Francis Lambert and the Pan-European Reformation


     The Reformation in Europe around 1510-1530 was built on that of the preceding two centuries. In England Grosseteste, Bradwardine, Wycliffe and the Lollards had done great reforming work as also the Hussites, the Bohemian Brethren and the Waldensians on the Continent. There never was a century without Reformation somewhere in Europe and her influence on other countries. Such early reforms were prior to the denominational counter-Reformation which broke up the inter-Protestant and pan-European international revivals of true religion in those times. The break-up resulted in much Reformed knowledge being lost and inter-church renewal was forgotten where denominations replaced churches. If we look at these early 16th century Reformation days, we shall realize that individuals whose names have been preserved like Luther, Knox, Wesley and, indirectly Calvin, changed Reformed churches into denominational institutions.

France before Germany on justification by faith

     Pre-Sixteenth Century France, like England, led reform before Luther. Jacques Lefèvre[ref] Also called Jacques Lefèvre d’Ėtaples because of his birthplace in Picardy.[/ref] (1440-1556), a Carmelite monk who held a chair at the Sorbonne, was translating the Scriptures from the original languages, preaching and publishing on justification by faith before 1512. Luther first actually expounded the doctrine in his On the Bondage of the Will in 1525. Lefèvre’s reforms were internationalized through his students such as William Farel and Peter Olivetan, who pioneered the French-speaking churches over two decades before Calvin. After Lefèvre and his reforming followers were accused of heresy and banned from Paris, they moved with Reformers such as Gérard Roussel and Martial Mazurier to nearby Meaux where William Briçonnet, a nobleman and Bishop of the city protected them. Briçonnet had recently returned from Rome quite disillusioned with the Papacy, instigated many reforms in his diocese, including a college for Bible translators and teachers. His gift of a Bible to Francis I’s sister, Marguerite de Navarre moved her to take the side of the Reformation. Soon the Cercle de Meaux, called ‘the cradle of the French Reformation’, became notorious for its Reformation zeal. In 1523, Emperor Charles V threatened Briçonnet with death by burning. Briçonnet recanted and reinstituted prayers to Mary, silenced the preachers and banned Reformation literature from his diocese. Rather than follow Briçonnet’s backward step, Lefèvre and Roussel fled to Bucer’s Strassburg and Farel left Meux to seek asylum in German Switzerland where Haller, Zwingli and Bullinger were opening the doors of Reformation. Other Reformers scattered throughout France, preaching itinerantly.

Francis Lambert the faithful Observant

     Francis Lambert (c. 1486-1530) of Avignon war foremost amongst such preachers. Lambert rejected wealth and nobility to become a poor itinerant international preacher of the gospel, always travelling on and preaching from the back of a donkey. He co-pioneered the Reformation in France and Alsacia and helped plant the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland. He was the first to preach Reformation in Savoy-ruled Geneva and the Vaud. Lambert’s Reformation writings rivaled those of Bucer and Bullinger and out-rivaled Luther’s. Sadly, his teaching was suppressed when the Reformation turned cold and almost faded away in the schoolmen mentality of Denominationalism which Lambert so much opposed.

     Lambert, was called to be a preacher of righteousness at fifteen, and joined the Franciscan Observants, an ascetic preaching order. After a trial year, he became a friar but the worldliness of his co-friars banished all hopes of finding righteousness amongst them. He was promoted as Apostolic Preacher to preach freely throughout France which caused jealous animosity within his order. The further away from his cloister he went, the more he relied on God’s Word, exegetically from Genesis to Revelation with amazing success. The jealous Franciscans plotted against him, stole his mule and spread lies concerning Lambert’s private life, but wherever he preached the worldly Catholic Church was condemned and crowds burnt their images, indulgencies and even playing cards.


Lambert in Switzerland

     Lambert was now centred all his faith around Christ in His Word and preached a life according to the gospel. He did not think of establishing a new Church but a community of saints. Before the 1520s arrived, Lambert had severed himself from his home cloister but kept up his itinerant preaching in his monkish attire, the latter being a key to unlock many a door. In June 1522, he travelled up the Rhone Valley to Geneva, where he was the first to preach the gospel for eight subsequent days where news of the Reformation had not yet penetrated.[ref] Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, p.25 ff. [/ref] He then moved to Lausanne.

