Monday, July 27, 2009

Forgotten Reformers: Italian Reformers

Now I hope that we all took time to remember John Calvin on his 500th birthday. But it is time to return to remembering those other reformers who are so often overlooked. The Italian Reformers as a whole come to mind. The reformation in Italy was unsuccessful because of the local power of the Pope and the vicious nature of the Inquisition. Throw in constant political turmoil and wars for northern Italy between France and Spain and little of the Reformation took permanent hold. Still, the Reformation did happen in Italy, we have just forgotten them.

Some of us could probably remember Peter Martyr Vermigli who did reform a small town before being forced to flee. We might even come up with Bernard Ochino, whose renoun as a preacher affected many. But he too had to take flight. The very brightest among us might have heard the name of Juan de Valdes, a Spanish man who came to Italy in 1530 as a humanist and critic of the Roman Church. He continued such things in Italy and eventual in Rome itself. He never officially broke with Rome always hoping to Reform the church from within, but did apparently hold to Justification by faith alone. His death in 1541 was felt by most of the Reformers in Italy because they all had drawn hope and inspiration from him. But the work of Reformation was not really done by Valdes as he did not break with the church.

The Reformers we have forgotten include men like Celio Secundo Curioni. Celio was born in 1503 and became reformed while reading Melancthon and Zwingli. He was arrested for trying to led a group of men into Germany to attend their universities. Rome tried to woo him back by sending him to local universities that were under the thumb of the Romish Church. Celio responded by stealing the relics that were hauled out for parades. They were bones of some saint. Celio replaced the relics with the Bible and a note. When the parade came around the monks hauled out the relics to discover the Bible. Celio had fled and would live on the run for most of the rest of his life. The monks never forgot the insult. He continued to teach the doctrine of the Reformation as he traveled around. He was arrested again and put in chains on his legs. His feet began to swell and the captors allowed him to have one foot free at a time. He created a false leg from his surroundings, and then asked the guards to switch the legs. They did so and now he was unchained and the false leg was left behind in the chains. He would escape arrest once more when he got up to be taken in by the authorities. He forgot to put down his eating knife and the men were frightened. He then was able to flee. Eventually Celio ended up in Basle where he lived out his life in safety. He died in 1569.

Then there is Pietro Carnesecchi. Carnesecchi was the personal secretary of Pope Clement VII. But, he was ousted from that position when the next pope took over and Carnesecchi began to see the abuse of power that came with being a pope. He then also became convinced of the truth of Justification by faith. This was while he was listening to Juan de Valdes teach the Scripture. He was absolved of heresy once, probably because of his former high spot in the church allowed him powerful friends. He spent some time in France among the Reformed there before returning to Vience to teach the evangelical truth. He was summoned to Rome, but refused to go. He was excommunicated and then arrested. He was martyred by the Inquisition somewhere around October of 1567.

Aonio Paleario was also martyred for his faith. Paleario was a lawyer by trade and was able to successfully defend himself against heresy charges. But suspicision of heresy often prevented him from holding down jobs for long. Finally he was able to hold a professorship in Milan for several years. This job was secured for him with the help of Cardinal Saldeto. Yes, the same Saldeto who was rebuked in Calvin’s famous letter. It turns out Saldeto was a liberal Romanist who desired to see the reformation of the papacy and the church as a whole. He was quite helpful to many of the Reformed in Italy. His last letter to Aonio Paleario encouraged him in his work, but chided him for reading too many Germany Reformers. Paleario would finally be brought up on charges that he could not escape. He died a martyr in 1570 for believing in Justification by faith and rejecting purgatory. Paleario’s great contribution to the Reformation was a book published anonymously entitled the The Benefit of Christ’s Death. This book was printed all over Italy including 60,000 times in 6 years. It made its way to England through Caridnal Pole, who was for a time thought to be its author. Many people including Carnesecchi were put to death for being Protestant and one of their charges was that they had copies of The Benefit of Christ’s Death. Copies with notes in the margins by Edward VI have been found. The book is mostly forgotten today but had a wide impact during the late 1500’s.

It has been reprinted in a book entitled The Italian Reformer, which is a book about the life of Paleario. May these reformers be forgotten no more.