Friday, August 8, 2014

Sasse, 1977. Chapter 5, “The Marburg Colloquy”

Chapter 5, “The Marburg Colloquy” pp. 151-238

Sasse moves on to his detail of the Marburg Colloquy. This chapter in the text is quite long, in large part because of Sasse’s thorough and scholarly work. He discusses the background and arrangement of the colloquy, then gives a collation of accounts and transcripts of it, then concludes with observations about the outcomes.

Shortly before the colloquy, in 1528, Luther had written his Large Confession based on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. In the Second Article he discusses Pelagianism and in the Third Article he discusses the Sacraments, tying these topics to historic confessions. He also made connections between the Papacy, Enthusiasm, and Islam, as they all depend on something other than adherence to the external Word of God.

This strong conviction on Luther’s part led him to avoid gatherings like that of Marburg. The difference between the parties’ understanding of the function of God’s Word was great enough that he thought agreement impossible, so the conference would be to no effect.

On the part of Zwingli and his party, the colloquy was desirable in part because of their need to make public statements and reinforce alliance. Sasse reminds us that Zwingli largely had a political view of the Church so would tend to gather alliances as a statesman. Between 1524 and 1528 Zwingli was active in coalition building.

Beginning on p. 162, Sasse also reminds us of the reality of a religious war in the area. The papal forces, the supporters of some sort of Reformation, and the Muslim empire were coming into active conflict with one another in Germanic territory. Zwingli and his followers considered alliances natural. Luther and his supporters distinguished between political and theological alliance. The relation of church and politics, then, was very significant.

Finally all parties agreed to meet, with Zwingli and others arriving in Marburg on Monday, September 27, 1528, Luther and others on Thursday the 30th, and a few others on Saturday, October 1. Friday was devoted to personal discussion, while there was more formal debate on Saturday and Sunday. Some final statements were made on Monday before a hasty departure on Tuesday when concern about a plague outbreak caused flight.

On page 178 Sasse moves into his work with the colloquy itself. He identifies the primary sources in detail, along with the language and theological alignment of the documents. Then, on pp. 180-220 he presents his collation of those documents, including extensive footnotes of explanation.

The discussions of the Marburg Colloquy as preserved for us were largely congenial and primarily focused on whether or not Jesus was bodily present in the elements of communion. Neither side was able to convince the other to change views. Frequently Zwingli and his supporters seem to concede points to Luther, but never without reservation. The discussion was lengthy and, at times, we have record of one speaker or another deferring due to fatigue. This would indicate that a good deal of the discussion was not recorded and that the level of tension was high.

By Monday, October 4, since the discussion did not seem to be going toward a substantive level of agreement, the landgrave, who had called and hosted the colloquy, asked if some articles of agreement could be written up. This was done largely by Luther and signed off on by the participants.

Beginning on p. 220 Sasse discusses the results of the colloquy. Supported by extensive quotations from various sources he observes that the people on both sides of the issue were able to claim success. This is, at least in part, because the articles were somewhat vaguely defined. Sasse also adduces quotes fom Zwingli after the fact which contradict much of the content of the articles. The Marburg Articles, then, do not stand as a clear indicator of unity among different parties in the Reformation. The disunity remained as to the nature of a Sacrament, the presence of Jesus, and thus the way we should interpret the Scriptures and the Son of God.

Sasse closes the chapter by observing that in his day the importance of source documents and investigation of the root causes of disagreements has continued to decline so most students of theology are unaware of the significance of their belief.

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