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§ 38. The Reformation in the Italian Valleys of the Grisons. Vergerio.


I. P. Dom. Rosius De Porta: Dissertatio historico-ecclesiastica qua ecclesiarum colloquio Vallis Praegalliae et Comitatiis Clavennae olim comprehensarum Reformatio et status ... exponitur. Curiae, 1787 (pp. 56, 4°). His Historia Reformations Eccles. Rhaeticarum, bk. II. ch. v. pp. 139–179 (on Vergerio).—Dan. Gerdes (a learned Reformed historian, 1698–1765): Specimen Italiae Reformatae. L. Batav. 1765.—*Thomas McCrie (1772–1835, author of the Life of John Knox, etc.): History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Italy. Edinburgh, 1827. 2d ed. 1833. Republished by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1842. Ch. VI., pp. 291 sqq., treats of the foreign Italian churches and the Reformation in the Grisons.—F. Trechsel: Die protest. Antitrinitarier, Heidelberg, 1844, vol. II. 64 sqq.)—G. Leonhardi: Ritter Johannes Guler von Weineck, Lebensbild eines Rhätiers aus dem 17ten Jahrh. Bern, 1863. By the same: Puschlaver Mord. Veltiner Mord. Die Ausrottung des Protestantismus im Misoxerthal. In the Zeitschrift "der Wahre Protestant," Basel, 1852–’54.—B. Reber: Georg Jenatsch, Graubündens Pfarrer und Held während des dreissigjährigen Kriegs. In the "Beitäge zur vaterländischen Geschichte," Basel, 1860.—E. Lechner: Das Thal Bergell (Bregaglia) in Graubünden, Natur, Sagen, Geschichte, Volk, Sprache, etc. Leipzig, 1865 (pp. 140).—Y. F. Fetz (Rom. Cath.): Geschichte der kirchenpolitischen Wirren im Freistaat der drei Bünde vom Anfang des 17ten Jahrh. bis auf die Gegenwart. Chur, 1875 (pp. 367).—*Karl Benrath: Bernardino Ochino von Siena. Leipzig, 1875 (English translation with preface by William Arthur, London, 1876). Comp. his Ueber die Quellen der italienischen Reformationsgeschichte. Bonn, 1876.—*Joh. Kaspar Mörikofer: Geschichte der evangelischen Flüchtlinge in der Schweiz. Zürich, 1876.—John Stoughton: Footprints of Italian Reformers. London, 1881 (pp. 235, 267 sqq.).—Em. Comba (professor of church history in the Waldensian Theological College at Florence): Storia della Riforma in Italia. Firenze, 1881 (only l vol. so far). Biblioteca della Riforma Italiana Sec. XVI. Firenze, 1883–’86. 6 vols. Visita ai Grigioni Riformati Italiani. Firenze, 1885. Vera Narrazione del Massacro di Valtellina. Zürich, 1621. Republished in Florence, 1886. Comp. literature on p. 131.

II. The Vergerius literature. The works of Vergerius, Latin and Italian, are very rare. Niceron gives a list of fifty-five, Sixt (pp. 595–601) of eighty-nine. He began a collection of his Opera adversus Papatum, of which only the first volume has appeared, at Tübingen, 1563. Recently Emil Comba has edited his Trattacelli e sua storia di Francesco Spiera in the first two volumes of his "Biblioteca della Riforma Italiana," Firenze, 1883, and the Parafrasi sopra l’ Epistola ai Romani, 1886. Sixt has published, from the Archives of Königsberg, forty-four letters of Vergerius to Albert, Duke of Prussia (pp. 533 sqq.), and Kausler and Schott (librarian at Stuttgart), his correspondence with Christopher, Duke of Würtemberg (Briefwechsel zwischen Christoph Herzog von Würt. und P. P. Vergerius, Tübingen, 1875).—Walter Friedensburg: Die Nunciaturen des Vergerio, 1533–’36. Gotha, 1892 (615 pp.). From the papal archives.

Chr. H. Sixt: Petrus Paulus Vergerius, päpstlicher Nuntius, katholischer Bischof und Vorkämpfer des Evangeliums. Braunschweig, 1855 (pp. 601). With a picture of Vergerius. 2d (title) ed. 1871. The labors in the Grisons are described in ch. III. 181 sqq.—Scattered notices of Vergerius are found in Sleidan, Seckendorf, De Porta, Sarpi, Pallavicini, Raynaldus, Maimburg, Bayle, Niceron, Schelhorn, Salig, and Meyer (in his monograph on Locarno. I. 36, 51; II. 236–255). A good article by Schott in Herzog2, XVI. 351–357. (Less eulogistic than Sixt.)


