The Scholar in Exile
(Part One of this biographical and critical profile appeared in our October issue. You can also read it online. -Ed. )
Late 1551 began a protracted period of exile for Zanchi. His immediate destination was the city of Chiavenna near the Swiss border. He visited only briefly, but was there long enough to make an impression on the members of the Protestant congregation. It was the first in a long line of temporary homes. He traveled to many of the great centers of the Reformation on the European continent, looking for work and meeting leading Protestant figures: Wolfgang Musculus in Basel, Pierre Viret in Lausanne, and Theodore Beza in Geneva, where he remained for some months visiting with his old friend, Celso. Zanchi attended some of Calvin’s lectures and later kept up a correspondence with him.
Steady work was hard to find, and Zanchi seems to have been making his way to England hoping for a reunion with Peter Martyr. Perhaps an influential patron could help a deserving disciple find a good living. Instead he was offered an unexpected opportunity on the Continent by the chief magistrate of Protestant Strasbourg. Zanchi became professor of Old Testament at the College of St. Thomas. He hung up his hat and walking stick—but only for a time.
Zanchi found Strasbourg a mixed blessing. There was much that was good: He was employed at an excellent institution of higher education in a robustly Protestant city. And he wasn’t alone. When the death of King Edward VI of England brought the aggressively Roman Catholic Mary Tudor to the throne, Peter Martyr Vermigli fled (again). In October 1553, he joined Zanchi in Strasbourg and soon received an appointment at St. Thomas. Finally, as if to make Zanchi’s joy complete, he married. His bride, Violante, was a native Italian and the eldest daughter of Celio Secundo Curione, his friend from Lucca. Zanchi later claimed that he could have married a wealthy German heiress from a noble family with an ample dowry, but such was his love for his own people that, instead, he chose “a poor Italian” as his wife.
But sadness followed hard upon the heels of joy. Soon after arriving in Strasbourg, Zanchi became embroiled in disagreements with Johann Marbach, the city’s leading Lutheran preacher. As head of the Collegiate Chapter of St. Thomas, Marbach required all professors to subscribe to the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. This presented a difficulty for those who took a Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper. In 1540 Philip Melanchthon had amended the original 1530 Augsburg Confession to reflect his own less rigorous stance on the Lord’s Supper. Reformed Christians usually found that they could sign this newer “variata” version. But Zanchi and Vermigli were asked to affirm the original “invariata” version.
Initially, Zanchi refused, but when Vermigli arrived they both agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to sign the document. Zanchi noted in his subscription that he only affirmed the Confession if its words were “understood in an orthodox manner.” Marbach—who like many northern Protestants had a strong anti-Italian prejudice—concluded that they had signed with their fingers crossed and pressed forward with efforts to reshape Strasbourg into a Lutheran stronghold. In so doing he alienated Zanchi and his mentor. Peter Martyr soon found teaching there impossible,and in 1556 he accepted an offer to teach Hebrew in the Swiss city of Zurich.
Zanchi’s family life also deteriorated. In March 1555, Violante suffered her second miscarriage, which caused a paralysis from which she never recovered. In November of 1556, just months after Vermigli’s departure, and in the midst of ongoing conflict with Marbach, she died. The marriage had lasted barely three years and left no living children. Caring for his wife had taken an emotional toll on Zanchi and left him in embarrassing financial straits. The execution of her will opened a rift with his father-in-law. If all of this wasn’tenough, 1557 saw Celso’s death as well. Finally, in 1561, the troubles in Strasbourg came to a head: Marbach officially challenged Zanchi’s orthodoxy on a variety of issues, among them the Lord’s Supper and his doctrine of election.
Zanchi cleverly appealed to the judgment of Protestant theologians from across Europe and, with their support, was eventually exonerated. But this controversy seemed only to spawn others. Indeed, it was this storm as much as any other that solidified the lines between Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism. By the summer of 1563 the situation at Strasbourg had become so contentious that, full of regrets but eager to avoid more trouble, he packed up and left.
Zanchi was on the road again and alone, but his job prospects, at least, seemed better than they had when he had departed Lucca more than a decade previously. This time he had an offer to pastor the Reformed congregation at Chiavenna in northern Italy near the Swiss border. The small city proved to be another disappointing hotbed of contention and a source of further hardship. He found himself overtaxed, battling incidents of the plague, an anti-Trinitarian movement, and a spirit of bitter factionalism within his congregation that he never overcame.
