Webster G. Tarpley, Ph.D.
ICLC Conference, 6 September 1992; appeared in New Federalist, April, 1993
During the last dozen years, our philosophical association has advanced the thesis that many of the disasters of modern history have been rooted in the heritage of the former Venetian Republic. This includes the central role of the Venetians in cutting short the Golden Renaissance of Italy, in precipitating the Protestant reformation and the wars of religion, and in creating the pseudo-scientific, irrationalist currents of thought that are called the Enlightenment. I would like to return to some of these themes today in order to explore them in greater detail.
Our interest in exposing the Venetian war against the Italian renaissance of the Quattrocento is coherent with our commitment to the Renaissance as an ideal, and with our efforts to launch a new Renaissance today. As has just been stressed, the benchmark for civilization, culture, religion and morality in the last half millennium is constituted by the work of Cardinal Nicolaus of Cusa, the founder of modern science, and of his associate Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, Pope Pius II. Through their cooperation with the best representatives of Medici Florence in the time of the Council of Florence of 1439, Nicolaus and Aeneas Silvius saved western civilization from the Dark Age that had begun with the defeat of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen at the hands of the Black Guelph oligarchs. During that Dark Age, the Roman Catholic Church had been substantially destroyed by the Avignon captivity and the Great Schism, both against the backdrop of such events as the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses, and the advance of the Ottoman Empire. Without Nicolaus and Aeneas Silvius, there would have been no Europe and no church by 1500; Venice opposed both through the Morosini agent Gregory von Heimburg [Gilbert, 191]. Paolo Morosini dedicated to Heimburg one of the landmark propaganda pieces on the Venetian oligarchical system to be published during the fifteenth century, “Concerning the affairs and structure of the Venetian Republic, dedicated to Gregory of Heimburg, the most eminent doctor of the Germans.” Gregory was the thug and agent provocateur who attempted to sabotage the work of Pius II, Cusanus, and Bessarion, and who is thus a prominent and typical representative of the anti-papal, anti- imperial current among the electors and other princes (Fuersten) of the Holy Roman Empire. This was the stratum of oligarchs played by the Venetians during the conciliar movement, mobilized by Venice against Pius II’s proposed crusade, and which would form the basis of Luther’s support during the “Reformation.”
The essence of Venice is oligarchism, usury, slavery, and the cult of Aristotle. The traditional rate of interest was above 20% – a Volcker prime rate. The Venetians were the first in western Europe to read Aristotle directly in the Greek text – first at the School of the Rialto, where leading patricians lectured on Aristotle, and later, after about 1400, at the University of Padova, where the Venetian nobles studied. We must remember that Venice was a branch of the Byzantine Empire which became powerful enough to capture Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, shortly after 1200. Venice, like Byzantium, saw religion as a tool of state power, with new cults to be concocted as the need arose.
THE ARISTOTELIAN NETWORK
During the Quattrocento, Venice developed in Italy and in Europe an extensive Aristotelian network. Bernardo Bembo, the Venetian ambassador to Florence and the Florence handler for the Venetian Signoria was part of this (“The Venetians are called the new Romans,” he wrote.), as was his son Pietro Bembo. The Barbaro family was represented by Francesco, Ermolao the elder and Ermolao the younger. Giorgione’s painting “The Three Philosophers” can be seen as depicting three Aristotles: the scholastic Aristotle of the Paris Sorbonne, the Averroistic Aristotle derived from the Arabs, and the “modern” Aristotle of Padova-Rialto, perhaps depicted here with the features of the younger Ermolao Barbaro. Another family prominent in the effort were the Dona’, who will pop up again and again in this account. This painting hints at an important feature of Venetian method, namely the strategy of dominating culture, religion, and politics through the expedient of concocting a series of Aristotelian cults or schools which then contend among each other. In the 1400′s the Aristotelian school-men of the Sorbonne were a formidable force in theology. But the Venetian oligarchs Giustinian and Quirini, in their pioneering 1513 reform proposals addressed to Pope Leo X attacked the decadent scholasticism of the Sorbonne, saying that the education of clergy must no longer be based on the “fallacious erudition of the Parisians” and similar “pagan fables.” [Jedin, "Contributo," p. 112] (Instead, Giustinian-Querini recommended Holy Scripture and Church fathers, especially St. Augustine. They appear to have been thinking of the fundamentalism of isolated Biblical quotations as it has in fact flourished among the Protestant sects.) [See also Schnitzer, p. 236]
It should then come as no surprise to find Martin Luther, a few years later, packaging his own reform movement in a very similar “anti-Aristotelian” garb, despite the Manichean dualism in Luther which led right back to Aristotle’s method. Similarly, the pseudo- scientific method cooked up by Francis Bacon using the epistemological writings of Paolo Sarpi portrayed itself as tearing down the authority of Aristotle in favor of scientific experiment. But this does not change the fact that Bacon’s method was Aristotelian through and through. Bacon touted induction as the great alternative to syllogisms, but there is no qualitative difference.
Another prong of the Venetian war against the Renaissance was Venice’s expansion inside Italy, on the terraferma, with the aim of conquering the entire Italian peninsula and then of using Italy to dominate the world. When it proved impossible to conquer Milan, Florence, the Papal states and Naples, Venetian diplomacy invited France and Spain, the emerging great powers, to invade Italy; the Venetians thought they could pick up the pieces. Between the French conquest of Milan in 1494 and the sack of Rome in 1527, Italy was indeed devastated by these rival armies. But the entry of the new great powers into Italy also prepared the greatest shock in Venetian history: the War of the League of Cambrai. Fighting began in 1509.
