Originally published at: https://bookofconcord.org/johann-eck-404-theses/introduction/
Henry Eyster Jacob’s Introduction to Eck’s Theses
The Four Hundred and Four Theses of Dr. John Eck, Published in 1530. A Contribution to the History of the Augsburg Confession by Henry Eyster Jacobs, Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Presidential Address to the American Society of Church History. Read on December 29, 1908.
In fulfilling the duty which you have assigned me, I have selected a topic pertaining to the history of the preparation of the earliest and fundamental Confession of Protestant Christianity, the Augsburg Confession. It is my purpose to estimate the influence, upon its final form, of a document which the Lutheran Reformers found in circulation on their arrival at Augsburg more than seven weeks before the Confession was presented by the Evangelical Princes to the Emperor Charles V.
On March 11, 1530, John, the Electoral Duke of Saxony, received at his residence in Torgau, an imperial citation, issued from Bologna, January 21st, and transmitted by the Imperial Chancellor from Spires, February 20th, summoning him to appear at Augsburg, April 8th. The announced purpose was to deliberate concerning war against the Turks and the religious dissensions that were disturbing the peace of the Empire. No time was lost. The very next day found the Electoral Council occupied with plans for the journey, the selection of those who were to be asked to accompany the Elector, and the providing of the funds necessary for what was to be an expensive undertaking. The Saxon Chancellor, Dr. George Bruck, gave a written opinion concerning topics to be considered, and, two days later, followed this by another, urging the importance of carrying with them to Augsburg a carefully elaborated memorandum concerning the religious questions involved, accompanied with scriptural arguments.
On the same day, May 14th, the Elector of Saxony wrote to Luther, Justin Jonas, Bugenhagen, and Melanch-thon, informing them of the summons which he had received, and enjoining them, forsaking all other duties, to apply themselves at once to the preparation of such a memorandum. In this letter, the topics to be comprised are restricted to those concerning which there had been dissensions. The design was to exhibit not the agreements, but the points of difference between those whom the Elector was to represent and the opponents of the Reformation. The correspondence shows very clearly that the Elector was feeling his way and wanted to be prepared for any emergency. For this purpose, he directed Luther, Jonas, and Melanchthon to arrange for their absence from the University, Melanchthon to accompany him to Augsburg, and Luther and Jonas as far on the way as circumstances might advise. They were informed also that other States summoned to the Diet would appoint representatives from their theologians to co-operate. “Since among the subjects to be discussed,” he says, “one is with respect to the dissension concerning our Christian Religion, it is important that a statement or opinion be first discussed and determined among the States themselves,” and this statement is to include “the matters both in faith and in outward Church ceremonies concerning which there is dissent.” “In this way, before the Diet begins a decision may be reached as to how far we and the other States that have received the pure doctrine can with a good conscience endure prevalent abuses. “
The Wittenberg Theologians were instructed to complete their memorandum by May 20th, and to hand it on that day to the Elector at Torgau. They at once gave all their time to the work committed to them, but it was April 3d before they came to the Elector at Torgau, just in time to leave with him next day for Augsburg. The result of their labors up to that time had been no finished document, but a collection of unequally elaborated notes on some points, indicating by mere catch- words matters that might be included. There is a difference of opinion as to whether or not, with these notes, the Schwabach Articles of 1529 were not also included in the material provided for the Elector. A long delay occurred at Coburg, where Luther was left on April 23d, to remain until after the adjournment of the Diet. Here also the Elector received important suggestions as to the contents of the proposed document from a commissioner, Hans von Dolzig, whom he had sent for conference to the Count of Nassau. In his communication, the need of a positive doctrinal statement, beside an elaborate enumeration of abuses, is urged. The stay of a day at Nurnberg doubtless impressed upon them the importance of repudiating certain extremists from whom the churches there had recently suffered.
The Saxons had the honor of being the first participants in the Diet to reach Augsburg. They entered May 2d; the Emperor did not appear until June 15th. The interval gave time for perfecting their plans. Even before the arrival of the other Protestant Princes and representatives, Melanchthon resumed the work that had been interrupted by the journey. The revision of the memorandum in accordance with the new conditions which he found at Augsburg, now occupied all his attention. The preparation of what he calls the “exordium,” i.e. the doctrinal statements preceding the enumeration of abuses complained of, gave him at Augsburg the most concern. The advice of Luther at Coburg was repeatedly sought, and drafts sent to him for his criticism.
