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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > O > John Œcolampadius

John Œcolampadius

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Protestant theologian, organizer of Protestantism at Basle, b. at Weinsberg, Swabia, in 1482; d. at Basle, 24 November, 1531. His family name was Heusegen or Husegen, not Husschyn (Hausschein), as the hellenized form Œcolampadius was later rendered. Having received a preliminary classical training at Weinsberg and Heilbronn, he began the study of law at Bologna, but left for Heidelberg in 1499 to take up theology and literature. He was specially interested in the works of the mystics, without obtaining, however, a thorough foundation in Scholastic theology. After his ordination he held a small benefice at Weinsberg, where he delivered his sermons on the Seven Last Words. At Stuttgart (1512) he extended his knowledge of Greek, and at Tübingen became friendly with Melanchthon; returning to Heidelberg, he studied Hebrew under a Jewish convert, and became acquainted with Brenz and Capito. A little later he was appointed preacher at the cathedral of Basle (1515), where he joined the circle of Erasmus. In 1515 he was made a bachelor, in 1516 licentiate, and on 9 September, 1518, a doctor of theology. He had already resigned as preacher at Basle and returned to Weinsberg. In December, 1518, he became preacher at Augsburg, where he joined the Humanists who sympathized with Luther. He corresponded with Luther and Melanchthon, and directed against Eck the anonymous pamphlet "Canonici indocti Lutherani" (Augsburg, 1519). Œcolampadius, however, far from having taken a definite stand, was engaged in translating the ascetical writings of St. Gregory of Nazianzus from Greek into Latin.

Suddenly he entered the Brigittine monastery at Altomünster (23 April, 1520). He first thought of devoting himself to study in this retreat, but was soon again entangled in controversy, when, at the request of Bernhard Adelmann, he wrote his opinion of Luther, which was very favourable, and sent it in confidence to Adelmann at Augsburg. The latter, however, forwarded it to Capito at Basle and he, without asking the author's permission, published it (Œcolampadii iudicium de doctore Martino Luthero). This was followed by other uncatholic writings, e.g. one against the doctrine of the Church on confession (Augsburg, 1521) and a sermon on the Holy Eucharist (Augsburg, 1521) dealing with transubstantiation as a question of no importance and repudiating the sacrificial character of the Eucharist; these publications finally rendered his position in the monastery untenable. He left in February, 1522, supplied by the community with money for his journey. Through the influence of Franz von Sickingen he became chaplain in the castle on the Ebernburg. In November of the same year he removed to Basle. He publicly defended Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone (30 August, 1523). The following February he advocated the marriage of priests and used his pulpit to disseminate the new teachings. The progress of Protestantism became much more marked in Basle after the Council had appointed him pastor of St. Martin's (February, 1525), on condition that he should introduce no innovations into Divine service without special authorization of the council, which included Catholics as well as Reformers, and was still cautious; the spread of the new teachings was partially counteracted by the bishop and the university, which, for the greater part, was still Catholic in its tendency.

After Karlstadt's writings had been proscribed by the Basle Council, Œcolampadius, in August, 1525, issued his "De genuina verborum Domini: Hoc est corpus meum, iuxta vetustissimos auctores expositione liber", in which he declared openly for Zwingli's doctrine of the Last Supper, construing as metaphorical the words of institution. The distinction between his explanation and Zwingli's was merely formal, Œcolampadius, instead of est interpreted the word corpus figuratively (corpus—figura corporis). Accordingly the Last Supper was to him merely an external symbol, which the faithful should receive, less for their own sakes than for the sake of their neighbours, as a token of brotherhood and a means of edification. This monograph was confiscated at Basle, and attacked by Brenz on behalf of the Lutheran theologians of Swabia in his "Syngramma Suevicum" (1525), which Œcolampadius answered with his "Antisyngramma ad ecclesiastes Suevos" (1526). Although Œcolampadius had continued to say Mass until 1525, in November of that year he conducted the first "reformed" celebration of the Lord's Supper with a liturgy compiled by himself. In 1526 he arranged an order of Divine services under the title "Form und Gestalt, wie der Kindertauf, des Herrn Nachtmahl und der Kranken Heinsuchung jezt zu Basel von etlichen Predikanten gehalten werden". In May, 1526, he took part in the disputation at Baden, but in Zwingli's absence he was unable to cope successfully with Eck. In May, 1527, the Council of Basle requested the Catholic and Protestant preachers of the city to give in writing their views concerning the Mass. The Catholic belief was presented by Augustin Marius, the Protestant by Œcolampadius. The Council as yet placed no general proscription on the Mass, but allowed each of the clergy to retain or set it aside. In consequence the Mass was abolished in the churches under Protestant preachers and the singing of psalms in German introduced. Monasteries were suppressed towards the end of 1527. The ancient Faith was, however, tolerated for a time in the churches under Catholic control.

