Martin Chemnitz Preserved Lutheran Position
Church History Timeline 1501-1600
If the second Martin had not come, the first Martin would not have stood.” This saying from the seventeenth century refers to Martin Chemnitz and Martin Luther. It means that the writings of Martin Chemnitz rescued Lutheran theology which was being undermined by the teachings of Calvinists and Catholics alike.
However, it was by no means clear that Martin Chemnitz would ride to the rescue of Lutheran thought. Born on this day, November 9, 1522, he had to labor hard for his education, for his father died when he was a young man. In the course of time, however, he became a student at Wittenberg where Philip Melanchthon impressed him. Although the first Martin (Luther) was conducting the Reformation at the time, the second Martin (Chemnitz) paid little attention to what he said. Studying math, he had became so wrapped up in astrology that he was little use for anything else.
Fortunately, Melanchthon was able to steer him toward theology. Although at first Chemnitz made his living as a librarian and astrologer, he finally recognized the futility of astrology and turned his entire thoughts to theology, reading the works of the church fathers and the theologians of his own day. As a result, his keen mind became equipped to defend the Reformation teachings of Luther.
He engaged in theological controversy more mildly than most theologians of the day, who jeered and called each other names. Martin Chemnitz tried to allow reason and Scripture to speak for him. One of his best-known books was Loci Theologici, a commentary on Melanchthon’s theology. In it, Martin staunchly defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which had taken a beating, owing to a misunderstanding of what Lutherans meant by their teaching. In other writings, he defended Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s supper and the church’s ancient teaching that Jesus is both God and man.
Another important work by Martin Chemnitz was his Examination of the Council of Trent. At Trent, the Roman Catholic church restated and clarified its doctrines. In four volumes, Martin Chemnitz made a strong Protestant reply to the Roman claims.
But for Lutherans, his most important contribution was his part in drafting the Formula of Concord. This was an orthodox restatement of Lutheran faith acceptable to most Lutheran factions, which had been growing apart over differences of interpretation.
Martin died in 1586. In his later years, he turned down several offers of high positions, content to remain a pastor and educator.
Dan Graves, MSL
- “Chemnitz (Kemnitz), Martin.” New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
- “Chemnitz, Martin” and “Concord, Formula (1577) and Book (1580) of.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- “Martin Chemnitz.” Studium Excitare. http://www.studiumexcitare.com/docs/archives/000007.php
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.