June 27 – July 16, 1519
The Leipzig Debate took place 500 years ago in June and July 1519. It was a public debate between three Wittenberg University professors – Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon and Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt on the affirmative against Johann Eck, who supported the status quo, the pope and Roman Catholic theology. The debate opened on June 27 in Pleissenburg Castle in the presence of George the Bearded, the Duke of Saxony who was critical of Martin Luther. Luther entered the debate on July 4, 1519.
Although the debate judges from the University of Paris took two years to decide and the judges from the University of Erfurt never reached a decision, the debate was won by Johann Eck. It marks the defining moment for understanding the authority of the Holy Bible, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and God’s grace in our lives. Related arguments include the importance of the Nicene Creed, if faith is a matter of our free will or if we are called to faith by God through the Holy Spirit, and the authority of the church or a pope. Although Eck may have won the debate, Luther’s ideas have prevailed for the past 500 years! Years later, Eck admitted that he could have accepted many of Luther’s arguments, but not on the authority of the pope and the church.
How will we remember this historic event which involves more than theology?
The Leipzig Debate marks one of the top ten most important events in World History and in the Christian Church. It is significant because it was clear to the people of Europe that the Holy Bible was the truth and divine Word of God. The Bible had authority over the Church, church councils, and the pope. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. While the Reformation resulted in the Ninety-five Theses; the public debate at Leipzig presented the truth and evidence behind these arguments.
Whether you consider your Christian faith as a private and personal matter between God and you or as faith that is evangelical and needs to be shared with others, the Leipzig Debate clearly stated that the good news of God’s grace is for all people and the love of Jesus Christ is the enduring legacy that has changed the world. The Leipzig Debate was a victory for the eternal values of redemption, forgiveness and love!
Top Ten Events in World History (My Suggestions – you can create your own order)
Life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ
Life of Mohammad
9/11 Attack on America
World War 1 and II
Discovery of America
Top Ten Events in Christian Church (My suggestions – you can create your own order)
Conversion of Constantine/Edict of Milan
Conversion of St. Augustine
Jerome’s translation of the Bible to Latin
Erasmus’ publication of the New Testament to Greek
Gutenberg’s Printing Press
Reformation and Leipzig Debate
Dead Sea Scrolls
Split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches
Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas
In the year 1519
LETTER FROM LUTHER TO SPALATIN CONCERNING THE LEIPZIG DEBATE
Wittenberg, July 20, 1519
To the Illustrious Georg Spalatin, Court Chaplain and Librarian of His Highness the Elector of Saxony, His Friend in Christ.
Greetings! That our highness the prince and you all have returned safely pleases me, my dear Spalatin. May Christ claim the soul of Pfeffinger, Amen. I should have written you long ago about our famous debate, but I did not know where or about what. Certain people of Leipzig, neither sincere nor upright, are celebrating victory with Eck. It is from this nonsense that rumor has spread, but the truth of the matter will not bring everything to light.
Almost at the very moment of our arrival, even before we had gotten out of our wagon, the Inhibition of the bishop of Merseburg was affixed to the doors of the churches to the effect that the debate should not be held, together with that newly published explanation concerning this matter of indulgences. This Inhibition was disregarded and the person who had posted it was thrown into jail by the city council because he had acted without its knowledge.
Since our enemies got nowhere with this trick, they tried another. Having called Andreas Karlstadt to meet alone with them, they tried hard to get him to agree to hold the debate orally, according to Eck’s wishes, without stenographers taking down the proceedings in writing. Eck hoped that he might carry off the victory by his loud shouting and impressive delivery, means which he had long used to his advantage. Karlstadt, however, opposed this and insisted that they proceed according to a previous agreement, that is, that the statements of the disputants be written down by stenographers. Finally, to attain this, he was compelled to agree that the account of the debate made by the stenographers should not be published prior to a hearing by a court of judged.
At this point a new dispute arose over the choice of the judges. At length they compelled him also to consent to postpone coming to an agreement concerning the judges until after the debate had be concluded. Otherwise they did not wish to permit the debate. Thus they attacked us with the syllogistic horns of a dilemma, so that we should be confounded by both alternatives, whether we gave up the debate or placed the outcome into the hands of unfair judges. So you see how barbarous was their cunning, by means of which they robbed us of the freedom which had been agreed upon. For it is certain that the universities and the people will never make a pronouncement, or they would make one against us, and this is what they want.
