He was born at Weinsberg, a small town in the north of the modern kingdom of Württemberg, but then belonging to the Palatinate. He went to school at Weinsberg and Heilbronn, and then, intending to study law, he went to Bologna, but soon returned to Heidelberg and took up theology. Enthusiastic about the new learning, he passed from the study of Greek to that of Hebrew, taking his bachelor's degree in 1503. He became cathedral preacher at Basel in 1515, serving under Christopher von Uttenheim, the evangelical bishop of Basel.
From the beginning the sermons of Oecolampadius centred on the Atonement, and his first reformatory zeal showed itself in a protest (De risu paschali, 1518) against the introduction of humorous stories into Easter sermons. In 1520 he published his Greek Grammar. The same year he received an invitation to become preacher in the high church in Augsburg. Germany was ablaze with the questions raised by Martin Luther's theses, and Oecolampadius's introduction into this environment, when he championed Luther's position, especially in his anonymous Canonici indocti (1519), seems to have compelled him to severe self-examination, which ended in his becoming a monk. A short experience convinced him that this was not for him the ideal Christian life ("amisi monachum, inveni Christianum"), and in February 1522 he made his way to Ebernburg, near Creuznach, where he acted as chaplain to a little group of men holding the new opinions who had settled there under the leadership of Franz von Sickingen.
Oecolampadius returned to Basel in November 1522, as vicar of St Martin's, and (in 1523) reader of the Holy Scripture at the University of Basel. Lecturing on Isaiah, he condemned current ecclesiastical abuses, and in a public disputation (August 20 1523) gained such success that Erasmus writing to Zürich said "Oecolampadius has the upper hand amongst us." He became Huldreich Zwingli's assistant, and after more than a year of earnest preaching and four public disputations in which the popular verdict went in favour of Oecolampadius and his friends, the authorities of Basel began to see the need for reformation.
At last Oecolampadius was able to refrain from some practices he believed to be superstitious. Basel was slow to accept the Reformation; the news of the Peasants' War and the inroads of Anabaptists prevented progress; but by 1525, it seemed as if the authorities were resolved to listen to schemes for restoring the purity of worship and teaching. In the midst of these hopes and difficulties Oecolampadius married, in the beginning of 1528, Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, the widow of Ludwig Keller, who proved a suitable wife. After his death she married Wolfgang Fabricius Capito, and, when Capito died, Martin Bucer. She died in 1564.
In January 1528 Oecolampadius and Zwingli took part in the disputation at Berne which led to the adoption of the new faith in that canton, and in the following year to the discontinuance of the mass at Basel. The Anabaptists claimed Oecolampadius for their views, but in a disputation with them he dissociated himself from most of their positions. He died on 24 November 1531.
Oecolampadius was not a great theologian, like Luther, Zwingli or John Calvin, yet he became a trusted religious leader. With Zwingli he represented the Swiss at the unfortunate conference of Marburg. His views on the Eucharist upheld the metaphorical against the literal interpretation of the word "body," but he asserted that believers partook of the sacrament more for the sake of others than for their own, though later he emphasized it as a means of grace for the Christian life. To Luther's doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body he opposed that of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the church. He did not minutely analyse the doctrine of predestination as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli did, contenting himself with the summary "Our Salvation is of God, our perdition of ourselves."
See JJ Herzog, Leben Joh. Oecolampads und die Reformation der Kirche in Basel (1843); KR Hagenbach, Johann Oecolampad und Oswald Myconius, die Reformatoren Basels (1859). For other literature see W Hadorn's art. in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopädie für prot. Rel. u. Kirche.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.