Baldo Lupetino, Venetian Martyr
The old stone house at number seven Ulica Giuseppina Martinuzzi in Labin, Croatia, is important in Evangelical-Lutheran history. Near the Adriatic resort of Opatija and forty-two miles southeast of Trieste, it is worth taking a detour to visit. It has been transformed by public funds into a museum honoring one nineteenth-century Communist and two sixteenth-century Lutherans. One of them, Matthias Flacius, is well-known as the theologian who, more than any other, determined the form of the 1577 Formula of Concord. The other, Baldo Lupetino, a powerful Reformation preacher, was confined long years to a prison cell in Venice and finally executed for his faith. For a long time, like Pompeii, the Reformation in Italy has been forgotten. One reason for remembering it is the story of Baldo Lupetino. The following is an account of this Christian martyr, whose witness should not be forgotten.
The church of San Francesco Delia Vigna in Venice, they say, stands on the very spot where once, long ago, the relics of St. Mark were brought ashore. And there, they also say, is where the words of the angel were heard, "Pace a te Marco Evangelista mio" the words one still reads in the city's coat of arms, "peace to you. Mark my Evangelist." In the sixteenth century, at San Francesco Delia Vigna, voices from the Reformation were heard at the same place, and the Provincial of its Franciscan community , Baldo Lupetino, rejoicing that Martin Luther "had brought the gospel to honor again," began to travel, preaching justification by faith in Italian and Croatian. Luther's influence on his preaching is clear: God does not predestine some to hell. Prayers do not help the dead. Purgatory does not exist. Indulgences are useless. The pope and priest receive them solely for extracting money. Men are saved by Christ's merits. Sunday prayer must be addressed to God alone. The church has no right to require fasting. (2) Cardinal Cersiva called him "Il più gran Luterano del Mundo" - the greatest Lutheran in the world.
Although both bishops of Venetian Istria, Giovanni Vergerio of Pola and Pier Paulo Vergerio of Capo d'Istria, accepted the Reformation, not all prelates agreed. "Today the city of Venice, which used to be truly Christian," wrote Cardinal Jacobo Sadoleto, "is very much poisoned by the Lutheran plague, so that it has taken over the minds of those who govern, of those who write, or any order of persons, in such a way that the neighboring lands of Lombardy, which are afflicted with the same malady, boast to have Venice as a companion, or better, still, as a source." (3)
"We Excommunicate...all heretics," Pope Paul III declared in a reissue of the bull, Coena Domini, "the Kathareni, the Patareni... who are followers of the godless and abominable heresies of Martin Luther, condemned by Leo X, and all who favour or protect him in any way, and all who read or distribute the writings of the said Martin." At the time negotiations with the Lutherans at Regensburg had broken down in 1541, Luther's message was being spread in Italy, even by the most popular Italian preacher, Bernardino Ochino, General of Capuchins. The reform movement had become so strong that the cities of Lucca and Modena were at the point of accepting the Reformation officially.
Could the pope meet the challenge? Rather than using spiritual weapons, he fell back on force. On July 21, 1542, the Cardinal of Toledo, Jesuit general Ignatius Loyola, and Cardinal Pietro Caraffa assenting, the pope issued Licet ab Initio, the bull which set the papal inquisition in place, to preserve the "integrity of Christ's tunic" by impoverishing, imprisoning and executing. (4) His first victim was Baldo Lupetino. For his preaching in the cathedral church on the island of Cherso (now Cres), just off the coast of Istria Lupetino was denounced in 1543 by a fellow monk, Iacopo Curzula. So powerfully had he preached the Reformation that the congregation was convinced - "the town was turned upside down, and only a little was required to make the whole place heretic." (5) Arrested by an agent of the papal nuncio, he was carried away to Venice and thrust into prison.
The following summer, his young relative, Matthias Flacius, made his way from Wittenberg across the Alps to help Lupetino, the mentor who had sent him to study at Luther's own university. He was fortified with a letter to Doge Pietro Lando signed by the chieftains of the Smalcaldic League, the princes of Hesse and Electoral Saxony, who asked for Baldo's release. (6) According to Georg Theodor Strobel, "without doubt" Flacius himself had arranged for the letter. (7) To have managed a hearing before the very signory of Venice,(8) to whom he read the princes' letter, was an impressive feat for a twenty-three-year-old.