After the disputation at Bern in January, 1528, in which Œcolampadius and Zwingli were chief speakers on the Protestant side, the Protestants of Basle threw caution to the winds; at Easter, 1528, and later, several churches were despoiled of their statues and pictures. In December, 1528, at the instance of Œcolampadius, the Protestants petitioned the Council to suppress Catholic worship, but, as the Council was too slow in deciding, the Protestantizing of Basle was completed by means of an insurrection. The Protestants expelled the Catholic members of the Council. The churches previously in the hands of the Catholics, including the cathedral, were seized and pillaged. Œcolampadius, who had married in 1528, became pastor of the cathedral and antistes over all the Protestant clergy of Basle, and took the leading part in compiling the Reformation ordinance promulgated by the Council (1 April, 1529). Against those who refused to participate in the Protestant celebration of the Lord's Supper, compulsory measures were enacted which broke down the last remnant of opposition from the Catholics. In contrast to Zwingli, Œcolampadius strove, but with only partial success, to secure for the representatives of the Church a greater share in its management. In October, 1529, Œcolampadius joined in the vain attempt at Marburg to close the sacramental dispute between the Lutherans and the Reformed. In 1531, with Bucer and Blarer, he introduced Protestantism by force into Ulm, Biberach, and Memmingen. He was also concerned in the affairs of the Waldenses, and was largely responsible for their having joined forces with the Reformed at this time.

Œcolampadius was a man of splendid, though misdirected, natural gifts. Among the fathers and leaders of Protestantism he had not, either as theologian or man of action, the importance or forceful personality of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, but his name stands among the first of their supporters. As a theologian, after the full development of his religious opinions, he belonged to the party of Zwingli, though remaining independent on some important points. The opinion that he was more tolerant than the other Protestant leaders does not accord with facts, though true on the whole as regards his relations to Protestants of other beliefs. The profound differences which had already appeared among the adherents of the new religion, due particularly to variations in opinion concerning the Lord's Supper, were painful to Œcolampadius; but in contrast to Luther's uncompromising attitude, he strove without surrendering his own views to restore harmony through reciprocal toleration. Towards the Catholic religion, however, he bore the same hatred and intolerance as the other Protestant leaders. Likewise in justifying religious war, he shares Zwingli's standpoint. If his first movements at Basle were more cautious than those of others elsewhere, it was not through greater mildness, but rather out of regard for conditions which he could not change at a single stroke. As soon, however, as he had won over the secular authority, he did not rest until Catholic worship was suppressed, and those who at first resisted were either banished or forced to apostatize.


Sources

CAPITO, Johannis Œcolampadii et Huldrichi Zwingli epist. libri quatuor (Basle, 1536), with a biography of Œcolampadius; HESS, Lebensgesch. Dr. Joh. Œcolampad's (Zurich, 1793); HERZOG, Das Leben Joh. Œcolampad's (Basle, 1843); HAGENBACH, Œcolampad's Leben und ausgewählte Schriften der Vater und Begründer der reformierten Kirche, II; FEHLEISEN, Joh. Œcolampadius. Sein Leben und Wirken (Weinsberg, 1862); BURCKHARDT-BIEDERMANN, Ueber Œcolampad's Person und Wirksamkeit in Theologische Zeitschr. aus der Schweiz, X (1893), 27-40, 81-92; HERZOG in Realencyk. für prot. Theol. und Kirche, 2nd ed., X, 708-24; WAGENMANN in Allgem. deutsche Biog., s.v.; MAYER in Kirchenlex., s.v. For the Augsburg period cf. THURNHOFER, Bernhard Adelmann von Adelmannsfelden (Freiburg, 1900), especially pp. 62 sqq. and 115-26; for his controversy with Ambrosius Pelargus and Augustinus Marius on the Mass cf PAULUS, Ambrosius Pelargus in Hist. polit. Blät., CX (1892), 2-12; IDEM in PAULUS, Die deutschen Dominikaner im Kampfe gegen Luther (Freiburg, 1903), 191-98.

About this page

APA citation. Lauchert, F. (1911). John Œcolampadius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11213a.htm

MLA citation. Lauchert, Friedrich. "John Œcolampadius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11213a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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