Socratic Learning in Lutheran Germany: Philosophy, Religion, and Politics in the Life of Johannes Caselius (1533–1613)

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation is the first extensive study of Johannes Caselius (1533–1613), the most prominent Lutheran humanist of his age. Based on analysis not only of his large published corpus but also of his massive Nachlass of manuscripts and annotated books, it articulates Caselius’s educational project over his almost fifty-year career.

Chapter 1 reappraises the legacy of the Wittenberg reformer and pedagogue Philipp Melanchthon, Caselius’s teacher. Situating a detailed study of Caselius’s early writings within a broad analysis of Wittenberg knowledge production, the chapter argues that the decades following Melanchthon’s death in 1560 should be interpreted as the fragmentation of a learned discourse that developed around him, for which Caselius’s trajectory serves as one example.

Chapter 2 takes up Caselius’s understanding of education and philosophy in his mature career. Inspired by his studies with Piero Vettori, the renowned Florentine philologist, and directly drawing on the tradition of “spiritual exercises” in ancient philosophy, he formulated the “Socratic” approach to education as consisting in a variety of practices intended to purify the soul and cultivate virtue. Chapter 3 examines the place of religion in Caselius’s life and scholarship. First, analysis of his manuscripts reveals that his lived piety cohered within his Lutheran confessional culture and that his intellectual project maintained the fundamental Wittenberg distinction between Law and Gospel. Investigating Caselius’s understanding of pagan religion and his study of patristic texts further uncovers the surprisingly organic connections between Wittenberg scholarly culture and his own more radical views. Turning to politics, Chapter 4 considers Caselius as an activist for his philosophical and religious vision of society. Tracing the wars of his era to spiritual disorders rather than to religious fanaticism, he saw philosophical education as a way to purify the souls of political leaders and bring them into harmony with divine law. He sought to exert this purifying influence through a variety of networking strategies, which reveal the close intertwinement of humanist and courtly knowledge. Understanding the true scope and aims of Caselius’s career illuminates the intellectual diversity and fertility of late-sixteenth-century confessional scholarly cultures.


Attribute NameValues
Contributor Brad S. Gregory, Research Director
Contributor Robert Goulding, Committee Member
Contributor Daniel Hobbins, Committee Member
Contributor Denis Robichaud, Committee Member
Contributor Evan Ragland, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2023-06-26

Submission Date 2023-07-17
  • Lutheranism, humanism, Reformation, Renaissance, confessional culture, philosophy, religion, politics, intellectual history, confessionalization, education, universities, Johannes Caselius, Philipp Melanchthon

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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