Osiander, Andreas

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Nuremberg reformer; b. Gunzenhausen in Frankish Brandenburg, Dec. 19, 1498; d. Königsberg, Oct. 17, 1552. Osiander was a classical student at Leipzig, Altenburg, and Ingolstadt, and became an accomplished linguist, but did not obtain a degree. He was ordained in 1520, taught Hebrew in the Augustinian Cloister at Nuremberg, and was later identified with Lazarus Spengler (14791534), Wenceslaus Linck (14831547), and Willibald pirkheimer as a Nuremberg reformer. In 1522 he published his Biblia sacra, a version of the Vulgate based on original texts. A Lutheran, he married in 1525.

Osiander opposed Zwingli's view of the Lord's Supper. He was invited to the Marburg Colloquy (1529) and to Augsburg (1530). He assisted in church visitations in lands of Markgrave George of Brandenburg-Ansbach and, with Johann brenz, drafted the Brandenburg-Nuremberg Church Ordinance (1532). He was a discussant at Schmalkalden (1537), Hagenau, Worms (1540), and Regensburg (1541), where his criticism of Melanchthon brought about his recall.

Although he was unusually gifted, Osiander's haughty, overbearing, disputatious, and unrestrained manner irritated his enemies and alienated his friends. Although adept at pointing out error, he rarely contributed constructive solutions. He could not forego polemics. When asked by Rhäticus (Georg Joachim von Lauchen 151476) to edit and publish Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543), Osiander added his own preface in which he claimed the work was based on hypotheses. Although Copernicus's adherents were furious, the claim kept the book off the Index until the 17th century.

Although he was nominally Lutheran, Osiander's teachings, because of certain mystical assumptions, had a strange twist on sin, grace, and, particularly, justification, which he regarded not as a forensic act, as did Luther, but a gradual process resulting from Christ's indwelling in the sinner. He differed also with Luther's teaching on church discipline and private confession.

After his abrupt departure from Nuremberg (1548), Osiander remained in Königsberg in the service of Duke Albert of Prussia, first as pastor of the Altstädtische Kirche, and later, as professor primarius at Königsberg. His lack of academic degrees aroused the jealousy of older professors, and his dissident views caused friction with the orthodox younger men who had studied under Luther and Melanchthon. Particularly divisive was Osiander's strange view of justification, an argument in which Melanchthon and Flacius were eventually embroiled; but Duke Albert continued his confidence in Osiander and even elevated him in 1551 to president of the bishopric of Samland. At Osiander's death the duke honored him with a royal funeral.

Bibliography: w. mÖller, Andreas Osianders Leben und ausgewählte Schriften (Väter und Begründer der Lutherischen Kirche 5; Elberfeld 1870); Allgemeine deutsche Bilgraphie (Leipzig 18751910) 24:473483. w. mÖller and p. tschackert, j. j. herzog and a. hauck, eds. Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie (Leipzig 18961913) 14: 501509. e. bizer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 4:173031. p. meinhold, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 7:126163.

[e. g. schwiebert]

Osiander, Andreas

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(b. Gunzenhausen, Bavaria, Germany, 19 December 1498; d. Königsberg, Germany [now Kaliningrad, U.S.S.R.], 17 October 1552)

theology, astronomical and mathematical publishing.

On 9 July 1515 Osiander was admitted to the University of Ingolstadt as a “cleric of the Eichstätt” diocese.1 Without obtaining a degree he moved to Nuremberg, where he taught Hebrew and was ordained a priest in 1520. He enthusiastically embraced the new Lutheran movement and soon became one of its most militant spokesmen. When Nuremberg accepted the pro-Catholic Augsburg Interim, Osiander left and joined the Protestant Duke Albert of Prussia. On 27 January 1549 he arrived in Königsberg, where the recently founded university appointed him professor of theology.2 His doctrinal views were bitterly opposed by the more orthodox followers of Martin Luther in the “Osiander Controversy,” which continued after Osiander’s death.

In 1538 Rheticus obtained a leave of absence from Wittenberg University in order to visit German astronomers. In Nuremberg he met Osiander, whose hobby was the mathematical sciences. Hence, when Rheticus’ Narratio prima, the first printed discussion of the Copernican astronomy, was published in 1540, a copy was sent to Osiander, who was shocked by the claim of the new system to be true; he regarded divine revelation as the sole source of truth. In similar letters to Rheticus and Copernicus on 20 April 1541, when Rheticus was waiting in Frombork (Frauenburg) for Copernicus to put the final touches on the manuscript of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Osiander urged the inclusion in the introduction of the statement that even if the Copernican system provided a basis for correct astronomical computations, it might still be false. Copernicus firmly rejected Osiander’s recommendation.

Nevertheless, subsequent events enabled Osiander to impose his fictionalist philosophy of science on De revolutionibus, while its author lay helpless and dying in far-off Frombork. Copernicus had entrusted the printing of De revolutionibus to Rheticus, who supervised the early stages of the process in the shop of Johannes Petreius (Hans Peter) in Nuremberg. When Rheticus had to go to the University of Leipzig, which had just appointed him professor of mathematics, he was replaced as editor of De revolutionibus by Osiander, who surreptitiously slipped into the authentic front matter an unsigned preface composed by himself and expounding his anti-Copernican fictionalism.3

When copies of De revolutionibus reached Rheticus in Leipzig, he became enraged and sent to the City Council of Nuremberg a sharp protest that was written by Tiedemann Giese, the closest friend of Copernicus, who had died in the meantime. Petreius replied that he had received the false preface in a form undifferentiated from the rest of the material. Whereas Osiander never publicly acknowledged his authorship of the interpolated preface, he did so privately,4 and thus finally in 1609 Kepler’s Astronomia nova was able to identify Osiander as the culprit.

Osiander was more sympathetic to the mathematician Cardano. Both of them were astrologers, and they exchanged letters about horoscopes for some five years before Cardano on 9 January 1545 dedicated Artis magnae sive de regulis algebraicis liber unus— which initiated the theory of algebraic equations—to Osiander, who edited the work for Petreius.5


1. Götz F. v. Pölnitz, ed., Die Matrikel der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Ingolstadt-Landshut-München, I (Munich, 1937), 381.

2. His son Lucas was admitted to the university in the summer semester of 1549 (Georg Erler, ed., Die Matrikel der Universität Königsberg in Preussen, I [Leipzig, 1908–1910], 10).

3. Osiander’s preface was translated into English by Edward Rosen, Three Copernican Treatises, 3rd ed. (New York, 1971), pp. 24–25.

4. Ernst Zinner, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der coppernicanischen Lehre (Erlangen, 1943), p. 453.

5. Cardano’s dedication was translated into English by T. Richard Witmer. The Great Art or the Rules of Algebra by Girolamo Cardano (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), p. 2.


I. Original Works. Osiander’s works are chronologically enumerated (1522-1552) in Gottfried Seebass, Das reformatorische Werk des Andreas Osiander (Nuremberg, 1967), pp. 6–58, with nine portraits of Osiander as frontispiece and supplement.

II. Secondary Literature. On Osiander and his work, see Wilhelm Möller, Andreas Osiander (Elberfeld. 1870; repr. Nieuwkoop, 1965), and his article, “Osiander,” in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, XXIV (1887; 1970), 473–483; and G. Seebass, op. cit., pp. xi–xviii.

Edward Rosen

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