l

Venetian Inquisition
1000 A.D. to 1799 A.D.
l
 


Footprints of Italian Reformers: Venice
by John Stoughton (1881)

Many a painter from Canaletti down ward has delighted to depict the charms of this city; many a poet besides Byron has sung its praises; and many a traveller, writing in prose, has risen to a pitch of unwonted eloquence when touching on a theme so full of enchantment. Amongst passages of the latter kind I often think of the following from the pen of Frederick William Faber: "As we glided onward from Fusina in our gondola, the beautiful buildings with their strange Eastern architecture seemed, like fairy ships, to totter, to steady them selves, and come to anchor one by one; and where the shadow was, and where the palace was, you could not tell. And there was San Marco, and there was the Ducal Palace, and there the Bridge of Sighs, and the very shades of the Balbi, Foscari, Pisani, Bembi seemed to hover about the winged lion of St. Mark. And all this, all to the right and left, all was Venice; and it needed the sharp grating of the gondola against the stairs, to bid us be sure it was not all a dream."

[216] The history of Venice is akin to its architecture. Visions of its great men, their astute policy, their romantic adventures, blend in wonderful harmony with the shadows of churches and palaces, as they fall on the waters of the winding canals. Doges, admirals, and senators take the first place; but in the background are heart-stirring stories of love and sorrow, suffering and heroism. Few tourists, comparatively, think much of the religious history of the Republic; and yet that is, in point of interest, of a piece with its other annals. Venice has had its churchmen and its saints; and popes as well as doges have played their part on the marble pave ment of San Marco. Least known of Venetian religious history, perhaps, are those particulars which relate to the fortunes of the Reformation within the circle of the Republic. Its relations with England and the correspondence carried on between the two States at the period of the Reformation, throw light on certain matters connected with that event. The question of Queen Catherine's divorce was mixed up with questions of Papal authority; and in connection with this matter we find in a communication from Henry VIII., a reference to the University of Padua, which stood within the Venetian territories, as having "come to a determination, that the things of God are not committed to the Pope, but only matters of human jurisdiction." Henry was very anxious to get a favourable opinion from Italian theologians with regard to the divorce, and used all kinds of means for the purpose.

"The Bishop of London," we read in a letter written in August, 1530, "is a good deal discouraged by the refusal he has met with from the Seignory. By means of a Spanish canon of the August- inian monastery of Padua, Don Pablo Torrellas has got another canon of the same house, Don Rafael de Coma, to revoke an opinion he had given against the Queen and to write in her favour. He is endeavouring also to get the Dominican prior of SS. John and Paul of Venice to revoke his opinion, on which the Bishop of London  [217] sets great store. It is suggested that the Emperor should give him a letter of credence for him, commending his services against the Lutherans, by which Nino might take occasion to bring him over."

An opinion was obtained from the University of Padua that the Pope cannot grant a dispensation for the marriage of a man with his deceased brother's wife. The common seal was set to the document by an assembly of the doctors, and further signatures were sought; but we find it said "the General of the Black Friars forbids any member of the order to dispute the Pope's power." It is added, "the Lutherans, of whom there are no small companies both here and at Padua and Ferrara, oppose the King as much as possible."

At an earlier part of the same year, the King (Henry VIII.) was advised to write to the Venetian Senate, and to reward those who helped him. Through one person whom the writer mentions, a hundred theologians, he says, might be gained, in fact, all the divines and jurists in the Seignory, and in Milan as well.

What was done in this business the senators did not approve, and they sent orders to the professors to give no opinion, and not meddle at all in a matter so dangerous to the Holy See. The rewards offered by the King of England for an opinion favourable to his cause, the Seignory thought would be a great offence to his Holiness. But one Mica Marian di Sena excused himself  "for accepting a fee, on the ground that, though he was a professor, he did not feel bound to refuse his advice to those who would pay for it."

The Republic was very chary in matters relating to the Refor mation, and a correspondence is preserved in the English Record Office respecting the reception of a representative of the Protestant powers. It was directed, on the 28th of May, 1546, that the Doge was to answer the English secretary to the effect, that the Seignory valued the friendship of Protestant princes, but as the [218] affairs of the world were in a disturbed state, the Republic felt compelled to consider the matter, assuring such personages, how ever, that the State felt excellently disposed towards them. The whole Council of Ten voted in support of the motion in reference to the course to be pursued by the Doge. A few days afterwards, a secretary to the ambassador of the English monarch came into the presence of the august Ten, saying he had a letter of credence from the Protestant princes, appointing him their agent, with orders to present it without remark. The papal nuncio objected to the proceeding; but the cautious council explained that the secretary was not admesso (i. e., not formally recognised), "neither was any place assigned him, nor had he negotiated anything;" and that the Republic had always conducted itself as a Christian power, ft anxious for the advantage of Christendom. On the 5th of June a motion was carried unanimously, stating that as no particular message was to be communicated by the secretary, the council were compelled to hesitate as it regarded his residing in the city, since Venice wished to be friends with all parties; and the Doge was to assure the Protestant powers of the excellent disposition and extreme affection cherished towards them. But on November the 5th, hearing that his Holiness made inquiries on the subject, the Doge and Senate informed their ambassador at Rome that Baldissera Alchieri (sic) continued to perform his office as English secretary, and occasionally acquainted them with news and advices, according to the custom of other secretaries. In December an English secretary or ambassador, named Sigismund Harvel, expressed his "royal master's" wish that a Venetian representative should be sent to the court in London. It was agreed in the council for the Seigniory "to be on good terms with his Majesty, and to exhibit towards him such marks of affection and esteem as he desires, and as become so great a king, whose repute and power have increased since the conclusion of peace; and this embassy cannot but prove to the dignity of the Republic, [219] and profitable to many private individuals, who frequent the country, not a little to the advantage of this entire city." (1)

He was to be liberally provided for, to keep eleven horses and as many servants, and two running footmen, and to be paid "150 golden ducats from month to month so that the Seigniory may not lose any money by exchange on this account." The represen tative of our court, Sigismund Harvel, died in Venice, January, 1550, and had a grand funeral, with a number of torches weighing six and ten pounds each, which were paid for by the Seigniory, as duly noted in the Venetian archives. Cloaks, and other expenses for hatchments, black linen, platform and canopy, were defrayed by the ambassador's household. He was carried to St. John's and St. Paul's, and an oration was delivered at the funeral. The deceased was succeeded by Peter Vannes, a Lucchese, secretary to Cardinal Wolsey at Bruges.

In the reign of Edward VI., when England ranked amongst the Protestant powers, we find the representative of this country somewhat perplexed as to the course he was to pursue in Venice under certain circumstances. He informed the Council of State at home, how he had sundry times desired to know their lordships pleasure as to his accompanying the other kings and princes ambassadors in attendance upon the Duke and Seigniory, at such solemn feasts to which he was formally invited, some "five or six times a year, when the senators took the same for great honour and kindness." "Their lordships," he said, "were to understand that the resorting to such churches and places is not for the worshipping of idols or images, but rather for the ambassadors to confer together familiarly of clivers things, and observe what may turn out to their masters behoof and advancement. By the English ambassador being present the King's authority, honour, and name would be better known and advanced."

People from the country were carefully watched by such [220] agents as Vannes, and he failed not to inform his master of what he saw. Divers Englishmen, he said, were travelling in Italy some for learning, some otherwise, amongst them one Dudgeon, a Prebendary of Wells, "at study either in Padua or some other university, who had become a doctor in divinity there." Vannes desired to ascertain the truth of this, as whoever took such degree swore allegiance to the Bishop of Rome. Further correspondence followed on the subject, and mention is made of a soldier with "a very traitorous heart to his country, being in the habit of speaking evil of the King and Council, calling them Lutherans." Vannes, on the 18th of July, 1551, reports that he had communicated the contents of the despatch from England to the Seigniory, who received them in very loving part, and said that their ambassadors in England had advertised them of his Majesty Edward VI. in such wise, as that it was plain the virtues in so young and noble a prince being far above his age and any worldly expectation, could only proceed from the infinite mercy of God, who alone was to be thanked as the Giver of all goodness. (2)

The position in which the Republic placed itself towards the Holy See was exceedingly characteristic. Alone of all the Govern ments of Europe it excluded ecclesiastics from sharing in its authority. Whilst prelates figured in council chambers elsewhere, no mitred head was seen on the bench of the Council of Ten. The Giant's Staircase shut out the approach of any cardinal unless he came as ambassador from Rome or some other power; and even a patriarchal bishop who, in the midst of Venetian splendour, said mass under the dome of St. Mark s, could never take a seat among the senators of the adjoining palace. The priesthood were jealously excluded from influence in political affairs. No one whatever who wore the tonsure could hold a civil office; no member of the Apostolic Court could touch a ducat, in the shape [221] of pay, out of the ducal exchequer. Church and State were, so far, as distinct as possible in the constitution of Venice.

