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Peter Martyr Vermigli

For other people called Peter Martyr, see Peter Martyr (disambiguation).
File:Peter Martyr Vermigli.png
Engraving by an unknown artist

Peter Martyr Vermigli (Italian: Pietro Martire Vermigli, born Piero Mariano, 8 September 1499 – 12 November 1562) was an Italian theologian of the Reformation period who converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. He was a very influential figure in the early development of Reformed theology and in the English Reformation. Born in Florence, he entered the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine religious order and was influenced by reading Protestant theologians such as Martin Bucer and Ulrich Zwingli. To avoid persecution he was forced to flee Catholic Italy for the Reformed safe haven of Switzerland. Thomas Cranmer invited him to assist in the nascent English Reformation and he was appointed to a professorship at Oxford University where he was influential in the development of the theology of the Eucharist in Protestant England and in modifications of the Book of Common Prayer. Vermigli was forced to leave England on the ascension of Queen Mary I. He was engaged in several controversies with Lutherans and Reformed theologians over the Eucharist and predestination in Strasbourg and Zurich. He lived his final days teaching theology in Zurich.


File:Basilica di San Frediano Lucca.jpg
Basilica of San Frediano, where Vermigli was appointed prior in 1541

Vermigli was born in Florence to Stefano di Antonio Vermigli, a wealthy shoemaker and admirer of Savanorola, and Maria Fumantina.[1][citation needed] The young couple originally christened their child Piero Mariano, but he took the name Peter Martyr when he entered the novitiate of the Order of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine after the 13th-century Dominican St. Peter Martyr. It was a common practice to take the name of a saint on entering a religious order. Educated in the Lateran Congregation of the Austin Canons cloister at Badia Fiesolana,[1] he was transferred in 1518 to the convent of St. John of Verdara in Padua to study theology. The University of Padua, with which St. John of Verdera was loosely affiliated, was a very prestigious institution at the time.[2] At Padua, he received a thorough training in Thomistic scholasticism and appreciation for Augustine and Christian humanism. He graduated D.D. about 1526[3] and made the acquaintance of prominent reform-minded theologians Pietro Bembo, Reginald Pole, and Marcantonio Flaminio.[4] From that year onwards he was employed as a public preacher at Brescia, Pisa, Venice and Rome.[citation needed] He lived in Bologna from 1530 to 1533, where he learned Hebrew in order to undertake an intensive study of the Bible.[5] In 1533 he was elected prior of the Augustinian monastery at Spoleto,[6] and in 1537 prior at the monastery of St Peter ad Aram in Naples.[7] He was probably involved in the 1536 Consilium de emendanda ecclesia, an internal report on the abuses of the Catholic Church commissioned by Pope Paul III. He also represented the Catholics at the 1540 Colloquy of Worms.[8]

Toward the end of his time in Naples, he read Martin Bucer's commentaries on the Gospels and the Psalms and also Zwingli's De vera et falsa religione.[9] This was an act of ecclesiastical defiance, but not an uncommon one in reformist circles. Vermigli seems to have slowly moved in a Protestant direction primarily through study of the Bible and the Church fathers, especially Augustine. He probably read Protestant literature critically, and it was common for those in reform-minded circles to read Protestant writers while remaining in the Roman Catholic Church.[10] He also became acquainted with Juan de Valdés, whose teaching, especially his strong doctrine of justification by faith, was very similar to that of contemporary Protestants, though Valdés remained a Catholic. Evangelical oriented Catholics such as Bernardino Ochino and Marcantonio Flaminio, along with Vermigli, gathered with Valdés. Vermigli embraced the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone during this time, and he had probably rejected the traditional Roman Catholic view of the sacraments.[11] He was accused of erroneous doctrine, and the Spanish viceroy of Naples Don Pedro de Toledo prohibited his preaching. The prohibition was removed on appeal to Rome with the help of powerful friends such as Cardinal Pole. In 1541 Vermigli was elected the important post of prior of Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca.[7]

Vermigli had actively pursued a reform agenda at each of his posts, and he was especially successful in Lucca. His reforms may have angered papal conservatives and led to the reconstitution of the Roman Inquisition as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition in 1542 in order to suppress Protestant heresy. Summoned to appear before a chapter of his Order at Genoa, and warned by highly placed friends, he faced a crisis of conscience.[8] He fled in 1542 to Pisa, where he celebrated a Protestant form of the Eucharist[12] and thence to Ochino, at Florence. Ochino escaped to Geneva,[citation needed] and Vermigli to Zurich. At Zurich he was questioned by initially suspicious Protestant leaders Heinrich Bullinger, Konrad Pellikan, and Rudolph Gualther; and then by Oswald Myconius and Boniface Amerbach in Basel. He was finally granted professor of Hebrew and Old Testament in Strasbourg with Martin Bucer's support, succeeding Wolfgang Capito.[8] He was under close scrutiny, as Italian theologians were not trusted by the Reformers.[11] Vermigli became a close personal friend and ally of Martin Bucer.[13] There he also married his first wife, Catherine Dammartin of Metz.[14]

