University Library

Reformers in print

    Phillip Melanchthon, De dialectica libri quator

    By Kirk Essary

    Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) is still an underappreciated figure from the Reformation. An eminent humanist, he was lured to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther (1483–1546) was based, from Tübingen to serve as Professor of Greek at the University of Wittenberg at the young age of 21. He was Luther’s right-hand man in many ways, and did much of the early intellectual heavy-lifting of the Lutheran Reformation. While certainly interested in theology, Melanchthon had wide-ranging interests and regularly lectured on classical Greek literature at the university. Also distinguishing him from other major reform-minded humanists at the time was his interest in Aristotelian dialectic, a mode of teaching and argumentation that Erasmus of Rotterdam (c. 1466-1536) and Luther, for example, blamed for what they perceived to be the denigration of theology in the Middle Ages into abstruse speculation. The dialectica libri quator, first published in 1528, is a defence of the usefulness of dialectic for students of rhetoric and theology, and a compendium of the various aspects of Aristotelian logic as it had been refined in the Renaissance.

    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

    By Kirk Essary

    John Calvin (1509–1564) was, next to Martin Luther (1483–1546), the most lastingly influential Protestant thinker from the sixteenth century. Born and raised in France, he eventually fled persecution and ultimately landed in Geneva, Switzerland, where he came to exert enormous religious and political influence over the city, which had opened its doors to Protestant refugees, like Calvin himself, fleeing persecution (primarily from France, but also from England and Scotland). The Institutes was Calvin’s theological masterwork, and it established a distinctive brand of Protestant thought that emphasised the absolute power of God and the absolute sinfulness of humanity, which spread rather quickly across Europe and into the Americas in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries.

    The work was first published in 1536 and expanded over several editions until the final version of 1559. From the first edition, it opened with a letter to Francis I (1494–1547), king of France from 1515, imploring the king to cease his persecution of Protestants in France (to no avail).

    Written originally in Latin, Calvin translated the work into French and it is a signpost indicating a shift to the modern form of that language. The Institutes was first translated into English in 1561. Though the Institutes itself and Calvin’s thought more generally is heavily indebted to Luther’s emphasis on the centrality of faith, grace, and the Bible, Calvin diverged from Lutheran teaching on the Eucharist and certain ecclesiastical aspects of theology. Thus, Swiss Protestantism associated with Calvin became a separate movement, leading eventually to serve as the bedrock for Puritanism and Presbyterianism in England, the Netherlands, and America, as well as other branches of Protestantism now usually termed ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’.

    Théodore de Bèze, Icones, id est verae imagines

    By Arvi Wattel

    All reformers spoke out strongly against the worship of images. Yet, while some reformers including Karlstadt and Zwingli wanted to forbid all images, Luther and Calvin acknowledged the usefulness of images as an educational tool. Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605), Calvin’s successor in Geneva, even recommended the use of images to encourage piety. In 1580, Bèze published the Icones in Geneva with his friend, the printer Jean de Laon. The book contains short biographies of Reformers (including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Erasmus and Melanchthon) and their sympathizers, alongside 38 woodcut portraits and 54 empty, but labelled woodcut frames for individuals whose portraits Bèze had been unable to obtain. Bèze had searched for likenesses of religious leaders since at least 1577 and continued his mission after the book’s publication. Even though the Reformed movement was deeply divided on numerous theological issues, Bèze intended to create an idea of Protestant unity and sought to portray the reform movement as an international phenomenon. Bèze was aware that the inclusion of images might provoke criticism, since the Protestants had come out so strongly against Catholic idolatry, but he stresses in his introduction that readers would be more receptive to the reformers’ message if they saw their pictorial likeness.

    At the end of the book, Bèze included some of the earliest Reformation emblems. In some of the 44 images, Bèze expressed strong anti-Roman Catholic views. In Emblem XXXVII, for example, he mocks priests and attacks Catholic idolatry:

    It is not surprising that you commend statues so freely, since you yourselves are statues, oh priests.

    The copy in the Reid library has an interesting provenance. The inside cover is lettered in gold against a black background: ‘T.K. Glazebrook to his friend Henry Ricketts Esq. BRISTOL.’ Thomas Kirkland Glazebrook (1780-1855), the son of an Anglican priest, was a glass manufacturer in the North West of England, while Henry Ricketts (ca. 1783-1859) was equally a glassmaker who owned his own bottle-making company in Bristol. After Ricketts, a Horatio(?) Patten owned this copy of the Icones and not only signed the frontispiece but also ‘imitated’ (translated) the text of the first emblem in English verse:

    Search as you will the circle’s ambient line, / Here cohere you enter will the end define: / So blesst(?) to all who love his holy name; / Dying - they live – one moment marks the same.”

    After Patten, the copy came into possession of Albert Ehrmann (1890-1969) whose armorial bookplate with his motto “pro viribus summis contendo” (‘act according to your strength’) is pasted on the front page. Ehrmann was a diamond merchant, who built one of the most important private book collections in Britain from 1920 onwards. After his death, major libraries such as the British Library, Bodleian Library and Cambridge University Library received parts of his collection, while the rest of his collection was sold at two sales at Sotheby’s in November 1977 and May 1978. It is likely that the Reid library’s copy of Bèze was purchased at one of these two sales.