In harmony with this fact was an extreme jealousy of any interference on the part of Rome in the affairs of the Republic. To illustrate this point would be to transfer to these pages a large portion of Venetian history. One incident will suffice. Between Paul V. and the Republican senators a tremendous struggle occurred. There had been a quarrel over the laws enacted for restraining the multiplication of ecclesiastics, and the augmentation of revenues held by them for the use of the Church. Audiences had been held, briefs had been sent, threats had been exchanged, and interdicts loomed in the distance; but his Highness the Doge sat proudly and firmly on his ancient throne. "If I were Pope," exclaimed Cardinal Borghese, "I would excommunicate Doge and Senate!" "And if I were Doge," returned the Venetian Donate, who heard the words, "I would laugh at your excommunication." Cardinal Borghese became Paul V. Donato became Doge of Venice. Each acted out his threats. One day in February, 1605, a nuncio from Rome appeared in the Sala del Collegio, the famous presence-chamber, adorned with masterpieces from the pencil of Tintoretto and Paul Veronese. The nuncio, Orazio Mattei, beginning in courtly phrase, entreated the College to find some means of satisfying his Holiness. The Doge, with equal courtesy of manner, at the commencement, assured him that what he said would receive due consideration; but he added, "You tell me that I ought to do something to please the Holy Father on my advent to office. I frankly tell you there is nothing by which I can more signally inaugurate my reign than by preserving the freedom and glory of this Republic." A tempest suddenly burst out. "In the seventy years," he went on to say, "since the establishment of this Council, we have observed that in every misdeed there has been at the bottom a renegade priest or a worthless friar." Then the Doge accused the nuncio with shuffling. [222] The nuncio returned the compliment: "Your serene Highness will excuse me, but the shuffling is on your side; it is impossible to utter greater iniquities than you have done; and you will have to answer for it at the day of judgment. You tell me that these poor clerks may sell property left to them; and what are they to do with the price of it, I should like to know?" "Give alms to the poor, as ecclesiastical corporations ought to do," rejoined his Ducal Highness. "This is not decent — not supportable," retorted the Papal ambassador; "it is an intolerable attack on the liberties of the Church!" The conversation illustrates the relative position of Venice and Rome at the opening of the seventeenth century; it arose from the traditions of the sixteenth, and the temper shown repeatedly at the era of the Reformation. It is very significant, and characteristic of Venice, equally at both periods. Yet with defiance of Rome, as attempting to encroach on the freedom of Venice, there was profound deference shown to the spiritual office of the Pontiff. For the Doge called for a candle which the Holy Father had blessed, and reverently kissed it, lifting up at the same time his ducal cap, declaring that he kept the candle in memory of the giver, and would have it lighted on the day he died. There was a mental distinction between politics and religion very clear to Donato; and he was prepared to maintain that in resisting the papal court in its temporal capacity, he was consistently prepared to do homage to the successor of St. Peter in his spiritual office. Fifty years before, doges and senators made the same distinction.

Venetian ambassadors kept their masters well posted up in matters relating to the progress and vicissitudes of the Reformation, informing them of theological controversies: the doctrine of justification by faith is repeatedly mentioned; so that the Ten sitting in the Ducal Palace, though they did not care for points in divinity abstractedly considered, knew what was passing in England, France, and Germany in relation to such questions.

[223] Rumours of persecution reached the Council, sometimes vague, sometimes definite; now, perhaps, falling below the fact, then possibly rising to a pitch of exaggeration. Andrea Navagero, according to the "Sanuto Diaries," informed the Seigniory in June, 1524, that Lutheranism was raging more than ever; other communications to the same effect reached the ducal chambers then and afterwards.

Carlo Contarini reported from Vienna, on the 18th of the following September, 1524: "Yesterday, when there were not thirty persons in the market-place, the Lutheran merchant was at length burnt, whereupon four thousand persons came instantly to rescue him; but he was already consumed. So it is thought his Majesty will thus render himself very odious to the people, and that, one day or other, there will be some great tumult." A window is opened in the Doge's palace, through a report made to the Senate on the 30th of March, 1527, by the same Carlo Contarini, ambassador to the Archduke of Austria. He alluded to "Martin Luther and his rites," and wished to speak about them; but the Doge, Andrea Gritti, said, "Enough of this." (3) These few words suffice to bring the Venetian prince, in his quaint official robes and ducal cap before our eyes, surrounded by grave and reverend seigniors, ready to listen to Contarini's Austrian story; but what exactly was signified by the curt interruption, as he rose to address the Council, does not appear.

The Venetian envoy in France did not fail to allude to Calvin's activity; and Francis Contarini, in Germany, informs the Senators:

"I have been told by several persons that the Lutherans are in high spirits from hearing that the Pope purposes waging war in Italy; as they hope that, with this opportunity, many Italians of their sect, who have hitherto been downcast, and lacked courage to declare themselves, will now come forward, having the support and protection of the powers thus attacked by his Holiness; and, to use [224] their own words, they say that the Lutherans in Italy alone will suffice for an army to deliver them from the hands of the priests; and that not only in the cities of Italy are they in very great number, but also that so many of the sect amongst the monastic orders will declare themselves, and take part, that they will intimidate their brethren." (4)

There is a letter in St. Mark's Library from the same person, in which the following significant passage occurs:

"All the bishops and lords here are greatly surprised that the Pope and the court of Rome should hold the affairs of the faith in such small account, and make no provision whatever; and they say openly that as his Holiness and these cardinals do nothing, they themselves shall be compelled to apply a remedy, and that should the whole of Germany unite about this matter of the faith, it is quite certain that Italy, her neighbour, will do the like; they wish your serenity to give the Pope notice of this through your ambassadors."

At a later date, 1568, the Venetian ambassador in France informed the seigniory, in an extravagant tone: "The principal cities of the kingdom, notwithstanding the conditions of the peace, refused to admit the preachings to these territories, and slew many thousands of Huguenots who dared to rise and complain." (5)

The Protestant Reformation, thus watched by vigilant ambassadors, penetrated the Venetian territories at an early period; and to its progress and vicissitudes there, it is time now to turn our attention. Its first entrance seems to have been effected through the medium of the press.

Venice occupies a most honourable place in the history of printing. John de Spira was founder of that art in the great maritime city, where advantages for circulating books were united with industry and skill in producing them. The Senate granted [225] him patent privileges in the year 1469, and his brother, Vindelin de Spira, carried on the business after John's decease. Nicolas Jenson was another Venetian typographer, maintaining "superiority over every contemporary printer on the score of brilliancy of execution;" and besides him, Dibdin, the enthusiastic bibliographer, in his "Decameron," (6) enumerates five other printers of the City — Christopher Valdarfer, John de Colonia, Franciscus de Hailbrun, Adam de Ambergau, and Erhard Ratdolt — all of whom he pronounces "fine fellows in their way." They all flourished before the close of the fifteenth century; and between 1465 and 1500, according to Panzer, there issued 2,835 works from the Venetian presses. Then came the memorable family of Aldus, whose "Dolphin and Anchor" are familiar to the fraternity of bookworms, and whose typography throws bibliographical critics into raptures. The effect of printing on the Reformation in Germany is a familiar topic with literary historians. Directly and indirectly it helped on the great intellectual and religious revolution. Whilst vernacular translations of the Scripture immediately aided the work, the printing of numerous volumes, classical as well as sacred, prepared for those liberal studies which proved efficient handmaids to the criticism of Holy Writ. Popes and bishops, wedded to their own exclusive system, were astute enough to see what a formidable weapon had been forged for the overthrow of their prerogatives; and bulls were not wanting for the prohibition of publications which could not exhibit an episcopal imprimatur. The effect of printing upon the Italian Reformation was scarcely less striking. Books streamed from presses worked on the banks of the Venetian canals; and though it is true that few volumes executed by Spira and others were strictly religious, yet Italian versions of Scripture appeared at an early period. One was produced by Nicolo Malermi, a Camaldolese monk, and was printed at Venice in August, 1471. Another version of the [226] Bible appeared in October of the same year. Nine editions of Malermi's work were published before 1500, and twelve before 1600. An Italian version of the Evangelists appeared in a separate form in 1486, printed at Venice by Simone da Cascia; and the Apocalypse in 1519, printed at Venice also. The Italian version of the New Testament, by Antonio Brucioli, in 1530, and that of the whole Bible by him, in 1532, issued from the workshop of Luca Antonio Giunte. An improved edition followed in 1541. "So great was the success of this work, that other translations were produced within a few years; and the Roman Catholics reckoned it necessary to oppose versions of their own to those which came from Protestants or which were thought favourable to their views. This was the origin of the Italian Bible by Sante Marmochini," (7) in 1538, which is pronounced by Le Long to be an imitation of the version by Brucioli.

