Life of Tilemann Heshusius
June 2, 2016 Leave a comment
My first introduction to Tilemann Heshusius (also spelled Heshus or Heshusen) was in either Survey of Theological German or European Lutheran German Writings – two courses I took at Martin Luther College. From time to time the professor would hold Fluffstunden or “fluff classes,” so named because we had no homework due for those classes. In the “fluff classes,” he would tell us about the life and work of various famous Lutherans, usually the Lutheran author of whichever work we happened to be working through at the time.
The detail that stuck out for myself and many students during the “fluff class” on Tilemann Heshusius was that Heshusius supposedly got kicked out of one of his positions for decking a Crypto-Calvinist. (This same professor, now retired, also likes to tell the story of the student who was unfamiliar with Crypto-Calvinism and thus erroneously thought that what the professor found so amusing about Heshusius was that he had decked a “crippled Calvinist.”)
I recently had the opportunity to glean from Heshusius’ knowledge in preparation for a sermon on Isaiah 40:31. God willing, I will post the fruits of that labor later this week. In the process, I thought it would also be a good idea to review Heshusius’ life, which was indeed characterized by battles with Crypto-Calvinism, although I was unable to confirm the story of his physical altercation. Crypto-Calvinists were Calvinists posing as Lutherans who undermined and weakened especially the biblical (and Lutheran) teaching about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The definitive biography on Heshusius is Johann Georg Leuckfeld’s Historia Heshusiana oder Historische Nachricht von dem Leben, Bedienungen und Schrifften Tilemanni Heßhusii (Quedlinburg and Aschersleben, 1716), available at the Post-Reformation Digital Library. Lacking the time to translate Leuckfeld, I opted to work through “Tilemann Heshusius’ Leben,” a relatively short piece that was copied from the preface of an 1862 reprint of one of Heshusius’ works and printed in the October 29, 1862, issue (vol. 19, no. 5) of Der Lutheraner (ed. C. F. W. Walther). The endnotes below are my own.
Men like Heshusius always make me as a pastor wonder just how soft we American Lutherans have become in adhering to and defending the truth. May the Lord of the Church use the example of Heshusius at the very least to urge us on to a more zealous promotion and defense of the true and pure doctrine of his Word.
Life of Tilemann Heshusius
In the last issue we advertised the little book by Heshusius, Who Has the Authority, Eligibility, and Right to Call Preachers? [Wer Gewalt, Fug und Recht habe, Prediger zu berufen?], which had just been published.1 We also promised to acquaint our readers with the turbulent life of this noteworthy man.2 We will do this by sharing the short biography that can be found in the preface of the just-mentioned little book, which we hereby strongly recommend to our readers yet again. In the preface just referred to, it reads as follows:
Tilemann Heshusius, the author of this little book, not only generally occupies a place among the most learned, brilliant, godly, and experienced theologians and among the most forceful and faithful warriors for the pure doctrine of Luther in our church, but it was precisely many of his particular experiences that taught him especially how important it is that the right to call and depose preachers be administered by those to whom God himself has awarded it in his word, namely, by the church or congregation. The entire life of our Heshusius was namely, as Heinsius notes in his church history, “an almost continual wandering,” and in fact for this reason in particular: At his time partly the secular government and partly the so-called religious leaders [Geistlichkeit] almost exclusively arrogated to themselves all ecclesiastical authority, and especially the authority to call and depose public ministers [Kirchendiener]. If this authority had been in the hands of his congregations, who mostly stuck by him as a highly gifted and zealous preacher of God’s word, then he would not have taken the walking stick in his hand as often as he did, and would not have had to experience the distress of abandoning his cherished congregations and surrendering them to false teachers.
The life and activity of our Heshusius occurred mainly in that period immediately after Luther’s death, during which the Crypto-Calvinists (that is, the secret, disguised Calvinists) were infiltrating many Lutheran churches, while the faithful followers of Luther were using all kinds of tricks in an attempt to eliminate them from their positions, and in the process were getting secular authority on their side. Now the more zealously Heshusius held tightly to the jewel of the pure Lutheran doctrine and to the church discipline that was grounded in it and continued to expose and battle for his flock the wolves in sheep’s clothing that had snuck in everywhere, those wolves were all the more furious in assailing him and causing him every sorrow one can only imagine, along with their fellow party members. One counts at least seven exiles which this valuable witness had to endure during his life for the sake of the truth.
