It is the 10th of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1543.
Having spent a fair amount of time in the company of academics, professors, researchers, etc., I was struck by a comment regarding the very complicated fellow we will remember today. This man was described as: "An irritant in the academic world from the start due to both his precocity and to his drive to master many fields of endeavor." Don't immediately start conjuring pictures of people you've known in your head that match this description. My own experience as a professor in my 20s reminds me how many of us can fall into the trap.
But this burn of a significant 16th-century character from a 20th historian can't match the burn he received from the master of 16th-century insults: Martin Luther. To get there, consider this: suppose my name is Stuart Mayer, but in an attempt to sound cultured, I change my last name to reflect the village I come from. And this is the village of Pid. I am now Stuart Pid, and if an opportunistic opponent shortens that to Stu Pid, I'm not sure I can entirely blame them.
Today we remember the death of this precocious would be master-of-all Johann Maier on this, the 10th of February in 1543. But you wouldn't know him by that name. You would know him as Johann from the village of Eck. Johann Eck, who became a Doctor of Theology at a young age, was now Dr. Eck. Dr. Eck would be Luther's chief opponent in the early years of the Reformation, and Luther took to calling him "Dreck," a German word politely translated as "refuse" or "dung." Whether biting or childish, I'll let you decide.
The young man from Eck attended university at the age of 12 and had his doctorate in theology by the age of 24. He then received a dispensation to be ordained despite not having yet reached the age required. Eck undoubtedly impressed many. He was broadly Erasmian, and his love of Augustine mirrored that of Luther.
He was also from peasant stock and had to work as a tutor during his academic years because he didn't have the money most university-bound students would have. And so, we might understand why he wrote a treatise on behalf of the Fugger banking family. But the Fugger's needed someone to argue that a 5% interest deposit contract wasn't usury. Fun fact: it's usury.
And this work turned off many who saw the young academic as a mercenary hack writing for guilders. His reputation was revived when a private letter leaked in which he criticized Luther's 95 theses. Luther and his friend Karlstadt responded, and it was on. Eck's stance at Leipzig in 1519 was curious in that it didn't directly attack Luther's counterarguments. Instead, it attempted to cut the legs out from under the Reformer by tying him to Jan Huss, the Bohemian Reformer who was condemned and killed at Constance's council. Luther responded that the council simply got it wrong. The line of argument that grew out of this would become a central locus for the Reformation century: questions about the use of history and tradition coupled with questions about the legitimacy of human authority (from councils to Popes).
Eck would be present at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. He would continue to write on the authority of the Pope and the anarchy of the Reformers.
How Eck's life was told after his death is instructive. To Reformation propagandists, he became a drunken, lecherous man who frittered away the rest of his life in ignominy before dying a painful death. Catholic controversialists told the story of an esteemed theologian whose victory over Luther portended his successful academic career and quiet, dignified death. The focus on the manner of death is interesting, but for another day. The real Eck was probably something in between the two caricatures. We don't know. We know that Johann Eck, born in 1486, died at 56 on the 10th of February in 1543.
As we disregard the church calendar, the reading for today is "New Prince, New Pomp" by the Early modern poet Robert Southwell. Cleaning out my notebooks, this fell out. I was supposed to read it in December.
Behold, a seely tender babe
In freezing winter night
In homely manger trembling lies,—
Alas, a piteous sight!
The inns are full, no man will yield
This little pilgrim bed,
But forced he is with seely beasts
In crib to shroud his head.
Despise him not for lying there,
First, what he is enquire,
An orient pearl is often found
In depth of dirty mire.
Weigh not his crib, his wooden dish,
Nor beasts that by him feed;
Weigh not his mother's poor attire
Nor Joseph's simple weed.
This stable is a prince's court,
This crib his chair of state,
The beasts are parcel of his pomp,
The wooden dish his plate.
The persons in that poor attire
His royal liveries wear;
The prince himself is come from heaven—
This pomp is prizëd there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight,
Do homage to thy king;
And highly prize his humble pomp
Which he from heaven doth bring.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who is neither an irritant nor precocious and has mastered many fields of endeavor, that's the coffee roasting, sound editing, podcasting, and pastoring, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.