The Authority of the Pope is Contrary to the Bible - Luther at the Leipzig Debate - An annotated copy

Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Ein sermon geprediget zu Leiptzig auff dem Schloss am tag Petri vn[d] Pauli im .xix. jar

Augsburg: Froschauer, 1519


Quarto: 18.5 x 13.5 cm. [10] p. A6 (lacking last leaf blank)


Fourth printing (in the year of the first) of this sermon powerfully denying the power of the pope, preached by Luther during the Leipzig Debate, one of the most important and dramatic episodes of Luther's early career. Modern boards. With an attractive woodcut border (Johnson 13; not in Luther or Pflugk-Harttung). Carefully annotated throughout, in Latin, by an early reader.

"Luther arrived in Leipzig for the disputation with Eck on June 24, 1519. Karlstadt began the disputation with Eck on June 27, but the debate was adjourned to allow for the observance of the festival of Saints Peter and Paul on Wednesday, June 29. The Duke of Pomerania had arranged for Luther to preach in the castle chapel but because of the crowd the service had to be transferred to the disputation hall. The text Luther chose is the Gospel for the day and, as he said, it 'contains all the materials of the disputation.' The sermon treats first the grace of God and free will and second, the power of Peter. The text and sermon are therefore closely related to the main point of controversy in the disputation, Luther's proposition concerning the power of the pope, as articulated in Thesis 13 of Luther's counter-theses against Eck."

"The chief emphasis in the disputation between Eck and Luther was upon Thesis 13 concerning the authority of the pope and the jurisdiction of the church at Rome. Although Luther was not historically accurate in maintaining that the jurisdiction of the church of Rome over the others was the product solely of the preceding four hundred years and papal decretals, he was correct in holding that the claims made by Catholic tradition and defended by Eck were exaggerated. But Luther went far beyond the familiar medieval attacks upon the papacy by denying altogether the authority of the pope as contrary to the Bible. He maintained that Christ had not singled out Peter to give him sole jurisdiction (potestas) over the other apostles, which could then be transferred to his successors as bishops of Rome.

"The Leipzig Debate is of great significance in Luther's development as a reformer primarily because he on that occasion publicly stated his evangelical conception of the church in unmistakable terms and showed that in the last analysis his sole authority in matters of faith was the word of God. Therefore he could state without reservations that not only the papacy but also church councils could err. This made reconciliation with the Roman church virtually impossible. It led inexorably to the threat of excommunication and finally to excommunication itself."(Grimm, Leipzig Debate LW Vols. 31 and 51)

In a letter to Spalatin recounting the Leipzig Debate (July 20, 1519), Luther describes the context for, reception of, and Eck's response to this sermon:

"When I had concluded my part of the disputation, Eck debated once more with Karlstadt on new topics during the last three days, again making concessions in all points, agreeing that it is sin to do that which is in one, that free will without grace can do nothing but sin, that there is sin in every good work, and that it is grace itself which enables man to do what is in him in preparing for the reception of grace. All these things the scholastics deny. Therefore virtually nothing was treated in the manner that it deserved except my thirteenth thesis. Meanwhile Eck is pleased with himself, celebrates his victory, and rules the roost; but he will do so only until we have published our side of the debate. Because the debate turned out badly, I shall republish my Explanations Concerning the Value of Indulgences.

"The citizens of Leipzig neither greeted nor called on us but treated us as though we were their bitterest enemies. Eck, however, they followed around town, clung to, banqueted, entertained, and finally presented with a robe and added a chamois-hair gown. They also rode horseback with him. In short, they did whatever they could to insult us. Furthermore they persuaded Caesar Pflug [the official host] and the prince [Duke George] that this pleased all concerned. One thing they did for us; they honored us, according to custom, with a drink of wine, which it would not have been safe for them to overlook…

"The most recent exhibition of hatred was this: When on the day of Peter and Paul [June 29] I was summoned by our lord rector, the duke of Pomerania, to preach a sermon before his grace in the chapel of the castle, the report of this quickly filled the city, and men and women gathered in such numbers that I was compelled to preach in the debating hall, where all our professors and hostile observers had been stationed by invitation. The Gospel for this day [Matt. 16:13-19] clearly embraces both subjects of the debate. I got little thanks from the people of Leipzig.

"Then Eck, stirred up against me, preached four sermons in different churches, publicly twisting and cutting into pieces what I had said. The would-be theologians had urged him to do this. No further opportunity was given me to preach, however, no matter how many people requested it. I could be accused and incriminated but not cleared. This is the way my enemies also acted in the debate, so that Eck, even though he represented the negative, always had the last word, which I did not have an opportunity to refute.

"Finally, when Caesar Pflug heard that I had preached (he had not been present), he said, “I wish that Dr. Martin had saved his sermon for Wittenberg.” In short, I have experienced hatred before, but never more shameless or more impudent. Whereas we had hoped for harmony between the people of Wittenberg and Leipzig, they acted so hatefully that I fear that it will seem that discord and dislike were actually born here. This is the fruit of human glory. I, who really restrain my impetuosity, am still not able to dispel all dislike of them, for I am flesh and their hatred was very shameless and their injustice was very malicious in a matter so sacred and divine."

Benzing 401; VD 16 L6191