The work of the Conference began on Friday, the 1st of October, with divine service in the chapel of the castle. Zwingli preached on the providence of God, which he afterwards elaborated into an important treatise, “De Providentia.” It was intended for scholars rather than the people; and Luther found fault with the introduction of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin words into the pulpit. Luther, Bucer, and Osiander preached the morning sermons on the following days; Luther, on his favorite doctrine of justification by faith.
The Landgrave first arranged a private interview between the lions and the lambs; that is, between Luther and Oecolampadius, Zwingli and Melanchthon. The two pairs met after divine service, in separate chambers, and conferred for several hours. The Wittenberg Reformers catechised the Swiss about their views on the Trinity, original sin, and baptism, and were in a measure relieved of their suspicion that they entertained unsound views on these topics. Melanchthon had, a few months before the Conference, written a very respectful letter to Oecolampadius (April 8, 1529), in which he regrets that the “horribilis dissensio de coena Domini” interfered with the enjoyment of their literary and Christian friendship, and states his own view of the eucharist very moderately and clearly to the effect that it was a communion with the present Christ rather than a commemoration of the absent Christ. In the private conference with Zwingli, against whom he was strongly prejudiced, he is reported to have yielded the main point of dispute, as regards the literal interpretation of “This is my body,” and the literal handing of Christ’s body to his disciples, but added that he gave it to them “in a certain mysterious manner.” When Zwingli urged the ascension as an argument against the local presence, Melanchthon said, “Christ has ascended indeed, but in order to fill all things” (Eph_4:10). “Truly,” replied Zwingli, “with his power and might, but not with his body.” During the open debate on the following days, Melanchthon observed a significant silence, though twice asked by Luther to come to his aid when he felt exhausted. He made only a few remarks. He was, however, at that time, of one mind with Luther, and entirely under his power. He was as strongly opposed to an alliance with the Swiss and Strassburgers, influenced in part by political motives, being anxious to secure, if possible, the favor of Charles and Ferdinand.
Luther must have handled Oecolampadius more severely; for the latter, in coming from the conference room, whispered to Zwingli, “I am again in the hands of Dr. Eck” (as at the colloquy in Baden in 1526).
The general discussion took place on Saturday, the 2d of October, in a large hall (which cannot now be identified with certainty). The Landgrave in plain dress appeared with his court as an eager listener, but not as an arbitrator, and was seated at a separate table. The official attendants on the Lutheran side were Luther (dressed as an Electoral courtier) and Melanchthon, behind them Jonas and Cruciger of Wittenberg, Myconius of Gotha, Osiander of Nürnberg, Stephen Agricola of Augsburg, Brentius of Hall in Swabia; on the Reformed side Zwingli and Oecolampadius, and behind them Bucer and Hedio of Strassburg: all men of eminent talent, learning, and piety, and in the prime of manhood and usefulness. Luther and Zwingli were forty-six, Oecolampadius forty-seven, Bucer thirty-eight, Hedio thirty-five, Melanchthon thirty-two, the Landgrave only twenty-five years of age. Luther and Melanchthon, Zwingli and Oecolampadius, as the chief disputants, sat at a separate table, facing each other.
Besides these representative theologians there were a number of invited guests, princes (including the exiled Duke Ulrich of Württemberg), noblemen, and scholars (among them Lambert of Avignon). Zwingli speaks of twenty-four, Brentius of fifty to sixty, hearers. Poor Carlstadt, who was then wandering about in Friesland, and forced to sell his Hebrew Bible for bread, had asked for an invitation, but was refused. Many others applied for admission, but were disappointed. Zwingli advocated the greatest publicity and the employment of a recording secretary, but both requests were declined by Luther. Even the hearers were not allowed to make verbatim reports. Zwingli, who could not expect the Germans to understand his Swiss dialect, desired the colloquy to be conducted in Latin, which would have placed him on an equality with Luther; but it was decided to use the German language in deference to the audience.
John Feige, the chancellor of the Landgrave, exhorted the theologians in an introductory address to seek only the glory of Christ and the restoration of peace and union to the church.
The debate was chiefly exegetical, but brought out no new argument. It was simply a recapitulation of the preceding controversy, with less heat and more gentlemanly courtesy. Luther took his stand on the words of institution in their literal sense: “This is my body;” the Swiss, on the word of Christ: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life.”
