peace, lest through our efforts to cure this evil we may stir up real tragedies of more serious discord and unbearable uproar.
I wish you would believe that, as I have told you at the Coburg, I want to settle our discord even though I might have to live three times to accomplish it, because I have seen how necessary your fellowship is for us, and how the gospel was and still is disadvantaged [by our discord]. I have become so much aware of this that I am convinced that all the gates of hell, the whole papacy, all of Turkey, the whole world, all the flesh, and whatever evils there are could not have harmed the gospel at all, if we had only been of one mind. But what am I to do with something which cannot be accomplished?
If you wish to be fair, then you will attribute the fact that I shun this unity not to stubbornness, but to the urging of my conscience and to the force of my faith. Since our discussion at the Coburg I have great hope, but this hope is not yet unwavering.
May the Lord Jesus enlighten us, and may he make us perfectly of one mind; for this I pray, for this I sigh, for this I long. Farewell in the Lord.
Wittenberg, January 22, 1531