Girolamo Zanchi (Latin "Hieronymus Zanchius," thus Anglicized to "Jerome Zanchi/Zanchius") (February 2, 1516 – November 19, 1590) was an Italian Protestant Reformation clergyman and educator.
He was born the son of a noble lawyer and historian, in Alzano Lombardo near Bergamo. His father died in the plague of 1528 and his mother died only three years later. At age 15 he entered the monastery of the Augustinian Order of Regular Canons, where he studied Aristotle, languages and divinity. After completing his studies, he went to Lucca, and there under the influence of Peter Martyr Vermigli he opted for a theological career, being especially impressed by Vermigli's lectures on Romans. In addition to works of the Fathers, he became aware of Martin Bucer and Philipp Melanchthon, also read Martin Luther's writings and the Swiss reformers. John Calvin, however, had the greatest influence on him.
Even after Vermigli’s forced flight in 1542, Zanchi remained as a teacher at the monastery school. In 1551, however, he also was forced into exile. After a brief stay in Geneva, he wanted to go to England, but was called to Strasbourg and worked there as a professor of the Old Testament at the college of St. Thomas. His style is legalistic, and he interpreted with meticulous accuracy. In his overall theological orientation, he tacked neither directly along a Lutheran or a Calvinist line, although he was reckoned a Calvinist. He was one of the most learned theologians of the second half of the 16th Century, if he is not considered to be an especially original thinker. He was regarded an excellent teacher.
The demand for Strasbourg faculty and pastors to commit themselves to the Augsburg Confession created difficulties for him. He had previously declined offers to move to Geneva and Lausanne because he was committed to Strasbourg. However, he could not remain after the controversy with the Lutheran superintendent Johann Marbach. Zanchi had described the differences in the doctrine of the Eucharist between the Lutheran and Reformed as being relatively minor and also taught a strict Calvinist doctrine of predestination. After receiving many consultations from theologians outside of Strasbourg, the disputing parties were able to reach an agreement in constructing a formula of unity (The Strasbourg Consensus) signed by all the city's preachers and professors.
When Calvin chided him for his equivocation, Zanchi went public with his views again causing the controversy to erupt anew. He consequently left from Strasbourg to become the pastor of the Italian Protestant congregation in the Graubünden in Chiavenna. In 1568 he received a call to the University of Heidelberg, where he took over the chair of Dogmatics formerly occupied by Zacharias Ursinus. Here he wrote important works which tend to bear either an apologetic or polemical character. His method of presentation is quite scholastic. After the Electorate of the Palatinate returned to Lutheranism during the reign of Elector Ludwig VI, Zanchi moved with many other Reformed professors to the Casmirianum, a Reformed academy in Neustadt in the dominions of Count Palatine Johann Casimir. He died during a return visit to Heidelberg and was buried in the University Church.
Zanchius was a voluminous writer whose works include, Confession of the Christian Religion and Observation on the Divine Attributes. He is perhaps best known for his book The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, which is still in publication today.
The following is a translation of the inscription on the headstone of Zanchius' grave:
- Cuno (1898), "Zanchius, Hieronymus", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German) 44, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 679–683
- Erich Wenneker (1998). "Girolamo Zanchi". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 14. Herzberg: Bautz. ISBN 3-88309-073-5.
- Theologische Realenzyklopädie, volume 36, pp. 482–485
- Burchill, Christopher J. “Girolomo Zanchi: Portrait of a Reformed Theologian and his Work.” Sixteenth Century Journal 15 (1984): 185-205.
- Burnett, Amy Nelson. "Simon Sulzer and the Consequences of the 1563 Strasbourg Consensus in Switzerland," Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 88 (1992): 154-179
- Kittelson, James. “Marbach vs. Zanchi: the Resolution of Controversy in Later Reformation Strasbourg.” Sixteenth Century Journal 7 (1977): 31-44.
- Zanchius, Jerom. "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination" translated by Augustus M. Toplady. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1977. ISBN 0-8010-9927-7.
