Transcript of the Marburg Colloquy
Page: 3[It was a fall morning in Marburg, not quite daylight. The valley of the Lahn lay shrouded in the half-light of early dawn, and the castle loomed faintly on the hill above. People were awakening to another day in a small town in Hesse, little aware of the drama unfolding in the castle as two men confronted each other in the private quarters of Landgrave Philip. Flanked by a few friends, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli were seated at opposite ends of a long table placed before a handful of guests. Not more than fifty or sixty people were present in all.
Twelve years had passed since Luther's posting of his Ninety-five Theses. For the great reformer they had been troubled ones, years to be sure of successful defiance of papal authority and reformation of the church in Germany, yet ones of almost continuous strife and controversy. He had felt compelled to condemn the tragic revolt of the peasants in Germany, and the ensuing departure of peasants from his movement had reached mass proportions. Most recently he had experienced challenges to his doctrines that had disturbed him as never before. Challenges to Luther were nothing new, like the ones from Carlstadt and others within his own movement, but these he could counter with the full force of his personality. The challenges that had disturbed him, that had at times goaded him to fury, were from the outside, from Switzerland and south Germany, from those who were strangers to him and over whom he had no control.
Across the table sat his most noted challenger. Ulrich Zwingli was, like Luther, a man of learning and leadership, a student of Christian antiquity, and a preacher and pamphleteer who had inspired defiance of papal authority in his native Switzerland. Unlike Luther he had been strongly influenced by Erasmus and by the rationalism of Christian humanism. Unlike Luther he had never been attracted by mysticism, had never experienced a sudden and profound crisis in his religious thinking. Though a man of strong feeling, he was of another background, the product of an urban culture, and he contrasted sharply in manner and approach with the German reformer.
Beside Zwingli sat John Oecolampadius, a native of south Germany, and like Zwingli once a follower of the learned Erasmus and a scholar in the tradition of Christian humanism. A man of action as well, he had established himself with Zwingli's encouragement as leader of the reform movement in Basel. Beside Luther sat Philip Melanchthon, trusted confidant and scholar of Christian antiquity. As one who favored conciliation with Catholics rather than Zwinglians, he may have been about to exert a decisive influence on the outcome of the discussions.
During the past few years the two sides had engaged in acrimonious pamphlet debate over the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. For Zwingli and Oecolampadius, the elements bread and the wine were symbols of a spiritual repast, representations of the body and the blood. The presence of Christ in the sacrament was real only in a spiritual sense. For Luther and his followers, the elements actually assumed the body and blood of the crucified Christ in both spiritual and physical respects. Not transformed from one substance to another, as in the Roman Catholic view, the elements came to possess for the faithful the added components of Christ's body and blood. Although the mystery of the Mass, the Catholic sacrifice of Christ on the altar, was rejected by both sides, much of the mystery was retained in the Lutheran view.
It was to reconcile this basic difference over a fundamental sacrament that the two sides had been brought together in the castle overlooking Marburg. Neither side had requested the meeting and Luther especially had agreed to come only with great reluctance. Their meeting had been arranged in response to a crisis at the Diet of Speyer the preceding spring, when the Catholic majority voted to support the demand of Emperor Charles V to proceed against the alleged Lutheran heresy.
Lutheran princes had drafted and signed a vigorous protest to the emperor (from which came the "Protestant" designation ) and had begun to prepare for the Catholic onslaught. One of their leaders, Philip of Hesse, had then persuaded Luther and Zwingli and their respective followers to meet and examine their major theological difference over the Lord's Supper. If the difference could be resolved, political union among the Protestants of Switzerland and Germany would be the next step. Then perhaps the resurgence of Catholic power could be checked and peaceful countrysides like the one in the valley below might escape destruction.
We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: http://www.amazon.com/Book-Common-Prayer-Biography-Religious/dp/0691154813/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417814005&sr=8-1&keywords=jacobs+book+of+common+prayer. January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Cranmer-English-Reformation-1489-1556/dp/1592448658/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420055574&sr=8-1&keywords=A.F.+Pollard+Cranmer. February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Cranmer-Jasper-Ridley/dp/0198212879/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422892154&sr=8-1&keywords=jasper+ridley+cranmer&pebp=1422892151110&peasin=198212879