The League of Cambrai was the first broad coalition of European states against a nominally Christian nation. It included just about all of Europe: the France of Louis XII, the Holy Roman Empire of Maximilan I, Spain, Pope Julius II, the King of Hungary, the Duke of Savoy, the King of Cyprus, the Dukes of Ferrara, Milan, Florence, Mantova. Some accounts include England. There was a plan to carve up Venice. A painting by Palma Giovane in the Doge’s palace depicts Doge Loredan and the lion of St. Mark fighting Europa, who rides a bull and carries a shield embossed with the arms of the member states of the league. Venice sought help from the Ottoman Empire, but was left with no allies. In the decisive battle of Agnadello, French troops crushed the Venetian mercenaries. Venice, as Machiavelli exulted, lost all the land it had stolen in the course of centuries. The Venetians were driven back to their lagoon; their destruction was imminent. Pope Julius II was induced to drop out of the League of Cambrai, but between 1509 and 1513 the French forces, with Florentine money, kept the Venetians on the brink of doom. The state was close to bankruptcy, and had to borrow from the Chigi of Siena. It was also at this time that the Jewish community of Venice came into existence. Previously Jews had been restricted to the role of moneylenders on the terraferma. Jews were obliged to live in the quarter called the ghetto, whose residents were subjected to special discriminatory laws and were obliged to wear a yellow star of David. As the Cambrai crisis deepened, demagogic preachers attempted to blame the disasters of Venetian policy on the new Jewish community. [Gilbert, 18, 39]
In the midst of the hysteria in the lagoon, a religious revival broke out, spurred on by Antonio Contarini, the Patriarch of Aquilea. Religious processions and demonstrations multiplied, for the deified state and the immortal fondi were in gravest danger. Contarini, whose family will be at the center of our story, harangued the Senate on Venetian immorality: “Nunneries served the sexual needs of the rich and powerful. Homosexuality was so widespread that female prostitutes had come to him complaining that they earned so little they had to exercise their profession into old age.” [Gilbert, p. 38] Indeed: 10% of the population were female prostitutes at any given time; even more important was the prevalence of sodomy, a sure marker for the presence of the Bogomil-bugger tradition in epistemology.
A badly mauled, indebted and humiliated Venice survived the War of the League of Cambrai, but the Doge told the 2,500 patricians that the new Spanish power had reduced the republic from a great power to “2,500 flies.” [H. Brown, p. 150] At the deepest level, some patricians realized that the lagoon city could now be crushed like an egg-shell, and was not a suitable base for world domination. As after 1200 there had been talk of moving the capital, perhaps to Constantinople, so now plans began to hatch that would facilitate a metastasis of the Venetian cancer towards the Atlantic world. To make matters worse, the Portuguese access to India had undercut the Venetian spice monopoly through the Levant; there was talk of building a Suez canal, but this was abandoned. Venice had always thrived through divide and conquer. If Europe could unite against Venice, what could Venice do to divide and rend Europe so thoroughly that it would tear itself to pieces for more than a century?
A LOOK AT CONTARINI
To see how this was done, let us look at Gasparo Contarini, whose studies under the Aristotelian Pomponazzi were interrupted when Emperor Maximilian seized Padova. Contarini had helped entertain Agostino Chigi when he was negotiating that vital loan. Back at Venice, Contarini gravitated to a group of young patricians who gathered at the Camaldolese monastery of San Michele on the island of Murano to discuss the salvation of their souls. Remember what Pius II had said of the Venetians: “they wish to appear Christians before the world, but in reality they never think of God and, except for the state, which they do regard as a deity, they hold nothing sacred.” [Pius II Commentaries, p. 743]
One participant was Vincenzo Quirini, who had just been in Germany, where he had been serving as the Venetian ambassador to the Empire. “All the princes of the empire, be they prelates or secular rulers, harbor a very ill will towards your most illustrious Lordship, which I have seen and touched with my hands….” [Alberi, series 1, vol. 6, p.43], he warned the Doge. Quirini had seen that war was imminent. Another was Paolo Giustinian, who had gone to the Levant in 1507 (looking for Turkish help?). During the grim winter of 1510-1511, in the midst of the mortal emergency of Cambrai, Giustinian and Quirini turned away from their patrician state careers and entered the austere Camaldolese order, first on Murano and later near Arezzo. Giustinian and Quirini became the advance guard of the Catholic reformation, shaking up the Camaldolese order and later sending the first Catholic reform manifesto, “Pamphlet to Leo X” to the Lateran Council. (This proposes the death penalty for Jews who do not convert and a war with the Turks in alliance with the young leader of Persia, identified as “Sophi.” This is all in addition to the attacks on the schoolmen mentioned above. [Schnitzer, p. 227 ff.]
Gasparo Contarini corresponded with Quirini and Giustinian for more than a decade. Parts of this correspondence have survived, and illuminate the actual origins of the Protestant Reformation. To put them in perspective, let us jump from Gasparo Contarini in Venice in 1511 to Martin Luther in the tower of his Wittenberg monastery in the years 1513-1514, the years of Luther’s so-called “Thurmerlbenis” or experience in the tower, generally regarded as the starting point of the Protestant reformation.
