“If there wasn't the second Martin, the first Martin would hardly have endured.”
Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586)
The “Second Martin” and His Great Significance
for Lutheran Theologians in America
J. T. Mueller Concordia Theological Monthly September 1936
A colleague should certainly be excused for presenting an article that is essentially of a subjective nature in a certain edition of a theological journal like this one.
Seldom are theological periodicals like this devoted to theological teachers who, in their high calling, have experienced the rare joy of having exerted great influence on those outside their circles. It is completely understandable if such a theological notable who is fully aware of the significance of his time asks himself, "What did I really want?" This question is already extremely significant because it is the necessary prerequisite to the practical and very important question at the end of life, "What have I really achieved with my theological work?" In fact, in no other vocation is the question, "What do I want?" as important as it is in Christian theology. This is precisely the case because, as Luther once said, theology "stands in the mathematical center" (22, 1477) . By that he means that in theology everything depends upon theology remaining theology. Again Luther says, "In theology neither hearing nor seeing matters; instead, this alone is the main thing—that one hears and believes the Word of God" (8, 37).
"What did I want?" the teacher asks himself as he leaves the podium at the end of his career. "What do I want?" the theology student, following his teacher, asks in just as much seriousness. All of us who have the honor as well as the burden of the Church Militant—pastors, professors, editors of church papers, leaders as well as followers—ask the question, "What do we want?" Each one applies the question differently, but it arises from the same inner necessity and with the same prayer toward heaven.
The objective answer to this question is not exactly difficult. The true Lutheran theologian, whether working at the teacher's desk or the pulpit or even at the writing desk, only wants one thing—the same thing the theologian Paul says so well when he calls himself and his theological colleagues á½‘πηρετας χριστοá¿¦ και δικονÏŒμουs μυστηρÎ¯ων Ï´εοá¿¦, [as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God] 1 Cor. 4.1. All sincere Lutheran theologians who are faithful to the confessions consider themselves to be ministri Christi et oeconomi mysteriorum Dei [as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God]; and they all want is, by God's grace, to remain fully and completely within the boundaries of the Scriptural instructions for "servants of Christ" and "stewards of the mysteries of God." With his pithy, pious saying "Christ is the proof of the theologians" (22, 1982), Luther summarized the work of the Lutheran theologian. This is a difficult question, though, when the theologian looks at it subjectively and must ask himself in his own particular situation, "How do I personally do justice to my task in this situation?" If at the end of his theological career a theologian looks back over his completed work as a teacher of the Church and wants to be satisfied, he must come to terms, not with what he is in himself, but what he must be for his age as a faithful theologian of the Scriptures.
In this point the great Luther remains our true ideal of a theologian. Decisively and skillfully he applied the eternal and ever current Word of God with conviction to the continually changing conditions of the age. If we want to be right for our age, we must remain true students of Luther. By this we mean—to point out only one thing—that we cannot be content with a wavering, unionistic Melanchtonianism. "Back to Luther!" is our motto. In the fullest sense of the word, we must become and remain to those around us what Luther, on the basis of God's Word, was to those of his day. To be even clearer, we must pass on to our age the pure Reformation of Luther with all of its doctrine and practice because our age is in such need of the Reformation. We only pass along; we do not make anything new. Although it is, unfortunately, often ridiculed, the well-known phrase "Quo propior Luthero, eo melior theologus" [The closer to Luther, the better the theologian] is rightly applied here. Our motto is: "With Luther for the Word of God."
But at any rate, with every similarity between Luther's task and ours, there remains an essential dissimilarity between his special call as Reformer and our humble call as guardian. While not turning away from Luther, we happily turn toward other theologians, who in their practical work as theologians are closer to us than the first great Martin.
The first among these is the second great Martin—Martin Chemnitz, preacher, professor, author, "the first great theologian the Reformation produced”. This year of the 350th anniversary date of his blessed departure reminds us once again of his life and work. Space prohibits a detailed and thorough description of Chemnitz's life. Whoever wants to know about this mighty man of God can easily learn more about him elsewhere. Here we only want to draw attention to several points which we, who are his spiritual sons, can gain in our work as Lutheran theologians from the second Martin who so faithfully carried out his high calling as a theologian. They give us excellent insights into the important question, "What do we as theologians here in America want?"