Another translation of both Testaments into the Italian language, professedly made from the original Hebrew and Greek, with illustrative annotations, and a dissertation on the Apocalypse, appeared in 1562. Diodati's well-known version followed in 1607, being printed at Geneva. Five other Italian versions, published in different places, have been noticed by bibliographers. (8)

Religious books besides the Scriptures were printed at Venice. A translation of Philip Melanchthon's "Loci Communes," under the name of "Ippofilo da Terra Nigra," was committed to the Venetian press in 1526; but beyond this circumstance works by German and Swiss Protestants were consigned to merchants on the shores of the Adriatic, who transported them to various parts of Italy. Luther's writings, circulated under false names, were read by citizens of the Republic soon after their publication beyond the Alps; and the Saxon Reformer in 1528 told a friend, "You give me joy by what you write of the Venetians receiving the Word of God." [227] James Ziegler, a learned Venetian, favourable to reform, though not a Protestant, entered into correspondence with Luther, and sent from Venice to Wittenburg his adopted brother, Theodore Veit, who acted as the Reformer's secretary, and afterwards became a Protesant minister at Nuremberg.

This activity in printing, and this circulation of books connected with the Reformation, are pleasant associations gathering along the water streets and round the landing-places for Venetian boats. Most likely it was with secrecy that those parcels were packed up and despatched; and one's imagination follows with sympathy the men who in silent vigilance conveyed the transalpine treasures from their warehouses to the book stores of Lombardy.

Before leaving this subject an entry in Venetian State Papers ("Sanuto Diaries," June 20, 1524) is worth insertion: "To-day at St. Peter's, in the Castle, after vespers, the Patriarch being present, a priest delivered a Latin sermon against Martin Luther, some of whose works were afterwards burnt." The Duomo is now the Cathedral of Venice, but it did not become so until within the present century. At the time of the Reformation, the church called San Pietro di Castello was the mother church, and there the Patriarch occupied his throne. The present edifice which bears the name was modernized in 1621. On entering you find on the right-hand side a marble chair, reported to be that which St. Peter used in the city of Antioch. The noble campanile of the church goes back to the fifteenth century, and stood there when the priest preached his famous sermon before the burning of Luther's books. The church is situated at the south-east end of the city, beyond the Arsenal, and has an open space before it bordering the Canal di Castello: on the open space would occur the conflagration noticed in the above extract. We can picture the scene, when, before a crowd of citizens, the volumes were thrown into the flames, by the water's edge, the Patriarch sanctioning the deed.

From what was effected in the Venetian dominions through [228] printing and the circulation of books, we now turn to other instrumentalities working in the same direction.

One Venetian, who took a prominent part in matters connected with the Reformation, requires some notice. Gasper Contarini, who has been mentioned before, was member of a family amongst the noblest in the Republic, and besides other honours he received a cardinal's hat from Paul III. One day, as he sat in the Ducal Palace, by the ballot urn, proceeding to the election of state officers, a messenger arrived from Rome, to whom admission was refused by the proud Seigniory, engaged on important business of their own. The secretary stepped out to receive the despatch which had been brought. It was to announce that Contarini had been made a cardinal. "A cardinal!" exclaimed the subject of this honour, with great surprise. "No; I am a Councillor of Venice." He could do nothing inconsistent with that high position, and thought not for an instant of accepting any dignity, unless with the perfect approval of his fellow-citizens. That approval was expressed the next moment. The Doge, the senators, the people, concurred in congratulating the man whom they regarded as a chief ornament of their city; only lamenting the loss which they would experience through his ecclesiastical preferment, for, according to what I said before, he could no longer remain a senator. "These priests," exclaimed old Liugi Mocenigo, as he sat in his chair, crippled with gout, "have robbed the city of the best gentleman of whom it has to boast." Escorted by a fleet of gondolas to his own palace, he there consulted with his friends as to what he should do, and they advised him to accept the proffered dignity. Not yet a priest, he immediately submitted to receive the tonsure; and in due time arrived the hat, after which he paid a ceremonial visit to the Doge and the Senate, in one of the magnificent chambers of the palace.

Contarini has been mentioned already as one of a class who longed for reform upon papal principles, and who consorted with other intellectual and religious men, with a view to mutual [229] improvement. He joined with other Venetians in giving welcome to such visitors, who found in Venice free scope for intercourse. "At the house of Bembo, in Padua, which was open to all comers, the conversation fell chiefly on philological subjects, such as Ciceronian Latin. But the questions discussed at the house of the learned and sagacious Gregorio Cortese, the Abbot of San Giorgio Maggiore at Venice, were of a deeper nature. Brucioli lays the scene of some of his dialogues in the groves and thickets of San Giorgio." l Thus that famous palladian church, though not built at the time, becomes associated with meetings held in the old monastery, and with the groves and thickets around it. It adds to the associations of the spot, when the keel of a gondola touches the landing-place, to recur to such men who there conversed on the subject of reform. With special interest should it be remembered how far Contarini went in the advocacy of the doctrine of justification by faith. "You have brought to light," said Pole, "the jewel which the Church kept half concealed;" (9) and he congratulates him on being among the first to promulgate this happy, fruitful, indispensable truth. (10)

There was another Venetian, Marino Guistiniano, employed as an ambassador of the Republic, who, whether or not he sympathized in Contarini's view of justification — probably as a layman he did not enter into that question — was in favour of ecclesiastical reforms. He believed that the Pope ought not to be considered as Christ's vicegerent in temporal things; that men of irreproachable character should take the place of immoral priests; that the sale of masses pluralities of livings, and other abuses should be tolerated no longer; and that communion in two kinds, together with the marriage of the clergy, should be conceded at once.

[230] But neither Contarini nor Guistiniano can be represented as Protestants, in the proper sense of the word. One Venetian, how ever, who deserves the appellation, appeared at an early period Giralamo Galateo, who is slightly mentioned by M'Crie as enduring a rigorous confinement, without his assigning to that event any specific date. Much additional information respecting this person is now within reach. He was a Franciscan friar living in Padua, and in a book which he wrote, entitled "Apologia," and dedicated to the Illustrious Senate of Venice, he expresses views in harmony with those of Martin Luther. His standpoint is the same, and he loves to dwell on the Divine words, "the just shall live by faith," exhibiting good works as the fruit, and faith as the living stem deeply rooted in the soul, not by man's own hand, but by the gracious Spirit of God. Galateo believed that penance and confession could not bring peace to the soul, but that it comes from the love of God, through believing in Christ. Nor did he acknowledge a purgatory beyond the grave; his purgatory was the blood of the Crucified, and washed in it, he regarded the believer as prepared for paradise. The intercession of saints pertains to this life, not the next; the eucharist is a feast of commemoration celebrating Christ's sacrifice; free indulgences are not to be bought, but are freely given through Christ to them that believe. These were the convictions of Galateo.

