Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor
Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset. So goes the little rhyming quip, in Latin, that Roman Catholics used to describe Martin Chemnitz. It means, “If the second Martin had not come, the first Martin would not have stood.” His Roman Catholic opponents recognized how important Chemnitz was to the legacy of Martin Luther and came up with this phrase after Chemnitz wrote his magisterial The Examination of the Council of Trent, which, to this day, remains the most thorough and exhaustive study and refutation of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, as it was most formatively expressed during the Council of Trent. Quite the compliment, coming from his lifelong theological opponents and sparring partners!
The picture of Chemnitz was painted shortly after his death, and is displayed in a very ornate memorial frame that hangs to the right of the altar in Chemnitz’ church in Braunschweig, St. Martin’s. See the note below for more details on the painting.
Who was Martin Chemnitz? He was the most significant second-generation Lutheran theologian, whose efforts in the decades after Martin Luther’s death were, in large part, responsible for the preservation of the Lutheran Reformation. The portrait in this post is a photo taken in Chemnitz’ church in Braunschweig, Germany, where he served as Superintendent, or “Overseer” of the congregations, pastors and other church workers in Braunschweig. In addition to his pastor and church administration duties, he was a prolific author. We are fortunate to have preserved a brief autobiography that Chemnitz wrote, translated into English. You can read it here. Pastor David Jay Webber has a great web site that has a number of Chemnitz quotes on key topics that gives you a good insight into his thinking. Included on that web site are a collection of period engravings of Chemnitz’ works.
His most significant work we have already referred to, The Examination, but he also wrote the most definitive Lutheran explanation of the Bible’s teaching about Christ, which in the study of theology is called Christology in his The Two Natures in Christ, and a wonderful volume on The Lord’s Supper, which was the culimination of earlier works on the Supper. He prepared a volume for the examination and testing of clergy to make sure they were faithful and orthodox in their teaching and preaching, which, in English translation, is titled Ministry, Word and Sacraments: The Enchiridion. A lesser known work On the Lord’s Prayer, by Chemnitz, is also available in English. Other works by Chemnitz include a large volume of sermons for the entire Church year, and The Theology of the Jesuits, neither of which have been translated into English. He continued the work of Philip Melanchthon in preparing formal doctrinal presentations of the teachings of the Bible, as confessed by Lutherans. Chemnitz work Theological Commonplaces, prepared the way for the greatest of the Lutheran doctrinal theology books from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, Gerhard’s own Loci. The Wikipedia article on Chemnitz has a good bibliography of his many works. The best biography of Chemnitz available in English is Dr. J.A.O. Preus’ work The Second Martin.
Here is a very nicely done small biography of Chemnitz, by Joshua Zarling.
If Martin Luther is considered the greatest theologian of the Lutheran Church, then Martin Chemnitz is without a doubt our second greatest Lutheran Father. Chemnitz is certainly deserving of the title “the Second Martin”, and was the primary bulwark of orthodox Lutheran theology in the latter part of the sixteenth century. Born in Treuenbrietzen, in 1522, he was the last of three children given to Paul and Euphemia Chemnitz. Chemnitz’s life of education was varied and marked by constant moving (because of financial difficulties). He studied at Wittenberg (1536-1538), Magdeburg (1539-42), Calbe (1542), Frankfurt on the Oder (1543-44), where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, again at Wittenberg (1545-47) under the tutelage of Melancthon, and Königsberg (1547-53). At Königsberg he was able to obtain his Master of Arts degree, and began his study of theology (from 1550-1553) in the Duke’s personal library. From there he again returned to Wittenberg, and was made a member of the faculty in 1554. Later that year, he accepted a call as coadjutor of Braunschweig to his friend Joachim Morlin and pastor of Martin Church, where he would remain until his death in 1586. During his time in Braunchweig he received his doctorate at the University of Rostock (1568), and took over the office of the superintendent (1567). It was the latter part of the sixteenth century that proved to be one of the greatest battlegrounds for orthodox Lutheranism, which found itself facing many opponents and varied controversies. The Catholic Church, newly revitalized from the council of Trent (1545-1563), was now ready to take a decisive stand against the Protestants. John Calvin had come onto the scene, along with his corrupt theology. It was in the doctrines of the Lord’s Supper and the Person of Christ that Calvinism posed its greatest threat to Lutheranism, with proponents of these errors masking their heterodoxy under the supposed title of “Lutheran” (these men were named “Crypto-Calvinists” because they hid their Calvinistic inclinations). Under the unsteady hand of Melancthon, Wittenberg itself became a hotbed for Crypto-Calvinists. Add to this the Osiandrian controversy, the Synergists and the Anabaptists, and one can clearly see that Satan was again hard at work trying to destroy the Gospel, which had been snuffed out in medieval theology, but God had again brought to light through Luther. It was in these turbulent times that God graced our Church with the second Martin, who, using Scripture as his guide, soundly defeated the errorists in turn. In response to the Catholics he wrote his famous, four-volume work Examination of the Council of Trent, one of the great masterpieces of Lutheran theology. Against the Crypto-Calvinists he worked tirelessly, writing De Coena Domini (The Lord’s Supper) in 1560, and De Duabus Naturis in Christo (the Two Natures in Christ) published in 1570, and expanded in 1578. But his greatest contribution to Lutheranism is his work in producing the Formula of Concord. In collaboration with Jacob Andreae, Phillip Selnecker, David Chytraeus, Andrew Musculus, and Christopher Korner, the Bergic Book was produced in 1577, which we today call the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. This was the flag under which orthodox Lutheranism rallied. Unbiased, it simply reproduced the Scriptural positions of the doctrines in question, taking its stance on the Bible and Luther. The doctrines of the Lord’s supper and of the Person of Christ were hammered out, so that there was no place for the Crypto-Calvinists to hide. The work itself, written primarily by Chemnitz, was ascribed to by most of the Lutheran parts of the empire (Chemnitz’s home town, Braunschweig, did not subscribe to it until years later, not because of doctrinal differences, but because of a personal quarrel between Duke Julius and Chemnitz). We in the WELS would do well to better acquaint ourselves with Martin Chemnitz, both his life and his works. Our second greatest Father, he stands out as a theologian and pastor in the truest sense, following in the footsteps of the first Martin and taking an uncompromising stand on Scripture. The 17th century saying is certainly true (written above in Latin), “If the second Martin (Chemnitz) had not come, the first Martin (Luther) would not have stood.”
*Is that a rosary in Chemnitz’ hand in the portrait? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, we have no evidence of the use of the rosary by Chemnitz, or Lutherans. The conventions of the day when preparing portraits were very strict. Painters would routinely painting into portraits symbols of the person’s vocation and responsibilities: hence, in the portrait we see a quill pen and book, to indicate Chemnitz’ work as an author and scholar, and the rosary is included as a symbol of his faith and piety.