Irenical Theology: Heidelberg 1583-1622
An attractive university
“During my time in Heidelberg, these four famous men had their glorious days: David Pareus, professor of theology, Dionysius Gothofredus, an outstanding teacher of civil law, D. Lingelsheim and Joan Gruerus. All of these men are such splendid and learned authors and have become so well known, that as long as this world stands, this name can never be erased.”
Thus wrote the British traveler Thomas Coryat in the journal of his trip through Europe. His praise relates to what is called Heidelberg’s “second Calvinistic period.” The first such period was that of Frederic III (1559-1576). After the death of Frederic, his son Ludwig IV (1576-1583) bound the Palatinate to Lutheranism, but after his death Johann Casimir and, later, Frederic IV reintroduced the Reformed confession. This provided the University of Heidelberg with an immense stimulus.
Although there was a general growth in student numbers during the sixteenth century, Heidelberg distinguished itself in at least one respect from the many other universities, namely by the large number of foreign students studying there. In the first years after 1583, 40-50% of the students were from outside the Palatinate, mostly from France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. What is remarkable, however, is the strong presence of a new group, that is, Central and Eastern Europeans. Around 1600, some 30 percent of the foreigners at Heidelberg originated from such areas as Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, and Silesia; a decade and a half later – just before the Thirty Years’ War – this applied to 50 percent of the foreigners. Although these percentages include the students in all four faculties, the student list makes it clear that they also applied to the students at the theological faculty.
One reason for Heidelberg’s attractiveness was the combination of its humanistic training program and the irenical and ecumenical theology taught there by internationally recognized professors. Regarding its success in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, it is more than remarkable that hardly any study has been made of the Heidelberg theological faculty, and that the many writings of its professors have remained almost unnoticed.
An irenical and ecumenical theology
Heidelberg’s success is a result of Johann Casimir’s policy of appointing the right professors. For example, he succeeded in attracting the famous Jacob Gryneaus (1540-1617) from Basel, and Georg Sohn (1551-1589) from Marburg. In addition, Heidelberg was staffed by other outstanding theologians, such as Heinrich Alting (1583-1644), Bartholomeaus Coppen (1565-1617), Franciscus Junius (1545-1602), Bartholomeaus Pitiscus (1561-1613), Abraham Scultetus (1566-1624), and Daniel Tossanus (1541-1602). It was therefore largely the theological faculty that contributed to the glory of Heidelberg. After Gryneaus returned to Basel and Sohn passed away, it was especially David Pareus (1548-1622) who attracted students from close and afar.
Pareus’s best-known publication is his
Irenicum. In it, he proposes that a synod be held so that Lutherans and Calvinists can get together and discuss an ecclesiastical reunion. Although the works of the Heidelberg professors deal with the discussions with the Lutherans on predestination, Christology, and the Lord’s Supper, they tend to stress that Luther and Reformed theology belong together. They constantly point out that it is possible for Lutherans and Calvinists to have one theology and one Church. This irenical attitude made it possible for students from a broad range of Protestantism to come to Heidelberg.
Heidelberg in this period has often been called “Calvinistic.” However, the Heidelberg theologians strongly rejected this attribution. This self-understanding provided an opening also for those who did not wish to follow Calvin in all aspects. This makes the theology taught at Heidelberg rather unique. The goal of the theologians was to make it clear that there is no essential difference between Luther and Calvin. This theological position was largely the fruit of professors who had been trained in the school of Melanchthon.
Heidelberg played an important role especially in the issue of predestination. The works of the professors reveal a diversity on this point, which led to their hope that, for example, the Remonstrants and contra-Remonstrants could be reunited at the Synod of Dordt.
A humanistic and scholastic program
One consequence of the humanistic training program was a focus on language studies. Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic were taught intensively. The Heidelberg professors produced Hebrew grammars and dictionaries, and contributed to the discussion on the right translation of the Bible, for example by producing a new translation. Heidelberg was also characterized by a strong interest in classical studies and an openness to the results of the other sciences taught at the University.
Interestingly, this whole program was combined into a scholastic theology that demonstrates how fruitfully and naturally Reformation theology and scholasticism can be united. Until now, the works of the Heidelberg theologians have received remarkably little attention. However, this new IDC collection fills that lacuna. These resources will contribute essentially to further research in the theology of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, as well as to the history of the early modern university.