The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

6
THE BENEFICIO DI GIESÙ CHRISTO ANDTHE DIFFUSION OF VALDESIANISM IN TUSCANY AND THE VENETO

THE AUTHOR

A BOOKLET ENTITLED Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Christo crocifisso verso i christiani appeared in Venice in 1543 from the presses of Bernardino de Bindonis (printers of Savonarola's Prediche sopra Aggeo), immediately "flying like a spark touching off other sparks throughout Italy."1 This "dulcet booklet," as Pier Paolo Vergerio called it, presented itself to its readers in a modest typographical vestment without pretense to elegance, without the name of the writer, so that, as we read in the preface, "you may be moved more by the content than the authority of the author." The work enjoyed an extraordinary success, and even if it seems hard to believe the ex- bishop of Capodistria, who wrote that in the short span of about six years, forty thousand copies were printed and sold in Venice alone, it is certain that it enjoyed wide diffusion and was reprinted several times. The booklet appeared at a crucial time in European history: after the failure of the colloquies at Ratisbon and the repudiation of the chief negotiators, Melanchthon and Contarini, by Luther and his followers, as well as by the Roman Curia and intransigent Catholics. The break between the Church of Rome and the northern reformers was an accomplished fact. The death of Gasparo Contarini, the champion of reconciliation, in August 1542, was followed by the flight to Protestant lands of two famous and popular Tuscan preachers, Bernardino Ochino and Peter Martyr Vermigli, admirers and friends of Valdés. The Roman Inquisition, reconstituted by the bull Licet ab initio ( 21 July 1542), was being organized energetically by Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa, to whom heresy was an evil greater than the plague, against which the church had to be on guard with all possible means. All those--and by now they were numerous in all social levels--who had been influenced by the preaching of justification by faith, and were sympathetic

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1
B. Croce, "Il 'Beneficio di Cristo,'" La Critica 38 ( 1940): 115-25, reprinted with corrections and additions in Croce Poeti e scrittori del pieno e del tardo Rinascimento ( Bari: Laterza, 1945), 1:211-28.

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