Home > Commemorations/Sanctoral Cycle of the Church Year, Fathers of the Church > Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor

Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor

November 9th, 2013
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Portrait of Martin Chemnitz in St. Martini Church, Braunschweig, Germany.
Photo © Paul T. McCain. All rights reserved.


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.


St. Martini Church in Braunschweig, Germany.
Photo © Paul T. McCain. All rights reserved

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.


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  1. November 10th, 2008 at 09:23 | #1

    Why do we observe his commemoration on his birthday and not on the day when he received the crown of life as we do with other saints?
    McCain: That’s a question I was wondering about too, and at this point, I do not know. I’ll have to check with the Commission on Worship. Here is the answer they received from Dr. Richard Stuckwisch:
    There was some precedent for marking the birthdays of Chemnitz and others (like Melanchthon, for example) in the old Lutheran Annual calendars. I believe the death dates of those people were also included there. However, in the case of Chemnitz and Melanchthon, their death dates always occur during the Time of Easter. Since I was looking toward the development of a daily prayer book, as I gathered data and made proposals for the sanctoral cycle, I recommended that we go with the birthdates in the case of these two reformers, so they could more easily be attached to a fixed set of readings and propers for their respective commemoration dates. The commemorations that occur during the Time of Easter have to be dealt with separately, because the dates are always moving in relation to the Church Year. It seemed important that Chemnitz (and Melanchthon) not be so easily lost between the cracks.

  2. November 9th, 2009 at 19:05 | #2

    I do not think it is a portrait of a rosary. To suggest that it is, is quite forced.

    As and ex-RC, the rosary I woke up with has a cross at the bottom. Now unless they have changed the rosary’s form since Chemnitz time, this rosary does not have that.

    It is curious that many religions have a type of prayer beads – the Budhists and Moslems do. I consider the rosary is a type of this practice.


  3. Dave Schumacher
    November 10th, 2009 at 15:41 | #3

    I think he may be holding a thurible.

    McCain response: If he is, that would be the “mini-me” thurible!

  4. Norman Teigen
    November 9th, 2010 at 09:17 | #4

    Your readers might be interested in a 2009 work which, incidentally, confirms your information about the importance of Martin Chemnitz.

    Wilson, Peter H. “The Thirty Years War Europe’s Tragedy”, Cambridge MA: the Belknap Press, 2009.

  5. Joanne
    November 9th, 2010 at 13:06 | #5

    Raymond Faure has a lovely and quite extensive photographic rundgang of the Martinikirche in Braunschweig. You’ll enjoy it. Duke Julius spared no expense.


  6. Terry Grogan
    November 11th, 2010 at 09:58 | #6

    E gads! This author’s statement that in Calvinism “one can clearly see that Satan was again hard at work trying to destroy the Gospel” is not only outrageous – but, quite wrong!

    I would even go so far as to suggest that the “first Martin” (Luther) probably had more in common with John Calvin than he did with the “second Martin” (Chemnitz). In any case, it is my understanding that Calvin and Luther exchanged several letters with each other, and that while they could not agree on the exact mechanics of how Communion works, I have never heard that either of them accused the other of doing the work of Satan by trying to destroy the Gospel.

    Certainly, it is Chemnitz who should be remembered as ithe actual the Father of Modern “Lutheranism”. As the primary EDITOR (and partial author) of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, it was Chemnitz who decided which of Martin Luther’s theological concepts would be included in the new religion that was then being formed under the name of the “first Martin”. Of course Chemnitz did all of this without any direct review or approval from Martin Luther (i.e., Chemnitz never had Luther’s permission to use the Luther name for what is really ultimately Chemnitz’s Theology).

    It is for this reason that one could indeed argue that the Lutheran church would be much more accurately described as the Chemnitz Church, or as”Chemnitzism”, rather than the Lutheran Church.

    If you believe that Calvinism comes from Satan – then Chemnitz certainly may be your man. On the other hand, if you believe Martin Luther is your man, then I don’t think you should describe Calvinism as trying to destroy the Gospel by the power of Satan. That is simply outrageous and Martin Luther never made any such statement that I know of!

    • November 11th, 2010 at 10:01 | #7

      This is a good example of, frankly, Calvinist propaganda. They claim to love Luther, but when it comes down to it, they do not like Luther when they are really Lutheran. I will let this comment stand as a testimony to one of the most common Calvinist tactics when they deal with Luther.

  7. Michael Zamzow
    November 9th, 2011 at 22:14 | #8

    @Terry Grogan
    Looking at the historical record, it seems that Calvinists have consistently used deceit and coercion to make good their claim that Calvinism is really just what Luther taught. One needs to remember the crypto-Calvinist deceit which sent Lutheran pastors to prison in Saxony. It was the reaction to that treachery which helped forge the Formula of Concord. If the Lutheran nature of Calvinism is so self-evident, why did Landgrave Moritz of Hessen persecute and imprison pastors for not adopting his Verbesserungspunkte? Why did Hessians who live along the Thuringian border make pilgrimages to receive the Lord’s Supper at Lutheran altars across the Werra river? They sensed that the calvinisation of their churches resulted in in a loss of substance. To deny believers the comfort of the Sacrament by minimizing or denying the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood does seem to border on evil in the eyes of someone who cares for the truth of Scriptural witness and the care of Christian souls. I do not want to cause thread drift, but I have little patience with Calvinist subterfuge, whether from the 16th, 17th, or even 21st century.
    Michael Zamzow, ein gewaltiger Mensch und grober Pommer —- and proud of it!

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