If Luther remains a figure of heroic proportions, it is due as much to the work of his admirers as to his own efforts. And Philip Melanchthon, Luther's closest colleague, was so successful in creating a legendary Luther that his own role in Reformation history has been regarded as less substantial and influential than it actually was. After being called to Wittenberg, Melanchton showed potential to make it a center for humanism. Later, the ninety-five issues that Martin Luther listed as debatable struck at the heart of Catholic practice. They also served as articles in an indictment of traditional ecclesiastical authority. Within a year Luther would become the pole around which Western Christendom would orientate itself. Within three years Luther himself would be condemned and excommunicated by the Roman church; and before his death the dividing lines that demarcate the Western confessions to this day would be firmly in place.
Johannes Cochlaeus stands among the prominent members of the Catholic reaction to the Reformation during its first three decades. His work serves as valuable evidence for scholars of the division of western Christianity that took place in the sixteenth century. Two qualities give him a special place among the early Catholic respondents to Protestantism: the volume of his work and the rhetorical ferocity of his reaction to the beginnings of Protestantism. He was the most prolific and most acerbic of the Catholic polemicists, and both of these qualities in tandem give him a historical importance that is only now being recognized. This chapter offers the reader of the Commentary an introduction to the main events of Cochlaeus's career and an assessment of his treatment of Luther.
This chapter presents Philip Melanchthon's life history of Dr Martin Luther. Here, Melanchthon paints his friend in a good light, nothing his contributions to faith and the Church. These were a few controversies, such as when Luther was not certainly getting rid of indulgences themselves, but only urging moderation. Luther added to the explanation of the doctrines on penance, the remission of sins, faith and indulgences, also these topics: the difference between divine and human laws, the doctrine on the use of the Supper of the Lord and the other Sacraments, and concerning Prayers. The chapter notes that just as he entered upon this cause without desire for private gain, he only battled by teaching and avoided taking up arms, and he wisely distinguished the conflicting duties of a Bishop teaching the Church of God, and of Magistrates, who restrain the multitude by the sword.
This chapter enumerates the life and works of Dr Martin Luther, from the perspective of his lifelong antagonist Johannes Cochlaeus. It notes some peculiarities during his stay with the Monastery of the brothers of St Augustine, either from some secret commerce with a Demon, or from the disease of epilepsy; fraud after he was made Doctor in Theology; controversies in indulgences; and attacks he raised against the doctrine of the Roman church. It suggests that by his cunning, as he complained that he was unjustly pressed by his adversaries and driven into public, Luther gained the greatest favor for himself, not just among the simple people, but also among many grave, learned men, who believed in his words through genuine simplicity. Meanwhile, Cochlaeus, for the sake of asserting and confirming the truth of the Catholic faith against any heretics, also published several books in Latin, criticizing Luther and Phillip Melanchthon.
This book presents a contemporary, eyewitness account of the life of Martin Luther translated into English. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479–1552) was present in the great hall at the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521 when Luther made his famous declaration before Emperor Charles V: ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen’. Afterward, Cochlaeus sought Luther out, met him at his inn, and privately debated with him. Luther wrote of Cochlaeus, ‘may God long preserve this most pious man, born to guard and teach the Gospel of His church, together with His word, Amen’. However, the confrontation left Cochlaeus convinced that Luther was an impious and malevolent man. Over the next twnety-five years, Cochlaeus barely escaped the Peasant's War with his life. He debated with Melanchthon and the reformers of Augsburg. It was Cochlaeus who conducted the authorities to the clandestine printing press in Cologne, where William Tyndale was preparing the first English translation of the New Testament (1525). For an eyewitness account of the Reformation—and the beginnings of the Catholic Counter-Reformation—no other historical document matches the first-hand experience of Cochlaeus. After Luther's death, it was rumoured that demons seized the reformer on his death-bed and dragged him off to Hell. In response to these rumours, Luther's friend and colleague Philip Melanchthon wrote and published a brief encomium of the reformer in 1548. Cochlaeus consequently completed and published his monumental life of Luther in 1549.
There are only two substantial eyewitness accounts of the life of Martin Luther. Best known is a 9,000-word Latin memoir by Philip Melanchthon published in Latin at Heidelberg in 1548, two years after the Reformer's death. But the other substantial vita of Luther—at 175,000 words by far the longest and most detailed eyewitness account of the Reformer—has never been published in English. Recorded contemporaneously over the first twenty-five years of the Reformation by Luther's lifelong antagonist Johannes Cochlaeus, the Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri was published in Latin at Mainz in 1549. This chapter introduces this confrontation between Melanchthon's vita and Cochlaeus's Commentary read against each other, the rival texts rekindle the colossal crossfire of faith-against-faith that animated and illuminated the Reformation.