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09 November 2012
  + Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Theologian +
9 November AD 1522 – 8 April AD 1586

Martin ChemnitzToday marks the birthday of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor. We regard him as, after Martin Luther, the Lutheran Church's most important theologian. He possessed a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers combined with a genuine love for the Church.

Doctrinal quarrels after Luther's death in 1546 led Chemnitz to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and a principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of the Scriptures and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Work on the Formula led Chemnitz and others to gather all the normative doctrinal statements confessed by the Lutherans, from the ancient creeds through the Evangelical writings of the 16th Century, into one volume, the Book of Concord.

Chemnitz also authored the four volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565-1573). This monumental work saw him rigorously subjecting the pronouncements of this Roman Catholic Council to judgment by Scripture and the Church Fathers. The Examination is the definitive Lutheran answer to the Concilium Tridentinum and an outstanding exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession.

WittenbergWhile he was an outstanding academic, Chemnitz also ably served in church administration. He joined the Wittenberg University faculty in January 1554 and was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry by Johannes Bugenhagen in November of that same year. Then, after several years as co-adjutor of the churches in the region of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, he became Superintendent (ecclesiastical supervisor), holding the post until his death. In this capacity, he worked diligently to balance the congregations' autonomy, particularly in calling pastors, with input and oversight by the the area ministerium.

As theologian and a churchman, "the Second Martin" was truly a gift of God to the Church. This is why the expression was coined, Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset. ("If Martin [Chemnitz] had not come along, Martin [Luther] would hardly have survived.")

For a thorough yet highly readable biography, I recommend The Second Martin by J. A. O. Preus. And even though it spans four thick volumes, I found myself sailing through Fred Kramer's translation of the Examination of the Council of Trent. Believe it or not, Dr. Kramer caught Chemnitz's sense of humor to such a degree that I regularly chuckled to myself — and even laughed aloud a few times. I also recommend Two Natures in Christ and just about anything else he wrote.

As sometimes happens with other noted Christians, Chemnitz's commemoration was transferred from his death date to that of his birth in order to move it away from Holy Week and Eastertide. This also puts him in proximity with Luther's birthday and with the commemoration of Saint Martin of Tours, for whom Luther and Chemnitz both were named. Their shared names illustrates the practice of naming people for saints commemorated on their baptismal days.

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