[winged lion -- the
symbol of Venice]

The Role of the Venetian Oligarchy in the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment and the Thirty Years' War -- Part II


by Webster Tarpley

Printed in The American Almanac, April 5, 1993.


End of Page Venice -- The Oligarchical System Site Map Overview Page

Make your own free website on Tripod.com
The following speech, which is being presented in the New Federalist in three parts, was delivered on September 6, 1992 at a conference co-sponsored by the Schiller Institute and the Internatinal Caucus of Labor Committees in Northern Virginia.
Let us consider first whether there was any way that the tidings of Contarini's new stress on faith, developed during the Cambrai crisis, might have been transmitted to Germany. There was, in the form of a Venetian Aristotilean network which reached into the court of Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, who protected Luther from Pope Leo X's extradition demands and from the ban of the empire placed on Luther by Emperor Charles V.


Mutianus Rufus and Spalatin

Our knowledge of this network begins with the figure of one Conradus Mutianus Rufus, who was in the early 1500s the Kanonikus of the Marienstift in Gotha, a Latin and Greek scholar and cleric who had travelled to Italy during the period 1499-1503, and who had studied in Bologna and visited other cities, including Venice. Mutianus Rufus had been in contact with members of the Signoria: ``I saw Venetian patricians wearing a silken belt which hung down on one side and went around one arm,'' [Briefwechsel des Conradus Mutianus, p. 249] he wrote to a correspondent in 1509. Mutianus came to know Aldus Manutius, the celebrated Venetian publisher of Latin, Greek, and other learned texts (and the target of Erasmus's satire in the hilarious Opulentia Sordida).

With Aldus we are at the heart of the Venetian intelligence networks among the self-styled humanists around 1500. In February 1506, with the Cambrai war clouds on the horizon, Aldus had written to Mutianus's disciple Urbanus: ``I most highly esteem S. Mutianus Rufus because of his learning and humanity and confess myself to be very much in his debt, on the one hand because he constantly speaks well of me, and on the other because he kindly procured for me the friendship of a man decked out with learning and holy ways like you. And therefore if I did not only esteem you and Mutianus and Spalatinus completely as men both learned and well-disposed towards me, but also love you so very much in return, I would be the most ungrateful man of all. But I love you and honor and render you immortal thanks because you have summoned me to this mutual good will.'' [See Briefwechsel, p. 37.]

The other disciple of Mutianus Rufus named here, Spalatinus, is the one we focus on.

Georg Burckhardt was born in the town of Spalt, near Nuremberg, in 1484. His birthplace is an omen, for Burckhardt, or Spalatinus in his humanist name, was destined to play a decisive role, second perhaps only to Luther himself, in the greatest church split [Kirchenspaltung] of recent history. Spalatin, a student at Erfurt, became a protege of Mutianus Rufus in 1504, visiting him in his Gotha office where ``Farewell to cares'' was inscribed on the door. Another of Mutianus's network was Johann Lang of Erfurt, who would shortly reside in an Augustinian monastery alongside a certain Martin Luther, who had studied in Erfurt after 1501 at the same time as Spalatin. [Irmgard Hoess, George Spalatin (Weimar, 1956)]

In 1505, Mutianus Rufus found Spalatin a job at the monastery in Georgenthal, where he was responsible for purchasing books for the library. The orders were made with Aldus Manutius in Venice, with payment by way of the Fugger copper mines in Hohenkirchen. In December 1505, Spalatin wrote to Mutianus to make sure that he included in the order the Castigationes Plinianae, written by Ermolao Barbaro the Younger. Later Spalatin became a personal secretary to the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, gradually acquiring responsibility for Frederick's prized collection of relics of the saints, and also for the newly founded University of Wittenberg and for its library. Gradually Spalatin became something like a junior minister, responsible for educational and religious affairs.

