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The Marburg Colloquy – Report by a Lutheran Eyewitness (1529)

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After Zwingli had presented the saying, “The flesh is useless,” in a similar manner to that outlined in all his books, Luther answered him diligently without belligerence. First, he would not admit that Christ here spoke of his own body, but rather of our sinful and carnal nature, as is common in Scripture and as he [Luther] had meticulously taught and proven in his books. Second, even if Christ had been speaking of his own flesh, he did not claim that this leads to the conclusion that because the flesh is of no use, it is therefore not present. Otherwise if one sides with Zwingli, one must also conclude that the bread is of no use, and that therefore it is not present. The same could be said of baptism: the water is of no use and is, therefore, not there. Even Zwingli must understand that this is not a correct conclusion, but that rather the Word, which commands [us] to take and eat the body and blood, makes everything useful which would otherwise be useless, if the Word were not present, and which remains useless, if one is not conscious of the Word or of good faith, etc.

Thus half a day was spent on this passage, and, according to the opinion of many, including those of the other party, Luther successfully argued that the passage was not relevant to the question at hand and that they could not prove anything with it.

In the afternoon, however, when we were present, Zwingli presented a passage from the fifth chapter of Hebrews [actually 4:15]: “one who was tempted in everything just as we are, but was without sin.” And he linked this to the eighth chapter of Romans [ver. 3], “He sent his son in the form of sinful flesh.” And also to the second chapter of Philippians [ver. 7-8], “He took the form of a servant, became like another human, and was perceived to be human, etc…” He was of the opinion, based on these passages, that Christ was similar to us in all things, except that he was without sin. Our bodies, however, are limited to one spot; thus the body of Christ can also only be in one spot and not present in many locations in communion.

Luther answered this laughing [and said]: “So, if the word ‘likeness’ or ‘form’ can be stretched so far that it includes everything except sin, then that is peculiar to me indeed. For I have a wife, that is not sinful; thus, Christ must also have had a wife, etc. But I’ll let that go. And instead I’ll say that if it were true that Christ must be like us in all ways except sin, I still would not admit that the body can only be on one spot, for God is almighty. He can maintain my body with no place at all, so that it is nowhere [i.e. transcendent/beyond the physical realm]. He can also keep a body in more than one location, in one location, or in none at all, as he pleases." He then asked Zwingli with serious words to not think and talk about divine majesty and God’s omnipotence in such a childish manner. “For God can call that which does not exist into existence” [Romans 4:17].

Zwingli answered and acknowledged that God could indeed do so, if he wanted, but he did not, which he proved thus: Holy Scripture always portrays Christ in a particular spot: in the manger, in the temple, in the desert, on the cross, in the grave, to the right hand of the Father. Thus Zwingli believed that Christ always has to be in a particular location. To this I [Osiander] responded, saying, “With these passages one can prove no more than that Christ was in a particular location at the times mentioned. There is no proof in these passages that he is, or has to be, at a particular spot or fitting location forever and in eternity, instead of being transcendent or in many places, in a natural or supernatural manner, as they [Luther's party] suggest.” Then Zwingli said, “I have proven that Christ was present in one location, you must prove on the other hand that he ever transcended physical space or was [simultaneously] in many locations.” Luther answered, “You claimed in the beginning that you wanted to prove that it is not possible and that our interpretation is false. You are obligated to do so, and not to demand proof from us, because we are not obligated to do so.”

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