UU Minute #25

The Empire Strikes Back

Italy in the middle of the 16th-century: A new hope. Innovative thinking about Christian doctrine was going on in southern Italy and in the Republic of Venice. But then comes the second movie: "The Empire Strikes Back." And the Church of Rome did indeed strike back.

In 1542, the inquisition was deployed in Italy. It found lack of faith disturbing. In southern Italy, the Neo-Platonic Academy of Bernardo Ochino, and other similar groups almost immediately ceased to exist. Among the Italian religious reformers that fled the Italian inquisition, two are of particular note: Giorgio Biandrata and Lelio Sozzini.

Biandrata would go to Poland and, as we have seen, to Transylvania, sowing anti-trinitarianism and support for religious toleration.

The other Italian important to Unitarian history who fled Italy during this period was Lelio Sozzini. Born in 1525 in Siennna, trained as a lawyer, Lelio Sozzini moved to Venice at age 21. His great passion was to relate human law to the law of god. Toward this end he carefully studied scripture, which study produced a growing conviction that the church of Rome had gone over to the dark side – fundamentally conflicting with both scripture and reason. Then: Lelio discovered the writings of Miguel Serveto, whose 1531 book, On the Errors of the Trinity, was not suppressed as successfully as the church wished. It convinced Lelio Sozzini to become a Jedi Padawan – I mean, to abandon the law and give himself entirely to the study of religion.

In 1547, with the Italian Inquisition closing in on rebel bases (antitrinitarian congregations) in Venice, Lelio Sozzini fled to Switzerland, and then to England, where, in 1548, he met Obiwan, I mean, Ochino, who had earlier fled Italy.

When Lelio Sozzini died in 1562 at the age of only 37, he left behind little more than a trunk of books and manuscripts – fatefully inherited by his nephew, Fausto Sozzini.

NEXT: Fausto Sozzini: Early Years

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