The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

for the church: its unity has been shredded because of the just rebellion of Luther and of his followers, and the spirituality of believers destroyed by such superstitions as vows and relics, belief in purgatory, priestly celibacy, and the dogma of transubstantiation.

One of the basic reasons given by Paleario for the current depravation was the abandonment of the evangelical and apostolic teaching that Christ is the cornerstone, and its substitution with the doctrine of the primacy of Peter. The Actio's conclusion was identical to Luther's, but also to Sleidan's and Ochino's, namely that the papacy was a manifestation of the Antichrist. The booklet's adherence to the essential principles of the Reformation was full and explicit, even if the author, citing only Scripture, the fathers and doctors of the church, went out of his way to demonstrate that his credo was that of the apostles and the early church. Paleario's was not a position of sectarian exclusiveness, since he expressed the conviction that in all churches there are sincere believers, desirous of being enlightened by the Word of God. The responsibility of princes is to be receptive to the ardent desires of the people, convening a free and universal council to judge the abuses of popes and bishops, establish sound doctrine, and restore the unity of believers under the authority of the Gospel.

The last section of the work is everywhere pervaded by ethico-political passion. Echoing Machiavelli, it affirmed (the same argument can also be found in Sleidan's oration) the responsibility of the pope for Italy's misfortunes, thanks to his avidity for wealth and power. In Rome shameful corruption was permitted at all levels and persecution and death were the lot of those who asked that respect be shown to the Gospel and to the truth. Prostitutes, panderers, and simoniacs lived freely, but witnesses to the Gospel were being imprisoned, tortured, and condemned to death. The peroration, addressed to Emperor Charles V, vigorously but concisely summarized Paleario's thought and closed with a doleful premonition of his death. In the context of the Italian Reformation, the humanist of Veroli was neither a theologian like P. M. Vermigli and B. Ochino, nor was he a popular proselytizer. But what he tried to be was a teacher, an organizer of public opinion, a political theorist. In a word, he could very well have been the translator of Sleidan's two orations.


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

On Luther's political thought, see the introduction and bibliography by L. Firpo in M. Lutero, Scritti politici, tr. G. Panzieri Saja ( Turin: UTET, 1959); and A. E. McGrath , Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2d ed. ( Oxford: Blackwell, 1993). For the intrinsic link between religious revolution and social reform, see the first part of A. Bielèr, La pensée économique et sociale de Calvin ( Geneva: Georg, 1961), 3-135. Valuable insights are contained in B. Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation: Three Essays, ed. and trans. H. C. Erik Midelfort and Mark U. Edwards Jr. ( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972).

On Melanchthon's dealings with the Signoria of Venice, the older study by K. Benrath , Geschichte der Reformation in Venedig ( Halle: Niemeyer, 1887), is still fundamental.

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