This Week in Church History: Marburg Colloquy Day 3 (October 3)

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The third day of the Marburg Colloquy is the day that the wheels basically came off the cart. The first day featured informal discussions with a small group and was followed by more official (and similarly fruitless) discussions on October 2. On the third, those official discussions continued. Once it became clear that no agreement would be possible, discussions first became more testy. But once the attendees had a bit of time they all realized the magnitude of what was happening: As long as Luther was preeminent amongst the Lutherans, there would be no possible reconciliation between Reformed and Lutheran. And that realization was devastating for several attendees.

Marburg Colloquy Day 3, Session 1

If you’ve read the notes from day two, then you already know how day three began: Zwingli kept arguing that Christ’s body cannot be in multiple places at once. This is literally the first interaction we have recorded from the third day of the colloquy:

Zwingli: The words morphe and schema indicate that the body of Christ must occupy a certain space and must exist locally.

Luther: I have told you already, the body of Christ may be in space, and it may not be in space. God can even cause my body not to be in space. This text does not contain mathematics. What space is is taught by the mathematics. The schoolmen have held that one body can be in many places, or many bodies in one place, or that a body can be in no place at all. They say that God can do the same with all bodies, let alone with the body of Christ. Who am I to measure the power of God? He maintains the largest organism existing, the universe, without space. Therefore the world does not have a place where it exists.

Zwingli responds by telling Luther he can’t take refuge with the schoolmen (scholastics). “Prove, I pray, that the body of Christ can be in many places.” Luther responds, “This is my body.”

From here, Zwingli pivots and begins to argue from the fathers, citing Augustine and Fulgentius. Luther responds by saying that the passages Zwingli is citing are not dealing with the question of the Lord’s Supper, but with other historical debates, most principally with Manichaeism.

In arguing over Augustine, the Reformed provoke Brenz to say that the body “is without place.” Zwingli then replies: “The body of Christ must be in one place; if it were not in a place, it would not be a body.”

At this, Luther says, “‘It must be in one place,’—this word of Augustine does not speak of the Lord’s Supper. In the Sacrament the body is not as in a place.” Oecolampadius then tries to pin Luther by arguing that, “Then the body of Christ is not really in the Sacrament, somatikios, bodily, that is, with a true body.

At that, they break.

Marburg Colloquy Day 3, Session 2

When they return, Oecolampadius resumes: You have admitted that the body of Christ is not in the Sacrament as in a place. Now I ask in all sincerity: How, then, can there be a body?” (He reads from Fulgentius and Augustine.)

Luther responds that the Reformed are now arguing from the fathers because they cannot prove their teaching from scripture. He grants that Augustine and Fulgentius are on the reformed’s side, but that all the other fathers are against them. Oecolampadius asks him to produce one. Luther says “I do not know of any doctor of the church who would create agreement among us,” because all the doctors agree that God can exist outside of space and, as he sees it, that is the primary point of contention.

The two sides then go back and forth, arguing both over the scriptural texts and their readings of Augustine. As the discussion escalates, a politician in attendance named Feige exhorts both sides to “seek means and ways of coming to an agreement.” That triggers the key moment in the colloquy:

Luther: I do not know of any other means but to give due honor to the Word of God and to believe with us. I remain in my faith. I cannot give in.

Zwingli or Oecolampadius (Ed. Note: sources disagree on who said this): We can neither comprehend nor believe that the body of Christ is there.

Luther: I commend you to God and his judgment.

At this point, the record says that:

Luther then thanks Oecolampadius for having made plain his views in a friendly manner and without bitterness. He also thanks Zwingli although he had spoken in a more bitter way. He asks that his own bitter words, if he, yielding to his own flesh and blood, had spoken such, might be forgiven. Let there be a mutual pardoning.

Oecolampadius then asks “for God’s sake that the poor church should be taken into consideration.” Zwingli then asks Luther to forgive his bitterness and, “almost weeping,” says that “It has always been my eager wish to have you as a friend, and I still ask for that. There are no men, not even in Italy and France, whom I would like to see more than you.” Luther responds, “Ask God that you may be enlightened.” At this Oecolampadius says to Luther, “You, too, should ask for that. You need it not less.”

From here, Jacob Sturm, the magistrate from Strassbourg, rose to speak, noting that Luther’s earlier comments touched on more than just the Eucharistic question and also touched questions about the teaching of the Trinity and other central doctrines. Specifically, he strongly implied that the Strassbourg movement also failed to teach correctly on these matters.

Given Luther’s critique, Sturm worried that the Strassbourg movement could be further isolated from both the Reformed and the Lutherans and so he asks that Martin Bucer be given a chance to speak. The assembly agrees and Bucer addresses the floor.

The record says that Bucer “speaks on the doctrines of the Trinity, the Person of Christ, original sin, baptism, justification, the ministry of the Word as they are taught in Strassbourg, rejecting especially the suspicion of Arianism. In conclusion, he asks Luther to testify that this doctrine is orthodox.”

Luther says he cannot do this, saying he is neither their Lord nor their judge. He also says that the Strassbourg reformers themselves have protested when others have described them as Luther’s followers and so he doesn’t understand why they would want his blessing anyway. Luther says, “Everywhere you boast that you have not learned from us. It is evident that you have not learned from us. I do not want to be your teacher. As to our teaching, you have my writings and my confession.”

Bucer then asks if Luther would recognize him as a brother or if he would be willing to show him his errors that he may “overcome them.”

Luther refuses, saying he is not Bucer’s Lord, judge, or teacher. He then uses perhaps his most stinging words of the entire colloquy to attack Bucer:

Your spirit and our spirit cannot go together. Indeed, it is quite obvious that we do not have the same spirit. For there cannot be one and the same spirit where on one side the words of Christ are accepted in sincere faith, and on the other side this faith is criticized, attacked, denied, and spoken of with frivolous blasphemies. Therefore, as I have told you, we commend you to the judgment of God. Teach as you think you can defend it in the sight of God.

At this, Feige thanks all the attendees and dismisses them, but asks that they be prepared to be summoned by Philip either together or individually, as he wishes to speak with all of them before they leave.

Marburg Colloquy Day 3, Session 3

That evening, Philip spoke with a number of the attendees individually. His goal in doing so was to perhaps find a way of developing a shared confession out of the individual meetings despite the failure to come to an agreement collectively. All his efforts were rejected, however. That said, after Zwingli’s death in 1531 something very similar was affirmed by the Reformed and South Germans in 1534 and became the basis for the Wittenberg Concord in 1536.

At the end of the day, the attendees went to bed with plans to leave the next morning.