FAITH AND WORKS
The “Thurmerlebenis” brought Luther to the definitive standpoint of his theology: that salvation is by faith alone, with the good works of charity playing no role whatsoever. Luther describes the experience thus:
“These words `just’ and `justice of God’ were a thunderbolt in my conscience. They soon struck terror in me who heard them. He is just, therefore He punishes. But once when in this tower I was meditating on those words, `the just lives by faith,’ `justice of God,’ I soon had the thought whether we ought to live justified by faith, and God’s justice ought to be the salvation of every believer, and soon my soul was revived. Therefore it is God’s justice which justifies us and saves us. This knowledge the Holy Spirit gave me on the privy in the tower.” [Grisar, "Luther," VI, p. 506.]
This was Luther’s celebrated explication of Paul’s Letter to the Romans I.17: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” This passage was ripped out of scriptural and traditional context and made the total passkey. For Luther, the devil is an independent power who rules over the material world, so good works belong to the devil; human reason is the “bride and whore” of the devil. In those days of greater theological knowledge, this could be clearly recognized as a new variation on Manicheanism, the idea that good and evil are equally necessary parts of the creation. According to such a Gnostic view, the material world is inherently bad, and only the spiritual world can be good. Something not so different was professed by the Bogomils. Luther’s contemporary and sometime associate Philip Melanchton saw Luther in exactly these terms: “Manichean delirium.” Luther attempted to portray his own viewpoint as a return to St. Augustine’s stress on grace as against the ethical notions of the late Graeco-Roman world, but this was disingenuous. Luther’s marginal jottings to Augustine’s Confessions have come to light; an interesting one recaptures Luther’s reaction to Augustine’s polemics against the Manicheans and their idea of the two coequal cosmic forces locked in struggle. Luther’s annotation: “This is false. This is the origin of all Augustine’s errors.” [see Socci and Ricci, and Theobald Beer.] Luther appears to reflect the influence of the pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus and his “Book of the 24 Philosophers.”
CONTARINI AND LUTHER
But in the given historical context it is more than interesting that the top Venetian oligarch of the day – Gasparo Contarini – in 1511 went through a Thurmerlebnis of his own. In the Camaldolese monastery of Monte Corona above Frascati in the summer of 1943, the German scholar Hubert Jedin, acting on the advice of Giuseppe de Luca, discovered 30 letters from Gasparo Contarini to the Cambai Camaldolese, Giustinian and Quirini. One is from Eastertide 1511, when Contarini went first to the Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and then to San Sebastiano. Contarini would have us believe that he was contemplating becoming a monk himself, but concluded that even a monastic life of asceticism and good works would never be enough to atone for his sins. This is similar to Luther’s starting point. A holy father told Contarini that the way to salvation is “much broader than what many people think.” Contarini writes:
“… I began to think to myself what that happiness [salvation] might be and what our condition is. And I truly understood that if I performed all the penances possible, and even many more, even if they were all taken together, they would not be enough to make up for my past sins, to say nothing of meriting that felicity. And having seen that infinite goodness, that love which always burns infinitely and loves us little worms so much that our intellect cannot fathom it, having only by its goodness made us out of nothing and exalted us to such a height … We must attempt only to unite ourselves with our head [Christ] with faith, with hope, and with that small love of which we are capable. As regards satisfaction for sins committed, and into which human weakness falls, His passion is sufficient and more than sufficient. Through this thought I was changed from great fear and suffering to happiness. I began with my whole spirit to turn to this greatest good which I saw, for love of me, on the cross, with his arms open, and his breast opened up right to his heart. This I, the wretch who had not had enough courage for the atonement of my iniquities to leave the world and do penance, turned to him; and since I asked him to let me share in the satisfaction which he, without any sins of his own, had made for us, he was quick to accept me and to cause his Father completely to cancel the debt I had contracted, which I myself was incapable of satisfying.” [Jedin, "Ein `Thurmerlbenis' des jungen Contarini," p. 117 and Dermot Fenlon, "Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Ital." p.8.]
The parallels to Luther are evident, even though Contarini still allows hope and a little love a role in salvation, in addition to faith. Later, in a letter of 1523, after Contarini had seen Luther, he would go beyond this and wholly embrace the Lutheran position:
“Wherefore I have truly come to this firm conclusion which, although first I read it and heard it, now nonetheless through experience I penetrate very well with my intellect: and that is that no one can justify himself with his works or purge his soul of its inclinations, but that it is necessary to have recourse to divine grace which is obtained through faith in Jesus Christ, as Saint Paul says, and say with him: `Blessed is the man without works, to whom the Lord did not impute sin….’ Now I see both in myself and in others that when a man thinks he has acquired some virtue, just at the moment it is all the easier for him to fall. Whence I conclude that every living man is a thing of utter vanity, and that we must justify ourselves through the righteousness of another, and that means of Christ: and when we join ourselves to him, his righteousness is made ours, nor must we rely on ourselves to the smallest degree, but must say: `From ourselves we received the answer of death.’” [Jedin, p. 127]
Contarini was always much more careful in the writings he published; in his treatise De Praedestinatione he says that Christians should “seek to exalt as much as possible the grace of Christ and faith in him, and to humble as much as possible the confidence we feel in our works, our knowledge and our will.”
