Friday, September 16, 2011

Obscure Heroes of the Reformation - Olevian

Caspar Olevian was born in Trêves, in the year 1536. He was schooled at home by his grandfather. At the age of 13, he was sent to Paris to study law. He also studied at the universities of Orleans and Bourges, where he studied under the most famous lawyers of those times. He began to worship with the Protestants.

One day he went out to the river after dinner with some friends, one of whom was Nicholas, the son of Frederick III. The young men found some German students by the river, who wanted Nicholas and his tutor to cross the river in a boat with them. Olevian knew that the prince and his tutor had been drinking, and tried to dissuade them. The young men went anyway and soon the boat capsized. The prince drowned. Olevian jumped into the water to rescue him, but he got stuck in mud so deep that he feared he would die as well. In this danger, he prayed to God vowing that if he were rescued he would preach the Gospel to his fellow-citizens. Just then, one of the prince’s footmen came by. He saw Olevian and thought it was the prince. He grabbed him by the hand and pulled him to safety. When Olevian returned home, he took up the study of theology along with his law studies. He was especially diligent in reading all of Calvin’s commentaries.

When he returned to Trêves, he was retained to plead a case. In a very short time it became apparent to him that there was much deceit involved in his profession, so he gave it up, moved to Zurich and began to study nothing but theology under Martyr and Bullinger.

He went to Lausanne to catch a ship to Geneva and it just so happened that Farel was on board the same ship. During their conversation, Farel asked Olevian is he had ever preached in his own country. He admitted that he had not. Farel persuaded him to do so as soon as possible, and Olevian promised he would.

So in 1559, he returned home to Trêves and by the request of his friends and the senate there, he was appointed to undertake the ministry there. He was given a stipend for this work and also read logic in the school. But when he began to preach the truth and expose the errors of popery, the clergy forbade him to preach and he was kicked out of the school. The senate appointed him to preach in a hospital, but his enemies tried to hinder this as well. Once, a young priest attempted to get into the pulpit before Olevian arrived. When the people saw this, they ordered him to come down and declared that they would not listen to him. In order to maintain the peace, Olevian asked them to listen to the priest and that he would preach after he was done. But the people wouldn’t hear of it and they caused such a ruckus that the priest feared for his life. Olevian stepped in, quieted the crowd down, and led the priest off to a safe spot. He then returned to the pulpit and said to him, “We desire you for God’s sake to preach to us.” The archbishop of Trêves had two consuls and eight senators imprisoned for ten weeks over this incident.

Soon Olevian was sent to Heidelberg to be rector of a college. About this time he married and was made Professor of Divinity in that university. He was also called to a pastoral charge in Heidelberg, which he dutifully and faithfully performed until the death of Frederick III. He was then called by Count Witgenstein to Berleburg where he preached and tutored some nobleman’s sons.

In 1584, we was called to Herborn where he preached and taught for three years. In 1584 he became deathly ill. During his sickness, he was visited by the famed John Piscator. Olevian told him that the day before he had been so filled with ineffable joy, that his wife thought he was making a rapid improvement. He said, “I felt like I was in a most pleasant meadow; in which as I walked up and down, methought I was besprinkled with a heavenly dew, and that not sparingly, but plentifully poured down, whereby both my body and soul were filled with ineffable joy. Piscator replied, “That good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, led thee into fresh pastures.” Olevian replied, “Yea, to the springs of living waters.” After encouraging each other from Psalm 62, Isaiah 9 and Matthew 11, Olevian said, “O would not have my journey to God long deferred. I desire to be dissolved and to be with my Christ.”

He shook hands with all his friends who were present. When he was in the agony of death, his friend Altstedius asked him whether he was sure of his salvation in Christ; to which Olevian answered, “Most sure,” and died. He went to be with his Lord in 1587 at the age of 51.

Caspar Olevian, together with Zachary Ursinus, authored the Heidelberg Catechism. If for nothing else, the Church is deeply indebted to him for that.

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