He was accused of Lutheranism so early as the year 1530. On the 18th and 19th of January he was brought into the chamber of the Council of Ten, when, "after deliberation and much dispute," he was condemned to be degraded. Seven years of captivity, not ten, as mentioned by M'Crie, followed the degradation. (11)

To the Republic this confessor, in his "Apologia," made an impassioned appeal, saying, "O Venetian senators, to whom the Lord God has given so great an empire on land and sea, for no [231] other reason than that His word may have speedy and happy course, it is for you to defend the cause of your crucified Christ, His Gospel, and His Word."

The same year in which Galateo received his sentence, Lucio Paolo Rosselli, a Venetian, addressed a letter to Philip Melanchthon, acknowledging the benefit he had derived from the Reformer's writings, and exhorting him to persevere in the course he had commenced an exhortation which seems to have arisen from a false report that he was likely to submit to the authority of the Pontiff.

"In this cause," continues he, "you ought to regard neither Emperor nor Pope, nor any other mortal, but the immortal God only. If there be any truth in what the Papists circulate about you, the worst consequences must accrue to the gospel, and to those who have been led to embrace it through your instrumentality and that of Luther. Be assured that all Venice waits with anxiety for the result of your assembly at Augsburg. Whatever is determined by it will be embraced by Christians in other countries, through the authority of the Emperor. It behoves you and others who are there for the purpose of defending the gospel to be firm, and not to suffer yourselves to be either frightened from the standard of Christ by threats, or drawn from it by entreaties and promises. I implore and obtest you, as the head and leader of the whole evangelical army, to regard the salvation of every individual. Though you should be called to suffer death for the glory of Christ, fear not, I beseech you; it is better to die with honour, than to live in disgrace. You shall secure a glorious triumph from Jesus Christ, if you defend His righteous cause; and in doing this you may depend on the aid of the prayers and supplications of many, who day and night entreat Almighty God to prosper the cause of the gospel, and to preserve you and its other champions, through the blood of His Son. Farewell, and desert not the cause of Christ."

In 1538, eight years after Rosselli's letter, some one called [232] Bracchioli, and also Braccietus, went from Italy to Wittenburg, to confer with Melanchthon on the affairs of religion; and the following year he paid a second visit, charged with a message from those in Venice who sympathized with German Protestants. A letter appears in the epistles of Melanchthon, dated soon afterwards, in which, after reference to the cautious spirit maintained by the Saxon Reformers, the writer proceeds:

"Such slavery ought not to be established as that we should be obliged for peace sake to approve of all the errors of those who govern the Church; and learned men especially ought to be protected in the liberty of expressing their opinions. As your city is the only one in the world which enjoys a genuine aristocracy, preserved during many ages, and always hostile to tyranny, it becomes it to protect good men in freedom of thinking, and to discourage that unjust cruelty which is exercised in other places. Wherefore I cannot refrain from exhorting you to employ your care and authority for advancing the Divine glory; a service which is most acceptable to God."
This letter was printed under the title of "Epistola Philippi Malanchthonis ad Senatum Venetum," and a copy of it exists, with the autograph of Prince Albert the Elder on the title-page, " Accepi d. 17. Julii, a. 1538." It is regarded by M'Crie (12) as addressed by Melanchthon to the Venetian Senate; but the critic Schelhorn regards this as improbable, and In his doubts I largely share. Whatever jealousy of Rome the Senate might manifest, there is nothing to warrant the supposition that, as a body, it manifested any sympathy with Reformers; the Venetian caution in dealing with Protestant princes, and their known character as professors of Catholic orthodoxy, indicate their leaning in another way. The document occurs in the "Selectæ Declamationes" of Melanchthon, under the title of an address, "Ad Venetorum quosdam Evangelii studioses," a far more likely inscription, as we know there were Venetian citizens who were favourable to evangelical opinions.

[233] In 1539, the celebrated Bernardino Ochino visited Venice. He was then Vicar-General of the Capuchins, and was the first to found a convent of the order in the great maritime city. The Senate accorded permission for its establishment; it bore the name of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Bembo wrote in 1538 to Vittoria Colonna, requesting her to induce Ochino to come in the Lent of the following year, to preach at the Apostles Church. "All the citizens desire to hear him." Afterwards the same distinguished person writes, "Our Fra Bernardino is literally adored here. There is no one who does not praise him to the skies."

Nine sermons by Ochino at that time were published; and the portrait prefixed brings before us the very man. His head is bent down, but his eyes are looking upwards, under his shaven crown they are represented as sunk beneath his brows. His checks are furrowed, his nose is aquiline, and his mouth is half opened. A long beard covers the preacher's breast. His discourses afford specimens of his oratory. They relate to self-knowledge, the incarnation of Christ, the neccessity of His death, the Last Supper, law and obedience, the two disciples journeying to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene, and the scholastic studies of the period. The sermons exhibit a large amount of evangelical truth, apart from the Church theology of the age; but the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory, with a recognition of the duty of confession, fasting, and submission to papal authority, also make their appearance. The abuses of these things, not the things themselves, are condemned. In one of Ochino's discourses he says:

"But thou, Venice, my city, I speak not of myself, but of so many other preachers in this city, who do not as formerly preach philosophy and fable, but rather the word of God, the living and true Christ, salvation and amendment, yet thou still remainest as thou wast; yet I still hope to see good and sincere Christians, I firmly believe that you will revive to a better life of goodness and sincerity. But if you [236] will not reform, I tell you this beforehand, and declare it, that on the day of the last judgment I will be the one to testify to Christ against you."

Again, he says:

"It grieves me, my city, that thou wilt not quit thy evil ways. I implore Christ for thee with tears, because I love thee from my heart. But I see myself forced to tell thee this, that if thou dost not mend, I do not truly know what is to come of it. I must depart after Easter, perhaps on the last day of Easter week, and if evil befall thee it will grieve my heart. For it seems to me thou art a model for all Italy. If I look about me I see no town, no city in Italy not engulfed in confusion and strife. Your city alone stands upright, and therefore it would grieve me deeply if it should go ill with you. It seems to me as if thou, Venice, representest my native city, ay, all Italy."

These passages bear witness on three important points. First, the improvement of public preaching in Venice, the substitution of gospel truth to some extent for "philosophy and fables," a fact to be noticed again presently; second, to the freedom of the maritime Republic from the political convulsions which rocked to their foundations other Italian States; and thirdly, the immoralities of the aristocratic and general population of those Adriatic Isles. To this state of things quaint testimony is borne, some years later, in a letter of Sir John Cheke, written July 22, 1554:

"He is here in a country," says a description of the document in the Calendar of State Papers — "a country much esteemed in opinion, of which yet, being somewhat unskilled, he cannot judge certainly without rashness, else at first sight he would say that neither for private order, nor yet common behaviour, is it anything to be compared to their own supposed barbarous country (England). Courtesans in honour; haunting of evil houses noble; breaking of marriage a sport; murder, in a gentleman, magnanimity; robbery, finesse if it be clean conveyed, for the spying is judged the fault, and not the stealing; religion, to be best that best agreeth with Aristotle de Anima; the common tenant, though not in kind of tenancy, [237] marvellously kept bare, the gentleman, nevertheless, yet bare that keepeth him so; in speech cautious, in deed scarce more liking in asking than in giving." (13)

Ochino's sermons, it is said by opponents, "were of that kind that they were filled with double meanings and hidden heresy, to the great hurt and offence of his listeners, even of the simplest, and instilled doubts and scruples on the power of the Pope, and concerning faith and purgatory and other important doctrines." But in the "Seven Dialogues," published soon after the sermons, may be traced some advance in the direction of Protestantism; it is, however, slow and guarded. He has much to say of the spiritual affections of the soul, and that in a tone of mysticism, inculcating the doctrine of disinterested love — so favourite an idea with the French Jansenists. He explicitly asserts, "To love God above everything, above ourselves, sincere and pure love only for the sake of His honour and glory — this is certainly repugnant to our carnal minds, but this is what our reason requires as perfect love." Then comes a flash of sanctified genius in the following passage of the fourth dialogue:

"The thief looked upon Christ, he saw Him endure everything without; a murmur, and that He even shed His blood with a joyful countenance. He saw the hot tears fall to the ground, and heard the glowing sighs rise to heaven. He heard His words, and saw His wonderful patience, His all-embracing love; it was all this that kindled in him the belief that Christ was in truth the Son of God."

