This chapter enumerates the life and works of Dr Martin Luther, from the perspective of his lifelong antagonist Johannes Cochlaeus. It notes some peculiarities during his stay with the Monastery of the brothers of St Augustine, either from some secret commerce with a Demon, or from the disease of epilepsy; fraud after he was made Doctor in Theology; controversies in indulgences; and attacks he raised against the doctrine of the Roman church. It suggests that by his cunning, as he complained that he was unjustly pressed by his adversaries and driven into public, Luther gained the greatest favor for himself, not just among the simple people, but also among many grave, learned men, who believed in his words through genuine simplicity. Meanwhile, Cochlaeus, for the sake of asserting and confirming the truth of the Catholic faith against any heretics, also published several books in Latin, criticizing Luther and Phillip Melanchthon.
This book presents a contemporary, eyewitness account of the life of Martin Luther translated into English. Johannes Cochlaeus (1479–1552) was present in the great hall at the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521 when Luther made his famous declaration before Emperor Charles V: ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen’. Afterward, Cochlaeus sought Luther out, met him at his inn, and privately debated with him. Luther wrote of Cochlaeus, ‘may God long preserve this most pious man, born to guard and teach the Gospel of His church, together with His word, Amen’. However, the confrontation left Cochlaeus convinced that Luther was an impious and malevolent man. Over the next twnety-five years, Cochlaeus barely escaped the Peasant's War with his life. He debated with Melanchthon and the reformers of Augsburg. It was Cochlaeus who conducted the authorities to the clandestine printing press in Cologne, where William Tyndale was preparing the first English translation of the New Testament (1525). For an eyewitness account of the Reformation—and the beginnings of the Catholic Counter-Reformation—no other historical document matches the first-hand experience of Cochlaeus. After Luther's death, it was rumoured that demons seized the reformer on his death-bed and dragged him off to Hell. In response to these rumours, Luther's friend and colleague Philip Melanchthon wrote and published a brief encomium of the reformer in 1548. Cochlaeus consequently completed and published his monumental life of Luther in 1549.
There are only two substantial eyewitness accounts of the life of Martin Luther. Best known is a 9,000-word Latin memoir by Philip Melanchthon published in Latin at Heidelberg in 1548, two years after the Reformer's death. But the other substantial vita of Luther—at 175,000 words by far the longest and most detailed eyewitness account of the Reformer—has never been published in English. Recorded contemporaneously over the first twenty-five years of the Reformation by Luther's lifelong antagonist Johannes Cochlaeus, the Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri was published in Latin at Mainz in 1549. This chapter introduces this confrontation between Melanchthon's vita and Cochlaeus's Commentary read against each other, the rival texts rekindle the colossal crossfire of faith-against-faith that animated and illuminated the Reformation.