Sebastian Schmidt (1617–96) was the foremost Hebrew scholar and exegete of the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy. He was a product of and testament to the excellence of classical Lutheran education. Born outside Strassburg on Epiphany, Schmidt had common origins. His father was a wheelwright and his mother died when he was only five. His pastor became his mentor and started teaching him Latin.
Later, and at the encouragement of his professors, Schmidt devoted himself to the study of eastern languages and went to Basel to study under the great Reformed scholar of Hebrew, Johann Buxtorf the Younger (1599–1664). His friends would come to call this his “Reformed Exile.” After serving various calls, he became a theology professor at the University of Strassburg where he remained his whole life, although he received many calls to prestigious appointments throughout his life.
Schmidt produced voluminous commentaries on both the New Testament and the Old Testament. His works show a fondness for Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, and Johann Gerhard.
The crown of Schmidt’s efforts in exegesis, and his life’s work, was his complete translation of the Bible into Latin (Biblia Sacra sive Testamentum Vetus et Novum. Strassburg: Spoor, 1696). Though other Lutherans had corrected the Latin Vulgate or translated parts of Scripture, Schmidt was the only Lutheran to attempt a wholly new and complete Latin translation of the Bible. It took him forty years to finish this translation (and he only just completed it before his death.) His aim was to be as clear, faithful, and literal as possible to the divinely inspired text. The use of Schmidt’s Latin Bible should be encouraged among our Lutheran classical schools because it is the Lutheran Latin Bible translation. Because it is so literal, many throughout the years have recommended it as a sort of interlinear with the Greek and Hebrew texts.
Whereas Luther did the principal work of producing a German Bible for the people, Schmidt produced a Latin Bible for students. In this way Schmidt himself stands as a sort of final flourish to the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy and the golden age of classical Lutheran education.
This selection from Schmidt’s commentary on Ecclesiastes shows his lifelong concern to educate students not just in knowledge, but for piety. After analyzing the Hebrew text, Schmidt lists a series of loci communes or teaching commonplaces and applications of Scripture. Below are a few from Ecclesiastes 12.
Eccles. 12:1: “(Yet) above all, remember your Creator in the days of your youth, when the evil days have not yet come, and the years of which you will say: ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”
Commonplace I: Everyone should always be mindful of God, his Creator, even in his youth, to fear Him piously and worship Him in holiness. Therefore, youth must be educated in the fear of the Lord from tender childhood. In this verse our wise Preacher commands the fear and worship of God to youth when he says: “Yet above all remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” After all, how will the youth flourish unless from an early age they are brought up in the fear of the Lord and accustomed to the true worship of Him, especially since “the heart of man is only evil from his childhood” (Gen. 6 [Gen. 8:21])?
Commonplace II: Delayed piety in old age arises more from life’s dreariness than from a sincere heart. Therefore it should not be put off until old age but earnestly pursued in the days of one’s youth. It has become a proverb known even to common Christians which says: Paenitentia sera raro est vera (“Late repentance is rarely true”). What is later than that which is put off all the way to old age? Therefore our wise Preacher wants us to pursue piety towards our Creator before old age comes when he says in this verse: “Yet above all, remember your Creator in the days of your youth, when the evil days have not yet come, and the years of which you will say: ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”
From Eccles. 12:8 [“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all things are vanity.”]
Commonplace I: Nothing shows the vanity of all things in this world more (and especially the vanity of man), than death and the diligent consideration of it. Certainly the Preacher has wisely considered the death of man in the verses leading up to this chapter and portrayed them elegantly. What then does he confirm and conclude in the end? Nothing else but the enormous vanity of all things, especially man himself, as he exclaims and says: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all things are vanity.”
From Eccles. 12:14 [“For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”]
Commonplace I: There is a judgment of God that is common to all people, yes to all rational creatures, both angels and men, even if the patience of God has delayed that day for a long time now. Our wise Preacher solemnly affirms this here and inculcates it with an earnest affirmation when he says: “For God will bring every work to judgment.” Thus he also earlier admonished the youth about this same judgment in 11:9: “Rejoice young man in your youth and let your heart do you good in the days of your youth…But know that God is going to bring you to judgment for all these things.” Therefore, O man, even in youth and when you are happy, be mindful of this judgment.