Lucca: Cradle Of The Reformation

Contrini's remarkable, Protestant ministry conducted literally under the nose of the Pope and the Cardinals, in Lucca, bore great fruit.

Into a political, economic, and moral cauldron Peter Martyr was sent by Gasparo Cardinal Contarini (1483–1542), himself a fascinating figure without whom the Reformation might not ever have reached Italy nor Peter Martyr, whose initial work was to begin to clean up the Cathedral Chapter and the cloisters of Lucca. 

 

It was on 18 April 1521 that Luther appeared before the powers of this world and, ostensibly, the next at at the Diet of Worms. It was there he announced publicly the formal cause of the Reformation, sola Scriptura. That doctrine says that Scripture is the unique, final, ruling authority for the Christian faith and the Christian life. Scripture trumps popes and councils. It alone is the final court of appeal and unlike popes and councils, it does not contradict itself. Unlike popes and councils it is sufficiently clear regarding salvation and the christian life.

Twenty years later we find another man facing some of the same questions. He was not German but Italian. He name was Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562). In May of that year he had been elected Prior of St. Frediano at Lucca. Since the city had an absentee Bishop, the Prior more or less functioned as a kind of Bishop in his absence. Further, because there was a shortage of pastors for the city, public officials were filling in. Philip McNair, (Peter Martyr in Italy: An Anatomy of Apostasy (Oxford, 1967), 210) writes that the church in Lucca was “abominably corrupt.” The leading families controlled the cathedral chapter and its “enormous riches.” In the decade prior heterosexualimmorality between priests and nuns, homosexuality between monks, crime, violence, and even pederasty marked the life of among religious (those who had enteredmonasteries or taken holy orders; ibid. 211–12). Remarkably, in September of this same year “the two heads” of Roman Christendom Pope Paul III (1468–1549) and the Emperor Charles V (1500–58) met in the wake of the failure of Colloquy of Regensburg to resolve the Reformation crisis by formulating a genuine consensus on the doctrine of justification.

Into this political, economic, and moral cauldron Peter Martyr was sent by Gasparo Cardinal Contarini (1483–1542), himself a fascinating figure without whom the Reformation might not ever have reached Italy nor Peter Martyr, whose initial work was to begin to clean up the Cathedral Chapter and the cloisters of Lucca. He also began reforming the educational system in Lucca where he studied Hebrew, in 1542, with the great Humanist Hebrew scholar, Immanuel Tremmelius (1510–80), a Jew who had just been converted to Christianity (ibid, 224–25). With the great Reformed scholar Franciscus Junius (1545–1602), he would make a new Latin translation (the English of the period) which, when combined with Theodore Beza’s new Latin New Testament, would become a a resource for Reformed pastors and scholars across Europe and the British Isles for decades. Also in the cloister was Girolamo Zanchi (1516–90), who would go on to become one of most outstanding Reformed theologians in Strasbourg and Heidelberg. Another surname among Vermigli’s students one might recognize, Regolo Turretini (1519–82). His grandson, Francis Turretin (1600–81) would become, in Geneva, one of the most important theologians in the Reformed tradition. Under Vermigli’s leadership, the Academy in Lucca became a quiet but influential theological college promoting the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformation. In the academy he taught Greek, lectured on the Pauline epistles, and preached weekly (Joseph C. McLelland, “Italy: Religious and Intellectual Ferment” in Torrance Kirby et al. ed. A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 32).

Read More