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Oecolampadius, Johannes

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(more properly Johann Hausschein, for he Latinized his name according to the fashion of the Reformation age, like Melancthon, etc.), was one of the most eminent Reformers in Switzerland, and, as coadjutor of Zwingli, maintained such a relation to that most noted of Swiss Reformers as to liken him to Luther's coadjutor Melancthon. In German Switzerland he and Zwingli performed the. same work that Beza and Calvin effected in the French sections of that mountain country.

Oecolampadius was born at Weinsberg, a small town in the north of Wurtemberg, in 1482. His mother, a pious and devoted woman, was a native of Basle, in Switzerland. His father, a merchant, who destined the boy for the legal profession, sent him at first to the school at Heilbronn, and afterwards to the University of Bologna, and later to Heidelberg, where he yielded to his own strong inclinations, and relinquished jurisprudence for theology. His early proficiency procured him the degree of bachelor of philosophy in his fourteenth year. He continued his theological studies for a while, and then accepted the appointment of tutor to a son of the elector of the Palatinate; but he resigned his office in a short time, and resumed his theological studies. He was next appointed to a benefice founded by his parents, and performed the duties for about six months, preaching with great acceptability. His sermons at this early period evinced a deep spirit of devotion and a close following of Romish doctrines. He especially exalted the efficacy of the Holy Virgin's intercession, and commended the conventual life. But deeming. himself as yet incompetent for the charge, he shortly resigned and visited Tubingen and Stuttgard, where he sought a more thorough acquaintance with the sacred tongues. He acquired Hebrew from a Spaniard, and Greek under Reuchlin, and in a short time wrote a Greek grammar, which was published in 1520. While residing at Heidelberg he formed a friendship with Capito, who was then preacher at Bruchsal, and was afterwards the Reformer at Strasburg.

This association produced its effects on the individuals according to their various characters: the ardent Capito soon became a, zealous Reformer; the mild and studious Oecolampadius hesitated -he feared the misery which would probably result from a disruption of the Church, and changed not till he felt convinced that the cause of truth should overbalance the fear of transient evils. For a short time Oecolampadius resumed his clerical duties at Weinsberg; but in 1515, Capito, then settled at Basle, induced him to undertake the office of preacher. At this important German-Swiss center Oecolampadius enjoyed the association of many of the most eminent minds of the 16th century. Erasmus was then engaged upon his Commentary of the New Testament, and in this work secured important assistance from the young preacher Oecolampadius, who, even at this early time of his life, was distinguished all over the Continent for vast erudition and mastery of the Hebrew and Greek tongues. But it is not only as a student that Oecolampadius's stay at Basle at this time is memorable. In the pulpit he was as distinguished as in the labors of the study. He not only attracted many hearers by his oratorical skill, but also on account of his outspoken condemnation of whatever he saw to condemn. He preached against many of the abuses which had crept into the Church, and held up purity of life as exhibited by Christ in the flesh. Yet he did not at that time cherish any intention of rupture with the Church of Rome. He fought for reform from within, and hoped for a result which he afterwards learned it is impossible to bring about in the corrupt body of Romanism. His health failing him, he was finally obliged to abandon his position at Basle, and he returned to Weinsberg.

But he maintained an active correspondence with Erasmus, and also with Luther and Melancthon, whose views more or less influenced him even in the line of his studies. He devoted himself especially during this season of retirement to the careful study of the Hebrew; he also published a tract, De Paschali risu (1518), in condemnation; of the broad humor with which, the Easter sermons of the day abounded, and, strange to say, he wrote a tragedy containing six thousand lines. His piety during this period of his life was sincere, but so very sombre that his friends often railed him about his superstition; which was to be ascribed in part to his physical distempers, though the main cause of it was his imperfect knowledge of the way of salvation. As soon as his health would permit he went back to Basle, at the earnest request of Erasmus, who was get. ting out the second edition of his New Testament, and wanted his help; but after a sojourn of a few months (1518) Oecolampadius removed to Augsburg, having been appointed one of the principal preachers of that city. Here it was that he first met Luther, who came to Augsburg in May, 1519, to confer with the papal legate, and by him Oecolampadius was "instructed in the way of the Lord more perfectly." With true Christian promptitude, he at once placed himself by the side of the Reformer. The Lord had long been training him for a glorious work, but his education was not yet complete. True, he had learned the grand central truth of the Gospel free justification through the blood and righteousness of the Son of God; and had confirmed the belief of his friends in his conversion to the new doctrines by at once espousing and defending them in the Canonici indocti, which he published anonymously, in connection with the canon Bernh von Adelmannsfelden, about 1518.

