Zasius, Udalricus


Zasius, Udalricus
(1461-1535)
   German humanist and jurist. A native of Constance, he attended the cathedral school there and in 1481 entered the University of Tübingen, where he received a B.A. degree. He then became a court clerk in the service of the bishop of Constance and rose to be head of the episcopal chancery. Concur-rently, he also worked for the municipal government. He later served as town clerk at Buchhorn, Baden im Aargau, and eventually Freiburg-im-Breisgau, where he moved in 1494 and where he spent the rest of his career.
   Only after becoming clerk at Freiburg did Zasius begin formal study of law at the local university. In 1496 he left the position of clerk and became head of the city's Latin school, employment that enabled him to pursue his studies. In 1499 he resigned his teaching position in order to study full time, and in 1501 he became doctor of both laws. Although Zasius held a recognized legal doctorate, he ac-quired most of his very substantial legal learning through private study. He began teaching the course on Justinian's Institutes in 1500 as a substitute for a professor and in 1501 repeated the course while also teaching poetry and rhetoric. He returned to the position of town clerk in 1502 and also served as legal counsel to the university. In 1506, after a lengthy campaign of pressure by both town and stu-dents, the faculty appointed Zasius professor of law despite resist-ance by some of his new colleagues. The salary was low, and he al-ways supplemented it by working as a legal adviser and by offering room and board to students. In 1508 the Emperor Maximilian I gave him the honorary title of imperial councillor. His lectures in praise of law were eventually published as part of his Lucubrationes in 1518.
   One of Zasius' duties after reappointment as town clerk was to pre-pare a book of legal precedents valid in the local municipal court, to-gether with a legal code defining the customs, statutes, and privileges of the town and linking these to the relevant sections of Roman law. The city's law code adopted in 1520 is mostly his work. It was one of the most important legal codifications of his time, since it melded together the traditional local law and the principles of Roman law. This code remained in force until the 19th century and influenced the legal codes of other German municipalities.
   At first, Zasius' reputation as a jurist spread by word of mouth, a process speeded by the striking success of the men he trained in win-ning important positions in the administrations of German princes, prelates, and towns. His work in law was closely linked to his devel-opment as a humanist, and he created a broad network of influence by correspondence with other humanists, including Sebastian Brant, Geiler von Kaysersberg, Jakob Wimpheling, and the younger Thomas Wolf. He also had contact with Conrad Celtis, Gian-francesco Pico della Mirandola, Willibald Pirckheimer and Mu-tianus Rufus. His favorite student, Bonifacius Amerbach, who later became professor of law at Basel, brought him into touch with Erasmus. In the earliest years of the Reformation, Zasius expressed sym-pathy for the teachings of Martin Luther, but as he realized that Luther's movement was dividing the church and also learned that Luther had contemptuously burned a copy of the canon law, he turned against the Saxon reformer, earlier and more bitterly than most Ger-man humanists did. When Erasmus moved to Freiburg after the city of Basel had become officially Protestant in 1529, Zasius welcomed him and helped arrange for his place of residence.
   Although Zasius did not begin publishing early in his career, he produced a number of influential legal works, including an early (1508) tract urging the forcible baptism of Jewish children; his col-lected essays on law, the Lucubrationes (1518); a treatise against the theologian Johann Eck (1519), dealing with Eck's defense of the le-gality of charging interest on loans; and In usus feudorum epitome (1535), a study of feudal law. His works were collected and published as his Opera omnia (1550) in seven volumes that included his lecture courses and his formal legal judgments. Although Zasius had much of the bumptious combativeness typical of an autodidact, he became influential in the development of German humanism, in his profes-sional field of jurisprudence, and in the very early stages of Catholic opposition to the Reformation.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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