When the Saxons had arrived, May 2d, they found that, notwithstanding their early appearance, there was one who had anticipated the representatives of the various States, if not in person, nevertheless by his published attacks. The indefatigable opponent of Luther, Johann Meier von Eck, generally known as Dr. John Eck, Professor at Ingolstadt, once on friendly terms with Luther, but from the publication of the XCV. Theses, which he answered with his “Obelisks,” regarding himself as the chief support of the Papacy in its struggle in Germany, was on the scene. He had prepared and published a pamphlet of thirty-four pages in small quarto, which the Protestants found in circulation at Augsburg, under the title : “Under the Patronage of the Lord Jesus and Mary. Four Hundred and Four Articles; Some pertaining to the Disputations at Leipzig, Baden, and Berne; others drawn from the writings of those disturbing the peace of the Church; which John Eck, the very least minister of the Church, offers to discuss before the Emperor Charles V. and the Princes of the Empire, as is explained more at large in the program at Augsburg; on a day and hour to be hereafter published by consent of the Emperor.” It is an artfully constructed document, written in the most bitter controversial spirit, intended to impose on the credulity of those not well-informed, to excite prejudice, and to announce beforehand that no compromises with Lutheranism could be expected. It is chiefly a collection of statements of Luther and other Reformers either torn from their connection and misapplied, or falsely ascribed to them, no reference being made as to the places in which the statements were made. With the statements ascribed to Luther and his associates are others quoted from some whom Luther repudiated as energetically as did Eck, but for whose extravagances the Lutheran Reformers are made responsible.
Erasmus wrote with much amusement concerning these Articles to Melanchthon, that he found himself quoted, only that Eck had concealed the name of Erasmus, and artfully ascribed the statement to “Quidam, ” “somebody.” The Articles begin with the Forty-one Propositions of the Bull of Leo. X. against Luther of Dec. l0, 1520, followed by the Leipzig Theses of Eck against Luther and Carlstadt, and his Eleven Baden Theses against Zwingli and CEcolam- padius. Then comes a list of 339 errors ascribed: 203 to Luther, 55 to Zwingli, 48 to Melanchthon, 15 to Bucer, 9 to CEcolampadius, 4 to Bugenhagen, 4 to Osiander. Blaurer, Carlstadt, Pirkheimer, Capito, Rhegias, the Zwickau prophets, the Anabaptists, the Nurnberg preachers, are mingled in one undistinguishable mass, with four “somebodies,” acknowledged by Erasmus as his own.
They are gathered under the headings, not arranged in strict logical order, as follows: “Against Christ,” “The Holy Spirit,” “The Sepulchre of Christ,” “God,” “The Cross of Christ,” “Mary,” “The Apostles,” “St. Paul,” ” The Saints,” “Relics,” “The Council of Nice,” “Noah,” ” The Limbus Patrum,” “The O. T.,” “The N. T.,” ” The Gospel,” “Angels,” “The Church,” reaching finally ” Sin,” “Faith,” “Works,” “Merits,” “Love,” “The Sacraments,” “Infants,” “Confirmation,” “The Eucharist,” ” Both Kinds, ” ” Confession, ” ” Repentance, ” ” The Keys, ” ” Satisfaction,” “The Mass,” “Canonical Hours,” “Marriage,” ” Divorce,” “Celibacy,” “Vows,” “Purgatory,” etc. The Archives at Munich show that Eck was not satisfied with printing and diffusing broadcast at Augsburg these propositions.
There is preserved in that repository a letter addressed to the Emperor, a transcript of which has been published by Gustav Plitt in his “Einleitung in die Augustana” (i., 527), in which Eck sets forth, with still greater definiteness than in what he has printed, the purpose of the tract. The printed copy sent with this letter has certain propositions marked to which he desired the Emperor to give particular attention, and has added in writing occasional annotations. This grandiloquent Latin letter, a translation of which we herewith submit, shows clearly that it is Eck’s purpose to hold Luther either directly or indirectly responsible for all the errors contained in his list of heresies. [See the beginning of this document for a copy].
