The Place: Leipzig, Germany
The Date: June 24 – July 16, 1519
Luther’s Opponent: Dr. John Eck of Ingolstadt, a scholastic Roman Catholic prelate
The Main Issue: The supremacy of the pope over the Catholic Church
Dr. Eck’s Contention: “There is in the church of God a primacy that comes from Christ, Himself. The church militant was formed in the image of the church triumphant. Now, the latter is a monarchy in which the hierarchy ascends step by step up to God, its sole chief. For this reason Christ has established a similar order upon earth. What a monster the church would be if it were without a head.”1
Luther’s Reply: “The head of the church militant is Christ Himself, and not a man. I believe this on the testimony of God’s Word. “He must reign,” says Scripture, “till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). Let us not listen to those who banish Christ to the church triumphant in heaven. His kingdom is a kingdom of faith. We cannot see our Head, and yet we have one.”2
The Result: Dr. Eck claimed the honor of winning the debate with his usual ostentation. The truths which Luther contended for, however, prevailed in the hearts of many hearers at the debate, even those who were formerly hostile to the Reformation. “Luther’s words had sunk with irresistible power into the minds of his hearers. Many of those who daily thronged the hall of the castle were subdued by the truth. It was especially in the midst of its most determined adversaries that its victories were gained. Dr. Eck’s secretary, familiar friend, and disciple, Polianders, was won to the Reformation and in the year 1522, he publicly preached the gospel at Leipzig. John Cellarius, professor of Hebrew a man violently opposed to the reformed doctrines, was touched by the words of the eloquent doctor and began to search the Scriptures more deeply. Ere long he gave up his station and went to Wittenberg to study humbly at Luther’s feet. Sometime after, he was pastor at Frankfurt and at Dresden.”
“This Leipzig disputation was, therefore, perhaps the most important episode in the whole course of Luther’s career. It made him for a few years at least the ‘man of Germany’ with almost every German.”3
1. Merle D’Aubigné, The Triumph of Truth. Translated by Henry White; edited by Mark Sidwell (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1996) 212.
2. D’Aubigné, Triumph 119-120.
3. Thomas Lindsay, Martin Luther :The Man Who Started the Reformation (Christian Focus, 1996) 75.