He was born on November 3, 1527, in Wesel in the Duchy of Cleves. After he had attended various German and French universities, he became a master in 1550 at the University of Wittenberg, and a doctor of theology there in 1553, after he had already become superintendent in Goslar the year before.3 But since he would not discharge his ministry according to the instructions of the burgomaster of Goslar, he experienced his first exile here as a result of the burgomaster’s intrigues. This happened in 1556; yet he received a call to Rostock as preacher and professor of theology that same year. Here too he only had a resting-place for a short time. Controversies arose over the introduction of a better Sunday celebration and over the abolition of certain papistic ceremonies that were still being retained there. Here too Heshusius found the burgomaster to be a decided opponent, who also finally brought it about, even against the duke’s will, that Heshusius had to leave the city after only a year had passed. But still in the same year (1557) he received the honor of being a professor primarius, a president of the church council, and a general superintendent in Heidelberg. Scarcely had he taken up these positions when he got wrapped up in a harsh battle with the Calvinists who had infiltrated there, particularly with his deacon, named Klebitz, a battle which ended yet again with his deposition in 1559.
He then became superintendent in Bremen, but since the council there would not dismiss the Calvinist Hardenberg, Heshusius himself resigned and went from there to Magdeburg, where in fact he received the pastorate at the Church of St. John in 1560 and the position of superintendent in 1561. But he would not refrain from publicly testifying against the Crypto-Calvinists, Synergists, and others, and he felt compelled to pronounce the ban on the city council. So finally in 1562, after he continued preaching in spite of the prohibition he had received, one day (it was October 21) he was suddenly and forcibly conducted out of the city in the middle of the night.4 He then stayed for a while in Wesel, the city of his birth, until he also had to withdraw from this city in 1564 on account of his stern writings against the papists.
Now after he had lived for a brief period in Frankfurt, he became court preacher of the Count Palatine of Zweibrücken in Neuburg, then in 1569 professor of theology in Jena until 1573, when he was again dismissed from his position on account of his zeal against Crypto-Calvinism, but was soon thereafter chosen to be the Bishop of Samland. But this honor was also taken back away from him already in 1577 on account of a theological controversy with Wigand. After he had then withdrawn to Lübeck for a brief period, he followed a new call to be professor primarius in Helmstädt, where he then remained until his blessed end, which followed on September 25, 1588. In 1578 he had had the misfortune of falling into a cellar, as a result of which he had to limp until his death.
For those who are unfamiliar with the period in which Hehusius lived and with the intrigues of the enemies of the pure Word that were rampant within the Lutheran Church at that time, Heshusius may appear to be a quarrelsome man judging from what precedes. But anyone familiar only with Heshusius’ Little Prayer Book [Betbüchlein], for example, will soon note that, while this cherished man was engaged in a constant battle with men that was forced upon him, he was living in the peace of God and finding in God’s lap the rest that the hostile world was denying him.
1 The book was advertised in the October 15 issue thus: “The following little book has just been published: Who Has the Authority, Eligibility, and Right to Call Preachers? By Dr. Tilemann Heshusius. Printed unaltered according to the original edition of 1561. St. Louis, Mo. Publishing House of L. Volkening. 1862” (p. 32). The reprinted book was 40 octavo pages [Seiten] and cost 15 cents.
2 This promise was made in a footnote.
3 This accords with Leuckfeld’s biography (p. 4-5), but according to the Real-Encyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche (2nd ed.), Heshusius became superintendent of Goslar in 1553 and obtained his doctorate on May 5, 1555. A footnote at this point in the Der Lutheraner article says that around this time Heshusius married the daughter of the well-known zealous theologian Simon Musaeus, but he did not marry Barbara Musaeus until 1566 after he was widowed. His first wife was Anna Berthen, the daughter of the burgomaster of Wesel.
4 Leuckfeld says that the border warden (Marckmeister) and 30 to 40 armed citizens invaded Heshusius’ parsonage property, and they “occupied house, property, garden, and everything, so that no one could get out or in, while nearly 500 fully armed citizens had to be stationed at the door, since he [Heshusius] was then forcibly driven out of the city by them at three o’clock at night as far as the cloister [bis zur Cluß],* along with his very pregnant wife, whose developing child [Frucht] they also did not spare even in the womb” (p. 33). * Cluß appears to be a variant for Klause, which means cell, cloister, hermitage, or (narrow) mountain pass.