Luther first rose, and declared emphatically that he would not change his opinion on the real presence in the least, but stand fast on it to the end of life. He called upon the Swiss to prove the absence of Christ, but protested at the outset against arguments derived from reason and geometry. To give pictorial emphasis to his declaration, he wrote with a piece of chalk on the table in large characters the words of institution, with which he was determined to stand or fall: “Hoc est corpus Meum.”
Oecolampadius in reply said he would abstain from philosophical arguments, and appeal to the Scriptures. He quoted several passages which have an obviously figurative meaning, but especially Joh_6:63, which in his judgment furnishes the key for the interpretation of the words of institution, and excludes a literal understanding. He employed this syllogism: Christ cannot contradict himself; he said, “The flesh profiteth nothing,” and thereby rejected the oral manducation of his body; therefore he cannot mean such a manducation in the Lord’s Supper.
Luther denied the second proposition, and asserted that Christ did not reject oral, but only material manducation, like that of the flesh of oxen or of swine. I mean a sublime spiritual fruition, yet with the mouth. To the objection that bodily eating was useless if we have the spiritual eating, he replied, If God should order me to eat crab-apples or dung, I would do it, being assured that it would he salutary. We must here close the eyes.
Here Zwingli interposed: God does not ask us to eat crab-apples, or to do any thing unreasonable. We cannot admit two kinds of corporal manducation; Christ uses the same word “to eat,” which is either spiritual or corporal. You admit that the spiritual eating alone gives comfort to the soul. If this is the chief thing, let us not quarrel about the other. He then read from the Greek Testament which he had copied with his own hand, and used for twelve years, the passage Joh_6:52, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” and Christ’s word, Joh_6:63.
Luther asked him to read the text in German or Latin, not in Greek. When Christ says, “The flesh profiteth nothing,” he speaks not of his flesh, but of ours.
Zwingli: The soul is fed with the spirit, not with flesh.
Luther: We eat the body with the mouth, not with the soul. If God should place rotten apples before me, I would eat them.
Zwingli: Christ’s body then would be a corporal, and not a spiritual, nourishment.
Luther: You are captious.
Zwingli: Not so; but you contradict yourself.
Zwingli quoted a number of figurative passages; but Luther always pointed his finger to the words of institution, as he had written them on the table. He denied that the discourse, Joh_6:1-71, had any thing to do with the Lord’s Supper.
At this point a laughable, yet characteristic incident occurred. “Beg your pardon,” said Zwingli, “that passage [Joh_6:63] breaks your neck.” Luther, understanding this literally, said, “Do not boast so much. You are in Hesse, not in Switzerland. In this country we do not break people’s necks. Spare such proud, defiant words, till you get back to your Swiss.”
Zwingli: In Switzerland also there is strict justice, and we break no man’s neck without trial. I use simply a figurative expression for a lost cause.
The Landgrave said to Luther, “You should not take offense at such common expressions.” But the agitation was so great that the meeting adjourned to the banqueting hall.
The discussion was resumed in the afternoon, and turned on the christological question. I believe, said Luther, that Christ is in heaven, but also in the sacrament, as substantially as he was in the Virgin’s womb. I care not whether it be against nature and reason, provided it be not against faith.
Oecolampadius: You deny the metaphor in the words of institution, but you must admit a synecdoche. For Christ does not say, This is bread and my body (as you hold), but simply, This is my body.
Luther: A metaphor admits the existence of a sign only; but a synecdoche admits the thing itself, as when I say, the sword is in the scabbard, or the beer in the bottle.
Zwingli reasoned: Christ ascended to heaven, therefore he cannot be on earth with his body. A body is circumscribed, and cannot be in several places at once.
Luther: I care little about mathematics.
The contest grew hotter, without advancing, and was broken up by a call to the repast.
The next day, Sunday, Oct. 3, it was renewed.
Zwingli maintained that a body could not be in different places at once. Luther quoted the Sophists (the Schoolmen) to the effect that there are different kinds of presence. The universe is a body, and yet not in a particular place.
Zwingli: Ah, you speak of the Sophists, doctor! Are you really obliged to return to the onions and fleshpots of Egypt? He then cited from Augustin, who says, “Christ is everywhere present as God; but as to his body, he is in heaven.”
Luther: You have Augustin and Fulgentius on your side, but we have all the other fathers. Augustin was young when he wrote the passage you quote, and he is obscure. We must believe the old teachers only so far as they agree with the Word of God.
Oecolampadius: We, too, build on the Word of God, not on the fathers; but we appeal to them to show that we teach no novelties.
Luther, pointing again his finger to the words on the table: This is our text: you have not yet driven us from it. We care for no other proof.