The second day after his arrival at Augsburg, Melanchthon informs Luther: “Eck has brought together a great heap of Conclusions. He asks the Princes to arrange for a discussion against the Lutherans.” At the same time, he states that he is elaborating “the exordium” of the Confession beyond what had been intended on leaving Coburg. Under the same date, he writes to Veit Dietrich, Luther’s companion at Coburg, of his purpose “to run over” within a few days and to bring with him for revision the draft of the Apology which he is writing.
A week later, he gives Luther more details: “With this, I am sending you our Apology, or, more properly speaking, Confession. The Emperor has no time for extended discussions. Nevertheless I have said what seemed to be especially profitable or proper. For this purpose, I have embraced about all the articles of faith, because Eck has published against us the most diabolical slanders. Against these, I have decided to oppose a remedy.” The doctrinal articles of the Augsburg Confession are, therefore, Melanchthon’s “remedy,” as he says, against Eck. The self-restraint, the caution, the composure, the concentration of the Augsburg Confession, amidst the many inducements which Eck’s Propositions furnished for extended and impassioned treatment, are certainly remarkable. They justify Melanchthon’s claim: “Ego Apologiam paravi scriptum summa verecundia.”
The object is to meet the misrepresentations with which the mind of the Emperor was occupied, by brief, calm, objective statements, presenting in exact terms the positive teaching of those attacked in Eck’s propositions, and combining with this an equally clear and emphatic repudiation of errors and errorists with whom the Lutherans were confused. This declaration thus carefully drawn up by the theologians, when officially approved by the Protestant Princes and representatives of states, became a bond between them, and formal contract, by which they agreed with each other to stand or to fall. How critical the moment is shown by the intelligence that had reached Augsburg that the Emperor was hesitating between condemning them without a hearing, and listening to their case. The effect was to declare that, without arguing the justice or injustice of Eck’s presentations, whether they were true or false, here is the declaration on the subjects involved, for which alone we are responsible.
The mode in which the Articles of the Augsburg Confession were formulated was by following the general outline of the Schwabach Articles, but greatly changing them in view of the changed conditions. ” Subinde enim mutandi sunt atque ad occasiones accommodandi” (Corpus Reforma torum, ii. , 60, Letter to Luther, May 22d).
In Article I., treating of God and the Trinity, regard has evidently been taken of Eck’s Proposition 82, in which Luther is quoted as saying: “My soul hates the word ‘ homoousion, ‘ i.e. the Father and Son of the same essence,” and of Proposition 146, in which he is represented as repudiating the Council of Nice: “In the Holy Council of Nice, faith and the gospel were lacking, and human traditions gained the upper hand. ” Hence the Article becomes: “Our churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nice, concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called, and which is, God ; and yet these Three Persons of the same essence and This Article is more than a treatment of the doctrine concerning God. In the opening sentences, it places in the foreground the principle of the historical continuity of the Church, and declares the reverence with which those who made the Confession dealt, in all their critical work, with historical precedents. It separated them from the ultra-subjectivists who cared nothing for historical considerations.
The second Article of the Confession bears a similar relation to Propositions 184, 185, 186. In the former, Zwingli is referred to as declaring: “Original sin is no sin, but a natural defect like stammering.” How nearly true this report concerning Zwingli’s doctrine is, may be read in the Ratio Fidei which he sent to Augsburg, and in which his very words are: “Original Sin is not properly sin.” But for this position, the Lutheran representatives at Augsburg were not responsible. Zwingli’s view had been one of the subjects of controversy between him and Luther, and at Marburg he had temporarily accepted Luther’s position. In order, therefore, to clear the position of those for whom they acted from all suspicions of sympathy with the Zwinglian view, Article II. was prepared. In so doing, account was taken also of the circumstances that Proposition 185 charged Melanchthon himself with declaring that Scripture made no difference between Original and Actual Sin. The language of the Augsburg Confession became so explicit on this subject, that it repudiated Eck and his colleagues as forcibly as Zwingli, and is attacked on this account in the Roman Catholic Confutation of the Confession. The close of the article has in view the misrepresentations made concerning Infant Baptism in Propositions 227-233.
