David Chytraeus (1531-1600)
Not long after Luther’s death in 1546, the Lutheran Church was already in trouble. In 1548, Philipp Melanchthon drew up the Leipzig Interim, which watered down Lutheran theology in order to make peace with the Roman Church. The “sola fide” was even omitted from the article on justification. Even before Luther’s death, Melanchthon had altered the Augsburg Confession (1540). He continued to modify it throughout his life, ever more compromising the truths of Scripture.
As a result of these and other events, three Lutheran “parties” developed. On the far left were the Philippists, who sought peace and agreement between Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Reformed. On the far right were the gnesio (genuine) Lutherans. They held strictly to the Scriptural doctrine taught by Luther, and fiercely attacked anyone who did not side with them. Some of them later fell into error as a result of their hostility toward the Philippists.
David Chytraeus was a member of the center party, along with such theologians as Martin Chemnitz and Jakob Andreae. They embraced what they could of Melanchthon’s peaceful spirit, but never at the expense of the truths of Scripture. Today Chytraeus is unfortunately one of the least known members of this party, despite being one of the most well-known at that time.
David was born in Ingelfingen, Württemberg, on February 26, 1531. His parents were Matthew and Barbara Kochhafe. Kochhafe (German) and Chytraeus (Greek) both mean “cooking pot.” It was common at that time for a person to take a Greek name once he had become a recognized scholar. Chytraeus became a scholar very swiftly.
He began studying law, philology, philosophy, and theology at the University of Tübingen at the age of eight or nine. He received his master’s degree at the ripe old age of 14, and proceeded to Wittenberg to study under Luther and Melanchthon. In Wittenberg he lived with Melanchthon and became one of his favorite pupils. He was also deeply affected by Luther’s sermons and his lectures on Genesis.
In 1551, Dukes Heinrich V and Johann Albrecht I of Mecklenburg offered him a position at the University of Rostock. Chytraeus accepted and the university became his permanent home, despite nine invitations elsewhere. He delivered his first lectures there on works of Herodotus and Thucydides. In 1553, he began giving theological lectures on both Old & New Testament books. He became a doctor of theology on April 29, 1561.
Chytraeus married Margaretha Smedes in 1553. They had seven children, but only two daughters reached adulthood. A year after Margaretha died in 1571, he married Margaretha Pegel. She bore him two sons, Ulrich and David. Throughout his life, David (the elder) was known as a faithful husband and loving father. Through the deaths of many of his children, and his own frequent illnesses in the latter part of his life, the Lord instilled in him a deep love for the gospel and the theology of the cross.
His most lasting impression on the Lutheran Church was his involvement with the Formula of Concord in its final stages. In 1574, he completely rewrote two articles of the Swabian Concord, on Free Will and the Lord’s Supper. It was the combination of this work and the Maulbronn Formula that led to the formation of the Torgau Book in 1576. David firmly approved of this confession, but a year later it was transformed into the Bergic Book, our present-day Formula of Concord. He thought this latter book was worded too strongly in places, but nevertheless considered it an orthodox document and signed it as one of the six theologian co-authors.
Chytraeus authored many books during his lifetime. His book On Sacrifice (De sacrificiis) has been published by CPH (1962) and Repristination Press (2000). There is also a copy of his De baptismo et eucharistia (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) in the rare books room of the MLC library. It is a shame that more of his works have not been translated.
“The last of the fathers of the Lutheran Church” was ushered into glory on June 25, 1600.
- Jungkuntz, Theodore R. Formulators of the Formula of Concord: Four Architects of Lutheran Unity. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1977.
- Loesche, Georg. “Chyträus.” Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche. Dritter Auflage. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1898.
- Montgomery, John Warwick. Chytraeus on Sacrifice: A Reformation Treatise in Biblical Theology. Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2000.
- Piepkorn, Arthur C. “Chytraeus, David.” The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church. Philadelphia, PN: Fortress Press, 1965.
- Schmauk, Theodore E., and C. Theodore Benze. The Confessional Principle and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. Philadelphia, PN: General Council Publication Board, 1911.