John Eck, more correctly Johann Maier, was born at Eck (now Egg, near Memmingen, south of Augsburg) in Swabia, November 13, 1486. When twelve years of age he began his studies at Heidelberg and continued them at Tuebingen, Cologne and Freiburg. When fourteen years of age he became Magister Artium, when nineteen bachelor of theology, when twenty-two priest at Strassburg, and in 1510, when twenty-four years, doctor and professor of theology in the University of Ingolstadt.
Having studied under humanistic teachers he advocated at first liberal views in theology and philosophy and as early as 1517 entered into friendly relations with Luther. But his unbounded ambition to be regarded as the leading theologian of Germany caused him to become the defender of the papacy and of Catholic doctrine. In 1519, he began his fight against Luther. In 1520, he visited Rome at the invitation of the Pope, when he presented to him his work on the Primacy of Peter against Luther, Ingolstadt 1520, for which he was awarded with the appointment as papal prothonotary. When on June 16, 1520, the papal bull, Exsurge Domine, appeared, in which forty-one propositions of Luther were condemned, Eck was entrusted with its execution in Germany.
At the Diet of Augsburg, Eck took a leading part as defender of the Roman Catholic position. He extracted 404 articles from the works of the reformers and with seventy other theologians collaborated in the Confutatio pontificia, in which the Catholic refutation of Protestantism was embodied.
Against Zwingli and his party, Eck first appeared at the public disputation at Baden, in Catholic territory, twelve miles northwest of Zurich, on May 21–June 18, 1526. The affair ended in favor of Eck, who induced the authorities to suppress the reformation at Baden. The dispution of Berne, which was conducted in the absence of Eck in January 1528, was won for the reformation.
When Zwingli’s account of his faith had been submitted to the emperor in July 1530, it was turned over to Eck for answer. He sat down at once and within three days, as he boasts, he produced what he intended to be a crushing reply. It was completed on July 17, 1530, dedicated to the Cardinal of Liege and printed most likely in the same month at Augsburg.
Eck was more highly esteemed as the champion of the true faith in Rome than in Germany, where he had many enemies. He was accused of drunkenness, immorality, unbounded greed for money and passionate desire for honor and preferment. When Rome did not gratify all his ambitions, he made overtures for peace to the Protestants, but they failed through hatred and contempt by which he was generally regarded.
But through his scholarly attainments, and controversial ability, he made himself the most prominent, and also the most violent opponent of the reformation. He died at Ingolstadt on February 10, 1543. Numerous works in Latin and German testify both to his ability and to his violent temper.*
It’s worth remembering that were it not for Eck, no one would probably have heard of Luther. You have to take the bad with the good.
*Huldreich Zwingli, The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli (ed. William John Hinke; vol. 2; Philadelphia: Heidelberg Press, 1922), 62–63.
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