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Paolo Sarpi: the hunted friar and his popularity in England.


Paolo Sarpi, whose life spanned the second half of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth (1552-1623), lived and worked among a great number of learned men whose discoveries and theories irrevocably changed Western civilization. Even in this atmosphere of radical historical, political and religious ferment, Sarpi's intellectual contributions stood out, sometimes too starkly for the comfort of many of his cleric colleagues. (1) Sarpi's scholarship was far more popular in the rest of Europe than in Italy during his era. Indeed, his political opposition to church authorities earned him many enemies, who tried to discredit him and devalue his works. However, at the same time that Sarpi's work was being condemned by the Inquisition in Italy, it was being received with great respect and acclaim throughout the rest of Europe. In the countries beyond the Alps, Sarpi was held in high esteem as one of the greatest eclectic scholars of his age and was likely the most frequently translated Italian writer of the era. He was also considered remarkable for the virtue and integrity with which he led his life, and was seen as a man who could bring concrete changes to the Christian religion by upholding the principles of the Reformation. His writings seemed to many to be an invitation to revive Christianity, purifying it of sin and corruption.

Sir Henry Wotton, the Ambassador to Venice, described Sarpi as "the most deep and general scholar of the world," and proclaimed the extent of Sarpi's philosophical and historical knowledge and his achievements in physics and science (Logan 1: 87). (2) In a letter to Adam Newton, William Bedell, Wotton's chaplain, describes Sarpi as a "miracle in all manner of knowledge divine and humane" (Clogie 231). Wotton and Bedell helped to increase Sarpi's popularity in England, writing letters to King James I and to a number of illustrious friends, describing not only Sarpi's intellectual achievements but also the active and courageous role that he played during the conflict between the Republic and Pope Paul V. Moreover, Wotton and Bedell sent the first pages of Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent to King James, who received it with enthusiasm and sponsored its publication in England (Walton 37).

The Interdict Controversy

Sarpi and the Venetian Republic received particular attention in seventeenthcentury England because the "Interdict Controversy" between Venice and Rome moved the Venetian Republic away from Spain and brought it closer to England and France. (3) In 1606, the city of Venice tried Scipio Saraceni and Brandolino Valmarino, two ecclesiastics accused of several crimes, in a secular rather than an ecclesiastical court. Pope Paul V demanded the liberty of the two prisoners, claiming ecclesiastical immunity. Moreover, the Venetian Senate published two decrees, one of which forbade the founding of hospitals or monasteries, the institution of new religious orders, and the building of churches, without the permission of the Venetian Senate and the Council of Ten. The second decree outlawed throughout the whole republic the alienation by sale or by bequest of any Church real estate without the consent of the Senate (Cozzi, "Paolo Sarpi" 422). The pope was angered by these decrees and demanded their revocation. The Venetian Republic ignored the pope's demands.

On April 17, 1606, Paul V excommunicated the entire Republic and placed it under interdict. The Venetians, led by their Theological Counselor Paolo Sarpi, defied the pope: the bull of the interdict was despised and ignored. The pope invited Sarpi to Rome for discussions, but the Servite friar declined the invitation (Robertson 90-91). The relationship between Venice and Rome degenerated into intense hostility. During the interdict, Sarpi tried to ensure that people outside of Venice were aware of the tension and acrimony between the Republic and the pope, producing and distributing writings in defense of the Venetian cause (Cozzi, Paolo Sarpi tra Venezia e l 'Europa). Sarpi's international network of friends and supporters helped publicize these strongly expressed writings, as well as a series of harsh responses from the papal curia's representative, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino. These written exchanges became known as the "guerra delle scritture" (war of writings) in which Sarpi used his writing ability to condemn the supremacy of the Church of Rome and the injustices committed by the ecclesiastical authorities: "[...] non nelle sole armi sta la forza, ma nelle parole ancora" ("there is strength not only in arms but in words as well"). (4)

