Chapter 10. Restoration of the Inquisition.
Failure of Ratisbon Conference — What Next to be Done? — Restore the Inquisition — Paul III — Caraffa — His History — Spread of Protestantism in Italy — Juan di Valdez — His Reunions at Chiaja — Peter Martyr Vermigli — Bernardino Ochino — Galeazzo Caraccioli — Vittoria Colonna, &c. — Pietro Carnesecchi, &c. — Shall Naples or Geneva Lead in the Reform Movement?
There is one arm of the Jesuits to which we have not yet adverted. The weapon that we refer to was not indeed unknown to former times, but it had fallen out of order, and had to be refurbished, and made fit for modern exigencies. A substantial part of the Jesuits success was owing to their use of it. That weapon was the Inquisition.
We have narrated in a former chapter the earnest attempt made at the Conference of Ratisbon to find a basis of conciliation between the Protestant and the Popish Churches. The way had been paved at Rome for this attempt to reconcile the two creeds by an infusion of new blood into the College of Cardinals. Gaspar Contarini, a senator of Venice, who was known to hold opinions on the doctrine of justification differing very little, if at all, from those of Luther was invested with the purple of the College. The chair of the Doge almost within his reach, Contarini was induced to come to Rome and devote the influence of his high character and great talents to the doubtful experiment of reforming the Papacy. By his advice, several ecclesiastics whose sentiments approximated to his own were added to the Sacred College, among others Sadoleto, Gioberto Caraffa, and Reginald Pole.
In the end, these new elections but laid a basis for a more determined and bloody resistance to Protestantism. This was in the future as yet; meanwhile the reforming measures, for which this change in the cardinalate was to pave the way, were taken. Deputies were sent to the Ratisbon Conference, with instructions to make such concessions to the Reformers as might not endanger the fundamental principles of the Papacy, or strip the tiara of its supremacy. The issue was what we have announced in a previous part of our history. When the deputies returned from the Diet, and told Paul III that all their efforts to frame a basis of agreement between the two faiths had proved abortive, and that there was not a country in Christendom where Protestantism was not spreading, the Pope asked in alarm, “What then is to be done?” Cardinal Caraffa, and John Alvarez de Toledo, Bishop of Burgos, to whom the question was addressed, immediately made answer, re-establish the Inquisition.
The proposal accorded well with the gloomy genius, unbending opinions, and stern bigotry of the men from whom it came. Caraffa and Toledo were old Dominicans, the same order to whom Innocent III had committed the working of the “Holy Tribunal,” when it was first set up. Men of pure but austere life, they were prepared to endure in their own persons, or to inflict on the persons of others, any amount of suffering and pain, rather than permit the Roman Church to be overthrown. Re-establish the Inquisition, said Caraffa; let the supreme tribunal be set up in Rome, with subordinate branches ramifying over all Europe. “Here in Rome must the successors of Peter destroy all the heresy of the whole world. The Jesuit historians take care to tell us that Caraffa’s proposal was seconded by a special memorial from the founder of their order, Ignatius Loyola. The bull re-establishing the Inquisition was published July 21st, 1542.
The “Holy Office” revived with terrors unknown in former ages. It had now a plenitude of power. Its jurisdiction extended over all countries, and not a man in all Christendom, however exalted in rank or dignity, was but liable to be made answerable at its bar. The throne was no protection; the altar was no shield; withered age and blooming youth, matron and maiden, might any hour be seized by its familiars, and undergo the question in the dark underground chamber, where, behind a table, with its crucifix and taper, sat the inquisitor, his stern pitiless features surmounted by his black cowl, and all around the instruments of torture. Till the most secret thought had been wrung out of the breast, no mercy was to be shown. For one inquisitor to feel the least pity for his writhing victim was to debase himself. Such were the instructions drafted by Caraffa.
