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Book 5 - The Leipsic Disputation (1519)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 5 – The Leipsic Disputation (1519)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 1

Luther had no intentions of separating with Rome, but ultimately this was inevitable. It was not that Luther sparked this separation in his desire to depart from a “Wayward” faith, but that Rome separated from Luther in declaring him a heretic. The Pope was ready to set a papal bull against him, when, suddenly, he had a change in his tactics, probably due to his conceptions with where Frederick’s mind was on the whole matter of his monk. Instead, the Pope sent Charles of Miltitz with a golden rose to the elector in hopes of persuading him to side with Rome, and against Luther.

Maximillian, emperor of Germany, died January 12th, 1519, and Frederick became administrator of the empire. Since the Pope did not want to see Charles of Austria fill the throne, his ploy to win over the elector was paralleled by his leniency on Luther at this time. He simply did not want to create unnecessary problems in the midst of political conflict that was so important to him.

Miltitz also met with Luther in order to persuade him, as best as a cordial meeting could allow, from continuing on the course he started. He did gain some ground, at least in his own mind, and asked Luther to write to the Pope in order to iron out his differences as a humble servant of the church. Though Luther agreed to this, and did write the letter, he still remained unwavering on his desire to recant of the Gospel.

While these negotiations commenced, Luther was still in the thrall of printing up his books and sending them across the country, and to other countries. Many were brought to Italy, Spain, England and Switzerland.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 2

Political expediencies did not stop the course of theological debate. John Eck desired to revive the debates, and aimed at Luther, though Carlstadt stood in the way. Eck was a scholar, and a man who was proud of his own achievements and abilities. Carlstadt was enthusiastic, but had little common sense. Eck began writing against the propositions of Luther, though subtly, and Luther recognized that such attacks were not only against Wittenberg or Carlstadt, but also against the theological propositions in the Thesis.

A disputation was set where Carlstadt was to represent Wittenberg, but Luther wrote a letter to Duke George in order to go and take part in the disputation as well. The disputation would take place in Leipsic, and Adolphus, bishop of area, did not want such weighty matters of the Roman Church discussed at one single conference which all could be decided by theologians in a moment. The professors of Leipsic did not mind that such a disputation would take place, and found it rather entertaining that they would be able to see these theologians hash out these matters. Erasmus, on the other hand, in correspondence with Melancthon, did not think such a disputation was a good idea. However, Erasmus’ reservations were not heeded, and the disputation was set to occur. Many wondered how the poor monk of Wittenberg would fair against the “giant” Eck, who, throughout his whole career, crushed his enemies? Even Frederick and Spalatin were filled with anxiety over the forthcoming meeting.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 3

The theologians met in Leipsic for a meeting that would change the face of the Reformation. Eck arrived first, then the Wittenbergers. Eck immediately met with Luther in order to find out why he would not debate Eck, and that Eck would have to settle for Carlstadt. It seems the Duke had forbidden Luther to engage in the dispute, but to remain as an observer. Adolphus Merseburg, upon hearing that the men had arrived, set soldiers upon the door of every church in order to hinder the disputation from even taking place.

Eck attempted to procure the Duke’s permission in order for Luther to partake in the disputes. Eck convinced George to allow the dispute, and prepared a hall in his own palace for the occasion. When the meeting commenced, Eck rallied for the use of Judges, but Luther rejected this. If Roman judges were to sit and order the meeting, the reformers would not have a chance to win. The “judges” that the reformers desired were all those of Christendom. They appealed to a plea to all of Christendom in any age that faithfully expounded the Scriptures.

Eck and his men met together and decided to give up the “Pope” as a judge, though they proposed certain universities as judges over them all. Luther refused to be subject to Roman judgment, and the cry through the city streets remained that Luther would not dispute at all because he did not want to be confined by any judge. Upon such exclamations, Luther conceded to the university judges, although he made the exception that he had the right of appeal. Thus, the conditions were met and the disputations could begin.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 4

June 27th marked the day of the opening of the discussion. Duke George presided, along with Duke of Pomerania. Mosellanus reminded the theologians about he rules of debate, and in what order they were to dispute before Duke George. They sang, had prayers said, and were ready to begin.

In describing these men, Luther was of middle stature, and so thin that “his bones could almost be counted.” His knowledge of the Scriptures would be unparalleled at this disputation, as well as his storehouse of information on arguments and ideas. He seemed to be a gentle man overall, and there was no harshness about him, though he remained firm in his convictions. Carlstadt was of shorter stature, dark and sun burnt skin, with an “unpleasing voice.” His memory was failing and he was more prone to anger, but had many of the qualities of Luther, though in a lesser degree. Eck was tall and broad-shouldered, having a strong German voice. He was not a gracious speaker, and his accent rendered him more vulgar than elegant. He seemed to present himself as more of a soldier than a theologian.