But signory officials had no idea where Baldo was being held. And so Flacius had to search the city himself. No stranger to the streets and canals of the Serenissima, he found him in a prison not far from the Arsenal, near the church of San Giovanni in Bragora. (9) The cell was just at water level, and Lupetino's cellmate, Pietro Speciali, the late rector of a school in Cittadella, had already become ill from the damp. (10)
When Flacius returned to the signory three days later he faced bureaucratic questions. The letter he had delivered had not been dated properly and, as the efficient Venetian diplomatic service knew, for a long time Elector Johann Friedrich and Land grave Philipp had not been at the same place. How, then, could they have signed the letter on the same day? It was written, furthermore, ostensibly on behalf of all the Protestants in Venice. If so, why did it mention only Lupetino? And why had Flacius appeared without a proper letter of accreditation? It was all regrettable, of course, but the government was powerless to act. The matter was in the hands of the Inquisition. (11)
Meanwhile, on Luther's behalf Flacius delivered another letter, this time to the evangelical community, where he was remembered as "our Matthias" (12) - an affectionate address suggesting that he had been part of the community as a schoolboy in Venice. It was Luther's answer to an appeal for help from the German princes. The appeal had been written by Baldassare Altieri, secretary to the English ambassador, agent for the Smalcaldic League, and leader of the evangelical congregations in Venice, Vicenza and Treviso.(13) In the letter Luther recommended Flacius as "a man well-known to me and of great faith." (14)
Baldo's imprisonment was well-known to the Germans. From time to time, Wolf Herwart of Augsburg (15) and Johann Baier, agent for the businessmen of the Fondaceo Tedeschi, brought him two or three ducats. Even though the heresiarch, Caspar von Schwenckfeld, considered it necessary to write a refutation of Baldo's Sixteen Articles of Faith, he sent him money, urged his friends to do the same, and even sent instructions on how to smuggle food to his cell.( 16)
Back in Germany Flacius reported to Luther, (17) not omitting mention of the dissension in Venice caused by Zwingli, (18) and pressing on him the growing peril. But Flacius' efforts had been in vain. In August 1543 Baldo was fined a hundred ducats payable to the treasury of the Arsenal and sentenced to prison for life. The real significance of the long journey, of course, had been its effect on young Flacius. In that wretched cell, he had faced a martyr of the church, and he had heard him give the good counsel, not to be forgotten in the church: "Do not recant, but sing!" They are words by which to remember the Reformation in Italy: "ni recantare, anzi cantare!" (19)
Decapitation in Jesus' Name?
"It is not proper to rub one's teeth with one's napkin," cautioned the papal legate to Venice, Archbishop Giovanni Della Casa, in the Galateo, a manual which has gone through 140 editions, "and even less with one's finger, for these are unsightly acts... And it is not a polite habit to carry a toothpick in one's mouth when getting up from the table..." (20) The arbiter of etiquette was also the inquisitor who had Baldo Lupetino arrested, and who also eventually wiped out the large Lutheran community in Venice. Not that he had any special theological differences with Luther. He had "no religious beliefs to back his claim as enforcer of conformity." (21) Why he chose to do battle against both uncouth toothpicks and unruly Protestants is made clear by Stephan Oswald's observation that at the time papal politics regarding religious defections was directed toward preserving the social status quo. (22) Complex etiquette, of course, is effective in fending off social climbers; (23) by combatting uncouth behavior, he was also defending aristocratic privilege.
Della Casa also wrote erotic verse. " Aren't you ashamed, you wretched Archbishop?" wrote the legate, Peter Paul Vergerio, about Della Casa's 1549 Index of Prohibited Books, published at the command of Paul III. (24) "You dare come fortyh and damn holy books - you who have written poems in which you have extolled the most excreable evils of Sodom as a divine work?" (25) Vergerio had in mind the Capitolo del Forno, for which the homosexual cleric (26) had earned a reputation as a pornographer. (27) Here is a sample in English translation of one of his verses:
As long as the Smalcald League remained in power Venice was reluctant to offend the evangelical princes. But on the very day of the League's defeat, April 24, 1547, Doge Francesco Dona opened his city to the Sant' Uffizio and appointed three lay representatives of the Council of Ten, Nicola Tiepolo, Francesco Contarini, and Antonio Venier, to cooperate with the clerical members, the Patriarch, the Father Inquisitor, and Della Casa as Sages on Heresy - Savii sull' eresia.