     Even the Roman Catholic clergy heard Lambert gladly and Bishop Sebastian of Montfalcon gave Lambert letters of recommendation and introduction and wished him God’s blessing in his work. Lambert next proceeded to Freiberg in Germany and then to Bern in Switzerland, preaching spiritual reform wherever he went. Bern was alive with teaching similar to his own since Sebastian Meyer preached there in 1518. Bechtold Haller was now preaching Reformed doctrines in Bern Cathedral but had not yet officially broken with Rome, wishing to reform the apostate Church not to destroy her. His associate Zwingli, in Zürich was also preaching a number of Reformed doctrines which the Roman Catholic hierarchy had not yet condemned. The city councils, in both cantons backed these Reforms, claiming that all preaching was good if it was based on God’s Word. Lambert at once joined in the work at Bern though handicapped by not speaking German. He preached in Latin, teaching the clergy and academics who flocked to him. After great success in Bern, Lambert longed to move on so Haller gave him a letter of recommendation to Zürich, telling Zwingli, ‘You will soon see what talent, doctrine and learning he (Lambert) possesses’.

Lambert neither Lutheran nor Zwinglian

     Lambert’s denominational-minded chroniclers make him either a Lutheran or a Zwinglian, though he was neither. Winters[ref] Francis Lambert of Avignon, Section c ‘The Conversion of Lambert in Zürich’, p. 28 ff.[/ref] argues that Lambert owed his conversion to Zwingli but both men left Rome at the same time though hardly knowing each other. Indeed, some scholars argue that all the Swiss Reformers followed Luther, though this is historically quite impossible. Amy Nelson Burnett in her essay ‘The Myth of the Swiss Lutherans: Martin Bucer and the Eucharist Controversy in Bern’, shows how faulty conclusions can be made. Winters claims that Lambert threw of his monk’s attire at Zürich, whereas William Maurer in his work on Lambert claims that his subject was converted in Basel, but in 1523, Lambert’s contemporary Basil Amerbach spoke of Lambert throwing off his cowl in Luther’s Wittenberg. Happily, we have enough material from Lambert’s pen to show that he was above and previous to denominational wrangling but the effort of scholars to put Lambert into a later denominational corset is perhaps why few understand him as he fits into none. Thus Gerhard Müller, in his work on Lambert emphasizes that ‘Whoever wishes to understand Lambert’s importance . . . . must free himself of denominational prejudice.’[ref] Müller, p. 124, this author’s translation.[/ref]

Lambert’s brief meeting with Zwingli

     Lambert arrived in Zürich on 12 July, 1522, where Zwingli had already served three years as a Roman Catholic priest. Zwingli had begun several minor reforms which alarmed some and encourage others so the sympathetic city council proposed a series of four debates with him concerning his new views. Lambert arrived shortly before these debates and both men conversed closely concerning the whole spectrum of Christian doctrine which would have helped Zwingli order his thoughts aright in preparation for the debates which proved highly successful. Keeping to the actual records and not to the myths, Lambert was delighted with Zwingli’s progress in Reformed thinking but Zwingli was rather suspicious of him. Anyway, though the Frenchman spent six days in the Canton capital, he spoke only a few hours with Zwingli before departing for Basel on July 18, 1522, where, Zwingli’s mentor Thomas Wyttenbach was successfully challenging Rome. Lambert’s many letters of recommendation gave him access to all the leading ministers in Basel on both sides. At Basel, Reformer Johannes Oecolampadius was lecturing at the university on the Scriptures and here Lambert met Conrad Kürschner, perhaps better known as ‘Pellican’, the Bible translator who became one of the pillars of the Zürich Reformation under Bullinger where a Bible in High German was published some time before Luther’s.