First, let it be said that Chemnitz lived and worked in a time that has much in common with the present. Here we think mainly about the earlier doctrinal battles and the splintered Lutheran church in the United States. When Chemnitz was born on O9 November 1522 in Treuenbrietzen in Brandenburg, Luther had just begun the Reformation. Only five years passed since the bold Reformer had posted his influential theses. When Chemnitz died on O8 April 1586 in Brunswick, Luther had already rested in the grave for 40 years (a little less than the span of time between the year of Walther's death  and the present year). But so much had taken place in the meantime: the Lutherans had been defeated by the Romans (Muehlberg 1547), but then they defeated the Romans (Passau and Augsburg 1552, 1555); the great 30 Year War of the Theologians (1547-1577, Augsburg Interim, acceptance of the Formula of Concord) was long past; the Lutheran Church had been most horribly smashed but also most wonderfully healed again—completely in the sense of Luther as all the components of Melanchton’s error were removed.
Fall, rising; battle, victory. This wonderful victory of restored Lutheranism over papism, Calvinism, enthusiasm of all sorts, etc., was for the most part the accomplishment of the "second Martin." And a mighty achievement it was! As has been emphasized so often, Luther's work was a work of creation; the work of the second Martin was a work of preservation. The work of the second Martin was no less difficult than the work of the first. Luther had blazed the trail, but Chemnitz had to open it anew and protect it for the centuries following Luther. We owe the secured existence of a faithful Lutheran church in all the centuries following Luther primarily to the Formula of Concord. But when we think of the Formula of Concord, we must also think of Martin Chemnitz, without whom, humanly speaking, there could have been no Formula of Concord with the theological precision that we now have it.
However, in saying that, we must not diminish the contributions of the other zealous and faithful co-workers who took on the blessed task of seeking concord. Above all, the Chancellor of Tuebingen, Jacob Andreae, has earned a golden crown of honor. He was the true "Father of the Formula of Concord," who not only produced the first contribution to this mighty confession (Entwurf aus fuenf Artikeln zur Wiederherstellung der Eintracht in der lutherischen Kirche, 1568; Sechs Predigten von der Spaltungen in der evangelischen Kirche, 1573; etc.) but he also saw to it that the Formula of Concord was prepared to the satisfaction of all (we see this in his practical efforts for the reestablishment of unity, his many trips, his great patience, his constant, humble Christian willingness always to yield and to move into the background, and especially his collaboration at the third convention at Bergen 19-28 May 1577).
We also cannot forget here the noble Nicholas Selnecker, who, in spite of his faults and wavering, was still faithful the doctorem clarissimum, testamenti Christi assertorem constantissimum. In the end, he only wanted one thing—that that the pure Gospel, the precious inheritance of the Reformation, be perfectly kept.
Elector August of Saxony was exceptional in building Lutheran union upon the foundation of Scripture. After he recognized the Crypto Calvinists' web of lies, he worked with a fiery zeal to remove false doctrine and to unify the splintered Lutheran church.
Finally, the unifying theologians, men like Musculus, Koerner, Chytraeus, etc. were not purely passive but supplied original and important material for the correct explanation of doctrine and worked toward a unity which was only accomplished after much effort. It would be wrong and one sided to take into account only Luther when trying to explain the Reformation. It would be just as wrong and one-sided to give honor only to Chemnitz but not to his co-workers in this difficult period after Luther when the vital thing was keeping the inheritance of the Reformation. To be sure, Chemnitz was one of many; but then again, among so many Chemnitz was the first. The Roman opponent could honor only one Lutheran theologian of that time in the well-known verse: Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset. "If there wasn't the second Martin, the first would have hardly endured."
But what was it, then, that made Chemnitz “the first among so many”? What distinguished him above the rest? What did this "first great theologian whom the Reformation produced" want? What is his great significance even now for us Lutheran theologians in America?
