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Sept 10, 2010

Luther vs. Zwingli: Eucharist

Excerpt from: Jean Grob, The life of Ulric Zwingli , Chapt. 18, (transl., NY, 1883), p.147 fwd

Page Index

Zwingli: - Jean Grob
    The Protestant Crisis - Marburg Conference planned
    Journey to Marburg - Zwingli travels in Secret
    Early Private Meetings - with Luther & friends
    Council at Marburg - Day One: Luther on Eucharist
    Council at Marburg - Day Two: Debate unresolved


Chapter 18 (p.147 fwd)

At the Diet of Spire, on the 19th of April, 1529, the fundamental doctrines of Protestantism received a definite form and a final acknowledgment. This victory of the Word of God, which alone was at stake, excited the Roman Catholic party to devise some counter movement to overthrow Protestantism. An alliance among all Protestants seemed to be necessary, and would have been accomplished but for the opposition of Luther.

Philip of Hesse was greatly annoyed at this, and said :

"On account of the Zwinglians, no union is desired by some; let us then remove the differences between the two parties."

Such an alliance seemed to be indispensable to the growth of Protestantism. Writes Landgrave Philip, of Hesse, in the year 1529, to the Elector John, of Saxony,

"It is necessary that we do not permit ourselves to be so shamefully divided, although our learned theologians are not agreed upon some points that are either unimportant or else debatable, and upon which our faith and salvation do not depend."

In these beautiful words the noble Landgrave pointed out the way which he was inclined to pursue in the reformatory regeneration of his principality. It was owing to him that, at the imperial Diet of Spire, all the cities which were friends and adherents of Zwingli were not sacrificed to the demands of the Roman Catholic majority.

Moreover, since at that time the civil polity was under the control of the prevailing theology, there was but one course for the Landgrave of Hesse to pursue : to effect a reconciliation by bringing together the Lutheran and the Reformed representatives.

If existing circumstances had not been so unfavorable, Landgrave Philip would have appointed a meeting for the year 1528, but he postponed it until 1529. Melanchthon had already been won over to Philip's views to such an extent that he declared the differences between the two churches to be of no great consequence. This encouraged the Landgrave, who now turned to Zwingli and requested him to accept the invitation to a mutual conference with the Lutheran party.

Zwingli, whose heart longed for peace between the churches, thanked the Landgrave for his exertions on behalf of the Church's welfare, and promised to come. Luther did not favor the conference, nor was Melanchthon much inclined to go. But since the Elector of Saxony desired them to attend, they consented and went, sending him the following declaration : "If the Swiss do not yield, then all your trouble is in vain."

Zwingli, on the other hand, would not avoid a discussion concerning the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. He desired to see and to meet Luther. And the progress of the disputation showed that he was well furnished with arguments out of the Holy Scriptures, well-grounded in dogmatic theology, and well acquainted with the writings of the old Church fathers. He was never at loss for an answer. He stood completely upon the immovable foundation of the Divine Word.

Zwingli sought permission from the Council of Zurich to undertake the journey to Marburg. He said,

" I am convinced when we doctors shall meet, the light of truth will enlighten our eyes."

But the Council would not give its consent, for it did not wish to see its beloved pastor go on so remote a journey.

The Journey to Marburg

Zwingli, however, who had entertained great expectations from the results of this conference in the interests of the peace of the Church, conld not and would not remain at home. Fastening his gaze upon the spiritual welfare of all Christendom, he lifted up his eyes, filled with scalding tears, and prayed :

" O God, Thou that hast never forsaken me, Thy will be done, to Thine own honor and glory."

He then prepared himself for the journey. But because of his enemies, who still sought his ruin, he was obliged to keep his departure a secret. Not even his wife knew whither he was going. Rudolph Collin, professor of the Greek language, accompanied him. On the night of the 31st of August they mounted their horses and set out for Basel. When his enemies heard of his departure they rejoiced. Some said the devil had visited him and carried him off. Others said that he left the city in company with several rogues. To the Councils of the city he wrote :

"If I depart without notifying you beforehand, this will happen not because I do not respect and honor you, but because I know your love to me, and that your concern on my account would hinder my departure."

On Tuesday, September 6th, Zwingli, accompanied by Oekolampad and other friends of the Reformation, left Basel on board of a boat, descended the Rhine and reached Strassburg in thirteen hours. Here they sojourned at the house of the dean of the cathedral, Pastor Matthias Zell, whose wife, after attending to their wants, seated herself at the feet of the two Reformers, to hear the Word of Salvation. Zwingli found her to be so intelligent a woman that he ranked her higher than many of the learned doctors.

From Strassburg Zwingli and Oekolampad continued their journey in all quietness, accompanied by forty Hessian horsemen, and reached Marburg on Wednesday, September 29th.

Early Private Meetings

The next day Luther arrived. In order that the Reformers might become more intimately acquainted with one another, the Landgrave had arranged that Luther and Oekolampad, Zwingli and Melanchthon, should hold a private conference concerning the questions in controversy before beginning the public discussion.

Accordingly on the 1st of October, after the morning service had been held, these four men met in pairs and conferred in separate rooms. After the lapse of three hours they were called to dinner. That finished, Zwingli and Melanchthon continued their conference, but not Luther and Oekolampad. The latter complained of the treatment he had received from Luther, and entertained no hope of union because of this.

