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Pietro Martire Vermigli, by Hans Asper, 1560.

Pietro Martire Vermigli, sometimes simply Peter Martyr (September 8, 1499 – November 12, 1562), was an Italian theologian of the Reformation period.



He was born at Florence, the son of Stefano di Antonio Vermigli and Maria Fumantina, a moderately well-to-do family. The young couple originally christened their child Piero Mariano, though he took the name Peter Martyr when he was ordained into the Augustinian order after St. Peter Martyr. 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, primarily through the influence of Juan de Valdes, he read Martin 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 Zürich, thence to Basel, and finally to Strasbourg, 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 Archbishop Thomas 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 Dr. Richard Smyth, and was incorporated D.D. In 1549 he took part in a great disputation on the Eucharist. He had abandoned Luther's doctrine of sacramental union and adopted the doctrine of a Real Presence conditioned by the faith of the recipient standard amongst Reformed theologians. Indeed, Vermigli appears to have profoundly affected the views of Cranmer and Ridley, and historians have proven definitively that Vermigli had a great deal of influence in the modifications of the Book of Common Prayer in 1552.

On the accession of the Catholic Mary I of England, Vermigli was permitted to return to Strasbourg, 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 Zürich 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 Bishop John Jewel and other English prelates and reformers until his death at Zürich on 12 November 1562.


His first wife, Catherine, a former nun who died at Oxford on 17 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 Zürich, 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 striking and profound, and he played a vital role in both the Swiss and English Reformations. John Calvin himself regarded Peter Martyr as one of the greatest expounders of the doctrine of the Eucharist in Protestantism.


Josias Simler's Oratio, published in 1563 and translated into English in 1583, is the basis of subsequent accounts of Vermigli, though it has been amended somewhat by recent studies, especially by Philip McNair's work, Peter Martyr in Italy.

Jason Zuidema. Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) and the Outward Instruments of Divine Grace.Gottingen: V&R, 2008.


Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard Smyth
Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford
Succeeded by
Richard Smyth


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