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§ 107. The Marburg Conference, a.d. 1529. (With Facsimile of Signatures.)


I. Contemporary Reports. (1) Lutheran. Luther’s references to the Conference at Marburg, in Erl. ed. XXXII. 398, 403, 408; XXXVI. 320 sqq. (his report from the pulpit); LIV. 286; 83, 107 sq., 153; LV. 88. Letters of Luther to his wife, Philip of Hesse, Gerbel, Agricola, Amsdorf, Link, and Probst, from October, 1529, and later, in De Wette, III. 508 sqq; IV. 26 sq. Reports of Melanchthon, Jonas, Brenz, and Osiander, in "Corpus Reform.," I. 1098, 1102 (Mel. in German); 1095 (Jonas), XXVI. 115; Seckendorf, II. 136; Walch, XVII. 2352–2379; Scultetus, Annal. evang., p. 215 sqq.; Riederer, Nachrichten, etc., II. 109 sqq.

(2) Reformed (Swiss and Strassburg) reports of Collin, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, are collected in Zwingli’s Opera, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, vol. IV. 173–204, and Hospinian’s Hist. Sacram., II. 74 sqq., 123 sqq. Bullinger: Reformationsgesch., II. 223 sqq. The reports of Bucer and Hedio are used by Baum in his Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), p. 453 sqq., and Erichson (see below). The MS. of Capito’s Itinerary was burned in 1870 with the library of the Protestant Seminary at Strassburg, but had previously been copied by Professor Baum.

II. The Marburg Articles in Walch, XVII. 2357 sqq.; Erl. ed. LXV. 88 sqq.; "Corp. Reform.," XXVI. 121–128; H. Heppe: Die 15 Marburger Artikel vom 3 Oct., 1529, nach dent wieder aufgefundenen Autographon der Reformatoren als Facsimile veröffentlicht, Kassel, 1847, 2d ed. 1854 (from the archives at Kassel); another ed. from a MS. in Zuerich by J. M. Usteri in the "Studien und Kritiken," 1883, No. II., p. 400–413 (with facsimile). A list of older editions in the "Corpus Reform.," XXVI. 113–118.

III. L. J. K. Schmitt: Das Religionsgespräch zu Marburg im J. 1529, Marb. 1840. J. Kradolfer: Das Marb. Religiogsgesprach im J. 1529, Berlin, 1871. Schirrmacher: Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte des Religions-gesprächs zu Marburg 1529 und des Reichstags zu Augsburg 1530 nach der Handschrift des Aurifaber, Gotha, 1876. M. Lenz: Zwingli und Landgraf Philipp, three articles in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift fuer K. Gesch.," 1879 (pp. 28, 220, and 429). Oswald Schmidt: in Herzog2, IX. (1881), 270–275. A. Erichson: Das Marburger Religionsgespräch i. J. 1529, nach ungedruckten strassburger Urkunden, Strassb. 1880. (Based upon Hedio’s unpublished Itinerarium ab Argentina Marpurgum super negotio Eucharistiae.) Frank H. Foster: The Historical Significance of the Marburg Colloquy, and its Bearing upon the New Departure (of Andover], in the "Bibliotheca Sacra," Oberlin, Ohio, April, 1887, p. 363–369.

IV. See also the respective sections in Hospinian, Löscher (Historia Motuum, I. 143 sqq.), Planck (II. 515 sqq.), Marheineke, Hagenbach, Rommel (Phil. der Grossmuethige, I. 247 sqq., II. 219 sqq.), Hassencamp (Hessische K. G., II.), Merle D’Aubigné (bk. VIII. ch. VII.), Ebrard (Das Dogma vom heil. Abendmahl, II. 268 sqq.), and in the biographies of Luther, e.g., Köstlin: M. Luth. II. 127 sqq. (small biography, E. V. p. 391 sqq.), and of Zwingli, e.g., by Christoffel and Mörikofer. Comp. also Ranke, III. 116 sqq.; Janssen, III. 149–154


The eucharistic controversy broke the political force of Protestantism, and gave new strength to the Roman party, which achieved a decided victory in the Diet of Speier, April, 1529.

In this critical situation, the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse formed at Speier "a secret agreement" with the cities of Nuernberg, Ulm, Strassburg and St. Gall, for mutual protection (April 22, 1529). Strassburg and St. Gall sided with Zuerich on the eucharistic question.

The situation became more threatening during the summer. The Emperor made peace with the Pope, June 29, and with France, July 19, pledging himself with his allies to extirpate the new deadly heresy; and was on the way to Augsburg, where the fate of Protestantism was to be decided. But while the nations of Europe aimed to emancipate themselves from the authority of the church and the clergy, the religious element was more powerful,—the hierarchical in the Roman, the evangelical in the Protestant party,—and overruled the political. This is the character of the sixteenth century: it was still a churchly and theological age.