The evangelical Reformation spread in the Italian portions of the Grisons; namely, the valleys of Pregell or Bregaglia,231231    This is the Italian name; in Latin, Praegallia; in German, Bergell. and Poschiavo (Puschlav), which still belong to the Canton, and in the dependencies of the Valtellina (Veltlin), Bormio (Worms), and Chiavenna (Cleven), which were ruled by governors (like the Territories of the United States), but were lost to the Grisons in 1797. The Valtellina is famous for its luxuriant vegetation, fiery wine, and culture of silk. A Protestant congregation was also organized at Locarno in the Canton Ticino (Tessin), which then was a dependency of the Swiss Confederacy. This Italian chapter of the history of Swiss Protestantism is closely connected with the rise and suppression of the Reformation in Italy and the emigration of many Protestant confessors, who, like the French Huguenots of a later period, were driven from their native land, to enrich with their industry and virtue foreign countries where they found a hospitable home.

The first impulse to the Reformation in the Italian Grisons came from Gallicius and Campell, who labored in the neighboring Engadin, and knew Italian as well as Romansh. The chief agents were Protestant refugees who fled from the Inquisition to Northern Italy and found protection under the government of the Grisons. Many of them settled there permanently; others went to Zürich, Basel, and Geneva. In the year 1550 the number of Italian refugees was about two hundred. Before 1559 the number had increased to eight hundred. One fourth or fifth of them were educated men. Some inclined to Unitarian and Anabaptist opinions, and prepared the way for Socinianism. Among the latter may be mentioned Francesco Calabrese (in the Engadin); Tiriano (at Coire); Camillo Renato, a forerunner of Socinianism (at Tirano in the Valtellina); Ochino, the famous Capuchin pulpit orator (who afterwards went to Geneva, England, and Zürich); Lelio Sozini (who died at Zürich, 1562); and his more famous nephew, Fausto Sozini (1539–1604), the proper founder of Socinianism, who ended his life in Poland.

The most distinguished of the Italian evangelists in the Grisons, is Petrus Paulus Vergerius (1498–1565).232232    Pierpaolo Vergerio, also called the younger, to distinguish him from an older member of his illustrious family. De Porta thus introduces his account, l.c.: "Inter exsules, qui ob Evangelii confessionem Italiae profugi in Rhaetia consederunt, haud ullus sive generis nobilitatem, sive dignitatem, sive vitae acta rationem spectes, majorem meretur attentionem quam P. P. Vergerius." He labored there four years (1549–1553), and left some permanent traces of his influence. He ranks among the secondary Reformers, and is an interesting but somewhat ambiguous and unsatisfactory character, with a changeful career. He held one of the highest positions at the papal court, and became one of its most decided opponents.

Vergerio was at first a prominent lawyer at Venice. After the death of his wife (Diana Contarini), he entered the service of the Church, and soon rose by his talents and attainments to influential positions. He was sent by Clement VII., together with Campeggi and Pimpinelli, to the Diet of Augsburg, 1530, where he associated with Faber, Eck, and Cochlaeus, and displayed great zeal and skill in attempting to suppress the Protestant heresy. He was made papal secretary and domestic chaplain, 1532. He was again sent by Paul III. to Germany, in 1535, to negotiate with the German princes about the proposed General Council at Mantua. He had a personal interview with Luther in Wittenberg (Nov. 7), and took offence at his bad Latin, blunt speech, and plebeian manner. He could not decide, he said in his official report to the papal secretary (Nov. 12), whether this German "beast" was possessed by an evil demon or not, but he certainly was the embodiment of arrogance, malice, and unwisdom.233233    Sixt gives (pp. 35-45), from Seckendorf, Sarpi, and Pallavicini, a full account of this characteristic interview, which belongs to the history of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. The official report is published by Friedensburg. He afterwards spoke of Luther as "a man of sacred memory," and "a great instrument of God," and lauded him in verses which he composed on a visit to Eisleben in 1559. On his return to Italy, he received as reward for his mission the archbishopric of Capo d’ Istria, his native place (not far from Trieste). He aspired even to the cardinal’s hat. He attended—we do not know precisely in what capacity, whether in the name of the Pope, or of Francis I. of France—the Colloquies at Worms and Regensburg, in 1540 and 1541, where he met Melanchthon and Calvin. Melanchthon presented him on that occasion with a copy of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology.234234    With a letter printed in his Opera, Corp. Reform. IV. 22, and in Sixt, 94. At that time he was, according to his confession, still as blind and impious as Saul. In the address De Unitate et Pace Ecclesicae, which he delivered at Worms, Jan. 1, 1541, and which is diplomatic rather than theological,235235    Translated from the Latin in Sixt, 75-94. The address was printed and distributed immediately after the delivery, but has become very rare. he urged a General Council as a means to restore the unity and peace of the Church on the traditional basis.