Yet such was still his respect for some of the principles of the Roman Catholic Church that, without consulting any one, he entered, April 23, 1520, to the surprise of all his friends and the disgust of many of them, the monastery of St. Bridget, near Augsburg. He was prompted, of course, by no selfish consideration to take this step, but by the sincere though ill- founded hope of being in a more favorable position to cultivate personal holiness. "I had," he said, "a fair prospect of being something, if I had remained in the world."' It is thought by some that if Oecolampadius sought the retirement of the convent to give himself to more careful investigation of and reflection upon the new doctrines. Certain it is that he carried with him into this retirement the new views as he had learned them from the lips of the great German Reformer himself, and there was even then a most deep-rooted sympathy in his heart for the cause of the Reformer. "If they condemn Luther," said he frankly and openly, "they must first condemn Holy Scripture." His high reputation had induced the fraternity to accede to him liberty for his own opinions and studies; but as his convictions gradually tended towards Lutheranism, his preaching and writing became more and more discordant with the opinions of his fellow- monks, and they soon discovered that the new-comer was a most unsuitable member of their society, with tastes and ideas utterly remote from theirs. In one of his sermons (published at Basle in 1521), he spoke against the adoration of the Virgin and the use of the rosary; in another, on the Eucharist, delivered on Corpus Christi day (Latin, Basle, 1521; German, Augsburg, 1531), he rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation. But his most important work is one on confession, written originally in Latin, and afterwards translated into German, in which he openly declares outward confession unnecessary for the Christian, since God alone has the power to absolve (as had been held until the time of Peter Lombard), and the priest could do no more than proclaim. this absolution. His position in the convent became untenable, his liberty of thinking and weising was denied him, and he was even threatened with forcible expulsion and imprisoner. He finally left it in February, 1522, went to Heidelberg, and afterwards took refuge at Ebernburg with Franz von Sickingen. In the performance of his ecclesiastical duties at this place, he introduced an innovation by reading the Gospel and Epistles in German instead of Latin. which he aptly compared to the unknown tongues.

On Nov. 16,1522, he left Ebernburg for Frankfort again, and thence went to Basle, and from that time dates his real efficiency as a reformer. He reached Basle at a most critical moment, and he proved just the man needed to guide the movement then in progress; he was not a stranger, he had many warm friends in Basle; he understood the character of the people; he was a ripe scholar and a popular preacher, and his own religious experience fitted him to appreciate and deal with the difficulties encountered by others in their progress from darkness to light. Yet his task was not an easy one. While many of the citizens gave him a cordial welcome, the priests and professors looked with an evil eye on the monk who had cast aside his cowl and his vows; even his old patron the bishop, and his old friend Erasmus, to whom while. yet in the convent he had written of his acceptance of the Reformation doctrines, received him coldly. Under these circumstances his chances of getting a professorship were very small. During the first year he had no office of any kind; yet. it was a memorable year in his history, for in the course of it he was brought into contact with Zwingli, whose influence mightily quickened his progress in the path of reform, and who more than any other person helped to give to the system of faith and worship afterwards established at Basle its peculiar features. After waiting nearly two years for employment, and when just ready to despair of finding it, the door of entrance into the university was suddenly opened for Oecolampadius, in consequence of a dispute between the council and the professors, which resulted in the deposition of two of the latter. Their places were instantly filled by Oecolampadius and Pellican.

The chair of the former was that of Biblical learning-the one of all others for which he was best suited. He began his course of lectures with Isaiah, and long before he had reached the middle of it his lecture-room was unable to hold the crowd of students and citizens who flocked thither, all eager to hear the learned and eloquent expositor. Besides this academic position, Oecolampadius received an appointment as preacher of St. Martin's; but in accepting this pastorate, he frankly told the council and people that he must be allowed to preach the Word with all freedom, and would not consider himself bound to observe useless or pernicious ceremonies. In his lectures he advanced radical views which offended the conservatives and created. a breach between him and Erasmus. Thus he spoke against the celibacy of the clergy, thinking that it were better for the interest of the Church that they should remain single, but holding with St. Paul that those who could not abstain should marry, instead of giving a bad example to their congregations, as did many priests of that period. In his sermons he became daily more severe against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, which he attacked one by one, comparing them with the principles laid down in the Scriptures. In the mean time the discussion on the sacraments broke out; Karlstadt's works were condemned by the Council of Basle in 1525, and the booksellers were forbidden to publish any of Oecolampadius's writings. The Anabaptists also opposed him. Yet, although even his liberty was threatened, he did not flinch, and in 1525 he baptized in German, discontinued the mass, and celebrated for the first time the Lord's Supper in the Reformed manner, having himself composed a liturgy for the purpose. When the dispute arose between Zwingli and Luther respecting the real presence in the Lord's Supper, Oecolampadius supported the opinions of Zwingli, and published in 1525 De vero intellectu verborum Domini, loc est corpus meumt a work of which Erasmus says that it was written with much skill, good reasoning, and persuasive eloquence. It was answered by the Lutheran party in Synyramma Suevicon, to which he replied in Antisynge-amma. Fryth, one