One thing is certain-- Chemnitz never really wanted to become either a theologian or a preserver of Lutheran theology. Even in 1545 he was so caught up in philosophy and astronomy that he neglected everything else-- even Luther's still celebrated lectures. Afterward he greatly lamented this. It is surprising to us that the heart of this 23 year old student was not burning with theology even though before he had shown a great inclination and desire to study theology. First in 1554 when he was 32 years old and after Melanchton had advised him to lecture on his (Melanchton's) Loci Communes, did Chemnitz remain with theology. What's the reason for this? Chemnitz certainly did not lack the necessary desire to learn nor did he lack the necessary aptitude to study systematics. He certainly had the right stuff to be an able theologian, but he was not aware of it. In 1553 the Osianderian controversy on justification broke out in Prussia and Chemnitz was soon brought into it after the ruling of Duke Albrecht. Prussia had lost its charm and Chemnitz moved back to Wittenberg where he became a dogmatics professor, but only to leave the university the following year. Although he was a celebrated teacher of theology in Wittenberg, he took the modest position of coadjutor in Brunswick. All this can only be explained by the deep Christian humility of this highly gifted man who did not want to be regarded as anything, not even as a theologian. Instead, his only pursued the quiet of a small blessed circle of practical activity as a preacher. Chemnitz was in no way a careerist. Instead, he suffered from what people now like to call, but often inappropriately so, an "inferiority complex."
The sincere Christian humility of the second Martin, which he kept throughout his entire theological career, was a humility which often filled him with dismay for he wanted to be different. Yet it is the first of his many virtues as a theologian which properly makes him an example, both in life and in office, for us American Lutheran theologians. Chemnitz thoroughly understood and applied to himself Luther's earnest warning in his theological methodology, "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Like Luther, Chemnitz also became a shining example to all Lutheran theologians with his sincere Christian humility. In his Vita Martini Chemnicii, Preuss judges the second Martin: "In temperament he was gentle and calm, in nature cheerful and kind, in appearance serious and orderly. Arrogance and ambition were most foreign to him.... Chemnitz's distinguished virtue of humility of spirit was, therefore, and always remained so great among the gifts."
Chemnitz’ theological character was divinely prepared by the Holy Spirit. It was made up of his great, enduring humility combined with a rare theological meticulousness, which made him averse to all superficiality. Already in 1550 he showed this rare thoroughness when he attended to his office as a private librarian of the ducal book collection in Koenigsberg. For three years he read all old and new treasures of this library, which was not exactly small. Above all, he read the Scripture itself; he then also read all of the commentaries of the Scripture available there. On top of that he read the works of the Church Fathers, the better teachers of the Middle Ages and the important teachers of his day. As a theologian, Chemnitz was really a "self—made man." This unique self-made man did not exhibit anything half-way, anything un- or only half-digested, anything superficial. Chemnitz work was always comprehensive, was always of high quality and probing. His thoroughness in study also showed itself outwardly in his comprehensive writing. Although Chemnitz did not really write much (at least in comparison with the prolific writings of a Flacius, a Selnecker, and to say nothing of a Luther), all he did leave behind to posterity in his theological writings bore the character of a mature, deep thoroughness—especially those writings which dealt with preserving the pure doctrine of the Gospel against the false teachings of Rome, Calvin and the Enthusiasts. We think foremost here of his renowned Examen Concilii Tridentini (1565-1573). It is without doubt the highest quality and most valuable work of this insightful Lutheran theologian who was also a first rate critic. We think also of his monograph De Duabus in Christo Naturis (1570) which is still celebrated and unsurpassed. It contributed greatly to settling and protecting the Lutheran dogmatic terminology on this point while, at the same time, it took away from Calvinism, once for all, all its arguments for denying the communio naturarum, the idiomatum, and above all the genus maiestaticum. Selnecker judged this book to be "worthy of immortality and only hated by the satanic horde." It is here that the Formula of Concord must also be mentioned, and in particular the Solida Declaratio which is at times almost too thorough. In it, the doctrines which are vital for our Christian faith and life are accurately distinguished and brought into the right light. One writing in which Chemnitz had done the main work but which is often overlooked is the Catalogus Testimoniorum. This highly valuable confirmation of what Article VIII teaches about the Person of Christ, and in particular the genus maiestaticum, is usually added to the Concordia. How this catalog distinguishes itself by its depth and thoroughness! But we must break away from this topic. As we said, the significance of the second Martin for us is his theological and academic thoroughness with which he explained, clarified and defended the doctrines of the Reformation. Here we find a model that we can hardly consider enough.