Oecolampadius: If this is the case, we had better close the discussion.
The chancellor exhorted them to come to an understanding.
Luther: There is only one way to that. Let our adversaries believe as we do.
The Swiss: We cannot.
Luther: Well, then, I abandon you to God’s judgment, and pray that he will enlighten you.
Oecolampadius: We will do the same. You need it as much as we.
At this point both parties mellowed down. Luther begged pardon for his harsh words, as he was a man of flesh and blood. Zwingli begged Luther, with tearful eyes, to forgive him his harsh words, and assured him that there were no men in the world whose friendship he more desired than that of the Wittenbergers.
Jacob Sturm and Bucer spoke in behalf of Strassburg, and vindicated their orthodoxy, which had been impeached. Luther’s reply was cold, and displeased the audience. He declared to the Strassburgers, as well as the Swiss, “Your spirit is different from ours.”
The Conference was ended. A contagious disease, called the English sweat (sudor Anglicus), which attacked its victims with fever, sweat, thirst, intense pain, and exhaustion, had suddenly broken out in Marburg as in other parts of Germany, and caused frightful ravages that filled everybody with alarm. The visitors were anxious to return home. So were the fathers of the Council of Trent, when the Elector Moritz chased the Emperor through the Tyrol; and in like manner the fathers of the Vatican Council hurried across the Alps when France declared war against Germany, and left the Vatican decrees in the hands of Italian infallibilists.
But the Landgrave once more brought the guests together at his table on Sunday night, and urged upon every one the supreme importance of coming to some understanding.
On Monday morning he arranged another private conference between the Saxon and the Swiss Reformers. They met for the last time on earth. With tears in his eyes, Zwingli approached Luther, and held out the hand of brotherhood, but Luther declined it, saying again, “Yours is a different spirit from ours.” Zwingli thought that differences in non-essentials, with unity in essentials, did not forbid Christian brotherhood. “Let us,” he said, “confess our union in all things in which we agree; and, as for the rest, let us remember that we are brethren. There will never be peace in the churches if we cannot bear differences on secondary points.” Luther deemed the corporal presence a fundamental article, and construed Zwingli’s liberality into indifference to truth. “I am astonished,” he said, “that you wish to consider me as your brother. It shows clearly that you do not attach much importance to your doctrine.” Melanchthon looked upon the request of the Swiss as a strange inconsistency. Turning to the Swiss, the Wittenbergers said, “You do not belong to the communion of the Christian Church. We cannot acknowledge you as brethren.” They were willing, however, to include them in that universal charity which we owe to our enemies.
The Swiss were ready to burst over such an insult, but controlled their temper.
On the same day Luther wrote the following characteristic letter to his wife: —
Grace and peace in Christ. Dear Lord Keth, I do you to know that our friendly colloquy in Marburg is at an end, and that we are agreed in almost every point, except that the opposite party wants to have only bread in the Lord’s Supper, and acknowledge the spiritual presence of Christ in the same. Today the Landgrave wants us to come to an agreement, and, if not, to acknowledge each other as brethren and members of Christ. He labors very zealousy for this end. But we want no brothership and membership, only peace and good-will. I suppose tomorrow or day after tomorrow we shall break up, and proceed to Schleitz in the Voigtland whither his Electoral Grace has ordered us.
“Tell Herr Pommer [Bugenhagen] that the best argument of Zwingli was that corpus non potest esse sine loco: ergo Christi corpus non est in pane. Of Oecolampadius: This sacramentum est signum corporis Christi. I think God has blinded their eyes.
“I am very busy, and the messenger is in a hurry. Give to all a good night, and pray for us. We are all fresh and hale, and live like princes. Kiss for me little Lena and little Hans (Lensgen und Hänsgen).
“Your obedient servant,
“P. S. — John Brenz, Andrew Osiander, Doctor Stephen [Agricola] of Augsburg are also here.
“People are crazy with the fright of the sweating plague. Yesterday about fifty took sick, and two died.”
At last Luther yielded to the request of the Landgrave and the Swiss, retired to his closet, and drew up a common confession in the German language. It consists of fifteen articles expressing the evangelical doctrines on the Trinity, the person of Christ, his death and resurrection, original sin, justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments.
