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THE NONCONFORMIST. No. XXIII.
On the Attempts that were made towards the Reformation of Religion in Italy in the Sixteenth Century.
T has been disputed, between the
Individuals had, in some
I followers of Luther and of Zwing places, in their discourses and writ
lius, to which of those eminent persons ought to be ascribed the honour of originating the great work of the Reformation from Popery. In whatever way this controversy may be decided, it is not possible that the reputation of either of the illustrious individuals, whose credit is thought to be staked upon the issue of it, can be at all affected. The history of the proceed ings of both, in their manly stand against spiritual usurpation and tyranny, is now well known; the value of their services, in their respective theatres of action, is properly understood, and their merits are rightly and fully appreciated by a grateful posterity. It is, however, due to each of them to bear in mind, that their la bours in the cause of Christian truth and liberty commenced about the same period in different countries; that they were independent actors; and had at first, and for a considerable period, no knowledge of each other's designs and proceedings in respect to their common object. It follows, therefore, from these facts, that neither of them can substantiate a just claim to priority of service on the score of time, or pretend to the merit of having been the first to set the example to the other.
ings, animadverted upon what they deemed its false doctrines and superstitious rites: whilst others had assoeiated, in considerable numbers, for the public celebration of the ordinances of religion upon principles which they deemed more accordant with Christian truth and evangelical simplicity.* The Roman Pontiffs had, in fact, been themselves, for several ages, gradually preparing the instruments which were to subvert their spiritual empire. Their insolence and their excesses had disgusted and alienated their best friends and warmest partizans, and had excited an universal desire for some change that should curb their ambition, effect the improvement of the religious orders, relieve from the bur
But whatever meed of praise may be awarded to Luther and to Zwinglius, there is good reason to question the right of either of them to be, in strict propriety, regarded as the father of the Reformation. Long antecedently to their day, men's minds had, in various countries of Europe, been drawn to the consideration of the Anti-Christian spirit of the Church of Rome, and of the licentiousness and profligacy of its rulers and ministers. To its religious tenets and worship, also, some persons had been led to
This statement is abundantly justified by what is detailed in the commou compilations of Ecclesiastical History respecting those numerous and, in some instances, discordant sects which passed under the general name of Albigenses, and which so frequently exposed themselves to the thunderbolts of the Vatican. condemned so early as the year 1176 by Their heretical opinions were publicly
a Council held at Albi, in the South of France. In 1179 they were cruelly persecuted by Pope Alexander; in the early part of the thirteenth century a crusade was proclaimed against them by Pope Innocent the Third, whose nanie contained the bitterest satire upon his character, at least in this instance; and about this period the infernal tribunal of the Inquisition was created with an express view to their extirpation.
The result of these violent measures might have taught the Roman Pontiffs and their ministers, how inappropriate and unavailing are such instruments of conversion, as dungeons and torture, fire and gibbets, to act upon the reason of men who will think before they believe.
den of the Romish ritual those who disapproved of it, and leave men more at liberty in the choice, and in the outward profession and exercises of their religion. By the time that Luther and Zwinglius appeared in the field against the Roman power, there existed a very general, and, in some places, a very decided disposition to enter into their views of reform, and to aid their exertions to carry them into execution. This fact will sufficiently account for the kind of reception they experienced from those who were the first witnesses of their proceedings, as well as for the success, so far exceeding, probably, their own most sanguine expectations, which ultimately crowned their efforts in their honourable but arduous undertaking. For whilst their labours were, in some instances, needed to awaken the spirit of religious inquiry and independence in minds in which it had become torpid and inert under the chilling influence of a long and oppressive spiritual thraldom, it is perfectly evident that, in a great number of other cases, they had little more to do than to encourage its workings, and to direct and apply its energies, where it had already broken its slum bers, and burst forth in active life and vigour.
For some time the visible progress of the Reformation, so far as this was manifested by the open renunciation of the authority of the Roman Church, and the institution of a different form of religious worship and discipline, was restricted to Switzerland, and some districts of Germany. But though its public triumphs were limited to those places, its friends, in other parts of Europe, did not remain passive spectators of the great drama which was then acting. Occasional efforts were made in other quarters, at least by individuals, to break the Roman yoke. But, owing, perhaps, to the want of union and co-operation among those who were agreed in their views and object; owing, too, in all probability, to the want of an active and intrepid leader, like Luther or Zwinglius, to whom all could look with confidence; and, in some cases, owing, no doubt, to the determined opposition of the civil power, and the extreme vigilance of the agents of the Inquisition; their proceedings were
followed by no very extensive or lasting benefits to the common cause.
