German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Convenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus

By Klauber, Martin I. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1999 | Go to article overview

German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Convenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus


Klauber, Martin I., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus. By Lyle D. Bierma. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, 201 pp.

Caspar Olevianus is best known to scholars of the post-Reformation period for his role in the composition of the Heidelberg Catechism along with his colleague Zacharias Ursinus. Ursinus has the reputation of being the greater theologian of the two and Olevianus the better preacher, but Bierma's work shows that Olevianus was a significant theologian in his own right. Furthermore, he was one of the most important figures in the development of Reformed theology in the Palatinate.

Post-Reformation theology has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years as a host of scholars led by Richard Muller have rehabilitated these figures from the charge of destroying the Christocentric purity of early reformers such as Calvin and Luther. Bierma's analysis of Olevianus fits within the Muller framework, which is not surprising since both studied under David Steinmetz at Duke. Bierma dismisses the traditional notion that covenant theology was an antidote to the excessive predestinarianism of Reformed scholastics such as Beza. In fact, Bierma notes that many of the covenant theologians held to a strong form of supralapsarian, double-predestinationism.

Covenant theology is also quite relevant to American history because its legacy was passed over to the early Puritans who used William Ames's Marrow of Sacred Divinity as one of their major theological texts. Olevianus was a major figure in the early development of covenant theology. Bierma's goal is to discover what Olevianus had to say about the covenant and to place him within the framework of the history of the development of this form of theology.

The author recognizes Olevianus as a transitional figure between the first and second generation reformers and the well-developed federal theology of the seventeenth century. Olevianus was not a full-blown federalist. His theological system used the covenant as a major theme, but he still organized his system around the Apostles' Creed. For Olevianus, the covenant was a unifying theme rather than the controlling theme. One of the major reasons for Olevianus's development of the covenant was his education in Roman law. He used legal terminology to clarify and explain the biblical concept of the covenant.

Bierma traces the development of the conception of the covenant from the firstgeneration reformers (Zwingli) to the second generation (Musculus, Bullinger and Calvin) and notes that as all of these theologians were dealing with the threat of Anabaptism, they developed their concept of the covenant within the context of their discussion of the sacraments and the relationship between the OT and the NT. Real changes in the use of the covenant came in the third generation as the threat of Anabaptism waned. …

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