Colloquy of Marburg

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MARBURG, COLLOQUY OF. The Colloquy of Marburg (1 October to 5 October 1529) was a series of meetings designed to end the religious quarrel between the Lutheran and Zwinglian theologians and to make a political agreement between their Protestant states possible. The Hessian landgrave, or prince, Philipp the Magnanimous (15041567), organized the colloquy, which was ended prematurely by the threatening epidemic known as the English sweats (possibly chronic fatigue syndrome). After establishing many areas of agreement, the religious discussions focused on the nature of the Lord's Supper, the main item of disagreement between the feuding theologians. Martin Luther (14831547) and Philipp Melanchthon (14871560), both from Wittenberg in Electoral Saxony, were the main speakers for the Lutheran cause, while Huldrych Zwingli (14841531) from Zurich and John Oecolampadius (14821531) from Basel represented the Zwinglian side. There were also delegates from Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Schwäbisch-Hall.

Landgrave Philipp's strategy of using small group meetings as well as the large disputation format did produce a compromise agreement called the fifteen articles of faith, also known as the Marburg Articles. The theologians all agreed to articles on original sin, the Word of God, grace, baptism, infant baptism, and confession, and Luther was willing to compromise on his wording concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. Zwingli, however, could not accept any understanding of the Presence other than a symbolic one. Zwingli held that Christ's words, "this is my body," mean 'this signifies my body'. Hence, on the fifteenth article, concerning the Lord's Supper, they stated their differences, but agreed not to continue to attack one another.

While the religious discussions continued, some of the politicians began separate political discussions in order to create a defensive Protestant alliance against possible hostile actions by their Roman Catholic opponents. From the start, the political desire for a defensive alliance had driven demands for a colloquy and religious agreement because Luther insisted that a defensive alliance of Protestants must hold the same religious views. The Lutheran princes of Electoral Saxony and Brandenburg-Ansbach, however, who were opposed to a defensive Protestant alliance with the Lower German and German-speaking Swiss cities, schemed to sabotage the Marburg Colloquy. Elector John sent Eberhard von der Tann to Marburg with instructions to prevent an agreement. Hence, failing to create an all-Protestant alliance, Hesse, Strasbourg, Zurich, and Basel drew up the Marburg Sketch of an Alliance to serve as the basis for one in the future.

Significantly, the religious discussions proved that Lutheran and Reformed theologians could compromise and reach agreement under favorable circumstances. Thus, the colloquy remains a subject of more than historical interest to this day. Land-grave Philipp's contention that the religious dispute was only over wordsthat the theologians simply misunderstood one anotherwas accepted by some of the theologians. Hence, it led to broader theological agreements, for example, the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, which included the Upper German towns (considered Zwinglian by the Lutheran party in 1529) in common communion with the Lutheran principalities. The Marburg Sketch of an Alliance materialized in the Schmalkaldic League (1531), which defended the German Protestant states until Luther's death.

See also Bible: Interpretation ; Catholicism ; Hesse, Land-graviate of ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Nuremberg ; Reformation, Protestant ; Saxony ; Theology ; Zurich ; Zwingli, Huldrych .


Hauswirth, René. Landgraf Philipp von Hessen und Zwingli, 15261531, vol. 35 of Schriften zur Kirchen- und Rechtsgeschichte. Tübingen, 1968. This is the best study of the relationship between the Hessian landgrave and the Zurich reformer, revealing that the latter did not dominate the relationship intellectually.

Köhler, Walther. Zwingli und Luther, ihr Streit über das Abendmahl nach seinen politischen und religiösen Beziehungen. 2 vols. Leipzig, 19241953. A thorough treatment of the whole dispute between Zwingli and Luther over the nature and use of the Lord's Supper.

Sasse, Hermann. This Is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar. Minneapolis, 1959. The best study in English concerning the Lutheran position on the Lord's Supper and the Lutheran view of the Protestant controversy over it.

Wright, William J. "Philip of Hesse's Vision of Protestant Unity and the Marburg Colloquy." In Pietas et Societas: New Trends in Reformation Social History: Essays in Memory of Harold J. Grimm, edited by Kyle C. Sessions and Phillip N. Bebb, vol. 6 (pp. 163179) of Sixteenth-Century Essays and Studies. Kirksville, Mo., 1985. The only treatment of the colloquy in English, but in the context of Philipp of Hesse's policies.

Ziegler, Donald, ed. Great Debates of the Reformation. New York, 1969. This book includes an English translation of the record of the theological disputation.

W. J. Wright

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Marburg, Colloquy of. The meeting of Protestant leaders in October 1529 at the Castle of Marburg-on-the-Lahn to discuss theological differences. Fourteen articles were formulated expressing basic agreement on major doctrines, but in the debate concerning the fifteenth article it proved impossible fully to reconcile the divergent eucharistic views of Luther and Zwingli.

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