These letters, first published in 1950, make Contarini the first Protestant, the undisputed caposcuola among those in Italy who argued for salvation ex sola fede, and who were called evangelicals, crypto-Protestants, or “spirituali,” to whom we will return shortly.
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 Aristotelian 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 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 traveled 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 protégé 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 thereafter; “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 “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 counselor, 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]
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 di 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 émigré 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 Catherine 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 annulment, 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 Cabala. 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. Catherine had been previously married to Henry’s brother Arthur. Deuteronomy 25.5-6, in which such a marriage is proscribed, 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 Cabalists, 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 councilors 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 enmities 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]
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 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.
Let us sample the epistemology of the Giovani, using Sarpi and his precursor Paolo Paruta. The Giovani were skeptics, full of contempt for man and for human reason. Sarpi admired the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who had been educated by a father who had been in Italy as a soldier and probably imbibed Venetian teachings; Montaigne himself had made the pilgrimage to Venice. Sarpi agreed with Montaigne that man was the most imperfect of animals.
Sarpi was a precursor of Bentham’s hedonistic calculus. Man was a creature of appetites, and these were insatiable, especially the libido dominandi. “We are always acquiring happiness, we have never acquired it and never will,” wrote Sarpi. [Pensiero 250]
Paruta had been an empiricist: “Although our intellect may be divine from its birth, nevertheless here below it lives among these earthly members and cannot perform its operations without the help of bodily sensation. By their means, drawing into the mind the images of material things, it represents these things to itself and in this way forms its concepts of them. By the same token it customarily rises to spiritual contemplations not by itself but awakened by sense objects.” [Bouwsma, p. 206]
Sarpi was an empiricist: “There are four modes of philosophizing: the first with reason alone, the second with sense alone, the third with reason and then sense, and the fourth beginning with sense and ending with reason. The first is the worst, because from it we know what we would like to be, not what is. The third is bad because we many times distort what is into what we would like, rather than adjusting what we would like to what is. The second is true but crude, permitting us to know little and that rather of things than of their causes. The fourth is the best we can have in this miserable life.” (“Scritti filosofici e teologici,” Bari: Laterza, 1951, Pensiero 146) That is Francis Bacon’s inductive method. Bacon’s ideas about inductive method were taken from the “Arte di ben pensare” and other Sarpi writings.
For Sarpi, experience means the perception of physical objects by the senses. For Sarpi there are no true universals: “Essence and universality are works of the mind,” he wrote disparagingly. [Pensiero 371] Sarpi was brought up on Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. Sarpi was also a pragmatist, arguing that “we despise knowledge of things of which we have no need.” [Pensiero 289] Sarpi was also a cultural relativist, and a precursor of David Hume: Every culture has its own idea of order, he said, and “therefore the republics, the buildings, the politics of the Tartars and the Indians are different.” [Pensiero 159].
With Paolo Paruta, we already have the economic man enshrined in the myths of Adam Smith: “The desire to grow rich is as natural in us as the desire to live. Nature provides the brute animals with the things necessary for their lives; but in man, whom it makes poor, naked, and subject to many needs, it inserts this desire for riches and gives him intelligence and industry to acquire them.” [Bouwsma, p. 211] A speaker in Paruta’s dialogues expresses the views of the Physiocrats, saying that wealth derived from farming and grazing is “more true and natural” than other forms. [Bouwsma, p. 212]
Paruta’s treatment of the fall of the Roman empire appears to be the starting point for Gibbon: “This stupendous apparatus, constructed over a long course of years through the great virtue and the many exertions of so many valorous men, had finally run the course common to human things, that is to be dissolved and to fall to earth; and with its ruin it brought on the greatest revolution in things.” [Bouwsma, p. 283]
In religion, Sarpi and his right-hand man, Fulgenzio Micanzio, were very much Spirituali on the ex sola fede line of justification. A papal nuncio assigned to surveil the two wrote that Fulgenzio “greatly exalts faith in the blood of Christ and the grace of God for our salvation, and leaves out or rarely refers to works.” [Bouwsma, p. 498]
Sarpi sounds very much like Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. This is no surprise, since Sarpi and Micanzio were in close contact with Hobbes and Bacon, sometimes directly, and sometimes through the intermediary of William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire, a friend of Francis Bacon and the employer of Thomas Hobbes. Bacon was of course a raving irrationalist, a Venetian-style Rosicrucian, and a bugger. Cavendish may have introduced Bacon to Hobbes, who soon became a couple. In Chatsworth House in Cornwall there is a manuscript entitled “Hobbes’ Translations of Italian Letters,” containing 77 missives from Micanzio to the Earl (called “Candiscio”). According to Dudley Carleton, Cavendish visited Venice and Padova in September 1614, accompanied by Hobbes. At that time meetings with Sarpi and Micanzio would have been on the agenda. [De Mas, p. 155]
VENICE AND ENGLAND
The contacts between Venice and England during the period around 1600 were so dense as to constitute an “Anglo-Venetian coalition,” as Enrico De Mas asserts. The son of the Venetian agent William Cecil (Bacon’s uncle) was Robert Cecil, who visited Venice shortly after 1600. Bacon himself was attorney general and lord chancellor for King James I. English ambassadors like Dudley Carleton and Sir Henry Wotton were also important intermediaries. Bacon was also in frequent contact by letter with the Venetian senator and patrician Domenico Molino. Bacon knew Italian because his mother had been active as the translator of the writings of Italian heretics. [De Mas, p. 156] Fulgenzio Micanzio was literary agent for Bacon in Venice, arranging for the translation and publication of his writings. One letter in Latin from Bacon to Micanzio has been located; here Bacon discusses a plan for a Latin edition of his complete works. Another translator of Bacon was the Archbishop of Spalato and Venetian agent Marcantonio de Dominis, who turned against Rome and stayed for some time as an honored guest of the English court before returning to Rome. There was a Bacon cult among the Venetian nobility in those years, and Venice led all Italian cities in the number of editions of Bacon’s works.
