On Free Will and The Law

(Vermigli’s Common Places, Vol. 2)

Translated and Edited by Joseph A. Tipton


Publication Date: July 15, 2021

About this book

Explore Vermigli’s Treatment of Free Will

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) was a forgotten giant of the Protestant Reformation. Born in Florence, Italy, and rising quickly to leadership within the Augustinian Order in Italy, Vermigli discovered the gospel of justification and embarked on a reforming career that would take him to Naples, Lucca, Zurich, Strasbourg, Oxford, and finally back to Strasbourg and Zurich again, as he worked shoulder-to-shoulder with other leading Protestant Reformers Heinrich Bullinger, Martin Bucer, and Thomas Cranmer. He left behind him voluminous biblical commentaries and treatises, and a band of faithful disciples who collected his writings into the massive theological compendium, the Loci Communes.

Appearing now in English for the first time since 1583, “On Free Will and the Law” represents Part II, Ch. 2 and 3 of the Loci Communes of Peter Martyr Vermigli. Presented here in a clear, readable, and learned translation, we first have Vermigli’s deft treatment of the thorny issue of free will. Demonstrating clearly his peerless erudition and subtle mind, Vermigli simultaneously upholds the the fallen will’s enslavement to sin and freedom to act. Likewise, Vermigli’s considerably more brief exposition of the catholic doctrine of the Law alongside his criticisms of Manichean and Pelagian errors is a helpful summary of Protestant teaching on this issue. With the Scriptures as his final authority, the Church Fathers as his guides, and philosophy as his handmaid, Vermigli produced Loci that withstand the rigors of time and remain a helpful guide to Protestants everywhere.

Paperback | 146 PAGES | 6×9 | PubliSHed July 15, 2021 | ISBN: 978-1949716061

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From the Book

“IT WILL now be worthwhile to discuss briefly the freedom of our will. For the moment we shall consider what degree of freedom has been left to us by the innate depravity resulting from original sin, especially since we are told to attribute completely to the grace of God whatever upright action we perform.

While the term free will does not occur in Scripture, the idea itself should not be considered fabricated or made up. The Greeks call it αὐτεξούσιον, which means in one’s own power or under one’s own control. Latin-speakers express the same idea when they say arbitrii libertas, that is, freedom of will. Free means that which does not follow the will of another, but its own, while will is thought to consist in our following, as we deem fit, the decisions we arrived at by reason. Accordingly, the will is free when it embraces, as it likes,1 those
decisions which are approved by the cognitive part of the mind. Thus, the nature of free will, while most evident in volition, has its roots in reason, and those who wish to use this faculty correctly must above all see to it that there occurs no error in their reasoning. Error usually occurs in two ways: We either fail to see what is just and unjust in the performance of our actions; or, if we see it, we err in our examination of the reasons that are brought forward for either side, for desire in us nearly always favors the weaker argument. This is why the stronger and better position is often dismissed and rejected. We see this sometimes happening in debates: Those who wish to defend the weaker side tend to adorn it with
every sort of rhetorical flourish and embellishment so that the audience will be attracted to the polish and allure and not weigh the strength and soundness of the reasoning.

Furthermore, one should recognize that deliberation does not address just any issue, but only those issues that are called performative (πρακτικαί), that is, actions to be performed by us. Not everything that we pursue or reject requires deliberation. Some
things are so clearly and undoubtedly good that it is enough for them to be proposed, for they are immediately either chosen or
rejected, such as happiness, unhappiness, life, death, and whatever else is in this class. Other things are less clear, or rather occupy
middle ground. It is about these that people tend to deliberate. Everybody admits without hesitation that God is to be worshiped. However, how he is to be worshiped and in what ceremonies is the
subject of the greatest controversy. Everybody knows that it is expedient for people to come together in cities and cultivate community with each other, but by what laws they are to be governed and what form of government they should use are questions that often give rise to deep uncertainty. It is in these and similar questions that free will applies.

Read a Portion of the book here


Volume Introduction, Joseph Tipton


Free Will


The States of the Will


Necessity and Coercion Distinguished


A Critique of Congruous and Condign Merit


The Case of Cornelius


Augustine’s Dynamic View of Grace & Its Bearing on the Cornelius Case


Chrysostom on the Case of Cornelius


Virtuous Deeds Outside of Christ Are Sins


The Value of Deeds Instrumental to Salvation


Characteristics of a Good Work


Concluding Remarks


The Freer Will of the Regenerate


Is the Inborn Propensity to Sin Sin?


Classes of Sin & What Constitutes Actual Sin


Implications of This Position


Freedom Of Will and God’s Foreknowledge

Third Chapter: On the Law

The Law Defined


The Manicheans’ Error


The Pelagians’ Error

Select Bibliography and Index

About the Author

Dr. Joseph A. Tipton (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) researches early modern literature, focusing primarily on the Reformers’ use of classical Greek and Latin literature to represent and advance their project of reform. Dr. Tipton has published on the German Neo-Latin poets Petrus, Lotichius, and Simon Stenius, and his current project is a translation of Samuel Rutherford’s Dictates on the Doctrine of Scripture. Dr. Tipton lives in Orlando, Florida, where he teaches Greek and Latin at The Geneva School.


“Legend has it that Peter Martyr Vermigli descended out of the Italian Alps as the ‘ready-made Reformer,’ and his Common Places certainly confirm both his reputation and why so many esteemed his work. His Common Places were posthumously extracted from his biblical commentaries, which means that they are insightfully exegetical and theological. Students of the Reformation would do well to pick up this book and see for themselves the deep currents that run through his work. Students of Scripture will also greatly profit from one who knows the Bible so well.”

– J.V. Fesko

Harriet Barbour Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson, Mississippi

“Peter Martyr Vermigli is undoubtedly one of the most significant Reformed theologians of the sixteenth century and his Common Places is the crown jewel of his collected works. The rendering of this work into contemporary English is a great service to the understanding of Reformation thought and will be enriching for scholars and pastors alike. Vermigli’s theological training and acumen are on full display here and the results are rightly esteemed as a masterwork of Reformed theology.”

– Jordan J. Ballor

The Acton Institute, Junius Institute, author of Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus

“Vermigli was one of the most important theologians of the sixteenth century. His Loci Communes is a collated summary of his theology and I am delighted to see this part of it made accessible in a new translation to an English speaking readership.”

– Robert Lethem

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Union School of Theology, UK


The Davenant Institute endeavors to restore wisdom for the contemporary church. We seek to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build friendships and facilitate collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness. Below are some of the works we’ve published towards that end.

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