The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

By Salvatore Caponetto; Anne C. Tedeschi et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

AFTER THE PUBLICATION in 1956 of my study on the Sicilian nobleman Bartolomeo Spadafora,2 Luigi Firpo wrote to me in Pesaro, where I was then living, urging me to attempt a history of the Reformation in Italy. Although I was flattered by his suggestion, I had to reply that the lack of specific preliminary works on the various aspects of the problem, as well as our ignorance of the documents that still might be buried in public and ecclesiastical archives, made an attempt at a synthesis premature, despite valuable preparatory writings by Thomas M'Crie, Cesare Cantù, Bartolomeo Fontana, Emilio Comba, Emmanuel-Pierre Rodocanachi, Giuseppe Morpurgo, Giovanni Jalla, Francesco Lanzoni, Arturo Pascal, Francesco Ruffini, Luigi Firpo, and Giorgio Spini. Moreover, research by Benedetto Croce, Federico Chabod, and Delio Cantimori had opened up immense vistas that needed to be explored more fully if we were to obtain a clear idea of the spread of Luther's message of protest in the Italy of Machiavelli, Ariosto, Guicciardini, Castiglione, and Michelangelo.

At the time, I was fully persuaded by Paolo Negri's view, expressed in his two early essays dating from 1910 and 1912, that a long and patient campaign of archival digging encompassing the entire peninsula would bring to light the existence of a widespread popular movement of religious protest, "as vast and grand as any that had ever inspired the Italian spirit, but an indeterminate movement, without definitive objectives and lacking in leadership."3 Negri attributed the widespread diffusion of the reforming ideas to the efforts of "zealous missionary figures," who did not preach abstract notions, but the Gospel message, and promoted "a true conversion of souls." My own studies of the trials conducted by the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily confirmed in my mind the correctness of Negri's vision.

By 1989, thirty years after my correspondence with Firpo, our knowledge of events had become greatly enriched through a long series of monographs on individual personages of the Italian Reformation: Juan de Valdés, Bernardino Ochino, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Aonio Paleario, Pietro Carnesecchi, and Pier Paolo Vergerio. A younger generation of scholars, in the footsteps of its illustrious teachers, had dedicated themselves passionately to the study of sixteenth-century. Italian religious life. The ensuing results constitute some of the major themes in twentieth-century historiography. In-depth archival investigations had been devoted to Italian geographical regions, and to such intellectual and doctrinal currents as Carlo Ginzburg's on

____________________
2
"Bartolomeo Spadafora e la Riforma protestante in Sicilia nel secolo XVI," Rinascimento 7 ( 1956): 219-341.
3
P Negri, "Note e documenti per la storia della Riforma in Italia," Atti della R. Accademia delle Scienze di Torino 45 ( 1909- 1910): 586-608; 47 ( 1911- 1912), 57-81, at p. 66.

-xv-

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