Peter Martyr is little remembered today, but in his day he was widely recognized for his brilliance, his learning, his piety and his influence. By reviewing his life and work we can see again the amazing complexity and interconnectedness of the Reformation and see how God used one man to advance the cause of His truth.
Vermigli was born in Florence at a moment of great accomplishment and turmoil in the history of that city. The Renaissance was at its height and Florence was in many ways its capital. The city produced or nurtured such great artists as Botticelli (1444-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Raphael (1483-1520), and Michelangelo (1475-1564). The Renaissance thinker Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) who wrote the famous “Oration on the Dignity of Man” had studied and died in Florence. In the year of Vermigli’s birth the great Florentine Platonist Marsilio Ficino died.
Politically Florence had flourished under the rule of Lorenzo di Medici, “the Magnificent.” from 1469-1492. After his death turmoil came, as France invaded Italy and the city struggled for independence and liberty. In this time of trouble arose the remarkable monk Girolamo Savonarola. In the years between 1491 and 1498 he grew to become the most important influence in the city, preaching for religious renewal and criticizing the papacy. He was executed in 1498, the year before Vermigli’s birth.
Peter Martyr grew up in this great city in these days of vitality and difficulty. In 1514 he entered an Augustinian monastery, dedicating himself to become a monk in one of the most rigorous monastic orders. The church recognized his intellectual gifts and sent him to study at the University of Padua 1518-1526, where he concentrated on Aristotelian philosophy and the fathers of the ancient church. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1525. He became known as a powerful preacher and was advanced in his order. From 1533-1537 he served as an abbot in Spoleto and from 1537-1541 as an abbot in Naples.
During this time his theology developed in the same direction as the Protestant Reformers in the north although it is difficult to trace the sources of influence on him. Clearly he was influenced by Paul, Augustine and the late medieval theologian Gregory of Rimini. He came to a strong conviction about double predestination, and also moved to Protestant views of justification and the Lord’s Supper.
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