Martin Chemnitz

by Joshua Zarling

Martin ChemnitzIf 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.”

Bibliography and Recommended Reading
  • J.A.O. Preus. The Second Martin. St. Louis: CPH, 1994.
  • Concordia Triglotta. Milwaukee: CPH, 1921.
  • Chemnitz, Martin. The Two Natures in Christ, Translated by J.A.O. Preus. St. Louis: CPH, 1971.
  • Chemnitz, Martin. The Lord’s Supper, Translated by J.A.O. Preus, St. Louis: CPH, 1979.
  • Chemnitz, Martin. The Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, Translated by Fred Kramer, St. Louis: CPH, 1971
  • Chemnitz, Martin. Loci Theologici, Vol. 1, Translated by J.A.O. Preus. St. Louis: CPH, 1989