As for Sarpi, his “History of the Council of Trent” was first published in English in London in an edition dedicated to King James I, and translated by Nathaniel Brent.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Spain was showing signs of economic decline, and was attempting to retrench on her military commitments. Spain made peace with France in 1598, with England in 1604, and, after decades of warfare, began to negotiate with the Dutch. Spain also started peace talks with the Ottoman Empire. The Venice of the Giovani was horrified by the apparent winding down of the wars of religion. Especially the Spanish truce with the Dutch was viewed with alarm by the Venetians, since this would free up veteran Spanish troops who could be used in a war against Venice. After taking over Venice in 1582, the Giovani had favored a more aggressive policy against the papacy and the Hapsburgs. After 1600, Venice passed laws that made it harder for the church to own Venetian land and dispose of it; this was followed by the arrest of two priests by the civil authorities. Pope Paul V Borghese responded on profile by declaring Venice under the papal interdict, which remained in force for almost a year, well into 1607.
The use of the papal interdict against a nominally Catholic country caused a sensation in the Protestant world, where tremendous sympathy for Venice was generated by an avalanche of propaganda writings, above all those of Sarpi himself. The Jesuit Bellarmine and others wrote for the papacy in this pamphlet war. Bellarmine puffed the pope as the arbiter mundi, the court of last resort in world affairs. Sarpi, who was an official of the Venetian regime, soon became the idol of the libertines and freethinkers everywhere, and was soon one of the most famous and most controversial persons in Europe. In the end, the Vatican was obliged to remove the interdict without securing any expression of penitence or regret; the Venetian government released the two clerics to a French cardinal who had undertaken a mediation, and the French gave the clerics back to the pope. Lutherans and Calvinists cheered Venice, which appeared to have checked the inexorable advance of the Counter-Reformation. Much was made of national sovereignty, which the Venetians said they were defending against the pope in the name of all nations.
VENICE AND JAMES I
French Gallicans and Huguenots, and Swiss and Dutch Calvinists were for Venice, but none supported Venice more than the degenerate King of England, James I. James was the pedantic pederast who claimed that he got his divine right directly from God, and not by way of the pope. James was delighted with Sarpi’s arguments, and with their seeming victory. Venice, by asserting an independent Catholic Church under state control during the interdict, also appeared to be following the example of Henry VIII and the Anglican (or Anglo-Catholic) Church.
Sir Henry Wotton advanced the idea of a Protestant alliance encompassing England, Venice, the Grisons (the Graubuenden or Gray league of the Valtellina region in the Swiss Alps, sought by Spain as a land route between Austria and Milan), Holland, and the Protestant princes of Germany. The former Calvinist King Henry IV of France might be won for such a league, some thought. The Doge Leonardo Dona of the Giovani group even threatened indirectly to lead Venice into apostasy and heresy. “You must warn the Pope not to drive us into despair,” he told the papal nuncio, “because we would then act like desperate men!” Sir Henry Wotton took this literally, and included in his alliance proposals plans to get Venice to go Protestant. He forwarded this to London where it was marked in the margin “The Project of Venice, 1608″ by Robert Cecil. This was the Cecil who, as David Cherry has shown, staged Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot, an alleged Catholic attempt to blow up the king and the Houses of Parliament, in order to guarantee that James would be suitably hostile to Rome and Spain. The project included a plan for James to become the supreme commander of the Protestant world in a war against the pope. This was clearly a line that Sarpi and company sought to feed to the megalomaniac James I. As part of the scheme, Charles Diodati, one of the Italian Spirituali who had fled to Geneva, was brought to Venice to preach. But later Sarpi and the Venetians found reason to be bitterly disappointed with the refusal of James I and Charles I massively to intervene on the European continent.
During this period, according to one account, an emissary of the Elector of the Palatinate reported that he had been taken by the English ambassador to Venice to visit a Calvinist Congregation of more than 1,000 people in Venice, including 300 of the top patricians, of which Sarpi was the leader. Sarpi invited the German Protestants to come to the aid of Venice in case of war, for in defending Venetian territory they would be helping the Protestant cause as well. ["Scelte Lettere Inedite di Fra Paolo Sarpi," Capolago, Canton Ticino: Tipografia e Libreria Elvetica, 1833, pp. cxi-cxii]
THE ROOTS OF WAR
In reality, the Venetians used the conflict around the Interdict to inflame the religious passions of Europe so as to set the stage for a revival of the wars of religion. The seventeenth century would thus repeat the hecatomb of the sixteenth on an even vaster scale. The Venetian gambit of a clash with the Vatican set the stage for the Thirty Years’ War.
