De religione Christiana fides: Quam nunc demum, annum agens Lxx, suo suaeq[ue] nomine, in lucem edendam, curavit ad Ulyssem Martinengum, Comitem Barchensem, & Patricium Venetum

Autore: ZANCHI, Girolamo (1516-1590)

Tipografo: Matthäus Harnisch

Dati tipografici: Neustadt a.d. Haardt, [1596]

a rigorous codifier and systematist of Calvinist doctrine


4to (188x137 mm). [2], 29, [1 blank], 350, [2: errata] pp. Collation: a-d4 A-Z8 Aa-Xx4. Printer's device on title page. Later cardboards, red edges. On the title page later ownership's inscription “Geo Baillie”, possibly by George Baillie (1664-1738) a Scottish politician, who sat in the Parliament of Scotland from 1691 to 1707 and in the British House of Commons from 1708 to 1734. Slightly uniformly browned, some marginal staining, but a very good copy.


VERY RARE FIRST EDITION (first issue). The two earliest editions (one in-quarto and one in-octavo) of Zanchi's magnum opus are both undated. However, a letter from Johann Wilhelm Stucki in Zanchi's published correspondence provides exact information on the publication date. At the end of August 1586, Stucki thanked Zanchi for sending him a copy of the De religione christiana and informed him that he was using the work for the examination of future ministers. Stucki was full of praise for Zanchi's achievement, but he demanded an explanation of certain passages that seemed to him in conflict with the Reformed doctrinal consensus. In his reply Zanchi responded in detail to Stucki's questions. He also inserted in De religione christiana fides a second preface ‘Ad lectorem', in which he again addressed Stucki's first query, albeit without referring to the letter explicitly. Clearly, the work that Stucki received was an earlier version, perhaps with a very small print run, that did not yet include this preface. However, the presence of the second preface in all known copies of the work suggests that the final version of it began to circulate in autumn 1586, at the earliest. Regarding the priority of the two imprints, it is clear that the in-quarto edition preceded the in-octavo edition from a reference in the second preface to a printer's error in the ‘Observationes'. Whereas the reference is correct in both editions, the misprint was amended only in the in-octavo (cf. Girolamo Zanchi, De religione christiana fides – Confession of Christian Religion, L. Baschera & Ch. Moser, eds., Leiden, 2007, I, p. 20).

The preface is dedicated to Ulisse Martinengo, who belonged to a distinguished family from Brescia, and who became a strong supporter of the Reformation. He had become a close friend of Zanchi during his time in Chiavenna. In this lengthy preface, “Zanchi invokes the image of a city that is forced to defend itself against both external and internal enemies. For Zanchi the city symbolizes the orthodox church, whose peace and unity is threatened by diverse manifestations of heresy. Just as a city takes steps to ward off such threats, so the church must act to prevent and energetically resist the spread of heresy. The purpose of Zanchi's work is thus to help shore up the church's doctrinal foundations” (G. Zanchi, op. cit., p. 22).

The publication of the Formula of Concord, which consolidated the Lutheran position, demanded a suitable response from the Reformed churches. At the behest of Count Palatine, Johann Casimir, a conference was arranged in Neustadt an der Haardt in September 1577, “a cui parteciparono emissari delle Chiese riformate di Francia, Polonia, Ungheria e Belgio, nonché una delegazione della corona inglese, [e durante la quale] era maturata la decisione di comporre una confessione di fede comune per tutte le Chiese riformate […] Zacharias Ursinus, co-autore del Catechismo di Heidelberg e professore di teologia al Casimiranum di Neustadt, declinò tuttavia l'invito a redigere la prima versione del testo, che avrebbe dovuto poi essere spedito alle diverse Chiese per eventuali modifiche e per l'approvazione definitiva. L'incarico fu così affidato, all'inizio del 1578, a Zanchi. Questi lavorò per alcuni anni al progetto, ma il testo da lui prodotto non soddisfece le aspettative dei due supervisori Teodoro di Beza di Ginevra e Rudolf Gwalter di Zurigo. Questi ultimi optarono quindi per una soluzione alternativa, cioè a dire la preparazione di un'antologia delle confessioni di fede riformate già esistenti, che fu in effetti pubblicata poco più tardi con il titolo di Harmonia confessionum fidei orthodoxarum et reformatarum ecclesiarum (Ginevra, 1581). Solo dopo il 1585 Zanchi pubblicò privatamente il proprio testo, in forma ampliata, con il titolo De religione christiana fides” (L. Baschera, Calvinismo italiano e polemica teologica inglese. La ricezione di Girolamo Zanchi nell'opera di A. Mantague Toplady, in: “Dimensioni e propblemi della ricerca storica”, 2, 2018, p. 223; see also G. Zanchi, op. cit., pp. 14-19).

