This was originally posted on my blog theology like a child around Reformation day last year.
I am posting it again as a follow-up to this post that I did last week about my pastor’s research, which has led him to ask this question of other scholars: “Was a significant aspect of the Reformation a revival of patristic theology?” Serious Lutherans, of course, have always maintained “of course”. But now, increasingly, my hope is that others will recognize they have to start paying attention.
Who is Martin Chemnitz? He is known to be the primary author and editor of the Formula of Concord, the last of the confessional documents of the steadfast Lutheran church on earth, contained in the 1580 Book of Concord.
There is 17th century saying about this man that goes something like this: “If the Second Martin had not come, the first would not have prevailed”.
According to the Lutheran pastor and blogger Paul McCain, in this fascinating discussion about Mr. Chemnitz, this saying was evidently originally uttered by Roman Catholics.
To this day, McCain notes, Chemnitz’s answer to the Council of Trent, the Examination of the Council of Trent, goes unmatched.
Chemnitz’s opponents have often disparaged him by saying that his knowledge of the early church fathers is only apparent – that he did not really understand them but actually just used them, in effect doing violence to their actual views. In other words, he was an excellent “quote miner” or “proof-texter” who actually just skated on the surface – as much as he needed to in order to win the arguments he was already convinced of. I wonder if even some serious Lutheran historians have fallen prey to this account.
For many scholars who have delved into Chemnitz deeply and taken the time to cross-reference some of his quotations, they have not found this to be the case at all.
Here, complements of Pastor McCain’s blog, is Chemnitz explaining in his own words what he did in his late twenties, upon being hired to work in one of the best theological libraries of his day:
“I should have given myself wholly to Theology earlier, had it not been for my dislike for superficial knowledge of any kind. Hence while I was destitute of books whence I might acquire solidly and from its foundations what is necessary for this study, I had no taste for Theology. For I could not approve of those who, satisfied with certain dictations, were not eager to understand the text from its fundamentals, or to arrive at a sound judgment of the points of controversy…Yet, to nourish godliness, my mind was always inclined toward this study.
So, then, when I now had the most desirable store of the best books in the ducal library, and God governing my course, I devoted myself wholly to the study of Theology. My method was this. First I read the biblical books through in their order, comparing all the various versions and expositions, old and new, which were in the library, and if I met anything that seemed memorable or remarkable, I made a note of it on paper arranged for this purpose. In the second place, I read the writings of the Fathers, from the earliest antiquity, and what engaged my attention was entered in my notes. In the third place, I diligently read those recent authors who pointed out the fundamentals of the purified doctrines, and chiefly those who wrote polemical treatises on the controversies of our time, the arguments of the Papists, Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, and from what foundations the explanations and solutions were to be taken, and what solutions were the best. The notes I made of all these things in my memoranda I still have and often inspect with great delight and profit.
It seems to me this man was a lover of the Bible. A lover of the Fathers. A lover of the Church. A lover of truth. A lover of Christ, the Truth. To paraphrase something I wrote a while back (in this post), he trusted God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by the Church, which is in line with the Church of the past (particularly “Apostolic Fathers”), which is in line with the Apostolic Deposit in the Scriptures, which is in line with the Old Testament prophets.
Dive in, and examine Martin Chemnitz. (this post by current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison and the interview referenced above are great places to start). You will see that the theology is the same as the first Martin, even as the delivery has less fireworks and more of a very deliberate and intentional theological approach – all to assure Christians everywhere of the pure comfort found in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Chemnitz pic: Wikipedia ; Examination of Council of Trent pic: www.faithalonejustifies.com