1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oecolampadius, John

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OECOLAMPADIUS, JOHN (1482-1531), German Reformer, whose real name was Hussgen or Heussgen,[1] was born at Weinsberg, a small town in the north of the modern kingdom of Württemberg, but then belonging to the Palatinate. He went to school at Weinsberg and Heilbronn, and then, intending to study law, he went to Bologna, but soon returned to Heidelberg and betook himself to theology. He became a zealous student of the new learning and passed from the study of Greek to that of Hebrew, taking his bachelor's degree in 1503. He became cathedral preacher at Basel in 1515, serving under Christopher von Uttenheim, the evangelical bishop of Basel. From the beginning the sermons of Oecolampadius centred in the Atonement, and his first reformatory zeal showed itself in a protest (De risu paschali, 1518) against the introduction of humorous stories into Easter sermons. In 1520 he published his Greek Grammar. The same year he was asked to become preacher in the high church in Augsburg. Germany was then ablaze with the questions raised by Luther's theses, and his introduction into this new world, when at first he championed Luther's position especially in his anonymous Canonici indocti (1519), seems to have compelled Oecolampadius to severe self-examination, which ended in his entering a convent and becoming a monk. A short experience convinced him that this was not for him the ideal Christian life (“amisi monachum, inveni Christianum”), and in February 1522 he made his way to Ebernburg, near Creuznach, where he acted as chaplain to the little group of men holding the new opinions who had settled there under the leadership of Franz von Sickingen.

The second period of Oecolampadius's life opens with his return to Basel in November 1522, as vicar of St Martin's and (in 1523) reader of the Holy Scripture at the university. Lecturing on Isaiah he condemned current ecclesiastical abuses, and in a public disputation (20th of August 1523) was so successful that Erasmus writing to Zürich said “Oecolampadius has the upper hand amongst us.” He became Zwingli's best helper, and after more than a year of earnest preaching and four public disputations in which the popular verdict had been given in favour of Oecolampadius and his friends, the authorities of Basel began to see the necessity of some reformation. They began with the convents, and Oecolampadius was able to refrain in public worship on certain festival days from some practices he believed to be superstitious. Basel was slow to accept the Reformation; the news of the Peasants' War and the inroads of Anabaptists prevented progress; but at last, in 1525, it seemed as if the authorities were resolved to listen to schemes for restoring the purity of worship and teaching. In the midst of these hopes and difficulties Oecolampadius married, in the beginning of 1528, Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, the widow of Ludwig Keller, who proved to be non rixosa vel garrula vel vaga, he says, and made him a good wife. After his death she married Capito, and, when Capito died, Bucer. She died in 1564. In January 1528 Oecolampadius and Zwingli took part in the disputation at Berne which led to the adoption of the new faith in that canton, and in the following year to the discontinuance of the mass at Basel. The Anabaptists claimed Oecolampadius for their views, but in a disputation with them he dissociated himself from most of their positions. He died on the 24th of November 1531.

Oecolampadius was not a great theologian, like Luther, Zwingli or Calvin, and yet he was a trusted theological leader. With Zwingli he represented the Swiss views at the unfortunate conference at Marburg. His views on the Eucharist upheld the metaphorical against the literal interpretation of the word “body,” but he asserted that believers partook of the sacrament more for the sake of others than for their own, though later he emphasized it as a means of grace for the Christian life. To Luther's doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body he opposed that of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the church. He did not minutely analyse the doctrine of predestination as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli did, contenting himself with the summary “Our Salvation is of God, our perdition of ourselves.”

See J. J. Herzog, Leben Joh. Oecolampads u. die Reformation der Kirche zu Basel (1843); K. R. Hagenbach, Johann Oecolampad u. Oswald Myconius, die Reformatoren Basels (1859). For other literature see W. Hadorn's art. in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopädie für prot. Rel. u. Kirche.


  1. Changed to Hausschein and then into the Greek equivalent.