English scholars, politicians and religious people felt affinity with and sympathy for the Venetian Republic and identified England with Venice, as both were involved in a strenuous struggle with the pope while attempting to confront the supremacy of the Roman Curia. After Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome, the relationship between the King of England and the pope became very strained indeed: the Catholic Church refused to recognize the Church of England as a separate Church ruled by the king. (5) During the era of the Venetian interdict, James I--survivor of the Gunpowder Plot in which a group of provincial English Catholics attempted to blow up him together with the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605--offered military support to Venice, and threatened to intervene against the pope, likely hoping that the Venetian Republic would secede from the Church of Rome and establish a religion closer to the Protestant creed (Robertson 95). Nevertheless, James I had never explicitly shown his animosity towards the pope and claimed that he defended the Republic's cause only in order to accomplish a service for God, so as to keep the liberty that "sua Maesta divina" had given to Venice. In Istoria dell'Interdetto Sarpi writes:

Ma il re alla rappresentazione dell'ambasciator Giustiniano rispose che chiamava Dio in testimonio di non aver fatta risoluzione di difender la causa della republica per altro fine che per servizio di Dio, per conservare la liberta data da sua Maesta divina alli principi, e non per contesa propria che abbia col papa.

(But the King, in the presence of the ambassador Giustiniano, replied that he called upon God to testify that he had not resolved to defend the cause of the republic for any end other than service to God and the preservation of the liberty given by his Divine Majesty to the princes, and not for any dispute he might have with the pope.) (6)

(1: 124)

Sarpi played a central role in Pope Paul V's interdict. He entered the fray energetically, denying the pope's authority in secular matters and encouraging resistance to papal censure. Sarpi accused the pope of illegally exercising temporal power and illegitimately investing himself with absolute authority in political and governmental activities. He insisted that papal supremacy and authority should be limited:

La potesta del sommo pontefice di commandare alli cristiani non e illimitata, ne si estende a tutte le materie e modi, ma e ristretta al fine della publica utilita della chiesa, ed ha per regola la legge divina.

(The power of the Supreme Pontiff to rule the Christians is not unlimited, nor does it extend to all matters and ways, but is limited to the purpose of the church's public utility, and is ruled by divine law.)

(Istoria dell 'Interdetto 3:15)

Moreover, Sarpi attempted to persuade the Venetians to rebuff the pope's excommunication and disregard the pope's orders by explaining that the excommunication was not based on the pope's legitimate rights. Sarpi argued that these irregular and unlawful excommunications "non sono ne da temere ne da osservare" ("are neither to be feared nor to be observed") and that

[i] deboli di coscienza e scrupolosi [...] reputano che il papa sia un Dio che abbia ogni potesta in cielo e in terra. Ma si debbe liberare questi tali dalla sua sciocchezza con idonee e convenienti informazioni.

(The people who have a weak conscience and those who are scrupulous [...] consider that the pope is a God who has every power in heaven and on earth. But those people should be freed from this nonsense with appropriate and suitable information.)

(Istoria dell'Interdetto 2: 179)

But opposing the pope was a very dangerous deed and Bishop Bedell's letters to his British friends reveal his concern about the exposure of the Servite friar in his fight against the Roman Curia. In a letter to Adam Newton, preceptor to Prince Henry, Bedell describes a barbarous attack against Sarpi in Venice. (7) On October 5, 1607, Sarpi was stabbed in the head and neck and left for dead in the street by assassins from Rome, who were widely thought to have been sent by the pope (Bedell 31-32). In a letter to the Earl of Salisbury, Wotton also notes this attempted assassination and points out that suspicions of the Church of Rome's direct involvement in the criminal attack were well-founded (Logan 1: 404-06). The attempt on Sarpi's life caused a considerable stir throughout Europe, bringing even greater attention to the Servite friar and his actions. The episode was mentioned in various contemporary writings as an example of the cruelty and ruthlessness of the Church of Rome and its annihilation of anybody opposed to it. (8)

