It is the 14th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1623.
Today I will direct your attention to the lagoons on the Adriatic in today we call Venice, Italy. The peculiar history of this city, once an independent republic, gives us insight into one of its famous sons, who we remember today.
A few shows ago, we looked very briefly at the creation of Venice with the actions of the man they called the "scourge of god," Attila the Hun. As Attila descended on the Italian peninsula, the only recourse many Italians had was to retreat to the marshes and lagoons where the Huns cavalry could not reach them. These "refugees on a lagoon" would wind up creating one of the most powerful and vibrant republics in the Middle Ages and the Early modern era. As the Venetians learned to harness the ebb and flow of the water melting off the Alps, they transformed the lagoon into one of the most prosperous republics in Europe.
And the Venetian republic would become an anomaly for the over 1000 years of its existence. Independent of Rome, the Venetians named their patriarch without approval from either Rome or Constantinople. Resistant to the Imperial designs of both east and west, its supremacy in trade gave it economic stability amidst the war, plagues, and unrest in the high and late Middle Ages. During the Reformation, Venice served as a haven for theological non-conformists. Its location between the German lands and Rome also made it a strategic place for an underground book trade. The trajectory of Venice throughout the 16th century gave the Papacy headaches. According to one cardinal, it was the hotbed of the "Lutheran plague." But ever aloof, Venice would neither adopt the Reformation nor conform to Rome. Catholic in name, Rome accused Venice of harboring heretics, or as the Italians called them, "Luteranos."
And it was in the days of the Reformation settlements that one character would emerge on the Venetian scene whose life, learning, and connections epitomized the independent and sometimes maddening Republic. On this, the 14th of January in 1623 that Father Paolo Sarpi, a Servite and Venetian critic of Rome, died.
Born in 1552, Sarpi's life paralleled the second and third generations after the initial reformation movement. While being a faithful Catholic, he would be especially critical of what he saw as degeneracy in Rome. Having been offered a post there, he responded, "only ruffians, charlatans, and other devotees of pleasure and profit [flourish] there."
After the Council of Trent, Sarpi became a vocal critic of what he believed to be a church conforming more to its Roman-ness than its Catholicity. He condemned what he thought to be an overreach by the Bishop at Rome.
When two Papal emissaries were arrested in Venice, the Pope requested the Venetians to release them under Papal immunity. Venice refused, and the Pope excommunicated the entire Republic. Sarpi wrote a defense of Venice and, in critiquing the Pope, became a hero amongst Protestants.
And this was Sarpi's plan, not necessarily to be a hero amongst Reformers, but he made sure the academic community knew what was happening through his writings. He found favor with King James of Scotland, who offered to send military assistance to Venice should it need it. James saw Sarpi as the ideal character to help bridge his countries Protestants and that of his would-be Catholic counterparts on the Continent. Catholics in England thought that Sarpi could help bring the English back to the Catholic fold. Unfortunately for his Protestant and Catholic sympathizers abroad, Sarpi stayed in Venice.
Even in his death, Father Sarpi could not escape theological partisanship. His supporters noted that he died peacefully after having taken his last rites. His enemies stated that he died screaming about ghosts and a black dog (suggesting he was on his way to hell). Too protest-y for Rome, but too Catholic for the Protestants, Father Paolo Sarpi died on this, the 14th of January in 1623.
The reading for today comes from theologian Juergen Moltmann and his "The Crucified God."
"God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite Venetians include Vivaldi, Marco Polo, and the guy that invented those blinds, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.