Martin Chemnitz (November 9, 1522 – April 8, 1586) was an eminent second-generation German Lutheran theologian, reformer, churchman, and confessor. In the Lutheran tradition he is known as Alter Martinus, the “Second Martin”:
Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset “If Martin had not come along, Martin Luther would hardly have survived”) goes a common saying concerning him. He is commemorated as a pastor and confessor in the Lutheran Service Book of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod on November 9..
hemnitz, born in Treuenbrietzen in Brandenburg to Paul and Euphemia Chemnitz, was the last of three children.. His older siblings’ names were Matthew and Ursula. His father was a successful merchant who died when Martin was eleven: thereafter, the family suffered from financial difficulties.
When he was old enough, Martin matriculated in Magdeburg. Upon completion of the course work, he became a weaver’s apprentice. He helped his family with its clothing business for the next few years.
When he was 20, he resumed his education at the University of Frankfurt (Oder). He remained in school until his finances were exhausted; he then took a teaching job in the town of Wriezen, supplementing his income by collecting the local sales tax on fish.
His time at Frankfurt gave him the basic tools to continue his education on his own, researching areas in which he was interested and applying his naturally inquisitive mind to problems that others had worried over in the past.
In 1545 Chemnitz accompanied his cousin Georg Sabinus to school in Wittenberg (1545–47), where he studied under Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. From Melanchthon he learned to shape his theological education, beginning with the difference between “law” and “gospel”.
In Chemnitz’s words, though he heard Luther lecture often, he “did not pay Luther the attention he should have.” (cf. Autobiography) Because of Luther’s death and political events, Chemnitz transferred to the University of Königsberg (1547–48).
Chemnitz graduated in the first class with a Master of Arts degree (1548). However, a plague soon infested the town of Königsberg, so Chemnitz left quickly for Saalfeld. When he judged it safe, Chemnitz returned to Königsberg in 1550, employed by Albert, Duke of Prussia, as the court librarian. In return for caring for the library and teaching a few courses as a tutor, he had unrestricted access to what was then considered one of the finest libraries in Europe.
For the first time Chemnitz applied himself completely to theological study. During these years his interest shifted from astrology, which he had studied in Magdeburg, to theology. He began his own course of study by carefully working through the Bible in the original languages with the goal of answering questions that had previously puzzled him.
When he felt ready to move on, he turned his attention to the early theologians of the church, whose writings he read slowly and carefully. Then he turned to current theological concerns, again reading slowly while painstakingly making copious notes. This early method of Lutheran scholastic self-study had been suggested by Melanchthon (cf. Autobiography).
Chemnitz moved back to Wittenberg in 1553 as a guest of Melanchthon. In January 1554 he joined the Wittenberg University faculty.
He lectured on Melanchthon’s Loci Communes, from which lectures he compiled his own Loci Theologici, a system of theology. He was ordained to the ministry on November 25, 1554 by Johannes Bugenhagen, and became co-adjutor of Joachim Mörlin, who was ecclesiastical superintendent for the duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
When Mörlin resigned in 1567, Chemnitz became his successor; he held the post for the rest of his life.
Through his leadership, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was brought firmly into Lutheranism. There he helped his prince, Duke Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, establish the University of Helmstedt (1575–76).
With Jakob Andreae, David Chytraeus, Nicholas Selnecker, Andrew Musculus and others, Chemnitz took part in a centrist movement that brought agreement among German Lutherans in the writing and publication of the Formula of Concord (1577), of which Chemnitz is one of the primary authors.
He was instrumental in the publication of the definitive Book of Concord in 1580, the doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church. Other major works are Examen Concilii Tridentini (Examination of the Council of Trent) and De Duabis Naturis in Christo (On the Two Natures in Christ).
These works demonstrate Martin Chemnitz’s abilities as a biblical, doctrinal and historical theologian in the orthodox Lutheran tradition. He died in Braunschweig.