Luther had signed a promise not to write or speak any more about indulgences, as long as his opponents left him alone. Doctor Eck, a Dominican theologian, published his arguments against Luther’s 95 Theses. Carlstadt, theologian at the University of Wittenberg had answered by publishing his own statements in defense of Luther. Carlstadt was a friend of Luther’s and taught at the same university as Luther.
Doctor Eck Picks a Fight
Eck wanted a fight. Carlstadt took him up on it. But it wasn’t Carlstadt whom Eck wanted to battle with. It was Luther. A debate was organized to be held between Eck and Carlstadt at Leipzig. Duke George would not allow Luther to debate. Eck visited Duke George and convinced him to let Luther debate. So, it was arranged.
Right from the beginning, there was disagreement. Eck said the debate should be a free un-restricted discussion. He also required that no one take notes to report the debate.
Carlstadt said, “It has been agreed that the disputation should be reported, published, and submitted to the judgment of all men.”
Eck agreed but then demanded that before the notes were published, they should be submitted to judges. Luther asked, “What judges?” Eck’s answer: The pope. Luther replied that he would not debate under those conditions. Luther’s refusal caused such an uproar in the city that he finally gave way, but reserved the right to appeal.
The Leipzig Debate
The debate began June 27, 1519 and lasted nearly three weeks.
At the start of the debate, Eck protested against Carlstadt’s Bible and the theology books he’d brought with him. He said each debater should speak from memory and not use references. This surprised many people who came to listen. Some said the debate would not be to discover truth, but to find out who had a better memory and the loudest voice.
Part way through the debate, Eck brought up the subject of the pope’s authority. Luther replied, “I declare that the respect I bear to the sovereign pontiff would have prevented my entering upon this discussion, if the excellent Dr. Eck had not dragged me into it.”[i]
The Christian’s Authority
Luther made the following statements:
- The head of the church is Christ Himself and not a man (1 Corinthians 15:27).
- Jesus Christ is the Rock upon which the church is built (1 Corinthians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:4-6).
- Christians have no other authority than the Holy Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21).
When Eck could not meet Luther’s arguments from Scriptures, he accused Luther of being a follower of John Huss. This threw the meeting hall into an uproar because John Huss was hated by the Catholics.
Every day, the hall of the castle where the debates were held filled with people. As Luther reasoned with Eck from the Scriptures, some of the listeners were won to Luther’s teachings. Some notable converts were Doctor Eck’s secretary and disciple Poliander; John Cellarius, professor of Hebrew; and George of Anhalt, relative of Duke George.
Contrary to his expectations, Eck did not polish or boost his reputation. Instead, Eck had become the laughing stock of Germany. Several famous Germans wrote satires featuring Eck. Eck was mortified and vowed revenge on Luther.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.