Writers

Paolo Sarpi

In the sixteenth century Venice became a mecca for humanist scholars and theologians because of its liberal religious climate and the printing press. “The opportunities provided by the city’s presses attracted men of letters from all over the peninsula.”[i] One of Venice’s most revered anti-papal authors was Father Paul Sarpi (1552-1623). He was revered as pro-Venetian cleric and honored as a leader of the anti-papal literary movement. “Sarpi took the humanist tradition of accurate, critical history […]; he portrayed the Vatican as an imperial Roman court, full of intrigue and earthly politics.”[ii] He was born in Venice in 1552 and from an early age was raised by a Servite monk. Considered a prodigy, he was appointed court theologian to an Italian duchy; he was considered for a bishopric while at the Servite convent but because of prevalent nepotism in Rome he was denied this title, which might have led to his bitterness of the Catholic Church. He was also a scholar and was well acquainted with the great minds of his day including Galileo, Torricelli and Gilbert of Colchester. He himself is thought to have discovered the valves of the veins, the function of the eye’s iris and he dedicated much of his research to the understanding of heat, light, and sound. He also served as a statesman to Venice, going on five missions as ambassador to Rome, until he was excommunicated. He was the official Venetian theologian and gave counsel to the Venetian Senate; it was his original plan that Venice respond to the interdiction by refusing to permit Papal Bulls within the city and any communication between Rome and the Venetian clergy, under claim of high treason. Needless to say, he was unpopular in Rome and in October 1607 an attempted assassination took place on a bridge at Santa Fosca, presumably orchestrated by Roman officials.[iii]

While the deeds of Father Paul Sarpi enraged the Vatican, it was his anti-papal writings that were the most influential. His first major work, written while he was in Venice in 1610, was The History of Ecclesiastical Benefices. It reports the abuses of the clergy when acquiring wealth, it denounces tithes, and complains about the corruption of the legal system in Rome.[iv] The second work, written in 1611, criticizes the conduct of the Inquisition, and as an extension, the practices of the Roman justice system. In 1613 Sarpi writes The Immunity of the Clergy, in which he berates the church’s blind tolerance of the indiscretions and crimes of the clergy. Then, in 1619, he writes his most successful and widely read works The History of the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent was a mid-sixteenth century meeting of the theologians and clerics to review the practices of the church and resolve internal conflict. They also sought to address reconverting Protestants. Sarpi’s book blatantly denounces the Vatican and accuses the pope of using the council to increase his own power. This was the only book of his to be published in his lifetime.[v] Nevertheless, Sarpi’s workswere automatically forbidden by the Vatican, and they held book burnings just for the works of Sarpi in Rome.[vi]


[i] Brian Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular

Text, 1470-1600, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, page xiii.

[ii] Jacob Soll, Publishing The Prince, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2005, page 43.

[iii] Andrew Dickson White, Seven Great Statesman, New York: The Century, Co., 1915, page 25.

[iv] “A Treatise…” The National Library of Australia, no date.

< http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2426367?&#Details >. 19 October 2008.

[v] “Paolo Sarpi.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. < http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/524464/Paolo-Sarpi/6422/Sarpis-writings#ref=ref243329&tab=active~checked%2Citems~checked&title=Paolo

%20Sarpi%20%3A%3A%20Sarpi’s%20writings.%20–%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia>. 19 October 2008.

[vi] Andrew Dickson White, Seven Great Statesman, New York: The Century, Co., 1915, page 20.

