By 1519 Martin Luther’s writing were being circulated in Italy and were well received by many of the well learned. The Loci Communes by Philip Melanchthon was printed in Venice under the title Par Messer Ippofilo da Terra Negra. It was sent to Rome where it was freely bought for the space of a whole year, and read with great applause, so that the copies being exhausted, an order was sent to Venice for a new supply of the books. In the meantime, a Franciscan friar, who possessed a copy of the original edition, discovered the trick, and denounced the book as a Lutheran production that must be destroyed. While Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans and his treatise on justification were printed under the name Coricius Cogelius and Martin Bucer’s commentary on Psalms was printed under the name Aretius Felinus.
“It is one thing to discover the errors and abuses of the church of Rome and it is another, and a very different thing, to have the mind opened to perceive the spiritual beauty and to feel the regenerating influence of divine truth. Many who could easily discern the former, remained complete strangers to the latter, as preached by Luther and his associates, and it is not to be expected that these would make sacrifices, and still less that they would count all things loss, for the excellent knowledge of Christ. Persons of this character abounded at this period in Italy”-Thomas M’Crie
Pietro Martire Vermigli (Peter Martyr) 1500-1562 Peter Martyr was born in 1500 in Florence to an upper class family. His mother taught him Latin and other subjects at home; he greatly enjoyed his religious studies. At the age of sixteen, in opposition to his parents, he entered the order of Augustinians. Martyr spent his time as a novice in a monastery in Fielzoli, which had an excellent library of which he availed himself. He also spent much time reading the Scripture. From there Martyr went to the University of Padua, where he studied philosophy and Greek. Martyr traveled to Vercelli, where he did the work of translating Homer, and then to Bologna where he learned Hebrew from a Jewish physician. He was chosen by the Augustinians as one of their public preachers, at which he greatly distinguished himself. He regularly preached in Rome, Bologna, Fermo, Pisa, Venice, Mantua, Bergamo and Montferrat. During this time he read and was greatly impressed by Zwingli’s True and False Religion and On Providence and Bucer’s Bible commentaries. In 1530 at the age of thirty he was unanimously elected abbot of Spoleto and the superintendent of the College of St. Pietro in Naples. Martyr grew in his reformed thinking through conversations with Juan Valdes and Marc-Antonio Flaminio while in Naples. He became good friends with John Mollio and Bernardino Ochino, and worked with them to teach the truth. Martyr and Mollio read lectures, most on Paul’s epistles, which were attended by monks and members of the nobility. For a short time Martyr was banned from teaching and preaching because of his reformed beliefs, but through the influence and favor of several cardinals the ban was lifted. He was able to bring about reforms at St. Piertro and quietly helped build the reformed church in Naples. The climate of Naples was not good for Martyr’s health so he relocated to Lucca, where he was appointed the prior of St. Fridiano. While in Lucca he focused on teaching the truth to the young novices that came to the monastery. Martyr publicly preached the pure Gospel there. He also began to pastor a newly formed reformed minded church. In 1542 Pope Paul IV sent spies to find evidence of Martyr’s “heretical” teachings. Martyr soon learned of a plot that was laid to arrest him, and he was able to escape in time and fled to Zürich. After it was known that he had fled, many of the monks of St. Fridiano that followed his reformed teaching were imprisoned, eighteen of them were able to flee to Switzerland. While in Zürich, Martyr accepted an invitation by Martin Bucer to come to Strasburg to serve as a professor in his academy there, while there he married. In 1547 Cranmer invited him to come and teach at Oxford University. His friend Ochino joined him in England, where they both stayed until the death of Edward IV in 1554. Martyr’s wife died while they were in England. Martyr came to Zürich to teach theology and Hebrew. After being ill for a few days he died on November 12th, 1562. Heinrich Bullinger, who had become a close friend, closed his eyes and Conrad Gesner spread a cloth over his face, while the elders of the Locarnian church stood weeping around his bed. “His piety and learning were recommended by modesty, candour, and gentleness of manners. As an author his talents were allowed by his adversaries; and in the reformed church his writings were, by general agreement, placed next to those of Calvin, for judiciousness and perspicuity.”
