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Wessel Gansfort

1419- 1489. Biblical humanist. Born at Groningen in the N Low Countries, and educated at Deventer under the Brethren of the Common Life,* he went on to Cologne, Louvain, and Paris. He taught at Heidelberg and then at Paris. An able scholar, he knew both Greek and Hebrew, which was unusual at the time. His pupils included Reuchlin and Agricola. At first a Thomist, Wessel turned to Augustinianism, and added Ockham's Nominalism. His attempts to combine Nominalism* and mysticism* earned him the nickname of “Master of Contradictions.” Around 1474, in his mid-fifties, he returned to Groningen, where he directed a nuns' cloister, and talked of spiritual matters with a warm circle of friends (including David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht). He did not write extensively, exercising influence mostly through teaching.

In some ways he can be regarded as a forerunner of the Reformation (Luther, in 1521, edited some of his writings). He opposed superstition, clerical abuses, papal and conciliar infallibility. Man is forgiven because grace enables him to repent: justification is by faith (which must express itself as love), at least in a sense: Christ is love personified and lifts man to the divine likeness: Christ is present at the Eucharist, and transubstantiation does take place, but in a sense He is present only to believers. Wessel's theology was not notable for clarity. His writings were placed on the Index in the 1500s.

See E.W. Miller and J.W. Scudder, Wessel Gansfort (2 vols., 1917).

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