Pietro Aretino

The second great writer in Venice was Pietro Aretino (1492-1556). It is said of Aretino: “[H]e took no personal interest in such matters [Italian politics][…] He simply wanted to get hold of plenty of money and be admired for his literary talents. He saw that the quickest road to this goal in the existing state of political confusion was to use an exceptionally lurid and hard hitting pen in contributions to a public excitement.”[i] Whatever his motives were, he aroused in the Venetian people a political fervor and contributed to the growing anti-papal movement. He grew up as a shoemaker’s son, publishing his first book of verse in 1512 in Venice and gained affluence by charming persons of power; in 1516 he “acquired the good graces of Pope Leo X”[ii] and made the acquaintance of the Medici, Cardinal Bembo, and Titian. His works were not political expositions in the way that Sarpi’s were, but rather satires of leading political leaders and pornographies that were put on the Index. He was expelled from Rome for his Sonetti Lussuriosi[iii] and was given asylum by Venice, where he settled and became endorsed officially by the Magistrate of the Republic and unofficially by the Doge. When he fell into Clement VII’s disfavor the Doge intervened, earning the loyalty of Aretino. He wrote to Doge Andrea Gritti:

I revere you […] for having defended me against the persecution of others and for bringing me back into Clement’s favour [sic] by appeasing the wrath of his Holiness while at the same time enlightening my own judgment, which is now so serene that despite the broken Papal promises it observes the silence your Serene Highness imposed on me. What a difference there is between the good faith of a man of virtue and that of a man of power.[iv]

He was a symbol of the anti-papal movement because he satirized the characters and deeds of the central figures of the Vatican and high courts.


[i] James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1966, page 12.

[ii] James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1966, page 11.

[iii] Edward Hutton, Pietro Aretino, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922, page x.

[iv] Pietro Aretino, ,Aretino: Selected Letters, translated by George Bull, Harmondsworth:

Penguin Books, Ltd., 1976, page 65.

Cornelio Donzellino

Venice also published Protestant works.  One of the most popular Protestant authors was Cornelio Donzellino, a defrocked monk.  He immigrated to the city in 1550, arriving from Capodistria where he had been a tutor to the affluent Vergerio family.  His masterwork, published in 1551 in Venice, was Le dooe e pie parafrasi sopra le pistole di Paolo a’ Romani, Galati ed Ebrei.  This condemned the teachings of the Catholic Church and promoted the Calvinist theories of predestination and the non-literal approach to communion, meaning he did not accept the theory of transubstantiation.  Additionally, he, with Paolo Rosello, translated Demosthenes’ Philippics into the Venetian vernacular for profit and translated the sermons of Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Della providenza di Dio.  Their final collaboration was an Italian translation of Calvin’s Petit traicté de la saincte cène de notre Seigneur Jesus Christ.  This was never published[i] and in 1552 he was imprisoned, accused by Pietro Manelfi to the Bolognese Inquisition of heresy.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Florence.  His work introduced Calvinism to Venice and the Italian peninsula.[ii]


[i] Salvatore Caponetto, The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth Century Italy, translated

by Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi, volume XLIII of Sixteenth Century

Essays & Studies,  Kirksville: Thomas Jefferon University Press, 1999, page 197.

[ii] Salvatore Caponetto, The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth Century Italy, translated

by Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi, volume XLIII of Sixteenth Century

Essays & Studies,  Kirksville: Thomas Jefferon University Press, 1999, page 296.

 

 

Tiziano

The other incendiary writer of the Protestant faith in Venice is known only as Tiziano and he is recognized as an Anabaptist. Tiziano is first heard of in 1549 when he or she first started circulating Anabaptist doctrines in print, which were printed at an unknown source. It is thought that this person was under the command of the Germans, probably a radical Lutheran sect. Tiziano preached that through Jesus Christ was the only way to salvation, unlike the Catholic belief that Popes and Saints are middle men to God, and that adult baptism was the only way to leave a sinful life behind. Tiziano reached a wide circle of Venetians, but the groups of Anabaptists were stealthy and membership is mostly unknown, although it is noted that the largest community of Anabaptists reached 60 people. However, in October of 1551 a prominent member of the Anabaptist community, Pietro Manelfi, revealed his fellow Anabaptists’ names to the Catholic Church, leading to the arrest and execution of Benedetto del Borgo. By convicting and executing a powerful and prominent member of Venice the Catholic Church effectively squashed the mounting Anabaptist sympathy within the city.[i]


[i] Salvatore Caponetto, The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth Century Italy, translated

by Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi, volume XLIII of Sixteenth Century

Essays & Studies, Kirksville: Thomas Jefferon University Press, 1999, page 210.

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