Whenever You Write Something, Someone Won’t Like it

So, be like Jerome-

I am well aware that there will be many who, with their customary fondness for universal detraction (from which the only escape is by writing nothing at all), will drive their fangs into this volume. They will cavil at the dates, change the order, impugn the accuracy of events, winnow the syllables, and, as is very frequently the case, will impute the negligence of copyists to the authors. I should be within my right if I were to rebut them by saying that they need not read unless they choose.

A Letter of Oecolampadius

To Somius, of Ulm, 10 February, 1527.—

“Beloved brother, it gives us great joy here to learn what things Christ works by your means, and through the instrumentality of his word at Ulm. The remembrance of our old friendship makes such news peculiarly refreshing to me.

We pray that he who has begun this work will perfect it: for Satan will not cease from his arts until he is entirely put down by the coming of the Lord.… Who would not be terrified at the diabolical machinations which are resorted to? But we have learned that trials are good for us—that the thoughts of man are vain—and that ‘cursed is he who maketh flesh his arm.’

The cross must either be borne (resolutely), or quite thrown off. Nothing is more fatal to the church of God than lukewarm ministers. In the mean time we must help one another by our mutual prayers, comfort one another by friendly letters, and communicate what the Spirit imparts to us.…

Our enemies are too violent to allow us to hope for peace; but the goodness of God is too great to permit us to despond.”

A Christoscopic Reading of Scripture: Johannes Oecolampadius on Hebrews

978-3-525-55101-1V&R* continue to produce volumes of extreme interest:

The focus of this study is on Oecolampadius’s 1534 commentary on the biblical book of Hebrews, which derived from his theology lectures at the University of Basel in 1529-1530.  Jeff Fisher compares his exegesis with more than twenty-five of the most relevant interpreters from the early church to the Reformation. He shows that by recovering and adapting an Alexandrian interpretive notion of Christ as the goal of Scripture, Oecolampadius’s Christoscopic reading of Scripture served as an essential step in the shift toward Reformed interpretative approaches, such as that of John Calvin.

Oecolampadius is probably the most underrated and ignored Reformer who nonetheless deserves far more serious engagement.  I appreciate V&R sending a review copy.

The purpose of the volume, as stated by its author is as follows:

… this study identifies and articulates his impact as an influential and transitional figure in the area of biblical interpretation (p. 27).

To make his point, our author carefully describes O’s exegetical methodology.  So, for instance, he can write

In his comments on Hebrews 10, Oecolampadius explained: I understand [“the scroll of the book”] to be indiscriminately about Moses and all the prophets, as those who wrote about Christ. For every Scripture aims at Christ, as the unique pre-established goal (scopum). See, I ask, to whom did all the genealogies lead? To whom did so much of the ancient history look? Who did so many and various sacrifices prefigure? In whom also are all the promises fulfilled? Perhaps you will not doubt that everywhere it was written about Christ. The marginal note on this page reads, “The scope of Scripture is Christ. This is what I have labeled Oecolampadius’s Christoscopic approach to Scripture (p. 54).

And thus the title of the volume is explained.  Alongside the discussion of O’s method our author also invests time in describing O’s teaching duties and techniques.  Interestingly,

In the preface to the Hebrews commentary, the publisher described the general method of Oecolampadius’s lectures. Daily at the third hour in the afternoon, he explained in Latin that day’s passage from the particular “biblical” book he was discussing to the very crowded audience present. He then repeated the same in the common German speech, which he also used to summarize at the end of the lecture (p. 72).

The volume is thus a combination of biography and theological methodology.  Also included are a number of charts and tables which collect in a useful way the books Oecolampadius wrote and the lectures he presented as well as his interpretations of various Old Testament themes (with which the book of Hebrews is rife).  For instance:


Of greater interest still is the way in which Oecolampadius’ methods are compared to other great reformers like Zwingli and Pellikan and Calvin to name but a few.  But Fisher isn’t content with providing all of that- he also offers very copious footnotes (sometimes filling more of the page than the text itself) as well as a full and thorough bibliography.

As he wraps things up Fisher astutely observes

The contribution of Oecolampadius’s understanding of Christ as the goal of all Scripture is also evident in his insistence that there is much more continuity between the Old and New Testaments than his predecessors understood (p. 231).

Oecolampdius, in other words, is worthy of investigation and understanding because in some respects he was the most important interpreter of the Old Testament in the New among the great Reformers.

Will, then, this work be of interest to students of historical theology?  Without question.  Should students of the Reformation read it?  Without question.  Does it advance the field?  Without question it does.  And does it show Oecolampadius to be a man to be reckoned with?  Absolutely.

Potential readers will wish to see the table of contents, so here they are:



This is the finest volume on Oecolampdius since Staehlin’s.  And it will, I imagine, prove to be just as influential over time.