The grand design Sarpi peddled to Protestants called for an apocalyptic war between Catholics and Protestants with the latter led by James I and the Dutch United Provinces. In a battle between Venice and the papal states, foreign Protestant armies would fight on Venetian soil, making possible the religious conversion of the terra ferma (Bergamo, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, etc.) to some sort of Calvinism. [Cozzi, pp. 265-68] At a deeper level, Venice wanted a catastrophic general war in Europe from which Venice could hold aloof, thus surviving at least until the process of the metastasis of the fondi into northern Europe could be completed – until the time, say, of the founding of the Bank of England at the end of the 1600s. Beyond that, the oligarchs would seek to preserve the Rialto as a cultural and ideological center. But the survival of the withered mummy of Venice for a century or two would be possible only if all the other European powers were thoroughly devastated.
It is remarkable to observe how many of the key protagonists who detonated the Thirty Years’ War can be identified as Venetian agents.
During the Interdict battle, Sarpi’s intelligence agencies went into action to create the preconditions for such a war, not in Italy, but beyond the Alps in Germany. The first step was to organize Germany into two armed camps, similar to the pre-1914 or post-1945 European military blocs. First came the creation of the Protestant Union of 1608, helped by the crushing of the free city of Donauwoerth by the counter- reformation under Maximilian I of Bavaria. The Protestant Union was organized by Prince Christian of Anhalt, the senior advisor to the Elector Palatine. Christian of Anhalt was a vital node of Paolo Sarpi’s network, and in the 1870′s the Archives of the German city of Bernberg contained a correspondence between Christian and Sarpi. [Julius Krebs, p. 45]
When Christian von Anhalt created the Protestant Union, he sent one Christoph von Dona (or Dohna) to talk to Sarpi in Venice about the entry of Venice into this alliance. Christoph von Dona and his brother Achatius von Dona kept up a correspondence with Paolo Sarpi in their own right [Cozzi, p. 245, 258]. In August 1608, Christoph von Dona met with Sarpi in Venice, and Sarpi told Dona about the measures taken by the Giovani in 1582 to “correct” the functions of the Council of Ten and its subcommittee of three (Zonta), which up until that time had constituted a factional stronghold of the adversaries of the Giovani, who were called the Vecchi (old) and who favored a more conciliatory line towards Spain and the papacy. The Ten had been accused, Sarpi told Christoph von Dona, of being arrogant, and of usurping the main functions of the government, including foreign policy, from the senate, or Pregadi.
The Venetian diplomatic corps was mobilized to exploit the Interdict to create the Protestant Union. The papal nuncio in Paris reported on March 3, 1609 to Pope Paul V on the activities of the Venetian ambassador, Antonio Foscarini, a close associate of Sarpi: “From the first day that he came here, he has always comported himself in the same way: His most confidential dealings are with the agents of various German Protestants, with the Dutch, with the English ambassador and with two or three French Huguenots, who can be considered his house guests. His business has been to attempt to impede in any way possible any peace or truce in Flanders…. In addition to these fine projects, he has been in a big rush to set up this league of Protestants in Germany, and although he has not been able to do much in this direction, in any case I am sure that if he can contribute to this, he’ll do it.” [Federico Seneca, "La Politica Veneziana Dopo L'Interdetto," Padova, 1957., pp. 21-22]
Within a year of the creation of the Protestant Union in 1608, a Catholic League was formed under the aegis of Maximilian of Bavaria with Spanish support. The conflagration was set.
Academic accounts of the Thirty Years’ War often stress the conflict over the succession in Juelich-Cleves (around Duesseldorf) after 1609, which embroiled the Dutch and the Protestants against the imperial Catholics. Some accounts portray Henry IV of France as eager to attack the Hapsburgs in Milan and on the Rhine during 1610, just before Henry IV was assassinated by the alleged Catholic fanatic Ravaillac, who accused Henry IV of being a threat to the Catholic Church. According to other accounts, Henry IV “had decided to reveal to the pope and to the Venetian Republic what was being plotted in Venice by Sarpi, or at least by those who were moving around him.” [Cozzi, p. 257]
From Venice, Giovanni Diodati wrote to his friend Philippe Duplessis Mornay telling him of the “petite eglise reformee” (small reformed church) there. Diodati added that “the English minister and ambassador [William Bedell, Wotton's secretary] has been very helpful.” This letter was intercepted by Henry IV of France, who passed it to the papal nuncio, who sent it on to Rome and to the Venetian government. Sarpi was soon aware of what had happened. Writing to Christoph von Dohna on 29 September 1608, Sarpi complained, “The King of France has written that Venice is in favor of religion, and he has played a very bad role.” “How did it happen that that great principle was put to sleep?” he wrote to another correspondent that summer, referring to the French mediation of the Interdict crisis; “That is also the reason why it is impossible to incite others.” [Cozzi, p. 259]
Sarpi’s animus against Henry IV suggests that the superficial explanation of Henry’s assassination in 1610 may not be the correct one. In any case, Henry’s death increased the tensions among the German Protestant leaders, since they had now been deprived of their protector. Henry’s death meant that France, a power Venice ultimately hated and feared just as much as Spain, would be plunged again into the internal conflicts epitomized by the St. Bartholomew’s massacre of 20,000 Huguenots in 1572; Pope Gregory XIII had called those killings “more agreeable than fifty Lepantos.” [R.R. Palmer, p. 106] In the 1600s this civil strife was called the Fronde, and it would be decades before the Fronde was suppressed to the point that France was capable of international action once again.