His conversion was gradually brought about by a combination of several causes,—the reading of Protestant books which he undertook with the purpose to refute them, his personal intercourse with Lutheran divines and princes in Germany, the intolerance of his Roman opponents, and the fearful death of Spiera. He acquired an experimental knowledge of the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith, which at that time commended itself even to some Roman divines of high standing, as Cardinal Contarini and Reginald Pole, and which was advocated by Paleario of Siena, and by a pupil of Valdés in an anonymous Italian tract on "The Benefit of Christ’s Death."236236    Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di GiesùChristo crucifisso, verso i Christiani. Venet. 1540. It was circulated in more than forty thousand copies within six years, translated into several languages, and republished from an English version (made from the French), 4th ed., London, 1638, by the Religious Tract Society of London, with an introduction by John Ayer, and again in Boston, 1860 (Gould & Lincoln, pp. 160, with facsimile of the title-page). The Italian original was recovered at Cambridge, 1855. Vergerius wrote in 1558 that there appeared no book in his age, at least in Italian, "so sweet, so pious, so simple, and so well adapted to instruct the weak on the article of justification" (Sixt, p. 103). The tract was formerly (by Tiraboschi, Gerdes, McCrie, Jules Bonnet, Mrs. Young, and others) ascribed to Aonio Paleario, professor of classical literature at Siena; but it was written by a pupil of the Spanish nobleman, Juan de Valdés, at Naples, and revised by Flaminio. Ranke found in the Acts of the Inquisition the notice, "Quel libro del beneficio di Christo fu il suo autore un monaco di Sanseverino in Napoli discepolo del Valdés, fu revisore di detto libro il Flaminio, fu stampato molte volte," etc. Die Römischen Päpste, vol. I. pp. 90-92 (8th ed. 1883). Benrath found the name of the author, Don Benedetto de Mantova, "Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.," I. 575-596 (1877). Comp. his article Paleario, in Herzog2, XI. 165, note, and E. Böhmer on Valdés, ibid. XVI. 276 sqq. Böhmer says that there are two Italian copies of the tract in the imperial library at Vienna. He began to preach evangelical doctrines and to reform abuses. His brother, bishop of Pola, fully sympathized with him. He roused the suspicion of the Curia and the Inquisition. He went to Trent in February, 1546, to justify himself before the Council, but was refused admittance, and forbidden to return to his diocese. He retired to Riva on the Lago di Garda, not far from Trent.

In 1548 he paid a visit to Padua to take some of his nephews to college. He found the city excited by the fearful tragedy of Francesco Spiera, a lawyer and convert from Romanism, who had abjured the evangelical faith from fear of the Inquisition, and fell into a hell of tortures of conscience under the conviction that he had committed the unpardonable sin by rejecting the truth. He was for several weeks a daily witness, with many others, of the agonies of this most unfortunate of apostates, and tried in vain to comfort him. He thought that we must not despair of any sinner, though he had committed the crimes of Cain and Judas. He prepared himself for his visits by prayer and the study of the comforting promises of the Scriptures. But Spiera had lost all faith, all hope, all comfort; he insisted that he had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven in this world nor in the world to come; he was tormented by the remembrance of the sins of his youth, the guilt of apostasy, the prospect of eternal punishment which he felt already, and died in utter despair with a heart full of hatred and blasphemy. His death was regarded as a signal judgment of God, a warning example, and an argument for the truth of the evangelical doctrines.237237    I have given a full account of this tragedy in an appendix to my (German) book on the Sin against the Holy Ghost (Halle, 1841), pp. 173-210, from a rare publication of 191 pages (then in possession of Dr. Hengstenberg in Berlin): Francisci Spiercae, qui, quod susceptam semel evangelicae veritatis professionem abnegasset damnassetque, in horrendam incidit desperationem, Historia, a quatuor summis viris summa fide conscripta, cum clariss. virorum praefationibus, Cölii S. C. et Io. Calvini et Petri Pauli Vergerii Apologia: in quibus multa hoc tempore scitu digna gravissime tradantur .... Basil. 1550. It was reprinted at Tübingen, 1568. Vergerio first published an account in his Apologia, 1548 (not 1549), which is contained in that book, and informed Calvin of it in a letter. Sixt gives large extracts, pp. 125-160. See Comba,Francesco Spiera, Firenze, 1883.