Wisdom From Oecolampadius: When Pastors Don’t Get Along

In November of 1529 Oecolampadius wrote the Clergy of Muhlhausen, who weren’t getting along-

“We exhort you, and in exhorting you exhort ourselves, to consider well in what a situation the Lord hath placed us; how many look up to us; how many eyes are upon us; what enemies we have; what numbers will reproach us even when we live ever so innocently; how tender the flock is which we are set to keep; and how many dangers on all sides surround us. It is not our own business which we have to conduct, but Christ’s. It is no common business, but such as is of the highest concernment; that which he himself undertook, as the most important.

Let us not underrate the service in which we are engaged. But we do even despise it, if we apply not to it with becoming gravity and purity. Not only do they corrupt the word of God, who intermix with it false doctrines, but they also who admit their own passions into their preaching; and, while they would draw odium upon their brethren, betray the envy which actuates their own minds.

What place can there be for contention where nothing but the glory of Christ is sought in our preaching? Is any man wise? let him first be ‘wise to himself.’ Has he any thing to propose for the profit of the church? let him propose it without prejudice to a brother, who also faithfully labours in the same vineyard: lest, while he unseasonably and improperly sets himself to root up tares, (which yet may not be tares,) he destroy the wheat—not another’s only but his own—or rather neither his nor another man’s, but Christ’s.…

If any thing of human infirmity therefore has crept in among us, we beseech you for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of the service in which we are engaged, and by all that we hold sacred and dear, let us forgive one another, after his example who has forgiven us ten thousand talents: let us hail one another, acknowledge one another, respect one another, as friends and fellow-labourers of Christ: and, if any thing occurs in our preaching which displeases any of us, do not let us presently contradict it before the people, but let us meet together, and examine the scriptures upon it, and consider the arguments on one side and on the other; and let him who is shewn from scripture to have been wrong yield to him who has convinced him, and return thanks for the light he has received.

Where there is a humble heart, a spirit remote from pride; and when a man seeks to consecrate all his attainments to the glory of Christ and not to his own, this will be easy. For the source of envy is pride, which fears lest it should not be sufficiently honoured. He who thinks humbly of himself and honourably of his neighbour will be thankful that Christ should be preached, by whomsoever or on whatsoever occasion it may be.”  —  Johannes Oecolampadius

The ‘Defense’ of Johannes Oecolampadius

‘Defense’ literature was exceedingly common in the early years of the Reformation, as the Reformers had to ‘defend’ their departure from the corrupt Church of Rome while maintaining their adherence to historic Christianity.  Indeed, most ‘Apologetic’ literature (which is what the term meant in the time) was a demonstration that the Reformers hadn’t departed at all from the truth, Rome had.

Johannes Oecolampadius’ contribution to the genre is an example of both the clarity of his thought and the ease with which he presents those thoughts.  you can download the entire book here (in PDF, in, of course, Latin).

For other of Oecolampadius’ works see the right nav panel under ‘Reformation Texts’.

The Reformer Oecolampadius

Karl Hammer’s excellent Der Reformator Oekolampad (1482-1531) is available in a back issue of Zwingliana which should be read today on this, the anniversary of Oecolampadius’ death. He begins-

Der 500. Geburtstag von Weinsbergs wohl größtem Sohn, Hans Husschin, ist Anlaß genug, darüber nachzudenken, was an Leben und Werk eines solchen Mannes auch für heute unaufgebbar oder doch wenigstens vorbildlich erscheint. Anhand von ausgewählten Stationen dieses Lebens ist jeweils die Frage zu stellen: Welche reformatorischen Keime,Stufen oder Vorstufen, Visionen einer künftigen Kirche enthüllen sich beim näheren Hinsehen? Was ließ Oekolampad schließlich zu einem Reformator werden, den der seinerzeit bedeutende Basler Kirchenhistoriker Karl Rudolf Hagenbach 1845 gern als vierten Hauptreformator neben Luther, Zwingli und Calvin gestellt wissen wollte? Leider ist dieses Ziel nicht einmal von Hagenbachs drittem Nachfolger auf dem Basler Lehrstuhl für Kirchengeschichte, Ernst Staehelin (1889-1980), erreicht worden, dessen halbes Lebenswerk um die Gestalt des Basler Reformators kreiste und dessen Werke bis heute die ausgiebigste Beschäftigung mit Oekolampad darstellen.

There, to this very day, is no full length biography of this extremely important Reformer. There should be.

Johannes Oecolampadius… He’s Worth Talking About

Who, as previously mentioned, died 24 November, 1531… just over a month after Zwingli was slaughtered by the Papist forces at Kappel-am-Albis.

Oecolampadius' statue in Basel (my photo)

Oecolampadius’ statue in Basel (my photo)

At the very time that these flourishing churches were falling to the ground, the Reform witnessed the extinction of its brightest lights. A. blow from a stone had slain the energetic Zwingli on the field of battle, and the rebound reached the pacific Œcolampadius at Basle, in the midst of a life that was wholly evangelical.