Bernardino Ochino (Ocello) Bernardino Ochino was born in 1487, in Sienna, a city of Tuscany, to obscure parents. From an early age he had a deep sense of religion, and joined the strictest order of regular clergy, the Franciscans. In 1534 he left the Franciscans to join the Capuchin brotherhood, which had recently been established on the strictest rules of humiliation and mortification. He wrote, “When I was a young man, I was under the dominion of the common error by which the minds of all who live under the yoke of the wicked Antichrist are enthralled; so that I believed that we were to be saved by our own works, fastings, prayers, abstinence, watchings, and other things of the same kind, by which we were to make satisfaction for our sins, and purchase heaven, through the concurring grace of God.” But no matter how much he did he gained no peace of spirit and finally began studying the Bible from which he came to believe, “First, that Christ, by his obedience and death, has made a plenary satisfaction and merited heaven for the elect, which is the only righteousness and ground of salvation; secondly, that religious vows of human invention are not only useless but hurtful and wicked; and thirdly, that the Roman church, though calculated to fascinate the senses by her external pomp and splendor, is unscriptural and abominable in the sight of God.” Ochino had been appointed as a preacher during Lent each year and being a very gifted speaker soon became one of the most popular preachers in Italy. He had snow white hair and a long beard which reached to his waist, and he always walked on foot as he traveled around the country preaching. Charles V, who heard him preach while in Italy wrote of him “That man would make the stones weep!” He always preached the pure Gospel from the Scripture but for a time restrained himself from attacking the errors of Rome. When he came to Naples, Juan Valdés, after hearing him preach, sought him out privately. After spending some time speaking with him Valdés invited him to the private meetings of the reformed church in Naples. During this time Ochino became close friends with Peter Martyr and John Mollio, working with them to preach the Gospel in Naples. Besides ministering in Naples he traveled throughout Italy preaching. In 1542 he was invited to come and preach during Lent in Venice, where the pope sent spies to watch him. Crowds flocked to hear Ochino. While in Venice, Julio Terentiano, a convert of Valdés, was thrown in prison for preaching. The next day Ochino began to preach to some of the leading men of the city who had come to hear him, “What remains for us to do, my lords? And to what purpose do we fatigue and exhaust ourselves, if those men, O noble Venice, queen of the Adriatic, if those men, who preach to you the truth, are to be thrown into prisons, thrust into cells, and loaded with chains and fetters? What place will be left to us? What field will remain open to the truth? O that we had but liberty to preach the truth! How many blind, who now grope their way in the dark, would be restored to light!” Because of this sermon Ochino was banned from preaching, but the outcry against this ban was so strong that it was lifted three day later. In the summer of 1542 Ochino went to Florence and while there he learned that Rome was plotting to kill him. He was able to escape safely to Geneva, where he gained the respect of John Calvin. Ochino then traveled to Basle to have some of his writings printed and then he went to Augsburg where he was appointed as the Italian preacher for the city. When Charles V came to Augsburg in 1547, he demanded that Ochino should be turned over to him, so he fled the city. He went to Constance, then Basle, and then on to Strasburg, where his old friend Peter Martyr was teaching at the time. At the invitation of Thomas Cranmer Ochino joined Martyr in England, preaching to Italian refugees there. In 1555 he moved to Zürich to pastor a Reformed Italian congregation. After the death of his friend Martyr in 1562, Ochino began to teach some anti-Trinitarian beliefs and was exiled from Zürich. He moved to Moravia where he died in 1564.