Vermigli and Ochino were both invited to England by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1547, and Vermigli was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford and canon of Christ Church.[15][citation needed] Richard Smyth, whom Vermigli had succeeded as Professor, challenged Vermigli to a disputation on the Eucharist in 1548, but fled before it could take place. Three Catholic divines, William Tresham, William Chedsey and Morgan Phillips stepped forward to take his place. The dispuation put Vermigli at the forefront of debate over the nature of the Eucharist.[16] He had adopted the doctrine of a Real Presence conditioned by the faith of the recipient standard among Reformed theologians such as John Calvin.[17] Indeed, Vermigli, along with Martin Bucer, who was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, appears to have profoundly affected the views of Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley, and historians have proven definitively that Vermigli had a great deal of influence in the modifications of the Book of Common Prayer in 1552, the formulation of the Forty-Two Articles of Religion of 1553, and Cranmer's revision of canon law from 1551–1553, the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum.[18][citation needed]

On the ascension of Catholic Mary I of England, Vermigli was permitted to return to Strasbourg, where since his departure and the death of Bucer in 1551 Lutheranism had gained influence under the leadership of Johann Marbach. He was asked to sign both the Augsburg Confession and the Wittenberg Concordat. He was willing to sign the Augsburg Confession, but not the Concordat.[19] He was retained anyway and reappointed professor of theology, but controversy over the Eucharist as well as Vermigli's strong doctrine of double predestination continued with the Lutherans. Another professor in Strasbourg, Girolamo Zanchi, who had converted to Protestantism while under Vermigli in Lucca, shared Vermigli's convictions regarding the Eucharist and predestination, and they became allies. Vermigli also befriended a number of English exiles, including John Jewel. His increasing alienation from the Lutheran establishment lead him in 1556 to accept an offer from Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich to succeed Konrad Pellikan as professor. John Jewel came along with him.[20]

In Zurich, Vermigli's Eucharistic views were accepted, especially since the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549. He ran into controversy, however, over his strong doctrine of predestination. Bullinger tolerated his view, though he did not share it, but his colleague Theodore Bibliander was less conciliatory. Vermigli attempted to avoid confrontation over the issue, but Bibliander began to openly attack him in 1557, at one point challenging him to a duel with a double-edged axe. Bibliander was dismissed in 1560.[21] Vermigli attended the Colloquy at Poissy in 1561 with Theodore Beza, a conference held in France with the intention of reconciling Catholics and Protestants. The colloquy was not a success.[22] Vermigli became entangled in predestinarian controversy again in 1561, when Zanchi, who had remained in Strasbourg when Vermigli left for Zurich, was accused of heretical teachings on the Eucharist and predestination by the Lutheran John Marbach. Vermigli was selected to write the official judgement of the Zurich church on the matter. His affirmation of a strong doctrine of predestination represented the opinion of the Zurich church as a whole.[23] Vermigli was invited to Geneva in 1557, and to England again in 1561, but declined both invitations. He remained in Zurich until his death on 12 November 1562, maintaining a constant correspondence with Bishop John Jewel and other English prelates and reformers.[22][citation needed]


His first wife, Catherine, a former nun who died at Oxford on 17 February 1553, was disinterred in 1557 and tried for heresy; legal evidence was not forthcoming because witnesses had not understood her tongue; and instead of the corpse being burnt, it was merely cast on a dunghill in the stable of the dean of Christ Church. On the initiative of James Calfhill,[24] the remains were identified after Elizabeth's accession, mingled with the supposed relics of St Frideswide to prevent future desecration, and reburied in the cathedral. Vermigli's second wife, Caterina Merenda, whom he married at Zurich, survived him, marrying a merchant of Locarno.


Vermigli published over a score of theological works, chiefly Biblical commentaries and treatises on the Eucharist. His learning was striking and profound, and he served as an important theological resource for both the Swiss[25] and English Reformations.[26] John Calvin himself regarded Peter Martyr as one of the greatest expounders of the doctrine of the Eucharist in Protestantism.

