Nicholas Von Amsdorf

1483-1565. German Reformer. Born at Torgau near Leipzig, he began his education at Leipzig (1500), then was one of the first students at Wittenberg (1502). There he came under the influence of Luther and became his close friend and ardent defender. Lecturer in theology, philosophy, and canon at Wittenberg from 1508 and professor from 1511, he accompanied Luther to the Disputation at Leipzig in 1519 and to Worms in 1521. He was ordained in 1524 and became pastor and superintendent at Magdeburg, where he introduced the Reformation along the lines established under Luther in Wittenberg. He helped to reform Goslar (1531) and Einbeck (1534). In 1539 he disagreed with Luther's advice on the bigamous marriage of Philip Landgrave of Hesse. He attended the Regensburg Conference in 1541 and allegedly was partly responsible for its failure, his position being described as “fearless as it was narrow.” John Frederick I, elector of Saxony, over the objections of the chapter but with the support of Luther, placed Amsdorf in the position of Lutheran bishop in Naumberg-Zeitz in 1542. After the Protestant defeat at Muhlberg in 1547, Amsdorf went to Magdeburg where he was a counselor to the dukes of Eisenbach.

Much of Amsdorf's life was spent in acrimonious theological disputation. Among others, he wrote against Melanchthon, Bucer, Melchior Hoffman, George Major, the Zwinglians, and anyone he considered outside the pale of pure Lutheran doctrine. This was apparently part of his motivation for founding Jena University, the calling of Matthias Flacius* to teach and assist him there, and the issuance of the Jena edition of Luther's works. He was sure the Wittenberg edition was full of error. During the Synergist controversy (see Synergism) his contentiousness carried him to the extreme of arguing that good works were not only useless but harmful. This was criticized in the Formula of Concord.* Many of the letters and works of Amsdorf survive. When Flacius and his followers were forced out of Jena, Amsdorf was allowed to stay due to his advanced age and former association with Luther.

Biography by E.J. Meier in M. Meurer, Das Leben der Altväter der lutherischen Kirche, III (1863); Amsdorf's Ausgewahlte Schriften (ed. O. Lerche, 1938); studies of Amsdorf by O.H. Nebe (1935), H. Stille (1937), and P. Brunner (1961).