Lambert in Germany

     Lambert now turned once more towards Germany and arrived in Eisenach, in November 1522. Luther had been in hiding at near-by Wartburg for a year or so after his final break with Rome under the pseudonym of Junker Jörg but had returned in March, 1522 to Wittenberg to face rebellion from co-Protestants. However, Lambert was greeted cordially by Jacob Straus at Eisenach. He, like, Luther, denounced Zwingli more because of idle rumours than theology and Zwingli’s main works had not reached Saxony or, like his Schlußreden were not yet written. Straus advised Lambert to contact Frederic the Wise, his chaplain, George Spalatin and Luther so Lambert wrote to them all as one brother in Christ seeking mutual fellowship and instruction in the restored faith. Replies were slow in coming and, meanwhile,, Lambert lectured in Eisenach on the Gospel of John to the educated ministers and citizens of the city using primarily Latin as a lingua franca but French with the Reformed refugees in Eisenach. Soon, Lambert moved beyond the borders of Eisenach, pioneering new areas with the gospel. At first Luther ignored Lambert informing Spalatin on 15 December 1522,[ref] Herminjard, vol. 1, letters 56-57.[/ref] using the pseudonym Johannes Serranus for Lambert, that he did not want Lambert in Wittenberg.

     Lambert would not shut out any of the Protestant churches from his sphere of service, so he drew up a hundred and thirty-nine theses which he sent Luther as a basis for a suggested conference and as his own credentials in Reformed matters. He then expounded them one by one in an open debate on St. Thomas Day, 21 December, 1522, in Eisenach. Lambert’s theses were more comprehensive and detailed than the ninety-five Luther had nailed up in Wittenberg and had the benefit of being expounded when delivered. Lambert’s aim was not to quarrel with the Papacy on selected issues, like indulgences, as Luther had done, but present a completely Reformed alternative to the structure and dogmas of the Papal status quo. This worried Luther as much as the Pope.

Luther cold-shoulders Lambert

     Rather than jump at the chance to debate with his able co-Reformer, Luther, quite unfairly, spoke negatively of him as an asylum-seeker who would cause the community financial burdens. However, Spalatin, backed by the French Protestants and their sympathisers at Eisenach, vouched for Lambert’s ‘uncommon erudition’ and urged Luther to be Lambert’s host at Wittenberg but Luther told Spalatin that he feared that Lambert might be ‘a machination of Satan’ and that the Elector should keep the travel-money he wanted to send Lambert for a Wittenberg visit for better use. He pretended to know nothing of Lamberts teaching but finally condescended to meet Lambert, still confessing that he was suspicious of Lambert’s motives. Unlike Luther, Lambert felt the whole world was his parish but Luther believed in a territorial church of which he was Head Pastor and objected to Lambert’s rattling at Wittenberg’s gates requesting entrance.

Lambert at Wittenberg

     Lambert visited Wittenberg in January, 1523, delighted to meet the man with whom he felt he could work with for a wider Reformation. Luther, continued to treat Lambert as an unwelcome immigrant but condescended to write to wealthy friends asking them to grant Lambert charity, worded his requests so guardedly that no financial support was forthcoming. Lambert had obviously thought he would be given a teaching post. Wittenberg, however, was bankrupt and even Melanchthon had been lecturing two years at the university without pay. Luther, however soon became aware of Lambert’s enormous learning and zeal for the gospel. Meanwhile, Lambert wrote works against ‘the grand deception’ of Roman Catholic orders whose rules regulations were an unsavoury substitute for the Word of God. As help from Luther was not forthcoming, Lambert turned to Elector Frederick and George Spaltin hoping they would take his Reformation principles, credentials and motives more seriously[ref] See Herminjard, vol. 1, Letters 60-66.[/ref] and asked them for permission to teach at Wittenberg and to be allowed to put the Wittenberg writings into French. He assured the Elector and his Chaplain that he wished to do nothing without the agreement of ‘our Martin’. Now Lambert was allowed to give a few lectures on Hosea at Wittenberg. Spalatin was soon writing of the ‘goodly numbers’ that attended these lectures and Lambert began to lecture on other Old Testament topics and the Gospel of Luke, but still without a fixed salary.

Lambert’s marriage

     Lambert further angered Luther by marrying his Christina, a baker’s daughter from Etzberg in July, 1523. Though he had requested Luther’s blessing on the marriage which was given, Luther complained to Spalatin that it annoyed him that backsliding monks invading Wittenberg and married, though they could not keep a wife. However, Luther whom Rome called ‘a backsliding monk, too. married his Katie who kept him financially rather than the other way around. Lambert now gave lectures on the Song of Songs concerning the sublime union of Christ and His Bride. After around six months of solid lecturing and writing, Lambert eventually received fifteen groats for his services. In Wittenberg, a normal craftsman earned around 22 guilders a year. One guilder was worth 20 groats thus Lambert’s six-months wages were hardly sufficient to buy him a side of bacon. Lambert never complained of this but Luther always referred to Lambert as if he had visited Wittenberg for filthy lucre. Realising he was not welcome at Wittenberg around July, 1523, Lambert and his wife prepared to move southwards to areas where he could preach in French.[ref] Accounts of Lambert’s sojourn in Wittenberg range from six months to two years, but he cannot have spent much more than a year in Saxony. Winters (p. 50) speaks of a thirteen month stay. Lambert’s Luke expositions took only six months.[/ref] Luther, always believing Lambert was a Zwinglian Anabaptist, spread the rumour he was making for German-speaking Zürich.