In 1512, during the Cambrai war, Mutianus and Spalatin received a report that Aldus was on his way to Germany with a cargo of precious Greek and Latin manuscripts; Spalatin wrote to Aldus on March 25, 1512, proposing that Aldus meet with Frederick the Wise for a major book purchase. Was Aldus planning a mission in order to secure strategic help for the Most Serene Republic in Venice's hour of need? Aldus apparently did not make the trip, but in December 1512, Frederick the Wise wrote to Aldus, and Spalatin prepared the Latin text. In 1515, Spalatin placed a new book order for Greek and Latin texts with the Aldus firm.

It is not known exactly when Spalatin met Luther for the first time, but Luther's first extant letter to Spalatin is placed in about February 1514, in the middle of the Thurmerlebnis [tower experience] period. Spalatin had asked Luther's opinion on the controversy over the Hebrew and Talmudic studies of Johannes Reuchlin, whom Frederick was supporting. This began a correspondence, of which 400 of Luther's letters to Spalatin, but only a few of Spalatin's to Luther, have survived. Spalatin appears as Luther's interlocutor in theology (``he influenced Luther very strongly in the direction of clarity,'' says Hoess), but his adviser and indeed his controller in matters of political tactics and strategy. The letters peak in 1521, but continue therafter; ``there is no one in our group whom I would prefer to you,'' wrote Luther to Spalatin on December 12, 1524.

In 1515-16 Luther gave his lecture on salvation through faith alone, although the first written expression of this seems to have been in a letter to Spalatin of October 19, 1516, where he wrote: ``First man must change himself; only then can his works be changed''--a leading idea expressed by Giustinian-Quirini.

In September 1516 Spalatin joined the Kanzelei of Frederick. Here Spalatin acted as Luther's intercessor, especially after he became the confessor to the vacillating and indecisive Frederick in 1517-18. After Luther, on Halloween 1517, had posted his theses on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, it was Spalatin who convinced Frederick to keep the matter in Saxony, and not permit the case to go to Rome. When Luther went to Heidelberg for a theological debate, Spalatin made sure he had an escort provided by Frederick. In July 1518, Luther was summoned to Rome by the Holy See, and he appealed urgently for help: ``I now need your help most urgently, my Spalatin, and so does the honor of our whole university!'' At the next imperial diet, Cardinal Cajetan asked for money to fight the Turks, only to be answered by a rehearsal of the complaints of the German nation against the Holy See. Here Frederick was able to convince Maximilian to allow Luther's case to stay in Germany. The anti-papal and anti-imperial princely oligarchical party coalesced in support of Luther. This made what Leo X had dismissed as ``a quarrel among monks'' into the Reformation.

Later we find Spalatin unsuccessfully telling the hot-headed Luther to keep a low profile. At one point Luther was requesting that official documents of Saxony be falsely dated to protect him. (Hoess, p. 131) When Luther was called to Augsburg, Spalatin secured an escort, by indirect means.

So sure was Luther of Frederick's support (and Spalatin's influence) that he could write to Cardinal Cajetan on October 18, 1518: ``For I know that I can make myself more agreeable to our most illustrious prince by appealing rather than by recanting.'' (Hoess, p. 136) Later the same autumn, Spalatin, fearing Luther was in danger, warned him to flee, and Luther organized a farewell dinner in his cloister, but a message from Spalatin then arrived telling him that the danger was past, and he could remain. (This puts Luther's ``Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders'' [``Here I stay, I cannot do otherwise''] in a new light.) After Luther had publicly burned Leo X's bull of excommunication in December 1520, Frederick protected him from extradition. Spalatin appealed for and got from Erasmus a statement in support of Luther against Rome. In his response, Erasmus warned that those handling Luther's case on behalf of the Roman curia were in effect acting as provocateurs, seeking to exploit the Luther issue in order to suppress humanistic learning. For Erasmus, humanistic learning was Platonic. There is every indication that Cajetan, Eck, Aleandro, and others acting in the name of Leo X were indeed doing what Erasmus suggested.

Spalatin accompanied Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521 as his principal handler, spin doctor, and adviser. Here Contarini was also present, though all sources consulted are suspiciously emphatic that Contarini, present as the Venetian ambassador to Charles V, never met personally with Luther, although the two were at the plenary sessions. After Charles V had set the ban of the empire on Luther, Spalatin organized the coup de main which brought Luther into the safety of Frederick's Wartburg Castle. Here Luther's fame and following grew rapidly while he enjoyed immunity; the empire shortly went to war with France in one of the sequelae of Cambrai. Later, Spalatin would go on to become Saxony's chancellor or prime minister.

