Eck or Eckius Johannes
Eck or Eckius Johannes
(Johann Mayr von Eck), one of the most capable and violent of Luther's opponents, was born in Suabia, November 13, 1486, the son of a peasant. He was educated at Heidelberg and Tubingen, and in 1516 was made professor and vicechancellor at Ingolstadt. His intense ambition for literary fame stimulated him to unwearied activity and industry. In 1512 he was made vice-chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt. In 1514 he published Centuriae vi de Praedestinatione; and lectured and wrote; on all sorts of subjects from 1514 to 1518. Ranke describes him as follows: "Eck was one of the most eminent scholars or his time, a reputation which he had spared no pains to acquire. He had visited the most celebrated professors in various universities: the Thominist Sustern at Cologne, the Scotists Sumenhard and Scriptoris at Tubingen; he had attended the law lectures of Zasius in Freiburg, those on Greek of Reuchlin, on Latin of Bebel, on cosmography of Reusch. In his twentieth year he began to write and to lecture at Ingolstadt upon Occam and Biel's canon law, on Aristotle's dialectics and physics, the most difficult doctrines of dogmatic theology, and the subtleties of nominalistic morality; he then proceeded to the study of the mystics, whose most curious works had just fallen into his hands: he set himself; as he says, to establish the connection between their doctrines and the Orphicoplatonic philosophy, the sources of which are to be sought in Egypt and Arabia, and to discuss the whole in five parts (Eckii Epistola de rationae studiorum suorum, in Strobel, Miscellanea, 3:97). He was one of those learned men who held that the great questions which had occupied men's minds were essentially settled; who worked exclusively with the analytical faculty and the memory; who were always on the watch to appropriate to themselves a new subject with which to excite attention, to get advancement, and to secure a life of ease and enjoyment. His strongest taste was for disputation, in which he had made a brilliant figure in all the universities we have mentioned, as well as in Heidelberg, Mainz, and Basle: at Freiburg he had early presided over a class (the Bursa zum Pfauen)
where the chief business was practice in disputation; he then took long journeys — for example, to Vienna and Bologna — expressly to dispute there. It is most amusing to see in his letters the satisfaction with which he speaks of his Italian journey: how he was encouraged to undertake it by a papal nuncio; how, before his departure, he was visited by the young markgrave of Brandenburg; the very honorable reception he experienced an his way, in Italy as well as in Germany, from both spiritual and temporal lords, who invited him to their tables; how, when certain young men had ventured to contradict him at one of these dinners, he had confuted them with the utmost ease, and left them filled with astonishment and admiration; and lastly, how, in spite of manifold opposition, he had at last brought the most learned of the learned in Bologna to subscribe to his maxims" (Riederer, Nachrichten, 3:47).
With such antecedents, Eck was prepared to take up arms against Luther (as, indeed, he was ready to take up arms against any man). They had been good friends, and Luther sent him his Theses. SEE LUTHER. Against these, in 1518, Eck wrote animadversions under the title Obelisci (given in Loscher, Vollst. Ref. Act. 2:333 sq.), which were freely circulated, though the writer declared they were not meant to be published. Eck was at that time inquisitor for Bavaria, and what he said and wrote had great weight in fixing upon a man the reputation of heresy. Carlstadt (q.v.), at Luther's request, replied in 406 theses, in which he assailed both the learning and the orthodoxy of Eck, and very satirically. The controversy ended in a public Disputation, to which Carlstadt challenged Eck. According to a letter of Luther, written to Eck November 15, 1518, Luther seems to have cherished the hope of a friendly settlement of the difficulty; but Eck was only puffed up by this tenderness of Luther, and in February, 1519, he printed an outline for the expected disputation, in which he endeavored again to impeach the University of Wittenberg, but more especially Carlstadt and Luther, particularly the latter, as holding heretical doctrines on penitence and on the papal power. Malice only could have inspired Eck here, as Luther had at that very time promised to Miltitz to discontinue the dispute. Luther was, of course, relieved from his promise, and he so declared to the elector Frederick on the 13th of March. He wrote at once a reply to Eck, so unanswerable in all its points, and so full of severity, that Eck could no longer remain in doubt as to the fate which awaited him at Leipzig. Eck's aim was undoubtedly not so much to gain the mastery over Carlstadt as over Luther. He published (February, 1519) thirteen theses, which he professed himself willing to defend against Luther. They referred chiefly to the doctrine of penitence and absolution, and the thirteenth especially sought to provoke an answer from Luther which should make him liable to the Inquisition for heresy. It read: "Romanam Ecclesiam non fuisse superiorem aliis Ecclesiis ante tempora Sylvestri, negamus. Sed eum, qui sedem beatissimi Petri habuit et fidem, successorem Petri et Vicarium Christi generalem semper agnovimus." Eck here really gained his object.