The two parties agreed on fourteen articles, and even in the more important part of the fifteenth article which treats of the Lord’s Supper as follows: —
We all believe, with regard to the Supper of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, that it ought to be celebrated in both kinds, according to the institution of Christ; that the mass is not a work by which a Christian obtains pardon for another man, whether dead or alive; that the sacrament of the altar is the sacrament of the very body and very blood of Jesus Christ; and that the spiritual manducation of this body and blood is specially necessary to every true Christian. In like manner, as to the use of the sacrament, we are agreed that, like the word, it was ordained of Almighty God, in order that weak consciences might be excited by the Holy Ghost to faith and charity.
“And although at present we are not agreed on the question whether the real body and blood of Christ are corporally present in the bread and wine, yet both parties shall cherish Christian charity for one another, so far as the conscience of each will permit; and both parties will earnestly implore Almighty God to strengthen us by his Spirit in the true understanding. Amen.”
The Landgrave urged the insertion that each party should show Christian charity to the other. The Lutherans assented to this only on condition that the clause be added: “as far as the conscience of each will permit.”
The articles were read, considered, and signed on the same day by Luther, Melanchthon, Osiander, Agricola, Brentius, on the part of the Lutherans; and by Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Bucer, and Hedio, on the part of the Reformed. They were printed on the next day, and widely circulated.
On the fifth day of October, in the afternoon, the guests took leave of each other with a shake of hands. It was not the hand of brotherhood, but only of friendship, and not very cordial on the part of the Lutherans. The Landgrave left Marburg on the same day, early in the morning, with a painful feeling of disappointment.
Luther returned to Wittenberg by way of Schleitz, where he met the Elector John by appointment, and revised the Marburg Articles so as to adapt them to his creed, and so far to weaken the consensus.
Both parties claimed the victory. Zwingli complained in a letter to Vadian of the overbearing and contumacious spirit of Luther, and thought that the truth (i.e., his view of it) had prevailed, and that Luther was vanquished before all the world after proclaiming himself invincible. He rejoiced in the agreement which must destroy the hope of the papists that Luther would return to them.
Luther, on the other hand, thought that the Swiss had come over to him half way, that they had humbled themselves, and begged his friendship. “There is no brotherly unity among us,” he said in the pulpit of Wittenberg after his return from Marburg, “but a good friendly concord; they seek from us what they need, and we will help them.”
Nearly all the contemporary reports describe the Conference as having been much more friendly and respectful than was expected from the preceding controversy. The speakers addressed each other as “Liebster Herr,” “Euer Liebden,” and abstained from terms of opprobrium. The Devil was happily ignored in the interviews; no heresy was charged, no anathema hurled. Luther found that the Swiss were not such bad people as he had imagined, and said even in a letter to Bullinger (1538), that Zwingli impressed him at Marburg as “a very good man” (optimus vir). Brentius, as an eye-witness, reports that Luther and Zwingli appeared as if they were brothers. Jonas described the Reformed leaders during the Conference as follows: “Zwingli has a certain rusticity and a little arrogance. In Oecolampadius there is an admirable good-nature and clemency. Hedio has no less humanity and liberality of spirit; but Bucer possesses the cunning of a fox, that knows how to give himself the air of acumen and prudence. They are all learned men, no doubt, and more formidable opponents than the papists; but Zwingli seems well versed in letters, in spite of Minerva and the Muses.” He adds that the Landgrave was the most attentive hearer.
The laymen who attended the Conference seem to have been convinced by the Swiss arguments. The Landgrave declared that he would now believe the simple words of Christ, rather than the subtle interpretations of men. He desired Zwingli to remove to Marburg, and take charge of the ecclesiastical organization of Hesse. Shortly before his death he confessed that Zwingli had convinced him at Marburg. But more important is the conversion of Lambert of Avignon, who had heretofore been a Lutheran, but could not resist the force of the arguments on the other side. “I had firmly resolved,” he wrote to a friend soon after the Conference, “not to listen to the words of men, or to allow myself to be influenced by the favor of men, but to be like a blank paper on which the finger of God should write his truth. He wrote those doctrines on my heart which Zwingli developed out of the word of God.” Even the later change of Melanchthon, who declined the brotherhood with the Swiss as strongly as Luther, may perhaps be traced to impressions which he received at Marburg.
If the leaders of the two evangelical confessions could meet today on earth, they would gladly shake hands of brotherhood, as they have done long since in heaven.