The death of his friend, the severe judgments with which they pursued his memory, the terror that had suddenly taken the place of the hopes he had entertained of the future— all these sorrows rent the heart of Œcolampadius, and soon his head and his life inclined sadly to the tomb. “Alas!” cried he, “that Zwingli, whom I have so long regarded as my right arm, has fallen under the blows of cruel enemies!”

oecolampadius2He recovered, however, sufficient energy to defend the memory of his brother. “It was not,” said he, “on the heads of the most guilty that the wrath of Pilate and the tower of Siloam fell. The judgment began in the house of God; our presumption has been punished; let our trust be placed now on the Lord alone, and this will be an inestimable gain.” Œcolampadius declined the call of Zurich to take the place of Zwingli. “My post is here,” said he, as he looked upon Basle.

He was not destined to hold it long. Illness fell upon him in addition to so many afflictions; the plague was in the city, a violent inflammation attacked him, and erelong a tranquil scene succeeded the tumult of Cappel. A peaceful death calmed the agitated hearts of the faithful, and replaced by sweet and heavenly emotions the terror and distress with which a horrible disaster had filled them.

Johannes OecolampadiusOn hearing of the danger of Œcolampadius, all the city was plunged into mourning; a crowd of men of every age and of every rank rushed to his house. “Rejoice,” said the reformer with a meek look, “I am going to a place of everlasting joy.” He then commemorated the death of our Lord, with his wife, his relations, and domestics, who shed floods of tears. “This supper,” said the dying man, “is a sign of my real faith in Jesus Christ my Redeemer.”

On the morrow he sent for his colleagues: “My brethren,” said he, “the Lord is there; he calls me away. Oh! my brethren, what a black cloud is appearing on the horizon—what a tempest is approaching! Be steadfast: the Lord will preserve his own.” He then held out his hand, and all these faithful ministers clasped it with veneration.

On the 23d November, he called his children around him, the eldest of whom was barely three years old. “Eusebius, Irene, Alethea, said he to them, as he took their little hands, “love God who is your Father.” Their mother having promised for them, the children retired with the blessing of the dying servant of the Lord. The night that followed this scene was his last. All the pastors were around his bed: “What is the news?” asked Œcolampadius of a friend who came in. “Nothing” was the reply. “Well,” said the faithful disciple of Jesus, “I will tell you something new.” His friends awaited in astonishment. “In a short time I shall be with the Lord Jesus.” One of his friends now asking him if he was incommoded by the light, he replied, putting his hand on his heart: “There is light enough here.”

oecoThe day began to break; he repeated in a feeble voice the 51st Psalm: Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to thy loving kindness. Then remaining silent, as if he wished to recover strength, he said, “Lord Jesus, help me!” The ten pastors fell on their knees around his bed with uplifted hands; at this moment the sun rose, and darted his earliest rays on a scene of sorrow so great and so afflicting with which the Church of God was again stricken.

The death of this servant of the Lord was like his life, full of light and peace. Œcolampadius was in an especial degree the Christian spiritualist and biblical divine. The importance he attached to the study of the books of the Old Testament imprinted one of its most essential characters on the reformed theology. Considered as a man of action, his moderation and meekness placed him in the second rank.

Had he been able to exert more of this peaceful spirit over Zwingli, great misfortunes might perhaps have been avoided. But like all men of meek disposition, his peaceful character yielded too much to the energetic will of the minister of Zurich; and he thus renounced, in part at least, the legitimate influence that he might have exercised over the Reformer of Switzerland and of the Church.1

1D’Aubigné, J. H. M. (1862). History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, (Vol. 4, pp. 396–397).

The Death-iversary of Johannes Oecolampadius

Our friends in Saxony write

oecolampadiusJohannes Husschin, or Huszgen, called Oekolampad, was born in 1482, to a wealthy bourgeois family in Weinsberg, Swabia. He studied law in Bologna and then theology in Heidelberg. In 1510 he was ordained as a priest and became a preacher in his home-town. As such, he was able to take holidays during which he perfected his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. He met Erasmus and collaborated with him on the publication of the New Testament in Greek. Influenced by Humanists, he Hellenized his name and transposed it into Okolampadius (light of the house).

In 1518 he was appointed preacher at Augsburg cathedral. He was involved in arguments over Luther’s writings. In favour of Reform ideas, he did not wish to secede from the Church and entered a convent near Augsburg in 1520. He could not stay there because he supported Luther, and left the convent in 1522.

When he arrived in Basel, Oekolampad was very involved in the Reform Movement. In 1529 he officially introduced the Protestant Reformation in Basel. Along with Martin Bucer, Oekolampad helped spread Reformation in Southern Germany, particularly in Ulm.

In 1531 Oekolampad, aged 49, died in Basel two months after Zwingli.

After Zwingli, he was the greatest of the Swiss Reformers (followed by Bullinger).