Gasparo Contarini and the End of a Dream

At Regensburg, Germany, in 1541, a colloquium was scheduled with the hope of a reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Well familiar with Luther’s writings and the Augsburg Confession, Contarini kept nurturing hopes that Protestants and Roman Catholics could reunite. This conviction continued after his appointment as cardinal in 1535. In fact, he used his position to address his concerns about the Roman Catholic Church, especially regarding the rampant corruption and abuses of power. His outspoken views on these matters made him a leader of the spirituali, a loose group of likeminded Christians.

 

“I thank God,” Cardinal Gasparo Contarini wrote as he prepared to travel to Germany, “… for the colloquium, and for the good beginning that has already been made, and I hope in God that irrelevant considerations will not intrude themselves, and that, as I have many times said to his Holiness, there will not be such a great disagreement in the essentials as many believe.”[1]

The colloquium was the one scheduled at Regensburg, Germany, in 1541, with the hope of a reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It was a hope many had long relinquished. By then, disagreements between the two parties had continued for twenty years. Young people had known nothing but conflict.

Seeking Reform

Born in 1483, Contarini still held memories of the formal unity that used to bind the church. A patrician and humanist, he had been involved in the ideological fervent of his times. After the pope’s excommunication of Luther and the reformer’s condemnation at the Diet of Worms, Contarini had stayed in touch with the religious struggles in Europe. He agreed with many Lutheran ideas, but had no intention of leaving the papal church.

By all appearances, circumstances weighed against hopes of reconciliation. A man of his times, Contarini knew nothing about positive thinking messages. Just five years earlier, he had confessed to Cardinal Reginald Pole his frequent bouts of sadness. Still, he believed optimism was a Christian duty, since the future belonged to God who cared for His church.

Besides, his own life stood to him as a testimony of a possible middle way. It was on the day before Easter 1511 that he first came to the realization that the Christian is justified by faith alone apart from his works by the merits of Christ alone. It sounded a lot like Luther’s conclusions. In fact, other Reformers, such as Jacques Lefevre, had arrived to similar interpretations of the Pauline letters. The difference is that Luther had carried them much further.

Well familiar with Luther’s writings and the Augsburg Confession, Contarini kept nurturing hopes that Protestants and Roman Catholics could reunite. This conviction continued after his appointment as cardinal in 1535. In fact, he used his position to address his concerns about the Roman Catholic Church, especially regarding the rampant corruption and abuses of power. His outspoken views on these matters made him a leader of the spirituali, a loose group of likeminded Christians.

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