Thomas Erastus and the Palatinate

A Renaissance Physician in the Second Reformation


This study is the first monograph to attempt a synthetic treatment of the career of Thomas Erastus (1524-1583). Erastus was a central player in the conversion of the Electoral Palatinate to Reformed Christianity in the early 1560s and a co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism. In the church discipline controversy of the 1560s and 1570s, Erastus opposed the Calvinist effort to institute a consistory of elders with independent authority over excommunication. Erastus’s defeat in this controversy, and the ensuing Antitrinitarian affair, proved the watershed of his career. He turned to the refutation of Paracelsus and a debate with Johann Weyer on the punishment of witches. The epilogue tracks Erastus’s later career and the reception of his works into the seventeenth century.

Open Access


Open Access

Biographical Note

Charles D. Gunnoe, Jr., Ph.D. (1998) in History, University of Virginia, is Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Aquinas College. His publications include Paracelsian Moments: Science, Medicine, and Astrology in Early Modern Europe (2002), co-edited with Gerhild Scholz Williams.

Review Quotes

“We are grateful to Gunnoe because his rigorous and in-depth study is destined to become a classic (and, I predict, a model) and will remain a steadfast point of reference for many central questions about European culture of the early modern age.”
Michaela Valente, Università La Sapienza, Rome. In: Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2013), pp. 485-487.

“This biography makes a strong case for the importance of Erastus' contribution to a range of intellectual spheres; more than that, it significantly enhances our understanding of many of the tensions which shaped the Reformation in Heidelberg. For both these reasons, Gunnoe is greatly to be commended.”
Kenneth Austin, University of Bristol. In: The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 63, No. 1 (January 2012), pp. 163-164.

“Charles Gunnoe's welcome biography illuminates a contentious intellectual whose sizable imprint upon sixteenth- and seventeenth-century learned culture has not received commensurate attention in recent scholarship.”
Mitchell Lewis Hammond, University of Victoria. In: Church History, Vol. 81, No. 3 (September 2012), pp. 694-695.

“Gunnoe’s work is characterized by meticulous interaction with the relevant primary sources, made possible by his work in the archives in Heidelberg and other relevant collections on the Continent. Particularly noteworthy is Gunnoe’s reliance on Erastus’ largely unpublished correspondence, which testifies to Erastus’ significance for the early modern intellectual news network of Reformers and Renaissance humanists […]. This book must be a primary point of reference for any serious explorations into the various areas of intellectual history that Erastus influenced in the course of his significant career.”
Jordan J. Ballor, Acton Institute, Grand Rapids. In: Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2012), pp. 492-494.


All those interested in intellectual history, Reformed Protestantism, Calvinism, the Second Reformation, the Heidelberg Catechism, church discipline, church and state in early modern Europe, Erastianism, Paracelsianism, Renaissance medicine, demonology, and witchcraft.