Besides Lupetino, among Della Casa's first victims was his cellmate, Francesco Spiera. Summoned before the Inquisition in June, 1548, Spiera admitted owning a Bible, translating the Lord's Prayer into Italian, having read modern books, and doubting the existence of purgatory , since it implied that Christ's atonement was not complete. Worried, however, about his pregnant wife and eight children, he recanted. He told a crowd of two thousand in Citadella that he did, in fact, believe in purgatory , the invocation of saints, indulgences, free will, good works, and human merit. Soon after, he was seized bv convulsions that resisted treatment.
By deliberately denying the faith of his heart, he lamented, he had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit about which Jesus had warned: "all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin " (Mark 3:28ff.). "I have been swept away," he said, according to Flacius' account. "I feel within myself the sentence of eternal damnation. I am cursed forever among the reprobate because I have denied Christ and the known truth." (29) Refusing food or medicine, Spiera died December 27,1548, in despair, not able even to utter the words of the Lord's Prayer.
In a letter of 1554, Flacius warned Doge Franciscus Venerius and the signory of Venice that they were in danger of sharing Spiera's condemnation. (30) For Vergerio, a bishop sympathetic to the Reformation, Spiera's despair was a rebuke of Nicodemism-secret Protestantism. After a visit to Spiera, during which he quoted Luther and attempted vainly to console the dying man, he announced his adherence to the Reformation. (31) Vergerio understandably became a special target of the Inquisition and was forced to flee Italy. But one of his followers, a certain Calzano, was arrested by Della Casa's orders, dressed in yellow with a paper mitre on his head, officially degraded according to the newly-formulated ritual, and sentenced to two years of service as a galley slave.
Antonio Santosuosso, for whom Della Casa's activity in Venice was a "moderate Inquisition,"calls for understanding. When he removed the tongues of one Calcagno (who was later decapitated) at Brescia and of Fra Angelico of Cremona for having spoken in a Lutheran fashion, the legate was not departing from the custom. Torture, the stake, and cutting out of tongues, he explains, were normal. "The life of the common friar or a common man was not worth much, especially if the person was tainted with non-conformity." (32)
At the beginning of the Council of Trent, on December 13,1545, the pope issued an edict demanding the surrender of all Reformation literature and the punishment of those who possessed it. Balthasare Altieri, appealing for the second time to Luther, begged him to arrange relief .(33) "The persecution here increases daily. Many are seized, some of whom have been committed to the galleys, others condemned to imprisonment for life, and some have, unfortunately, been induced by fear of punishment to abjure. Many, who, with their wives and children, have been banished, and greater numbers have fled for their lives." (34) Altieri himself had to gather up his family and flee, penniless; what happened to him is unknown. (35) Inquisition archives reveal 1224 trials between 1547 and 1587, 717 of them for "Lutheranism." (36) The story of two victims - Faninus Faventus and Dominicus Bassanensis - has been preserved by Franciscus Niger,(37) but for the most part the decimation of the Lutheran community in Venice went unrecorded.
In 1547 Baldo was brought before the tribunal a second time, bearded now, emaciated, and with an eye injury , the result of an attack by a fellow-prisoner. He was accused of fresh crimes-converting two fellow prisoners and publishing a religious book. Publishing was not simple, of course, for a prisoner; he had the complicity of Jihajlo Katarić from Cres, manager of a pharmacy named "Three Angels." (38)
A certain awkwardness was represented by an ancient inhibition, ecclesia abhorret a sanguine: clerics were not allowed to shed human blood. (39) The inconvenience, however, was temporary; in a facoltà read at Baldo's trial, Pope Paul III suspended canon law.
