Monday, October 3

Marburg

The Colloquy of Marburg—the first major council of Protestant Christians—began in earnest on this day in 1529 after two days of pleasantries and preliminaries. A number of prominent theologians and pastors had agreed to meet in an attempt to resolve controversies that had arisen between the two Reformers Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther. Strong disagreement had arisen in particular over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The Roman Church taught that in the ceremony of the mass, the bread and wine were transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. Neither Zwingli nor Luther found that view Scripturally supportable or acceptable. But while Luther held that Christ was actually and spiritually present in the bread and wine, Zwingli believed the whole ceremony of communion was a memorial of Christ's death for us, but that Christ was not actually present in the elements, either physically or spiritually (I know, I know, this is a gross oversimplification of the two postitions, but a simple explanation will have to suffice for the present circumstances).

In any case, neither Zwingli nor Luther could accept the other's viewpoint, and the debate often became harsh and unpleasant. Philip of Hesse, one of the German princes, had invited the Reformers to come to his territory to resolve their differences. Behind Philip's desire for peace between Zwingli and Luther was the hope that a political alliance of the Protestant states might eventually be made, thus weakening the Catholic Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire. Peace was not to be had, however. Though the reformers could agree on the doctrines of the Trinity, the person of Christ, his death and resurrection, original sin, justification by faith, the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments, they could not agree on the nature of communion.

Martin Bucer, who had attempted to mediate between the two great Reformers (and who held to a yet another view of the Lord's Supper, later taken up by his disciple John Calvin), bitterly complained afterward, “Protestants might well face severe tumults for many years to come” if such “intransigence” were “left unchecked.” Never was he more the prophet.

12 comments:

Eric Phillips said...

"But while Luther held that Christ was spiritually present in the bread and wine..."

What do you base this statement on? Luther taught the physical presence of Christ in true body and blood, not a "spiritual presence." That was Calvin's baby.

George said...

Eric:

I said "actually and spiritually present..." which I think separates Luther's view from that of Bucer (which Calvin later adopted).

blake photography said...

Is the traditional Anglican Catholic view of Mystery not an option?

George said...

Blake:

Certainly, the Anglo-Catholic view of the Supper has been a part of the church's historical discussion--it just was not represented at Marburg.

Eric Phillips said...

Did you add the word "actually" later? It wasn't in the first version I read, and the only other possibility is that the person who reproduced your post over at the Boar's Head Tavern somehow left a couple crucial words out.

Even at that, though, why use the word "spiritually" for Luther's view at all? Especially when you're leaving out the word "physically," which is far and away the most important one? I mean, Calvin claimed his spiritual presence view was still _actual_. That's not a very illuminating word.

Blake said...

Thanks George. I was reformed for 10 years and couldnt move past the debate. I like reading your website though, it's great.

-blake

George said...

Eric:

1. No, I didn't change it.
2. I don't know anything about Boar's Head and don't have anything to do with any postings there. I hear that Cumberland House has a "Today in History" site that is sometimes poorly edited--and they often take my material from the poorly edited Today in History book and post. Maybe that's where they got it.
3. Why use the words I use? Simple. They're the words Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer used (remember Calvin was not there and had nothing to do with the debate--he just barely out of his teens at the time). Note too that the way I describe Zwingli's view is also out of step with the "mere memorial" supposition of the modern debate (again because, as per Bucer's account, this was not Zwingli's language or even his position).
4. This whole discussion though does help prove the original point of my posting.

Eric Phillips said...

Did Luther explain the presence as "spiritual" at Marburg? If so, that's very interesting. Could you give me a quotation or citation for that? Even if he did, though, it was the _mode_ of presence he would've been describing. _Actual_ presence of a _body_ is a physical presence, even if it's manifested according to a spiritual mode. And it seems quite misleading to portray his position as if it were somehow meant to contradict a "literal" view that only Roman Catholics held to. Luther was quite literal on the subject.

And I don't see how Zwingli's view, as described in your post, is any different from the "mere memorial" view of today.

George said...

Eric:

The only full account we have of Marburg is Bucer's. There is a big difference, he said, between "memorial" and "mere memoiral." The former is definitive. The latter is also definitive but also exclusive. Be that as it may, the information I have used here, including the specific use of Luther's differentiation, comes from the little anthology of Bucer's works, Bucer in Strassbourg, ed. Jean Caurolinian, tr. Georges Birett (London: 1912).

Eric Phillips said...

All right, thanks.

It strikes me that if Bucer's conclusion and the premise of his account was that Zwingli & Luther _should_ have agreed, and mere pigheadedness prevented them from doing so, that he might not be the best expositor of either man's position. It would be better to get our understanding of Zwingli and Luther from the writings of Zwingli and Luther first, and then read Bucer's account through that lens.

George said...

Eric:

My goodness, that was most assuredly NOT Bucer's premise. He was, after all, the mentor of Calvin. It was his postion on the Supper that Calvin took up and made more widely known and accepted. Bucer was however judicious in recognizing what Luther and Zwingli--and for that matter, most moderns--could not: that the various positions are far more complex and nuanced than we'd like to admit. Bucer was the sane one in all of this.

Eric Phillips said...

If Bucer didn't think Zwingli and Luther should have agreed, then what "intransigence" was he lamenting?