The history of the man who restored the Inquisition is one of great interest, and more than ordinary instruction, but it is touchingly sad. Caraffa had been a member of the Oratory of Divine Love, which was a little circle of moderate Reformers, that held its sittings in the Trastevere at Rome, and occupied, as regarded the Reform of the Roman Church, a position midway between the champions of things as they were, and the company of decided adherents of the Gospel, which held its re-unions at Chiaja, in Naples, and of which we shall speak below. Caraffa had “tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” but the gracious stirrings of the Spirit, and the struggles of his own conscience, he had quelled, and from the very threshold of Rest which he was seeking in the Gospel, he had cast himself again into the arms of an infallible Church. With such a history it was not possible that Caraffa could act a middle part. He threw himself with sterner zeal into the dreadful work of reviving the Inquisition than did even Paul III., under whom he served, and whom he was destined to succeed. “Caraffa,” says the historian Ranke, “lost not a moment in carrying this edict into execution; he would have thought it waste of time to wait for the usual issue of means from the apostolic treasury, and, though by no means rich, he hired a house for immediate proceedings at his own expense; this he fitted up with rooms for the officers, and prisons for the accused, supplying the latter with strong bolts and locks, with dungeons, chains, blocks, and every other fearful appurtenance of his office. He appointed Commissioner-Generals for the different countries.”
The resolution to restore the Inquisition was taken at a critical moment for Italy, and all the countries south of the Alps. The dawn of the Protestant day was breaking around the very throne of the Pope. From the city of Ferrara in the north, where the daughter of Louis XII, the correspondent of Calvin, sheltered in her palace the disciples of the Gospel, to the ancient Parthenope, which looks down from its fig and aloe covered heights upon the calm waters of its bay, the light was breaking in a clearness and fullness that gave promise that in proportion to the depth of the previous darkness, so would be the splendors of the coming day. Distinguished as the land of the Renaissance, Italy seemed about to become yet more distinguished as the land of Protestantism. At the foot of Fiesole, and in that Florence on which Cosmo and the brilliant group of scholars around him had so often looked down, while they talked of Plato, there were men who had learned a better knowledge than that which the Creek sage had taught. In Padua, in Bologna, in Lucca, in Modena, in Rome, and in other cities of classic fame, some of the first families had embraced the Gospel. Men of rank in the State, and of eminence in the Church, persons of mark in the republic of letters, orators, poets, and some noble ladies, as eminent for their talents as for their birth, were not ashamed to enroll themselves among the disciples of that faith which the Lutheran princes had confessed at Augsburg, and which Calvin was propagating from the little town on the shores of the Leman, then beginning to attract the notice of the world. But of all the Protestant groups now forming in Italy, none equaled in respect of brilliance of rank, luster of talent, and devotion of faith, that which had gathered round Juan di Valdez on the lovely shore of Naples.
This distinguished Spaniard had been forced to leave the court of Charles V and his native land for the sake of the Gospel. On the western arm of the Bay of Naples, hard by the tomb of Virgil, looking forth on the calm sea, and the picturesque island of Capri, with the opposite shore on which Vesuvius, which 1,400 years previous had wrapped in a winding-sheet of ashes, and enclosed in a tomb of lava, was placed the villa of Valdez. There his friends often assembled to discuss the articles of the Protestant creed, and confirm one another in their adherence to the Gospel. Among these was Peter Martyr Vermigli, Prior of St. Peter’s ad aram. In the wilderness of Romanism the prior had become parched with thirst, for no water could he find that could refresh his soul. Valdez led him to a fountain, whereat Martyr drank, and thirsted no more. In his turn he zealously led others to the same living stream. Another member of that Protestant band was Caserta, a Neapolitan nobleman. He had a young relative, then wholly absorbed in the gaieties and splendors of Naples; him Caserta introduced to Valdez. This was Galeazzo Caraccioli, only son of the Marquis of Vico, who embraced the Gospel with his whole heart, and when the tempest dispersed the brilliant company to which he had joined himself, leaving his noble palace, his rich patrimony, his virtuous wife, his dear children, and all his flourishing honors, he cleaved to the cross, and repairing to Geneva was there, in the words of Calvin, “content with our littleness, and lives frugally according to the habits of the commonalty — neither more nor less than any one of us.”
