Friday, March 06, 2009

Forgotten Reformer: John Oecolampadius

It is time to meet another under appreciated Reformer: John Oecolampadius. John Oecolampadius was actually born John Heussgen, but as was a common practice among the educated elite during the Reformation, he took a Greek last name, Oecolampadius meaning "Light of the House". Oecolampadius was a learned man. First he studied law at Heidelberg, but then switched to Theology. He was very knowledgable in Greek and Hebrew. When he arrived as the cathedralpreacher in Basel in 1515, he was known for his skill in the languages. He aided Erasmus with much of his work at the University of Basel and the two were actually good friends.

Yet, Oecolampadius would travel a very different path than Erasmus. He did become Reformed. Basel was Romanist town when he arrived although a few ministers leaned towards the new doctrines. One had gotten married and had been thrown out of his pulpit by the Senate. Oecolampadius centered his sermons on the Atonement, and he began to draw large crowds. He overcame the opposition through public disputations and through occassional lectures at the University. The Senate then began to hire other men who favored the Reformed Gospel and now Oecolampadius had the upper hand. His teaching and preaching had changed the hearts of a city. His refusal to participate in festivals he considered unbiblical and his unparralleled skill in debate proved too much for the Romanists. Basel was basically reformed by 1525, even the married minister was re-hired thanks to Oecolampadius, but the town council delayed hoping to avoid trouble. The city would not officially declare for the Reformation until 1529 although all hirings done by the Senate met with the approval of Oecolampadius and were all of men who favored the Reformation.

Oecolampadius moved quickly to set up a Classis of ministers in Basel. The city itself had at least four major pulpits and several country pulpits were under the jursidiction and protection of Basel. Oecolampadius made sure that they met every year together to discuss the problems, encourage one another, and make sure that all who were preachers were up to the task. They had exams for the new comers and this helped elevate the educational level of the preahcers in the city. Oecolampadius was placed on the faculty of the University of Basel, and from there he taught the next generation of pastors of that city and others. Oecolampadius went with Zwingli to the Colloquy at Marburg where he defended Zwingli's view of the Lord's Supper against the view of Luther.

Sadly, the life of Oecolampadius ended in 1531. Basel would never again have someone of the quality of Oecolampadius, but it also never left the Reformation. That is how solidly Oecolampadius glued the feet of the city to the Rock that is Christ.