The Conference did not effect the desired union, and the unfortunate strife broke out again. Nevertheless, it was by no means a total failure. It prepared the way for the Augsburg Confession, the chief symbol of the Lutheran Church. More than this, it served as an encouragement to peace movements of future generations. It produced the first formulated consensus between the two confessions in fourteen important articles, and in the better part of the fifteenth, leaving only the corporal presence and oral manducation in dispute. It was well that such a margin was left. Without liberty in non-essentials, there can never be a union among intelligent Christians. Good and holy men will always differ on the mode of the real presence, and on many other points of doctrine, as well as government and worship. The time was not ripe for evangelical catholicity; but the spirit of the document survived the controversies, and manifests itself wherever Christian hearts and minds rise above the narrow partition walls of sectarian bigotry. Uniformity, even if possible, would not be desirable. God’s ways point to unity in diversity, and diversity in unity.
It was during the fiercest dogmatic controversies and the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, that a prophetic voice whispered to future generations the watchword of Christian peacemakers, which was unheeded in a century of intolerance, and forgotten in a century of indifference, but resounds with increased force in a century of revival and re-union:
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
On the Origin of the Sentence: “In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis (or, dubiis) libertas, in utrisque (or, omnibus) caritas.”
This famous motto of Christian Irenics, which I have slightly modified in the text, is often falsely attributed to St. Augustin (whose creed would not allow it, though his heart might have approved of it), but is of much later origin. It appears for the first time in Germany, a.d. 1627 and 1628, among peaceful divines of the Lutheran and German Reformed churches, and found a hearty welcome among moderate divines in England.
The authorship has recently been traced to Rupertus Meldenius, an otherwise unknown divine, and author of a remarkable tract in which the sentence first occurs. He gave classical expression to the irenic sentiments of such divines as Calixtus of Helmstädt, David Pareus of Heidelberg, Crocius of Marburg, John Valentin Andrew of Württemberg, John Arnd of Zelle, Georg Frank of Francfort-on-the Oder, the brothers Bergius in Brandenburg, and of the indefatigable traveling evangelist of Christian union, John Dury, and Richard Baxter. The tract of Meldenius bears the title, Paraenesis votiva pro Pace Ecclesiae ad Theologos Augustanae Confessionis, Auctore Ruperto Meldenio Theologo, 62 pp. in 4to, without date and place of publication. It probably appeared in 1627 at Francfort-on-the Oder, which was at that time the seat of theological moderation. Mr. C. R Gillett (librarian of the Union Theological Seminary) informs me that the original copy, which he saw in Berlin, came from the University of Francfort-on-the Oder after its transfer to Breslau.
Dr. Lücke republished the tract, in 1850, from a reprint in Pfeiffer’s Variorum Auctorum Miscellanea Theologiae (Leipzig, 1736, pp. l36-258), as an appendix to his monograph on the subject (pp. 87-145). He afterwards compared it with a copy of the original edition in the Electoral library at Cassel. Another original copy was discovered by Dr. Klose in the city library of Hamburg (1858), and a third one by Dr. Briggs and Mr. Gillett in the royal library of Berlin (1887).
The author of this tract is an orthodox Lutheran, who was far from the idea of ecclesiastical union, but anxious for the peace of the church and zealous for practical scriptural piety in place of the dry and barren scholasticism of his time. He belongs, as Lücke says (“Stud. und Kritiken,” 1851, p. 906), to the circle of “those noble, genial, and hearty evangelical divines, like John Arnd, Valentin Andrew, and others, who deeply felt the awful misery of the fatherland, and especially the inner distractions of the church in their age, but who knew also and pointed out the way of salvation and peace.” He was evidently a highly cultivated scholar, at home in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and in controversial theology. He excels in taste and style the forbidding literature of his age. He condemns the pharisaical hypocrisy, the φολοδοξία, φιλαργία, and φιλονεικία of the theologians, and exhorts them first of all to humility and love. By too much controversy about the truth, we are in danger of losing the truth itself. Nimium altercando amittitur Veritas. “Many,” he says, “contend for the corporal presence of Christ who have not Christ in their hearts.” He sees no other way to concord than by rallying around the living Christ as the source of spiritual life. He dwells on the nature of God as love, and the prime duty of Christians to love one another, and comments on the seraphic chapter of Paul on charity (1Co_13:1-13). He discusses the difference between necessaria and non-necessaria. Necessary dogmas are, (1) articles of faith necessary to salvation; (2) articles derived from clear testimonies of the Bible; (3) articles decided by the whole church in a synod or symbol; (4) articles held by all orthodox divines as necessary. Not necessary, are dogmas (1) not contained in the Bible; (2) not belonging to the common inheritance of faith; (3) not unanimously taught by theologians; (4) left doubtful by grave divines; (5) not tending to piety, charity, and edification. He concludes with a defense of John Arnd (1555-1621), the famous author of “True Christianity,” against the attacks of orthodox fanatics, and with a fervent and touching prayer to Christ to come to the rescue of his troubled church (Rev_22:17).
