Epistolarum theologicarum [...] liber unus. Secunda editio, ab ipso auctore recognita

Autore: BÈZE, Théodore, de (1519-1605)

Tipografo: Eustache Vignon

Dati tipografici: Genève, 1575

8vo; (8), 670 [i.e. 370], (22) pp. *4, A-Z8, Aa8, Bb4. Printer's device on the title-page. Contemporary blind-stamped vellum over boards, initials “IWNB” on the front panel. From the library of the Stralsund Gymnasium. On the title-page the ownership inscription of a certain M. Wurmich (‘Ex bibliotheca M. Wurmichis').

Adams, B-913; Index Aureliensis, 118.702; Th. de Bèze, Correspondance, H. Aubert, A. Dufour, B. Nicollier, R. Bodenmann, eds., (Genève, 1960-), passim; P. Chaix, A. Dufour, G. Moeckli, Les livres imprimés à Genève de 1550 à 1600, (Genève, 1966), p. 83; F. Gardy, Bibliographie des oeuvres... de Théodore de Bèze, (Genève, 1960), p. 161, no. 297.


SECOND EDITION with the same dedication to Nicholas Thelegdius (Genève, August 15, 1573) of the first, also printed by Vignon in 1573. Thelegdius was a Transylvanian magnate of Calvinist persuasion who was responsible for the financing of central European students in Geneva and other places of Protestant learning.

The collection contains 84 numbered letters, most of them (59) dated, spanning from January 1, 1556 up to November 21, 1572. Thirty-five letters have no recipient (but most of them have in the meantime been indentified). Bèze also published some of his letters in a small collection of Calvin's correspondence first published in 1575. In accordance to sixteenth-century usage, nearly all the originals of these letters were destroyed by the printer once published.

The estimated number of letters Bèze wrote during his live is around thirty thousand, but only some 3,200 items survived. These are to and from nearly five hundred different correspondents scattered throughout Europe. Some of those were in regular contact with Bèze, others only occasionally. The most frequent correspondents include Heinrich Bullinger, Rudolf Gwalter, Andreas Dudith, Johannes Crato, Jeanne d'Albret, the future King Henry IV of France, William of Hesse, and some others. In other words, Bèze was in correspondence with Europe's entire Protestant elite and also with some rather obscure pastors. His correspondence is thus a unique source for the history of later sixteenth-century Protestantism in all its aspects, political, theological, cultural and intellectual.

“But what exactly are the Epistolae theologicae? It is a collection of 84 letters spanning years 1556-72 published without any concern for chronology. It includes a fairly exhaustive index of theological subjects in the form of statements rather than single words, such as: what are adiaphora, baptism with a fluid other than water, authority of synods, three degrees of sanctification, the word of God does not teach that God's essence may not be multiplied, etc. The index, if read carefully, would suffice to instruct a hasty reader in basic points of reformed doctrine without the need to turn to the text of any of the letters. At the same time, a reader wishing to have an answer for a specific question, such as which ceremonies can be considered as adiaphora, is shown exactly which letter to consult. This would suggest that Beza did not intend his letters to be read in sequence, but to serve as a guidebook or a manual. The subject index is followed by another one constructed on the same principles and entitled ‘Loci Scripturae diligentius explicati'. It is intended for those who are interested in the exegesis of passages of Scripture[…] Of the 84 letters in the volume, only about 15 deal with Central-Europe and the general issue of Antitrinitarism. The situation in France is perhaps Beza's main concern with the Ubiquitarian issue coming a close second. Many of the letters deal with the issue of discipline, administration of the sacraments, the nature of Anglicanism, which departs from Calvinism in its church organisation. The situation of French religious refugees in Geneva, justification, sanctification, and Christology also make frequent appearances. The correspondents come from Germany, France, England, Poland, Transylvania, the Netherlands, and various parts of Switzerland (but mainly Zurich). The Epistolae theologicae are just that: a living testimony to theological, political, and cultural problems encountered by Calvinism in its Genevan version between 1556 and 1572 together with solutions that Beza invariably proposes” (I. Backus, The Edition of the Correspondence of Theodore Beza (1519-1615), in: “Reformation Sources. The Letters of Wolfgang Capito and His Fellows Reformers in Alsace and Switzerland”, E. Rummel & M. Kooistra, eds., Toronto, 2007, p. 156-158).


