UU Minute #24

Doctrinal Innovation in Venice

As noted last time, Church Reformation in Italy had a more Renaissance and intellectual flavor than in Luther’s Germany. In Naples, the Neo-Platonic Academy, including Bernardo Ochino, called into question church teachings on:
  • Christ’s vicarious atonement,
  • the virgin birth,
  • the divinity of Jesus,
  • the resurrection, and
  • the trinity.
Meanwhile, in Northern Italy, the Republic of Venice was a sophisticated mercantile center, with commercial ties throughout the known world. The renown of its merchants extended to Shakespeare’s England.

Venice was used to diversity of custom and belief, and its economy was served by a broad tolerance. Moreover, Venetians, like the Germans, had a highly developed resentment of Rome’s interference. Thus, anyone whose religious opinions made them anathema elsewhere in Europe, might find a haven in Venice.

Some sources suggest that when Miguel Serveto was arrested in Geneva, he was on his way not to Naples, as reported in UU Minute number 9, but to Venice – to which Geneva was on the route.

The German Reformation focused on corrupt practices. The Reformation in Southern Italy focused on reform of doctrine. In Venice these two merged into a radical, anti-trinitarian movement. Serveto’s books were being circulated and finding approval among Venetian reformers as early as 1539 – one year before Transylvania’s King John was born.

In 1550, a Council of Venice representing some 60 anti-Trinitarian congregations adopted a 10-point statement of faith declaring:
  1. Christ is human, not God; born of Joseph and Mary, but filled with all the powers of God.
  2. Mary and Joseph had other sons and daughters after Christ.
  3. Where Scripture speaks of angels it means humans appointed by God for a given purpose.
  4. There is no Devil other than human imprudence.
  5. The wicked do not rise at the last day, but only the elect.
  6. There is no hell but the grave.
  7. When the elect die, they sleep until the judgment day, when all shall be raised.
  8. The souls of the wicked perish with the body, as do all other animals.
  9. Human procreation has from God the power of producing flesh and spirit.
  10. The elect are justified by faith alone, not by an atonement from Christ’s death.
(Source: Primarily David Bumbaugh, Unitarian Universalism: A Narrative History, pp. 23-27.)

NEXT: The Empire Strikes Back

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