It is true that the doctrine of justification by faith, in the Protestant sense, is traceable in Ochino's dialogues. But it does not come out in Lutheran distinctness. He speaks throughout as a man knowing and feeling more than he expressed. But he attacks the monastic system, though still wearing a Capuchin hood, and he pronounces the vows of the order as not binding, because immoral. He regards no one profession as holier than another, and puts merchant, priest and monk [238] on a level before God. What he admitted led to consequences which he was for a time unwilling to allow; but he made a clean breast at last, and has recorded the following extraordinary avowal:

"Although I had many other thoughts in my mind, there seemed to me at that time no other no mode of life in which I could serve God better than under the mask of a cowl, and in the holiness of walk which could be beheld by others. Thus I began to preach that we are saved by Christ. I saw that the eyes of Italy were so weak that I should have hurt them grievously, if I had let them look full on the great light of Christ, as it had been revealed to me. The Scribes and Pharisees, who govern in Italy, would have killed me. I arranged my expressions for their dull eyes. I preached that we are saved through grace, and through Christ, that He has done enough for us, and has won us paradise. In doing so I avoided, naturally, revealing the wickedness which prevails in the dominion of Antichrist. I did not say there is no other merit and indulgence except the merits of Christ, nor any purgatory. But I left these inferences to those who through God's grace felt a lively sense of Christ's great merits." (14)

About eight years later than Ochino's visit and preaching, i.e., in 1547, a letter was written from Venice by an English bookseller named Thomas Knight, to Henry Bullinger, in which he says:

"The Gospel is daily preached here with greater purity than in other places in Italy; and it is ordained by a decree of the Senate, that a sermon shall be preached every day on the Palazzo Maggiore, during the approaching Lent, a thing that has never been seen since the foundation of the city."

This of course could not mean that Protestantism was to be proclaimed in the Ducal Palace, but it must mean that the writer had heard reports of an arrangement for special Lenten sermons that year, indicating more than usual religious earnestness on the part of the Doge and his counsellors, and confirming Ochino's statement as to Venetian preaching. [239] Further, in reference to the Reformation itself, the writer remarks:

"The number of the faithful is daily increasing more and more. Your commentaries are daily becoming more esteemed by the Italians, and were they not so bulky and expensive, no books would meet with a better sale. It will be therefore an act of kindness on your part to continue writing, and to bring forth out of the treasures of your abundance those rare spiritual gifts for that little flock, hungering and thirsting as it is." (15)

Before this time, the Congregation of the Holy Office, as noticed already, had been founded in Rome; and the papal court was striving to establish its authority throughout the peninsula. But "the greatest resistance was made to it in Venice. After long negotiations, the Inquisitors were authorized to try causes of heresy within that State, on the condition that a certain number of magistrates and lawyers should always be present at the examination of witnesses, to protect the citizens from prosecution undertaken on frivolous grounds, or from mercenary views, and that the definitive sentence should not, at least in the case of laics, be pronounced before it was submitted to the Senate." With this restriction, which perhaps has been made the most of by some historians, Venetian Protestants were cruelly treated in the year 1549. In that year Altieri writes:

"The persecution here increases every day. Many are seized, of whom some have been sent to the galleys, others condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and some, alas, have been induced, by fear of punishment, to recant. Many have been banished, along with their wives and children, whilst a still greater number have fled for their lives. Matters are brought to that pass that I begin to fear for myself, for though I have frequently been able to protect others in this storm, there is reason to apprehend that the same hard terms will be proposed to me; but it is the will of God that His people should be tric d by such afflictions." (16)

[240] In this free city, we are told, during the pontificate of Paul IV. (1555-1560), by one who rejoiced in the acts of the Holy Office, that perverse dogmas were easily circulated; and mention is made by him of Guglielmo Postello, as a leading heresiarch imprisoned at Rome. The very Cathedral of Venice is said to have been an arsenal of error, and Soranzo, Bishop of Bergamo, and Liugi Priuli, Patriarch of Aquileia, with his friends and followers, are included in the general accusation. (17)

In 1555 a Venetian Protestant, Pomponius Algieri, was martyred at Rome, and before his martyrdom he was imprisoned in Venice; from his cell he wrote a long letter, transcribed by John Foxe in his "Acts and Monuments." In a moment of ecstasy he exclaims:

"Let the miserable worldling say and confess if there be any plot, pasture, or meadow so delightful to the mind of man, as here. Here I see kings, princes, cities, and people; here I see wars, where some be overthrown, some be victors, some thrust down, some lifted up. Here is the Mount Zion; here I am already in heaven itself; here standeth first Christ Jesus in the front. About Him stand the old fathers, prophets, evangelists, apostles, and all the servants of God, of whom some do embrace and cherish me, some exhort me, some open the sacraments unto me, some comfort me, others are singing about me. And how then shall I be thought to be alone among so many, and such as these be? the beholding of whom to me is both solace and example; for here I see some crucified, some slain, some stoned, some cut asunder and quartered, some roasted, some broiled, some put in hot cauldrons, some having their eyes bored through, some their tongues cut out, some their skin plucked over their heads, some their hands and feet chopped off, some put in kilns and furnaces, some cast down headlong, and given to the beasts and fowls of the air to feed upon; it would ask a long time if I should recite all."

In what kind of place this letter was written, it is impossible to [243] say, but it is sufficiently well known that the prison of Venice is close to the Ducal Palace, and that from the one to the other you can pass by the Bridge of Sighs. When I was there last I listened to the usual tale of enormities related by the cicerone as he conducted us into horrid dungeons, and I could not help contrasting them with the gorgeous chambers we had just left.

It seems probable that persons accused of heresy were committed to this dreary prison; but a letter of such length as that of Algieri could not have been written in places of the description shown to tourists; no doubt the Republic made different provisions for captives, according to their alleged crimes. Indeed, it is a mistake to suppose that every one kept by it under lock and key was treated in the way suggested by the sight of the narrowest and most fearful-looking cells. It is likely that religious offences, under the rule of the senators, entailed less severe confinements than such as were political.

Up to 1555 — the time when this letter was written — no executions for heresy had taken place in Venice.

"The news from Italy," says Vergerio, in 1551, who will be described hereafter, "is that the Senate of Venice have made a decree that no papal legate, nor bishop, nor inquisitor, shall proceed against any subject except in the presence of a civil magistrate; and that the Pope, enraged at this, has fulminated a Bull, interdicting, under the heaviest pains, any secular prince from interposing the least hindrance to trials for heresy. It remains to be seen whether the Venetians will obey."

But the court of Rome, by its perseverance and intrigues, ultimately triumphed over patrician jealousy. Even foreigners who visited the Republic in the course of trade were seized and detained by the Inquisition. Frederic de Salice, who had been sent, to Venice from the Republic of the Orisons, to demand the release of some of its subjects, gives the following account of the state of matters in the year 1557:

"In this commonwealth, and in general throughout Italy, where [244] the Pope possesses what they call spiritual jurisdiction, the faithful are subjected to the severest inquisition. Ample authority is given to the Inquisitions, on the smallest information, to seize any at their pleasure, to put him to the torture, and (what is worse than death) to send him to Rome; which was not wont to be the case until the time of the reigning Pontiff. I am detained here longer than I could wish, and know not when I shall be able to extricate myself from this labyrinth." (18)

Yet in the year 1558, a suffragan bishop, in the diocese of Padua, wrote to Cardinal Pisano, lamenting that the Church there could not obtain from the Venetian Senate permission to inflict capital punishment on the Lutherans, and to destroy them by fire, the gibbet, or the sword, as the practice was in other places.

In the year 1560 the Protestants in Venice met together privately for Divine worship, and sent for a minister to form them into a Church; but such a step their enemies would not tolerate, and those of their number who could not succeed in escaping from the city were committed to prison. Mention is made of a party of twenty-three who fled to Istria, and were about to sail to a safer region, when, under pretence of a debt due from three of them, they were detained. Afterwards, being accused of heresy, "they were conveyed to Venice and lodged in the same prison with their brethren."(19)

The first Protestant put to death in Venice, according to Dr. M'Crie, was Julio Guirlauda, a native of the Trevisa. Drowning, not burning, was the process adopted; and this protomartyr of the Republic in 1562, when placed on the plank which was to plunge him into the canal, "cheerfully bade the captain farewell, and sank into the deep calling on the Lord Jesus."

