1 October 1529 A.D. TRANSCRIPT: Marburg Colloquy Breaks Down—Luther Abusively Reviles Zwingli, a Frequent Pattern with Him
Gill, Katherine. “Transcript of the Marburg Colloquy.” Great Debates of the Reformation.” (New York: Random House, 1969), 77-107. http://divdl.library.yale.edu/dl/FullText.aspx?qc=AdHoc&q=3163. Accessed 26 May 2014.
Transcript of the Marburg Colloquy
[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.
It was six o'clock as Philip's Chancellor Feige rose to open the colloquy.]
THE HESSIAN CHANCELLOR FEIGE: My gracious prince and lord has summoned you for the express and urgent purpose of settling the dispute over the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Although much has been written about the matter, it is the desire of my gracious prince and lord that no one display his own particular feelings, rather that everyone seek the glory of God, the common Christian welfare, and brotherly concord. And let everyone on both sides present his arguments in a spirit of moderation, as becomes such matters. My gracious prince and lord thanks you for coming here. Now then, Doctor Luther, you may proceed!
LUTHER: Noble prince, gracious lord! Undoubtedly the colloquy is well intentioned. Two years ago I rejected it because I knew that both sides had written enough and that no further arguments were left on either side. My mind was made up, and I wished it to remain so to the end of my days. I had no intention of writing anything further. But when my gracious prince and lord, Landgrave Philip, took up the matter at the Diet of Speyer, I then agreed: the pious wishes of the most excellent prince must be obeyed. Although I have no intention of changing my mind, which is firmly made up, I will nevertheless present the grounds of my belief and show where the others are in error.
I am happy to hold the colloquy. However, before we proceed to the Lord's Supper, I must take notice of several things that apparently are proclaimed from the churches of Zurich, Basel, and Strassburg and that obviously are in error, assuming that they are represented correctly in their writings. In Strassburg, so I have read, several have said that Arius, if one still had his writings, was more accurate in his teaching about the Trinity than St. Augustine or other orthodox fathers. They have so differentiated between the two natures of Christ that they have nearly made two persons out of one. Yet they say [with Christ, in Jn 5:56]: "He who eats my flesh"other words, that which is divine! Several deny that original sin can incur damnation. Several teach that baptism is not a Sign of faith, but merely an outward symbol of belonging. They ascribe justification not to faith in Christ alone, but partly to our own powers as well. Yet my opponents accuse me of holding erroneous views about the spoken word and about the whole range of scriptural matters like purgatory and indeed many other points of Christian faith and Christian teaching. And so, without unanimity in these matters, it would be pointless to discuss the real significance of the Lord's Supper.
OECOLAMPADIUS: I am not aware that I have ever espoused the articles in question, which disagree with the teaching of Doctor Luther. The present colloquy has been announced as a comparison of our views on the Lord's Supper. So it seems appropriate to me that we debate this matter first. If we find, however, that any teachings on other matters are incorrect, I am quite willing to let each assume responsibility for his own errors.
ZWINGLI: I concur in this view, having of course spoken privately with Master Philip [Melanchthon] about the matter. My view on justification has been published in the pamphlet On the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God. So let us now discuss the Lord's Supper, and at the end of our discussion we shall be most happy to talk about any and all other points of dispute.
LUTHER: Very well, so be it. But I affirm publicly that I do not concur with such publications, and I wish to make this known to forestall anyone at home saying that I dared not open my mouth.
Your basic contentions are these: In the last analysis you wish to prove that a body cannot be in two places at once, and you produce arguments about the unlimited body which are based on natural reason. I do not question how Christ can be God and man and how the two natures can be joined. For God is more powerful than all our ideas, and we must submit to his word.
Prove that Christ's body is not there where the Scripture says, "This is my body"!Rational proofs I will not listen to. Corporeal proofs, arguments based on geometrical principles I repudiate absolutely, like those [of the Swiss] that a door cannot be made into a gate or a fingerhold into a pillory [any more than the body of Christ can be interpreted as residing in two places at once]. God is beyond all mathematics, and the words of God are to be revered and carried out in awe. It is God who commands, "Take, eat, this is my body." I request, therefore, valid scriptural proof to the contrary.
