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.