This Week in Church History: Marburg Colloquy Day 4 (October 4)

Previous posts in the series:

In this final post, we’re going to recap what the final day of the colloquy and then discuss the colloquy’s importance within the larger story of the Reformation.

A Brief Summary of Day 4 (October 4) of the Marburg Colloquy

On the morning of day four, the attendees gathered briefly in small groups to discuss if some sort of arrangement in which altar and church fellowship could be allowed, despite differences on the Eucharist. Philip thought it ought to be possible, but Luther strongly opposed such an arrangement, saying that the Lutherans had deeply Christian reason to not practice such fellowship with the Swiss and South Germans.

At that point, a despairing Philip made one final effort to ensure that something was accomplished by the gathering. Toward that end, he commissioned Luther to write a statement of shared belief that the other attendees would review and, if they agreed, sign. Luther prepared a 15-point statement with Philip intervening on the 15th article to make it more ecumenical while remaining acceptable to Luther.

To Luther’s surprise, Zwingli and the rest all agreed to sign the statement. You can read each of the 15 points below.

The Marburg Articles

  1. First, that we both sides unanimously believe and hold that there is one single, correct, natural God, Creator of all living things. [Furthermore], that this God is one in being and nature in the three persons of the Trinity, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, etc, as resolved at the Nicene Council and sung and read in the Nicene Creed by the Christian Church throughout the entire world.
  2. Second, we believe that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but rather the Son of God the Father became man through the agency of the Holy Spirit [and was conceived] without male seed and born of the immaculate Virgin Mary. He was perfect in body and soul, and like other men but utterly free of sin.
  3. Third, that very same Son of God and Mary, one in body, Jesus Christ, was crucified for us, died and was buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits to the right of God [the Father], Lord of all creation, and will [come again to] judge the living and the dead.
  4. Fourth, we believe that we are born with and inherited original sin from Adam. It is so egregious that all of humanity would be damned had not Jesus Christ come to help with his life and death. Without him we would have been lost for eternity and excluded from God’s kingdom and salvation.
  5. Fifth, we believe that we are saved from this sin and all other sin and eternal death if we believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for us. Without this faith no [good] deed, social status, or religious order, etc., can free us from our sins.
  6. Sixth, such faith is a divine gift which we cannot earn with works or merit nor create of our own accord. Rather, it comes from and is created by the Holy Spirit, wherever it pleases, when we hear the Gospel or the words of Christ.
  7. Seventh, such faith is our justification before God, on which basis he accounts us saved, pious, and holy without works or merit. We are thereby saved from sin and death, granted mercy and made holy for the sake of his Son, in whom we believe. Thus, we are allowed to take part in and enjoy the Son’s salvation, life, and all things.
  8. Eighth, [we believe] that the Holy Spirit, to speak properly, does not give anyone such faith or this gift without their having heard sermons or the Word or Gospel of Christ. Rather, it works through and with such oral proclamation and creates faith where and in whom it wishes. Ro. X.
  9. Ninth, [we believe] that holy baptism is a sacrament which is an instrument of God for such faith and ordered by Him: “Go forth and baptize” [Matt. 28:15], and God promises thereby: “He who believes [ . . . ]” [Mark 16:16]. Thus it is not only a simple sign or symbol among Christians but rather a divine symbol and work which supports our faith, through which we are born again to [eternal] life.
  10. Tenth, [we believe] that the faith effected by the Holy Spirit, having saved us and made us holy, practices good works through us, namely, brotherly love, prayer to God, and the ability to suffer all persecution, etc.
  11. Eleventh, that confession or seeking counsel with a pastor or [spiritual] brother should be uncoerced and free, but is of great use to those who are troubled, under [spiritual] attack, or burdened by sin or with a conscience that has been lead astray, most of all because of the absolution and comfort offered by the Gospel, which is the true absolution.
  12. Twelfth, that all secular authorities, laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they may be, are of a correct and proper standing and not forbidden, as many papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. Rather, that a Christian, if he is called or born into the ruling class, can be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the class of father and mother, husband and wife, etc.
  13. Thirteenth, that that which we call traditions in our human order in spiritual and ecclesiastical business, so long as they are not clearly contrary to God’s Word, may be followed or abandoned so that those with whom we deal can be shielded from all nature of unnecessary annoyance and the weak and common peace can be aided through love.
  14. Fourteenth, [we believe] that infant baptism is correct and that they [i.e. the children baptized] are thereby granted God’s mercy and accepted into Christendom.
  15. Fifteenth, regarding the Last Supper of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, we believe and hold that one should practice the use of both species as Christ himself did, and that the sacrament at the altar is a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the spiritual enjoyment of this very body and blood is proper and necessary for every Christian. Furthermore, that the practice of the sacrament is given and ordered by God the Almighty like the Word, so that our weak conscience might be moved to faith through the Holy Spirit. And although we have not been able to agree at this time, whether the true body and blood of Christ are corporally present in the bread and wine [of communion], each party should display towards the other Christian love, as far as each respective conscience allows, and both should persistently ask God the Almighty for guidance so that through his Spirit he might bring us to a proper understanding. Amen.

Marburg Article Signers

  • Martin Luther
  • Justus Jonas
  • Philipp Melanchthon
  • Andreas Osiander
  • Stephan Agricola
  • Johannes Brenz
  • Johannes Oecolampadius
  • Huldrich Zwingli
  • Martin Bucer
  • Caspar Hedio

What happened after the Marburg Colloquy?

As much as it is tempting to argue that Marburg represents some sort of dramatic, conclusive ending to all possibilities of institutional union within the Protestant movement, that actually isn’t true.

Marburg is merely the first effort at union and it came very, very early in the Reformation. One of the more interesting things to note from the official record is that Bucer does not speak until the afternoon session on the second official and third de facto day of the colloquy. That is because at this point Bucer was still not that well known in reformation circles. A small number of people knew him, but at this point Wolfgang Capito and Matthew Zell were the most famous Strassbourg reformers. It would not be until 1530 and 1531 that Bucer really came into his own as the leader of the Strasbourg movement.

Of course, another way we know that this is still very early in the reformation is that both Oecolampadius and Zwingli are still alive. They both would die in 1531 and be replaced by a new generation of Swiss Reformation leaders with Heinrich Bullinger taking the lead in Zurich and a constellation of other leaders heading up the movement in the other Swiss cities. A young Frenchman named John Calvin would, of course, arrive in Geneva in 1536. For the Lutherans, meanwhile, Melanchthon was still coming into his own as a leader of the movement. At the time of the colloquy he was still only 32.

Seven years later the two sides would actually produce a joint statement on the question of Eucharistic presence: the Wittenberg Concord. Though that document would not be the final word on the topic, its existence (as well as the fact of the strife between the Gnesio Lutherans and the Philippists in the next generation of Lutheranism) is a testament to the fact that the Supper Strife was not decided at Marburg. In fact, it was not even decided within the lifetimes of the leading participants at Marburg. The Reformed and Lutheran would continue to debate this issue—and the many related issues inevitably drawn into the debate via the question of Eucharistic presence—for much of the next 75 years.