The Inner Light of Oecolampadius

As the Reader may recall, I first began writing these posts upon returning to the University of Freiburg in 1509, after being forced by lack of money to pause my studies for a stint as a corrector at the printing press of Henricus Gran.  But Freiburg was not the first university at which I matriculated.  Up until my father’s death in 1500, I studied to please him, planning for a career in medicine.  Only when he died could I pursue my own path, and it was a journey undertaken in fits and starts due to my poverty and to the unsettled times.

In 1501 I enrolled in the Arts at the University of Ingolstadt (now famous for Johann Eck’s presence and where my friend Hubmaier teaches.)  But war interrupted my studies both there and also at Heidelberg, where I spent part of one year.  This war was occasioned by the death of  Duke George of Bavaria, whose marriage to the Polish princess Hedwig produced five children, but no surviving son.

Jadwiga (Hedwig)

An agreement existed between the two duchies of Bavaria that if the male line of one ended, the other would assume both.  But Duke George wished his daughter Elisabeth and her husband to be his heirs.  This led to a destructive two-year war in 1503, which reduced many villages to ashes and disrupted city life and university studies.  I left Heidelberg in 1504.  The next year, Elisabeth died, the war ended, and Emperor Maximilian partitioned Duke George’s lands, giving some to his grandsons and some to the other Bavarian Duke, with Maximilian keeping some for himself for his arbitration.  By then, I had already enrolled at Freiburg.

But I have fond memories of Heidelberg, where I made friends with a serious and passionate young student of  theology known then as Johannes Hauschein, whose name in our southern German dialect means “house light.”

This week, the duties of my office take me to Heidelberg, where I  was reunited with Hauschein, now a scholar of the humanities, who has taken, not a Latin name, but a Greek one.  Oecolampadius, which means a well-lit, shining house.  One thinks of two Bible passages.  That a Christian should not hide his light under a basket, and that a city set on a hill shall not be hid, but its beauty shall be seen by all.

My dear friend, Oecolampadius, lives up to both passages.  He is still serious about devotion and passionate about study.  Perhaps, a little too serious than is healthy, for he is of frail constitution, though he works ceaselessly, preaching at Weinberg and studying Hebrew under Reuchlin.

At every turn, I find myself encountering encouragement to continue my studies of Hebrew.  Is this the leading of God?  Or am I just overly tender today, having spent time with Oecolampadius?  For he leans to the mystical side of theology, believing that one can find God directly through personal devotion.  Oecolampadius is much attached to the writings of  the French mystic, Jean Gerson.

Gerson taught that “It is preferable to have filial love directed towards God, than to have a keen intellect, but cold and illuminated only by study”.  To know oneself, to love God, this is true wisdom.

Oecolampadius is what I wish to become: an authentic scholar and an authentic Christian, a seeker of true light for both the mind and the heart.  I fear I am far from either.


Delightful portrait of the young Oecolampadius from the collection of  Mrs. Carl J. Burckhardt-de Reynold.

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