f the early English martyrs, was burned in 1533, because, as Cranmer writes, "he thought it not necessary to be believed as an article of our faith that there is the very corporeal presence of Christ within the host and sacrament of the altar, and holdeth of this point most after the opinion of Oecolampadius." This contest with Luther on the subject of the Eucharist was, in many respects, the most painful of any in which Oecolampadius found it necessary to engage. Oecolampadius agreed substantially with Zwilngli's view of the sacrament, and he defended it with a considerable amount of patristic learning and dogmatic skill against the Lutherans, especially Brentius.

But he differed from Zwingli in the interpretation of the words of the institution, by taking the verb in the literal sense, and placing the figure in the predicate: "This is really, not figuratively, in the sense of signifies, as Zwingli explained it the symbol of my body" (figura corporis, as Tertullian once says). He attended, in company with Zwingli, Bucer, and Hedio, the religious conference with the Lutheran divines alt Marburg in 1529, and was there confronted with Luther, while the more vehement Zwingli debated with the mild Melancthon. But, although the champions of the Lutheran and Reformed churches agreed in fourteen fundamental articles, they could not settle their dispute concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Luther even refused the hand of brotherhood which Zwingli offered him, with tears, in spite of the difference of views. Nevertheless Oecolampadius lent his support to Bucer's efforts to bring about an agreement between the German and Swiss Reformers. It seems also that Oecolampadius modified his theory on the Eucharist, and gave up some of his former untenable assertions. His learned biographer, Dr. Herzog (2:230), thinks that the Reformers of Basle held at last firmly to the view that our souls are truly nourished with the true body and the blood of Christ, and that Christ is present to the believers in the Eucharist, although not in a manner essentially differing from his general presence in the Church." This is also the view which afterwards prevailed in the churches of Basle, as may be seen from "the Second Confession of Basle," called too "the First Helvetic Confession," drawn up by Bullinger, Grynaeus, and Myconius, in 1536, which teaches, in the 22d article, as follows: "Concerning the holy communion. we maintain that the Lord offers and communicates in it truly his own body and blood, i.e. himself, to his members as nourishment, to the effect that he lives in them more and more, and they in him; not that the body and blood of the Lord are naturally united to the bread and wine, and locally included in them, but, rather, that bread and wine, according to the institution of the Lord, are highly significant, sacred, and true signs by which the Lord himself, through the ministry of the Church, offers and bestows the true communion of his body and blood to believers, not as a perishing food of the belly, but as food and nourishment of the spiritual and eternal life," etc. This is substantially the same theory which was afterwards so ably developed and defended by Calvin.

From Oecolampadius's peculiar position at Basle, and his relation to Wittenberg and Zurich, it seemed for a while as if he were destined to be a mediator between the two parties in that unhappy controversy which destroyed the visible unity of the Church of the Reformation, and arrayed her members in two hostile factions. But with all his excellence, he was not equal to the exigency; perhaps no man, however great his piety, learning, moderation, and tact, could have prevented the split; yet the strife might possibly have been less bitter if the Reformer of Basle had declined to join either side. Unhappily for such a result, he had a lurking tendency to that spurious spirituality which undervalues all external means of grace. Thus he regarded the ordinance of the Supper as per se a hinderance, rather than a means of grace; as a form, from which the Christian should seek to be freed, rising above it to immediate fellowship with God. "Believers," said he, "should use the sacraments more for their neighbors' sake than their own. For themselves they are already under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they are free, they are purified, they are justified, and, being one with Christ, the kingdom of God is already within them." Now, while it is deeply to be regretted that occasion was given for the contest between Switzerland and Germany about the ordinance which is at once the feast of Christian love and the symbol of Christian unity, yet, when we weigh all the circumstances of the discussion, we think that there are not wanting grounds for thankfulness that Luther opposed the doctrine of Zurich. The storm, indeed, left many traces of: its desolating march; yet we are inclined to believe that the atmosphere was thereby rendered purer than .it would have been if no such war of the elements had occurred.