Lambert in Alsace-Lorraine

     The Lamberts first made for French-speaking Metz, posting off writings on his way for publication via sea routes which eventually reached Holland, Britain and his beloved France where persecution was rising. Luther strove to further Lambert’s departure by writing to Nicholas Garber in Strassburg,[ref] Herminjard, vol. 1, Letter 80.[/ref] asking him to support the couple. It is now difficult to trace Lambert’s footsteps but he had certainly reached Metz early in 1524 where Reformation under the city administrator Cornelius Agrippa whom Lambert had met in Geneva. Many supporters of Lefèvre were ministering there and cooperating with the Reformers.[ref]  Herminjard has recorded correspondence relating to Agrippa.[/ref] Shortly after Lambert’s arrival, opposition began to grow and he witnessed the Reformers being martyred and Lambert’s own days in Metz were numbered. Lambert was the first to give a full record of these events, sadly highly edited or ignored by later denominational martyrologists like Crespin and van Braght. The Council warned Lambert to escape and according to Winters, he left Metz after a stay of eight days for Strassburg which, through the efforts of Bucer and Capito had become a Reformed oasis, attracting both German and French-speaking Protestants. Lefèvre, after his Bible translation had been publicly burnt in France was now there and also William Farel who had attempted to preach to the French-speaking Swiss but had to flee for his life. Bucer and Capito had views very much akin to Lambert’s and with the cream of Continental European Reformers around him, Lambert felt that he had found a home from home.

     Strassburg, however, was a thorn in the flesh both to the Pope and the Emperor himself so that her Reformed leaders such as Bucer had to flee to Edward’s England. Meanwhile, Bucer and Capito encouraged Lambert to dispute openly on their side with the chief Augustinian friar Conrad Teger on the hundred propositions he had drawn up for public debate on the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Lambert was overjoyed at the challenge but Teger pulled out on the grounds that his bishop had refused permission for him to debate in the vulgar tongue. Nevertheless, the three friends assured Teger that they were quite capable of debating in Latin, but when Teger appeared, he protested at once that Bucer, Capito and Lambert were not qualified judges to referee the debate, so no true debate ensued.

     Lambert helped to found a college which first met at Capito’s home and, as it gradually developed into a university, premises were found in a deserted monastery. Lambert was now awarded a regular salary of fifty guilders a year in contrast to the less than one guilder he had ‘earned’ at Wittenberg. This, however, was still not a quarter of a normal skilled worker’s wage. The City Council then made Lambert a citizen of Strassburg on November 1, 1524. Sadly, as Lambert’s family increased with the birth of a son, Isaac, and inflation in the tiny Reformed enclave soared, the Council told Lambert they could not continue his salary but guaranteed that he would not ‘perish’. Lambert preached and lectured for another year, writing numerous books but seeing little financial rewards for his pains. Lambert continued to correspond with the Elector of Saxony and wrote biographies of martyrs such as his friend the ex-Augustinian friar John Castellan who was burnt at the stake on 12 January, 1525.[ref] Herminjard, vol. 1, Letter 144.[/ref] He produced further works on the prophets and his famous Farago. Lambert had endured many a hardship himself, never questioning his state, but he could not bear to see his wife and child now in absolute poverty.

     Lambert was soon to experience high recognition and honours and a matching salary. In the early summer of 1526, Strassburg’s mayor, Jacob Sturm, met the young Philipp the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse at the Synod of Speyer where the Reformed states demanded a fair hearing from the Emperor and Pope. Sturm informed Philipp of Lambert’s virtues, learning, and excellent evangelical spirit. Philipp saw immediately that Lambert was the man to pioneer the Reformation in his leading German state, so he approached Lambert, asking him to help win Hesse for the Word of God. Lambert fell in with Phillip’s plans at once and, with Philipp, called a Landtag or Parliament at Homberg in Hesse to put Philipp’s territories on a sound Reformed footing, including the establishing of the first Protestant university in Germany at Marburg where Lambert was to head the Theological Faculty.

