A colloquy, in a general sense, is simply a conversation. However, the term is often used in a more technical sense to denote a meeting to discuss theological matters. The Marburg Colloquy was one such meeting that took place in Marburg, Germany, October 1–4, 1529, between representatives of the German Reformation and the Swiss Reformation. Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and Philip Melanchthon from Germany and John Oecolampadius and Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli from Switzerland were the primary presenters, but there were a number of observers and delegates who attended.
At the time of the Marburg Colloquy, church and state were inextricably entwined. There were Catholic rulers presiding over Catholic territories, and there were Protestant rulers and territories. Even though the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, Catholic forces seemed to be gaining political and military power. Philip of Hesse was the Protestant landgrave, or ruler, of the German territory of Hesse, a central German state. He felt that the Protestant territories in Germany and Switzerland should form a political alliance to resist Catholic forces in case they attempted to forcefully subdue the Protestant territories. However, Lutheran Protestants wanted a common confession of faith to be the basis of any alliance, and there was a significant theological difference regarding the Eucharist. Phillip of Hesse called the colloquy in an attempt to settle the issue and achieve unity.
The Roman Catholic Church taught that, through a miracle, the priest changes the elements of the Eucharist into the actual body and blood of the Lord, although they retain their original appearance, taste, and smell. According to Catholic teaching, when the communicant receives the Eucharist, he or she is actually eating the body of Christ. This teaching, known as transubstantiation, the Reformers universally rejected. Luther and the Reformers who followed him taught consubstantiation (although the term was coined later). Consubstantiation is the idea that the body and blood of Christ are with the elements, but the elements do not change into the actual body and blood of Christ. Other Reformers taught that the body of Christ was spiritually present in the elements and that the believer is spiritually nourished by receiving the elements. Zwingli taught something that would be called memorialism. The Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper or communion) is simply a memorial or a ritual of remembrance. The spiritual benefit does not come from the elements but in the act of remembering Christ’s broken body and shed blood for sin as the symbolic elements are eaten.
At the Colloquy of Marburg, the opposing positions were presented and debated, and the final outcome was that there would be no agreement forthcoming on this issue. However, there was great agreement on other issues. Luther prepared fifteen articles that both sides would sign. The fifteenth stated many points of agreement regarding the Eucharist and also noted the primary point they could not agree on. The last article called for each side to respond to the other in Christian love.
These are the Articles of Marburg, signed on October 3, 1529:
“First, that we on both sides unanimously believe and hold that there is only one true, natural God, Maker of all creatures, and that this same God is one in essence and nature and triune as to persons, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exactly as was decided in the Council of Nicaea and as is sung and read in the Nicene Creed by the entire Christian church throughout the world.
“Second, we believe that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son of God the Father, true and natural God himself, became man through the working of the Holy Spirit without the agency of male seed, was born of the pure Virgin Mary, was altogether human with body and soul, like another man, but without sin.
“Third, that this same Son of God and of Mary, undivided in person, Jesus Christ, was crucified for us, died and was buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, Lord over all creatures, and will come to judge the living and the dead, etc.
“Fourth, we believe that original sin is innate and inherited by us from Adam and is the kind of sin which condemns all men. And if Jesus Christ had not come to our aid by his death and life, we would have had to die eternally as a result of it and could not have received God’s kingdom and salvation.
“Fifth, we believe that we are saved from such sin and all other sins as well as from eternal death, if we believe in the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for us, etc., and that apart from such faith we cannot free ourselves of any sin through any kind of works, station in life, or [religious] order, etc.
“Sixth, that such faith is a gift of God which we cannot earn with any works or merit that precede, nor can we achieve it by our own strength, but the Holy Spirit gives and creates this faith in our heart as it pleases him, when we hear the gospel or the word of Christ.
“Seventh, that such faith is our righteousness before God, for the sake of which God reckons and regards us as righteous, godly, and holy apart from all works and merit, and through which he delivers us from sin, death, and hell, receives us by grace and saves us, for the sake of his Son, in whom we thus believe, and thereby we enjoy and partake of his Son’s righteousness, life, and all blessings. [Therefore, all monastic life and vows, when regarded as an aid to salvation, are altogether condemned.]
“Concerning the External Word: Eighth, that the Holy Spirit, ordinarily, gives such faith or his gift to no one without preaching or the oral word or the gospel of Christ preceding, but that through and by means of such oral word he effects and creates faith where and in whom it pleases him (Romans 10[:14ff.]). “Concerning Baptism: Ninth, that holy baptism is a sacrament which has been instituted by God as an aid to such a faith, and because God’s command, ‘Go, baptize’ [cf. Matt. 28:19], and God’s promise, ‘He who believes’ [Mark 16:16], are connected with it, it is therefore not merely an empty sign or watchword among Christians but, rather, a sign and work of God by which our faith grows and through which we are regenerated to [eternal] life.
“Concerning Good Works: Tenth, that such faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, and by which we are reckoned and have become righteous and holy, performs good works through us, namely, love toward the neighbor, prayer to God, and the suffering of persecution of every kind.
“Concerning Confession: Eleventh, that confession or the seeking of counsel from one’s pastor or neighbor should indeed be without constraint and free. Nevertheless, it is very helpful to consciences that are afflicted, troubled, or burdened with sins, or have fallen into error, most especially on account of the absolution or consolation afforded by the gospel, which is the true absolution.
“Concerning Governing Authorities: Twelfth, that all governing authorities and secular laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they exist, are a truly good estate and are not forbidden, as some papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. On the contrary, [we believe] that a Christian, called or born thereto, can indeed be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the estate of father or mother, husband or wife, etc.
“Thirteenth, that what is called tradition or human ordinances in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters, provided they do not plainly contradict the word of God, may be freely kept or abolished in accordance with the needs of the people with whom we are dealing, in order to avoid unnecessary offense in every way and to serve the weak and the peace of all, etc.
“Fourteenth, that baptism of infants is right, and that they are thereby received into God’s grace and into Christendom.
“Concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ: Fifteenth, we all believe and hold concerning the Supper of our dear Lord Jesus Christ that both kinds should be used according to the institution by Christ; [also that the mass is not a work with which one can secure grace for someone else, whether he is dead or alive;] also that the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the spiritual partaking of the same body and blood is especially necessary for every Christian. Similarly, that the use of the sacrament, like the word, has been given and ordained by God Almighty in order that weak consciences may thereby be excited to faith by the Holy Spirit. And although at this time, we have not reached an agreement as to whether the true body and blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine, nevertheless, each side should show Christian love to the other side insofar as conscience will permit and both sides should diligently pray to Almighty God that through his Spirit he might confirm us in the right understanding. Amen.”
The division between the Lutherans and the Swiss Reformers existed before the Marburg Colloquy began, and it continued after it ended. Luther would not budge from his position that the plain meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:26 was that His body is somehow literally present with the bread of communion. Zwingli and his followers remained convinced that communion is a memorial of Christ’s death and that His actual body is not present.