Wolfgang Fabricius Capito

1478-1541. Protestant Reformer. Born Köpfel, son of a Hagenau blacksmith, he studied medicine at Pforzheim, jurisprudence at Ingolstadt, and theology at Freiburg im Breisgau, and became expert in Hebrew. As chapter preacher at Bruchsal (1512) he met Melanchthon, and as professor of theology and cathedral preacher at Basle (1515) encountered Oecolampadius* and corresponded with Luther and Zwingli, associated closely with Erasmus, and published a Hebrew grammar and a translation of the Psalter. From Mainz, where as chancellor and preacher he mediated uncomfortably between the archbishop and Luther (1519-23), he moved to Strasbourg as provost of St. Thomas's. Drawn from scholarship into reform mainly by Matthew Zell, he was dismissed from the chapter but appointed pastor of New St. Peter's, and married in 1524. The tension between study and pulpit produced lectures on the OT and commentaries in humanist Latin on Habakkuk (1526) and Hosea (1528).

Towards Strasbourg's quieter Anabaptists he was markedly benevolent and hospitable, confident in the outcome of irenical discussion. For years he was unhappy with infant baptism, espousing an illuminist or spiritualist piety which inculcated inwardness and distrusted externals. He was influenced by radicals like Schwenckfeld, Michael Sattler, and especially Martin Cellarius, with whom he cooperated in translation and publication. But progressively unsettled by radical excesses, illness (1529), and his wife's death (1531; in 1532 he married Oecolampadius's widow), he inclined towards closer alignment with Bucer* in securing a firmer ecclesiastical system for Strasbourg (1533-34). Together they compiled the Tetrapolitan Confession (1530) and pursued union negotiations (Wittenberg, 1536; Worms, 1540). Capito also drew up church orders for Berne (synod of 1532) and Frankfurt (1535). His later works (Responsio de Missa..., 1537; Hexemeron Dei..., 1539) favor even more strongly a magisterial, “Neo-Catholic” ecclesiasticism. Above all a scholar in the Erasmian mould (active in patristic studies and promoting works by Luther and Oecolampadius), he failed to fulfill his early promise even in this sphere.

J.W. Baum, Capito und Butzer, Strassburgs Reformatoren (1860); O.E. Strasser, La Pensée Théologique de Wolfgang Capiton dans les Dernières Années de sa Vie (1938); idem, “Un Chrétien Humaniste,” in RHPR 20 (1940), pp. 1-14; B. Stierle, Capito als Humanist (1974); J.M. Kittelson, Wolfgang Capito, From Humanist to Reformer (1975).