THE THIRTY YEARS’ WAR
In 1615, the Venetians started a border war with Austria, called the Guerra Arciducale. This was the signal that something big was coming. The Austrian Hapsburgs, in order to defend their frontier with the Ottoman Empire, employed a force of refugees from the Balkans called uzkoks (the Serbian word for refugees). Uzkoks settled in Segna and some other ports of the eastern Adriatic where they operated as corsairs against Turkish shipping, and also against the Venetians. The uzkoks, through their depredations and through the cost of measures undertaken against them, were depleting the Venetian treasury. So in December 1615, Venetian land forces crossed the Isonzo River and laid siege to Gradisca. Count John Ernest of Nassau- Siegen raised forces totaling 5,000 men in the Dutch Republic to assist the Venetians; ten English and twelve Dutch warships maintained a blockade of the Adriatic against any ships from Spain or Naples which might have sought to aid their Austrian Hapsburg allies. But Spanish forces did reach the front, forcing the Venetians to accept a negotiated peace.
A recent study highlights the significance of this Venetian-staged conflict in the runup to the general conflagration: “The uzkok war was one of the more bizarre episodes of the earlier seventeenth century, yet it offered an alarming example of how a minor political conflict in a remote corner of Europe could threaten to engulf the whole continent with war…. The uzkok war, although apparently minor, was important because it brought a general European conflict perceptibly nearer. On the diplomatic plane, it cemented or occasioned alliances that favored aggression.” [ Parker, pp. 40, 42]
In the spring of 1618, executions in Venice were attributed to the discovery by the Council of Ten of an alleged Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian regime. Some skeptical historians consider that this was a cover story for a Venetian intrigue in which the Spanish governor of Naples, Osuna, was to declare himself independent under Venetian auspices. [Carl J. Friedrichs, p. 151]
The immediate detonator for the Thirty Years’ War is usually considered to be the revolt of the Bohemian nobles against the new Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, who was also the King of Bohemia. Under Rudolph II, the previous emperor, the Bohemian nobles had been granted the Letter of Majesty of 1609 which guaranteed them their religious self-determination (ignoring the cuius regio eius religio) and the right to elect their own king. The Bohemians, many of whom were Calvinists, Hussites, and Utraquists, feared that Ferdinand would introduce the militant Counter- Reformation into Bohemia. There followed the celebrated defenestration of Prague of 1618, in which two representatives of Ferdinand were thrown out of the window by a group of Bohemian nobles organized by the Count of Thurn. When Ferdinand sent troops to restore his authority, the Bohemian nobles deposed him and decided to elect a new king. They chose Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, who had his court in Heidelberg, and who, as we have seen, counted Christian von Anhalt and Christoph von Dona among his most trusted advisers. When the Electoral Palatine, now styling himself King Frederick of Bohemia, was routed at the battle of the White Mountain in 1620, he went into the history books as the “unlucky Winter King.” Let us attempt further to reveal the fine Venetian hand behind these events, which are the opening rounds of the Thirty Years’ War.
The key figure among the Bohemians is the Count Heinrich Mathias of Thurn-Valsassina (1567-1633). This is the senior branch of the family, originally from Venetian territory, which is otherwise known as della Torre, Torre e Tasso, and later as Thurn und Taxis. Thurn’s parents had become Protestants, but he entered the imperial army and fought during a campaign against the Ottoman Empire. As a reward he had gotten the important post of Burggraf of Marlstein in Bohemia. Here Thurn built a base among the local nobility, including especially the branch of the Hussites known as the Utraquists. His announced program was the maintenance of Bohemian liberties for these nobles. Heinrich Mathias von Thurn demanded and got the Letter of Majesty, which soon turned into the apple of Bohemian discord. He was named to a special committee of 30 Defenders of the Faith in Prague. He was vehemently opposed to the election of Ferdinand as Holy Roman Emperor, and Ferdinand responded by attempting to oust Thurn as Burggraf, within the framework of other anti-Protestant measures. Thurn then incited the Bohemians to rebel, and this led directly to the defenestration of Prague of May 23, 1618. In the face of Ferdinand’s military response, Thurn was made the commander of the Bohemian armed forces. He had captured some of the suburbs of Vienna when he was forced to retreat. During the campaign leading up to the rout at the White Mountain, Thurn was constantly disputing with the Palatine Elector’s generals about who was in command. After the rout, he made his career as a general in later phases of the war. [Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, XLV, pp. 104-06]
Finally, let us look at Frederick V the Elector Palatine himself. The future Winter King, a Calvinist, had married Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I of England, and the English presence at the Palatine court in Heidelberg was associated with the same sorts of cultist kookery we have observed in the cases of Zorzi and Bacon. Rosicrucians in particular were heavily present at the electoral Palatine court. One of them was the English irrationalist and freemason Robert Fludd, whose lengthy treatise on universal harmony, the “Utriusque cosmi historia” was published on the Palatine city of Oppenheim in 1617-19. During the course of the Thirty Years’ War, after Frederick had been deposed by the Catholic forces, parts of the Heidelberg library, the Bibliotheca Palatina, were confiscated by the Inquisition and moved to Rome. [Yates, pp. 169-171] Frederick was not the only one infected by the Rosicrucian bacillus in these years in which the saga of “Christian Rosenkreuz” first appeared in Germany. One of Fludd’s friends was a certain German Rosicrucian alchemist named Michael Maier, who was reputed to be close to the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II. [See Serge Hutin, "Histoire des Rose-Croix," p. 125]
Such Venetian-Rosicrucian irrationalism may provide the key to the Winter King’s legendary mental lability and failures of strategic planning. We must also remember that the Elector was constantly controlled and advised by Sarpi’s friends Christian von Anhalt and Christoph von Dona. Christian was notorious for his adventurism and brinksmanship; one German account of these events speaks of “Anhalt’s crazy plans” [ADB]; these included the ambitious project of wiping out the House of Hapsburg and making Frederick Holy Roman Emperor, a thoroughly utopian undertaking. Frederick V was encouraged to believe that with the aid of a few troops from Venetian-allied Savoy, plus the Bohemians, and support from a few other German states, he could break the Spanish- Austrian- Catholic hold on central Europe.