John Mollio John Mollio was born in Montalcino, in Sienna. As a youth he entered the Minorite order. Unlike most of his fellow monks he spent much time studying the Scripture and works of theology. Through reading the Scripture and writings of the reformers he came to believe the truth of the Gospel. Mollio became a respected preacher and professor. He taught at the Universities of Brescia, Milan and Pavia. In 1533 Mollio came to Bologna and began to preach the Gospel, which helped to bring about a reformed church in that city. He joined Martyr and Ochino in Naples, aiding in the preaching of the truth. In 1542 both Martyr and Ochino fled the country, after which time Mollio was in constant danger and he was thrown into prison several times, from which he was always able to escape. He was seized in Ravenna and taken by a guard to Rome, where on September 5th, 1553 he was tried and burned at the stake. Before being executed Mollio addressed his judges, the six cardinals and the other churchmen that were present, “As for you, cardinals and bishops, if I were satisfied that you had justly obtained that power which you assume to yourselves, and that you had risen to your eminence by virtuous deeds, and not by blind ambition and the arts of profligacy, I would not say a word to you. But since I know, on the best grounds, that you have set moderation and modesty and honour and virtue at defiance, I am constrained to treat you without ceremony and to declare that your power is not from God but the devil. If it were apostolical, as you would make the poor world believe, then your manner of life would resemble that of the apostles. But when I perceive the filth, and falsehood, and profaneness with which it is overspread, what can I think or say of your church but that it is a receptacle of thieves and a den of robbers? What is your doctrine but a dream, a lie forged by hypocrites? Your very countenances proclaim that your belly is your god. Your great object is to seize and amass wealth by every species of injustice and cruelty. You thirst without ceasing for the blood of the saints. Can you be the successors of the holy apostles, and vicars of Jesus Christ, you who despise Christ and his word, you who act as if you did not believe that there is a God in heaven, you who persecute to the death his faithful ministers, make his commandments of no effect, and tyrannize over the consciences of his saints? Wherefore I appeal from your sentence, and summon you, cruel tyrants and murderers, to answer before the judgment-seat of Christ at the last day, where your pompous titles and gorgeous trappings will not dazzle, nor your guards and torturing apparatus terrify us.”
Antonio Brucioli Antonio Brucioli was born around 1500. He distinguished himself at the Platonic academy of Florence. Some time before 1525 Brucioli along with others in Florence embraced the reformed faith. He foolishly joined an attempt to overthrow and expel the Medici family from Florence. When this failed Brucioli was forced to flee, going to Venice where he learned Hebrew and then on to Germany where he obtained reformed writings on the Scripture. In 1527, after the Medicis’ authority was suspended, he returned to Florence. Brucioli was so zealous in sharing the truths he had learned in Germany, his friends warned him to be careful, to which he replied, “If I speak the truth, I cannot speak wrong.” A Dominican of St. Marco, Fojano, who was a popular preacher in Florence, denounced Brucioli from the pulpit as a heretic. Soon after this Brucioli was thrown in prison. The monks worked to have him sentenced to death, but through the influence of his friends he was simply banished for two years. Brucioli moved to Venice and lived in hiding. In 1530 his brothers Francesco and Alessandro joined him helping to set up a secret printing office. His Italian version of the New Testament was published in 1530 and the whole Bible in 1532. From 1530 until 1556, the time of his death, Brucioli and his brothers worked to print the Bible and some of his writings, including a seven volume commentary of the whole Bible.
Pietro Carnesecchi Pietro Carnesecchi was born in Florence of a noble family and given a good education. He was good looking, had a quick mind, good manners and was both discreet and generous. Carnesecchi was patronized by the Medici family, and served as the secretary to Clement VII. He was given two abbacies, one in Naples and another in France. Carnesecchi had such great influence over Clement VII that he was seen as the true power behind the papacy. After Clement’s death he traveled throughout Italy conversing with men of letters and adding to his already vast store of knowledge. In Naples Carnesecchi formed a close friendship with Juan Valdés, from whom he learned the reformed doctrine. After much study he fully embraced the true Gospel. When Carnesecchi learned that his good friend Marc-Antonio Flaminio was unwilling to fully desert the Roman faith, this helped him decide to fully reject the false teachings of the papacy. In 1542 after Martyr and Ochino fled the country the Italian church increased their search to root out the reformed faith. In 1546 Carnesecchi was brought to Rome to be tried by the Inquisition, for aiding and supporting heretics who had fled justice. Pope Paul III favored him and he was released. Carnesecchi thought it wise to leave Italy, and spent time in Savoy and then in France. In 1552 he returned to Italy, staying in Padua which was under Venetian rule, where he worked to encourage others who had rejected the errors of Rome. In 1557 when Paul IV became pope Carnesecchi was ordered to come to Rome to be tried before the pope, but he disobeyed the summons, and thus was excommunicated and sentenced to death. But when Pius IV, who was a Medici, became pope the excommunication was lifted. Throughout this time Carnesecchi kept up a vigorous correspondence with believers in Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice and Padua as well as other Italian cities and with those outside the country, working to encourage them in their faith. He also worked to finance reformed believers in Italy to escape to Geneva. When Pius V became pope he sought out Carnesecchi and had him brought to Rome for execution. On October 3rd, 1567, Carnesecchi was beheaded and his body was burned.
