Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Forgotten Reformer: Leo Juda

Leo Juda is another of the forgotten Reformers, although he was also one of the first. If he is remembered at all it is the Robin to Zwingli's Batman. But contemporary views of Juda put him as a first class scholar and a beloved individual.

Leo was born in 1482 to a priest in Alsace, which makes Leo sort of a living embodiment for why a Reformation was needed. He went to Basel to study, first medicine, and then theology. It was here in Basel that Leo probably became converted to the Reformation. He studied under Wittembach, who did teach justification by faith alone. It was during his time of listening to Wittembach that Juda became good friends with Zwingli. This was probably around 1505. Juda graduated and left to be a priest in Alsace in the church of St. Pilt. Juda would replace Zwingli at Einseideln in 1518. This shows that he was clearly reformed by this time. He served there for four years. Juda left to take a job in Zurich and Oswald Myconius replaced Juda at Einseideln (making Einseideln an early training ground for Reformed ministers).

Juda took a church in Zurich and quickly helped Zwingli purge out the Roman Catholic elements in the city. It was Juda who took on a traveling Romanist friar who was teaching salvation by works. The uproar resulting from that helped tip the city permanently toward the Reformation. Juda was one of the main teachers at the Prophezei school opened in Zurich in 1525. Thus, Juda had a great impact on the students of the next generation of the Reformation.

Juda was also the driving force behind the Zurich Bible. Juda was skilled in the languages and while it is impossible to tell how much of the translation was done by Juda, most seem to think he did the lion's share of the work. He would also go on to make a Latin Translation of the Old Testament. Juda understood that the word of God is what changes people's lives, and that needed to be able to read it. Thus, the Zurich Bible put the Word of God in the popular language of the day in order that all would have the opportunity to hear and understand.

Juda appears as a name in many of the debates of the day. Juda took part in the Zurich debates and several others although he seldom gets credit for being a leading Reformer. What is most remarkable is how loved Juda was by all. He is stated to be the "most loved" of all Zwingli's friends. Despite his diminutive size (he must have been rather short), his heart appears to have been large. He was not a front man, a spokesman, or one destined for long term fame. But Juda did the behind the scenes pastoral work that made the Reformation so successful in Switzerland. We too often get caught up in thinking the Reformation was a large scale intellectual movement, but it was a pastoral movement as well. Juda trained young men at the Prophezei school, put the word of God in the hands of the people, pastored churches, and loved with a forgiving heart. In these ways the Reformation grew. May we remember Leo Juda for his work as a Reformer.