Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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

Reviewed by Harrison Perkins

Stefan Lindholm, Jerome Zanchi (1516-90) and the Analysis of Reformed Scholastic Christology (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016). ISBN: 978-3-525-55104-2, 200 pp., €75.00.

[1] Stefan Lindholm’s impressive work on the Christology of Jerome Zanchi is half history and half philosophy, and forces readers to think through the intricacies of early-modern and contemporary philosophical theology. This book is certainly insightful and Lindholm delved deeply into both disciplines of history and philosophy. Readers should know, however, that that volume certainly tilts more heavily towards doing constructive philosophical theology than it does towards doing analytical historiography. The book falls into three parts. Part one explains the nature of the work and its arguments, and situates it within the literature on early-modern religion as well as analytical philosophy. Part two addresses issues that rise from Zanchi’s discussion of the person of Jesus Christ. Namely, the first chapter in this part deals with philosophical issues associated with conception in connection to the virgin birth. The second chapter in this part discusses complexities involved in traditional notions of Jesus Christ having a divine and human nature that are united in one person. This chapter handles differences between the way Reformed and Lutheran theologians explained this union of two natures. Part three deals with the “implications of the incarnation,” specifically, polemical controversies between Reformed and Lutheran thinkers about the consequences of the hypostatic union. This primarily relates to the issue of ubiquity of Christ’s human nature after it is united to the ubiquitous divine nature.

[2] The major strength of this book is its deep understanding of multiple philosophical contexts. Lindholm does seem to have mastered both the philosophical assumptions of early-modern Aristotelianism and contemporary analytical philosophy. This work does provide fascinating glimpses into the way early-modern thinkers were engaged with a very broad spectrum of ideas. Specifically, the chapter about underlying assumptions involved in the virgin birth of Christ should be interested in scholars of the northern Renaissance. Although the idea of the virgin birth itself may be of mixed relevance to cultural historians, it should certainly be of interest that early-modern theologians were dealing with a wide range of medical theories as they constructed their theology. Zanchi apparently made significant use of Galen’s medical theories about the formation of a human zygote. Galen was a physician from ancient Greece, and that fact that Reformed theologians were appropriating his work to develop their doctrines in the sixteenth century shows the breadth and depth of the recovery and renewed use of sources after the Renaissance period. The issues Lindholm raised in this book should encourage historical scholars to pursue a greater understanding of the ideas that came to renewed interest in the Renaissance and Reformation period. Most studies have highlighted the intersection of medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, and post-Reformation theology and philosophy, properly speaking. Lindholm’s volume indicates there is a need to explore how even medical theories, or other hard sciences for that matter, were adopted in the formulation of philosophical and theological systems. The recovery of ideas that occurred in the northern Renaissance era has many facets that have yet to be explored.

[3] The major weakness of this volume is that, although it is marketed as a volume in historical theology, there is very little of interest to most historians, be they social or intellectual historians. Lindholm does very little to discuss Zanchi’s ideas in their historical, political, or social contexts. This work is far more concerned to see if there are contemporary ways to explain these debates based on revamped philosophical assumptions. There is a growing scholarly endeavor in theological research to reach better understanding of historical theology and adopt it in constructive ways for contemporary theology, and this book fits within this burgeoning discipline of theological retrieval. That, of course, is not a weakness per se, since the work makes clear that it aims to do just that and make grounds in combining analytical theology with traditional categories of Christology. The association it tries to make, however, with the historical discipline appears to be somewhat of a red herring. This, I think, relates more to the publisher who branded it as historical theology than to shortcomings in Lindholm’s work itself, but it is certainly still an issue to note. Lindholm used Zanchi and the other theologians he discussed more as foils in philosophical discussion than as subjects of historical inquiry, which is simply something of which readers should be aware so they know what to expect from this work in terms of proportions of historical and philosophical work. That limitation, however, is relative to the interest of scholars than to the ability Lindholm demonstrated in the pages of this volume. He has a clear mastery of the categories he assessed and is superb at shifting between concepts that were refined in the early-modern period and ways that they can be recalibrated within a contemporary intellectual framework. This work, in its ideas and jargon, will challenge readers to press on to new levels of understanding of ideas that may have been long forgotten by some.

 Queen’s University Belfast, September 2018

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