No doubt, these challenges led him to reconsider the advantages of academia. When offered the chair of theology at Heidelberg by Duke Frederick III, Zanchi accepted. He assumed his duties in the winter of 1568. Anti-Trinitarianism was rearing its head in the Germanic lands (as it had in northern Italy) and, probably at Frederick’s request, Zanchi began work on a massive defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. More than seven hundred pages long, On the Threefold Elohim: Eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was published in 1572 (as well as several times thereafter) and it established Zanchi’s theological reputation. The sequel, On the Nature of God, or the Divine Attributes, was equally impressive and perhaps even more influential. He completed a third volume on the doctrine of creation entitled On the Works of God in the Space of Six Days and began a fourth, which was to have covered the fall, sin, and the law. He did not complete it, but the unfinished manuscript was published posthumously in 1597.
These major works from the Heidelberg years took the shape of a massive multi-volume theological system that tackled the full range of doctrinal and exegetical topics—a Reformed summa of theology, something no Protestant had ever attempted. The portion he completed proved truly influential in the formation of Reformed theology. One can hardly imagine what the finished project would have done. In any case, it was a great period of intellectual fruitfulness for Zanchi, who was also busy writing shorter treatises and lecturing on the New Testament. Centuries after their first appearance, his works still impress. Their freshness, warmth, and rich insights command the attention of modern readers.
But doing theology wasn’t the only order of the day. At some point following his departure from Strasbourg, Zanchi gave domestic life another try. His second wife, also Italian and named Livia, provided a bustling houseful of children. In 1576 he wrote to his English friend Edmund Grindal (recently elevated to the archbishopric of Canterbury) that his wife was expecting their sixth child. Near the end of his life, in 1585, the paterfamilias claimed nine bambinos. Most survived into adulthood, not an easy feat in the sixteenth century. At least one son became a minister of the Gospel and, touchingly, a daughter was named Violantes, presumably in memory of Zanchi’s first wife.
Then, at sixty-one years of age, Duke Frederick died in October of 1576 and Zanchi’s life was interrupted once again. Frederick’s eldest son, the Lutheran-leaning Ludwig VI, succeeded him and removed the Reformed professors from Heidelberg. Zanchi left home—this time with wife and children in tow. Count Johann Casimir (Frederick III’s younger son) organized a school known as the Casimirianum at Neustadt-an-der-Hardt on the other side of the Rhine River, a refuge for the professors exiled from Heidelberg. For reasons that are not altogether clear, Zanchi now abandoned his summa and never resumed it. Instead he devoted his energies to New Testament exegesis, revising his earlier work, and writing more focused books of theology.
The venerable Italian was fifty-nine when he joined the Casimirianum. He lectured on the Pauline epistles, and many of those lectures became biblical commentaries, among them a massive study of the letter to the Ephesians. In 1591, the year after Zanchi’s death, a section of his Ephesians commentary was spun off and printed independently as On the spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church. This rich and sometimes daring analysis of 6:21-33 drew as well upon Zanchi’s deep familiarity with the marriage motif in the Old Testament and became one of his most popular works.
In 1583, when Ludwig died, Count Johann Casimir became the ducal regent for Frederick IV, who was only nine years old. At that point, Casimir initiated a reintroduction of Reformed theology to Heidelberg, a program that Frederick IV continued when he came of age. By this point in his life, Zanchi was “a withered old man, but still by God’s favor in good health.” When invited to return to his duties at Heidelberg, he declined. He’d done enough travelling for one lifetime. He remained in Neustadt and was granted an annual pension for faithful service.
The last years of Zanchi’s life were marked by failing eyesight, which slowed his writing and editing. In 1585, at the age of sixty-nine, he oversaw the publication of one last treatise: On the Christian Religion, which he had composed some years earlier in an unsuccessful bid to provide the Reformed churches with a unifying statement of belief. Now he recast it as a gift to his children, a personal confession of faith to guide them after he was gone. Five years later, on November 19, 1590, blind and in declining health, Jerome Zanchi made one last visit to Heidelberg. After a lifetime of exile, he died peacefully and, his travels at an end, was interred in the University Church.