Absolute Predestination -- By: Joel R. Beeke
PRJ 5:1 (January 2013) p. 233
The recently reprinted classic Absolute Predestination1 brings together the thoughts of two men with very different backgrounds. One was Italian; the other, English. One lived in the sixteenth century; the other in the eighteenth century. One is best known today for his profound theology, and the other for his hymns of praise to God. But both had this in common: they loved the glory of God’s sovereign grace in Christ.
Let me introduce you to these two men and their book.
The Sixteenth-Century Italian Theologian
Girolamo Zanchi (1516-1590), or Jerome Zanchius as the English knew him, was a Reformed theologian. He was born February 2, 1516, in Lombardy, Italy. In his late teens and early twenties, he studied classical languages, the philosophy of Aristotle, and the theology of Thomas Aquinas. He did that with the Augustinian monks at Bergamo. In 1541, Zanchi transferred to the monastery in Lucca, where for fifteen months he was mentored by Peter Martyr Vermigli in studying church fathers and Reformers such as Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. When Martyr left the monastery in 1542, Zanchi remained as an instructor. Over time, he converted to Reformed Christianity, though he rejected the names of Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Calvinist, preferring to say, “I am a Christian.”2 Zanchi fled Italy in 1551 because of the Roman Catholic
PRJ 5:1 (January 2013) p. 234
Inquisition. He traveled through Switzerland, visiting Reformed theologians Wolfgang Musculus in Bern and Pierre Viret in Lausanne before arriving in Geneva.
After listening to Calvin’s sermons and lectures for nine months, Zanchi went to Strasbourg to teach theology and philosophy with Martyr. His first wife, Violanthis, required full-time nursing after repeated miscarriages. Martyr went to Zurich in 1556, leaving Zanchi in the stressful position of teaching in an understaffed academy.3 During this time Zanchi also suffered a wearisome controversy with militant Lutherans in Strasbourg, particularly with his colleague Johann Marbach.
In 1563, he left to serve as pastor of an Italian refugee church in Chiavenna. This work was marked with suffering. The plague killed many people and forced others, including Zanchi, to flee to the mountains. He had to deal with anti-trinitarians, who infiltrated the congregation, and the resentment of a ministerial assistant who tried to take his job.4
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