Luther writes on the table in chalk, "This is my body," and covers the words with a velvet cloth.
OECOLAMPADIUS: The sixth chapter of John clarifies the other scriptural passages. Christ is not speaking there about a local presence. "The flesh is of no avail," he says [Jn 6:63]. It is not my intention to employ rational, or geometrical, argumentsither am I denying the power of God as long as I have the complete faith I will speak from that. For Christ is risen; he sits at the right hand of God; and so he cannot be present in the bread. Our view is neither new nor sacrilegious, but is based on faith and Scripture.
It is from a physical to a spiritual repast that one must proceed. The Holy Scripture employs figurative language, metaphors, metonyms, and comparable terms, where the words mean something other than what they say. And so even the words "This is my body" may contain language that is figurative, like those that read, "John is Elijah" [Mt 11:14], "The rock was Christ" [1 Cor 10:4], "I am the true vine" [Jn 15:1], "The seed is the word of God" [Lk 8:11]
LUTHER: Oecolampadius has drawn several figures of speech from Holy Scripture, like "I am the vine"; and he argues for a spiritual repast, saying: "The fathers are on our side." To which I need only reply in brief: Many metaphors are found in Holy Scripture. This I grant. But that hereis is my body"metaphor is presents you must prove. Do not tell us what we have long known! If it were proved that Christ had used the demonstrative to say "I am the vine," I would believe this as well. General statements permit the use of metaphor, but here [where Christ says "This is my body"] the demonstrative is usedsitive proof so you must prove that a metaphor is used here! No one is ever about to do this.
How then is the physical repast excluded by the spiritual one in the statement, "The flesh is of no avail"? The fathers partially support your position, if we let it go unquestioned, this I grant. But how does this help you if you fail to prove that "body"his is my body"ns body in a figurative sense? Speak to the point, please, without digressing!
OECOLAMPADIUS: "I am the vine" is also demonstrative. This could be, could it not?!
LUTHER: I do not deny figurative speech, but you must prove that this is what we have here. It is not enough to say that these wordsis is my body"ld be interpreted in this way. You must prove that they must be so interpreted in a figurative sense.
Your argument is based upon a preconception, ex petitione principii! Just because Christ speaks in the sixth chapter of John about a spiritual repast, you conclude that there is no physical repast whatsoever. You want me to place my trust in this, which is no proof at all. And so my faith is strong because you have not proved your words. My text is priceless and full of authority. Agree with it!
This is what I find so annoyingt you don't prove what you are supposed to prove.
OECOLAMPADIUS: Well then! I shall prove that the wordshis is my body"t be taken figuratively. Listen to John 6. (He reads John 6:48-63.) Christ is speaking here to the Jews and also to his disciples about the eating of his body and the drinking of his blood, and when they took him to mean a physical eating and shuddered at the thought, he replied: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail" [verse 63]. From this, one ought to understand that he repudiated once for all the physical eating of his flesh; and it ought to follow that he neither could nor would maintain this repudiated view thereafter.
LUTHER: I repeat the passage from John. [He reads John 6:48-63.] It is your opinion that Christ moved away from the physical repast in his emphasis upon the spiritual repast. I reply that he wanted to teach the Jews of Capernaum that he should not be eaten like bread and meat in a bowl, like roast pork. When I partake of Christ in the bread, it is not in the vulgar sense, but as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hence it is not a repast that is petty and repulsive, but one that is most holy. Man can still believe those words; the body of Christ is there.
OECOLAMPADIUS: I take your word for it: there is a double meaning, a twofold sense of the word of God. One is limited and physical; the other is most holy and spiritual. The limited meaning has reference to eating the flesh of Christ, which as you have pointed out, Doctor Luther, Christ emphatically rejected. But Christ has ordained that noble conception, that spiritual sense, which we teach.
