Peter Harrison explains the disappearance of symbolic meanings of animals from seventeenth-century works in natural history through what he calls the “literalist mentality of the reformers.” By contrast, the present article argues in favor of a different understanding of the connection between hermeneutics and Protestant natural history. Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Brenz, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Jean Calvin continued to assign moral meanings to natural particulars, and moral interpretations can still be found in the writings of Protestant naturalists such as Conrad Gesner, Caspar Heldelinus, Jeremias Wilde, Thomas Penny, and Thomas Moffett. If there are differences between Protestant and Catholic interpretations of animals, then these differences derive from the reformer’s greater insistence on providing textual support for assigning symbolic meanings, their resulting greater reluctance in assigning prophetic meanings to animals, and their elimination of spiritual interpretations of animals that are in tension with central tenets of Protestant theology. These differences in hermeneutics and theology may explain some of the divergences between the symbolic interpretations of animals proposed by Protestant natural historians and their Catholic colleague, Ulisse Aldrovandi.

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