BILLICAN, THEOBALD (Diepold Gernolt or Gerlacher): German theologian; b. at Billigheim (4 m. s.s.w. of Landau), Bavaria, toward the end of the fifteenth century; d. at Marburg Aug. 8, 1554. He took his surname from his birthplace; studied at Heidelberg, where Melanchthon was his fellow student; lectured at Heidelberg; became provost of the college of arts (1520) and had among others Johann Brenz (q.v.) as his pupil. When, in 1518, Luther came to Heidelberg, Billican, Brenz, Schnepff, and Martin Butzer (q.v.) were among his admirers. Billican left Heidelberg in 1522 and went to Weil as preacher. But his sermons against the mediatorship of the Virgin Mary and against purgatory brought about his deposition and he went to Nördlingen (1523), where he remained till 1535. Billican opened there a way for the Reformation and published Von der Mess Gemein Schlussred (1524), in which he sharply rebuked the "fraud" of the mass as a sacrifice for the living and the dead. Billican, who corresponded with Luther, Melanchthon, Rhegius, Brenz, Œcolampadius, and Zwingli, was regarded as a leader of the Evangelical cause in South Germany. But future events showed the instability of his character. In his controversy with Carlstadt, who had come to Nördlingen, he sided with Luther against Carlstadt in the doctrine of the Lord's Supper and stated in his Renovatio ecclesiæ (1525) that "in the Lord's Supper the flesh and blood of the Lord are present." Induced by Urbanus Rhegius (q.v.) openly to defend the Lutheran doctrine, Billican sent a statement to Rhegius, which the latter published (in mutilated form, as Billican complained) together with his answer Dec. 18, 1525, under the title De verbis cænæ dominicæ et opinionum varietate Theobaldi Billicani ad UrbanumRegium 1526). But while they of Wittenberg were rejoicing over this new ally, Billican changed his views in a letter addressed to Œcolampadius Jan. 16, 1526; and two months later, in letters addressed to Schleupner at Nuremberg and to Pirkheimer, he expressed still other views. While Billican did not fully agree with Zwingli, he stated that he learned more from the Zwinglians than from the Lutherans, and, adopting in part the views of Carlstadt and Œcolampadius, he pretended to teach the only correct doctrine because he stood between the two parties. His vacillating position is best illustrated in a booklet entitled Epistola Theobaldi Billicani ad Joannem, Hubelium qua illo de eucharistia cogitandi materiam conscripsit (1528) which remained unnoticed.
Billican, of whom so much had been expected, was now avoided by both parties. In 1529 he applied to Heidelberg University for the doctorate, presenting at the same time a confession in which he acrimoniously rejected Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Anabaptist doctrine, and expressed his firm belief in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Being refused by the faculty, he married a woman of wealth, and, regardless of what had taken place, he had the boldness to ask Melanchthon to procure him the doctorate at Wittenberg. The latter replied, "[The authorities] advance no one before he has set forth his doctrinal views" (CR, i, 1112). Since he was repelled by the Reformers and not fully trusted by the Roman Catholics, Billican's position became untenable, and so in 1535 he left Nördlingen and went to Heidelberg, where he commenced the study of jurisprudence. He was made licentiate in jurisprudence and for a time took the place of a professor who was disabled on account of sickness. When in 1543 that professor died and Billican sought the position, the entire faculty opposed his nomination, but through the influence of Margaret von der Layen, whose "chancellor" he, was considered, he was permitted to give independent lectures on law. On account of his relations with Margaret, the elector Frederick II deposed Billican from his office July 26, 1544, and ordered him to leave Heidelberg. He went to Marburg and was made professor of rhetoric, a position which he held till his death.
Bibliography: G. Veesenmeyer, Kleine Beyträge zur Geschichte des Reichstags zu Augsburg, 1530, pp. 59 sqq., Nuremberg, 1830; A. Steichele, Das Bistum Augsburg, iii, 947 sqq., Augsburg, 1872; T. Keim, Die Stellung der schwäbischen Kirchen zur zwinglisch-lutherischen Spaltung, in TJB, xiv, 1894; C. Geyer, Die Nördlinger evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1896.