Why did the Reformation fail in Renaissance Italy?


An Inquisition Trial in Italy

Italy in the early modern period was one of the wealthiest areas of Europe. Italy had a very advanced and sophisticated culture. Many Italians were appalled by the corruption of the Church and there had been several movements that challenged the supremacy of the Papacy in Italy since the early middle ages. However, despite these factors, the Reformation did not have any lasting impact on Italy. Indeed, there was only a very brief Italian Reformation and by 1600 Protestantism was effectively extinct in Italy. Catholicism was actually strengthened by the failed Italian Reformation. Protestantism failed to establish itself on the Peninsula for three reasons: the enormous political power of the Catholic Church, the states’ support for the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition, and the popular attachment to Catholicism.

It has been widely stated that Italian society in the Renaissance was largely secular. This has been challenged by Burckhardt among others.[1]The elite was largely secular and the humanist class of scholars was more interested in the classics than the bible. However, the majority of the country was religious. Italians went to mass and took part in religious festivals. The morals and the beliefs of the population were very much influenced by the Catholic Church.[2] This is remarkable given the corruption and the decadence of the Papacy.

The Pope was a powerful secular ruler and controlled much of central Italy. They often appeared to be more interested in their secular power than their role as the Head of the Church. Julius II was more interested in wars than religion. Then there was the corruption of the Popes, best illustrated in the reign of Pope Alexander IV. Many Italians, such as Machiavelli had long been disenchanted with the Papacy and blamed it for the divisions in Italy and for the various invasions since 1494.[3]

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Categories: European History, History of Religion

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