Were there other channels of Venetian communication between the lagoon and Saxony during this period? There was at least one other, which involved Frederick's hobby of collecting the relics of the saints, a practice Luther condemned as idolatrous.

``Since 1515, a German friar, Burckhard Schenk von Simau, had been a reader in theology at the Franciscan convent of San Nicolo' in Venice. Perhaps because of his kinship with the Ernestine branch of the Saxon ruling line, he had a standing commission from Frederick the Wise to purchase books and relics for the Elector's outstanding collections. One of Schenk's most useful Italian contacts proved to be [Pier Paolo] Vergerio's brother Giacomo, a fellow Franciscan, who told him that the eastern coast of the Adriatic was a rich hunting ground for relics and suggested that younger members of his family might be available to make deliveries to Saxony. Accordingly, in July 1521, Aurelio Vergerio set off on a trip to the domain of Frederick the Wise, only to turn back at Innsbruck on account of illness. Schenk then turned his attention to another member of the Vergerio clan. Writing on October 19, 1521 to Georg Spalatin, the Elector's counsellor, he stated that he had met Pier Paolo [Vergerio], a gifted youth who ranked high among the students of law at Padova [Padua] and was well trained in the humanities. The young Capodistrian, Schenk asserted, was interested in completing his legal studies at Wittenberg. Assuring Spalatin that Vergerio would be a credit to the university, the friar urged that he be strongly recommended to the Elector. Apparently the response from Spalatin was encouraging, for Pier Paolo made preparations to leave for Saxony; he was deterred from starting his journey, however, by reports of an outbreak of plague along the route. By the following summer the invitation had been withdrawn.

``On July 28, 1522, Spalatin informed Schenk that in the light of the recent religious developments in Wittenberg, Frederick the Wise considered it prudent to cease collecting relics. Spalatin added that he could promise nothing further to the Vergerios.'' (Schutte, pp. 30-31.)

According to another account, Spalatin wrote to an unnamed ``Venetian merchant'' at this time:
``I am returning herewith the relics as well as the crucifix, in hopes you will sell them as advantageously as possible, for in Venice they probably cost more and are valued more highly than here. Here the common man is so well instructed that he thinks (and rightly so) that only faith and confidence toward God, and brotherly love, are enough.'' [H.G. Haile, p. 8]


The Spirituali

Pier Paolo Vergerio of Capodistria attended the University of Padova and married Diana Contarini of the Contarini family in 1526. [Nuntiaturberichte aus Deutschland, I, p. 14] He later became a papal diplomat and met with Luther in Wittenberg in 1535, during the period of the Smalkaldic League, the Protestant alliance which warred against Charles V in 1546-47. Later, Vergerio was to become an active publicist in the Protestant cause. Vergerio belongs to the group of Spirituali around Contarini.

When Contarini returned in 1525 from his mission with Charles V in Germany, the Low Countries, and Spain, he told the Senate:

``The character and customs of the Germans are close to feral; they are robust and courageous in war; they have little regard for death; they are suspicious but not fraudulent or malicious; they are not sublimely intelligent, but they apply themselves with so much determination and perseverance that they succeed as well in various manual crafts as they do in letters, in which many are now devoting themselves and make great profit.... The forces of Germany, if they were unified, would be very great, but because of the divisions which exist among them, they are only small....'' [Alberi, p. 21]
Venetian publishing and Venetian networks would now be mobilized to guarantee the spread of Lutheranism and its variants all over Germany in order to perpetuate and exacerbate these divisions.