The golden sentence occurs in the later half of the tract (p. 128 in Lücke’s edition), incidentally and in hypothetical form, as follows: —
“Verbo dicam: Si nos servaremus in necessariis unitatem, in non-necessariis libertatem, in utrisque charitatem, optimo certe loco essent res nostrae.”
The same sentiment, but in a shorter sententious and hortative form, occurs in a book of Gregor Frank, entitled Consideratio theologica de gradibus necessitatis dogmatumt Christianorum quibus fidei, spei et charitatis officia reguntur, Francf. ad Oderam, 1628. Frank (1585-1651) was first a Lutheran, then a Reformed theologian, and professor at Francfort. He distinguishes three kinds of dogmas: (1) dogmas necessary for salvation: the clearly revealed truths of the Bible; (2) dogmas which are derived by clear and necessary inference from the Scriptures and held by common consent of orthodox Christendom; (3) the specific and controverted dogmas of the several confessions. He concludes the discussion with this exhortation: —
“Summa est: Servemus in necessariis unitatem, in non-necessariis libertatem, in utrisque charitatem.”
He adds, “Vincat veritas, vivat charitas, maneat libertas per Jesum Christum qui est veritas ipsa, charitas ipsa, libertas ipsa.”
Bertheau deems it uncertain whether Meldenius or Frank was the author. But the question is decided by the express testimony of Conrad, Berg, who was a colleague of Frank in the same university between 1627 and 1628, and ascribes the sentence to Meldenius.
Fifty years later Richard Baxter, the Puritan pacificator in England, refers to the sentence, Nov. 15, 1679, in the preface to The True and Only Way of Concord of All the Christian Churches, London, 1680, in a slightly different form: “I once more repeat to you the pacificator’s old despised words, ‘Si in necessariis sit [esset] unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in utrisque charitas, optimo certo loco essent res nostrae.’”
Lücke was the first to quote this passage, but overlooked a direct reference of Baxter to Meldenius in the same tract on p. 25. This Dr. Briggs discovered, and quotes as follows: —
“Were there no more said of all this subject, but that of Rupertus Meldenius, cited by Conradus Bergius, it might end all schism if well understood and used, viz.” Then follows the sentence. Baxter also refers to Meldenius on the preceding page. This strengthens the conclusion that Meldenius was the “pacificator.” For we are referred here to the testimony of a contemporary of Meldenius. Samuel Werenfels, a distinguished irenical divine of Basel, likewise mentions Meldenius and Conrad Bergius together as irenical divines, and testes veritatis, and quotes several passages from the Paraenesis votiva.
Conrad Bergius (Berg), from whom Baxter derived his knowledge of the sentence, was professor in the university of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and then a preacher at Bremen. He and his brother John Berg (1587-1658), court chaplain of Brandenburg, were irenical divines of the German Reformed Church, and moderate Calvinists. John Berg attended the Leipzig Colloquy of March, 1631, where Lutheran and Reformed divines agreed on the basis of the revised Augsburg Confession of 1540 in every article of doctrine, except the corporal presence and oral manducation. The colloquy was in advance of the spirit of the age, and had no permanent effect. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, I. 558 sqq., and Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum in Ecclesiis Reformatis publicatarum, p. LXXV. and 653-668.
Dr. Briggs has investigated the writings of Conrad Bergius and his associates in the royal library of Berlin. In his “Praxis Catholica divini canonis contra quasvis haereses et schismata,” etc., which appeared at Bremen in 1639, Bergius concludes with the classical word of “Rupertus Meldenius Theologus,” and a brief comment on it. This is quoted by Baxter in the form just given. In the autumn of 1627 Bergius preached two discourses at Frankfurt on the subject of Christian union, which accord with the sentence, and appeared in 1628 with the consent of the theological faculty. They were afterwards incorporated in his Praxis Catholica. He was thoroughly at home in the polemics and irenics of his age, and can be relied on as to the authorship of the sentence.
But who was Meldenius? This is still an unsolved question. Possibly he took his name from Melden, a little village on the borders of Bohemia and Silesia. His voice was drowned, and his name forgotten, for two centuries, but is now again heard with increased force. I subscribe to the concluding words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Briggs: “Like a mountain stream that disappears at times under the rocks of its bed, and re-appears deeper down in the valley, so these long-buried principles of peace have reappeared after two centuries of oblivion, and these irenical theologians will be honored by those who live in a better age of the world, when Protestant irenics have well-nigh displaced the old Protestant polemics and scholastics.”