LUTHER: I am well informed on the distinction between the two scriptural meanings. But I cannot and I will not tolerate your thrusting aside the physical meaning of the words of the Lord's Supper, for you do this without scriptural evidence and authority. Whatever you might fancy the words to mean in a physical sense, the fact remains that they are the work of the Highest Majesty. Nobody can deny this, and so it follows that nobody can disparage what is physical and petty. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the rewards of heaven are certainly bound up with these things, which are physical and petty, to the end of revealing the power of God's word to physical beings. And for this reason one must never empty and limit their meanings, but must wholeheartedly treasure them as things that are spiritual and sublime.
OECOLAMPADIUS: You deem it an article of faith that Christ is in the bread, but this is an opinion, not a belief. It is evil to attribute too much to that which is physical. Listen to Augustine, On Christian Doctrine. [He reads a part from Book III, chapter 9 (where Augustine argues that the "signs" of the body and blood in the sacrament should be taken properly in "spiritual freedom," not restricted in "carnal servitude" by "limited" or "literal" understanding)].
LUTHER: I return again to the words of the Lord's Supper. When I speak of the "body which is given for us," this is not "a limited understanding of the Scripture." Even if we were concerned only with the bread it would not be "a limited understanding of the Scripture." Indeed, to do the smallest thing at the command of the Master is spiritual. We baptize with plain water because we attach significance, not to the words themselves, but to their author. Because God is their author, one kisses the word. In the case, for example, of a prince ordering a horse to be shod, the horseshoe is something petty among petty things. Hungerlessed are they who hunger" [Mt 5:6]likewise unimportant in itself. So it is with the words, "baptize by water" [Mt 28:19]. It is not to the water but to the Holy Spirit that we attribute the purification. As for the material element in itself, we are completely in accord. We treasure not the bread, but the word, and the one who utters itus Christ. It is like when the prince directs the servant to shoe the horse. Then the iron becomes a thing of value, when it is placed on the foot of the horse.
Treasure the cross! God often works wonders through unimportant things, as he did with Abraham when he was to sacrifice his son, as he did with Adam through a tree. Whenever we speak of Christ's body, we are speaking of the body at the right hand of the Father.
How much we would like to accept your view, but we cannot, for yours is a wanton misconceptioneg your pardon, gracious prince and lord! Those wordsis is my body"d me captive.
And if Augustine or other teachers also wish to interpret the signs, they ought to follow Christ and interpret as he interprets. If they do so, then one must rely on them and believe them. When they do not, then one must abandon the doctors and believe Christ. One should not believe them just because they are doctors.
Now you may speak!
OECOLAMPADIUS: The illustration that you give is acceptable to me. Luther is attempting to show that the word of God brings Christ into the bread.
LUTHER: This is correct. To illustrate: A prince orders a piece of iron turned into a horseshoe, and someone else attaches it to a thing of value. In this way something petty becomes important. So we come to understand the meaning of Christ.
OECOLAMPADIUS: And if we have a spiritual repast, why is a physical one necessary?
LUTHER: Your argument comes down to this: Because we have a spiritual repast, a physical one is not needed. I reply that in no way do we deny the spiritual repast, which indeed we consistently teach and believe to be necessary. But from this it cannot be proved that the physical repast is useless or unnecessary. I do not inquire into whether it is necessary or not, for we are not here for this. It is written, "Take, eat, this is my body," and for this reason one must do it and believe it at all costs. One must do this! One must do this! Otherwise I could not be baptized, I could not believe in Christ! In many ways he gives himself to us: in preaching, in baptism, as often as a brother needs consolation, in the sacrament. Again and again the body of Christ is eaten, as he himself has commanded us to do. If he were to command me to eat dung, I would do so, assured that it were good for me. The servant doesn't brood over the wish of his lord. One must close his eyes.
OECOLAMPADIUS: Where is it written that we should move through the Scriptures with our eyes closed, Herr Doctor?
