The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

renewal and the longing for a return to the teachings and customs of the "primitive church." This discourse on prayer reflects conversations held with the duchess of Urbino and her court by the bishop of Gubbio and Agostino Steuco, theologian and Hebraist, an adversary of Erasmus and Luther. The reputation of Duchess Eleonora Gonzaga, the sister of Cardinal Ercole, and participant in the pre-Tridentine movement of Catholic reform sympathetic to certain aspects of the Reformation, such as the doctrine of justification by faith, was well known in the circles of the "spirituali" and of the religious dissenters.

To be sure, Girolamo Cato, residing in Venice, was aware of the protection that the duchess had offered to Antonio Brucioli, who in 1537 had dedicated to her his Isaiah commentary ( Libro di Iesaia profeta) and in 1538 his metaphysical dialogues ( Dialogi metafisicali), where she appears as an interlocutor, together with Fregoso, in dialogues XVI ("Of the Presence of God"), XVII ("Of the Providence of God"), and XIX ("Of the Divine Light"). Cato, a modest literary figure, might possibly have aspired to insert himself in the entourage of the court of Urbino, but without the testimony of his trial records, it is impossible to go beyond this conjecture.

There may be no link between this trial and the inquest, ordered by the Inquisition in February 1551, against Pietro Panfilo, seneschal and confidant of Duchess Eleonora, who was well informed on the religious questions of the day, and frequently served as go-between with the court at Mantua. After the death of the duchess, an anonymous denunciation accused Panfilo of having spread Lutheran doctrines at Fossombrone, where he lived, and in "all those castles and places of that good lady [ Eleonora], where every peasant discussed and reasoned over the Epistles of Saint Paul, about works and confession and prayers for the dead, scorning all these things..." But the denunciation proved to be unfounded as far as this faithful servant, friend, and correspondent of Marcantonio Flaminio was concerned. The only person to be arrested and condemned in the duchy of Urbino, a short time before the accusations made against Panfilo, was the still unknown Girolamo Cato.


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

For the circulation of books at a popular level, see N. Z. Davis, "Printing and the People," in her Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 189-226. For the diffusion of Protestant literature in Italy, see C. De Frede, "Per la storia della stampa nel Cinquecento in rapporto con la diffusione della Riforma in Italia," Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 29 ( 1964): 175-79; idem, "Tipografi, editori, librai italiani del Cinquecento coinvolti in processi di eresia," RSCI, 23 ( 1969): 21-53; E. Balmas, "Sulla fortuna editoriale di Lutero in Francia e in Italia nel XVI secolo," in Martin Luther e il protestantesimo in Italia ( Milan: IPL, 1984), 95-100; S. Cavazza, "Libri in volgare e propaganda eterodossa: Venezia 1543-1547," in Libri, idee e sentimenti religiosi nel Cinquecento italiano, a cura di A.Prosperi e A. Biondi

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