Philosophical Works: On the Relation of Philosophy to Theology

Peter Martyr Vermigli Library Vol. 4

By Peter Martyr Vermigli, Translated and Edited by Joseph C McClelland


Publication Date: April 11, 2018

About this book

What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Throughout the history of Christianity, the relationship of philosophy and theology has been fraught with conflict and tension, but it is a conflict that no faithful Christian can ignore. At every period of church history, leading scholars and teachers of Scripture have also sought to compare and reconcile the Word of God with what can be learned from the study of nature and human reason. The Protestant Reformation was no exception, and this dual pursuit of philosophy and theology was particularly exemplified by the great Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli. A leading representative both of Renaissance humanism, with its return to the classical sources, and of an emergent Protestant scholasticism, with its careful use of philosophical tools to clarify Christian doctrine and ethics, Vermigli constantly attended to the relationship of philosophy and theology throughout his teaching and writing.

This volume brings together, in a carefully-edited modern translation, extensive excerpts from Vermigli’s biblical commentaries that illustrate his use of philosophical tools and his tackling of philosophical problems in the biblical text. These include classic problems such as the relation of soul and body, the role of divine providence, and the nature of our knowledge of God, as well as more particular questions, such as the nature and meaning of dreams. Together, these selections illustrate that our modern dichotomy between biblical and philosophical studies was thoroughly unknown to the Protestant Reformers, and offer a window into the thought of one of the leading intellects of the sixteenth century.

Paperback | 396 PAGES | 6×9 | PubliSHed April 11, 2018 | ISBN: 978-0999552766

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From the Book

All our knowledge is either revealed or acquired. In the first case it is Theology, in the other Philosophy. The word philosophia is a compound. Some say that wisdom [sofiva] is the knowledge of everything that exists. But since wisdom consists only of certain and firm knowledge, it can by no means include everything, for particulars are unknown—accidents and contingencies cannot be known on account of their impermanence. Others hold that philosophy is the knowledge of things both divine and human. But we find great variety among the divine and the human: celestial bodies, constellations, elements, minerals, plants, and animals. They ascribe heaven to God because it is eternal, saying that lesser things are unsuitable for human beings, since they are corruptible. But where will they place mathematics?3 So it seems that philosophy should be defined as a capacity given by God to human minds, developed through effort and exercise, by which all existing things are perceived as surely and logically as possible, to enable us to attain happiness [felicitas].

All the kinds of causes are there: the form, that is a capacity; the matter in which it resides, that is the human mind and reason; whatever it apprehends as objects, namely all that exists that is knowable not simply and absolutely but as certainly as possible; agency is also involved there, since God is clearly the author. He endowed our minds with light, and planted the seeds from which the principles of all knowledge arose. That is why Cicero said in book 1 of the Tusculan Disputations that “philosophy is the gift and invention of the gods.” This is also conceded by Lucretius, even though he was an Epicurean. Since assured knowledge of all things is more desired than expected, and more easily loved than possessed, and since the more we reach toward it the more we are inflamed with it, for this reason it is called “desire of wisdom,” philosophia. The author of this term was Pythagoras, who had come to Phlius and conversed with its tyrant Leo. Marveling at Pythagoras’s genius and eloquence, Leo asked which art or science he professed. Pythagoras would not say that he was “wise,” but that he was “devoted to wisdom,” that is, a “philosopher.”

Read a Portion of the book here



Abbreviations Used in this Volume


General Editors Preface


Translator’s Introduction


Part One: Reason and Revelation


Part Two: Body and Soul


Part Three: Our Knowledge of God


Part Four: Providence, Miracles, and Responsibility


Part Five: Free Will and Predestination

About the Translations


Scripture References



About the Authors

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) was born in Florence and educated in Padua before rising through the ranks of the Augustinian order in Italy. A secret convert to Protestantism in the 1530s, he eventually fled north to Germany in 1542, before holding a series of influential posts at Strasburg, Oxford, and Zurich. He ranks alongside John Calvin and Henrich Bullinger as among the chief architects of the Reformed Protestant tradition.

Joseph C. McClelland (1925-2016) received his Ph.D. in historical theology from New College, Edinburgh, in 1953 for a dissertation on Peter Martyr’s sacramental doctrine. He was Robert Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion and Christian Ethics at the Presbyterian College, Montreal, from 1957 to 1964, McConnell Professor of Philosophy of Religion at McGill University from 1964 to 1993,and dean of the faculty of religious studies at McGill from 1975 to 1985. He served as president of the Canadian Theological Society
(1968-69) and editor of Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses (1973-77). He then served as emeritus professor of McGill University and The Presbyterian College.

A symposium at his retirement has been published as The Three Loves: Philosophy, Theology and World Religions, edited by Robert C. Culley and William Klempa. His books and articles on philosophical and historical theology include God the Anonymous: A Study in Alexandrian Philosophical Theology (1976) and Prometheus Rebound: The Irony of Atheism (1988). His works on Vermigli include The Visible Words of God (1957), Peter Martyr Vermigli and the Italian Reform (editor, 1980), Life, Early Letters and Eucharistic Writings of Peter Martyr (with G. Duffield, 1989), and Early Writings (vol. 1 of the Peter Martyr Library, 1994). He served as consulting editor of The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation Thought and as a general editor of the Peter Martyr Library series.


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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