The origin of the sentence was first discussed by a Dutch divine, Dr. Van der Hoeven of Amsterdam, in 1847; then by Dr. Lücke of Göttingen, Ueber das Alter, den Verfasser, die ursprungliche Form und den wahren Sinn des kirchlichen Friedenspruchs ‘In necessariis unitas,’ etc., Göttingen, 1850 (XXII. and 146 pages); with supplementary remarks in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1851, p. 905-938. Lücke first proved the authorship of Meldenius. The next steps were taken by Dr. Klose, in the first edition of Herzog’s “Theol. Encycl,” sub Meltlenius, vol. IX. (1858), p. 304 sq., and by Dr. Carl Bertheau, in the second edition of Herzog, IX. (1881), p. 528-530. Dr. Brigas has furnished additional information in two articles in the “Presbyterian Review,” vol. VIII., New York, 1857, pp. 496-499, and 743-746.
109. Luther’s Last Attack on the Sacramentarians. His Relation to Calvin
We anticipate the concluding act of the sad controversy of Luther with his Protestant opponents. It is all the more painful, since Zwingli and Oecolampadius were then sleeping in the grave; but it belongs to a full knowledge of the great Reformer.
The Marburg Conference did not really reconcile the parties, or advance the question in dispute; but the conflict subsided for a season, and was thrown into the background by other events. The persistent efforts of Bucer and Hedio to bring about a reconciliation between Wittenberg and Zürich soothed Luther, and excited in him the hope that the Swiss would give up their heresy, as he regarded it. But in this hope he was disappointed. The Swiss could not accept the “Wittenberg Concordia” of 1536, because it was essentially Lutheran in the assertion of the corporal presence and oral manducation.
A year and a half before his death, Luther broke out afresh, to the grief of Melanchthon and other friends, in a most violent attack on the Sacramentarians, the “Short Confession on the Holy Sacrament” (1544). It was occasioned by Schwenkfeld, and by the rumor that Luther had changed his view, because he had abolished the elevation and adoration of the host. Moreover he learned that Dévay, his former student, and inmate of his house, smuggled the sacramentarian doctrine under Luther’s name into Hungary. He was also displeased with the reformation program of Bucer and Melanchthon for the diocese of Cologne (1543), because it stated the doctrine of the eucharist without the specific Lutheran features, so that he feared it would give aid and comfort to the Sacramentarians. These provocations and vexations, in connection with sickness and old age, combined to increase his irritability, and to sour his temper. They must be taken into account for all understanding of his last document on the eucharist. It is the severest of all, and forms a parallel to his last work against the papacy, of the same year, which surpasses in violence all he ever wrote against the Romish Antichrist.
The “Short Confession” contains no argument, but the strongest possible reaffirmation of his faith in the real presence, and a declaration of his total and final separation from the Sacramentarians and their doctrine, with some concluding remarks on the elevation of the sacrament. Standing on the brink of the grave, and in view of the judgment-seat, he solemnly condemns all enemies of the sacraments wherever they are. “Much rather,” he says, “would I be torn to pieces, and burnt a hundred times, than be of one mind and will with Stenkefeld [Schwenkfeld], Zwingel, Carlstadt, Oecolampad, and all the rest of the Schwärmer, or tolerate their doctrine.” He overwhelms them with terms of opprobrium, and coins new ones which cannot be translated into decent English. He calls them heretics, hypocrites, liars, blasphemers, soul-murderers, sinners unto death, bedeviled all over. He ceased to pray for them, and left them to their fate. At one time he had expressed some regard for Oecolampadius, and even for Zwingli, and sincere grief at his tragic death. But in this last book he repeatedly refers to his death as a terrible judgment of God, and doubts whether he was saved. He was horrified at Zwingli’s belief in the salvation of the pious heathen, which he learned from his last exposition of the Christian faith, addressed to the king of France. “If such godless heathen,” he says, “as Socrates, Aristides, yea, even the horrible Numa who introduced all kinds of idolatry in Rome (as St. Augustin writes), were saved, there is no need of God, Christ, gospel, Scriptures, baptism, sacrament, or Christian faith.” He thinks that Zwingli either played the hypocrite when he professed so many Christian articles at Marburg, or fell away, and has become worse than a heathen, and ten times worse than he was as a papist.
