Gansfort, Johannes Wessel

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Theologian, philosopher, humanist; b. Groningen, Netherlands, c. 1419; d. Groningen, Oct. 4, 1489. He was probably baptized Wessel, and later, when he was identified erroneously with Johannes Rucherath von Wesel, Johannes was added to his name. After studying under the direction of the brethren of the common life, Gansfort taught at Zwolle from 1432 to 1449, and was deeply influenced by the devotio moderna. His desire for more learning led him to Cologne (1449), where he studied Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, and theology and familiarized himself with the works of Augustine, bernard of clairvaux, and rupert of deutz. After a brief stay in Heidelberg, Gansfort went to Paris c. 1458, became involved in the nominalist controversy, and called into question the infallible teaching authority of the pope and of the ecumenical councils, the power of priestly absolution, the teachings on indulgences, purgatory, and the efficacy of the Sacraments. After a brief visit with Italian humanists c. 1470, Gansfort returned to Paris, and some five years later he departed for his native land. He has at times been called a precursor of the Reformation. Luther is even quoted as saying that his enemies might accuse him of having copied from Gansfort (poterat videri Lutherus omnia ex Wesselo hausisse). The writings of Gansfort, however, are occasional treatises, rather than a systematic presentation of a body of teachings, and can be open to several interpretations, as was noted by his contemporaries. To his friends he seemed the "light of the world" (lux mundi ), while his enemies dismissed him as "the master of contradictions" (magister contradictionum ). Enjoying the protection of David, Bishop of Utrecht, Gansfort spent the last years of his life in study and in the writing of several ascetical works, such as the Scala meditatoria and the Exemplum scalae meditatoriae, which gained for him as a layman an honored position among the teachers of the Devotio Moderna. His works were published for the first time by A. Hardenberg at Gröningen in 1614.

Bibliography: s. d. van been, Realencyklopädie für protestntische Theologie, ed. j. j. herzog and a. hauck, 24 v. (Leipzig 18961913) 21:131147. l. cristiani, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. 15 v. (Paris 190350) 15.2:353136. m. goosens, De Katholieke Encyclopaedie, ed. p. van der meer et al., 25 v. (2d ed. Amsterdam 194955) 11:263264. p. doyÈre, Catholicisme 4: 1746. e. barnikol, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 6 v. (Tübingen 195763) 2:11991200. a. franzen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hÖfer and k. rahner (1957) 5:103435.

[h. dressler]