A Brief History of the Peter Martyr Society

As part of the Davenant Trust’s recent adoption of the Peter Martyr Society we have asked PMS President Torrance Kirby of McGill University to write a brief history of the society in general and of recent Peter Martyr scholarship. That history is below:

Students of the Reformation often assume that there is nothing left to discover. Since we know a great deal about Luther and Calvin and their supporting casts, it is thought there is no more sixteenth-century treasure to be found.

Fortunately, that is not true, not even with regard to Luther and Calvin. In recent years, scholars have discovered a hitherto untapped treasure of the Reformation—the Florentine reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562). It is not that scholars have suddenly discovered his existence; but rather, they have begun to appreciate his vital significance for understanding the Reformed branch of Protestantism.


Although not well known today, there is a growing recognition that Vermigli was one of the most important theologians to give shape to Reformed theology and, in some respects, he was arguably more influential even than Calvin. Indeed, one contemporary, Joseph Scaliger, wrote: “The most important theologians of our day are John Calvin and Peter Martyr.”

The Peter Martyr Library is the result of a long gestation, from the formation of the Editorial Board in 1976 to the first volume, published in 1994. In 1976 a conference entitled “The Cultural Impact of the Italian Reformers” was held at McGill University and The Presbyterian College, Montreal. It included the authors of monographs on Peter Martyr published in the twenty years since Joseph McLelland’s ground-breaking The Visible Words of God: the sacramental theology of Peter Martyr Vermigli (1956).

It was decided that in view of renewed interest in Vermigli that a series of English translations of his major works should be undertaken. An editorial committee was formed, with J.P. Donnelly, S.J. (Marquette) and J.C. McLelland (McGill) as general editors. Later Frank A. James was added as a third.

A search for a publisher proved difficult, owing to the cost of printing specialized historical works in small quantities. Eventually the project was accepted by Truman State University Press in its series Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies. This welcome move was sparked and supported by the series editor Robert Schnucker. Two series of translations of Vermigli’s writings were proposed, of ten volumes each. The first series is nearing completion with a two-volume edition of his Commentary on Genesis; difficulties in obtaining competent Latinists proved a major hurdle for the editors, and extended the time-frame especially for the later volumes. Nonetheless, these ten volumes of The Peter Martyr Library will provide a solid basis for research and writing based on texts now available in English. A second series has thus far proved impractical owing to the high cost of such specialized publications;however, other possibilities, e.g. digital forms, are being explored by the current series editors Torrance Kirby and Emidio Campi.

The Peter Martyr Society was formed as an outgrowth of the Editorial Committee with annual meetings held at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference. The Peter Martyr Society published an occasional Newsletter. It has been active in promoting Vermigli studies, especially at international conferences. The latter have become a major instrument for disseminating our research interests. Seminars were organized almost annually. An important new dimension was opened up with ties with the Institute for Reformation History at the University of Zurich, under the dynamic leadership of Emidio Campi. His graduate students have added a welcome group of authors and translators.

The current officers of the Peter Martyr Society are Torrance Kirby (McGill) as President and Gary Jenkins (Eastern, PA) as Secretary Treasurer.

The Peter Martyr Library

  1. Early Writings (1994), ed. Joseph C. McLelland
  2. A Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ (1995), ed. John Patrick Donnelly
  3. Sacred Prayers: Drawn from the Psalms of David (1996), ed. John Patrick Donnelly
  4. Philosophical Works: On the Relation of Philosophy to Theology (1996), ed. Joseph C. McLelland
  5. Life, Letters, and Sermons (1999), ed. John Patrick Donnelly
  6. The Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist, 1549 (2000), ed. Joseph C. McLelland
  7. Commentary on the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah (2002), ed. Daniel Shute
  8. Predestination and Justification: Two Theological Loci (2003), ed. Frank James
  9. Commentary on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (2006), ed. Emidio Campi and J.C. McLelland