...in addition to the other powers granted to you by Us, you may also freely advance against heretics beyond this even to the [shedding of] blood and mutilation of members, and also to the sentences of ultimate [capital] punishment and degradation, and not be impeded by fear of incurring irregularity. (40)
Thus reassured, on October 27,1547, the Holy Office ordered Baldo Lupetino beheaded between the pillars of the piazetta, his body to be burned and thrown into the sea "to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ."
In spite of the death sentence, Baldo had survived, often in solitary confinement. One report was that his sentence was mitigated through the intervention of Bishop Pier Paulo Vergerio. (41) Once, in 1552; he wrote for assistance to the daughter of King Louis XII of France, the Duchess of Ferrara, for which trespass he was kept on bread and water for five months. Jeronimus Froschel Moser of Salzburg tried to help, contributing aid, and arranging with a local woman to smuggle food to him. Caspar Schwenckfeld sent 20 gulden to him and to Pietro Citadella. (42) On September 9th, 1555, Duke Christopher of Wittemberg interceded for him with Doge Marcantonio Trevesan. His answer was that the government of Venice could not interfere with the Inquisition. (43)
The death of Pope ]ulius III brought no relief; in 1555 there was a new pope on the throne, Giampietro Carafa, Paul IV, the first Counter-Reformation pope, whose policies were foreshadowed by the oath demanded of one unfortunate in 1556:
...I swear and loath and curse it that I have often praised and recommended the Lutherans and that I have possessed and read their books...The pope wanted Baldo Lupetino burned alive. (45) (# 46 is missing)
More merciful than the pope, however, the Venetian government on August 20, 1556, announced a lesser sentence: Baldo's death - to be "hidden, secret, without sound, without noise" - would be by drowning. (47) As Della Casa duly reported to the pope, Lupetino was formally degraded. The degradation ritual was conducted the night of September 17,1556, in the presence of the Patriarch and his vicar, the Inquisitor and his commissar, the fiscal, the papal nuncio, and the three Savi in the chapel of San Theodoro, according to the ritual prescribed in the papal bull, Licet ab omnia. The ceremony finished, Baldo was turned over to the Venetian police.
Between 1541 and 1592, 1560 trials of Protestants are attested in the Venetian archives; others were not recorded. (48) Executions continued with regularity for many years. The fate of those who were executed by drowning is described by Rosius de Porta.
At the dead hour of midnight the prisoner was taken from his cell and put into a gondola or Venetian boat, attended only, besides the sailors, by a single priest, to act as confessor. He was rowed out into the sea beyond the Two Castles, where another boat was waiting. A plank was then laid across the two gondolas, upon which the prisoner, having his body chained, and a heavy stone affixed to his feet, was placed; and, on a signal given, the gondolas retiring from one another, he was precipitated into the deep. (49)
The Reverend Baldus Lupetinus, sprung from a noble and ancient family, 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 in many cities, and defending it by public disputation in several places of celebrity and with great applause, was at last thrown into a closed prison at Venice by the Inquisitor and the papal legate. In this condition he continued, during twenty years, to bear an undaunted testimony to the gospel of Christ; so that his bonds and doctrine were made known, not only to that city, but almost the whole of Italy, and by it to Europe at large, by which means evangelical truth was more widely spread.
Two things, among others, may be mentioned as marks of the singular providence of God toward 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 labored 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 the senate, who, when he was at last condemned, freed him from the punishment of the fire by an express decree.
It was the will of God that he should bear his testimony 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. (52)
Were the fourteen years of suffering of no consequence, the martyr’s death in vain? Jules Bonet thought not, and recorded some thoughts for the modern tourist.
...the traveler, moved by melancholy evocations of the past, who goes from San Marco to the Rialto, where he lets himself be rocked gently the length of the Grand Canal between rows of tomb-like palaces: Leaving Venice on the Lido route he can easily recall the funerary tragedies whose secret is guarded by the sea.
Or if of an evening in some side street he suddenly hears the hymn of an evangelical congregation, reborn, so to speak, from their ruins, he easily associates the pious melodies with the unknown martyrs of the Sixteenth Century... Spirits of Algieri, of Spinola, of Baldo Lupetino, of so many other confessors, obscure or illustrious, your witness is not lost! By no means was your sacrifice in vain! (53)
Dr. Oliver K. Olson, Theology Dept. Marquette
The page compliments of Mario Demetlica