UU Minute #23

The Reformation in Italy

European Unitarianism emerged from the Protestant Reformation zeitgeist of the 16th century. This took various forms in different regions, and all the forms had influence on the burgeoning Unitarian movement. In Germany, where Martin Luther began the Reformation in 1517, there was a pre-existing resistance to Catholic Church power. Medieval Germany – called the Holy Roman Empire, though it wasn’t Holy, wasn’t Roman, and wasn’t an Empire – resented the financial demands from the Roman church, resented foreign influence from the Pope -- and Holy Roman Empire kings had been pushing back for centuries before Martin Luther came along. Luther’s success lay in harnessing this resentment against Papal power and influence into sympathy for his religious vision.

In Italy, on the other hand, the impetus for reformation was different. There, the Renaissance – with its reclamation of classical Greek and Latin learning -- was a bigger factor. When Italian intellectuals who had been reading Plato and Aristotle took up questions of church doctrine, they tended to do so in the academic pattern to which they were accustomed: they gathered in discussion groups.

One such group, calling itself the Neo-Platonic Academy, flourished in Naples for six years between 1535 and 1541. The group included Bernardo Ochino, mentioned earlier because his works helped liberalize Poland’s Queen Bona, mother of Transylvania’s Queen Isabella.

This “NeoPlatonic Academy” called into question church teachings on such subjects as Christ’s vicarious atonement, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, and the trinity.

Meanwhile, in Northern Italy, centered around Venice, another version of the Reformation emerged.

NEXT: Doctrinal Innovation in Venice

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