Zwingli demanded that the conference should be open to every one. Luther opposed this, and would not consent to the presence of representatives from Frankfort, Strassburg, Basel, and from other Swiss cities, as well as from the Rhine region. As Zwingli relates, there were but twenty-four persons present.

The Council at Marburg

Day one

On Saturday, the 2d of October, at six o'clock in the morning, the conference was opened in the great hall of the Knights of the Castle, at Marburg. The Ilessian Chancellor, Feige, opened and conducted the proceedings, and in the name of the Landgrave reminded every one again " to seek every possible way and means through which this burdensome and injurious division may be speedily ended, and they all brought together again to steadfast unity." Luther was not altogether inclined to comply with this wish, and in reply to the above reminder he wrote with chalk, in large letters, upon the table at which he, Melanchthon, Zwingli, and Oekolampad were seated, these words: "This -is my body." All were astonished at this action.

The Hessian chancellor once more requested all present not to overlook the wish of the Landgrave. But Luther replied : "I solemnly declare that I differ from my opponents on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, and that I will continue to differ I" And to this declaration he practically adhered. Before touching upon the Lord's Supper, Luther sought to include all the other Christian doctrines within the range of the discussion; but Zwingli insisted that the conference should be confined to the doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrament. Luther then .began the discussion by declaring that it was necessary to abide by the very letter of the words of institution.

Oekolampad replied that it would be impossible to receive all the declarations of Christ literally; thus, for example :

"I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman," "I am the door of the sheep," "John is Elias," "The seven good-and the seven ill-favored kine are each seven years," "Christ is the rock," "This is my body."

Luther conceded that many passages of Scripture are to be taken spiritually, but not so the passage touching the Lord's Supper.

Oekolampad reminded him of John 6:63 :

"It is the Spirit that quickeneth : the flesh profiteth nothing."

and he added : "What Christ here rejects he cannot approve in the Holy Sacrament."

Luther refused to continue the consideration of this passage, pointed to his chalk writing, and maintained that when God speaks man must believe and not criticise. Oekolampad desired to know, since man received a spiritual benefit by partaking of the Lord's Supper, what further special benefit the oral reception would impart? Luther declined a direct answer, but replied :

"If God should command me to eat dung, I would do it; it would certainly be wholesome to me! We must believe, and do it. We must do it."

At this point Zwingli took up the discussion with Luther, and emphasized the statement that Scripture must be explained by Scripture, and hence Christ's words of institution of the Sacrament must be interpreted according to John 6:63.

Luther again pointed to his writing, and simply said: "This is my body." Zwingli enjoined him to cease repeating this same remark. Landgrave Philip, perceiving that his attempts at union were in danger, intimated his approval of Zwingli's explanation. The whole party then proceeded to dinner.

At the afternoon session Zwingli read Luther's and Melanchthon's published spiritual interpretation of John 6:63, to show that both agreed with him in teaching a spiritual reception or benefit. Straightway Luther and Melanchthon disavowed this explanation, and maintained :

"As soon as the words of institution have been spoken, the body is present, no matter how bad the priest may be that utters the words."

It was evening, and the conference adjourned - without result.

The Council at Marburg

Day Two

On the following day, Sunday, October 3rd, the discussion was resumed at the point where it was broken off on the previous day. Zwingli called upon Luther to prove how a body could be in different places at the same time, for the latter had made this statement. Luther continued to repeat: "This is my body."

Zwingli grew weary of this repetition. He had sought to prove the spiritual benefit of the Sacrament, according to exegetical rules, from the scriptures, and from Natural Philosophy. He now adduced the Church fathers in evidence. He quoted the declarations of Fulgentius about the natures of Christ ; then also a citation from Augustine.

Luther responded :

"The body of Christ is present in the Lord's Supper, but not as in a place." (i.e. not locally)

It was now noon. Oekolampad summed up the result of the morning's conference, claiming that, if the body of Christ were not locally present in the Sacrament, then it is not a real body, and that thus Luther had refuted his own previous statements.

After dinner the conference was continued. Oekolampad began the discussion with the remark that, since Luther had conceded that the body of Christ is not locally present in the Sacrament, they would now in all kindness proceed to investigate the manner of the presence of Christ's body.

To this Luther replied:

" You will not drive me a step further. If you have Fulgentius and Augustine with you, then we have all the other Church fathers with us."

Luther was asked to name them. "We shall not name them." was his reply; and, lifting the table-cover, he pointed to his writing and exclaimed :

"Behold, thus reads the passage; you have not driven us from it, as you have boasted; we care nothing for other evidence."

It was in vain to continue the conference; the discussion was at an end.

The frightened chancellor implored them to come to an agreement before separating. Luther replied: "I know of but one means to secure this: let our opponents believe as we believe."

"That we cannot do." returned Oekolampad. "Then I will leave you to the judgment of God, and pray that He may enlighten you." responded Luther. "We shall do likewise." answered Oekolampad.

During this time Zwingli stood silent, deeply moved, and shed tears in the presence of all. Landgrave Philip accepted the teachings of Zwingli. At the close of the conference he desired that they should recognize one another as brethren. Thereupon Zwingli, bathed in tears, extended to Luther the hand of peace.

To the surprise of every one, Luther refused to accept the proffered hand, remarking : "You have a different spirit."

"We are conscious of having acted from pure motives; posterity will testify to this." replied the Swiss representatives.

On the 5th of October they left Marburg. Luther also returned home.

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