The Landtag at Homberg

     At Homberg Phillipp invited the general public to attend, promising all free access and protection through his territories. All should speak their minds but the free debate was to be guided by the Word of God alone. Philipp spared no means in attracting a large body of people from Roman Catholic and Protestant areas.

     This revolutionary event was opened by Chancellor Johann Feige after which the politicians took a back seat. The disputations centred on 158 Reformed theses presented by Lambert who used Latin for the academics and foreigners whereas Philipp’s chaplain, Adam Krafft, took care of the German-speakers. In the afternoon session, Krafft summed up the morning’s work in German and asked for comments. The Pope’s Vicar-General in Europe, a Nikolaus Ferber, stood up and denounced the Synod as illegal and said he would speak only with the Landgrave as two commoners like Lambert and Krafft was below his dignity. Ignoring the plea to keep to God’s Word, Ferber gave a two-hour long tirade, claiming that Philip and the Lutherans were heretics acting contrary to Pope and Emperor.

     The Chancellor told Ferber that it was the Landtag’s duty to enforce law and order in his state and numerous crimes were being committed by the Roman clergy, including their falsification of the Christian faith, so the Landtag would work out a Scriptural basis for the state’s laws. Philipp reminded Ferber to base his comments on the Bible but Ferber refused. On the second day, Lambert encouraged the other Franciscans present to give Biblical reasons against his theses, but they were either silent or agreed to the reforms. Finding no backing, Ferber left Homberg for Cologne where he published two works against Lambert. These were answered by Lambert with a full account of the Homberg Synod in his Epistola ad Colonienses, suggesting that the city of Cologne should also turn to the ‘pure Word of God’.

     On the third day, Johannes Sperber, a Lutheran minister, opposed Lambert daring the Frenchman to refute him. Lambert did this so well that the Synod recorded that all present felt sorry for Sperber.[ref] This person may have been the Johannes Sperber who is on the Leipzig University 1511 list of Rectors who appear to have kept his office for just a few months. He was thus most likely a follower of Luther.[/ref] Finally a number of delegates were elected to form a committee under Lambert’s leadership to sum up the Synod’s findings which gave rise to a new Church Order (Reformatio ecclesiarum Hessiae) for Hesse, completed in December 1526. The Hessian territories now formed one of the very first completely Reformed states in Christendom. The basis for Church Order was not the church hierarchy but the office of the preacher, or rather, the preached Word itself. Annual synods of ministers were called to which the secular powers were invited. These synods elected three supervisors whose duty it was to visit the local churches to see that the Church Order was followed.

Luther protests at the findings of the Homberg Synod

     Luther immediately protested, telling Philipp (not, their author Lambert) that the reforms went beyond what Wittenberg thought wise, thus isolated himself from the continuing Reformation. Philipp, not wishing to have the Lutherans separate from the Reformation process, promised to introduce the new Church Order only gradually and partially. However, knowing that Wittenberg was nigh bankrupt, Philipp offered the Wittenberg professors chairs in Theology at his new Reformed University in Marburg which he put on a stable financial basis which Wittenberg could only dream of. The response from Wittenberg was immediately positive as they thought they could now run Marburg like Wittenberg under the leadership of Luther. Philipp spoilt their dreams by insisting that Lambert remained his leading Reformer.

     The Hessian Reformed Church now turned the Roman Catholic monasteries into church-buildings, lecture halls, hospitals and schools, integrating theology, education and medicine into the work of the university. Gradually, Philipp, backed by his ministers, gave Lambert’s articles and Church Order more prominence in Hessian Church life, but Luther started a mean and abusive campaign against Philipp.