Add to this the third thing—the sober restraint of the second Martin in his struggle with his opponents. Almost all theologians of that time were characterized by a reprehensible hastiness, an often almost morbid hysteria, an unnecessary rushing into the theological fray. These truly zealous men may be excused because their hearts bled in sorrow at the theological chaos in which the Lutheran church found herself. We especially mean here the Gnesiolutherans and in particular the learned, zealous, tireless Flacius. In spite of his appalling derailment in the doctrine of Original Sin and in spite of his other dogmatic quirks, he was, after Luther, the most zealous champion of sola gratia. They were upright, truly intended good, desired what was right and stood in the heat of battle against false, hypocritical subjects. But by their great haste in their works, their often rash actions, their almost feverish attempts to go forward when patience was required, their useless attempts to try to do something when the time was not yet right, in short, by their rushing orthodoxy too far by their often times “beating the air” they caused great harm. How all this damaged the unity that they had in mind!
To the second Martin's credit, in this time of great unrest he remained calm and skillfully judicious in his judgment of the situation. At the right time he was able to bring about what the Gnesiolutherans, due to their recklessness, couldn't. We may boast that this sober moderation was perhaps the greatest of the second Martin's splendid virtues. It was so important for the rescue of the Church at that time. In his Ecclesiastical Hand Lexicon, Meusel correctly judges Chemnitz: "His polemic distinguished itself by its level-headed and thorough examination of the real issue of the dispute and by his verdict which was an organic outgrowth from Holy Scripture.” One must agree with Meusel in this judgment. Chemnitz was such a mighty opponent of the various false doctrines precisely because level-headedness and objectivity were so wonderfully combined in him with true thoroughness. Also here Chemnitz is a model and example for us.
Precisely because Chemnitz was so seriously judicious, he could, in this heroic level-headedness, stand firm and firmly hold on to true doctrine like almost no one else of his time.
With this we come to the fourth area in which it is vital for us that Chemnitz stands as a shining example. Yes, especially here. Just as little as the first Martin, the second Martin was not one to surrender doctrine. As in Luther, one also finds in the "greatest student of Luther" a bold adherence to the truth of Scripture; a brave, daring steadfastness, a non-wavering in battle. These are things which were not seen in many Gnesiolutherans. For a long time after Luther's death, Chemnitz stayed out of the battle, not to be an observer, but instead to arm himself for the battle rightly by quiet contemplation so that he could hold all the more firmly to the truth when the hour would come to go on the attack. Books like his Examen, his De Duabus Naturis, his Repetitio Sanae Doctrinae and, above all, the Formula of Concord itself, did not just rescue from destruction what was accidental but what was essential, the fundamental form of the Reformation, the formal principle as well as the material principle of the whole Reformation movement. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that in these writings nothing false is glistening, no error is shining, nothing fallen is appealing to the eye, nothing is done for the moment. Instead we only find what is deep, complete, pure, and truly splendid; and it is found in such a simple, peaceful, complete form that one often overlooks the perfection because of the perfection.
What an important example for our time in which a person so frequently opens his big mouth and then goes from one ass's ear to another in order to entice the hearer with triviality and superficiality. In our age there is nothing respectable, nothing true, nothing that can be taught. Chemnitz's writings do not please the superficial. They also never really became popular- not even where one would have expected them to. With his writings, Chemnitz did not please the theological plebs, but only the best minds of his time. But by this he also lived for all times. Chemnitz deserves the great praise of having rightly grasped the inheritance of Luther, faithfully preserving it and masterfully passing it down to posterity. Each person who honestly studies the history of dogma will be convinced of what was said.