LUTHER: We could debate for a hundred years and nothing would come of it! Not until you have disposed of my text will I be satisfied. The one who spoke the words in the sixth chapter of John also spoke the words, "This is my body."
OECOLAMPADIUS: According to the sixth chapter of John, "The flesh is of no avail." Eating of the flesh is of no avail, but partaking of the spirit is; hence we must look for that which avails and respect the will of God. We insist upon this enlightened view of the Scriptures and upon the comparison of passage with passage. This is what Augustine does.
I stand by what I have said.
LUTHER: And I stand by my text.
ZWINGLI: It is a prejudice, a preconception, which keeps Doctor Luther from yielding his point. He refuses to yield until a passage is quoted that proves that the body in the Lord's Supper is figurative. It is the prejudice of a heretic somewhat reminiscent of Helvidius, who denied that Jesus was the only son of Mary because it was clearly stated [in Jn 7:3], "So his brothers said to him." One cannot reason thus from Scripture! Comparison of scriptural passages is always necessary. Although we have no scriptural passage that says, "This is the sign of the body," we still have proof that Christ dismissed the idea of a physical repast. Since it is our task here to investigate scriptural passages, and since the passage in John 6 moves away from the physical repast, we must therefore take it into account. From this it follows that Christ did not give himself in the Lord's Supper in a physical sense. And finally, you yourself have acknowledged that it is the spiritual repast that offers solace. And since we are agreed on this major question, I beg you for the love of Christ not to burden anyone with the crime of heresy because of these differences. The fathers certainly did not condemn one another in this way when they disagreed.
I return to the sixth chapter of John: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." By this he did not mean that the humanity of Christ was of no avail, for his humanity was the means of our redemption. It is wonderfully consoling to me whenever I reflect upon it: Christ assumed flesh like mines is wonderfully consoling. You proceed differently than the evangelist intended; your references to cutting up and chewing [Christ's body] are abnormal, and hence improper. "Pos dynatai hemin houtos dounai ten sarka phagein?" [How is he able to give us his flesh to eat?] I am reading [from the Greek text] because my memory might deceive me. Esthiein, edere, comedere, manducare [to eat] is one thing. There is nothing here about cutting up and chewing. John 6  reads: "If you were to see me ascending to heaven," which Augustine takes as excluding the question of seeing the body ascend. He had no desire to eat the "actual" body of Christ "in a physical sense." "It is the spirit that gives life" [Jn 6:63]. Flesh and spirit are opposites.
You spoke of taking the Scriptures literally. Much I agreed with, much I did not because it was perfectly childish, like saying, "If God commanded me to eat dung." The works that God commands are for our well-being. God is truth and light, and he leads us not into the darkness. Consequently he does not mean "This is my body" in a literal, actual, physical sense, which contradicts the Scriptures. It is the oracles of demons that are obscure, not the maxims of Christ. God does not work in this way. The soul is spiritual, the soul does not eat flesh. Spirit eats spirit.
Do not take offense at my words, for I desire your friendship, not the bitterness of your heart. I confront you willingly, Doctor Luther, and you, Master Philip.
LUTHER: I promise to control my feelings in deference to God and our gracious prince and lord. What is past is past. Let us look to the future! If we cannot agree on everything, we can still enter into fellowshipwe shall discuss in conclusion.
Respecting Helvidius, it can be proved from Scripture that "brother" can mean "cousin." But this is not to prove a figure of speech in "This is my body." What you mean by "eating" seems to include everything but eating. To you, "eating" means flesh, flesh. Assuming that you were right, it would still be pointless in this matter. If God were to place rotten or shriveled apples before me, I would eat them in a spiritual sense on the authority of his word. For wheresoever the word of God is, there we find a spiritual repast. When God speaks to us, then faith is required. This is what is meant by "eating." If he appends a physical sense to its meaning, then we must obey. We eat in faith this body, which is given for us. The mouth receives the body of Christ, the soul believes the words as it eats the body. If I were to take Christ's body in my arms, that would be "embracing." You have attached unusual meanings to things that are dear to me.
