For centuries, the history of the Reformation has been written by confessional historians who want to defend their own confessional tradition against the rivals. Lutheran historians make Luther the central character and have demonized the Swiss Reformed, while Reformed historians have flipped to the opposite end.
Both Reformed and Lutheran villanize the Catholic church, often for good reason, but that can lead to a simplistic understanding of the conflicts of the sixteenth ands seventeenth centuries.
The effect of this historiography is to perpetuate the divisions of the Reformation, to ensure that the divisions of the sixteenth century continue and even become more acute and hardened. The complexity of history turns to cliché, and the clichés bolster long-standing distortions and prejudices.
Reformed regularly characterize the Lutheran position as “consubstantition.” Just as regularly, Lutherans deny that they believe this, and claim that consubstantiation was a medieval theory about the real presence and not Luther’s.
And indeed in Luther’s early treatises at least, he doesn’t adopt a theory of the real presence. He points out that the Bible calls the bread “bread” and also calls it “body.” Both must be true; it must be both bread and body. How it is both Luther doesn’t attempt to explain.Luther later tried to offer explanations, but at the core his position was just an insistence on taking Jesus at His word: If Jesus says “hoc est corpus meum,” then it must be so. Hard to argue with that.
Lutherans, on the other hand, often claim that the Reformed deny the real presence and hold to a “spiritual” view of the real presence. They conflate Zwingli and Calvin, though the two Swiss theologians had different views of the real presence.
Calvin does teach a “Spiritual” real presence, but for Calvin that means that Christ Himself is present by the power of the Spirit. He does not mean that Christ’s presence is not real. “Spiritual” doesn’t mean “mental” or “in the soul of the believer.” It means “by the agency of the Spirit.”
These clichés and counter-clichés have kept Lutherans and Reformed from seeing just how close they are on this disputed question from the Reformation.