The next day they called me to appear before them and proposed the same thing. Suspecting, however, the pope as the instigator of this procedure, I refused to accept these conditions, having been persuaded to do so by my colleagues. Then they proposed other universities as judges, without the pope. I requested that the freedom upon which we had agreed be respected. When they were unwilling to do this, I became reluctant and repudiated the debate. Then the rumor spread that I did not want to risk participating in the debate and, what is particularly unfair, that I wished to have no judges. All these accusations were hatefully and malignantly hurled at me and were interpreted in such a way that now they were turning even our best friends against us; and already permanent disgrace to our university was in prospect. After this, upon the advice of friends, I went to them and indignantly accepted their conditions. I did this in such a way and with the exclusion of the Roman Curia so that my power of appeal would be safeguarded and my case would be not prejudged.
Eck and Karlstadt at first debated for seven days over the freedom of the will. With God’s help Karlstadt advanced his arguments and explanations excellently and in great abundance from books which he had brought with him. Then when Karlstadt had also been given the opportunity of rebuttal, Eck refused to debate unless the books were left at home. Andreas [Karlstadt] had used the books to demonstrate to Eck’s face that he had correctly quoted the words of Scripture and the church fathers that he had not done violence to them as Eck was now shown to have done. This marked the beginning of another uproar until at length it was decided to Eck’s advantage that the books should be left at home. But who was not aware of the fact that if the debate were concerned with the cause of truth, it would be advisable to have all possible books at hand? Never did hatred and ambition show themselves more impudently than here.
Finally this deceitful man conceded everything that Karlstadt had asserted, although he had vehemently attacked it, and agreed with him in everything, boasting that he had led Karlstadt to his own way of thinking. He accordingly rejected Scotus and the Scotuistis and Capreolus and the Thomists, as saying that all other scholastic had thought and taught the same as he. So Scotus and Capreolus toppled to the ground, together with their respective schools, the two celebrated divisions of scholasticism.
The next week Eck debated with me, at first very acrimoniously, concerning the primacy of the pope. His proof rested on the words “You are Peter…” [Matt. 16:18] and “Feed my sheep…follow me” [John 21:17, 22], and “strengthen your brethren” [Luke 22:32], adding to these passages many quotations from the church fathers. What I answered you will soon see. Then, coming to the last point, he rested his case entirely on the Council of Constance which had condemned Huss’s article alleging that papal authority derived from the emperor instead of from God. Then Eck stamped about with much ado as though he were in an arena, holding up the Bohemians before me and publically accusing me of the heresy and support of the Bohemian heretics, for he is a sophist, no less impudent than rash. These accusations tickled the Leipzig audience more than the debate itself.
In rebuttal I brought up the Greek Christians during the past thousand years, and also the ancient church fathers, who had not been under the authority of the Roman pontiff, although I did not deny the primacy of honor due the pope. Finally we also debated the authority of a council. I publically acknowledged that some articles had been wrongly condemned [by the Council of Constance], articles which had been taught in plain and clear words by Paul, Augustine, and even Christ himself. At this point the adder swelled up, exaggerated my crime, and nearly went insane in his adulation of the Leipzig audience. Then I proved by words of the council itself that not all the articles which it condemned were actually heretical and erroneous. So Eck’s proofs had accomplished nothing. There the matter rested.
The third week Eck and I debated penance, purgatory, indulgences, and the power of a priest to grant absolution, for Eck did not like to debate with Karlstadt and asked me to debate alone with him. The debate over indulgences fell completely flat, for Eck agreed with me in nearly all respects and his former defense of indulgences came to appear like mockery and derision, whereas I had hoped that this would be the main topic of the debate. He finally acknowledged his position in public sermons so that even the common people could see that he was not concerned with indulgences. He also is supposed to have said that if I had not questioned the power of the pope, he would readily have agreed with me in all matters. Then he said to Karlstadt, “If I could agree with Martin in as many points as I do with you, I could be his friend.” He is such a fickle and deceitful person that he is ready to do anything. Whereas he conceded to Karlstadt that all the scholastics agreed in their teaching, in debating with me he rejected Gregory of Rimini as one who alone supported my opinion against all other scholastics. Thus he does not seem to consider it wrong to affirm and deny the same thing at different times. The people of Leipzig do not see this, so great is their stupidity. Much more fantastic was the following: He conceded one thing in the disputation hall but taught the people the opposite in church. When confronted by Karlstadt with the reason for his changeableness, the man answered without blinking an eye that it was not necessary to teach the people that which was debatable.