Celio Secundo Curio (Curione) Celio Secundo Curio was born in 1503 in Turin and was the youngest of twenty-three children. Both his parents died when he was nine years old, but having good connections with several noble families Curio was well cared for and well educated. When Curio’s father died he left him a beautifully written copy of the Bible, which Curio greatly treasured and spent much of his time as a youth studying. When he was twenty years old he was given writings of the reformers by some Augustinian monks who had come to embrace the truth. Curio fully embraced the doctrines of the reformers and was so zealous to learn more he set out for Germany to learn under Luther. He traveled with two other young men, Giacomo Cornello and Francesco Guarino, who would later both serve as ministers in reformed churches. On their journey they entered into a dispute on matters of theology with men they met on the way, were reported to the authorities and thrown into prison. Curio was released from prison through the influence of his family and he was placed in the priory of St. Benigno as a student. While there he did all in his power to teach the monks of the truth. There was a box with relics in it that set on the altar of the chapel that were used during solemn festivals to “bless” the people. In 1530 Curio secretly removed the relics and replaced them with a copy of the Bible with an inscription laid on it that read, “This is the ark of the covenant, which contains the oracles of God, the true relics of the saints.” When it was discovered what he had done he was forced to escape to Milan. In Milan Curio married a lady from the noble Isacii family and earned a great reputation for his teaching of the classical languages. When Spanish troops invaded Milan Curio and his family accepted an invitation from the Count of Montferrat to come and stay in Casale. He returned to Turin to regain his inheritance, which he found confiscated by one of his sisters and her husband. His sister had him charged with heresy so that she could keep the property and Curio retired to a village in Savoy. After confronting a friar who was misquoting Luther, Curio was thrown into prison. He was put under the charge of the brother of the cardinal of Turin, who placed him in the inner cell of the prison and had his feet put into the stocks. His feet becoming swollen from being in the stocks, he persuaded his guard to free his right leg for a day. Using his shoe, a reed and some rags, which were laying about in his cell, he formed an artificial leg, which he tied to his knee. The next day he asked to have his other leg freed for a day, placing the artificial leg into the stocks. That night he forced the door of his cell open, felt his way along the dark halls and then dropped from a window, scaled the walls of the prison and escaped the town. Curio lived quietly in a remote village in Milan for a time. He then accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Pavia. Almost as soon as he arrived at the university the pope ordered that he be arrested, but he was so popular he was not turned over to the inquisitors. For three years Curio continued to teach at the university. A group of his students appointed themselves as his personal bodyguard protecting him at all times from being arrested or attacked. After three years the pope threatened to excommunicate the whole city unless Curio was turned over, so he fled to Venice and then to Ferrara. Many Italians’ eyes were opened to the true Gospel through Curio’s teaching and writing. By being forced to move around the country, due to the pursuit of his enemies, he was able to make more contacts than he might have otherwise made. “If the Lord shall continue, as he has begun, to grant prosperous success to the gospel, the delectable embassy of reconciliation and grace, we shall behold the whole world thronging, more than it has ever done at any former period, to this asylum and fortified city, to Jesus Christ, its prince, and to its three towers, faith, hope, and charity; so that, with our own eyes, we may yet see the kingdom of God of much larger extent than that which the enemy of mankind has acquired, not by his own power, but by the providence of God. O blessed day! O that I might live to see the ravishing prospect realized! The joyful sound of the gospel has within our own day reached the Scythians, Thracians, Indians, and Africans. Christ, the king of kings, has taken possession of Rhœtia and Helvetia: Germany is under his protection: he has reigned, and will again reign in England: he sways his scepter over Denmark and the Cambrian nations, Prussia is his: Poland and the whole of Sarmatia are on the point of yielding to him: he is pressing forward to Pannonia: Muscovy is in his eye: he beckons France to him: Italy, our native country, is travailing in birth: and Spain will speedily follow.”- Celio Secundo Curio 1540.