Luther and Melanchthon opposed every alliance with the Zwinglians; they would not sacrifice a particle of their creed to any political advantage, being confident that the truth must prevail in the end, without secular aid. Their attitude in this matter was narrow and impolitic, but morally grand. In a letter to Elector John, March 6, 1530, Luther denied the right of resistance to the Emperor, even if he were wrong and used force against the gospel. "According to the Scriptures," he says, "a Christian dare not resist the magistrate, right or wrong, but must suffer violence and injustice, especially from the magistrate."852852    De Wette, III. 560.

Luther, as soon as he heard of the agreement at Speier, persuaded the Elector to annul it. "How can we unite with people who strive against God and the sacrament? This is the road to damnation, for body and soul." Melanchthon advised his friends in Nuernberg to withdraw from the alliance, "for the godless opinion of Zwingli should never be defended." The agreement came to nothing.

Philip of Hesse stood alone. He was enthusiastic for an alliance, because he half sympathized with the Zwinglian theory, and deemed the controversy to be a battle of words. He hoped that a personal conference of the theological leaders would bring about an understanding.

After consulting Melanchthon personally in Speier, and Zwingli by letter, the Landgrave issued formal invitations to the Reformers, to meet at Marburg, and offered them a safe-conduct through his territory.853853    The letters of invitation in Monumenta Hassiaca, tom. III., and Neudecker, Urkunden, p. 95.

Zwingli received the invitation with joy, and hoped for the best. The magistrate of Zuerich was opposed to his leaving; but he resolved to brave the danger of a long journey through hostile territory, and left his home in the night of Sept. 3, without waiting for the Landgrave’s safe-conduct, and without even informing his wife of his destination, beyond Basel. Accompanied by a single friend, the Greek professor Collin, he reached Basel safely on horseback, and on the 6th of September he embarked with Oecolampadius and several merchants on the Rhine for Strassburg, where they arrived after thirteen hours. The Reformers lodged in the house of Matthew Zell, the preacher in the cathedral, and were hospitably entertained by his wife Catharine, who cooked their meals, waited at the table, and conversed with them on theology so intelligently that they ranked her above many doctors. She often alluded in later years, with joy and pride, to her humble services to these illustrious men. They remained in Strassburg eleven days, in important consultation with the ministers and magistrates. Zwingli preached in the minister on Sunday, the 12th of September, in the morning, on our knowledge of truth, and our duty to obey it; Oecolampadius preached in the afternoon, on the new creature in Christ, and on faith operative in love (Gal. 5:6). On the 19th of September, at six in the morning, they departed with the Strassburg delegates, Bucer, Hedio, and Jacob Sturm, the esteemed head of the city magistrate, under protection of five soldiers. They travelled on horseback over hills and dales, through forests and secret paths. At the Hessian frontier, they were received by forty cavaliers, and reached Marburg on the 27th of September, at four o’clock in the afternoon, and were cordially welcomed by the Landgrave in person.854854    The 27th is given by Hedio in his Itinerary, as the day of their arrival, and is accepted by Baum, Erichson, and Köstlin. The usual date is the 29th. The same journey can now be made in a few hours. On the next days they preached.

Zwingli and Philip of Hesse had political and theological sympathies. Zwingli, who was a statesman as well as a reformer, conceived about that time far-reaching political combinations in the interest of religion. He aimed at no less than a Protestant alliance between Zuerich, Hesse, Strassburg, France, Venice, and Denmark, against the Roman empire and the house of Habsburg. He believed in muscular, aggressive Christianity, and in rapid movements to anticipate an attack of the enemy, or to be at least fully prepared for it. The fiery and enthusiastic young Landgrave freely entered into these plans, which opened a tempting field to his ambition, and discussed them with Zwingli, probably already at Marburg, and afterwards in confidential letters, till the catastrophe at Cappel made an end to the correspondence, and the projected alliance.855855    There are still extant ten letters from the Landgrave to Zwingli, and three from Zwingli to the Landgrave, to which should be added four letters from Duke Ulrich of Württemberg to Zwingli. They are published in Kuchenbecker’s Monumenta Hassiaca, in Neudecker’s Urkunden aus der Reformationszeit, and in Zwingli’s Opera, vol. VIII., and are explained and discussed by Max Lenz in three articles quoted in the Literature. The correspondence began during the second Diet of Speier, April 22, 1529 (the date of the first epistle of Philip), and ended Sept. 30, 1531 (the date of Philip’s last letter), eleven days before Zwingli’s death. The letters of the Landgrave, before the Marburg Conference, treat of religion; those after that Conference, chiefly of politics, and are strictly confidential. The prince addresses the theologian as "Dear Master Ulrich," "Dear Zwingli," etc.