Luther accepted the challenge, and answered it by the following: "Romanam Ecclesiam esse omnibus aliis superiorem, probatur ex frigidissimis Rom. Pontificum decretis, intra quadringentos annos natis. CONTRA quae sunt historiae approbatae mille et centum annorum, textus scriptuare divinae et decretum Niceni Concilii omnium sacratissimi." Eck, eager to bring Luther into a still more inextricable position as heretic, advanced, March 14, 1519, the following: "Excusatio adversus criminationes Fr. AM. Lutheri, ordinis Eremitarum," with the accusation that Luther was a coward, and that he only endeavored to advance Carlstadt in order that he might himself safely retreat. To this Luther replied in another "Excusatio FP. Martini Lutheri adversus criminationes Dr. Jo. Eckii," and with the assertion "Ich furchte mich weder vor dem Pabste and des Pabstes Namen noch vor Pabstchen and Pappen" (I am neither afraid of the pope or the pope's name, nor of popelings or puppets"). But Eck succeeded at least in frightening some true friends of Luther, and it was no easy task to quiet Spalatinus, who had grown very doubtful as to the final result of the dispute. But Luther was already decided not to spare the Roman see. The Roman Church he calls (De Wette, Luther's Briefe, 1:260) "Babylon; "the power of the Roman pontiff he counts among worldly powers (ib. 1:264). Meanwhile many causes delayed disputation. At last the personal interference of duke George, who asked of the bishop "not to defend the lazy priests, but to oblige them to meet the battle manfully, unless the pope should interfere," removed all obstacles.
The session opened at Leipsic June 27, 1519, and from that date to July 3 Eck and Carlstadt were the disputants. Eck admitted that the Scriptures were the ultimate rule of doctrine, and maintained a synergistic doctrine as to grace and free-will. Carlstadt supported the doctrine of the impotency of the will, and that good works are from grace alone. The controversy led to no result. "On Monday, the 4th of July, at seven in the morning, Luther arose; the antagonist whom Eck most ardently desired to meet, and whose rising fame he hoped to crush by a brilliant victory, He stood in the prime of manhood, and in the fullness of his strength: he was in his thirty-sixth year; his voice was melodious and clear; he was perfectly versed in the Bible, and its aptest sentences presented themselves unbidden to his mind; above all, he inspired an irresistible conviction that he sought the truth. The battle immediately commenced on the question of the authority of the papacy, which, at once intelligible and important, riveted universal attention. It was immediately obvious that Luther could not maintain his assertion that the pope's primacy dated only from the last four centuries: he soon found himself forced from this position by ancient documents; and the rather, that no criticism had as yet shaken the authenticity of the false decretals. But his attack on the doctrine that the primacy of the pope (whom he still persisted in regarding as the oecumenical bishop) was founded in Scripture and by divine right, was fair more formidable. Christ's words, 'Thou art Peter; feed my sheep,' which have always been cited in this controversy, were brought forward. In the exposition by Nicolas Lyranus also, of which Luther made the most use, there occurs this explanation, differing from that of the curia, of the passage in Matthew, chapter 16: 'Quia tu es Petrus, i.e., confessor verae petrae qui est Christus factus; et super hanc petram, quam confessus es, i.e., super Christum, adificabo ecclesiam meam.' Luther labored to support the already well- known explanation of them, at variance with that of the curia, by other passages which record similar commissions given to the apostles. Eck quoted passages from the fathers in support of his opinions, to which Luther opposed others from the same source. As soon as they got into these more recondite regions, Luther's superiority became incontestable. One of his main arguments was that the Greeks had never acknowledged the pope, and yet had not been pronounced heretics; the Greek Church had stood, was standing, and would stand without the pope; it belonged to Christ as much as the Roman. Eck did not hesitate at once to declare that the Christian and the Roman Church were one; that the churches of Greece and Asia had fallen away, not only from the pope, but from the Christian faith — they were unquestionably heretics in the whole circuit of the Turkish empire, for instance, there was not one soul that could be saved, with the exception of the few who adhered to the pope of Rome. 'How?' said, Luther; 'would you pronounce damnation on the whole Greek Church, which has produced the most eminent fathers, and so many thousand saints, of whom not one had even heard of a Roman primate?