The Protestant University of Marburg

     Up to this time, no Protestant beliefs had separating Luther’s followers from those of other European Reformers. Indeed, seventy-six Hessian students had matriculated at Wittenberg between 1516 and 1526.[ref] See Wilhelm Smitt’s Die Homberger Synode und ihre Vorgeschichte, Homberg, 1926, pages 95-104.[/ref] Marburg’s advantages over Wittenberg as a Protestant University were obvious. It was more or less free of imperial interference and, unlike Wittenberg, had no Roman Catholic charters and statutes to bind it. The Professors were actually paid wages! Antonius Corvinus (1501-1553) was in Marburg by 1526, helping to pave the way for a Witttenberg influx. Reporting from Marburg in 1526 to Johannes Draconites or Drach (1494-1566) in Thuringia, he said Francis Lambert and Hermann Buschius (1468-1534) were already employed in Marburg and Luther, Melanchthon and Bugenhagen were awaited.[ref] Letter 1, Briefwechsel des Antonius Corvinus, page 1.[/ref] The official ‘Ordnung der Universität’ of January, 1527 lists Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Jonas, Schnabel, Brenz and Eberbach as Professors under Lambert but Luther’s name was dropped. Antonius Corvinus, Adam Krafft, Erhard Schnepf (1495-1558) and Johannes Drach, trained in Saxony, moved from Wittenberg’s influence to teach in Marburg. Phillip was now political leader of the German Reformation so when he led the Protestant states in synods with the Emperor, they carried arm-bands with the initials V. D. M. I. Ae signifying Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum, declaring that they served only God’s Word. After the Synod of Speyer in 1529 Philipp and his men received the name ‘Protestants’ to mark out evangelical, Reformed believers from the Roman Catholics.

     Philipp urged Luther and Melanchthon to attend the famous Disputation at Marburg in 1529, but asked them to preserve a balance in their thinking and not cause strife when other Reformers disagreed with them. They plead for unity and peace and be punctual.[ref] Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Burkhardt Edition, Leipzig, p. 165.[/ref] Sadly, Luther insisted on playing the odd man out with his Consubstantiation theory, claiming that the Reformed Lord’s Supper was ‘filth’ (Dreck). At the Council of Speyer in 1559, Luther took the side of the Emperor in pleading for the death penalty for ‘Anabaptists’, i.e. including the Reformed. He thought Lambert represented a Free Church spirit which he abhorred, and ranked Marburg with the ‘Anabaptists’ and ‘heretics’.[ref] This has given rise to the modern Baptist dogma that only Baptists were condemned at Speyer and not ‘Protestants’ in general. The fact is that both movements were lumped together by Ferdinand’s party. The Reformed Church of England under such Reformers as Jewel and Grindal was also called ‘Anabaptist’ by their Roman Catholic opponents.[/ref] Philipp was astonished at Luther’s intolerance, asking him how he could kill a man for his faith and argued that the Anabaptists were purer in their lives than Luther and his followers.

     Now Luther’s opposition to Hesse became bitter. On Luther’s advice, based on dubious Bible exegesis Philipp’s second, bigamous marriage was solemnized in 1540 with Melanchthon as the chief wedding guest. Luther now condemned this as another of Phillip’s heresies as if he were innocent of affecting it. When Melanchthon repented and was sick nigh unto death because of his sin in sacrificing his own reputation for Luther’s sake, Luther cold-bloodedly commanded him to leave his bed and eat otherwise he would excommunicate him.

Lambert’s influence in Britain

     In The History of Protestantism Wylie, referring to the speed which Hesse overtook Saxony, says, ‘Hesse was an exception, not in lagging behind, but in going before the others.’ Lambert, he claims, ‘produced a basis broad enough to permit of every member exercising his influence in the government of the Church.’[ref] Vol. I, Book IX, Chapter 13, p. 510 ff.[/ref]