Part I: From Alzano to Lucca
Girolamo (or Jerome) Zanchi moved around a lot. Unlike Martin Luther (who was closely associated with Wittenberg), Martin Bucer (who was tied to Strasbourg), or John Calvin (to Geneva), Zanchi had no city to call his own, no city that claimed him as a son. Perhaps because of his refugee life, he is not often remembered or read nowadays. But in the sixteenth century, he was one of the remarkable individuals whom God used to restore His gospel and reform His Church and he is among the greatest Reformed theologians of any age. It’s a pleasure to have the honor of re-introducing him in the context of a missionary endeavor that would surely have touched Zanchi’s heart.
Girolamo was born on 2 February 1516 to what we would now call a middle-class family. His father, Francesco, had only recently relocated from Venice to Alzano outside of Bergamo and about 45 kilometers from the heart of Milan. Sadly, Francesco, who had worked as a secretary to a Venetian official before the move, died of the plague in 1528. Three years later, Girolamo’s mother, Barbara Morlotti, died too, leaving her son an orphan. When he grew older, Girolamo rarely reflected upon his youth (at least in his in writings) and, to my knowledge, never discussed how he felt about the loss of his parents. Yet, their death set him on a path that brought him to the center of the religious controversies that were, even then, swirling around Europe.
In February 1531, soon after the loss of his mother, young Zanchi entered the monastic community of Santo Spirito di Bergamo. There he became a novice of the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular, a medieval religious order that lived communally according to a rule of life inspired by St Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Unlike contemplative orders such as the Benedictines, which lived apart from the world, canons labored in churches and focused their energy on public ministries like preaching and teaching as well as the administration of the sacraments.
Girolamo was not the first member of his family to join the Canons Regular; several paternal cousins and a maternal uncle had preceded him. Zanchi was three years too young to become a novice monk, but his unique circumstances and his family connection to the order allowed the rules to be bent. Once a part of the community, Zanchi would have structured his life according to the medieval Rule of St Augustine, sharing all things in common with his fellow monks, serving in the church, studying theology, and obeying the so-called “counsels of perfection”: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Perhaps this well-ordered world was just what a newly orphaned fifteen-year old needed. We might well wonder if he wanted to join the Augustinians? Did he feel a call to learn about God even at that age? Or was he pressured into the role, only recognizing a desire to serve the Church as he grew older? Though intriguing to the modern mind, sixteenth century authors rarely addressed such questions and we are left with little more than informed guesses.
We also know little about Zanchi’s time in Bergamo. This probably means that he followed a traditional path and stayed out of trouble, as much as anyone his age could have. Presumably, he took part in the life of the monastic community and began the long process of preparing himself to receive the sacrament of holy orders. He also seems to have studied a great deal. No doubt he read the writings of his order’s namesake, St Augustine. But Zanchi’s later writings show that he also consumed the works of Aristotle, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas (1225-1276), and many of the other great medieval scholastic theologians. His intellectual gifts were considerable and they could not have escaped the notice of his superiors in the Order. He may have studied for a period at the University of Padua in the 1530s. Whether he did or not, by the time he turned twenty-five, he had been ordained a priest, appointed to the office of “public preacher,” and received his doctorate in theology.
It was probably late in 1535, four years after Zanchi had arrived at Santo Spirito, that he made one of the most important friendships of his life. Massililiano Celso Martinenghi was a year younger than Zanchi and had spent a great deal less time in the monastic life. But Celso’s family were the counts of Brescia and therefore of a much higher social status than the orphan son of a clerk. In spite of the mismatch in experience and rank, a bond grew between the two young men. It’s difficult to overestimate the importance that a good friend can play in one’s life and this was certainly the case for Celso and Zanchi. Together they read theology and began studying Greek. Even more importantly, early in 1541, when fifteen members of the order were chosen to take up residence in the house of San Frediano in Lucca, both Zanchi and Celso were among the number. Little did they know, this move would dramatically alter the course of both of their lives.