1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vermigli, Pietro Martire

19485681911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Vermigli, Pietro Martire

VERMIGLI, PIETRO MARTIRE, generally known as Peter Martyr (1500–1562), born at Florence on the 8th of May 1500, was son of Stefano Vermigli, a follower of Savonarola, by his first wife, Maria Fumantina. He owed his Christian names to a vow which his father, actuated by the death of several children in infancy, had made to dedicate any that survived to the Dominican saint, Peter Martyr, who lived in the 13th century. Educated in the Augustinian cloister at Fiesole, he was transferred in 1519 to the convent of St John of Verdara near Padua, where he graduated D.D. about 1527 and made the acquaintance of the future Cardinal Pole. From that year onwards he was employed as a public preacher at Brescia, Pisa, Venice and Rome; and in his intervals of leisure he mastered Greek and Hebrew. In 1530 he was elected abbot of the Augustinian monastery at Spoleto, and in 1533 prior of the convent of St Peter ad Aram at Naples. About this time he read Bucer’s commentaries on the Gospels and the Psalms and also Zwingli’s De vera et falsa religione; and his Biblical studies began to affect his views. He was accused of erroneous doctrine, and the Spanish viceroy of Naples prohibited his preaching. The prohibition was removed on appeal to Rome, but in 1541 Vermigli was transferred to Lucca, where he again fell under suspicion. Summoned to appear before a chapter of his order at Genoa, he fled in 1542 to Pisa and thence to another Italian reformer, Bernardino Ochino, at Florence. Ochino escaped to Geneva, and Vermigli to Zurich, thence to Basel, and finally to Strassburg, where, with Bucer’s support, he was appointed professor of theology and married his first wife, Catherine Dammartin of Metz.

Vermigli and Ochino were both invited to England by Cranmer in 1547, and given a pension of forty marks by the government. In 1548 Vermigli was appointed regius professor of divinity at Oxford, in succession to the notorious Dr Richard Smith, and was incorporated D.D. In 1549 he took part in a great disputation on the Eucharist. He had abandoned Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation and adopted the doctrine of a Real Presence conditioned by the faith of the recipient. This was similar to the view now held by Cranmer and Ridley, but it is difficult to prove that Vermigli had any great influence in the modifications of the Book of Common Prayer made in 1552. He was consulted on the question, but his recommendations seem hardly distinguishable from those of Bucer, the effect of which is itself disputable. He was also appointed one of the commissioners for the reform of the canon law.

On Mary's accession Vermigli was permitted to return to Strassburg, where, after some opposition raised on the ground that he had abandoned Lutheran doctrine, he was reappointed professor of theology. He befriended a number of English exiles, but had himself in 1556 to accept an offer of the chair of Hebrew at Zurich owing to his increased alienation from Lutheranism. He was invited to Geneva in 1557, and to England again in 1561, but declined both invitations, maintaining, however, a constant correspondence with Jewel and other English prelates and reformers until his death at Zurich on the 12th of November 1562. His first wife, who died at Oxford on the 15th of February 1553, was disinterred in 1557 and tried for heresy; legal evidence was not forthcoming because witnesses had not understood her tongue; and instead of the corpse being burnt, it was merely cast on a dunghill in the stable of the dean of Christ Church. The remains were identified after Elizabeth’s accession, mingled with the supposed relics of St Frideswide to prevent future desecration, and reburied in the cathedral. Vermigli’s second wife, Caterina Merenda, whom he married at Zurich, survived him, marrying a merchant of Locarno.

Vermigli published over a score of theological works, chiefly Biblical commentaries and treatises on the Eucharist. His learning was greater than his originality, and he was one of the least heterodox of the Italian divines who rejected Roman Catholicism. His views approximated most nearly to those of Martin Bucer.

Josias Simler’s Oratio, published in 1563 and translated into English in 1583, is the basis of subsequent accounts of Vermigli. The best lives are by F. C. Schlosser (1809) and C. Schmidt (1858). See also Parker Soc. Publ. (General Index), especially the Zurich Letters; Strype's Works; Foxe’s Acts and Monuments; Burnet’s Hist., ed. Pocock; Dixon's History; and Dict. of Nat. Biogr. lviii. 253–256.  (A. F. P.)