Dudith, Andreas. Genève, June 18, 1570 (p. 1)

Tilius (van Thielt or Til), Thomas. Genève, October 1, 1571 (p. 23)

Fidelibus Christi servis, fratribus ac symmystis observandis, Evangelij per Phrisiam Orientalem ministris (to the faithful Servants of Christ, to the observant brothers and fellow-priests, to the ministers of the Gospel in Eastern Friesland). Genève, September 2, 1566 (p. 30)

N. Genève, September 2, 1566 (p. 31)

Alamanno, Lugdunensis Ecclesiae turbatori (to a German, disturber of the Church of Lyons). Genève, June 2, 1566 (p. 45)

from Marnixius, Philippus (Marnix, Philippe de). [Braudrenghien, January 10, 1566] (p. 58)

Marnixius, Philippus (Marnix, Philippe de). Genève, March 16, 1566 (p. 63)

Grindal, Edmund, (Bishop of London). Genève, June 27, 1566 (p. 68)

from Philippinus, Helias (Philippin, Elie) on behalf of the Church of Neuchâtel (Quaestiones a Neocomensibus Ecclesiis propositae; Questions proposed by the Church of Neuchâtel). Neuchâtel, May 8, 1566 (p. 80)

Philippinus, Helias (Philippin, Elie). Genève, May 18, 1566 (p. 84)

id. Genève, May 18, 1566 (p. 93)

Ad quosdam Anglicarum Ecclesiarum fraters (to some brothers of the Anglican Church). Genève, October 24, 1567 (p. 94)

Thretius, Christophorus. Genève, November 1, 1565 (p. 104)

Sarnicius (Sarnicki), Stanislas. Genève, November 1, 1565 (p. 106)

Statorius, Petrus Tonvillanus (Tonneville, Pierre de). Genève, November 1, 1565 (p. 109)

id. Genève, July 12, 1567 (p. 111)

N. (p. 114)

Scadcovius (Szadkowki), Andreas. Genève, July 12, 1567 (p. 116)

Nascovius de Mirow (Myszkowski), Stanislaus. Genève, July 12, 1567 (p. 118)

Ad quaestiones aliquot propositas a studioso quodam Silesio (in response to some questions raised by a certain Silesian). (p. 122)

N. [Toissain, Pierre] .Genève, August 31, 1565 (p. 131)

Pastoribus et Presbyteris Ecclesiae Rupellanae (to the pastors and presbyters of the Church of La Rochelle). [Genève, October, 1567] (p. 132)

Grindal, Edmund, (Bishop of London). Genève, July 3, 1568 (p. 134)

Ad Peregrinarum in Anglia Ecclesiarum fratres (to the brothers of the Foreign Churches in England). Genève, June 25, 1568 (p. 137)

Ad quaestionem propositam… (in response to the question…) [Dudith, Andreas. Genève, 1568] (p. 154)

N. [Myszkowski, Stanislas. Genève, September, 1568] (p. 155)

N. (p. 157)

N. [Gilowski, Paul] Genève, September 1, 1568 (p. 159)

Responsum ad quaestionem quandam de Astrologia iudiciaria (in response to a certain question about judicial astrology). [Erastus, Thomas. Genève, December, 1568] (p. 168)

Helveticarum Ecclesiarum fidis Pastoribus (to the pastors of the Swiss Churches). Genève, December 17, 1567 (p. 173)

N. (p. 175)

Crispinus (Crespin), Johannes. Genève, November 28, 1568 (p. 177)

Ecclesiae Tigurinae fidis Pastoribus (to the pastors of the Church of Zürich). Genève, December 17, 1568 (p. 180)

Ramus, Petrus (Ramée, Pierre de la). Genève, September 30, 1569 (p. 182)

Olevianus, Caspar. Genève, February 13, 1570 (p. 183)

