Martin Luther's mind was unshakably fixed as he sat in the great hall of the medieval castle in Marburg, Germany, on the morning of October 2, 1529.

He had come to Marburg grudgingly, at the request of the Protestant Landgrave of the German state, Philip of Hesse, who had summoned Luther and other leading German and Swiss reformers to a meeting ostensibly of great theological importance. But the real impetus for the gathering was strictly political. That underlying fact made the outcome of this "Marburg Colloquy" a foregone conclusion.

To Luther, theological truth could never be allowed to take a back seat to political expedience. Indeed, if Luther had not had matters of greater concern on his mind as more than 50 of the most influential Protestant reformers in Europe met for this first day of public discussion, he might have appreciated the irony of the setting Philip had chosen—the foundations of the gothic hilltop fortress, much like his own convictions, were firmly set in stone, and could not be moved.

Whether religious or political, the Marburg Colloquy undeniably represented a watershed in the course of the Reformation, and Europe's Protestant princes had good reason to fear that its failure could doom the movement. Religion and politics of the sixteenth century co-mingled to a greater degree than Luther wanted to admit, and not everyone shared his scruples against manipulating one in order to influence the other.

The most immediate example of this, and the direct cause for the colloquy, was the resolution drafted by the second diet of Speyer, which had convened in April 1529. The resolution aligned the Holy Roman Empire firmly behind the Catholic Church in opposition to the reformers, thereby threatening them with ...

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