The debate began with Eck and Carlstadt. Discussions lasted 17 days. The subjects that Eck and Carlstadt disputed were man’s will before his conversion, where Eck held to a Pelagian idea, and Carlstadt attempted to explain Augustine’s position. Melancthon often helped Carlstadt by passing notes to him, and helping him with his appeal to books, something Eck disliked but allowed based on Augustine’s precedence. Even before called to the pulpit, Luther burst out against Eck being unable to contain himself because of Eck’s slander and poor argumentation against his friends.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 5

On July 4th the debate between Eck and Luther commenced. Their first disputation surrounded the head of the church – Eck maintained the Pope, and Luther maintained Jesus Christ. Luther not only demonstrated this from the Bible, and that the Roman Pope had no place of authority in this regard, but he also demonstrated this from the early fathers such as Ambrose and Augustine. Eck was surprised at the extensive knowledge and learning of Luther. In order, then, to extricate himself from being lamb-basted, he appealed to John Hus and Luther as those of one mind. Luther denied that he was of the same mind as the Bohemians, but did acquiesce to the reality that some of the things Huss taught were indeed true.

Luther also demonstrated the inconsistencies of the Roman councils, both in errors and contradictions to one another. Eck despised this, and claimed that such councils could not err. The discussion turned to papal primacy, then to indulgences that lasted five days. After this the disputations covered repentance, absolution of the priests, and satisfactions. Eck continually appealed to scholastic doctors on these issues, where Luther continually appealed to the Scriptures, and then backed up the reality and truth of the Scriptures demonstrating that the early fathers taught the same thing in opposition to Eck’s position. Luther ended the disputations by saying that Eck fees the Scriptures as the devil from before the cross.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 6

After the conclusion of the disputation, Luther left the city first and then Carlstadt, but Eck remained there several days. There did not seem to be an official decision made as to the outcome of the debate, and each person gave their own subjective opinion of it effects. In private letters, Eck confessed that he had been defeated on a number of points, but gave excuses as to why he had been defeated: Carlstadt’s books (which he brought because of a poor memory), notations taken which they perused that their leisure, and there were too many doctors against him.

The disputation between Eck and Luther at Leipsic was of great interest from the lay people up to the princes of the land. Poliander, Doctor Eck’s secretary, was won over to the Reformation some time later. George Anhalt, a young prince of 12 years of age, was excited by the disputations and gave him a profound respect for Luther. One student that moved from Leipsic to Wittenberg as a result of the debates was Gaspard Cruciger, who afterward became a friend of Melancthon and Luther’s assistant in the translation of the German Bible.

Luther felt strengthened by the disputation. It stabilized the resolve to be separated from the papacy, and birthed in him an indignation towards the Roman Church for its abuses and errors. He concluded that the Pope had to be “of the devil”, though he felt sympathy for those who were still under the yoke of Roman tyranny as he had been for some many years earlier.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 7

In a desperate measure to seem as though he had some kind of victory in the disputation with Luther, Eck wrote against him, as well as sending a letter to Frederick. In a time of disarray, Eck had the crafty ability to confuse issues to greater degrees in order to look like a winner. He spoke vehemently against writings he had not read by Luther and Melancthon. This is where Melancthon first picked up his pen to write a theological treatise against the wiles of the Doctor. Melancthon attempted to teach Eck the basics of hermeneutics – we would not place authority on the Scriptures because the early fathers say they are important, rather we bend the writing of the fathers to the authority of the Bible. Melancthon triumphed with this piece over Eck, and Eck knew it. However, he simply continued his onslaught of propaganda against the Reformers.

At this same time, a debate broke out between Emser of Leipsic and Luther. Emser desired to break the Hussites off from the foundation of the Reformer’s teaching, and wrote against them saying that Luther was not of their kind. The Hussites, though, were reminded of Huss as they continued to hear reports and read the writings of the Reformer. Remembering the theological good that John Huss did all through Bohemia the Hussites thought that Martin Luther was equally the same, even greater, in Germany.

Though friends were growing as a result of the disputation, so were his enemies. Even Staupitz began to demonstrate a cold shoulder towards the Reformer. Miltitz even attempted to repair some of these breaches by finally offering the Golden Rose to Frederick though he did not deliver it in person. But Frederick remained steadfast to the cause of the Reformation and the work of Luther. He was now resolved against Rome.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 5, Chapter 8

Instead of running to hide from the calamities that were rising up against him, Luther progressed forward. One of his most famous works came about: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. In this he expounded the nature of the work of Christ against good works meriting salvation, and impaired the Roman Church in their error through Scriptural truth. Images and artifices have no way of saving, and nothing done in our own power can merit eternal salvation. The once for all Substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is enough. Love to this unseen Christ is the demeanor of the Christian. Those who do not love such a Christ who saves are not saved.

Eck incited the Franciscans to write against Luther and attack him. Luther replied to their attacks on his work, and refuted new errors they were teaching in the process. Luther’s writings against them went unanswered, and this silence was a comfort to him knowing full well that he had thoroughly refuted them and their errors.

The Lord’s Supper was also a subject Luther was thinking through at this point. He preached publicly about the nature of the sacrament, and also attacked Rome in the process. He abhorred the idea that the Eucharist could give grace independent from the participant taking the Mass. In doing this, Rome accused him of being from Bohemia, and a partner to Huss. Luther did not deny that Huss was right, but he did deny that he was born in Bohemia and left it at that.

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