Office Hours: With Patrick O’Banion On Zanchi’s The Spiritual Marriage Between Christ And His Church

Office Hours 2016 full sizeWhen most of us think about the great Reformed theologians we probably think of John Calvin. Perhaps we think of John Owen, and Charles Hodge. If we think a little harder we might think of Zacharias Ursinus, who gave us the Heidelberg Catechism or William Perkins, the father of English Reformed theology, piety, and practice. There is, however, an unexplored world of Reformed theology in the sixteenth century: The Italian Reformed theologians. You might be familiar with Francis Turretin (his family name was Turretini) from 17th century Geneva, but there was also a great Italian Reformed theologian in Zürich, Peter Martyr Vermigli. There was one another great Italian Reformed theologian: Girolamo or Jerome Zanchi (1516–90). Girolamo Zanchi was an important Reformed theologian in a couple of settings in the 16th century, including Heidelberg, but he has been neglected because little of his work is translated into English. We know him English mainly for a translation of his defense of predestination, which appeared during the controversy between George Whitefield and John Wesley over predestination. Zanchi was at the center of other controversies but was known for his gentle spirit. We are thinking about Zanchi this month on Office Hours because Patrick O’Banion, who graduated from WSC in 2002 with an MA in Historical Theology, is about to publish in November 2021, a new translation of Zanchi’s book, The Spiritual Marriage between Christ and His Church and Every One of the Faithful. Patrick was professor of History at Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO) 2009–19. He has also published 3 books on early Modern Spain and numerous articles in academic journals.
He was ordained as a ruling elder in the PCA in 2008 and he is now licensed to preach by the Siouxlands Presbytery, PCA.

Here is the episode.

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    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Nice to see a reminder that there is such as thing as an Italian Calvinist.

    The total number I’ve personally met in my life, apart from those in a small Waldensian church about two hours from where I live and a historically Italian Congregational church in Philadelphia that I likely would have joined if I had gone to Westminster-East, probably could be counted on two hands. For most Reformed people, I’m the only Italian they’ve ever met who is Reformed, and often the only Italian Protestant they’ve met of any type.

    As you know, Dr. Clark, the Reformation was essentially exterminated on most of the Italian peninsula using fire and sword, apart from the high mountains of the Piedmont where the Waldensians managed to maintain a witness using force of arms in the 1500s and 1600s to defend their mountain villages, though their outlying “colonies” in other parts of the Italian peninsula like Calabria and Apulia, which had managed to survive centuries of persecution, were finally destroyed in the late 1500s. The Italian Reformed theologians you mention were academics whose witness was largely confined to educated elites of their era, but because they were academics, they wrote books, they corresponded extensively, and their writings were preserved, whereas the “on the ground” witness of the Waldensians in Italy was essentially destroyed when the people and their churches were rooted out by local rulers pretty much everywhere in Italy by the end of the 1600s except the Piedmont.

    It is perhaps an accident of history that a local ruler of the House of Savoy, unlike most of his predecessors, happened to like the Waldensians in his historical territory of the Duchy of Savoy, and in 1848 issued an edict of toleration that, while establishing the Roman Catholic Church as the official faith of his realm, allowed official toleration to pre-existing religious groups, which was “code language” for Jewish synagogues and Waldensian churches. That ruler and his successors, though a variety of historical situations, eventually amalgamated the rest of the small Italian principalities into what became the Kingdom of Italy, and as his rule expanded, his edict of toleration which was part of the Albertine Statute was slowly extended to the rest of the Italian Peninsula, allowing a massive expansion of Protestant missions in Italy, often funded by overseas money. (For example, the founding pastor of the local Waldensian church in my area, who came here in the 1870s, had originally studied at the Free Church College in Scotland before becoming a missionary of the Waldensians to their brethren who were at that time emigrating along with other Italians to parts of Argentina, Uruguay and the United States.)

    Liberalism wrecked Protestantism pretty much everywhere in Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Italy was no exception. Churches which had preserved their faith for centuries through persecution were corrupted in only a few decades by the seductive influence of religious toleration for error as well as truth.