Ramus, Petrus (Ramée, Pierre de la). [Genève], December 1, 1570 (p. 186)

Villerius (Loiseleur de Villiers, Pierre ), pastor in Rouen. Genève, February 24, 1570 (p. 187)

N. [Tonneville, Pierre, de] Genève, March 9, 1570 (p. 190)

Melius, Petrus (Juhász, Péter Horni). Genève, June 18, 1570 (p. 191)

Thretius, Christoph. Genève, June 18, 1570 (p. 193)

N. Genève, April 1, 1571 (p. 197)

Grataroli, Guglielmo. [Lausanne, 1557] (p. 200)

Spensa, Claudius [Espence, Claude d']. [May, 1550] (p. 202)

N. July 20, 1571 (p. 205)

N. (p. 207)

Grataroli, Guglielmo. [Genève], August 11, [1563] (p. 213)

N. [Enoch, Louis] Genève, February 22, 1568 (p. 214)

Bullinger, Heinrich. Genève, December 8, 1568 (p. 215)

Thretius, Christoph. Genève, November 22, 1568 (p. 218)

N. [Vinsler, Josua] Genève, February 25, 1570 (p. 224)

N. [Camerarius, Joachim, the Elder]. Genève, February 27, 1570 (p. 225)

Carpentarius, Petrus (Charpentier, Pierre). Genève, April 1, 1570 (p. 228)

N. [Sulzer, Simon] Genève, September 27, 1570 (p. 231)

N. [Simonius, Simone] Genève, May 26 [1569] (p. 233)

N. [Pincier, Johannes] Genève, March 14, 1564 [i.e. 1569] (p. 239)

N. [Simonius, Simone] Genève, March 13, 1569 (p. 241)

Cognatus, Johannes (Cousin, Jean). Genève, March 8, 1569 (p. 243)

Grindal, Edmund, (Bishop of London). Genève, March 8, 1569 (p. 245)

Corrano, Antonio (Corro, Antonio del). [Genève, March, 1569] (p. 248)

Germanicae cuidam Ecclesiae (to a certain German Church). Lausanne, January 1, 1556 (p. 261)

August of Saxony. Genève, March 15, 1572 (p. 273)

Willliam IV of Hesse-Kassel. Genève, March 11, 1572 (p. 276)

Frederick III of Simmern, Elector Palatine. Genève, March 11, 1572 (p. 278)

Corrasius, Joannes (Coras, Jean de). Genève, April 14, 1572 (p. 279)

Ecclesiae Tigurinae Pastoribus et Doctoribus (to the pastors and doctors of the Church of Zürich). Nîmes, May 17, 1572 (p. 282)

N. [Skenaeus, Johannes]. Eleutheropolis [i.e. Genève], July 1, 1572 (p. 287)

N. [Camerarius, Joachim, the Elder]. Genève, July 1, 1572 (p. 288)

N. [Sturm, Johannes]. Genève, July 1, 1572 (p. 290)

N. [Cecil, William, Lord Burghley]. Genève, July 7, 1572 (p. 293)

N. [Glaubourg, Jean de, the Younger]. Genève, August 27, 1572 (p. 296)

Beraldus (Bérauld), François. February 1, 1572 (p. 298)

N. [Toussain, Daniel]. Genève, November 21, 1572 (p. 299)

N. [Olevianus, Caspar]. Genève, December 2, 1572] (p. 301)

Knox, John. Genève, June 3, 1569 (p. 304)

N. [Chandieu, Antoine de]. [March 20, 1572] (p. 308)

N. [To a pastor of Montbéliard]. Genève, January 11, 1572 (p. 310)

Tussanus, Petrus (Toussain, Pierre). Genève, January 11, 1572 (p. 312)

Buchanan, George. [Genève, April 12, 1572] (p. 313)

Knox, John. Genève, April 12, 1572 (p. 314)

N. [Dathenus, Petrus]. Genève, December 25, 1571 (p. 316)

Christianis et Orthodoxis omnibus Ecclesiis in Domino Nostro Iesu Christo (to the Christian and Orthodox Churches in Christ). Genève, August 5, 1567 (p. 318)

