Saturday, March 28, 2009

Forgotten Reformer: Wolfgang Capito

This reformer is forgotten by most. However, his work was quite influential and the reasons he has been looked over are beyond me. Perhaps it is because his beginning is not quite as praise worthy as Luther’s or Zwingli’s. Not everyone in the Reformation immediately understood the need to publicly break with the Roman Church. Capito was one of those who thought a stealth campaign from within the church might be more effective. Luther regularly denounced him for this, but eventually Capito comes out in the open about his beliefs and becomes a great reformer.

Capito’s birth is unknown, but it is probably in the 1480’s. He attended the University of Ingolstadt in 1501, Heidelberg in 1504, and got his degree from Freiburg as well as a Master of Arts in 1506. He would have known then the Dean of Freiburg, Johann Eck, the famed Roman apologist. Capito himself went on to serve as dean in 1511 showing a great intellect. He did earn a doctorate in 1515. By 1516 Capito is friendly with Erasmus showing that perhaps Capito was brought into the Reformation through the Renaissance. He preached in Basel from around 1515 to 1520, which would have given him ample opportunity to meet and learn from Erasmus. The two became good friends. In Basel we see Capito begin to correspond with Luther. In 1520, Capito went to Brandenburg to serve the Archbishop of Mainz as a court preacher. Here Capito tried to influence Archbishop Albert to favor the Reformation. He succeeded only in getting Albert to take a neutral stance. He brought with him several people including Caspar Hedio (who we will examine next) that were also Reformers although not openly. This shows that by 1520 Capito favors the Reformation, but is not yet willing to publicly break with Rome. In 1522, Capito won a suit in papal court that gave him the possession of the provostship of St. Thomas in Strasborg. It was given to him with the express eye to keep him in the church. It was awarded to him again after an appeal in 1523 that he should not follow the path of Luther now that he had been given this job. Yet, that year Luther published his letters with Capito in order to “out” him as a Reformer and the Papal court reversed its decision. Captio went to Strasborg anyway and took possession of the job and then the divided town council of Strasborg would not remove him from his job. Capito became a Reformer with Matthew Zell in Strasborg in 1523 leading that city down the path of the Reformation.

When Martin Bucer arrives, Bucer assumes a leading role in Strasborg, but Capito was always there. Capito is there at every major event and serving the people of Strasborg constantly with the Word of God. Bucer was the front man, and perhaps the better preacher, but Capito served using his scholarly gifts as well. In 1527, he wrote a catechism for use in the city’s churches. It is Capito who first among the Reformers champions the idea of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as being the New Testament Sabbath. Capito made sure that Oecolampadius’s Commentaries were published in Strasborg, and made sure that he himself preached on OT books that had been mostly neglected and forgotten by the Roman Catholic Church like Hosea. While Capito worked with Bucer in Bucer’s attempts to unify the Lutherans and the Reformed, Capito held a more Zwinglian view on the Lord’s Supper and his works usually reflect that understanding. Preaching in St. Peter the Younger Church in Strasborg he probably imparted this understanding of the Lord’s Supper to his people.

Capito also advanced the Reformation in the way that we seldom think of: children. It is unclear how many Capito had, but he did have at least one. Capito married the widow of John Oecolampadius, and had a child with her who grew up to be a Reformed pastor himself. In fact, Wolfgang Meyer, the Basel delegate to the Synod of Dort, is the descendant of Wolfgang Capito. And yes, the first name Wolfgang was in honor of Wolfgang Capito. This shows that Capito not only imparted biblical truth from the pulpit, but in his home as well. Such things cannot be underestimated.

Capito was a biblical scholar, a legal scholar, a Reformer, and a good theologian. He is one who needs to be remembered when we think of the Reformers. May he be forgotten no more.


Andrew said...

Just a quick thank you for this series of "Forgotten Reformers".