This attitude Luther retained to the end. It is difficult to say whom he hated most, the papists or the Sacramentarians. On the subject of the real presence he was much farther removed from the latter. He remarks once that he would rather drink blood alone with the papists than wine alone with the Zwinglians. A few days before his death, he wrote to his friend, Pastor Probst in Bremen: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the Sacramentarians, nor standeth in the way of the Zwinglians, nor sitteth in the seat of the Zurichers.” Thus he turned the blessing of the first Psalm into a curse, in accordance with his growing habit of cursing the pope and the devil when praying to God. He repeatedly speaks of this habit, especially in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and justifies it as a part of his piety.
It is befitting that with this last word against the Sacramentarians should coincide in time and spirit his last and most violent attack upon the divine gift of reason, which he had himself so often and so effectually used as his best weapon, next to the Word of God. On Jan. 17, 1546, he ascended the pulpit of Wittenberg for the last time, and denounced reason as the damned whore of the Devil.” The fanatics and Sacramentarians boast of it when they ask: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Hear ye the Son of God who says: “This is my body,” and crush the serpent beneath your feet.
Six days later Luther left the city of his public labors for the city of his birth, and died in peace at Eisleben, Feb. 18. 1546, holding fast to his faith, and commending his soul to his God and Redeemer.
In view of these last utterances we must, reluctantly, refuse credit to the story that Luther before his death remarked to Melanchthon: “Dear Philip, I confess that the matter of the Lord’s Supper has been overdone;” and that, on being asked to correct the evil, and to restore peace to the church, he replied: “I often thought of it; but then people might lose confidence in my whole doctrine. I leave the matter in the hands of the Lord. Do what you can after my death.”
But it is gratifying to know that Luther never said one unkind word of Calvin, who was twenty-five years younger. He never saw him, but read some of his books, and heard of him through Melanchthon. In a letter to Bucer, dated Oct. 14, 1539, he sent his respectful salutations to John Sturm and John Calvin, who lived at that time in Strassburg, and added that he had read their books with singular delight. This includes his masterly answer to the letter of Bishop Sadolet (1539). Melanchthon sent salutations from Luther and Bugenhagen to Calvin, and informed him that he was in high favor with Luther,” notwithstanding the difference of views on the real presence, and that Luther hoped for better opinions, but was willing to bear something from such a good man. Calvin had expressed his views on the Lord’s Supper in the first edition of his Institutes, which appeared in 1536, incidentally also in his answer to Sadolet, which Luther read “with delight,” and more fully in a special treatise, De Coena Domini, which was published in French at Strassburg, 1541, and then in Latin, 1545. Luther must have known these views. He is reported to have seen a copy of Calvin’s tract on the eucharist in a bookstore at Wittenberg, and, after reading it, made the remark: “The author is certainly a learned and pious man: if Zwingli and Oecolampadius had from the start declared themselves in this way, there would probably not have arisen such a controversy.”
Calvin returned Luther’s greetings through Melanchthon, and sent him two pamphlets with a letter, dated Jan. 21, 1545, addressing him as “my much respected father,” and requesting him to solve the scruples of some converted French refugees. he expresses the wish that “he might enjoy for a few hours the happiness of his society,” though this was impossible on earth.
Melanchthon, fearing a renewal of the eucharistic controversy, had not the courage to deliver this letter — the only one of Calvin to Luther — “because,” he says, “Doctor Martin is suspicious, and dislikes to answer such questions as were proposed to him.”
Calvin regretted “the vehemence of Luther’s natural temperament, which was so apt to boil over in every direction,” and to “flash his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord;” but he always put him above Zwingli, and exhorted the Zurichers to moderation. When he heard of the last attack of Luther, he wrote a noble letter to Bullinger, Nov. 25, 1544, in which he says: —
“I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare scarce venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and his excellent endowments, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he hath hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less esteem and acknowledge him as an illustrious servant of God. … This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted. That, besides, you will do yourselves no good by quarreling, except that you may afford some sport to the wicked, so that they may triumph not so much over us as over the gospel. If they see us rending each other asunder, they then give full credit to what we say, but when with one consent and with one voice we preach Christ, they avail themselves unwarrantably of our inherent weakness to cast reproach upon our faith. I wish, therefore, that you would consider and reflect on these things, rather than on what Luther has deserved by his violence; lest that may happen to you which Paul threatens, that by biting and devouring one another, ye be consumed one of another. Even should he have provoked us, we ought rather to decline the contest than to increase the wound by the general shipwreck of the church.”
This is the wisest Christian answer from Geneva to the thunderbolts of Wittenberg.