The Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1561) arrived in Zurich in 1556 after long years of fleeing from the Roman inquisition, and taught there as professor of Old Testament studies. Moreover, he took part in the religious colloquy of Poissy as a church diplomat and wbecame an important collaborator of Heinrich Bullinger and Johannes Calvin. Michael Baumann examines the biography of Vermigli’s last years, his theology (trained in late medieval scholasticism, but reasoning biblically as a reformed theologian) and Vermigli’s impact on Zurich’s church history.*
Of the many reformers whose names are widely known and whose works are available in translation, Vermigli is not among them. And that, frankly, is tragic.
Vermigli’s amazing works, numbering more than 1oo volumes, have scarcely been rendered into English at all and books about his theology, in English, presently can be counted on one hand. This lack of attention to Vermigli is really rather shocking given his importance in the history of Reformed theology in particular and Christian theology in general.
Michael Baumann’s new work seeks to redress the dearth of knowledge about Vermigli for the German speaking public. The table of contents, which I reproduce below in its exacting thoroughness, shows the incredible work that Baumann has put into his extraordinary dissertation:
Baumann’s use of primary sources commences with the opening chapter and continues throughout the work. It is this inclusion of primary materials combined with Baumann’s expert analysis which makes this volume both critically important for research into Vermigli’s life and theology and a model for work in the field of historical theology.
In terms of contents, a careful reading (which is what this volume deserves rather than a rapid skimming) of this work reveals that Vermigli was, in many ways, ahead of his contemporaries in grasping the full implications of Reformed theology. Indeed, in Vermigli, we discover the manifold riches of a profoundly thought-through theological system which, in many ways, is more expressive than Calvin’s.
With that in mind, the present reviewer would assert that it is the third chapter of this volume which is the center of the work: the core without which the rest falls aside. Baumann’s amazing and cogent analysis of Vermigli includes important insights like this:
Mit einer ganzen Reihe von Autoritäten beschließt Martyr den Abschnitt, der einen ahnen lässt, wie heftig dieser Streit über die Prädestination geführt werden wird, wenn wir dessen Vorzeichen anhand dieses anderen Locus hier begegnet sind.203 Gott ist nicht die Ursache der Sünde, so die Schlussaussage des zweiten Locus zu diesem Thema im Samuelkommentar, doch nichts geschieht auf der Welt ohne Gottes Vorherbestimmung:
Dixi Deum proprie loquendo non esse causam peccati, nihilque fieri in mundo sive boni sive mali citra Dei providentiam. Quod si non assequutus sum scopum, dolet mihi. Si quis idoneis probationibus ostenderit hanc sententiam impiam, aut bonis moribus noxiam esse, paratus sum mutare. Verbosius autem haec dixi, quia res est magni momenti et saepe in sacris literis recurrit (S. 192).
Careful, insightful, exceptional analysis combined with a thorough grasp of the material are on display in Baumann’s work. Nothing more could be asked of him. And yet he provides much more.
In the fourth chapter Baumann guides readers through the fascinating forest of the reception of Vermigli’s work from the death of the great theologian to the present. The volume ends with a series of useful indices and bibliographic entries.
German speakers have been provided an important piece of the theological puzzle that is 16th century Reformed theology. The present volume in hand, students of that historical period are able to see that landscape more clearly and fully than ever before.