And one more thing. The entire theological work of the second great Martin bears the mark of having a purely practical focus. For Chemnitz, all theology truly remained, completely and entirely, a habitus practicus. He could easily have gone into paths of error because he was under Melanchton. He could have become a Scholastic like his teacher was, especially when he was persuaded to lecture on his Loci. But for Chemnitz, to lecture on the Loci was a work of "sour sweat." Although there were great numbers who heard him he did not suffer too long. He moved to Brunswick where he could truly apply his theology practically in his pastoral office. It is surprising that Chemnitz's Loci remained relatively thin and that Chemnitz himself did not prepare that work for printing. Obviously he did not attach great importance to that work. And why not? Isn’t this the reason? --Chemnitz never truly thought himself to be a Scholastic; that for him theology went far beyond simply clarifying loci; that theology drove him to win souls for Christ; in short, that theology was important only when it was practical.
Also in this the second great Martin resembled the first. The dearest Bible verse for Chemnitz was Paul's confession, "Cum Christo crucifixus sum; vivo autem non amplius ego, sed vivit in me Christus” (Gal. 2.20). From the Christ living and moving in him, Chemnitz did theology as habitus practicus Ï´εÏŒσδοτος always practical, always humble, always thorough, always judicious, but also always steadfastly firm, in order to write in the heart of the whole world—in both great and in small—simply and plainly, but yet mightily and convincingly, the great "In fide vivo, quae est in Filium Dei, qui dilexit me et tradidit se ipsum pro me" [Gal 2.20]. As a theologian, Chemnitz was only a witness to Christ, a witness to the Gospel, a witness to the Scripture, and he wanted to be nothing else. Both the first Martin as well as the second Martin were purely practical in their theology. Through these men who were theologically and purely practical minded, the Reformation came and was preserved to the people of God. Only one thought moved both—the great, mighty thought of salvation, "Vivit in me Christus." Luther once said, "The theology of Paul is summarized most succinctly like this: Preaching Christ among the heathen” (9, 107). That was also Luther's whole theology summarized most succinctly. This was also Chemnitz's entire theology: Preaching Christ, and indeed the Christ who lived in him.
In this way Chemnitz, like Luther, becomes a very wonderful, enlightening example and by his entire theological work he answers our most important question, "What do I want as a theologian?" If anything right is to come out of the Lutheran Church in America, we theologians must be humble in life, thorough in doctrine, sober and moderate in judgment, firm and unmovable in doctrine, and practical in doing theology; our entire theology must only be the honest witness of the Christ Who dwells in us. Our entire theology must be summarized most succinctly: Preaching Christ among the heathen. Therefore the whole doctrine of Christ must be precious above all else, unionism hated above all else and every false prophet who as such twists the Word of Christ (even if he does this ever so subtly) must be a Satan to us whom we hate from the depth of our heart. This is because, as Luther says, "In doctrine, a small error overturns all the doctrine. The doctrine is not ours but God's. Therefore we cannot drop one tittle of it." (cf. 9, 644)
What do we want? Certainly this: by God's grace, to be in modest measure for our time what Luther, Chemnitz and Walther were for their times. Two things are necessary for us Lutheran theologians in our country: building and healing. We build up the walls of Zion at home and abroad not by man's word but by Christ’s Word which the Reformation brought to us anew and which the Formula of Concord expounded anew to us. We must "preach Christ among the heathen.” In addition to that we must heal the tears, even the tears in the Lutheran Zion. These two things are an absolutely necessary part of the theologian’s work but they are certainly not too difficult. They can be done. What was achieved between 1547 and 1577 was a thousand times more difficult than what we are commanded to do, and it succeeded then; it succeeded for our fathers; it succeeded for Chemnitz. It succeeded for these holy men of God because they held to the Word—in great humility, in skillful thoroughness, in noble moderation in judging the situation, in steadfast firmness, in recognizing the one thing that is necessary: preaching Christ among the heathen. They were Christians first and theologians second precisely because a Christian must necessarily do his theology from his faith. In this way Chemnitz became what he was for his time and what he still is for us today: an example of a Christian, an example of a theologian, as the Holy Spirit commands us through Paul, 1 Tim. 4.12; Tit. 2.7, etc. In this way, each of us in his own way will also be an alter Martinus, a true Lutheran theologian after the heart of God.
Blessed is each theologian who in the evening of his theological work day can say, "Yes, this is exactly what I wanted. Vivit in me Christus. For that alone is the beginning, middle and end of all Christian theology. But what have I achieved with it? Now, we leave this to the One whose power is always mighty in the weak."