GHDI logo

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

After the Lutherans raised their protest at the Imperial Diet of Speyer in 1529, thus giving rise to the name “Protestant,” the doctrinal quarrel between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) of Zurich escalated. In the late 1520s, this debate (and the campaign against sectarian groups) distracted Protestants from their attack on Rome and Catholicism. Landgrave Philip of Hesse (1504-67), anxious to restore unity and to form a Protestant military alliance, invited Luther, Zwingli, and others to a colloquy in Marburg in October 1529. Luther and Zwingli debated the correct interpretation of Christ’s words regarding the Eucharist – “this is my body” – with Zwingli taking a spiritualist line and Luther insisting on a literal interpretation. Their acceptance of a compromise document, the Marburg Articles, was brief and without influence. Andreas Osiander (1498-1552) sent this eyewitness report on the Marburg Colloquy to his masters, the city council of Nuremberg.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 5

Osiander’s Report

Astute, honorable, wise, gracious dear lords, Mr. Martin Pfinzing has informed me, among other things, about the order which you gave him for me. I learned with particular pleasure and gratitude that you, honorable and wise [sirs], desire a short account of the proceedings in Marburg, which I hereby send you, honorable and wise [sirs].

When Dr. Steffen (namely, Agricola) from Augsburg, Johannes Brenz from Halle, and I arrived in Marburg on Saturday afternoon and were announced at the court, we were soon sent for and taken into the prince's chamber, where Luther was already debating against Zwingli and Oecolampadius. We were seated near Doctor Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon to listen and, if need be, to speak. Dr. Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Justas Jonas, Friederich Myconius, and Caspar Creuziger had arrived in Marburg on Thursday morning, and Martin Luther had spent Friday in closed consultation with Zwingli and Oecolampadius, but he said that it had not been fruitful so that a public, friendly, non-argumentative conversation (as they called it) had been planned for Saturday morning at six o’clock. The prince was personally present from beginning to end, as were the courtiers and the Hessian pastors who had come for that purpose and we who had been summoned extra by the prince for the colloquy. Otherwise no one was admitted, perhaps because of the deaths [the plague], for, as we only found out as we were leaving, the English sickness was raging. We diligently inquired of the others about what had been discussed on Saturday morning before our arrival: First the prince’s chancellor had talked about why the prince had called them together, reminded them of the importance of the topic, and beseeched them above all to strive for the glory of God, the common Christian good, and brotherly unity.

Then Luther talked briefly about how the other party had attempted to prove that the words of Christ, “This is my body...This is my blood…” [Matthew 26:26ff] permit and demand another interpretation than what we believe and teach. And when they admitted to this, Luther continued, saying that he expected to hear something [to prove their position], which had not yet happened. He imagined that it would also not happen in the future, but he wanted to hear their argument, and then he would briefly and amicably tell them its shortcomings. And also, for himself, he wrote the text, “This is my body,” etc. on the table with chalk.

In response, Zwingli and Oecolampadius offered proof of their position from the holy, divine Scripture and statements from the [Church] fathers. Thereupon Luther asked that they remain systematic and friendly and not mix their sources, but rather refrain from quoting the Fathers until the holy, divine Scripture had been dealt with. They agreed and adhered to this.

Zwingli thus began and cited the sixth chapter of John [ver. 63], the flesh is of no use; he was of the opinion that this proved his point, because if the body of Christ is of no use, Christ would not have given it [to the disciples] to eat. And when he clearly wanted to talk about the entire chapter, as he had done often in his booklets, Luther observed that that would lead to long, unnecessary, useless, and annoying blathering. He interrupted Zwingli and said he was amazed that Zwingli would bring up this passage, for he must understand that Christ was not speaking in that case of communion, but rather of faith, so that it had nothing to do with the present debate. Thereupon Zwingli answered that it is true. However, he wanted to use it to prove that the physical presence in communion was of no use, and he was not surprised that Luther did not want to hear it, for (Zwingli said with great defiance and arrogance) it would eventually break Luther’s neck. Then Luther cautioned Zwingli amicably that they did not desire a quarrelsome dispute, but rather a cordial conversation. He asked him to avoid proud, defiant words until he had gone home to his Swiss [people], and, if he did not do so, then he [Luther] knew full well how to “deal him a blow to the face,” so that Zwingli would regret having given him cause by initiating such a dialogue. Luther continued in this manner and Zwingli became quiet and withdrawn.

first page < previous   |   next > last page