In the Venetian martyrology the name of Antonio Ricetto, of Vicenza, occurs; and the particulars of his execution are thus [245] detailed:

"Antonio Ricetto was conveyed to Venice and placed in the dungeons of the Inquisition. During his imprisonment his son, a boy twelve years of age, came to him, and with tears in his eyes implored him to be reconciled to the Church and save his life. Ricetto, with great firmness, replied that the true Christian was bound to give up his goods, his children, and even his life for the honour and glory of God, and that he was therefore resolved to part with his mortal existence to maintain them. The Senate, after this, offered to release him, and put him in possession of his paternal property, if he would only recant; but he turned a deaf car to every proposal to abandon his principles. Being condemned by the Inquisition, he was, on the 15th of February, 1565-6, in the usual manner conducted to the place of execution. When they had arrived near the two castles, the captain of the guard made fast his hands. The night being cold, Ricetto begged to have his cloak, which had been removed, restored to him. One of the company then said, "What! dost thou fear a little cold? What wilt thou do in the bosom of the sea? Why dost thou not endeavour to save thy life? Dost thou not know that the meanest insect flies from death? "Ricetto replied, "I flee from eternal death." Being come to the place of execution, and the captain having bound him with the chain and weight, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Whilst drawing the stone after him on the plank, the boats retired, and the pious sufferer slept in the Lord." (20)

The scene of execution is here described as "near the two castles." Our reference to the book-burning on June 20, 1524, at San Pietro di Castello, has already brought us into that neighbourhood. It can easily be reached in a gondola, and somewhere thereabouts, at the time of the Reformation, two castles existed, close to which occurred the martyrdom of Antonio Ricetto. One castle faced another, and the method of execution seems to have been, to [246] employ two boats, with a plank between them, on which was placed the condemned confessor, and then by moving the boats apart, to plunge him into the waters of the canal. The castles stood just outside the Arsenal, and therefore the tragedy described, and many another like it, was enacted in the immediate vicinity of the establishment which armed the fleets of the Republic. The picturesque gate, and the curiosities within the museum, to which it leads, are familiar to many an English tourist, who little thinks of the intolerance and the heroism which three centuries ago were exemplified within a few paces of the floor on which he stands.

Another Venetian martyr is thus described by his nephew [Mathias Flaccius]:

"The reverend Baldus Lupetinus, sprung from a noble and ancient family, was a learned monk and provincial of the order to which he belonged. After having long preached the word of God in both the vulgar languages (Italian and Sclavonian) in many cities, and defended it by public disputation in several places of celebrity with great applause, he was at last thrown into close prison at Venice, by the Inquisitor and papal legate. In this condition he continued, during nearly twenty years, to bear an undaunted testimony to the gospel of Christ, so that his bonds and doctrines were made known, not only to that city, but to the whole of Italy, and even to Europe at large, by which means evangelical truth was more widely spread. Two things, among many others, may be mentioned as marks of the singular providence of God towards this person during his imprisonment. In the first place, the princes of Germany often interceded for his liberation, but without success. And secondly, on the other hand, the papal legate, the Inquisitor, and even the Pope himself, laboured with all their might, and by repeated applications, to have him, from the very first, committed to the flames, as a noted heresiarch. This was refused by the Doge and Senate, who when he was at last con demned, freed him from the punishment of the fire by an express decree. It was the will of God that he should bear his testimony [247] to the truth for so long a time; and that, like a person affixed to a cross, he should, as from an eminence, proclaim to all the world the restoration of Christianity, and the revelation of Antichrist. At last, this pious and excellent man, whom neither threatenings nor promises could move, sealed his doctrine by an undaunted martyrdom, and exchanged the filth and protracted tortures of a prison for a watery grave." (21)

Giordano Bruno, of Nola, figures in the history of the Inquisition at the close of the sixteenth century, and is brought, through the recent researches of Professor Domenico Berti, into connection with the Italian Reformation, and the resistance made to it in Venice. Bruno is often represented as suffering for philosophical opinions; it is now pretty certain that he was condemned as a heretic. He was born in 1548, and studied at Naples; having entered the Dominican order, he involved himself in trouble by throwing away images, and discouraging the perusal of "the Seven Joys;" then he abandoned monachism, travelling from place to place as a teacher of grammar. But he resumed his old garb by the advice of friends, soon to cast it off again, for presently we find him at Geneva, member of a Protestant Church, "wearing a hat, a cape, and a sword." He led a wandering life, taking up his abode in Paris and London; and at the latter place he attended the court of Elizabeth in a courtier's costume. After a residence in Germany he meets us in Venice, and there he was denounced to the Inquisition by Giovanni Mocenigo, in whose house he was acting as a tutor. This gentleman, under pressure from his father confessor, and urged, he said, "by his own conscience," reported Bruno's words to the Inquisitors. Documents relative to his arrest and trial have been found by Professor Berti, in the Venetian archives where, he is described as "about forty years of age, small and thin, with a black beard." Inquiries were made of him as to what he did in the course of his travels; and the story of his apprehension [248] is given by himself. He was about to return to Frankfort, whence he had been invited by Mocenigo, when the latter entered his room, and made him a prisoner, promising to liberate him if he would continue in the house as a philosophical instructor. What exactly passed between Bruno and his host is by no means clear; but it ended in his being consigned to the Inquisition at Venice, before which he underwent a theological examination. He said he believed in miracles, in the doctrine of transubstantiation, and in the Divinity of Christ; but he expressed doubts as to the manner in which the Divine and human natures were united. He repudiated what was heretical, said he believed what the Church believed, and asked pardon for all his faults. These professions did not prevent his being transferred from Venice to Rome; the records of the Inquisition stating positively that his crimes in regard to heresy were very serious, but that in other respects he was possessed of great learning and was a man of eminent ability. Papers connected with his trial and six years imprisonment in the papal city, were copied by a friend of Professor Berti in 1849, but they are incomplete, and leave many points not cleared up. An account, however, written two days after his death, has been discovered and preserved:

"Saturday, 19th February, 1600. Thursday morning, in Campo di Fiori, was burned alive that wicked Dominican friar, of Nola, an obstinate heretic, who, at his own caprice, had invented various dogmas contrary to our faith. These were derogatory to the Holy Virgin and the saints, and for these opinions he resolved to die. He professed himself a willing martyr, sure that his soul would ascend in the flames to paradise." "Now," adds the chronicler, "he knows whether he was right." (22)

The particular dogmas on account of which Bruno suffered are not specified; but probably they were the opinions which he expressed in his "Delia Causa, Principio ed Uno," where he expounds a notion about what he calls the soul of the universe, living in both organic [249] and inorganic things, and being the constituent principle of all existence. Whatever Bruno intended by his speculations, they are interpreted by critics as wearing a pantheistic appearance. (23)

Before quitting the subject of Inquisitorial proceedings in Venice, I cannot forbear noticing an absurd piece of interference, on the part of the tribunal, with no less a person than the famous artist, Paul Veronese. He was no Protestant, but he painted a picture of the Last Supper, which much displeased the holy fathers. He had introduced into his painting, what they thought was derogatory to the sacred subject, — such as two halberdiers, one eating and another drinking, a person also being represented using his fork as a toothpick. The artist defended himself against these and other charges, on the ground that men of his profession, like poets, were allowed to take liberties with what they described; but the reverend judges insisted that "if he would avoid a greater penalty, he must correct his picture in three months according to their directions." (24)

Notice is taken of this incident in the "Cicerone." "How the master had to answer for himself, for his secular conception of biblical subjects, before the tribunal of the Holy Office, which took objection to fools, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other follies, and how he excused himself, is delightful to read." (25)

Old Venetian dependencies enter within the circle of our history, — Padua, Vicenza, and Capo d'Istria.

