Academic journal article Church History

Thomas Erastus and the Palatinate: A Renaissance Physician in the Second Reformation

Academic journal article Church History

Thomas Erastus and the Palatinate: A Renaissance Physician in the Second Reformation

Article excerpt

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Charles Gunnoe's welcome biography illuminates a contentious intellectual whose sizable imprint upon sixteenth- and seventeenth-century learned culture has not received commensurate attention in recent scholarship. Although Erastus is introduced as a "Renaissance physician" in the book's subtitle, it is his contributions to theology and natural philosophy that receive the most attention. Based primarily upon correspondence and printed works, this study focuses upon Erastus's years at the University of Heidelberg, where he served as medical professor and rector between 1556 and 1580. In the early 1560s, Erastus also belonged to a circle of advisers who encouraged Frederick III, ruler of the Palatinate, to adopt Reformed Protestantism. As a theologian, Erastus fervently opposed independent church discipline courts, which supporters of Calvinism introduced to the Palatinate in 1570. While he did not prevail in the dispute, Erastus's ideas influenced later arguments for state control over religion that were advanced by Hugo Grotius, John Selden, and Thomas Hobbes.

In the first of three lengthy sections, Gunnoe charts the arrival of Reformed Protestantism and the intellectual alliance that culminated in the Heidelberg Catechism, a founding charter of German Reformed Protestantism that was first published in 1563. Gunnoe suggests that Erastus played an influential role in the work's composition, alongside Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus. In particular, the doctrine of the Lord's Supper in the Catechism closely parallels a tract that Erastus published in 1562. But Erastus's influence did not last; as described in the work's second section, tensions among different reforming traditions erupted when supporters of Calvin advocated for a consistory that would have powers of excommunication. Erastus countered with the argument that there was no Biblical justification for the practice. This claim, and his association with more radical theologians, prompted a heresy inquest in 1574 and, apparently, Erastus's temporary suspension from communion around the same time.

The book's third section explores Erastus's shifting interests as his influence in theological matters waned. …

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