Reformation City Leipzig
Leipzig is the largest city in the Free State of Saxony and has played a pivotal historical and cultural role in this region of central Germany.
The city advanced grew into an important trade centre for Europe as early as the Middle Ages. As one of the world’s oldest trade fair cities, Leipzig turned into a hub for the international fur trade and for printing and sales of books. It is also home to one of the oldest universities. Leipzig is famous for its musical tradition, as epitomised by Johann Sebastian Bach’s work as the canton of the city’s Church of St Thomas. The St Thomas Choir is not only one of the oldest but also one of the most famous in Europe. As Leipzig played a key role during the period of political change that led to the unification of the German Democratic Republic with the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, the St Nicholas Church that hosted the prayers for peace became a symbolic venue.
The city made its first mark in the history of the Reformation with the Leipzig Debate in 1519. This debate agreed between theologian Johannes Eck from Ingolstadt (1486-1543) and Wittenberg collocutors Andreas Karlstadt (1486-1541) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) was intended to foster the public discussion of contentious issues towards achieving an understanding of divine grace in relation to human freedom and of the authority of writings and tradition, the Pope and the Council. It lasted three weeks and drew a great deal of public attention. The venue was the Castle of Pleissenburg owned by the full-bearded Duke of George. Philipp Melanchthon and other professors from Wittenberg arrived in the company of a large number of students, who took fun in provoking Eck. An audience of several hundred attended each day to witness the series of blows exchanged between Eck and Karlstadt followed by Luther.
The topics that drew the most attention and publicity were those debated between Luther and Eck, including Luther questioning the Papacy as the head of the Church and the infallibility of Church rule. In contrast, Eck drew similarities between Luther and Jan Hus, who was executed as a heretic in Constance in 1415, and thus did much to turn proceedings against Luther and condemn him as a heretic, too.
Duke George initially seemed open-minded towards the idea of church reform, and it was through his mediation that the debate took place in Leipzig. However, he subsequently opposed the Reformation movement with all his might. In 1525, he took part in the bloody suppression of the peasants’ uprising in Frankenhausen. He pursued a decidedly anti-Reformation course throughout his territory within the Catholic imperial estates’ League of Dessau.
However, his younger brother Henry the Pious, who succeeded him after his death in 1539, considered it his highest priority to instigate the Reformation emanating from Wittenberg in Albertine Saxony. And so this part of Saxony also adopted the Reformation – 20 years after the Leipzig Debate. The move was celebrated in Leipzig at Pentecost 1539, with Ernestine Prince Regnant John Frederick and a series of professors from Wittenberg travelling there to attend the event. Luther himself gave a sermon in the Church of St Thomas. This date more or less marked the beginning of the Lutheran Regional Church. At the same time, Caspar Borner was elected Rector of Leipzig University, which was transformed into a flagship Protestant university during the years that followed.
The city of Leipzig has organised an extensive programme of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It is also hosting the 26th General Assembly of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) the same year.