Eck, Johann

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ECK, JOHANN (14861543), German Roman Catholic theologian known for his opposition to the Protestant reformers. Born Johann Maier in the Swabian village of Eck, he entered the University of Heidelberg at age eleven. Thereafter he studied at Tübingen (master of arts, 1501), Cologne, and Freiburg (doctor of theology, 1510). In 1510 he began studies at Ingolstadt, where he received a second doctorate and assumed a position on the theological faculty. He quickly became the dominant theological force at Ingolstadt and retained his position and his dominance there until his death. Eck was ordained to the secular priesthood in 1508 and preached regularly during the years he spent in Ingolstadt.

Eck's early years revealed broad intellectual interests. He published on logic (Bursa pavonis, 1507; In summulas Petri Hispani, 1516; Elementarius dialectice, 1517) and on Aristotle (1517, 1519, 1520). He read geography and canon law, and his affinities for the humanists were reflected in his study of Greek and Hebrew and his fondness for classical sources. In theology, his most significant early work was the Chrysopassus (1514), a treatise on predestination. In it Eck declared his preference for the Franciscans Bonaventure and Duns Scotus but asserted that he would not be bound to any theological partya notable declaration in view of his attachment to the nominalists during his years in Freiburg. The Chrysopassus expounded doctrines of merit and free will that would soon be under attack by Luther and other Protestants.

Luther's Ninety-five Theses (1517) changed Eck's life. At his bishop's request Eck responded to the theses, and ensuing exchanges led to the Leipzig Disputation (1519) between Eck and the Wittenbergers Luther and Karlstadt. Shortly thereafter Eck went to Rome and helped secure papal condemnation of Wittenberg theology. He was commissioned (1520) to publicize in Germany the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned forty-one propositions attributed to Luther, and which Luther publicly burned.

The rest of Eck's life was devoted largely to combating Protestants in Germany and Switzerland. Although he had no confidence that disputation would convince his Protestant opponents, he engaged in debate when he thought public policy might be influencednotably in Baden in 1524. He was the most important Catholic participant in discussions with Protestants at Augsburg (1530) and Ratisbon (1541). His anti-Protestant publications included the following: defenses of papal authority (De primatu Petri, 1520), the doctrine of purgatory (De purgatorio, 1523), the sacrament of penance (De satisfactione and De initio poenitentiae, both 1523), and the sacrifice of the Mass (De sacrificio missae, 1526); the Enchiridion (1525), a manual intended to refute common Protestant errors; cycles of sermons (German and Latin, 1530); and a German translation of the Bible (1537). Two memoirs (Schutz red, 1540, and Replica, 1543) are polemical tracts that also provide biographical details.

Eck's writings were the most widely distributed anti-Protestant theological works of his generation. He played a major role in convincing Roman Catholic authorities that Luther's teachings were novelties dangerous to the security of the faith. He helped shape the strategy widely used against the Protestants: to take positions representing a medieval consensus and, in defending them, to anticipate possible Protestant objections, avoid scholastic demonstration, and emphasize scriptural arguments.


Despite its age and some serious flaws, the most satisfactory biography of Eck is still Theodor Wiedemann's Dr. Johann Eck, Professor der Theologie an der Universität Ingolstadt (Regensburg, 1865). For a thorough modern treatment of one aspect of Eck's theology, see Erwin Iserloh's Die Eucharistie in der Darstellung des Johannes Eck (Münster, 1950). Two exemplary critical editions of works by Eck are Enchiridion locorum communium adversus Lutherum et alios hostes ecclesiae, 15251543, edited by Pierre Fraenkel (Münster, 1979), and De sacrificio missae libri tres, 1526, edited by Erwin Iserloh, Vinzenz Pfnür, and Peter Fabisch (Münster, 1982).

Walter L. Moore (1987)