Vergerio was overwhelmed by this experience, and brought to a final decision. He wrote an apology in which he gives an account of the sad story, and renounces his connection with Rome at the risk of persecution, torture, and death. He sent it to the suffragan bishop of Padua, Dec. 13, 1548.

He was deposed and excommunicated by the pope, July 3, 1549, and fled over Bergamo to the Grisons. He remained there till 1553, with occasional journeys to the Valtellina, Chiavenna, Zürich, Bern, and Basel. He was hospitably received, and developed great activity in preaching and writing. People of all classes gathered around him, and were impressed by his commanding presence and eloquence. He founded a printing-press in Poschiavo in 1549, and issued from it his thunderbolts against popery. He preached at Pontresina and Samaden in the Upper Engadin, and effected the abolition of the mass and the images. He labored as pastor three years (1550–53) at Vicosoprano in Bregaglia. He travelled through the greater part of Switzerland, and made the acquaintance of Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza.

But the humble condition of the Grisons did not satisfy his ambition. He felt isolated, and complained of the inhospitable valleys. He disliked the democratic institutions. He quarrelled with the older Reformers, Comander and Gallicius. He tried to get the whole Synod of the Grisons under his control, and, failing in this, to organize a separate synod of the Italian congregations. Then he aspired to a more prominent position at Zürich or Geneva or Bern, but Bullinger and Calvin did not trust him.

In November, 1553, he gladly accepted a call to Würtemberg as counsellor of Duke Christopher, one of the best princes of the sixteenth century, and spent his remaining twelve years in the Duke’s service. He resided in Tübingen, but had no official connection with the University. He continued to write with his rapid pen inflammatory tracts against popery, promoted the translation and distribution of the Bible in the South Slavonic dialect, maintained an extensive correspondence, and was used in various diplomatic and evangelical missions to the Emperor Maximilian at Vienna, to the kings of Bohemia, and Poland. On his first journey to Poland he made the personal acquaintance of Albert, Duke of Prussia, who esteemed him highly and supplied him with funds. He entered into correspondence with Queen Elizabeth, in the vain hope of an invitation to England. He desired to be sent as delegate to the religious conference at Poissy in France, 1561, but was again disappointed. He paid four visits to the Grisons (November, 1561; March, 1562; May, 1563; and April, 1564), to counteract the intrigues of the Spanish and papal party, and to promote the harmony of the Swiss Church with that of Würtemberg. On his second visit he went as far as the Valtellina. He received an informal invitation to attend the Council of Trent in 1561 from Delfino, the papal nuncio, in the hope that he might be induced to recant; he was willing to go at the risk of meeting the fate of Hus at Constance, but on condition of a safe conduct, which was declined.238238    See his letters to Duke Albert of Prussia, and the report of Pallavicini, XV.10; and Sixt, 485 sqq., 490 sqq. At last he wished to unite with the Bohemian Brethren, whom he admired for their strict discipline combined with pure doctrine; he translated and published their Confession of Faith. He was in constant need of money, and his many begging letters to the Dukes of Würtemberg and of Prussia make a painful impression; but we must take into account the printing expenses of his many books, his frequent journeys, and the support of three nephews and a niece. In his fifty-ninth year he conceived the plan of contracting a marriage, and asked the Duke to double his allowance of two hundred guilders, but the request was declined and the marriage given up.239239    Sixt, 510 sqq.

He died Oct. 4, 1565, at Tübingen, and was buried there. Dr. Andreae, the chief author of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, preached the funeral sermon, which the learned Crusius took down in Greek. Duke Christopher erected a monument to his memory with a eulogistic inscription.240240    The epitaphium, in eighteen hexameters, plays ingeniously on his name,—Peter, who denied the Lord, and, after his conversion, fed his sheep; Paul, who first persecuted and then built up the Church; and Vergerius, "vergens ad orcum andvergens ad astra poli." The monument in the Georgenkirche was destroyed by the Jesuits in 1636 and restored 1672, but has disappeared since, according to Schott (Herzog2, XVI. 357), whose statement (against Sixt, 527) is confirmed by Dr. Weizsäcker (in a private letter of Jan. 5, 1891).

