He became a pastor in 1524, when the city of Magdeburg asked him to introduce the Reformation to their citizens. Initially hesitant to take on such a high calling, he finally agreed…and remained in that position for over seventeen years, in spite of constant threats from the local Roman Catholic clerics and other frequent challenges.
Nikolaus Von Amsdorf is usually remembered as one of the two friends (the other being Philip Melanchthon) who drank beer with Martin Luther while “God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.” But there is much more to this man, his relationship to Luther, and his role in the Protestant Reformation.
Amsdorf was born at Torgau, Saxony, on 3 December 1483, into a noble family, and studied at Leipzig and Wittenberg, where he later became a teacher. One of Luther’s earliest and closest friends, he overcame his initial discomfort with Luther’s teachings by embarking on a careful study of works by Augustine of Hippo.
Together with Melanchton, he later accompanied Luther to the Leipzig Debate (1519) and the Diet of Worms (1521), and helped to lead the Reformation in Wittenberg while Luther was in hiding at the Castle of Wartburg. His training as nobleman and his service as courtier of Frederick the Wise had refined his natural leadership skills, which came particularly useful at this critical time. They also shaped some of his decisions. For example, in 1523, unlike Luther and Melanchthon, Amsdorf had no qualms in encouraging inferior magistrates to armed resistance against the emperor in defense of the gospel.
He became a pastor in 1524, when the city of Magdeburg asked him to introduce the Reformation to their citizens. Initially hesitant to take on such a high calling, he finally agreed – partially because he was having some disagreements with Frederick. He proved to be a capable pastor and remained in that position for over seventeen years, in spite of constant threats from the local Roman Catholic clerics and other frequent challenges. During this time, he also wrote several works in German—mostly pastoral. While he was not an original thinker, these writings were instrumental to the development of the Lutheran Reformation in Germany.
His ministry, together with the work of Caspar Cruciger and Georg Major as rectors of the school, brought and secured the Reformation in Magdeburg. He was also influential in assisting the Reformation of nearby towns, such as Goslar, Einbeck, and Hannover.
In 1542, he reluctantly accepted Elector John Frederick of Saxony’s appointment as bishop of Naumburg-Zeitz, a diocese on which the elector had forced the Reformation by military pressure. This four-year bishopric was one of the most challenging periods of his life, as he had to battle not only with the Roman Catholic clerics and nobles, but also with the political aides appointed by the elector and with some independent pastors.