The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

Nicodemism, Paolo Simoncelli's on evangelism, and Silvana Seidel Menchi's on Erasmianism. Meanwhile, the Corpus reformatorum italicorum directed by Firpo and Spini, was making available critical editions of the Beneficio di Cristo, and writings by such key figures as Camillo Renato, Mino Celsi, and Antonio Brucioli.

It now seemed as if we had reached the plenitudo temporum for a reconstruction of the history of the Italian Protestant Reformation, a scholarly desideratum augured from the end of the last century apart from confessional interests. Additionally, the idea of attempting such a synthesis appealed to me because of the differences, some of them striking, between some of my own conclusions and those of eminent scholars in the field. While from my readings and research, I had detected manifestations of religious dissent cropping up contemporaneously in the peninsula, from the Trentino in the north to Sicily and Sardinia in the south, others denied the existence of a true Protestant movement in sixteenth-century Italy.

In 1984 Andrea Del Col expressed an opinion based on his important studies focusing on Friulan religious life during the period:

It is highly misleading to embark on an analysis of Italian heretical history from a schema of an institutional and confessional type, as if it was a matter of studying the attempts made by the Protestant churches to conquer Italy, or the spread of the heretical contagion, or the diffusion of errors through the work of the devil, ideas held by prelates and inquisitors from the Cinquecento until today. To investigate the Reformation in Italy by these means, or from the Protestant vantage point, which sees in those condemned or tried by the Inquisition, witnesses to truth, is tantamount to confusing the profession of historian with that of the apologist and controversialist theologian, who judges on the basis of a meta-historical truth. In our peninsula, in fact, there were no evangelical churches, with the exception of the Waldensians who accepted the Reformation in 1532; nor was there an organized will to adhere to one or the other of the evangelical churches. What we had, rather, was a current of opinion, aspirations to reform, attempts to solve problems posed by the religious crisis which was sweeping across Europe.4

A serious scholar such as Del Col would probably not repeat today this rather reductionist view after examining the numerous documents cited in the first edition of this book ( 1992); or the studies by Achille Olivieri on Vicenza, who already in 1979 had advanced a wholly opposed opinion; or Simonetta Adorni-Braccesi's on Lucca, or Pierroberto Scaramella's on the Mezzogiorno, all of whom have expanded the horizons of our subject with new archival discoveries. More complex and nuanced are the interpretations offered by Silvana Seidel-Menchi and Massimo Firpo, who have tried to identify the special features of the Italian religious dissent against the Church of Rome.

____________________
4
Col A. Del, "Fermenti di novità religiose in alcuni cicli pittorici del Pordenone e dell' Amalteo," in Società e cultura del Cinquecento nel Friuli, a cura di A. Col Del ( Pordenone, 1984), 236-237.

-xvi-

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