The germ of rationalism thus early developed in the system of Zwingli, if not entirely eradicated, was at least in a measure and for a time repressed. Oecolampadius next took part in the discussion of Baden (May, 1526), where he maintained the tenets of Zwingli against Eck and the old Roman party with great efficiency; yet Zwingli and his followers were condemned as heretics, and strong resolutions were passed against the Reformation. The country, however, was too far advanced towards the. principles of the Reformation for these resolutions to have much effect, and Oecolampadius and his colleagues continued to labor faithfully in its cause. On his return to Basle Oecolampadius published a more extended liturgy, and introduced the practice of singing the Psalms in German. The last was a most popular measure, and greatly helped the cause of the Reformation. The hymns were not as melodious as they might have been, and the Papists made much sport of them; but they supplied a long-felt want of thousands of pious hearts. As dangers thickened, the activity of the Reformer was redoubled; he preached every day, he composed and published a Catechism for children, and during the prevalence of the plague in 1526 he devoted himself with unwearied constancy to the sick and dying. In the mean time the council of Berne introduced the Reformation in that canton. and thus brought on a religious conference (Jan., 1528), in which Zwingli and Oecolampadius took the leading part. This led to the spread of the Reformation through the whole canton, and greatly encouraged its disciples in Basle.

The latter city was gradually divided into two opposite parties. In order to bring matters to a crisis, Oecolampadius induced the evangelically inclined citizens to present a petition to the councils for the uniformity of worship, while at the same time he took such measures with Zwingli as would prevent an outbreak; all passed well, and it was decided that a conference should be held, to determine on the continuation or the rejection of the mass, on the fourteenth day after Whitsuntide, 1529, until which time mass was to be read only-in three churches throughout the city. On Feb. 8, 1529, the people assembled, and demanded that such members of the council as were opposed to the Reformation should resign their office, and that their places should be filled by appointment from the grand council, instead of by the remaining members, as formerly; the emblems of Roman Catholic worship were removed from the churches. and on the following day the council acceded to all demands. Oecolampadius was immediately appointed to the highest offices, and as such took an active part in procuring the adoption of ordinances in favor of the Reformation, dated April 1, 1529. The university also was reorganized, and received a new impulse in the hands of its former professors. Oecolampadius was universally recognised as the leading spirit, and while he lived he was, by common consent, allowed to exercise a general supervision over all the parishes of the city and suburbs, as well as to control the university affairs. He experienced much annoyance from the Anabaptists, who were not by any means satisfied with the Reformation; he held several conferences with them (in August, 1525, June 10, 1527, and in 1531), but without result, and the sect continued to increase, notwithstanding the stringent measures adopted against them by the council of Basle.

In 1531 he abolished the custom of posting the names of parties under excommunication on the doors of the churches, while at the same time he endeavored to establish a regular system of Church discipline. He differed from Calvin, who wished the absolute union of the Church and State, while Oecolampadius argued that, while moving harmoniously side by side, each should have its distinct sphere and jurisdiction. "The civil power," he says in a letter to Zwingli, "will become even more insupportable than Antichrist, if it robs the Church of her authority in spiritual things." He disapproved especially the use of violent means for the propagation of truth, and vainly endeavored to moderate the ardor of his friend Zwingli. Thus be warned the latter at the approach of the catastrophe of the Helvetic Reformation against war; and had Zwingli followed this good advice, he might have saved his own life, which was sacrificed in the unfortunate issue of the battle of Cappel, in October, 1531. After the death of this good but rash Reformer, the ministers of Zurich unanimously chose Oecolampadius as the successor of Zwingli. But he felt it his duty to remain in Basle. Only a few weeks after the death of his friend, he was himself called to pass from the Church militant to the Church triumphant. His last hours on earth were full of interest. A severe illness suddenly arrested his incessant labors, which had long since undermined his sickly frame. He took the communion with his family; then assembled the magistrates and the ministers of Basle around his dying-bed, and moved their hearts by pious exhortations. Concerning himself he said: "The charge that I committed the crime of adulterating the truth does not affect me. By the grace of God, I approach the judgment- seat of Christ with a good conscience. There it will appear that I have not seduced the Church. I leave you behind as witnesses of this my assurance; and I confirm you as such in these my dying moments."