When I had concluded my part of the disputation, Eck debated once more with Karlstadt on new topics during the last three days, again making concessions in all points, agreeing that it is sin to do that which is in one, that free will without grace can do nothing but sin, that there is sin in every good work, and that it is grace itself which enables man to do what is in him in preparing for the reception of grace. All these things the scholastics deny. Therefore virtually nothing was treated in the manner which it deserved except my thirteenth thesis. Meanwhile Eck is pleased with himself, celebrates his victory, and rules the roost; but he will do so only until we have published our side of the debate. Because the debate turned out badly, I shall republish my Explanations Concerning the Value of Indulgences.
The citizens of Leipzig neither greeted nor called on us but treated us as though we were their bitterest enemies. Eck, however, they followed around town, clung to, banqueted, entertained, and finally presented with a robe and added a chamois-hair grown. They also rode horseback with him. In short, they did whatever they could to insult us. Furthermore they persuaded Caesar Pflug [the official host] and the prince [Duke George] that this pleased all concerned. One thing they did for us; they honored us, according to custom, with a drink of wine, which it would not have been safe for them to overlook. Those who were well disposed towards us, on the other hand, came to us in secret. Yet Dr. Auerbach, a very fair and just man, and Pistorious the younger, professor in ordinary, invited us. Even Duke George invited the three of us together on one occasion.
The most illustrious prince also called me to visit him alone and talked with me at length about my writings, especially my exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. He stated that the Bohemians were greatly encouraged by me and also that with my Lord’s Prayer I had caused confusion among many conscientious people who complained that they would not be able to pray one Lord’s Prayer in four days if they were compelled to listen to me, and much of a similar nature. But I was not so dull that I could not distinguish between the pipe and the piper. I was grieved that such a wise and pious prince as open to the influence of others and followed their opinions, especially when I saw and experienced how like a prince he spoke when he spoke his own thoughts.
The most recent exhibition of hatred was this: When on the day of Peter and Paul [June 29] I was summoned by our lord rector, the duke of Pomerania, to preach a sermon before his grace in the chapel of the castle, the report of this quickly filled the city, and men and women gathered in such numbers that I was compelled to preach in the debating hall, where all our professors and hostile observers had been stationed by invitation. The Gospel for this day [Matt. 16:13-19] clearly embraces both subjects of the debate. I got little thanks from the people of Leipzig.
Then Eck, stirred up against me, preached four sermons in different churches, publicly twisting and cutting into pieces what I had said. The would-be theologians had urged him to do this. No further opportunity was given me to preach, however, no matter how many people requested it. I could be accused and incriminated but not cleared. This is the way my enemies also acted in the debate, so that Eck, even though he represented the negative, always had the last word, which I did not have an opportunity to refute.
Finally, when Caesar Pflug heard that I had preached (he had not been present), he said, “I wish that Dr. Martin had saved his sermon for Wittenberg.” In short, I have experienced hatred before, but never more shameless or more impudent.
So here you have the whole tragedy. Dr. Hohannes Plawnitzer will tell you the rest, for he himself was also present and helped not a little in preventing the debate from being a complete fiasco. Since Eck and the people of Leipzig sought their own glory and not the truth at the debate, it is no wonder that it began badly and ended worse. Whereas we had hoped for harmony between the people of Wittenberg and Leipzig, they acted so hatefully that I fear that it will seem that discord and dislike were actually born here. This is the fruit of human glory. I, who really restrain my impetuosity, am still not able to dispel all dislike of them, for I am flesh and their hatred was very shameless and their injustice was very malicious in a matter so sacred and divine.
Farewell and commend me to the most illustrious prince
Your Martin Luther
Wednesday, July 20, 1519.
I met the honorable Vicar Staupitz in Grimma