Would Gregory of Nazianzen, would the great Basil, not be saved? or would the pope and his satellites drive them out of heaven?' These expressions prove how greatly the omnipotence and exclusive validity of the forms of the Latin Church, and the identity with Christianity which she claimed, were shaken by the fact that, beyond her pale, the ancient Greek Church, which she had herself acknowledged, stood in all the venerable authority of her great teachers. It was now Eck's turn to be hard pressed: he repeated that there had been many heretics in the Greek Church, and that he alluded to them, not to the fathers — a miserable evasion, which did not in the least touch the assertion of his adversary. Eck felt this, and hastened back to the domain of the Latin Church. He particularly insisted that Luther's opinion — that the primacy of Rome was of human institution, and not of divine right was an error of the poor brethren of Lyons, of Wickliffe and Huss; but had been condemned by the popes, and especially by the general councils wherein dwelt the spirit of God, and recently at that of Constance. This new fact was as indisputable as the former. Eck was not satisfied with Luther's declaration that he had nothing to do with the Bohemians, nay, that he condemned their schism; and that he would not be answered out of the collectanea of inquisitors, but out of the Scriptures. The question had now arrived at its most critical and important moment. Did Luther acknowledge the direct influence of the divine Spirit over the Latin Church, and the binding force of the decrees of her councils, or did he not? Did he inwardly adhere to her, or did he not? We must recollect that we are here not far from the frontier of Bohemia; in a land which, in consequence of the aunathena pronounced in Constance, had experienced all the horrors of a long and desolating war, and had placed its glory in the resistance it had offered to the Hussites: at a university founded in opposition to the spirit and doctrine of John Huss: in the face of princes, lords, and commoners, whose fathers had fallen in this struggle; it was said that delegates from the Bohemians, who had anticipated the turn which this conflict must take, were also present. Luther saw the danger of his position. Should he really reject the prevailing notion of the exclusive power of the Roman Church to secure salvation? oppose a council by which John Huss had been condemned to the flames, and perhaps draw down a like fate upon himself? Or should he deny that higher and more comprehensive idea of a Christian church which he had conceived, and in which his whole soul lived and moved? Luther did not waver for a moment. He had the boldness to affirm that, among the articles on which the Council of Constance grounded its condemnation of John Huss, some were fundamentally Christian and evangelical. The assertion was received with universal astonishment. Duke George, who was present, put his hands to his sides, and, shaking his bead, uttered aloud his wonted curse, 'A plague upon it!' Eck now gathered fresh courage. It was hardly possible, he said, that Luther could censure a council, since his grace the elector had expressly forbidden any attack upon councils. Luther reminded him that the Council of Constance had not condemned all the articles of Huss as heretical, and specified some which were likewise to be found in St. Augustine. Eck replied that all were rejected; the sense in which these particular articles were understood was to be deemed heretical; for a council could not err. Luther answered that no council could create a new article of faith; how, then, could it be maintained that no council whatever was subject to error? 'Reverend father,' replied Eck, 'if you believe that a council regularly convoked can err, you are to me as a heathen and a publican' (Disputatio Excellentissimorum Theologorum Johannis Eccii et D. Martini Lutheri Augustiniani qua Lipsiae caepta fuit iv die Julii ao 1519. Opera Lutheri, Jena, 1:231). Such were the results of this disputation. It was continued for a time, and opinions more or less conflicting on purgatory, indulgences, and penance were uttered. Eck renewed the interrupted contest with Carlstadt; the reports were sent, after the solemn conclusion, to both universities; but all these measures could lead to nothing further. The main result of the meeting was, that Luther no longer acknowledged the authority of the Roman Church in matters of faith. At first he had only attacked the instructions given to the preachers of indulgences, and the rules of the later schoolmen, but had expressly retained the decretals of the popes; then he had rejected these, but with appeal to the decision of a council; he now emancipated himself from this last remaining human authority also; he recognised none but that of the Scriptures" (Ramake, History of Reformation, Austin's transl., book 2, chapter 3).
After the disputation, in which Eck's pride of intellect had been grievously wounded, he wrote (July 23) a letter to the elector of Saxony exhorting him to discourage the pernicious doctrines of his professor, and to cause his books to be burned. Frederick replied with some delay and great moderation, and Carlstadt with bitterness. A bitter controversy followed, in which Melancthon took part, and Eck got the worst of it. In February, 1S20, Eck also completed a treatise on the primacy, in which he promises triumphantly and clearly to confute Luther's assertion that "it is not of divine right." "Observe, reader," says he "and thou shalt see that I keep my word." Nor is his work by any means devoid of learning and, talent. After obtaining a condemnation of Luther from the universities of Louvain and Cologne, Eck went to Rome (1520) to present his book (De Primatur) to the pope, and to stir up feeling against Luther. His exhortations animated the enemies of Luther, and they at length prevailed upon the pope to summon a congregation on the subject, which passed sentence of condemnation upon Luther. Leo X indiscreetly appointed Eck as his nuncio for the promulgation of his bull in Germany. Elated by vanity, Eck set out with puerile exultation to inflict, as he thought, a fatal blow on his devoted adversary. In September he caused the bull to be fixed up in public places in Meistsen, Merseburg, and Brandenburg. "Everywhere he contended with force and energy, and on more than one occasion with success. Germany was his usual arena, where the brunt of controversy was almost invariably sustained by him. But in Switzerland his voice was likewise heard; and there, indeed, the papal interests were never upheld by any advocate of talent or distinction except himself and Faber. He was confronted in a long series of combats, during a space of twenty years, with all the chieftains of the Reformation; and, though he was defending what we are wont to consider the feebler cause, he never defended it feebly, or was overthrown with shame." He died Feb. 8, 1543. His works against Luther embrace five volumes (Opera contra Lutherum, Augsburg, 1530-35). Besides this, and the work De Primatu already mentioned, Eck published Enchridion Controversiarum (last edit. Cologne, 1600), Apologia contra Bucerum (Ingolstadt, 1543), and others. — Hook, Ecclesiastes Biog. 4:532; Ranke, Hist. of Reformation; D'Aubigne, Hist. of Reformation, volume 1; Mosheim, Ch. Hist. book 4, c. 16, section 1, chapter 2, § 9, and chapter 3, § 13; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 3:626 sq.