He died Nov. 24, 1531, surrounded by ten ministers kneeling in prayer. Shortly before he had fervently recited the penitential psalm of David (Psalms 51), and exclaimed, "I shall soon be with the Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus, help and deliver me!" The whole city mourned his death. His remains were deposited in the cathedral church. The mouth of slander circulated the rumor that he had committed suicide, or was killed by a member of his family. Even Luther, under the influence of strong prejudice, was not ashamed to give credence to the lie. But it had the good effect to bring out a minute description of his last days by two eye-witnesses his friend Grynseus and his servant Gundelfinger. He left a wife, Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, whom he had married (1528) after the death of his mother; a son, Eusebius, who died the same year; and two daughters, Alitheia and Irene. The widow married afterwards successively two other Reformers his friends Capito and Bucer of Strasburg, the last of whom she followed to Cambridge, in England. But, in 1564, her body was deposited in the same grave with Oecolampadius. The memory of the first Reformer of Basle is still cherished, and the fruits of his pious labors are seen to this day.

As has been truly said, Oecolampadius was the Lord's chosen instrument of leading on to victory those noble souls who had gathered under the banner of reform at Basle, and though cut down in the prime of manhood, he lived long enough to earn the glorious appellation of the Reformer of that city. But his labors entitle him to an appellation more indicative of the wide sphere in which he worked. In his intellectual and moral qualities, his modesty, gentleness, love of peace, eagerness for union, academic tastes, fondness fbr a meditative rather than an active life, tendency to melancholy. relish for letters, and exquisite scholarship he bore a striking resemblance to Luther's great friend and ally. Of all positions, that of a revolutionary leader, whether in Church or State, was the last one that Oecolampadius would have chosen to assume. If he had dared to follow his own inclinations, his life would have been spent in the quietude of the academy rather than amid the turbulence of the arena, in converse with books instead of contests with men. He was inclined to look with profound veneration upon everything that bore the marks of hoary antiquity, and hence the reluctance we may almost call it with which he abandoned the Romish Church, and severed one by one the ties which bound him to her communion. Among all the Continental Reformers, none were less disposed than he to cast aside old forms, simply because they were old, or to introduce novelties merely for the purpose of making the Protestant worship as unlike the Popish as possible. In short, his tendencies and tastes, if yielded to. would have repelled him from the rude work and rough ways of the reformer; and his life supplies one of the many illustrations of the fact that the Lord chooses instruments which in human view are most unsuitable for the accomplishment of his designs.

The original works of Oecolampadius were, besides those mentioned above, Annotationes in Genesin; in librum Job exegemata; in Danielem prophetam libri duo (1553, fol.): Commentarii omnes in libros pr- ophetarum (1558, 2 vols. foL): Joasznis Oecolampadii et Huldrichi Zuinglii epistolarum libri iv, prcecipua cum religionis a Christo nobis traditce papita, tune ecclesiasticce administrationis officia, nostro maxime sceculo tot erroribus perfurbato, convenientia, ad amussim expirimentes (Basle, 1536, fol.). He also published translations of Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzum, and others of the early fathers. His philological attainments, and his knowledge of the fathers, contributed to give to his exegetical labors a high value. No complete edition of his works has yet been published.

See Hess, Lebensgesch. D J. Oecolampad's (Zurich, 1791); Herzog, Leben J. Oecolampad's u. d. Reform. d. Kirche z. Btsel (Basle, 1843, 2 vols. 8vo); Hagenbach, Leben u. ausgecwiihlte Schrmften der Vater u. Begrunder d. reform. Kirche, vol. ii (Elber. 1859, 8v/o); Register zu Studien u. Krit. 1838-1847; Melchior Adam, Ref. Vit. s.v.; Harburgh. Fathers of the Gernman Ref. Ch. 1:21 sq.; Merle D'Aubignd, Hist. Ref. in Germany and Switzerland, 3:428 sq.; 4:324 sq., 334 sq.; also, Hist. Ref. in Switzerland (see Index in vol. iii); Countess D'lstria, Switzerland, the Pioneer of the Ref. ii, .427; Soames, Hist. Ref. iii 153 sq.; Ruchat, Swiss Ref. Ch. ch. i, iv, and p. 117-136; Gieseler, Ecclesiastes Hist. 4:99; Fisher, Hist. Ref. (see Index); Middleton, Evangel. Biogr. 1:85 sq.; Hallam, Literature, 1:151, 164, 188, 191, 255; Hardwick, Hist. Ref. (see Index); Princeton Review, April, 1851, art. ii.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Oecolampadius, Johannes'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​o/oecolampadius-johannes.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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