Marburg Colloquy

General Information

A 16th century Protestant reformer of Basel, Switzerland, Johannes Oecolampadius, b. 1482, d. Nov. 23, 1531, was in his youth a humanist, a follower of Erasmus. He converted to Protestantism and became a friend and supporter of Ulrich Zwingli, another Swiss reformer. Oecolampadius introduced the Reformation into Basel in 1522, was active in promoting Protestantism in southwest Germany and Switzerland, and helped reform university education and the lower schools of Basel. In the Marburg Colloquy (1529), arranged to establish doctrinal unity as a preliminary to the political unity of Protestantism, Oecolampadius defended Zwingli's position on the Eucharist against Martin Luther.

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Bibliography
H J Hillerbrand, The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants (1964) and Men and Ideas in the Sixteenth Century (1984); G R Potter, Zwingli (1976); Rupp, Gordon, Patterns of Reformation (1969); L W Spitz, The Protestant Reformation, 1517 - 1559 (1984).


Marburg Colloquy (1529)

Advanced Information

The Marburg Colloquy was the meeting which attempted to resolve the differences between Lutherans and Zwinglians over the Lord's Supper. These differences had been expressed in a bitter pamphlet controversy between 1525 and 1528. While both Luther and Zwingli rejected the Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrificial Mass, Luther believed that the words "This is my body, this is my blood" must be interpreted literally as teaching that Christ's body and blood were present in the sacrament "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine. Furthermore, he viewed the sacrament as a means of grace by which the participant's faith is strengthened.

Zwingli regarded Luther's position as a compromise with the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation and maintained the words of institution must be taken symbolically to mean this represents Christ's body. Although Zwingli believed that Christ was present in and through the faith of the participants, this presence was not tied to the elements and depended upon the faith of the communicants. In contrast to Luther he interpreted the sacrament as a commemoration of the death of Christ, in which the church responded to grace already given, rather than a vehicle of grace.

After three years of bitter polemics Philip of Hesse arranged the meeting at Marburg in order to resolve the doctrinal differences that stood in the way of a united political front. The major participants were Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Zwingli, and John Oecolampadius.

The public colloquy began on October 2 after preliminary private discussions had been held the previous day which paired Luther with Oecolampadius and Melanchthon with Zwingli. Luther based his arguments on the words of institution. His opponents responded that since the body of Christ was "at the right hand of the Father" in heaven, it could not be present simultaneously at altars throughout the Christian world when the Eucharist was celebrated. Although the debate became quite heated at times, it concluded with both sides asking pardon for their harsh words. On October 4, at the request of Philip of Hesse, Luther drew up fifteen articles of faith based on the Schwabach Articles which had been formulated before the colloquy. To his surprise his opponents accepted fourteen of them with only slight modifications.

Even the fifteenth article, on the Eucharist, expressed agreement on five points and concluded with the conciliatory statement: "Although we are not at this present time agreed, as to whether the true Body and Blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless the one party should show to the other Christian love as far as conscience can permit."

Despite this hopeful ending unity was not achieved. Shortly afterward both sides were again making critical remarks about the other. Subsequent writings by Zwingli convinced Luther that he had not been sincere in accepting the Marburg Articles. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 Zwinglians and Lutherans presented separate confessional statements which reflected the unresolved differences at Marburg.

Bibliography
W Koehler, Zwingli and Luther: Ihr Streit uber das Abendmahl nach seinen politischen und religiosen Beziehungen; H Sasse, This Is My Body; M E Lehmann, ed., Luther's Works, XXXVIII; G Beto, "The Marburg Colloquy of 1529: A Textual Study," C T M 16.


Also, see:
Last Supper
Eucharist
Mass

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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