Article III. covers the ground included in Propositions 66-82, and 83 and 84, concerning Christ and the Holy Spirit, by a paraphrase of the Apostles’ Creed, further defining some of its statements. The clause that Christ was “a sacrifice not only for original guilt, but for all actual sins of men,” answers explicitly the charge brought in Proposition 265, that “no satisfaction is required for sins except the death of Christ,” by reaffirming and explaining it.
Article IV. is a thoroughly objective and scientifically-framed statement of the relation of faith to justification, as over against the one-sided and misleading citations of Propositions 187, 197, 205, 210.
In Article V., the purpose is to sharply distinguish the teaching of the Lutherans on the work of the Holy Spirit from that of the pure subjectivists of various schools with whom Eck habitually confounds them in his tract. The definition of the gospel incidentally given as the promise ” that God, not for our own, but for Christ’s sake, justifieth them that believe,” corrects the statement of Proposition 166 in which Luther is quoted as declaring: “The gospel is nothing but preaching concerning the Resurrection of Christ.”
Sixteen Propositions of Eck were occupied with various perversions of what those who dissented from Rome taught as to the relation of faith and works (Propositions 152-7, 187, 189, 191, 192, 194, 199-203, 367). We quote but three: 194. “Faith alone is necessary; all other things are most free, neither commanded, nor prohibited” (Luther). 367: ” After one has been justified, no laws or ordinances bind him” (Melanchthon). 162: “The Gospel commands nothing whatever” (Melanchthon); “neither does it prohibit” ( Luther). These are answered by Article VI.: “Faith is bound to bring forth good works; and it is necessary to do the good works commanded by God.”
The definition of the church in Articles VII. and VIII. corrects the inference of any approval of the statement ascribed to Bucer, following Augustine and Wiclif, that ” only the predestinated are in the church; but the wicked or reprobate are not of the church” (170). “Although the church properly” says Article VIII. “is the congregation of saints or true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil men are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use the sacraments which are administered by evil men in the church.”
The seventeen Propositions of Eck (216-232) are disposed of in two brief sentences of Article IX. The article concerning the Lord’s Supper (X) was probably less influenced than any other by Eck’s pamphlet. The aim of the Confession is simply to present the doctrine of a generic Real Presence, in order to disclaim responsibility for what was taught on the subject by those who presented the Tetrapolitan and the Ratio Fidei at the same time and place.
Article XI. is a direct answer to Propositions 255-258, concerning Confession and Absolution; Article XII., to 259- 266, concerning Repentance, as well as to 190-193, concerning the inamissibility of grace; Article XIII., to 214-254, and 168, concerning the Sacraments in general; Article XIV., to 268, 269, concerning Ordination and the Universal Priesthood of Believers; and Article XV., to 300-332, 362-367, concerning Church Authority and Church Ordinances. It was particularly with regard to the topics comprised in Article XVI., that the attempt was made to prejudice the Emperor and his advisers.
Far more comprehensible to his mind and interesting were the statements concerning civil government than those concerning doctrine. Eck touched the Emperor’s heart where it was most sensitive, and probably excited his intense indignation by appeals contained in citations like the following : ” 334: We Christians are free, exempt from all the laws of men, liberated through baptism (Luther). 335: No laws can be imposed with any right upon Christians, whether by men or by angels, except so far as they themselves be willing (Luther). 336 : Subjects neither can, nor will, nor ought to endure your tyranny any longer (Luther to the Princes). 339 : I regret that I submitted to the Emperor at Worms. Whatever tolerance of my doctrine was conceded by my judges is of no account to tyrants (Luther). 340: There is no more excellent secular law than that of the Turk, as he has no canonical or civil law ( Luther). 346: Ever since the beginning of the world, a wise Prince has been a most rare bird; for, generally, they are either the greatest fools or the very worst rascals ; for they are God’s policemen and executioners (Luther). 367: To impose law upon Christians, is to tempt the devil (Zwingli). 384: There is no hope of a remedy, unless all the laws of men having been once annulled, we judge and rule all things according to the gospel (Luther). 385: We must not take an oath with respect to temporal things; for he who requires an oath of another, or himself swears, must be of a malicious and trifling mind ( Melanchthon). 387 : All are heathen who contend in court for property or reputation (Luther) . 389: It is a doctrine of devils that it is allowable for a Christian to wage war ; for all who go to war are accursed children of Cain (CEcolampadius). To buy and sell are purely heathen matters (Luther). 390: Business contracts even for godly purposes are usurious (Strauss) or at least unjust (Luther). 391 : A community of all things is commanded in the New Testament (Melanchthon). 403: It is proper and in accordance with God’s word to excite seditions and tumults; hence there is no better proof that my doctrine is of God than that it excites discords, seditions, and tumults (Luther). Many of them, therefore, have often publicly testified to the common people: ‘The gospel wants blood’ (Zwingli). 404 : Among Christians there should be no superiority, no courts, nothing fenced up or closed, no ‘ meum ‘ or ‘ tuum, ‘ no restraint or excommunication (Anabaptists).”
