Balthasar Mentzer

by David Strucely

Balthasar Mentzer (1565-1627)

During the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, many theologians arose who academically and dogmatically defined Lutheranism. Some of these men had a great impact, while others made only a small contribution. One of these lesser known theologians is Balthasar Mentzer. He lived during a critical time in the Lutheran Church. Although the previous generation had been responsible for uniting Lutheranism through the Book of Concord, it was the responsibility of Mentzer’s generation to defend Lutheranism and also explain its doctrinal standing. Mentzer, in particular, is known for his polemics defending Lutheranism.

Balthasar Mentzer was born on February 27, 1565 in the town of Allendorf which was in Hesse.1 He stayed in this area for his entire life, moving between the cities of Hesse as his career progressed. His father, Justus, was a manager of a well2 and his mother, Margarethe, was the daughter of a city councilman. Through his mother, Mentzer was a relative of Philip of Hesse, a staunch defender of the Reformation.1 Already at birth, young Mentzer had a bond with a tradition of defending Lutheranism. He would learn the means to uphold this tradition through his schooling.

Mentzer began elementary school in his hometown of Allendorf. From there, he entered the gymnasium in Hersfeld at the age of twelve, and soon after he matriculated at the University of Marburg at the age of eighteen.2 That very same year in which he began his studies at the university, he earned the title of Baccalaureate of Philosophy, a high honor for a first year student. By the next year, he had already earned his Masters of Philosophy and the year after, he became a lecturer at Marburg.3 After lecturing for four years, he received a parish in Kirtorf in 1589.4 His parish work was uneventful although he did publish a few works during this time. This really only proved to be an intermediate period before he moved back to university.

It was as a professor that Mentzer truly flourished. In 1596, the former professor of theology at the University of Marburg, Daniel Arcularius had died, and Ludwig III wanted Mentzer as his replacement. Although initially he did not want the position, Mentzer eventually accepted it and began teaching that year. It was not until 1600, however, that Mentzer earned his doctorate in theology.3 Everything seemed to be going well for Mentzer, but after only ten years as professor, Mentzer faced his first major controversy.

In 1604, Ludwig III, the man who had given Mentzer his position as professor, died. His successor was a man named Maurice the Learned.3 His aim was to convert the theology of the university from Lutheran to Reformed. Maurice produced three Verbesserungspunkte which promoted Reformed doctrines concerning the ubiquity of Christ, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Supper.5 These points caused a tumult in Hesse. The citizens rioted against churches which promoted the Verbesserungspunkte.6 Even so, these points stood, and eventually Mentzer’s loyalty to true Lutheran theology forced him to leave the university.7 This marked the beginning of the next chapter of his career.

Upon leaving Marburg, Mentzer fled to the protection of the landgrave who was living in Giessen, Ludwig V. It was there that Ludwig established a new university in 1607 and there Mentzer became the professor of theology.8 He along with other Lutheran theologians who had fled from Marburg, would preach and teach Lutheran theology from Giessen for the next twenty years. During this time, Mentzer would teach many future theologians, including Johann Gerhard and Balthasar Meisner.9 Although his professorship there was much longer, it was certainly not without problems of its own.

The major controversy of note which occurred during Mentzer’s time as a professor at Giessen was the dispute over the kenosis or krypsis of Christ’s attributes between the faculties of the University of Tübingen and the University of Giessen. Tübingen stated that Christ merely concealed his attributes of ubiquity and sovereignty (kenosis) while Giessen maintained that Christ was emptied of these attributes, although he still possessed them (krypsis). Mentzer was a major player in this controversy, carefully defending on the side of krypsis. Eventually, these universities submitted this debate to Wittenberg, and the professors there ruled in favor of krypsis.10

By the year 1624, Lutheranism had been restored at Marburg. Many of the professors at Giessen returned there including Mentzer. He was made rector in 1626, but the next year he died on January 6, 1627.9 He did not die without leaving any kind of contribution. In addition to the many books he wrote, his family also followed him into the ministry. His son, also named Balthasar Mentzer also became a theologian; his great-grandson, Balthasar Mentzer IV, was a theologian as well.11 Not only did Mentzer preach God’s Word to the world, but he also made sure to preach it in his home as proved by God’s faithfulness in preserving the souls of his family.

It is not enough, however, to study the mundane biographical facts of a man to determine his character. In the case of Balthasar Mentzer, there is so much more to him simply being a professor or a theologian. These are only the foundation of Mentzer’s most famous purpose: polemicist.

The writings of Balthasar Mentzer are littered with hundreds examples of his fiery defense for Lutheran theology. His writings were controversial; he focused on the differences of doctrine between Lutheran theology and Catholic and Reformed theology, attacking each with precision.1213 His focus centered on the communication idiomatum and especially in their relationship to the Lord’s Supper. By focusing on this point in particular, that is, Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine, Mentzer attacked the very core of Catholic and Reformed doctrine concerning Holy Communion.14 Many of Mentzer’s polemics were also personal, often attacking the author whom he was criticizing.15 However, his purpose remained clear: to preserve true, Bible-based doctrine.

Although one might consider Mentzer argumentative or arrogant because of his polemics, it is obvious that he does not write simply as a way to attack his opponents. He was surely motivated by a Gospel desire to preserve God’s Word through pure, Bible-based doctrine. His fieriness and devotedness to the Word surely come through in his polemics. Mentzer truly was a great defender of the faith; he was “ein Typus ruecksichtslos um die Reinheit der Lehre kaempfenden Streittheologie,”16 a standard of a militant theologian who ruthlessly fought for the purity of doctrine.

  1. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, pg 1. 
  2. Herzog, Johann Jakob. Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, pg 632. 
  3. Herzog, pg 632. 
  4. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, pg 1. 
  5. Herzog, pg 632-633. 
  6. Herzog, pg 633. 
  7. Bodensieck, Julius, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, pg 1543. 
  8. Meusel, Carl. Kirchliches Handlexikon, pg 558. 
  9. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, pg 2. 
  10. Jacobs, Henry Eyster and John A. W. Haas. The Lutheran Cyclopedia, pg 312. 
  11. Meusel, pg 558-559. 
  12. Herzog, pg 634. 
  13. Jacobs, pg 312. 
  14. Jacobs, pg 312. 
  15. Jacobs, pg 312. 
  16. Herzog, pg 632.