The German Protestant minister, Johann Agricola's [Johannes Eisleben] family name was Schnitter (originally Schneider). His father was employed as a tailor. At an early age he was sent to school at Brunswick. In 1515 he came to Wittenberg and was received by Martin Luther, who became interested in the talented young man. He spent several years in Wittenberg and was admitted into the household of Martin Luther, who also secured for him a teaching position at the university. He instructed a class in religion, for which purpose he prepared a catechism. In 1519 he accompanied Martin Luther to the disputation with Dr. Eck at Leipzig, and it is claimed that Agricola was appointed to record the proceedings at this meeting. The same year he and Melanchthon received the degree of baccalaureus Bibliae at the University of Wittenberg. He was married in 1520 at Wittenberg. Martin Luther, Melanchthon and other reformers were present at the wedding.
After ten years of service in Wittenberg, he was, through Martin Luther’s influence, in 1525, given the position of rector of the school in Eisleben, an institution lately established by Count Albrecht of Mecklenburg. In connection with this position he should also serve as preacher and pastor of the church of St. Nicholas in Eisleben, and here he gathered a faithful congregation. He was, however, not content with his position at the school, and in 1526 he applied for a professorship at the university. But Melanchthon was chosen in preference to Agricola. Agricola was deeply offended. He was not only disposed to be irritable and vain, but overestimated his own importance.
His activity and behavior in later years was not altogether praiseworthy. It soon became apparent that he nourished a grudge against Melanchthon. The fact of the matter was, that Melanchthon and Martin Luther had for some time observed with anxiety that as the Reformation progressed, many became followers for the simple reason that they wished to join the popular movement, and not out of personal conviction from the Word of God. Indeed, many preachers proclaimed salvation through faith alone, but this was often received as a mere external adherence to Reformation ideas, without particularly affecting the life of the people. Melanchthon, accordingly, issued a circular letter wherein he admonished the Lutheran preachers not only to preach on faith, but also to encourage people to the confession of sin, repentance, and conversion, and to dwell upon the commandments of the Law. The same thoughts were repeated in his articles of visitation in Saxony. Agricola criticized these very severely, and, at the same time, directed a violent accusation against Melanchthon personally, charging him with abandoning the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and that Melanchthon was influenced again by the doctrine of the “work-righteousness” of Catholicism. Martin Luther sought to put an end to this controversy and at the meeting in Torgau silenced Agricola. There is very little information in regard to Agricola’s activity during the next few years, except that he fell out with Duke Albrecht and was dismissed by him July 27, 1536. Even the same day Agricola went to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther, thinking that he had bettered his ways, received him and his family into his household, and called him into consultation on the Smalcald Articles. More over, the elector promised him an annual allowance for delivering certain lectures at the university.
But in 1537 Agricola appeared in public with his perverted doctrine on the Law and thereby began the Antinomian controversy. Martin Luther conducted five disputations with him, 1537-38, and forced him to retract his false teachings, and Martin Luther was authorized to draw up the statement of retraction for Agricola to sign. While this was going on he learned that Martin Luther had censured him in a private letter to a friend, and in 1540 Agricola sent a complaint against Martin Luther to the elector. The proceedings took a sad turn for Agricola, who was arrested and set free only upon the promise that he would not leave Wittenberg until the case had been tried and settled. Despite his promise he slipped away and came to Berlin. The elector Joachim II became his protector, appointed Agricola court preacher, and later superintendent.
From that time on Agricola opposed Martin Luther and the other reformers, and later became the leader in the preparation and carrying out of the Augsburg Interim, which was chiefly a compromise between Catholicism and the Reformation and a denial of the fundamental principles of the Reformation. For this Agricola of course incurred the displeasure of the reformers.
Some old sources metion Johann Agricola as the hymn-writer of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, used by J.S. Bach in Cantatas BWV 177 (all 5 mvts.) and BWV 185 (Mvt. 5).
In a German hymnal printed in 1952 that contains 236 names of the poets and melody composers of c. 500 chorales, Johann Agricola is listed as responsible for the text only of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ. This is given with a question mark. A more recent hymnal omits this reference entirely and explains that the origin of the text is unknown and the melody was first contained in the Enchyridion geistlicher gesenge vnd psalmen fur die leyen Wittenberg, 1526. Nothing is known about the composer.
The MGG1 lists all the known composers of chorale melodies (for example, Philipp Nicolai, about whom there is now great doubt that he was the true originator of the melodies for Wachet auf and Wie schön leuchtet), but Johann Agricola nor any of his aliases are listed even in a complete text search of this extensive music dictionary.