The Wittenbergers, as already remarked, would have nothing to do with political alliances unless it were an alliance against foreign foes. They were monarchists and imperialists, and loyally attached to Charles V., "the noble blood," as Luther called him. They feared that an alliance with the Swiss would alienate him still more from the Reformation, and destroy the prospect of reconciliation. In the same year Luther wrote two vigorous works (one dedicated to Philip of Hesse) against the Turks, in which, as a Christian, a citizen, and a patriot, he exhorted the German princes to aid the Emperor in protecting the German fatherland against those invaders whom he regarded as the Gog and Magog of prophecy, and as the instruments of God’s wrath for the punishment of corrupt Christendom.856856    Vom Kriege wider die Türken, April, 1529, and Heerpredigt wider den Türken, published it the end of 1529, and in a second edition, January, 1530. In the Erl. ed., XXXI. 31 sqq. and 80 sqq. He had a still stronger religious motive to discourage a colloquy. He had denounced the Swiss divines as dangerous heretics, and was unwilling to negotiate with them, except on terms of absolute surrender such as could not be expected from men of honor and conscientious conviction.

The Wittenbergers, therefore, received the invitation to a colloquy with distrust, and resisted it. Luther declared that such a conference was useless, since he would not yield an inch to his opponents. Melanchthon even suggested to the Elector that he should forbid their attendance. They thought that "honorable Papists" should be invited as judges on a question touching the real presence! But the Elector was unwilling to displease the Landgrave, and commanded the Reformers to attend. When they arrived at the Hessian frontier, Luther declared that nothing could induce him to cross it without a safe-conduct from the Landgrave (which arrived in due time). They reached Marburg on the last of September, three days after the Swiss.

How different the three historic appearances of Luther in public! In the Leipzig disputation with Eck, we see him struggling in the twilight for emancipation from the bondage of popery. At Worms he stood before the Emperor, with invincible courage, as the heroic witness of the liberty of conscience. Marburg he entered reluctantly, at the noonday heat of his labors, in bad humor, firmly set in his churchly faith, imperious and obstinate, to face the Swiss Reformers, who were as honest and earnest as he, but more liberal and conciliatory. In Leipzig he protested as a Catholic against the infallibility of pope and council; in Worms he protested against the papal tyranny over the Bible and private judgment; in Marburg he protested as a conservative churchman against his fellow-Protestants, and in favor of the catholic faith in the mystery of the sacrament.857857    R. Rothe calls Luther an old Catholic, not a modern Protestant, though the greatest Reformer and a prophet. (Kirchengesch. II. 334.) On all occasions he was equally honest, firm, and immovable, true to his words at Worms, "Here I stand: I cannot do otherwise." The conduct of the two parties at that Conference is typical of the two confessions in their subsequent dealings with each other.

The visitors stopped at an inn, but were at once invited to lodge in the castle, and treated by the Landgrave with princely hospitality.

The Reformed called upon the Lutherans, but met with a cool reception. Luther spoke a kind word to Oecolampadius; but when he first met his friend Bucer, who now sided with Zwingli, he shook his hand, and said, smiling, and pointing his finger at him, "You are a good-for-nothing knave."858858    "Du bist ein Schalk und ein Nebler." Melanchthon saluted Hedio in Latin, "I am glad to see you. You are Hedio." Baum, p. 459. Erichson, p. 16.

In that romantic old castle of Marburg which overlooks the quaint city, and the beautiful and fertile valley of the Lahn, the famous Conference was held on the first three days of October. It was the first council among Protestants, and the first attempt to unite them. It attracted general attention, and promised to become world-historical.859859    "Die Versammlung," says Ranke, III. 122, "hatte etwas Erhabenes, Weltbedeutendes." Euricius Cordus, a professor of medicine at Marburg, addressed, in a Latin poem, "the penetrating Luther, the gentle Oecolampadius, the magnanimous Zwingli, the eloquent Melanchthon, the pious Schnepf, the brave Bucer, the true-hearted Hedio," and all other divines who were assembled in Marburg, with an appeal to heal the schism. "The church," he says, "falls weeping at your feet, and begs you, by the mercies of Christ, to consider the question with pure zeal for the welfare of believers, and to bring about a conclusion of which the world may say that it proceeded from the Holy Spirit." Very touching is the prayer with which Zwingli entered upon the conference: "Fill us, O Lord and Father of us all, we beseech Thee, with thy gentle Spirit, and dispel on both sides all the clouds of misunderstanding and passion. Make an end to the strife of blind fury. Arise, O Christ, Thou Sun of righteousness, and shine upon us. Alas! while we contend, we only too often forget to strive after holiness which Thou requirest from us all. Guard us against abusing our powers, and enable us to employ them with all earnestness for the promotion of holiness."



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