Literature, Art, and Religion contribute interest to every one visiting the City of Padua. Reputed to have been born within its [250] ancient territory, Titus Livius, the historian, has his monument in the Palazza della Ragione, with its strange barrelled roof. The frescoes of Giotto in the Chapel of Santa Maria della Arena will be sure to leave a lasting impression on the memory of every traveller; and the ecclesiastical mosque-like domes, rising above the roofs of the city dwellings, will be remembered as imparting an Oriental appearance to the picturesque locality. St. Antony, the patron saint of Padua — sometimes confounded with a much earlier Saint Antony, the Egyptian hermit — has been honoured with a magnificent church dedicated to his name, and a costly shrine of resplendent gold and marble; and he more fittingly may be mentioned in these pages from his having been connected with one of those waves of religious revival which swept over Italy in the Middle Ages. Ludicrously remembered by the story of his preaching to the fishes, of which I remember there is a grotesque picture at Padua, he was really remarkable for the impressiveness and effect of his sermons in the churches of Padua. Buildings were thronged from daybreak by people waiting for the eloquent monk, and sometimes when he arrived he would gather them in the open air, walls being insufficient to contain the multitudes. Like Savonarola at a later date, he wrought a wonderful change in the conduct of his auditors; not that he induced them to make a bonfire of their luxuries, but, what was far better, he induced the revengeful Italian to lay aside his stiletto, the votaress of fashion to sell her jewels for the benefit of the poor, and the obdurate sinner to confess his transgressions. Antony has left behind him a good many discourses, full of ingenious textual arrangements, quaint metaphors, far-fetched allusions and mystical reveries, but containing no doctrines such as pointed to any fundamental reform in Christendom. But there was in the fourteenth century a resident in Padua named Marsilio, who evidently anticipated much of the teaching of the Protestant Reformers two hundred years afterwards. A work of his, little [251] known, entitled, "Defensor Pacis," — amidst a great deal of speculation upon the constitution of society and the rights of individuals, which attracted the attention of Rousseau, as noticed in his "Contrat Social" brings to view positions of the following order: That no bishop, presbyter, or ecclesiastical minister whatever is intitled to any coercive jurisdiction and in this respect he speaks four centuries beforehand, after the manner of eighteenth century philosophers; that we are bound to receive no writings as absolutely true, and to believe them as necessary to salvation, except those of canonical Scripture; that Christ having laid down the law of eternal life, it would be in vain, if not open and manifest to those who inquire into its meaning; that the Church consists of devout believers in Christ, who are all of them true priests; that if the whole Church should teach anything contrary to the Gospel it would not be true; that in authority all apostles were, and all priests are, equal; that no bishop or presbyter is to be subject to any other bishop or presbyter; that when Christ says to Peter: "Upon this rock I will build My Church," He alludes to the confession Peter had made that Christ is the only Head of the Church; that when He said, "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," He did not bestow on Peter more authority than He did on other apostles; that whilst it is plain from Scripture that Paul was in Rome, concerning Peter it is impossible to prove from Scripture that he ever was Bishop of Rome, and, what is more, that he ever was in Rome at all; and that if it be asked who of bishops and priests ought to be called a successor of the apostles, the answer is, he who most imitates them by his life and works. The author stigmatises as heretical the definition of John XXII. respecting evangelical poverty, and as false the pretensions of the bull of Boniface VIII. unam sanctam. Moreover, referring to the book of Daniel, he asks what could the king with a terrible countenance denote, but the Roman Pontiff and his court? In short, it is remarked by the editor of Marsilio's [252] work, that his Protestantism is scarcely surpassed by that of John Calvin. (26)

Before leaving Padua I may notice that Mr. Ruskin has brought Giotto's Chapel into connection with the general subject of this work. He tells us that an order was instituted in the beginning of the thirteenth century to defend the dignity of the Madonna against the heretics, by whom it was beginning to be assailed; that they were called Cavaliers of St. Mary, and that the Arena Chapel was employed in the ceremonies of the order. "The chapel itself may not unwarrantably be considered as one of the first efforts of Popery in resistance of the Reformation. For the Reformation, though not victorious till the sixteenth, began in reality in the thirteenth century. The remonstrances of such bishops as our own Grossteste, the martyrdom of the Albigenses in the Dominican crusades, and the murmurs of those heretics against whose aspersion of the majesty of the Virgin this chivalrous order of the Cavalieri Godente was instituted, were as truly the signs of the approach of a new era in the religion, as the opponent work of Giotto on the walls of the Arena was the sign of the approach of a new era in art." (27)

Not far from Padua, under the green slopes of the Euganean hills, lies Arqua, where Petrarch spent much time during the last four years of his life, dividing his solitude between that picturesque retreat and the neighbouring city. If Dante was a pioneer of the Reformation in some of its results, the same may be said, perhaps more emphatically, of him who was born in 1304, fifteen years before the other died; for Petrarch still more boldly denounced "the impious Babylon which has lost all shame and all truth; " and still more distinctly attacked the scholastic philosophy of religion, whilst he strenuously laboured to promote in his own country a revival of ancient literature; but I must hasten on to another city.

[253] Vicenza, where the Palladian architecture interested me very little, after being subject to Padua and Verona, was subdued by the Republic of Venice in 1404. It is often mentioned in accounts given of Lutheranism in the Venetian dominions. The Vicar-General of Vicenza, in 1535, is noticed as having apprehended Sigismund, a German, for his activity in promoting the interest of the Reformation in Italy; an instance among many others of the strong Saxon influence then at work in Lombardy. A letter was addressed to Luther in 1542 by "the brethren of the Church of Venice, Vicenza, and Treviso," acknowledging their obligations to him as a person by whom they had been instructed in the way of salvation. They looked for the sympathy and assistance of German Protestants, at whose call they had espoused the cause of the Reformation; and they begged the Saxon Reformers to intercede with the evangelical princes to address the Venetian Senate on their behalf. The letter was written by Baldassare Altieri, and has been preserved by Seckendorf. (28) Yet ten years afterwards, Pope Paul III., who had commended the zeal of the Vicar-General, lamented the inroads which heresy was still making in the city, and rebuked the indisposition of the magistrates to suppress it with becoming rigour. Judging from the tone of his appeal, we should infer that Protestantism was then and there decidedly on the advance, and that it threatened to make way in neighbouring towns. However remiss might be the municipal authorities, Cardinal Rodolfo, who administered the bishopric of Vicenza, was sufficiently on the alert; and both he and the Pope did what they could to spur the Lords of the Sovereign Republic to a course of more vigorous action for the purification of their dependencies from the taint of heresy; the Podesta and Capitano of Vicenza coming in for special blame because of their indifference and neglect. The Venetian Senate thus stimulated brought pressure to bear on the subject [254] city, and the result seems to have been very disastrous to the reformed faith. (29)

The Vicenza Academy, as a literary society there is called, discussed religious as well as other topics. Lælius Socinus is said to have been a member of it. He does not seem to have pronounced such advanced views in denying the Trinity as were maintained by his nephew Faustus. He thought that the Reformers did not go sufficiently far in their denial of popular beliefs, and he shrunk from accepting the orthodox view of the Trinity; his habit being to start objections and difficulties in the form of questions, rather than to assert any opinions of his own. Doubts have been thrown upon the statement that he was a member of the society at Vicenza; but be that as it may, no one can show satisfactorily what were the definite theological beliefs current amongst the members; and those of Lælius Socinus in particular can be ascertained with confidence only on their negative side. His writings have never been published, but only used by Faustus Socinus, to what extent no one can determine. That the idea that Christ was a real, but not a mere man, having been begotten by the power of the Holy Ghost, obtained currency among the northern Italians, is very probable. The tenets of Faustus Socinus are well known, being clearly explained in his works; and from them we learn that whilst denying the proper Deity of the Saviour, he asserted that Jesus is the Son of God in a peculiar sense; and is not to be lowered to any human or angelic rank. He conceded the claim of the Redeemer to the worship of mankind, and says in so many words, that Christ "expiates our sins, as He frees us from the punishment of them." (30) But it is too much to conclude that in the definite system of Socinianism, as set forth in the Racovian Catechism, we have a copy of what was taught by Laelius; and it is going still further [255] in the paths of conjecture to identify it with any prevalent speculations in the Vicenzan Academy. The utmost which can be safely affirmed is, as Melanchthon says, that Italian theology abounded in Platonic theories; and it was no easy thing to bring it down from love of science to truth and simplicity of explanation; that a book by Servetus reviving the error of Samosata had been introduced amongst the Venetians; and that Melanchthon received "disgraceful narratives from Venice which admonished the brethren there to preserve discipline." (31)

