Johann Eck - Papal Emissary and Inquisitor

Papal Emissary and Inquisitor

Eck was far more highly esteemed as "the dauntless champion of the true faith" at Rome than in Germany, where he induced the universities of Cologne and Louvain to condemn the reformer's writings, but failed to enlist the German princes. In January 1520, he visited Italy at the invitation of Pope Leo X, to whom he presented his latest work De primate Petri adversus Ludderum (Ingolstadt, 1520) for which he was rewarded with the nomination to the office of papal protonotary, although his efforts to urge the Curia to decisive action against Luther were unsuccessful for some time.

In July he returned to Germany with the bull Exsurge Domine directed against Luther's writings, in which forty-one propositions of Luther were condemned as heretical or erroneous. He now believed himself in a position to crush not only the "Lutheran heretics," but also his humanist critics. The effect of the publication of the bull, however, soon undeceived him. Bishops, universities and humanists were at one in denunciation of the outrage; and, as for the attitude of the people, Eck was glad to have escaped from Saxony alive. At Meissen, Brandenburg, and Merseburg he succeeded in giving the papal measure due official publicity, but at Leipzig he was the object of the ridicule of the student body and was compelled to flee by night to Freiberg, where he was again prevented from proclaiming the bull. At Erfurt the students tore the instrument down and threw it into the water, while in other places the papal decree was subjected to still greater insults.

At Vienna its publication encountered grave difficulties, and Eck had good cause to set up a votive tablet to his patron saint upon his safe return to Ingolstadt, although even there only the authority of the papal mandate made the publication of the bull possible. This last humiliation was due, in great measure, to the fact that he had availed himself of the permission to pronounce the papal censure on prominent followers of the new movement besides Luther, and had thus made his office a means of personal revenge.

In his anger he appealed to force, and his Epistola ad Carolum V (18 February 1521) called on the emperor to take measures against Luther, an appeal soon answered by the Edict of Worms (May 1521). In 1521 and 1522 Eck was again in Rome, reporting on the results of his nunciature. On his return from his second visit he was the prime mover in the promulgation of the Bavarian religious edict of 1522, which practically established the senate of the University of Ingolstadt as a tribunal of the Inquisition, and led to years of persecution. In return for this action of the duke, who had at first been opposed to the policy of repression, Eck obtained for him, during a third visit to Rome in 1523, valuable ecclesiastical concessions. He continued unabated in his zeal against the reformers, publishing eight major works between 1522 and 1526.

Wealth and power were included in the aspirations of Eck. He appropriated the revenues of his parish of G├╝nzburg, while he relegated its duties to a vicar. Twice he visited Rome as a diplomatic representative of the Bavarian court to obtain sanction for the establishment of a court of inquisition against the Lutheran teachings at Ingolstadt. The first of these journeys, late in the autumn of 1521, was fruitless on account of the death of Leo X, but his second journey in 1523 was successful. With great insight and courage he showed the Curia the true condition of affairs in Germany and pictured the general incapacity of the representatives of the Church in that country.

Of the many heresy trials in which Eck was the prime mover during this period it is sufficient to mention here that of Leonhard Kaser, whose history was published by Luther.

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