The very phraseology of Article XVI. shows that it is an answer to these imputations of communism and anarchy : ” Of Civil Affairs, they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to determine matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry, to be given in marriage. ” They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians. They condemn also those who do not place faith in the perfection of the gospel, in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, for the gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of heart. Meanwhile it does not destroy the State or the family, but especially requires their preservation as ordinances of God, and in such ordinances the exercise of charity. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws, save only when commanded to sin.” The succeeding article is only an appendix to the sixteenth, repudiating the extravagances of the gross Chiliasts who taught that the time would come when the godly should take forcible possession of the earthly property of those not among their number.
Article XVIII., “On Free Will,” is a direct and extended answer to Proposition 332: “It is under the tutelage of Satan that the term Free Will has arisen” (Luther). In Article XIX., Melanchthon repudiates the position which he had actually maintained in the first edition of his Loci Communes, (1521), and which Eck compelled him to face in Proposition 82, that ” all things are done by God, both good and evil,” to which Eck had appended the note, “i.e. God wills sin.”
The last two doctrinal articles XX. and XXI., belong to the material for which provision was made in the Torgau Articles, and by an afterthought were transferred from the second to the first section of the Confession. Article XXL, however, directly meets the points made in Propositions 112-127. The influence of Eck’s tract may be traced also in the Articles on Abuses, although not to the same extent as in the Doctrinal Articles. In the latter, the Confession is no longer on the defensive, but is aggressive. Compare, however, Article XXII. with Propositions 251-254, and 245, 296; XXIII. with Propositions 283, 295-299, and 304; XXIV. with Propositions 274-278; XXV. as on Article XI; XXVI. with Propositions 362-367; XXVII. with Propositions 300-320. The well-known passage in the final article concerning the relation of the Lord’s Day to the Sabbath, seems to have been elicited by Propositions 178-180.
Eck’s Propositions influenced not only the material of the Confession, but in some parts even the order in which the subjects are treated. The organism of the Confession has greatly troubled some critics, but it is not as confused as it appears. Bearing in mind the fact that the Articles on Abuses were intended as the chief part, and the Doctrinal Articles were only introductory, the order of the latter is logical.
I. Theology. II. Anthropology. III. Christology. IV-VI. Soteriology. VII-XVI. Ecclesiology. XVII. Eschatology. XVIII-XXI. Answer to various objections and criticisms. It is in the part treating of Ecclesiology that the influence of Eck’s Propositions on the order can be traced. Article XI. on “Confession and Absolution, ” and XII. On Repentance,” appear between the articles concerning the Lord’s Supper and the use of the Sacraments in general, because these two articles, from the standpoint of the Roman Church, belong to the discussion of the Sacraments, and are so treated in Eck’s paper.
This paper of Eck, as time has passed, has almost entirely been lost sight of. It was so thoroughly answered that its influence survives only in the suggestions which it made for the elaboration of the confession. It was as ephemeral as the issues of the daily press of today, to which, however, historians will turn hereafter to trace influences upon permanent legislation, or upon movements of far-reaching importance. The use made by the Reformers of Eck’s paper also illustrates the conception which the Confessors at Augsburg had of their work. They were responding to a particular call. They were meeting a particular emergency, and confined their attention to the issues of that particular hour. “Only those things have been recounted,” they say as they close, “whereof we thought it was necessary to speak, so that it might be understood that, in doctrine and ceremonies, nothing has been revived on our part, against Scripture or the Church Catholic.” As to the question of limiting the testimony of the churches they represent to what is embraced in the Confession, they speak very plainly in the very last sentence: “If anything further be desired, we are ready, God willing, to present ample information according to the Scriptures. “