If you think that God does not confront us with the incomprehensible, then I cannot agree with you. The virginity of Mary, the forgiveness of sins, and many others like this are incomprehensiblen the words "This is my body." We read in the Psalms: "Thy way was through the sea, thy path through the great waters; yet thy footprints were unseen" [Ps 77:19]. If we knew his way, then he would not be incomprehensiblethe miraculous!
ZWINGLI: It can be demonstrated from the Scripture that allusions are symbolical. Ezekiel, for example, was told to shave his head [Ezek 5:1 ff.], and then it reads, "This is Jerusalem"ch is to say that this would happen to Jerusalem. Or, the passing of God over the houses "is the Passover" [Ezek 12:27]orresponding use of figurative speech.
Luther refuses to recognize figures of speech like these and others that one encounters even in the Lord's Supper, when indeed many passages are found that belie his literal interpretation. There are those, however, like "the elder is the head, the prophet is the tail" [Is 9:14ff.]. To the prophets, such prophecies are common, for Isaiah here the word "is" meaning "signifies." Since then it is necessary to collate doubtful passages with others, we must take the word "is" in the Lord's Supper to mean "signifies."
Luther is employing the rhetorical device of exaggeration against us at this point. His argument is weighty: If God commands, then you know that he has so commanded you! If God commands that his body be eaten in remembrance of him, then consequently we know that God is pleased when we do this. Luther is not talking about the inner meaning of the Scripture, which reveals to us the will of God, but about the literal meaning. We assert it to be impossible that God would command us to eat his flesh in a physical sense.
It is a game of words that we are playing. He insists that the spoken word adds something to the bread and wine, Melanchthon agreeing with me that something is only "signified" by the words. For us it is the "essence" of the words which adds something. I ask that we examine "the word" carefully, for it is full of meaning! For example, when a papist hears the word death of Christ is our justificationfails to believe because he fails to catch its inner meaning. These words are only there for the purpose of "signifying" the will of the Father. You reject our meanings, we reject yours. "I shall not be visible to you" says Christ [Jn 12:8], hence he is not bodily present in the Lord's Supper.
It is not true that God confronts us with much that is incomprehensible. That Christ is truly God and man is well known to the faithful. In regard to Mary, when she asked, "How can this be?" it was spoken, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" [Lk 1:34ff.]. Accordingly she understood the power of the living God, and this was sufficient for her. But here, in the sixth chapter of John, the young men were uncertain whether or not Jesus was speaking of a physical repast. So he spoke of a spiritual repast. This is clear.
You say, "Where the word of God is, there the feast of Christ is." The pope uses these words too and they accomplish nothing. The words of faith are what I believe! Christ taught nothing about the eating of the body. As far as understanding the words of the Lord's Supper is concerned, it is one thing to teach about them and another to understand them. Even when I eat pure bread, Luther says, as soon as the word is added to the element it becomes a sacrament. The word of whom? If spoken by a papist, then the element does not become a sacrament when the word is added. Therefore the words that are spoken must be understood and comprehended according to my belief, whereby a sacrament is a thing of inner significance, a sign used in communication. One must extend it to his brothers as a testament that Christ died for them. That the body is eaten in the mouth is a statement that utterly amazes me. If Christ is present, then he is there to sustain the soul, not the body. How can he reconcile opposites? You cannot overcome what I say with philosophy or rhetoric. Melanchthon has granted that the Jews did not understand the spiritual sense of Christ's words [cf. Jn 6:53 ff.]. Christ spoke to them in order to heal them, for they suffered from the malady of misunderstanding. I speak therefore from an understanding of the spiritual sense of the Scriptures, and when Luther interprets them differently, and ambiguously, then he does violence to the Scriptures. "The words that I speak are spirit and life" [Jn 6:63] means just thise words," that is, the form of expression. It is not a question of the spoken word.
For the rest, see the URL above.