Unless you are a keen student of church history (or a Lutheran) then you may not have heard of Martin Chemnitz, who was born 500 years ago this November. In his day, however, he was recognised as immensely important, and is still lauded among Lutheran historians. ‘If Martin [Chemnitz] had not been, Martin [Luther] would not have survived’ was a popular saying. Why is this so?
Chemnitz was born in Trenenbritzen in the state of Brandenburg. His father had been a prosperous merchant, but after his death times were difficult for the family. Martin finished school and entered the family business. He spent some time at the University of Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, but ran out of money and was forced to leave, becoming a teacher.
At 23 he enrolled at Wittenburg University and studied under Martin Luther (who died the next year) and Philip Melancthon, his main influence. He admitted that he did not pay Luther the attention that he should have done! Martin transferred to the University of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad in Russia), graduating in 1548.
From 1550 he became the court librarian of Albert, Duke of Prussia, being in charge of the state and university library, one of the best in Europe. Here Martin could indulge his passion for theological study. Chemnitz followed the course of study which Melancthon had proposed for self-taught theologians. First he learnt Hebrew and Greek, then studied the Bible, and then the early theologians, with the controversies he wished to resolve in mind.