A Review of Jerome Zanchi (1516–90) and the Analysis of Reformed Scholastic Christology

by Jonathan Tomes

The retrieval of Reformed scholasticism has been under way for some time now, yet very many gaps remain in its development in Reformed Orthodoxy. Preference for high and late orthodox theologians continues to obscure the full breadth and depth of the tradition. Such myopia sometimes results in confirmation bias in the interpretation of earlier and better known theologians. Consequently, we also miss out on the surprisingly relevant questions brought under investigation in earlier and less well known (to today) theologians, such as Jerome Zanchi(1). Stefan Lindholm addresses this deficit in this work on Zanchi’s Reformed scholastic Christology.

Lindholm engages in what is not primarily a work of historical theology but of philosophical theology. He proposes a ‘historical cum philosophical approach’, so as to inquire into the ‘metaphysical assumptions in Christology.’ My initial impression is one of concern. Responsible historical scholarship strives to see things through the eyes of its subject, as far as that is possible. Too much energy has been expended on anachronistic and ahistorical handlings of the sources of Reformed Orthodoxy. As Lindholm rightly notes, ‘The historiographical shift has occurred through a closer attention to the sources, language, structuring principles and the intellectual context of reformed scholastic theology’ (p. 21). While a sharper vision of the past ought not to be the end of historical investigation, retrieval of the past for the Church today will only stand on a firm foundation. But analytic philosophy stands to push out sound historical-theological method. Gert van den Brink and Mark Jones have raised similar concerns. Mingling  together historical and analytic work is no easy task, but the possible rewards are great. What I doubt is not the usefulness of such a project but that the two methods can be employed in a single, slim volume without weakening both philosophy and historical theology.

This book is arranged in three parts. In part 1 Lindhom sets Zanchi’s Christology in context. Then, Lindholm demonstrates Zanchi’s teaching on the hypostatic union by way of the virgin birth, hominization, and compositionalism. Lastly, he considers the consequences of the hypostatic union and the Lutheran/Reformed polemical controversies surrounding the Extra Calvinisticum and the Non Capax. The first section on human ensoulment and incarnation is a fascinating look at the beginning of human life, and there is much here to surprise. It is strong material and demonstrates the promise of this particular method. His historical investigation and analytic work brings the reader into territory not often discussed in Reformed Christology and theological anthropology.

Beyond that, the work is bogged down in philosophical analysis, which will make it of limited value for the historical theologian. More exegetical attention to Zanchi’s writings is needed, though the interaction with his philosophical distinctions is interesting and useful in its own right. The focus on his engagement with Lutheran theologians likely controls and restricts what Lindholm attends to in Zanchi. Several points, particularly those where Lindholm’s Zanchi sounds sympathetic to monophysite tendencies, cry out for further elaboration and explanation.

Does Lindholm succeed in his historical-analytic approach? In several respects. He brings forward often neglected questions in the primary sources, and subjects them to a philosophical inquiry, clarifying the nature of the question and demonstrating flaws in early modern thought. His suggestions for improvement are often provocative, and sometimes convincing. But this work struggles in contextual exegesis. As was suggested above, the analytic method often suffers in just this area.


Notes:

1. For the life of Jerome Zanchi, see Patrick J. O’Banion’s essays in Ad Fontes: A Journal of Protestant Ressourcement:

https://davenanttrust.org/jerome-zanchi-1516-1590-life-exile-part-1/
https://davenanttrust.org/jerome-zanchi-1516-1590-life-exile-part-2/

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