Aonio Paleario Aonio Paleario was born in Veroli in Campagna di Roma in 1500. He worked as a tutor to the House of Belanti, and in 1534 he was nominated public teacher of Greek and Latin by the Senate of Sienna. Paleario also taught philosophy, which was already influenced by his reading of the Scripture and of German reformed writings. Paleario created enemies by teaching the truth, spies were sent to watch his every move. He was observed laughing at a rich priest who was seen kneeling every morning in front of a shrine to a saint and yet refused to pay his bills. One day Paleario was asked, “What was the first ground on which men should rest their salvation?” He replied, “Christ”, being asked what was the second, he answered, “Christ”. After being asked what was the third he again replied, “Christ.” This enraged the questioner because he did not say “The Church”. In 1543 Paleario printed a book in Italian entitled Benefit of the Death of Christ. This book was later translated into Spanish, French and English. For these crimes he was brought before the Senate of Sienna. The senate released him but he left the city fearing for his safety. The Senate of Lucca invited Paleario to come and teach Latin classics and to act as an orator to the republic at solemn events. He and his wife, Marietta, and their two sons, Lampridius and Phædrus and two daughters, Aspasia and Sophonisba, remained in Lucca for ten years. After which time Paleario accepted an invitation from the Senate of Milan to come and teach eloquent public speaking, where he lived until 1566. In that year an inquisitor had him arrested and sent to Rome to be tried for his “crimes” in Sienna. Paleario was imprisoned for three years and then on July 3rd, 1570 he was burned at the stake in Rome, after refusing to recant the truth of the Gospel. He left two letters on the eve of his death, one to his wife and one to his two sons. To his sons Paleario wrote in part, “It pleases God to call me to himself by this means, which may appear to be harsh and painful; but if you regard it properly, as happening with my full resignation and pleasure, you will acquiesce in the will of God, as you have hitherto done. Virtue and industry I leave you for an inheritance, along with what little property you already possess. I do not leave you in debt…My hour approaches. The Spirit of God console and preserve you in his grace!”
“The persecution here increases every day. Many are seized, of whom some have been sent to the galleys, others condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and some, alas! have been induced, by fear of punishment, to recant. Many have been banished along with their wives and children, while still greater numbers have fled for their lives….But it is the will of God that his people be tried by such afflictions.”- Baldassare Altieri, Lutheran leader in Venice, 1548.
On October 19th, 1562 Julio Guitlauda, a forty year old native of Trevisano, became the first reformed martyr in Venice. He was tied to a plank and thrown in the sea. On February 15th, 1566 Antonio Ricetta was drowned, and ten days later Francesco Sega was also killed for his faith.
In 1558 two men, one of them a monk, were burnt at the stake in Milan. In 1563 eleven high ranking citizens were imprisoned for their faith. In 1569 a young priest who had embraced the Gospel was half-strangled on the gallows and then cut down and slowly roasted to death, his body being then fed to dogs.
In December, 1551 an auto-de-fé, which were elaborate public execution ceremonies conducted by the Inquisition, was held in Florence for the execution of twenty-two people.
Pope Paul III threw many Protestants into prison in Rome, and Julius III and Paul IV had all reformed prisoners put to death and searched out many Protestants, both real and imagined, to be killed. A house on the other side of the Tiber from Rome, which belonged to a cardinal, was enlarged and used as a prison for Protestants. This prison was known as the Lutheran prison and was built over an ancient Circus of Nero, which had been used to feed early Christians to wild animals. “Persons of all ranks were promiscuously subjected to the same imprisonment and tortures and death.” -Thobias Eglinus 1567 “At Rome some are every day burnt, hanged, or beheaded: all the prisons and places of confinement are filled, and they are obliged to build new ones. That large city cannot furnish jails for the numbers of pious persons who are continually apprehended.”- Thobias Eglinus 1568 “We know not what becomes of people here: I am terrified every morning when I rise, lest I should be told that such and such a one is no more.” -Muretus.
Faventino Fanino, a native of Faenza, began reading his Bible and other religious books and sharing the truth with his neighbors, for which he was soon thrown into prison. His imprisonment lasted two years during which time he shared the Gospel whenever he could. In 1550 Julius III ordered him burned at the stake.
In 1550 when persecution was just increasing, about two hundred Italian reformed refugees had left Italy. By 1559 eight hundred more had fled, and in the next ten years the numbers multiplied exponentially. Most of these refugees fled to Geneva, Strasburg, London and the Grisons Canton, an independent republic in the Italian speaking Alpine region of modern Switzerland. They founded sizable churches in these cities and regions.