In 1516, a year before Luther's Wittenberg theses, Contarini wrote De Officio Episcopi a treatise of church reform for his friend Lippomanno, who was about to become a bishop. Contarini then, as we have seen, served as Venetian ambassador to Charles V and the Pope. During the early 1530s, Contarini began meeting with a group of patricians who represented the heart of the Italian evangelical or crypto-Protestant movement, and who would launch the Reformation inside the Roman Catholic Church during the pontificate of Paul III Farnese. The meetings were often held in the gardens of Cortese's San Giorgio Maggiore. These were the Spirituali, interested in the writings of Juan Valdez of Spain, who had come to Naples to teach that justification was given to us as God's gratuitous gift. Our responsibility, said Valdez, was to take this Beneficio Cristo given to us through the Holy Spirit and manifested in good works, which were however without merit. Awareness of all this came to Valdez, like Contarini, through ``esperienza.'' Valdez's followers were mainly oligarchs, and his works were published in Venice.

Along with Contarini there were now: Gregorio Cortese, the abbot of the Benedictines of San Giorgio Maggiore; the English emigre Reginald Pole, a member of the former English ruling house of Plantagenet now living at Pietro Bembo's villa (Bembo had changed his lifestyle enough to become Bishop of Bergamo and would become a cardinal); and G.P. Caraffa of Naples, linked to the Oratory of Divine Love in Rome, co-founder of the new Theatine Order and later Pope Paul IV.

Arrayed later around these were the Bishop of Carpentras Jacopo Sadoleto, G.M. Giberti, the spirituale bishop of Verona on Venetian territory, and Cardinal Morone, who presided at the last sessions of the Council of Trent. There was the papal legate Vergerio. Later, through the circle set up by Reginald Pole at Viterbo, Vittoria Colonna and Giulia Gonzaga would come into the picture, joined by Marcantonio Flamminio, Ochino, Vermigli, and others. Vergerio, Ochino, and Vermigli later became apostates, going over to Protestantism.

Many ideas common to this group were expressed in a tract called the Beneficio di Cristo, and were popular among Benedictines. The Beneficio had been written by a Benedictine (Benedetto Fontanino) using Calvin's ``Institutes of the Christian Religion'' of 1539. This Benedetto had been at Cortese's San Giorgio Maggiore around 1534. [Fenlon, chapter 5] With the help of Marcantonio Flamminio, the Beneficio was published in Venice in 1543, and sold 40,000 copies in that city alone.

The Spirituali later tended to separate into two wings: The first were liberal, tolerant, conciliatory, open to dialogue with Protestants, and included especially Pole, Morone, and Vittoria Colonna. Then there were the zelanti, like Caraffa, who tended towards militant and inquisitorial methods, and who came into conflict with Spirituali like Pole and Morone, accusing them of heresy. Contarini had died before this division became pronounced.

Reginald Pole had been sent to Padova by Henry VIII because his claim on the English throne was as good as or better than Henry's: Pole was a Plantagenet. When he joined the general post-Cambrai shift out of Aristotelian letters and into piety, he was influenced by a certain Padre Marco of the Paduan Benedictines of Santa Giustina. Pole was close to the Venetian banker Alvise Priuli. Around 1540, Pole was the governor of Viterbo in the Papal states, where he developed a close relation with Vittoria Colonna of the Roman black nobility. She had been in the Juan Valdez circle and the Oratory of Divine Love. In 1541, her kinsman, Ascanio Colonna, waged civil war against Pope Paul III Farnese but was defeated. Vittoria Colonna was known as a poetess whose ``Rime Spirituali' expressed some of the favorite themes of the pro-Venetian Spirituali. Pole on one occasion advised Vittoria Colonna that she should believe as if salvation depended on faith alone, while acting as if it were dependent on good works as well. Contarini dedicated his treatise on the freedom of the will to Vittoria Colonna. As for Pole, he is important because of his later role in England.