Whilst the doctrines and pretensions of the Church of Rome were thus freely canvassed and opposed in Germany and Switzerland, it was scarcely possible that in Italy, where men were placed within a nearer view, and under the more immediate influence of the system, its follies and excesses should have escaped notice and animadversion. Indeed, at a period long anterior to that which is at present under consideration, we meet with occasional memorials of individuals who had openly impugned the papal authority. Amongst these may be here mentioned Cecco d'Ascoli, who wrote a poem on the Nature of the Universe. Crescimbeni, the historian of the Vernacular Poetry of Italy, calls him Astrologo del Duca di Calavria, "the Astrologer of the Duke of Calabria." He says of him that he was the advocate or defender of emperors, of kings, and of the laws against the clergy and the pope and states that he was burnt at Florence on the 16th of September, 1327, for "his wicked opinions." Some other names might be here introduced of persons who are known to have borne a public testimony against the corruptions of the Roman Church; and there can be no doubt that many more of a similar character
L'Istoria della Volgar Poesia, scritta da Giovanni Mario de' Crescimbeni, 4to. 1698, p. 47, "Il quale per le sue malvage opinioni fu arso in Firenze," &c.
Many of the Italian writers of the 13th and 14th centuries abound with animadversions, more or less direct and of religion, the licentiousness of the severe, upon the prevailing corruptions priesthood, and the pride and tyranny of the head of the church. Dante, who flourished towards the end of the 13th, aud in the beginning of the 14th century, sometimes makes himself merry at the expense of the religious orders, in the situations he assigns them in the other world. Boccacio, a writer of the generation immediately following, has employed his Decameron to convey his cenincidents of his tales being drawn from sures of the same body, many of the their corrupt practices. And Petrarch, who wrote only a few years later, is known to have occasionally directed his pen in the same way, and to have incurred the displeasure of his ecclesiastical
would have appeared in the history of this period, had not the extraordinary
superiors by the freedom of his animadversions.
The conspicuous part which was acted by Jeroine Savonarola, towards the close of the 15th century, might seem to entitle him to be ranked among the early Italian Reformers. But there is much difficulty in forming any thing like a satisfactory opinion, concerning his character and pretensions, from the very contradictory accounts of his life, which have been drawn up by his friends and his enemies. By Catholics he was considered a turbulent fanatic, who pretended to divine communications and the spirit of prophecy, in order to delude the populace, and dispose them to aid his schemes of sedition against the Florentine government. Protestants, on the contrary, have regarded him as a pious Reformer, and honoured his memory as a martyr. Gabriel Naudé, in his Apologie des grans hommes accusez de Magie, (Bayle, art. Savonarola, note L,) enumerates the following Protestant testimonies in his fa
Four: "Beza, Vigner, Cappel, du Plessis Mornai, and all the Lutherans of Germany, generally style Savonarola in their books, the faithful witness of the truth, the forerunner of the Evangelical Reformation, the scourge of the great Babylon, the sworn enemy of the Roman Antichrist; and to conclude, in one word, with Jessenius a Jessen, the Luther of Italy; and I am surprised they do not call him the John Huss of that country, since they both were put to death in the same manner, were both Heresiarchs, and are both marked with great letters in the Register and Journal of their Martyrs, as appears from the following verses, which they placed under his picture :
• En Monachus solers; rerum scrutator acutus, Martyrio ornatus, Savonarola pius.
Behold the laborious monk, the acute inquirer into things, the pious Savonarola, who was honoured with martyrdom.""
vigilance and caution of the agents of the ecclesiastical authorities led them to consign every writing, which could transmit to posterity the names and opinions of such persons, to the same fires that terminated the lives and consumed the bodies of the authors. That numerous individuals, in Italy, distinguished alike by their stations, their talents and their acquirements, viewed with approbation what was transacting on the other side of the Alps, in the early part of the 16th century, is well known. Some of these acted upon their convictions, and in public discourses, and by their writings, advocated the principles of the Swiss or the Saxon Reformers. But, in the end, they found all their efforts to be unavailing as to any permanent practical good. and those of them the ministers of the Inquisition, sought who were fortunate enough to escape their personal security in flight and exile.
Savonarola was, no doubt, in one respect, "the scourge of the great Babylon, and the sworn enemy of the Roman Antichrist;" since, in direct defiance of the Pope's commands, he publicly preached against the doctrines of Popery, and the pretensions of the Roman clergy. But he continued in communion with that Church which he so vehemently denounced as Antichristian, and wore his monkish habit to the last. The circumstances which led to his death are curious. In the fervour of the disputes which his
Among the earliest attempts to introduce the Reformation into Italy, must be placed those which were made at Naples, about the year 1535. The merit of being the original mover in these proceedings seems to be justly due to John Valdesius, or Valdesso,
doctrines had created, a friar of his convent offered to prove their truth, by submitting, in company with any of his adversaries, to the ordeal of fire, not doubting that he should, by an evident miracle, come out of it uninjured. The challenge was accepted by a Franciscan monk, But Savonarola's champion refusing to enter the fire without being permitted to carry with him the host, or consecrated wafer, a proposal which was deemed sacrilegious and profane,the populace became incensed, seized Savonarola, and conveyed him to prison. He was afterwards put to the torture, and being condemned to death, was, conformably to his sentence, strangled and burnt at Florence on the 23d of May, 1498.