Girolamo Zanchi was born in the city of Alzano near Bergamo. His father was a jurist, as well as a historian. The death of his parents when he was fourteen precipitated his entrance into the monastery of Santo Spirito of Bergamo, a house of the Augustinian Order of Regular Canons in 1531. During his early days in the order, he formed a close friendship with Celso Martinengo and in the Spring of 1541 they both transferred to the priory of San Frediano in Lucca where they fell under the influence of the new prior Peter Martyr Vermigli on his way to becoming the most well-known of the Italian reformers. Under Martyr's tutelage Zanchi partook not only in daily exposition of the Scriptures from a Protestant perspective but was also introduced to several of the leading Reformation thinkers of Germany and Switzerland. During his time at San Frediano, he also produced a synopsis of John Calvin's Institutes under the title Compendium praecipuorum capitum Docrinae Christianae. Peter Martyr's direct influence upon his charge proved to be short lived. In 1542, only fifteen months after his arrival, he fled Lucca in the wake of his rising fame for fear of the Inquisition. Despite his absence both Zanchi and Martinengo demonstrated the lasting impression that his Protestantism must have made upon them. They stayed on at the priory after his departure teaching theology and Greek, respectively. In October 1551 Zanchi felt the pressure to be too great, he followed his friends northward and became thus part of the hugely influential Italian Protestant ‘diaspora'. After leaving Italy his travels brought him into contact with many of the key personalities of the Reformation. He met Wolfgang Musculus in Basel, Pierre Viret in Lausanne and John Calvin and Theodore Beza in Geneva (not to mention Marteningo, who had settled there). He intended to work his way northward across the Channel in hopes of joining Peter Martyr in England, but before he was able to do so Zanchi received a request from Jakob Sturm, the chief magistrate of Strasbourg, to become professor of Old Testament at the College of St. Thomas under the rectorship of Johann Sturm. Zanchi's experience at Strasbourg was rarely peaceful. From the first night of his arrival there he became embroiled in disagreements with Johann Marbach, the leading Lutheran preacher of the city. After the death of Jakob Sturm in 1553 the spirit of religious freedom which he had fostered disappeared. Marbach made it his goal to undermine the influence of the Reformed theology which then dominated and replaced it with Lutheranism. As head of the collegiate Chapter of St. Thomas he decided to request the subscription to the Augsburg Confession by all the professors. Zanchi refused to sign. In 1561 the troubles in Strasbourg came to a head: Marbach brought charges against Zanchi to Johann Sturm over his doctrines of the Lord's Supper, predestination and free will. Sturm reluctantly brought the matter before the Collegiate Chapter of the college which passed it on to the Church Convention and finally to the magistrates of the city. Zanchi was eventually exonerated of heterodoxy in the matter but this controversy seemed only to spawn others. By the summer of 1563, the rift between himself and his colleagues had become so great that he appreciatively, although not without regrets, accepted an invitation to become the pastor of an Italian Protestant congregation in the Grisons in the city of Chiavenna. But even Chiavenna was not without conflict for him. After ministering only a few years, plague, anti-Trinitarians and factionalism, encouraged him to take up the invitation  of Frederick III, Elector Palatine, to become professor of theology at the University of Heidelberg. He assumed his duties at Heidelberg in the winter of 1568 and began to work on a massive Reformed theological system. In 1572 he published De tribus Elohim, a refutation of antitrinitarian arguments. This treatise was supplemented in 1577 by De natura Dei, which reflected Zanchi's determination to integrate philosophy into theological reflections on God and his works. During this time, he also completed De operibus Dei, but only published posthumously in 1591 at Neustadt a.d. Haardt. It deals with the subject of creation, producing what has been described as a sort of theological description of the universe. The death of Fredrick III in October 1576 signaled a return to Lutheranism in the Palatinate under his successor Ludwig VI. This was accompanied by a thoroughgoing reform of the university and the replacement of its existing staff. Several Heidelberg professors, including Zanchi, found sanctuary in Neustadt an der Haardt, where the reformed Count Palatine Johann Casimir established a new academy, the so-called ‘Casimirianum'. Zanchi was charged with teaching New Testament. When Ludwig died in 1583, he was succeeded by the Calvinistic Frederick IV. The aged Zanchi was invited to take up his post once again at Heidelberg, but, weary and in declining health, he preferred to retire and remain in Neustadt, since Johann Casimir had granted him an annual pension for his years of service. The last years of his life were marked by failing eyesight, which slowed his writing and editing. Zanchi died on November 19, 1590, during a visit to Heidelberg and was buried in the university church. His epitaph summed up his turbulent life in the following words “Here lie the bones of the Italian Zanchi, who was exiled from his homeland for love of Christ” (cf. L. Ronchi, Girolamo Zanchi, in: “Dizionario biografico degli italiani”, Rome, 2020, C, pp. 479-482, and C. J. Burchill, Girolamo Zanchi: Portrait of a Reformed Theologian and His Work, in: “Sixteenth Century Journal”, XV/2, 1984, pp. 185-207).


VD16, Z-88; Adams, Z-42; Universal STC, no. 661421; G. Zanchi, op. cit., pp. 32-33, no. 4.1 (with reproduction of the titlepage).