The English Schism

In 1527, the year of the Sack of Rome, King Henry VIII began to mature his plan to divorce his wife Catharine of Aragon, who had given him a daughter but no son, and to marry the court lady Anne Boleyn. When Pope Clement VII Medici, under occupation by Charles V, refused to grant an annullment, Henry VIII appealed to scholars and universities for their opinions. One such opinion came from the Franciscan Friar Francesco Giorgi, a member of the Venetian Zorzi patrician clan. Giorgi was the author of De Harmonia Mundi (Venice 1525), a mystical work with influences deriving from the Hebrew Cabbala. Giorgi assured Henry VIII that the Biblical text applicable to his situation was Leviticus 18:16, in which marriage between a man and his brother's wife was forbidden. Catharine had been previously married to Henry's brother Arthur. Deuteronomy 25.5-6, in which such a marriage is prescribed, was irrelevant, Giorgi-Zorzi told Henry.

Giorgi, accompanied by the Hebrew scholar Marco Raphael, journeyed to England, where they arrived in 1531; Giorgi remained at the English court until his death in 1540. Giorgi is reputed to have contributed mightily to the initiation of a school of Venetian pseudo-Platonic mysticism in England. This was later called Rosicrucianism, among other names, and influenced such figures as John Dee, Robert Fludd, Sir Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser, and Sir Francis Bacon. Such were the masonic beginnings of the Venetian Party, which, by the accession of James I, became the dominant force in British life.

Bembo and Pole had their own contacts with cabbalists, but Contarini had the inside track: Giorgi lived in Contarini's immediate neighborhood, and Contarini grew up and went to school with Giorgi's nephews. Later, Contarini and Giorgi became close friends. (Dittrich, p. 456) Giorgi and Raphael were clearly acting for the Signoria and the Council of Ten.

Shortly before the arrival of Giorgi, Thomas Cromwell replaced Cardinal Wolsey as the chief adviser to Henry VIII. Cromwell had all the marks of the Venetian agent. Cromwell had reportedly been a mercenary soldier in Italy during the wars of the early 1500s, and, according to Pole, was at one time the clerk or bookkeeper to a Venetian merchant. One version has Cromwell working for 20 years for a Venetian branch office in Antwerp. This was the man who judicially murdered St. Thomas More, the eminent Erasmian.

``Yet it was apparently at this very time, just after Cardinal Wolsey's fall, that [Cromwell] found means of access to the king's presence and suggested to him that policy of making himself head of the Church of England,''
which would enable him to have his own way in the matter of the divorce and give him other advantages as well. So at least we must suppose from the testimony of Cardinal Pole, writing nine or ten years later. Henry, he tells us, seeing that even Wolsey
``could no longer advance the project [of his divorce], was heard to declare with a sigh that he could prosecute it no longer; and those about him rejoiced for a while in the belief that he would abandon a policy so fraught with danger. But he had scarcely remained two days in this state of mind when a messenger of Satan (whom [Pole] afterwards names as Cromwell) addressed him and blamed the timidity of his councillors in not devising means to gratify his wishes. They were considering the interests of his subjects more than his, and seemed to think princes bound by the same principles as private persons were. But a king was above the laws, as he had the power to change them, and in this case he had the law of God actually in his favor....''
Pole wrote this in a dedicatory epistle to Charles V. [Pole, Epistolae, 113-140] Pole says that Cromwell offered him a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, which he highly recommended.
``I found this type of book to be written by an enemy of the human race,'' Pole wrote later. ``It explains every means whereby religion, justice, and any inclination toward virtue could be destroyed.'' [Dwyer, p. xxiii]
But The Prince was published years later.

Henry VIII later called on Pole for his opinion on ``the king's great matter.'' Pole responded with a violently provocative tirade designed to goad the paranoid Henry into a homicidal fit. ``I have long been aware that you are afflicted with a serious and most dangerous disease,'' Pole wrote.

``I know that your deeds are the source of all this evil.'' ``The succession of the kingdom is called into doubt for love of a harlot.... Anyone resisting your lies is punished by death. Your miserable apes of sophists talk nonsense.... Your pestilential flatterers.... By the stench of his mind a flatterer happens upon such tricks.'' [ Dwyer, p. xviii]
Pole also revealed to Henry that he had urged Charles V to cease hostilities with the Ottoman Empire, and direct his military might to wiping out Henry's regime. [Dwyer, pp. 271-78] Since Pole could easily have assumed the role of Plantagenet pretender, Henry had to take this very seriously, which added to his mental imbalance. Henry took revenge by executing Pole's mother and brother, who had both stayed behind in England and whose fate Pole had curiously neglected when he sent his challenge to Henry.