In August-September 1619, Frederick vacillated over whether or not to accept the Bohemian crown offered to him by Thurn and his cohorts. Bohemia was prime Hapsburg territory, and it was clear that Frederick could not keep Prague without some serious fighting. Some advisers wrote position papers for Frederick warning him not to take the crown, saying that “acceptance would begin a general religious war.” [Parker, p. 55] But Christian von Anhalt and his friend Camerarius answered that such a war was inevitable anyway as soon as the twelve years’ truce between the Spanish and the Dutch ran out. The Sarpi networks were fully mobilized; Dudley Carleton, the Anglo- Venetian representative of James I in the Hague, wrote in September 1619 that “this business in Bohemia is like to put all Christendom into combustion.”
Frederick accepted the Bohemian crown, rushed to Prague, and then found himself in a hopelessly exposed position. After the White Mountain, he never stopped retreating; he failed to rally the Palatinate for a war of self-defense, and was permanently ousted. The death of Gustavus Adolphus some years later closed the books on Frederick V’s hopes of being restored in the Palatinate.
The Thirty Years’ War, which extirpated about half of the population of Germany between 1618 and 1648, is thus exposed as a piece of utopian- geopolitical tinkering from the satanic cell around Fra Paolo Sarpi.
MORE ON BACON
Even after he was ousted from all his court posts in the wake of confessed bribery and corruption, Francis Bacon remained a loyal Venetian agent. In about 1624, Bacon addressed a memorandum to the new King Charles I in which he urged that England declare war on Spain in order to help restore the Elector Palatine (and Charles’s sister) in Heidelberg. The alliance proposed by Bacon was to include new variations on the usual Paoli Sarpi constellation: France, Navarre, Naples, Milan, Grisons, Savoy, Bavaria, the Protestant leader Gabor of Transylvania, and now even Persia, which was attempting to seize the straits of Hormuz. Bacon stressed the Venetian contribution: “It is within every man’s observation also that Venice doth think their state almost unfixed if the Spaniards hold the Valtoline.” [Bacon, Considerations Touching a War...]
Sarpi had many English admirers; one was Izaak Walton, the author of the famous “Compleat Angler.” Another was John Milton, who had repeated praise for Fra Paolo. Milton called Sarpi “Padre Paolo the great unmasker of the Tridentine Council,” “Padre Paolo the great Venetian antagonist of the Pope,” and “the great and learned Padre Paolo.” Indeed, a whole passage in Milton’s famous “Areopagitica,” the one dealing with the Council of Trent, closely follows Sarpi’s account.
Ludwig Dehio and other historians have pointed out that the characteristic Venetian methods of strategy were also typical of the later English and British colonialism. It was the Venetian asset and architect of the English religious schism, Thomas Cromwell, who wrote, “this realm of England is an empire.” Gaining strength under James I, the Venetian party acted out its imperialist impulse during the Stuart and Cromwell periods, and most obviously under the post-1688 oligarchical system. [See Graham Lowry, "How the Nation was Won"] Thus it is that the Venetian methods that were used deliberately to provoke the wars of religion of the sixteenth century, and later the Thirty Years’ War itself, can be discerned in the global strategic commitments of today’s British oligarchy tending to unleash a global cataclysm, a bellum omnium contra omnes (war of each against all) which no nation and no people could seriously hope to survive.
The ascendancy of Venice after 1200 was instrumental in precipitating the near-collapse of European civilization between about 1250 and 1400. Later, the combined effect of the Venice- sponsored Protestant Reformation and the Venice- sponsored Counter- Reformation was to visit upon Europe the renewed horrors of 1520-1648, to which the British historian Trevor-Roper has referred under the heading of the “little Dark Age.” Today the shadows of another such nightmare epoch lengthen over the ruined economies, gutted cities and ethnic conflicts of the late twentieth century. Those wishing to survive must learn to defend themselves from the Anglo-Venetian hecatomb now looming.
See the published and unpublished works of Al and Rachel Douglas, Graham Lowry, David Cherry, and Pietro Cicconi.
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Geoffrey Parker, “The Thirty Years’ War” (London and New York, 1984).
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Anne Jacobsen Schutte, “Pier Paolo Vergerio: The Making of an Italian Reformer” (Geneva, 1977).
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Elmar Weiss, “Die Unterstuetzung Friedrichs V. von der Pflaz durch Jacob I. und Karl I. von England im Dreissigjaehrigen Krieg 1618-1632″ (Stuttgart, 1966).
Frances A. Yates, “Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age” (London, 1979), and “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment” (London, 1972).