The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

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

21
HOPING AGAINST HOPE

THE EXILES' DELUSION

BY THE END OF THE CENTURY, the Counter-Reformation had crushed every attempt made by the Protestant movement to establish itself in Italy as it had elsewhere in Europe. All the great northern reformers had known from the very beginning how difficult it would be to achieve their goals without the cooperation of princes or city governments. The ultimate failure of the Italian Reformation, even after it had managed to penetrate everywhere in the peninsula, is proof of this.

The case of the Republic of Venice, which turned a deaf ear to all the appeals made by Italian reformers, from Galateo to Vergerio, from Ochino to Flacius, is exemplary. Realistically, Venice realized that it would be extremely perilous to modify its policy of watchful and cautious neutrality after the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League at Mühlberg in 1547. Church and state were united in Italy in their aversion to heresy, of which they feared the political and social consequences. Flight on the part of the leaders of Italian Protestantism, the martyrdom of some of its greatest preachers and missionaries, the extermination of the Calabrian Waldensians, the forced Catholicization of their brethren in Puglia, the confinement of the Piedmontese Waldensians to their valleys, the ferocious repression of the movement in Sicily, and the systematic destruction of dissent everywhere in Italy, generated a deep-seated sentiment of defeatism among the people and sundered the threads of an incipient network.

Numerous examples demonstrate this ebbing of the tide, but one, cited by P. F. Grendler for Venice where Protestant ideas had penetrated all social classes, seems particularly symptomatic. In 1566 a convicted heretic, wearing the penitential garment and candle in hand, was exhibited in Saint Mark's Square for an entire morning. A tumultuous crowd had gathered to witness the spectacle and was shouting that he should be burned or stoned to death.1 A quarter of a century earlier a similar crowd had listened enthusiastically to the sermons of Galateo, Ochino, and Giulio della Rovere.

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1
See P. E Grendler, The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 138.

-388-

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