Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wolfgang Capito

If your first reaction the title of this post is Wolf-ga-wha-Capit-a-who?!? You either have a small vocabulary or you need some caffeine. On the other hand if you are thinking, ‘Who is Wolfgang Capito?’ then you are not alone. Wolfgang Capito is one of those forgotten reformers that no one ever studies because all Reformation history classes are only about Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli if you are lucky. Capito was a Hebrew scholar who aided the reformation at Basel, but primarily he worked along side Martin Bucer in Strasbourg. I have not finished it yet, but The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito is a fantastic book. This is a newly published work, and it is the first of 3 volumes. These are his early letters up until the time he goes to Strasbourg.

The book does have its problems. It often just summarizes the longer letters, and invariably those are the ones from Erastmus or to Martin Luther, and it gets a little frustrating to not have the actual text. But, there are a lot of full text letters in this book. In fact, there is enough in this book to get a nice picture of what motivates Wolfgang Capito. The picture that emerges is one of a man dedicated to education. He was a tremendous Hebrew scholar, but a renowned scholar in all three major academic languages. He read the classics and promoted the early church fathers. It is clear from the letters that Capito begins as a humanist and grows into a reformer. He does his work from the inside of the church, at first. He evangelizes a few men by counseling them to read the church fathers and avoid the Scholatics and Aristotle. His distaste for them is evident on almost every page. He publishes a Hebrew grammar, something even Erastmus thought was a waste of time, and translates many early church father’s from Greek into a readable form for the common man. In one letter of candor he tells his reader that he agrees with the Lutherans, but hides his agreement with them (thought never denying it), so that he might be placed in influential positions. This goal he achieves. It was his belief that it would be better to diplomatically and through education reform the church. Capito even encouraged Luther to be more diplomatic and careful in his speech, but to no avail. In fact, Luther ends up exposing Capito as a supporter ruining his chance at influencing the powerful nobles of Switzerland and Germany. But, Capito also believed in the power of the gospel. During his time at Basel he, like Zwingli, had left the lectionary and started to preach straight through the book of Matthew. According to the letters, this was done to the great profit of all.

This book is an insightful look into the life of a reformer who we have forgotten today, but according to some of the letters, was during his own day considered on the same level as Erastmus, Luther, and Zwingli. I hope this project hurries the publication of the second and third volume. I look forward to them greatly.

3 Comments:

John Dekker said...

Well, it's good to have books like this, and blogs like yours to bring these guys to our attention.

But...

He evangelizes a few men by counseling them to read the church fathers and avoid the Scholatics and Aristotle.

What are you talking about? That's not evangelism...

Lee said...

John,
You are right, sloppy writing on part. Let me explain further. Capito first introduced them to the Church fathers and made them avoid reading the Scholastics and Aristotle in order to free them from the mold the Roman church used. Then he, usually encouraging the original languages as well, showed them the Scripture, and what they really said. Through the Church fathers the students had already started questioning many beliefs of the Scholastics and the Roman church. While what those students began to question is not listed in the book, but one can assume they would already start to question things like Purgatory and Indulgences and other Romanist beliefs upheld by the Scholastic framework, but not found in Scripture or earlier believers. He did get around to preaching the true gospel to people, but broke their old molds first. Sorry again for the sloppy sentence. Thanks for the correction!

John Dekker said...

Thanks for the clarification!