* Antonio Caraccioli, (Collectanea Historica de Vita Pauli IV. Colon. 1612, 4to. p. 239,) assigns a somewhat earlier origin to the attempt at Reformation at Naples; ascribing it to the arrival in that city of a body of German soldiers, who had been engaged in the siege of Rome. In other respects his account agrees with the statement given in the text. retici homines," he writes, regiam urbem Neapolim, à Petro ipso, Aposto
a Spanish civilian, who had been for some time attached to the Court of Charles the Fifth, having acted in the capacity of private Secretary to that monarch, and received from him, as a testimony of his approbation and esteem, the honour of knighthood. In his travels into Germany in the emperor's suite, it is conjectured that he became acquainted with some of the heads of the Reformation, and imbibed their opinions. After quitting Germany, he fixed his residence at Naples, with the view of passing there the remainder of his days in the retirement of private life. Here he devoted his leisure to the prosecution of his religious inquiries, and employed himself in dispensing to others, the light which he had received into his own mind. It appears that in a short period he succeeded in gaining over a considerable number of converts to his new principles; and as the station he had occupied at court led him to mix principally in the first circles, his proselytes were chiefly from this class, and included several individuals of the highest rank and distinction in the place. The persons who had thus become his disciples he is stated to have formed into a society; by which we are, probably, to understand that they occasionally met together for the amicable discussion of religious subjects. For there is no evidence of
lorum Principe fidei documentis institutam, Lutheriana labe inficere studuerunt. Nam primò, Germani equites ad duo mille, et sex millia peditum, qui post direptam Romam eò convolaverant, ut Lauthrecum obsidentem repellerent, impii dogmatis, quod Luthero propinante imbiberant, multa et nefaria exempla passim ediderunt. His posteà aliò amandatis, unus Joannes Valdesius Hispanus, qui anno 1535 Neapolim venit, longè majorem mentium stragem dedit, quam multa illa Hæreticorum militum millia. Hic enim literis tinctus, iis, quæ ad comparandam eruditi opinionem satis vulgo essent, placido aspectu, quique innocentiam præ se ferret, comitate, suavitateque sermonis, teterrimam impietatem, incredibili vaframento occultabat. Itaque brevi ad se traxit multos, his artibus illectos, deceptosque. In his duo fuêre, ceteris omnibus insigniores, et digno corvo ova, Bernardinus Ochinus et Petrus Martyr Vermilius, ambo hæreticorum posteà Autesignani."
their having organized themselves into a distinct church for religious worship, or withdrawn themselves from the service of the mass.
A most important accession was made to this little band of Reformers by the conversion of the celebrated Peter Martyr Vermilius, who was afterwards professor of divinity in the University of Oxford. Martyr was a native of Florence, where he was born in the year 1500. At the age of sixteen, he became, unknown to his friends, a monk of the order of St. Augustine, and at the time now under consideration held the office of Principal of the College of St. Peter's at the Altar at Naples. Valdesso had carried with him from Germany some of the works of Luther, Bucer and Zwinglius; these he submitted to the inspection and perusal of Martyr, who yielded to the force of their reasonings, and embraced the principles which they advocated. After Martyr had joined himself to Valdesso's society, he took an active and prominent part in its deliberations; and, indeed, from this period, as may well be supposed from his superior learning and talents, he became the real head and leader of the party. Sometimes he employed himself in reading lectures on particular portions of the New Testament, which he interpreted in a sense that was at variance with the doctrines of the Church of Rome. Strangers, or persons who were not considered as belonging to the society, were freely admitted to these lectures; and, on reckon among his auditors many of some occasions, the reader had to of the place. On one occasion of this the nobility, and some of the bishops kind, in lecturing on the 13th and 14th verses of the third chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, wherein the apostle speaks of men's works being to be tried by fire, having combatted the application of the passage by the Church of Rome to the doctrine of purgatory, some of his zealous Catholic hearers took the alarm, and reported their suspicions of his heresy to the public authorities. He was immediately interdicted from proceeding with his lectures; but he turned a deaf ear to the order, and appealed against it to the Court of Rome, where, through the interest of some powerful friends, he carried his cause