Chris Castaldo chronicles the remarkable life and work of the extraordinary forgotten Reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli.
We tend to operate with an implicit Darwinian cynicism when it comes to the history of ideas—if someone or something has been consigned to the dustbin of history, there’s probably, we suspect, a good reason for it. At the very least, we figure, theology seems to be doing just fine without the contributions of this neglected genius, so he can’t be all that important.
There are of course any number of holes in this train of reasoning, which probably become obvious enough simply by making these implicit musings explicit. But let’s focus on the last one. Is it really the case that our theology today is “doing just fine”?
What sort of person enrolls in a class in Reformation studies? It is a seemingly easy audience to profile. For those few programs which offer such a course, we expect it would be required for any student pursuing a degree in Christian history or theology; for young Reformed individuals who desire a deeper understanding of their tradition but whose career aspirations lie elsewhere, it might be a suitable elective. In short, it is a comfortably esoteric subject with few adepts, and so it has been for centuries. So why are more students suddenly enrolling in these courses?
As Protestants this year remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, they will understandably focus on the legacy of Martin Luther and other big-name Reformers. However, it is to be hoped that this anniversary will also help rekindle interest in figures that were, at the time, hardly less significant to the formulation of Protestant doctrine and the establishment of reformed churches and liturgies. Chief among such figures is surely Peter Martyr Vermigli, the Florentine Reformer whose pilgrim life saw him teaching and building networks of disciples in Italy, Strasbourg, England, and Zurich, and who through his copious writings shaped Reformed churches throughout Europe. During the 16th century, his writings were esteemed as highly as Calvin’s in many regions, and particularly on the topics of Christology and the Eucharist. On the latter subject, Calvin himself declared that “the whole [doctrine of the Eucharist] was crowned by Peter Martyr, who left nothing more to be done.”
However, despite a vigorous revival of scholarly interest in Vermigli since the 1970s, he remains unknown and unappreciated by most theologians today. Here, as so often, the culprit is the lack of a readily accessible magnum opus in modern English that can serve as a touchstone and reference work for students of Reformation theology. Vermigli never wrote a systematic summary like Calvin’s Institutes, but his students compiled one from his writings, published in 1576 as the Loci Communes and translated into English in 1583 as the Common Places. Sadly, this English translation has never been updated since and has not even been reprinted since the 1600s, so that it is largely inaccessible today.
But not, we hope, for much longer. Read more…
You can read a brief history of the Peter Martyr Society here.
Last week, after several months of discussions between the officers of each organization, the Peter Martyr Society presented a formal request to be adopted by the Davenant Trust, placing its current assets under the administration of Davenant and its future projects under the oversight of the board of the Davenant Trust. Read more…