In 1536 this select society received another member. Bernardino Ochino, the great orator of Italy, came at that time to Naples to preach the Lent Sermons. A native of Sienna, he assumed the cowl of St. Francis, which he afterwards exchanged for the frock of the more rigid order of the Capuchins. He was so eloquent that Charles V. said of him, “That man is enough to make the stones weep.” His discourses were impregnated with the great principles of the Protestant faith, and his eloquence drew overwhelming crowds to the Church of St. Giovanni Maggiore, where he was now preaching. His accession to the society around Valdez gave it great additional strength, for the preacher was daily scattering the seeds of Divine truth among the common people. And not among these only, for persons of all ranks crowded to hear the eloquent Capuchin. Among his audience might be seen Giulia de Gonzaga, widow of the Duke of Trajetto, reputed the most beautiful woman in Italy, and, what was higher praise, one of the most humble and sincere of its Christians. And there was Vittoria Colonna, Marchioness of Pescaro, also renowned for the loveliness of her person, and not less renowned for her talents and virtues. And there was Pietro Carneseechi, a patrician of Florence, and a former secretary of Clement VII, now a disciple, and afterwards to be a martyr, of the Gospel. Such were the illustrious men and the high-born women that formed this Protestant proponent in Naples. It comprehended elements of power which, promised brilliant results in the future. It formed a galaxy of rank, talent, oratory, genius, and tact, adapted to all classes of the nation, and constituted, one would have thought, such an organization or “Bureau” as was sure to originate, and in due time accomplish, the Reformation of Italy. The ravages the Gothic nations had inflicted, and the yet greater ravages of the Papacy, were on the point of being repaired, and the physical loveliness which Italy had known in her first days, and a moral beauty greater than she had ever known, were about to be restored to her. It was during those same years that Calvin was beginning his labors at Geneva, and fighting with the Pantheistic Libertines for a secure foothold in which to place his Reformation, that this little phalanx of devoted Protestant champions was formed on the shore of Naples.
Of the two movements, the southern one appeared at that hour by much the more hopeful. Contemplated from a human point of view, it had all the elements of success. Here the flower of an ancient nation was gathering on its own soil to essay the noble task of evoking into a second development those mighty energies which had long slumbered, but were not dead, in the bosom of a race that had given arts and letters and civilization to the West. Every needful power and gift was present in the little company here confederate for the glorious enterprise. Though small in numbers this little host was great in names, comprehending as it did men of ancient lineage, of noble birth, of great wealth, of accomplished scholarship, of poetical genius, and of popular eloquence. They could appeal, moreover, to a past of renown, the traditions of which had not yet perished, and the memory of which might be helpful in the struggle to shake off the yoke of the present. These were surpassing advantages compared with the conditions of the movement at Geneva — a little town which had borrowed glory from neither letters nor arms; with a population rude, lawless, and insolent; a diminutive territory, overshadowed on all sides by powerful and hostile monarchs, who stood with arm uplifted to strike down Protestantism should it here raise its head; and, most discouraging of all, the movement was guided by but one man of note, and he a stranger, an exile, without the prestige of birth, or rank, or wealth. The movement at Geneva cannot succeed; that at Naples cannot fail: so would we have said. But the battle of Protestantism was not to the strong. The world needs to have the lesson often repeated, that it is the truth of principles and not the grandeur of names that gives assurance of victory. The young vine planted beneath the towers of the ancient Parthenope, and which was shooting forth so hopefully in the golden air of that classic region, was to wither and die, while that which had taken root beneath the shadow of the Alps was to expand amid the rude blasts of the Swiss mountains, and stretch its boughs over Christendom.