Rhutenorum et Lemovicum Ecclesiis (to the Churches of Rodez and Limoges). Genève, December 8, 1566 (p. 340)

N. [Ramée, Pierre de la]. [1571] (p. 362)

Henri de Navarre. Genève, July 10, 1572 (p. 368)


Théodore de Bèze was born in Vézelay in Burgundy. His father was the king's bailiff there and a member of the lesser nobility. At a very young age Théodore's uncle Nicolas, councillor in the Parliament of Paris, and one who was impressed with his intelligence, took him into his own home in Paris to supervise his education. His formal education began in 1528, when he, scarcely nine years old, was sent to Orléans to study under the German scholar Melchior Volmar (1497-1561). Under his tutelage Bèze was introduced to Latin, Greek, and other subjects proper to a humanistic education, including law. More importantly, Volmar taught Bèze to read the Scriptures from a new perspective, and to look on certain Catholic doctrines and institutions with a critical eye.

When in 1530 Margaret of Angoulème, sister of François I, invited Volmar to join her court at Bourges, Bèze followed him. Here, in the house of his teacher, Bèze first met Jean Calvin, with whose life he would later eventually be inextricably bound. There were other luminaries that Bèze met at Bourges, most notably Conrad Gesner, whose scientific and medical writings were to hold primacy in sixteenth century France.

After the Affair of the Placards on October 18, 1534, which turned the tide of public opinion against Protestantism, Bèze's life dramatically changed. Volmar returned to Germany and Bèze was sent by his father to study law in Orléans. He admits later that he gave himself half-heartedly to the study of law, preferring instead to concentrate on his poetry. In Orléans he fraternized with many other humanists, including Jean Dampierre, Germain Audebert, Hubert Sussaneau, Maclou Pompon, and others. He obtained his license in law in 1539, at which time he departed for Paris where life and career were already being prepared for him.

He planned, as soon as his affairs were sufficiently in order, to repudiate the papal religion, to reveal a secret marriage that he had undertaken with Claudine Denosse, and to depart Paris for the house of Volmar at Tübingen. For a time, however, Bèze lived happily in Paris and came into contact with some of the leading figures of the day: Jacques Peletier, Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim de Bellay, Salmon Macrin, George Buchanan, the printers Michel de Vascosan, and Jean Crespin (cf. N. Zemon Davis, Peletier and Beza Part Company, in: “Studies in the Renaissance”, 11, 1964, pp. 188-222).

Almost immediately after the publication of the Poemata, a severe ill struck Bèze down and finally sparked his determination to follow his conscience. Scarcely had he gained the strength to walk again when he fled Paris with Claudine Denosse and made his way to Geneva, where he arrived in late October, 1548. He was received by Calvin, who had met him already in Volmar's house, and was married in the church. Beza was at a loss for immediate occupation, so he went to Tübingen to see his former teacher Volmar. On his way home he visited Pierre Viret at Lausanne, who brought about his appointment as professor of Greek at the academy there (November, 1549). He found time to write a Biblical drama, Abraham Sacrifiant, in which he contrasted Catholicism with Protestantism. In June, 1551, he added a few psalms to the French version of the Psalms begun by Clément Marot.

At this time Bèze was involved in two controversies. The first concerned the doctrine of predestination and the controversy of Calvin with Jérôme Hermès Bolsec. The second referred to the burning of Michael Servetus at Geneva October 27, 1553. In defence of Calvin and the Genevan magistrates, Bèze published in 1554 the work De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis. In 1557, Beza took a special interest in the Waldensians of Piedmont, who were being harassed by the French government. On their behalf, he went with Guillaume Farel to Bern, Zürich, Basel, and Schaffhausen, then to Strasbourg, Mömpelgard, Baden, and Göppingen. Their declaration concerning the Waldensians' views on the sacrament was well received by many Lutheran theologians, but was strongly disapproved in Bern and Zurich.