Capo d'Istria not far from Trieste, is a small town on a circular island close to the shore of the mainland, and connected with it by a stone causeway. It is said still to retain a Venetian appearance, and it has a Duomo which recalls to mind a famous bishop who held the see in the middle of the sixteenth century, and who largely figures in the history of the Italian Reformation. Pierpaolo Vergerio was born in the little island now named, and was employed by Clement VII. and Paul III. as German nuncio. He is said to have conferred with some of the Protestant princes, and even with Luther himself at Wittenburg, in reference to some sort of reconciliation; but the accounts given of this matter are contradictory. At all events two things are certain, that Vergerio, under special pontifical patronage, rose to eminence in the Church, and also that he became suspected of a leaning to Lutheranism, probably from his evangelical views, and from his disposition to conciliate opponents. Imputations on his orthodoxy induced him to set to work on a controversial treatise against Protestantism which ended, as some other similar undertakings have done, in his adopting the very views he had resolved to disprove. He had a brother, Bishop of Pola [Gianbattista Vergerio]. who was brought to sympathize with him in his convictions, and they both avowed themselves advocates of reform. Before his open confession of a change of opinions the celebrated Cardinal Bembo wrote in 1541: "I hear some things of [256] that bishop which if true are very bad — that he not only has portraits of Lutherans in his house, but also that in the causes which come before him he is eager to favour in every way the one party, whether right or wrong, and to bear down the other." Soon afterwards, no doubt could remain as to the course he adopted. Yet it would appear that for a while neither he nor his brother gave themselves to public controversy, but rather preferred quietly to work in their respective dioceses for the welfare of their flocks, taking care to insist on evangelical principles, and to withdraw their people from dependence on rites and ceremonies. In the year 1546, a large number of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood had embraced the faith of the Reformers.

The Inquisition speedily afterwards is seen actively employed in Capo d'Istria and Pola. Annibale Grisone acquired an unenviable notoriety in this miserable enterprise. He searched houses for suspected books, excommunicated those accused of Lutheranism, pursuaded some to recant, and threatened with death those who continued obdurate. He denounced the reading of the vernacular Scriptures as a crime. Terror sprung up throughout the dioceses, and families were divided by differences of opinion, the Roman Catholic being encouraged to betray the Protestant; wives bore witness against husbands, and children against their parents. A man's foes were those of his own household, the slightest signs of deviation from the Church standard were constrained into proofs of guilt. The Inquisitor celebrated Mass in the Duomo of Capo d'Istria, and then ascending the pulpit told the people,

"Of late you have lain under calamities; your olive trees, your corn fields, your vineyards have been smitten with barrenness, your cattle have suffered from distemper. And all this follows as the consequence of heresies adopted by the Bishop and others. Do not expect any relief until you have suppressed these evils. Fall upon the heretics then and stone them."

A passage from Tertullian has been appropriately cited as furnishing a parallel to [257] the Inquisitor's denunciations. "If the Tiber overflows," said heathen persecutors, " or the Nile does not water the fields, if the heavens give not rain, if pestilence or earthquake happens, then at once the cry is, Christianos ad Ieonem the Christians to the lion."

Vergerio could not remain in his diocese whilst the Inquisitor thus inflamed the passions of the people, and he is reported to have visited the city of Trent, where the council was sitting at the time, in order to purge himself from the accusations which stained his name; but over this and other parts of his story there rests much confusion. However, it is certain he did not appeal before the council — it was not likely he would be permitted to do so; and the next we hear of him is at Venice, where he was advised to carry his case to Rome counsel he was too wise to adopt. Then we find him at Padua, in great distress from the terrible end of the apostate Spira, who died in agonies of despair. The history of that unhappy man was much talked of in those days. He had abjured Protestantism, through fear of the Inquisition, and Vergerio saw him on his death-bed.

"To tell the truth," says the Bishop, "I felt such a flame in my breast, that I could scarcely refrain myself at times from going to the chamber door of the legate of Venice, and crying out, Here I am; where are your prisons and your fires? Satisfy your utmost desires upon me; burn me for the cause of Christ, I beseech you, since I have had an opportunity of comforting the miserable Spira, and of publishing what it was the will of God should be published."

Vergerio wrote a life of Spira, assisted by contemporary correspondence; and it may be concluded from the above passage in the book how excitable a person the author must have been. His honesty I see no cause to doubt; and he subsequently became an earnest preacher of Protestantism in the Grisons, of which I shall hereafter give an illustration; but the character of the man, and the merits of his authorship, have raised considerable controversy. [258] Bayle, in a copious and characteristic article on the subject, mentions certain works ascribed to him, published anonymously or under fictitious names, all of them antagonistic to Popery. Into this field it is impossible to follow the acute but rambling critic; and I shall only remark that Vergerio so indulged in irony and satire that sometimes his burlesques have been regarded as written in sober earnest on the opposite side.

Finally, in connection with Venice, I notice Rovigo, on the marshy banks of the Adige. We find among the archives of the Holy Office notices of there being in that small city six heretics, five Lutherans and one Anabaptist. (32)


Notes:

  1. The foregoing extracts are from State Papers (Venetian), under date.
  2. State Papers (Foreign, 1547-1553), under date.
  3. State Papers (Venetian, 1520-1525, 1527-1533).
  4. Feb. 22, 1535. State Papers (Venetian, 1534-1554).
  5. "The Rise of the Huguenots," by Baird, ii. 250.
  6. Vol. i. 401.
  7. M'Crie, "History of the Reformation in Italy," 75.
  8. There are interesting articles on the subject in "La Rivista Cristiana," anno vi.
  9. Ranke's "Popes of Rome," i. 137.
  10. Hook's " Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury," viii. 154. His famous tract on Justification will be found in its genuine form, not in the Venice edition of his works, 1589, but in the Paris edition, 1571.
  11. "La Rivista Cristiana," anno i. p. 18, et seq. The article contains extracts from "Sanuto's Diaries."
  12. "Histosy of the Reformation in Italy," 125.
  13. State Papers (Foreign, 1553-1558).
  14. These extracts are taken from "Bernardino Ochino, by Karl Benrath, 53-73. 90.
  15. Original Letters, Parker Society, i. 357.
  16. Quoted by M'Crie, "History of the Reformation in Italy," 256.
  17. "La Rivista Cristiana," iv. 129.
  18. M'Crie, " History of the Reformation in Italy," 264.
  19. M'Crie, ibid., 266.
  20. "Hist. des Martyrs," p. 753.
  21. Ouoted by M'Crie, "History of the Reformation in Italy," 270.
  22. An outline of the story is given in "Evangelical Christendom" for 1880.

  23. Bayle's "Bio. and Hist. Dict.," art. "Bruno," and Hallam's "Introduction," ii. 148.
  24. The proceedings are printed in "La Rivista Cristiana," anno iii. p. 97. In the same volume there is a list of persons in the Venetian territory arraigned before the tribunal, so numerous that their names, with the accusations of Lutheranism, apostasy, and the like, ranging within the years 1548 and 1592, cover no less than five pages, pp. 29-34. In the number for May, 1880 (anno viii.), there is a long extract from the records of the Inquisition respecting Julius Maresium, of Belluno, a town in Yenetia.
  25. "Cicerone," translated from Burckhardt, by Mrs. Clough, p 210.
  26. "La Rivista," anno viii. 129-137.
  27. "Giotto, and his works in Padua," by J. Ruskin, p. 10. Publication of the Arundel Society.
  28. Lib. iii. 401.
  29. M'Crie, "History of the Reformation in Italy," 254, 255.
  30. See Appendix to "Life of Socinus," by Toulmin.
  31. "Melanchthon's Epistles" Col. 150; 835, 852.
  32. "La Rivista Cristiana," anno iv.

Source:

  • Footprints of Italian Reformers, The Religious Tract Society (London, 1881), Venice, p. 214-258. Google books - http://books.google.com/books?id=GtkCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Footprints+of+Italian+Reformers&source=bl&ots=3TWIkjo6l2&sig=
    kjCKQJu8lJD6zm-BFXGnhMH2VfE&hl=en&ei=JahSS4SQNIqUlAegtoGiCg&sa=
    X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Main Menu


This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Saturday, January 16, 2010; :Last Upated: Friday, December 28, 2012
Copyright © 1998 IstriaNet.org, USA