The creation and preservation of a Protestant regime in England was one of the principal goals of Venetian policy. Wars between England and France, and between England and Spain, were the essence of Venetian policy. After the death of Henry VIII and the death of his son Edward VI, Pole returned to England as the chief adviser and virtual controller of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, known as Bloody Mary. Earlier Pole had been considered a candidate to marry Mary, but now he was a cardinal and papal legate. Mary was wed to Philip II of Spain, creating the possibility of an Anglo-Spanish rapprochement that was highly unacceptable to Venice. Mary's succession was helped by Sir William Cecil, the first Baron Burghley, a Venetian agent who had been a key figure of the last period of Edward VI's reign. Pole, even though he was one of the Spirituali, could be highly inquisitorial when the interests of Venice required slaughter to create religious emnities that would last for centuries: Between 1553 and 1558, Pole and Mary presided over what many British historians claim to be the largest number of politically motivated executions in the history of England. Their claim is dubious, but some 300 persons were burned for heresy, and one Anglican prelate described Pole as ``butcher and scourge of the Anglican church.'' Pole, acting under instructions from Pope Paul IV, also insisted on full restitution of the church lands and property seized by Henry VIII, which would have wiped out a large section of the English nobility. These measures made Mary so unpopular that it was clear that she would not have a Catholic successor. That successor would be Elizabeth, under the dominant influence of Cecil, who had early gone over to the opposition to Bloody Mary Tudor. In his 1551 report to the Venetian Senate, Daniele Barbaro remarked on the religious habits of the English,

``among whom nothing is more inconstant than their decrees on matters of religion, since one day they do one thing and the next day they do another. This feeds the resistance of those who have accepted the new laws, but who find them most offensive, as was seen in the rebellions of 1549. And in truth, if they had a leader, even though they have been most severely punished, there is no doubt that they would rebel again. It is true that the people of London are more disposed than the others to observe what they are commanded, since they are closer to the court.'' [Alberi, series I, volume 2, pp. 242-43]


The Counter-Reformation

What is called the Catholic Reformation or Counter-Reformation is said to begin with the pontificate of Paul III Farnese. Paul III had studied with the humanist Pomponius Laetus. He had been made cardinal by Alexander VI Borgia, usually seen by church historians as the most reprobate of the Renaissance popes. Because Giulia Farnese had been Alexander VI's mistress at this time, Cardinal Farnese was known as the petticoat cardinal. Paul III had several children of his own, two of whom he made cardinals and governors of provinces controlled by the church. It was Paul III who elevated Contarini, Pole, Sadoleto, and Caraffa and the rest of the Venetian group to the cardinalate. Later, Pietro Bembo, Morone, and other Venetians and Venetian assets followed.

In 1537, Paul III directed Contarini to chair a commission that would develop ways to reform the church. Contarini was joined by Caraffa, Sadoleto, Pole, Giberti, Cortese of San Giorgio Maggiore, plus prelates from Salerno and Brindisi--an overwhelmingly Venetian commission. This was the Consilium de Emendenda Ecclesia. The Contarini commission at the outset sought to identify the cause of the evils and abuses of the church, including simony, multiple benefices, bishops who did not live in their sees, moral failures, sybaritic lifestyles among prelates, and the like. The commission said nothing of oligarchism or usury, but gave all the blame to the excessive power which the Roman pontiffs had arrogated to themselves.

