Giovanni Diodati – An Italian at Dordt

Diodati had demonstrated a remarkable faithfulness to the doctrines of the Reformation, an impressive spirit of initiative, and a sincere concern for the church of Italian refugees he pastored in Geneva.

His hopes of seeing a biblical reformation in Italy soared when, in 1604, the Republic of Venice launched an open challenge to papal authority and its blatant corruption. He visited Venice twice, under the pseudonym of Giovanni Coreglia, and worked with others to the realization of this dream.

 

In 1618, the situation in Europe was tense. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was only a natural consequence of the religious and political conflicts of the previous century. On top of this, the Protestant camp was becoming dangerously divided by what many recognized as a semi-Pelagian tendency at best – an attempt to attribute our salvation to anything other than Christ alone, by grace alone, and through faith alone.

This tendency became evident when Dutch professor Jacob Arminius gave new interpretations to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – particularly chapter 7 and 9 – questioning doctrines which had until then been historically accepted (such as a Christian’s battle against a sinful nature and God’s eternal decrees). After his death, his teachings gained followers, who became known as Remonstrants (later Arminians).

The Remonstrants’ questions spread throughout the churches, fostering division, so much that in the Low Countries there were Arminian cities and regions, with rulers fighting against each other.

The advance of a Contra-Remonstrant leader, Maurice of Nassau, allowed concerned Dutch theologians to gather an international synod in the city of Dort (Dordrecht) to discuss the Remonstrants’ thesis. The delegation from Geneva included an Italian – Giovanni Diodati.

In reality, Diodati had no desire to travel to the Low Countries, and suggested that his nephew Bénédict Turretin (who would become father of the renowned Francis) take his place. Turretin was, like Diodati, a theology professor, who had already shown diplomatic skills. In some ways, it might have seen a better choice, especially since the Genevan delegation was also given the task of negotiating with the Dutch authorities for a remission of financial debts.

In any case, his request was denied, and he dutifully left for Dordt with his colleague Theodore Tronchin. Overall, it was a good choice. Diodati had demonstrated a remarkable faithfulness to the doctrines of the Reformation, an impressive spirit of initiative, and a sincere concern for the church of Italian refugees he pastored in Geneva. Besides, he was well known and respected all over Europe – mostly for his activity as Bible translator and his active efforts to promote the separation of the Republic of Venice from the Roman Catholic Church.

Diodati’s Reputation

Giovanni Diodati was born in Geneva on June 3, 1576. His father Carlo was among the Christians who had emigrated from Lucca ten years earlier, after the evangelical ministry of the Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli had provoked a harsh papal reaction. In spite of his young age (he was only 25 when he arrived in Geneva), Carlo became one of the most prosperous and esteemed merchants in the Swiss city, earning the means to give Giovanni the best education.

Giovanni excelled in his studies at the Geneva and Herborn Academies, becoming doctor of theology at 19 and professor of Hebrew at 20. He went on to teach the Geneva Academy, earning a reputation as one of the best linguists.

In 1600, he married Maddalena Burlamacchi, also from Lucca. Together, they had nine children: five boys and four girls. Besides teaching, he pastored the Italian church in Geneva.

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