The following record of the exchange of the first day is from Simpson’s volume on Zwingli’s life. Day One shows that days 2 and 3 were pointless. Luther was incapable of understanding anyone but himself. It was his greatest weakness.
Luther opened the discussion, and in a long speech protested that he differed from his opponents on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, and furthermore, would always differ, since Christ clearly says, “Take, eat: this is my body.” “They must prove,” said he, “that a body is not a body.” He maintained that there could be no question about the meaning of words so plain. He refused to admit the validity of any arguments based on reason or mathematics. “God,” said he, “is above mathematics, and his words must be received with reverence and obeyed.”
Œcolampadius replied to Luther by quoting certain passages from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. With the words, “This is my body,” he compared, “I am the true vine.” From a carnal manducation he led up to a spiritual, and declared that his view was not groundless or isolated, but rested upon the faith of Scripture.
Luther admitted that Christ used figurative language in the sixth of John and elsewhere, but denied that the words “This is my body” were a figure of speech. “Since Christ says ‘This is,’ it must be so.”
Œcolampadius: To believe that Christ is in the bread is opinion, not faith. There is danger of attributing too much to the mere elements.
Luther: We are bound to listen not so much because of what is spoken, as because of Him who speaks. Since God speaks, let us pigmies of men listen; since He commands, let the world obey, and let all of us reverently kiss the Word.
Œcolampadius: Since we have the spiritual eating, what need is there of the corporal eating?
Luther: I care not about the need, but since it is written, “Take, eat: this is my body,” we must believe, and do it without question.
Œcolampadius quoted from the sixth chapter of John the words, “The flesh profiteth nothing.” “If the flesh,” said he, “when eaten profits nothing, it must appear to us”—here Zwingli interposed and accused Luther of prejudice, because he protested that he would not be driven from his views. “Comparison is necessary,” said he, “in the study of the Scriptures. It is the Spirit that gives life. The Spirit and the flesh are at enmity with each other. God does not propound to us things that are unintelligible. The disciples were mystified by the thought of the carnal eating. Therefore Christ explained to them the spiritual significance of his words.”
Luther: The words are not ours, but the Lord’s; let them be obeyed. By means of these words the hand of the priest becomes the hand of Christ. I will not argue as to whether is means signifies. It is enough for me that Christ says, “This is my body.” To raise questions about this is to fall away from the faith. Wherefore believe the plain words, and give glory to God.
Zwingli: We indeed implore that you glorify God by abandoning your main proposition. I would ask whether you believe that Christ in the sixth chapter of John desired to reply to the question addressed to him?
Luther: We take no account of that passage; it has no bearing on the subject in hand.
Zwingli: No? Why, that passage breaks your neck.
Luther’s proclivity for literalness of interpretation now took an amusing turn. He received Zwingli’s jocose remark as a threat of personal violence, and addressing his friends complained bitterly of the murderous intimation of his opponent. Zwingli laughingly explained that his language was figurative, and had reference to his opponent’s arguments.
Œcolampadius now gave the argument a Christological turn. “The Church,” said he, “was founded on the words, ‘Thou art the Son of God,’ and not on the words, ‘This is my body.’ ”
Luther: I do not hold to this in vain. To me it is sufficient that Christ says, “This is my body.” I confess that his body is in heaven, and that it is in the sacrament also. I care not if it be contrary to nature, provided it is not contrary to faith.
Œcolampadius: In all things He was made like unto us. As He is wholly like the Father in His divine nature, so He is wholly like us in His human nature.
Luther: “The poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always,” is the strongest argument you have advanced to-day. Christ is as substantially in the sacrament as when He was born of the Virgin. Faith needs no figures of speech.
Œcolampadius: We know not Christ after the flesh.
Melanchthon: After our flesh.
Œcolampadius: You will not admit a metaphor in the words of institution, and yet contrary to the Catholic conception you allow a synecdoche.
Luther: In a sword and its scabbard we have an example of synecdoche. “This is my body.” The body is in the bread, just as the sword is in the scabbard.
Zwingli (quoting from the Epistles): “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” “He was made like unto his brethren.” Therefore we must conclude that Christ had a finite humanity, and if his body is on high it exists in one place. [He here quoted from Augustine, Fulgentius, and others.] We must affirm, therefore, that Christ’s body is in one place, and cannot be in many.
Luther: In like manner you might prove that Christ had a wife, and that his eyes were black. As to his being in one place, I have already declared to you, and I now repeat, I care nothing for mathematics.
Zwingli began quoting additional passages from the Greek text to prove the finiteness of Christ’s nature. Luther, interrupting him, requested that he employ either Latin or German instead of Greek. “Pardon me,” answered Zwingli, “for twelve years I have read the New Testament in Greek.”
Luther: As in the case of a nut and its shell, so in the case of Christ’s body. I concede its finiteness. But God can cause it to exist in a place and not in a place at the same time.
As soon as Luther conceded that Christ’s body was finite, Zwingli caught him up and said: “Therefore it is local, exists in a place, and if so, it is in heaven, and hence cannot be in the bread.” Luther would not admit that it existed in a place, saying: “Ich will es nicht gehebt haben, ich will sie nichts.” (I will not allow it, I positively will not.)
Zwingli retorted: “Muoss man dann grad alles, was ihr wollend?” (Must everything be as you will it?)
Fortunately, as Collin informs us, they were interrupted at this exciting juncture by a servant of the Prince, who announced that dinner was served.
When the theologians assembled at the next session, Zwingli resumed the discussion where they had left off. “Christ’s body is finite,” said he, “therefore it exists in a place.”
Luther: Although it is in the sacrament, it is not there as in a place. God could so dispose of my body that it would not be in a place; for the sophists say that a body can exist in several places at the same time; e.g., the earth is a body, yet it does not exist in one place.
Zwingli: You argue from the possible to the impossible. Prove to me that the body of Christ can exist in several places at the same time.
Luther: “This is my body.”
Zwingli: You repeatedly beg the question. I might thus contend that John was the son of Mary, for Christ said, “Behold thy son.” We must ever teach, forsooth, that Christ said, “Ecce filius tuus, ecce filius tuus!” Behold thy son, behold thy son!)
Luther: I do not beg the question.
Zwingli: Scripture must be compared with Scripture and expounded by itself. Tell me, pray, whether Christ’s body exists in a place.
Brenz: It does not.
Zwingli: Augustine says that it must exist in a single place.
Luther: Augustine was not speaking of the Supper. The body of Christ is present in the Supper, but not locally present.
Œcolampadius: If that is so it cannot be a true body. [Œcolampadius began quoting from Augustine and Fulgentius.]
Luther: You have Augustine and Fulgentius on your side, but the rest of the Fathers support our views.
“Please name them,” said Œcolampadius. Luther refused, but afterward prepared a list of references to passages in the Fathers which he thought favorable to his views.
It became evident to all that further discussion would be vain, and it was agreed to close at this point. The fruitlessness of the conference was a great disappointment to the Landgrave. He urged the disputants to come to some partial agreement at least. “There is but one way to effect that,” said Luther. “Let our opponents accept our views.” “That we cannot do,” replied the Swiss. Thus ended the discussion. Zwingli had looked forward to this meeting with strong hope of a final settlement of the differences which divided the Protestant Church, and was now overcome with disappointment. He sat apart from his friends and shed tears in silence, while the Landgrave and the Hessian divines redoubled their activities in a final effort to bring about an amicable agreement.