    However, there is a truly ancient history to Italian Protestantism that dates back not only to the Reformation but long predates it, and is almost totally unknown in modern Reformed circles because most of its adherents died in dungeons and fires while their writings were burned along with their authors. Some of the key primary source documents exist today mostly because Oliver Cromwell sent his diplomatic envoys to investigate the situation in the Piedmont and brought back a few copies of key confessions which he arranged to have deposited in university libraries in places like Oxford, and a few exiled Waldensian pastors fled to Protestant countries and wrote histories of the travails of their fellow church members in an attempt to alert Protestants elsewhere in Europe to what was happening on the Italian peninsula.

    I wasn’t aware of Patrick O’Banion, or his interest in the history of the Italian Reformation, when he was living in Missouri. I hope he and others find an interest in what, as you say, is the “unexplored world of Reformed theology in the sixteenth century,” namely, the Italian Reformed theologians.

    • On the Waldensians before the Reformation see:

      Cameron, Euan. The Reformation of the Heretics : The Waldenses of the Alps, 1480-1580. Oxford Historical Monographs. Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press, 1984.

    • Thank you for posting a good modern resource, Dr. Clark.

      For those reading this who want to read the key historical resources written before the modern era, including those written contemporaneously with the Waldensian persecutions of the 1600s and the Waldensian emancipation and expansion of the 1800s, here are some of the main historical works. Some of these publication dates may not be accurate; they reflect a quick check of early printing dates but I know from experience that these may be the date that an English translation was made and published, not the date from a few years or decades earlier when the book was originally written.

      Jean Perrin, “History of the Old Waldenses Anterior to the Reformation” (1618)
      Henri Arnaud, “Henri Arnaud: Or the Glorious Return of the Waldenses of Piedmont to Their Native Valleys” (1710, English trans. 1827)
      Jean Leger, “General History of the Evangelical Churches in the Piedmontese Valleys (1669).
      Alexis Muston, “The Israel Of The Alps: A History of the Persecutions of the Waldenses.” (1875)

      These books from the 1800s were key in introducing the Waldensians to American, English and Scottish audiences of that era who were interested in promoting Protestantism in a newly-unified Italy that was opened to Protestantism for the first time. They’re written using more or less modern English style and will be more readable for audiences unfamiliar with Waldensian history and unfamiliar with the style of older books, and were specifically intended to introduce Waldensians to conservative Protestant (and mostly Reformed) audiences that had no prior knowledge of the subject or of that part of Reformation history.

      James Wylie, “History of the Waldenses” (1860)
      William Stephen Gilly, “Narrative of an Excursion to the Mountains of Piemont, and Researches among the Vaudois, or Waldenses” (1824) and “Waldensian Researches During a Second Visit to the Vaudois of Piemont” (1831).

      I’m omitting the modern works on modern Waldensian history in the late 1800s and the 1900s, not because I don’t know them, but because reading them is not unlike reading a Presbyterian history book authored by a PC(USA) pastor who knows his history and his theology and can accurately describe what Calvin and Knox taught and believed, but wants to defend the changes brought about by the Enlightenment, by classical liberalism, and by Barthian neo-orthodoxy.

      Side point: Rev. Arnaud, in addition to being a Waldensian pastor and historian, was also a guerilla leader who led what today would be considered an insurgent counterattack that forced the armies of the Duke of Savoy to a draw and led to grudging toleration of the Waldensians in the 1600s. One of his descendants is currently an elder at the Waldensian church here in Missouri that finally left the PC(USA) a few years ago.

      • Darrell,

        Those older stories contained a lot of mythology. That’s why I refer readers to Cameron.

        I understand the older narrative but it wasn’t not entirely true and some of it was just myths. The Reformed circulated those stories in the Modern period but they just don’t hold up to scrutiny.

        So, please regard those older accounts as interesting, mostly hagiographical (i.e., inflated lives of the saints) and not exactly history.

  2. Thank’s for this nice information about Zanchi.
    I hope to read the book
    Pietro Bolognesi

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