Johann Eck - Disputations With Luther and Karlstadt

Disputations With Luther and Karlstadt

As early as the spring of 1517 Eck had entered into friendly relations with Martin Luther, who had regarded him as in harmony with his own views, but this illusion was short-lived. In his Obelisci Eck attacked Luther's theses, which had been sent to him by Christoph von Scheurl, and accused him of promoting the "heresy of the Bohemian Brethren," fostering anarchy within the Church and branded him a Hussite. Luther replied in his Asterisci adversxes obeliseos Eccii, while Andreas Karlstadt defended Luther's views of indulgences and engaged in a violent controversy with Eck.

A mutual desire for a public disputation led to a compact between Eck and Luther by which the former pledged himself to meet Karlstadt in debate at Erfurt or Leipzig, on condition that Luther abstain from all participation in the discussion. In December 1518, Eck published the twelve theses which he was prepared to uphold against Karlstadt, but since they were aimed at Luther rather than at the ostensible opponent, Luther addressed an open letter to Karlstadt, in which he declared himself ready to meet Eck in debate.

The disputation between Eck and Karlstadt began at Leipzig on 27 June 1519. In the first four sessions Eck maintained the thesis that free will is the active agent in the creation of good works, but he was compelled by his opponent to modify his position so as to concede that the grace of God and free will work in harmony toward the common end. Karlstadt then proceeded to prove that good works are to be ascribed to the agency of God alone, whereupon Eck yielded so far as to admit that free will is passive in the beginning of conversion, although he maintained that in course of time it enters into its rights; so that while the entirety of good works originates in God, their accomplishment is not entirely the work of God.

Despite the fact that Eck was thus virtually forced to abandon his position, he succeeded, through his good memory and his dialectic skill, in confusing the heavy-witted Karlstadt and carried off the nominal victory. He was far less successful against Luther, who, as Eck himself confessed, was his superior in memory, acumen, and learning. After a disputation on the absolute supremacy of the papacy, purgatory, penance, etc., lasting twenty-three days (4 July–27 July), the arbitrators declined to give a verdict. He did succeed in making Luther admit that there was some truth in the Hussite opinions and declare himself against the pope, but this success only embittered his animosity against his opponents, and from that time his whole efforts were devoted to Luther's overthrow. Eck also forced Luther to declare that Ecumenical Councils were sometimes errant, as in the case when Konstance (1414–1418) condemned Hus (1415). Luther now effectively denied the authority of both pope and council. Eck was greeted as victor by the theologians of the University of Leipzig, who overwhelmed him with honors and sent him away with gifts.

The impression produced by Eck upon his auditors during that momentous time may be best learned from the account of the humanist Peter of Moselle, who described him as tall, stout, and squarely built. His voice was full and rolling, and of an admirable quality for an actor, or even for a public crier. As far as his intellectual gifts were concerned, he had a wonderful memory, which, if supplemented by other talents in like proportion, would have made him a marvel, but he lacked swiftness of apprehension and deep insight, so that his masses of arguments and citations were indiscriminate, and he was filled with an inconceivable impudence though he had the cleverness to conceal it.

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Famous quotes containing the word luther:

    I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.
    —Martin Luther (1483–1546)