The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

17
THE COUNTER-REFORMATION

A RESURGENT PAPACY

WE TURN NOW TO THE EVENTS that marked the religious struggle in the second half of the century, culminating in the tragedy of the Waldensian colonies of Calabria, the forced return to the Catholic faith of their co-religionaries in Puglia, the Neapolitan revolt against the introduction of the Spanish Inquisition, the martyrdom of the Calvinists Bartolomeo Bartoccio, Gian Luigi Pascale, Giacomo Bonello, of the Valdesians Gian Francesco Alois, Pietro Carnesecchi, Pompeo delli Monti, and of the reformed Erasmian, Aonio Paleario. First, it is essential to cast a glance at the historical background against which these events occurred, namely the formidable revival experienced by the papacy and Catholicism, and the doctrinal, disciplinary, and moral restoration of the Church of Rome in line with the decrees of the Council of Trent and the rigorous, reforming popes Paul IV and Pius V. With the election just a few years apart of two grand inquisitors to the summit of the hierarchy, the Counter- Reformation could unleash all its resources to halt the spread of the Protestant revolt and embark on a purification of ecclesiastical life.

By May 1555, when Gian Pietro Carafa, cofounder of the Theatines and organizer of the supreme tribunal of the Inquisition was elected pope, the Roman church had lost two-thirds of Germany, England, the Scandinavian countries, much of Switzerland and the Low Countries, a part of Austria, Poland, and Hungary. France was torn by the successes of Calvinism and of the Huguenots. Moreover, Calvin had turned Geneva into the capital of European Protestantism, a city of refuge for the persecuted of France, Spain, and Italy from which daring missionaries set out to evangelize the continent.

The "Lutheran plague" had become a mortal danger for the Church of Rome, its teachings impugned by a sea of books and pamphlets of controversy and Protestant propaganda. It had suffered disastrous financial losses through the confiscation of ecclesiastical property in Germany, England, and Scandinavia, and its cultural prestige was at an ebb because of its condemnation of the works of Erasmus and also the curtailing of the freedom of thought and expression. This was the historical situ-

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