``From this results, even more because adulation always follows the supreme power just as a shadow follows a body, and the path of truth to the ears of the prince was always a very difficult one, that, as the doctors immediately proclaim, who teach that the pope is master of all benefices, on that account, since a master can by law sell what is his, it necessarily follows that the pope cannot be accused of simony, so that the will of the pope, whatever it might be, must be the rule which directs these operations and action. From which it results without doubt that whatever the pope wants is also sanctioned by law. And from this source, as if from a Trojan horse, have come into the church of God so much abuse and such serious sickness, that we now see the church afflicted almost by despair of recovery. The news of these things has reached the unbelievers (as Your Holiness is told by experts) who ridicule the Christian religion chiefly for this reason, to the point that because of us, because of us we say, the name of Christ is blasphemed among the peoples.'' [Concilium Tridentinum, XII, pp. 134-35]
The overall thrust of the document is best summed up in the following two passages:
``We think, Holy Father, that this has to be established before all other things: as Aristotle says in his `Politics', just as in any republic, so in the ecclesiastical governance of the church of Christ, this rule has to be observed before all others: that the laws have to be complied with as much as possible. For we do not think we are permitted to exempt ourselves from these laws, except for an urgent and necessary reason.'' (p. 135, emphasis in original)
Thus, Aristotle was made the guiding light of the ``reform,'' in the document that opened the campaign for the Council of Trent. The leading anti-Aristotelian Platonist of the day did not escape condemnation:
``And since they habitually read the colloquia of Erasmus to children in the schools, in which colloquia there are many things which shape these uncultivated souls towards impiety, therefore the readings of these things and any others of the same type ought to be prohibited in literary classes.'' (p. 141)
Erasmus had broken with Luther very early, despite the maneuvers of Spalatin, and had attacked Luther's ideas of the bondage of the will with a reaffirmation of the Platonic concept of the freedom of the will. Contarini and Pole had both corresponded with Erasmus, and Paul III offered to make him a cardinal on one occasion. The accusation made here is almost identical to Luther's, who had told Erasmus, ``You are not pious!''

The Vatican archives, then and now, contained the detailed reform proposals elaborated by Pius II and Nicolaus of Cusa during the previous century. An honest attempt at reform would have based itself explicitly on these proposals. The reform undertaken by the Contarini commission was going in a very different direction, and some of the works of Pius II were shortly placed on the Index of Prohibited Books.

The Vatican wanted the Contarini commission's report to be kept secret, but it was promptly leaked and published by such diverse sponsors as Vergerio, Luther, and the German Protestant Sturmius; the English version was issued by one Richard Morsyne in 1538.

In 1539, Contarini was instrumental in convincing Paul III to approve the creation of Ignazio de Loyola's Society of Jesus as a holy order. In 1541, Contarini was the papal representative along with Morone at the discussions among Catholics and Protestants in Regensburg, where he proposed a compromise solution on the key issue of justification; on the one hand recognizing a justitia imputata to satisfy the Lutherans, while retaining some role for the justitia inhaerens. The compromise was rejected by both Wittenberg and Rome, and to some it seemed that Contarini had been trying to create a third camp. Contarini died in 1542.

The first session of the Council of Trent was convoked under Paul III, with Pole and Caraffa as members of the committee of cardinals to oversee the proceedings. At the death of Paul III Farnese in 1549, Pole turned out to be the papal candidate of the Emperor Charles V and of the Spirituali. He was assisted by Priuli, the Venetian banker. The anti-Spanish Caraffa was the other homestretch contender, receiving support from the French cardinals led by Guise. At one point, Pole was almost made Pope by imperial acclamation. During one ballot, Pole came within a single vote of a two-thirds majority and thus of Peter's chair. Caraffa turned against Pole during the conclave and accused him of ``certain errors'' in religion; Caraffa claimed that Pole had maintained ``a platoon of heretics and of highly suspect persons'' in his home in Viterbo. Guise accused Pole of leaving the Council of Trent in order to avoid a debate on justification.

Finally, Cardinal Del Monte was elected as Julius III, and reigned from 1550 to 1555. Pole was one of his seven commissioners for the protection of the faith. Then Marcellus II Cervini died after a month in office, and was succeeded with Venetian help by Caraffa, who took the name of Paul IV. Caraffa started a reign of terror against the surviving Spirituali, many of them his former associates. Morone was jailed in 1557, and Pole was instructed to return to Rome to face a trial for heresy on account of his activities in Viterbo. Pole was protected by Mary Tudor. As it turned out, Pole died a few hours after Mary.