Historical study

Vermigli's friend and colleague Josias Simler expanded Vermigli's funeral oration and published it as his biography in 1563. It is very accurate and is the basis of subsequent accounts of Vermigli, though it has been amended somewhat by recent studies, especially by Philip McNair's work, Peter Martyr in Italy.[27] Though he was frequently cited as an authority in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, no book-length biography of him was written after Simler's until the nineteenth century. Mcnair's 1967 work seems to have caused a revival of Vermigli studies.[28] Modern Vermigli study focuses on his connection to the development of Reformed scholasticism. Scholars are divided between those who believe Vermigli and other Italian Aristotelians betrayed biblical Calvinist theology for scholastic method, those who do not see much scholastic influence in Vermigli, and those who do not see a conflict between scholastic theological method and the theology of early Calvinists.[29]


  1. ^ a b Steinmetz 2001, p. 106.
  2. ^ James 1998, p. 106.
  3. ^ James 1998, p. 108.
  4. ^ James 1998, p. 5.
  5. ^ James 1998, p. 195.
  6. ^ James 1998, p. 196.
  7. ^ a b Steinmetz 2001, p. 107.
  8. ^ a b c James 1998, p. 3.
  9. ^ Steinmetz 2001, p. 107; James 1998, pp. 194–195, 197, 200.
  10. ^ James 1998, p. 195, 197, 199.
  11. ^ a b James 1998, p. 40.
  12. ^ James 1998, p. 39.
  13. ^ James 1998, p. 4.
  14. ^ Steinmetz 2001, pp. 107–108.
  15. ^ Steinmetz 2001, pp. 108.
  16. ^ Steinmetz 2001, p. 108; James 1998, pp. 4, 8.
  17. ^ Steinmetz 2001, pp. 108–109.
  18. ^ Steinmetz 2001, p. 112; James 1998, p. 4.
  19. ^ James 1998, pp. 4, 31; Steinmetz 2001, pp. 112–113.
  20. ^ James 1998, pp. 4, 32; Steinmetz 2001, pp. 112–113.
  21. ^ James 1998, pp. 4, 33–34; Steinmetz 2001, pp. 112–113.
  22. ^ a b James 1998, p. 4; Steinmetz 2001, pp. 112–113.
  23. ^ James 1998, pp. 4, 35; Steinmetz 2001, pp. 112–113.
  24. ^ Template:ODNBweb
  25. ^ Bruce Gordon. 2002. The Swiss Reformation. Manchester: Manchester University Press; p. xx.
  26. ^ M. A. Overell, "Peter Martyr in England 1547-1553: an alternative view." The Sixteenth Century Journal; 15 (1984), pp. 87-104
  27. ^ James 1998, p. 9.
  28. ^ James 1998, p. 11.
  29. ^ James 1998, pp. 12–17.
  • 12px This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  It has been edited to reflect recent findings by historians, especially McNair.


Further reading

  • Anderson, Marvin W. (1996) "Peter Martyr Vermigli." Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. (Oxford, 1996). vol. 4. pp. 229–31.
  • Anderson, Marvin W. (1975) Peter Martyr Vermigli: a Reformer in Exile, 1542-1562; a chronology of Biblical writings in England and Europe. Nieuwkoop: B. de Graaf.
  • Campi, Emidio, ed. (2002) Peter Martyr Vermigli: humanism, republicanism, reformation = Petrus Martyr Vermigli: Humanismus, Republikanismus, Reformation. Genève: Droz.
  • Donnelly, John Patrick (1990) A Bibliography of the Works of Peter Martyr Vermigli; compiled by John Patrick Donnelly in collaboration with Robert M. Kingdon; with a register of Vermigli's correspondence by Marvin W. Anderson. Kirksville, Mo: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers ISBN 0-940474-14-X
  • Donnelly, John Patrick (1976) Calvinism and Scholasticism in Vermigli's Doctrine of Man and Grace. Leiden: Brill.
  • James, Frank A. ed. (2004) Peter Martyr Vermigli аnd the European Reformations: Semper Reformanda, Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-13914-1
  • Kirby, W. J. Torrance; Campi, Emidio & James, Frank A. (2009) A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli. Leiden: Brill.
  • McLelland, Joseph C. (1957) The Visible Words of God: An Exposition of the Sacramental Theology of Peter Martyr Vermigli A.D. 1500-1562. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • McNair, Philip. (1967) Peter Martyr in Italy: an anatomy of apostasy. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Zuidema, Jason. (2008) Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562) and the Outward Instruments of Divine Grace. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard Smyth
Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford
Succeeded by
Richard Smyth

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