The very numerous Latin and Italian books and fugitive tracts of Vergerio are chiefly polemical against the Roman hierarchy of which he had so long been a conspicuous member.241241    Many of them appeared anonymously or under such false names as Athanasius, Fra Giovanni, Lambertus de Nigromonte, Valerius Philarchus, etc. He exposed, with the intemperate zeal of a proselyte, the chronique scandaleuse of the papacy, including the mythical woman-pope, Johanna (John VIII.), who was then generally believed to have really existed.242242    This mediaeval fiction was probably a Roman satire on the monstrous regiment of bad women who controlled the papacy in the tenth century. It was first disproved by David Blondel. See vol. IV. 265 sq. He agreed with Luther that the papacy was an invention of the Devil; that the pope was the very Antichrist seated in the temple of God as predicted by Daniel (11:36) and Paul (2 Thess. 2:3 sq.), and the beast of the Apocalypse; and that he would soon be destroyed by a divine judgment. He attacked all the contemporary popes, except Adrian VI., to whom he gives credit for honesty and earnestness. He is especially severe on "Saul IV." (Paul IV.), who as Cardinal Caraffa had made some wise and bold utterances on the corruption of the clergy, but since his elevation to the "apostate chair, which corrupts every one who ascends it," had become the leader of the Counter-Reformation with its measures of violence and blood. Such monsters, he says, are the popes. One contradicts the other, and yet they are all infallible, and demand absolute submission. Rather die a thousand times than have any communion with popery and fall away from Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for us and rose from the dead. Popery and the gospel are as incompatible as darkness and light, as Belial and Christ. No compromise is possible between them. Vergerio was hardly less severe on the cardinals and bishops, although he allowed some honorable exceptions. He attacked and ridiculed the Council of Trent, then in session, and tried to show that it was neither general, nor free, nor Christian. He used the same arguments against it as the Old Catholics used against the Vatican Council of 1870. He repelled the charge of heresy and turned it against his former co-religionists. The Protestants who follow the Word of God are orthodox, the Romanists who follow the traditions of men are the heretics.

His anti-popery writings were read with great avidity by his contemporaries, but are now forgotten. Bullinger was unfavorably impressed, and found in them no solid substance, but only frivolous mockery and abuse.

As regards the differences among Protestants, Vergerio was inconsistent. He first held the Calvinistic theory of the Lord’s Supper, and expressed it in his own Catechism,243243    Fondamento della religione christiana per uso della Valtellina. 1553. in a letter to Bullinger of Jan. 16, 1554, and even later, in June, 1556, at Wittenberg, where he met Melanchthon and Eber. But in Würtemberg he had to subscribe the Augsburg Confession, and in a letter to the Duke of Würtemberg, Oct. 23, 1557, he confessed the ubiquitarian theory of Luther. He also translated the Catechism of Brenz and the Würtemberg Confession into Italian, and thereby offended the Swiss Zwinglians, but told them that he was merely the translator. He never attributed much importance to the difference, and kept aloof from the eucharistic controversy.244244    His views on the Eucharist are discussed by Sixt, 208, 214, and 497 sqq. He was not a profound theologian, but an ecclesiastical politician and diplomatist, after as well as before his conversion.

Vergerio left the Roman Church rather too late, when the Counter-Reformation had already begun to crush Protestantism in Italy. He was a man of imposing personality, considerable learning and eloquence, wit and irony, polemic dexterity, and diplomatic experience, but restless, vain, and ambitious. He had an extravagant idea of his own importance. He could not forget his former episcopal authority and pretensions, nor his commanding position as the representative of the pope. He aspired to the dignity and influence of a sort of Protestant internuncio at all the courts of Europe, and of a mediator between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Pallavicino, the Jesuit historian of the Council of Trent, characterizes him as a lively and bold man who could not live without business, and imagined that business could not get along without him. Calvin found in him much that is laudable, but feared that he was a restless busybody. Gallicius wrote to Bullinger: "I wish that Vergerio would be more quiet, and persuade himself that the heavens will not fall even if he, as another Atlas, should withdraw his support." Nevertheless, Vergerio filled an important place in the history of his times. He retained the esteem of the Lutheran princes and theologians, and he is gratefully remembered for his missionary services in the two Italian valleys of the Grisons, which have remained faithful to the evangelical faith to this day.



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