In the autumn of 1558 Bèze undertook a second journey with Farel to Worms in the hopes of bringing about an intercession by the Evangelical princes of the empire in favour of the persecuted brethren at Paris. With Melanchthon and other theologians then assembled at the Colloquy of Worms, Bèze proposed a union of all Protestant Christians, but the proposal was decidedly denied by Zurich and Bern. Because of disputes with Viret in Lausanne Bèze thought it best (1558) to settle at Geneva. Here he was given the chair of Greek in the newly established academy, and after Calvin's death also that of theology. He was also obliged to preach. He completed the revision of Pierre Olivetan's translation of the New Testament, begun some years before. In 1559 he undertook another journey in the interest of the Huguenots, this time to Heidelberg.

More important than his polemical activities was Beza's statement of his own confession. It was originally prepared for his father in justification of his actions and published in revised form to promote Evangelical knowledge among Beza's countrymen. It was printed in Latin in 1560 with a dedication to his teacher Volmar. In the following year (1561), Bèze represented the Evangelicals at the Colloquy of Poissy, and in an eloquent manner defended the principles of the Evangelical faith. The colloquy was without result, but Bèze as the head and advocate of all Reformed congregations of France was revered and hated at the same time. Bèze hastily issued a circular letter (Mar. 25) to all Reformed congregations of the empire, and went to Orléans with the Huguenot leader Condé and his troops. It was necessary to proceed quickly and energetically. But there were neither soldiers nor money. At the request of Condé, Bèze visited all Huguenot cities to obtain both. He also wrote a manifesto in which he argued the justice of the Reformed cause. As one of the messengers to collect soldiers and money among his coreligionists, Bèze was appointed to visit England, Germany, and Switzerland. The campaign was becoming more successful; but the publication of the unfortunate edict of pacification which Condé accepted (March, 1563) filled Bèze and all Protestant France with horror.

The death of Calvin occurred on May 27, 1564. As a matter of course Bèze became his successor. Until 1580 Bèze was not only moderateur de la compagnie des pasteurs, but also the real soul of the great institution of learning at Geneva which Calvin had founded in 1559, consisting of a gymnasium and an academy. As long as he lived, Bèze was interested in higher education. As Calvin's successor, Bèze was very successful, not only in carrying on his work but also in giving peace to the Church at Geneva. The magistrates had fully appropriated the ideas of Calvin, and the direction of spiritual affairs, the organs of which were the ‘ministers of the word' and ‘the consistory', was founded on a solid basis. No doctrinal controversy arose after 1564. Bèze obtruded his will in no way upon his associates, and took no harsh measures against injudicious or hot-headed colleagues, though sometimes he took their cases in hand and acted as mediator; and yet he often experienced an opposition so extreme that he threatened to resign. Although he was inclined to take the part of the magistrates, he knew how to defend the rights and independence of the spiritual power when occasion arose, without, however, conceding to it such a preponderating influence as did Calvin. After the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572), he used his influence to give to the refugees a hospitable reception at Geneva.

In 1574 he wrote his De jure magistratuum, in which he emphatically protested against tyranny in religious matters, and affirmed that it is legitimate for a people to oppose an unworthy magistracy in a practical manner and if necessary to use weapons and depose them. Without being a great dogmatician like his master, nor a creative genius in the ecclesiastical realm, Bèze had qualities which made him famous as humanist, exegete, orator, and leader in religious and political affairs, and qualified him to be the guide of the Calvinists in all Europe. In the following years he participated to all the important synods and colloquies, but then his activity was confined more and more to the affairs of his home. He was active in teaching until January 1597. The saddest experience in his old days was the conversion of King Henry IV to Catholicism, in spite of his most earnest exhortations (1593). He died in Geneva in 1605. He was not buried, like Calvin, in the general cemetery, Plain-Palais (for the Savoyards had threatened to abduct his body to Rome), but at the direction of the magistrates in the monastery of St. Pierre (cf. A. Dufour, Théodore de Bèze, poète et théologien, Genève, 2006, passim; and Thédore de Bèze (1519-1605), Actes du Colloque de Genève, Septembre 2005, publiés par l'Institut d'histoire de la Réformation, Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, no. CDXXIV, I. Backus, ed., Genève, 2007, passim).