The Index

The pontificate of Paul IV marked a long pause in the Council of Trent, since Caraffa preferred to act as an autocrat. In 1557, Caraffa instituted the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. [Index, Venice: Aldus, 1564] It was no surprise that the writings of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, Juan Valdez, the Anabaptists, the Koran, and the 1531 Augsburg Confession were banned on pain of excommunication and possible jail or banishment. Also outlawed were the scabrous Facetia of Poggio Bracciolini and the writings of Pietro Aretino. But also on the list were all of Peter Abelard, Dante's De Monarchia, all of Machiavelli, most of the works of Erasmus (including the Colloquies, the Praise of Folly, and others), Lorenzo Valla, and even a text identified as Alcuin's commentary on the Trinity, which was alleged to be by Calvin. Most stunning is the presence of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini himself, Pope Pius II, one of the defenders of the church and of civilization: The Index banned those writings which Aeneas Silvius had retracted, presumably in a papal bull of April 26, 1463; these sustained theses of the conciliar movement. Pius II had also retracted youthful writings on love themes; the effect on all of Pius II's works was chilling.

The anti-Platonic and pro-Aristotelian bias of the Index was a barometer of who now held power in Rome. By 1565, there were no fewer than seven Venetian cardinals, one of the largest if not the largest national caucus. In the early 1600s, the general of the Jesuits would be Bellarmine, who had been steeped in Aristotle from his youth. Francesco Toledo, a professor at the Collegio Romano, attributed to Aristotle's logic a perfection so total that ``scarcely anyone has surpassed him in any point.'' ``Moreover,'' added Toledo, ``it appears that he has been more received by the church than other philosophers, especially in the last millennium; and he has been used in the instruction of youth to the exclusion of all others.'' [Bouwsma, p. 296] Interestingly, Contarini's friend Cardinal Morone was released after two years in jail and became the presiding officer of the final session of the Council of Trent.


Crisis in Venice

During the second half of the 1500s, Venice was in rapid decline. The naval victory of Lepanto in 1571 had not been sufficient to regain Cyprus from the Ottoman Empire, and Venice had been widely attacked for making a separate peace with the Ottomans. After the Cyprus war, Venice entered into a permanent commercial crisis, in part because of English and Dutch rivalry. Textile production of silk and wool also declined. The same happened with printing in part because of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Shipbuilding in the arsenal diminished. In 1575-77, there was an outbreak of the plague, with tens of thousands of deaths in Venice. In 1590, there was a serious famine, and food supplies did not return to normal until 1594.

Part of this impoverishment was due to the fact that Venice, in spite of its wretched economy, was pursuing a policy of totally retiring the public debt. This was made easier by going from a gold to a silver standard in 1562. The Cyprus war had cost 6 million ducats, but the government now paid off the Monte Vecchio, the Monto Novo, the Monte Novissimo, and the Monte di Sussidio, so that by 1600 all had been liquidated. In 1600, Venice was reported to have a reserve hoard in coin of 12-14 million ducats. It is evident that family fondi that had been invested in the monti [loans] were being transferred elsewhere as flight capital: One destination was certainly the Amsterdam Bank, which was founded at about this time. Later in the century there would be the Bank of England.

After 1582, the oligarchical Venetian government institutions were controlled by the Giovani, a cabal of patricians who had emerged from a salon of strategic discussions called Ridotto Morosini. The participants included Morosini, Nicolo Contarini, Leonardo Dona, Antonio Querini, the Servite monks Paolo Sarpi, and Fulgenzio Micanzio, Galileo Galilei, and sometimes Giordano Bruno. The Giovani were determined to be more aggressive against Spain, which occupied Milan and Naples, and against the papacy: these Sarpi called the Diacatholicon. The Giovani were interested in France, Holland, Protestant Germany, and England as counterweights to the Diacatholicon. Out of the Ridotto Morosini would come the French Enlightenment, British empiricism, and the Thirty Years' War.

To Be Continued


Top of Page Venice -- The Oligarchical System Site Map Overview Page


The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.


Publications and Subscriptions for sale.

Readings from the American Almanac. Contact us at: american_almanac@yahoo.com.