Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Forgotten Reformers: The City of Basel

The 500th Anniversary of Calvin’s birth is almost over, but since it is not yet, I will continue on with the Forgotten Reformer path. But today I would just like to do something a little different. Calvin and Geneva are exalted, and they should be remembered fondly. However, other cities had just as much influence if not more. So today I would like to discuss the forgotten city of Basel.

Basel in my opinion ought to be remembered as a major center and birthplace of the Reformation. Let me just go through some of the things that happened in Basel and their influence over the Reformed Reformation.

Basel before the Reformation had such Romanist teachers as Wessel, Wittenbach, and Erasmus who helped foster a spirit of reform at the University of Basel. Wittenbach even taught the truth about salvation of Jesus Christ. Look at a list of the people that came to Basel. Ulrich Zwingli was there in 1496 for a year, but he returned again in 1502 until 1506. Also there during that time frame, were Leo Juda, future Reformer in Zurich, and Wolfgang Capito, future Reformer of Strassborg. The trio met and became good friends, and would continue to communicate for the rest of their lives. Casper Hedio was there as well receiving a doctorate in 1520. Oswald Myconius was educated at Basel, and was teaching there in 1514. Myconius left for Zurich before being recalled to replace Oecolampadius after his death in 1531.
John Oecolampadius was there in 1515 preaching in the Cathedral, and helping Erasmus with his Greek NT. He did briefly leave to join a monastery, but was back by 1522 to stay. Konrad Pelikan was there as a member and priest of the Fransiscan Order in Basel from at least 1519 to 1526.

Basel was a large printing center that was printing the works of Luther by 1518. It was Basel that published the Greek NT of Erasmus in 1516. They would of course be publishing works from the Swiss Reformers as well. These were able to be distributed in both Switzerland and Germany thanks to Basel’s unique local and history (it had only been a part of Switzerland for a few decades prior to the Reformation). Of course it would be in Basel that Calvin printed his first edition of the Institutes of Christian Religion. Not only was the printing business pushing the reformation, but so too was the famous painter, Hans Hlbein the Younger, who worked in Basel until 1526. It was in Basel he became Reformed. His brother Ambosius also lived in Basel.

Basel also gave respite to the fleeing Calvin in 1536 and before that the young Guillermo Farel after he was chased out of France. Some English Protestants would end up in Basel during the reign of Bloody Mary as well. Basel was a safe haven for Reformers.

Basel also helped kick off the Confessional movement in the Reformed Churches when in 1534 they put out the First Confession of Basel, which Oecolampadius had written before his death. This led to the First Helvetic Confession in 1536 that united all of Reformed Switzerland. The leaders of Basel at the time, Myconius and Simon Grynaeus, were contributers, and the confession was drawn up and printed in Basel.

Basel also stayed true to the Reformation (despite a brief period of Lutheranizing), and sent two delegates to Dort: Sebastian Beck and Wolfgang Meyer.

Thus, if we look at Basel we see a place where the Reformers all got their first taste of the Reformation. Where they were able to interconnect and "network" if you will. Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Capito, Hedio, Juda, Myconius, all got to know one another at Basel. Then they spread out and Reformed Switzerland and South Germany. It was a leading city of the Reformation in many ways, and it is so often forgotten today. If we had but a few Basel’s in America today, the Reformation would again turn into a fire that could consume an entire continent. Let us not forget the great work of the Reformation in Basel.