     Lambert was a top supplier of works leading to the British Reformation between the 1520s and 1530s.[ref] See the ten volumes of Heinrich Bullinger Werke (TVZ) which list all Bullinger’s works in their various editions, dates and translations.[/ref] His The Diversity between God’s Word and Man’s Invention is one of his works still read though the Parker Society wrongly attributed it to its translator Thomas Becon. Martyr Richard Bayfield who was burnt in November 1531, was accused at his trial of possessing and distributing fourteen books by Lambert and six by Luther. News from Hesse soon reached Britain and young Scotsman Patrick Hamilton of St Andrews, travelled over to Marburg with several companions to be the first to sit under Lambert. It was at at Marburg in early 1527 that Hamilton presented his Loci Communes known usually here as Patrick’s Places,[ref] Formerly in English works called ‘Loci’ in Latin were called ‘common place books’ in English, hence ‘Pastrick’s Places’.[/ref] for disputation which Rainer Haas shows was the most read book after the Bible in Britain at one time. Lambert’s student Hamilton stresses that the sinner is alone responsible for his sins before God until he finds his Mediator in Jesus Christ. Thus no Christian institution or ‘Church’ can take over this office and whether the sinner is saved or not, he is responsible before God and not a Church and no Church can mediate either grace or condemnation. So, too, sinners whether saved or unsaved remain sinners all their lives and no Church can absolve them from sin or work out regulated schemes of penance and punishments for them. Forgiveness is of God alone. Contrary to the Roman doctrine of meritorious works, Hamilton argues that even if it were possible for anyone to do all the good deeds ever done by men or angels, he would not please God if it were without grace and faith. Hamilton returned to Scotland and taught Reformed theology at St. Andrews but was sentenced to be burnt overnight by Archbishop Beaton within a year of his return. He was twenty three or four years of age.

     Lambert taught another two years at Marburg before being called home to glory after been struck down by the plague. He believed Reformation was only possible through renovation and his lengthy work of 195 Articles is still the standard for true Reformed doctrine and life.[ref] See Lambert’s Reformatio ecclesiarum Hassiae certisimam sermonum Die regulam ordinata in venerabili synodo etc.. in Aemilius Ludwig Richter‘s Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des sechszehnten Jahrhunderts: Urkunden und Regesten zur Geschichte des Rechts und der Verfassung der evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland, 2 vols, Weimar, 1846, vol 1, pages 56-69.[/ref] This church order, is happily free from all party thinking based alone on the Biblical and historical situation of its Reformed origins.

The difference between Lambeth’s way and Luther’s

     Luther’s mistakenly identified his own rather incomplete reforms with Christianity. Lambert claimed in his Paradoxa that equating the Reformed faith with following Luther was wrong as one should follow Christ and His Word.[ref] Baum, Lambert von Avignon, p. 151, fn 1.[/ref] Lambert rejected denominational monopolies on faith and abhorred all forms of man-worship. At the Marburg Disputation of 1529, he declared, ‘I would like to be like a blank page on which the finger of God alone writes his truth. I wish you would behave the same! Away with all mankind, away even with Luther, so that they do not become a barrier to your perception which must come from God alone.’[ref] Author’s translation of part of Lambert’s speech recorded at length in Baum and given in German, p. 146.[/ref] Christians should beware of giving themselves ‘a name other than the One who is the only Way, the Truth and the Life.’ Philipp sent Lambert’s theses to the Emperor in his aim to win him for the Reformation. Sadly, the sudden disappearance of Lambert from the Reformed platform in 1530 through his death was a great blow to the true Reformed movement of those who were free of denominational prejudice. After the Disputations at Marburg and Speyer, denominationalism compromised with the Emperor and with Rome. Lambert’s first point in his Paradoxa was that:

‘Reformation means that all that has become deformed should be reformed. God’s Word alone shows what is deformed and what should be reformed. Reforms on any other basis are null and void.’

     For Lambert, ‘The Church is the union of those with one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Advocate and Mediator, and one Word by which all are fed and have life[ref] Baum gives the original Latin with its German translation (Lambert did not speak German but Krafft translated at the Synod of Homberg.). The German gives ‘Gemeinschaft’ for ‘congregatio’. ‘Fellowhip’ or ‘union’ would thus make a better translations here in English than the ambiguous word ‘assembly’ which is too weak for the context. See Baum, pages 106-116 for the twenty-three heads.[/ref].’ All local ministers were called bishops. Though Spalatin and Melanchthon accepted Lambert’s merits, Luther never recognised Lambert for what he was. Nevertheless, by 1526, Lambert was well-known throughout Europe through his itinerant preaching, his disputations and his expository, biographical and administrative writings. His prowess in the pulpit and in public debate was admired throughout Protestantism. So Philipp remained adamant that Lambert was the right man for the right task in the right place.

     Gerhard Müller in his Marburg thesis on Franz Lambert sums up his life in one sentence, ‘He arrived suddenly in Hesse like a comet, appearing as the central figure in a general synod which was to bring the Reformation to Hesse and played the major part in its acceptance of Reformed thinking. But just as quickly, he disappeared from public view.

Copyright: George M. Ella