Jerome Zanchi (1516-90) and the Analysis of Reformed Scholastic Christology

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Stefan Lindholm
Reformed Historical Theology
  • Bristol, CT: 
    Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
    , August
     200 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Stefan Lindholm’s study of scholastic christology takes the sixteenth-century reformer Jerome Zanchi as its primary interlocutor, though in many respects Zanchi is merely the point of departure for broader considerations of christology and metaphysics in the medieval and Reformation periods. The book originates as Lindholm’s doctoral dissertation at Stavanger School of Mission and Theology in Norway, and the author is clear at the outset that it is not intended to be a work of historical theology (curiously despite its appearance in the publisher’s esteemed series “Reformed Historical Theology”). Instead it is a piece of philosophical theology, grounded in Reformed and Lutheran debates over the incarnation and the person of Jesus Christ. As such it reaches backward into the metaphysics of Aristotle, and also forward by commending Reformed scholastic thought for contemporary use (while also shoring up some of its weaknesses).

More specifically, Lindholm’s goal is to bring analytical tools to bear on Zanchi’s christology and in so doing to understand it better—even pressing critically for more self-consistency than the reformer himself managed to achieve. This complements a historical approach rather than superseding it, justified (in part) by the fact that the theology here under scrutiny “is deeply embedded in philosophical concepts that are not well known to modern readers” (21). Attentiveness to the philosophical will aid the historian in recognizing the metaphysical assumptions within christology—assumptions which in this era had become highly nuanced.

Chapters 1 and 2 set the table by introducing so-called Reformed scholasticism and the historiographical approaches to reading this era variously in continuity or discontinuity with major reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Lindholm reminds readers of the Chalcedonian settlement of the fifth century, and the way in which it was subsequently interpreted, before turning to the christology of Zanchi himself. Here a brief biographical sketch and summary of Zanchi’s writings (especially De Incarnatione, posthumously published in 1593) provide the context necessary for Lindholm’s analysis. Of particular note is the reformer’s historical location: his most mature and systematic statement of christology arrives on the scene during a period of transition, when the respective positions of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions already had been settled. This may go some way in explaining why Zanchi’s work on this topic has been largely overlooked.

The next two chapters probe metaphysical topics pertaining to the incarnation, namely body-soul composition and the “hominization” of the divine Logos. First, the traditional confession of Christ’s virgin birth suggests a number of issues pertaining to the way in which the incarnation came about. The author is particularly concerned with the question of whether the humanity of Jesus (understood as a body and a rational soul) is formed all at once within the womb of Mary or, more ordinarily, gradually as the fetus develops. If the latter, when was the Logos united with that flesh? Zanchi’s view of “instant formation” is contrasted with Francis Turretin’s account of a gradual formation, with Lindholm finally suggesting a number of helpful corrections to Zanchi’s conceptual shortcomings (69-75). Chapter 4 then considers the use of similes to describe the incarnation, attending to Zanchi’s preference for part-whole imagery (rather than substance-accident) within a larger context of medieval compositionalism.

Finally chapters 5 and 6 turn to the “consequences” of the union of two natures in Christ, and particularly four topics intensely debated during the sixteenth century: the communication of properties, the extra calvinisticum, the principle finitum non capax infiniti (the finite is not capable of the infinite), and the matter of ubiquity and the presence of the risen Christ. The book is at its strongest here, where the previously sparse historical material draws closer to the fore and the author’s analytic skills are deployed in service of Reformation-era concerns. Lindholm treats both sides of the debate with an even hand, arguing both that the Reformed finally had the better argument and also granting that Zanchi did not fully grasp the subtleties of his chief opponent, Martin Chemnitz (113). The book concludes with a rigorous examination of the contested topic of ubiquity, as Lindholm defends and extends Zanchi’s views on place and co-location with philosophical clarity.

This is a welcome study, though it demands of its readers a high degree of specialization. It is somewhat unique in its attempt to situate the analytic task within the history of medieval and Reformation theology, and while it is not the author’s primary intent, one does wish for a bit more historical elaboration—for example, textually demonstrating points of influence by Peter Martyr Vermigli, Zacharias Ursinus, and others rather than merely stating that such influence exists (42f.). Though the summary of Zanchi’s writings includes numerous insights, the lack of quotation in the early chapters (consider, e.g., 44-47) is also conspicuous, as are numerous digressions away from Zanchi himself. Without such further historical and textual analysis it eventually becomes clear that the work is less a study of Zanchi’s christology in its own right than it is an occasion for the author’s pursuit of other concerns. While that makes for a fine set of conversations, often with probing insight, here it is perhaps improperly packaged.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Darren O. Sumner is Affiliate Assitant Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stefan Lindholm is lecturer in systematic theology at Johannelund theological seminary, Uppsala, Sweden.


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