Reformer Roundup (Zwingli, Melanchthon, Vermigli): #Refo500atDET

I’m sad to say, gentle readers, that your intrepid theological bloggers here at DET found themselves unable to give adequate attention to all the major figures from the Reformation. But then again, savvy readers that you are, you probably aren’t surprised. But there are a number of folks that I want to include even if I lack the necessary resources to give them their own posts.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)
By ChrisO~enwiki at English Wikipedia (Own work; CC-BY-SA-3.0),
via Wikimedia Commons

Zwingli, much more than Calvin, is the father of Reformed theology. He developed a reputation while a priest as a public intellectual and fierce Swiss patriot due to his opposition to the mercenary (literally) economy that pumped cash into the country but ultimately – in Zwingli’s view – corrupted Switzerland’s young men and spent them needlessly in foreign wars. His tenure as a priest in Einsiedeln (1516–19) brought him into proximity with the pilgrim economy of that time thanks to the town’s revered stature of Mary, which was a regional religious tourism draw. Zwingli would later boast that he rejected indulgences even earlier than did Luther. He opposed a famous indulgence preacher in 1519 and had a very different experience than did Luther. Zwingli’s bishop backed him and sent the salesman away! It likely helped that Zwingli was well connected: he was appointed as a papal chaplain in 1518, and drew on multiple papal pensions that supported his scholarly interests. When Zwingli moved to Zürich in 1519 and then fell ill from the plague, the papal legate sent his personal physician to treat him! Zwingli recovered.

Speaking of Zwingli’s scholarly interests, they were decidedly humanist in character. His uncle was a humanist. And while Zwingli studied primarily at Swiss universities (Berne and Basel), he spent two years studying at the University of Vienna – a humanist hotbed. He took his MA in 1506 and never took a theological mastership (as Luther had).

Back in Zürich, Zwingli led what would be the gold-standard for urban reformations. It unfolded over the course of years and progressed primarily through feats of public disputation. Zwingli died early in the second Kappel war in October of 1531. He was succeeded by Heinrich Bullinger, who I should probably have added to this post in his own right. Bullinger was Calvin’s elder contemporary and partner in the Zürich consensus, which established a shared statement on sacramental theology between Geneva and Zürich. Zwingli’s theological orientation found a faithful disciple in Bullinger, whose published sermons (his Decades) circulated widely even in England. Zwingli’s influence, thus mediated through Bullinger, would decisively shape English – and, consequently, American – Presbyterianism. It wasn’t until a 20th century revival of interest in Calvin that the Zwingli-Bullinger lineage passed from ascendency.

Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560)

Like Zwingli, Melanchthon had a humanist uncle. However, Melanchthon’s humanist uncle was Johann Reuchlin who – as far as I’m concerned – ties with Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples for second place in the ranking of humanists (behind Erasmus, the undisputed “prince of the humanists”). Melanchthon distinguished himself as a Greek scholar and qualified for his MA at the age of 15, but then had to go study for 4 more years before they would give it to him because he was so young. It was a major coup when Luther managed to convince him to come and be a professor at the upstart University of Wittenberg, where he first taught New Testament before being awarded a theology degree and transferred to that department. Publishing his Loci Communes (1521) certainly helped with that. Melanchthon’s achievement was twofold: he (1) provided something like a reformational systematic theology, and (2) thereby helped Luther see how far they had come.

Melanchthon married the daughter of the mayor of Wittenberg, authored the Augsburg Confession, became the (rather disputed) leader of Lutheranism after Luther died, and died in a rather commonplace way: he got a cold, the fever progressed, etc.

Calvin and Melanchthon were personally acquainted and maintained a correspondence throughout their lives. It was Melanchthon who bestowed the sobriquet of “the theologian” on Calvin, and Calvin described Melanchthon in his Romans commentary as possessing “singular learning and industry.” Their relationship was strained in its later years due to the demands of mounting argument over sacramental theology between the Swiss (the nascent Reformed) and German (Lutheran) traditions.

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562)

Well, we’ve had a Swiss and a German, why not an Italian? Vermigli was a priest and monk, and even became an abbot responsible for overseeing multiple monasteries and convents. Furthermore, he was a fully trained Thomist, which means he was also an expert in both Augustine and Aristotle. He studied at the University if Padua and probably received his theological mastership around 1525. Vermigli eventually got involved with a group of reform-minded and generally humanist folks in Italy known as the spirituali (there as a similar group in France that Willem Farel was a member of and Calvin was later associated with).

Vermigli held a significant post in the Republic of Lucca (one of those independent states on the Italian peninsula that lasted until Napoleon) and very carefully put a reforming program into place. Lucca developed a reputation as a haven for those interested in reforming the church, but it also wasn’t long until it developed a reputation for aiding and abetting Protestants. Vermigli may well have managed his balancing act, but some of his students were less careful and drew unwanted attention. So Vermigli got out of dodge in 1542. He went first to Zürich to make his defection official, and then Bucer snatched him up to teach Old Testament at the Strassbourg academy. That lasted until Thomas Cranmer head-hunted him to sit in the Regius chair of divinity at Oxford. That lasted until Bloody Mary Tudor ascended the throne in 1553. Interesting enough, Vermigli was friends with Reginald Pole when they were both in Padua. Pole was English and returned, first as papal legate and then as archbishop of Canterbury, to serve Queen Mary and bring England back to the Roman fold. It worked, for a bit. Anyway, Vermigli managed to get out of England. He first resumed his old post in Strassburg before making the move to Zürich.

Vermigli’s greatest contribution was in sacramental theology. He put his thorough scholastic theological training to good use in sorting out the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Calvin and Vermigli corresponded, and Calvin held him in high regard on this subject. Because of his ability to articulate reformational Eucharistic theology in deep conversation with Thomism, and even Aristotelianism, Vermigli exerted a great deal of influence on the Eucharistic theology and liturgy of the Anglican church. In this regard, it certainly helped that he lived there during such a seminal moment.


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