The "History of the Council of Trent" in England

After the assassination attempt Sarpi's popularity increased, in part because the Servite friar was seen as a helpless victim of an unscrupulous pope, who did not hesitate to use criminal methods to assert his supremacy. To many, Sarpi came to represent a Venetian Republic fighting boldly against the injustices and harassments of the Roman Curia. He wrote in defense of the Republic and won sympathy abroad, particularly in England, where his work interested many scholars, in large part because many of the points he raised allowed them to hone the arguments they used in their own fight against the Catholic Church. Because Sarpi was a Catholic friar writing against the supremacy of the pope, his History of the Council of Trent was considered an emblematic work. (9) The first edition of the History was published in London in 1619 from a copy of Sarpi's completed manuscript, smuggled into England by Marco Antonio de Dominis. (10) The work was published under the pen-name "Pietro Soave Polano," an anagram of Sarpi's own name, because of its strongly critical content.

During his stay in Venice, Sir Dudley Carleton, England's Ambassador to the Venetian Republic from 1610 to 1616 and an ardent Calvinist, encouraged Sarpi to write about the Council of Trent. Further, he convinced Sarpi to alter his original plan for the work, which was to have been a publication, with commentary, of some of the Council's documents (Cozzi, "Fra Paolo Sarpi" 573-75). Thus persuaded by Sir Dudley, Sarpi wrote a sharp, pungent interpretation of the Council of Trent's conclusions. To further this own goal, Sir Dudley sent the Servite friar a book about the Council written by his cousin George Carleton, Bishop of Chichester. (11) Just as Sir Dudley intended, Sarpi was consequently moved to write about the Council in order to correct some distortions and misunderstandings introduced by George Carleton and other British writers, such as Richard Field (Of the Church). (12) Sir Dudley achieved his aim: Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent became a colossal work about the Roman Curia and its efforts to derail the Protestant Reformation to confirm its own power and greatness. (13)

English scholars and ecclesiastics were seeking support in the Catholic world to combat the Church of Rome's claim to universal catholicity and to prove that the Church of Rome was no longer the church of Christ. (14) They wished to show that the Council of Trent had not returned the Church of Rome to its original, authentic nature, nor had it united the Christian world. For these British divines, Sarpi's History was an inestimably valuable testimony of the true events at the Council of Trent, both "on the stage" and behind the scenes. Sarpi's inquiry aimed to unveil the intrigues of the Roman Curia which advertised the Council as a free and open synod of Christians whereas Protestants felt they lacked any true representation while Catholics dominated all the sessions. (15) The language of Sarpi's work is powerfully expressive and communicates in a direct, simple, striking way what he learned firsthand from friends and acquaintances. (16)

Even though Sarpi wished to give the impression of writing an impartial scholarly work, it is evident that his true commitment was to underlining the vices and immoralities that led the Council to fail in its purpose. When, for example, Sarpi writes about the lack of freedom during the Council, he explains very clearly how the Roman Curia was responsible for centralizing religious and secular power:

[...] ogni cosa si consultava prima a Roma; l'altra, perche non era libero il proporre, avendo li legati soli assontisi questa liberta che doveva essere comune; la terza causa, per le pratiche che facevano alcuni prelati interessati nella grandezza della corte romana.

([...] everything was first consulted in Rome; there was no freedom in the proposals, because only the papal legates had this right, which should have been shared; the third cause [of Rome's centralizing power] depended on the practices of some prelates, who were interested [in maintaining] the greatness of the Roman court.)

(Istoria del Concilio Tridentino 1:168)

Further, in his explanation of the unscrupulous means by which the pope arrogated more authority and power to himself, Sarpi notes that to amass temporal power is to ignore the divine injunction against exercising any authority over the bishops which might divert them from their main task, namely, the care of the believers:

Perche se Dio ha comandato ai vescovi di reseder perpetuamente alla cura del gregge, per necessaria conseguenza li ha prescritto anco il carico, e dato loro la potesta per bene esercitarlo; adonque il papa non potra ne chiamarli ne occuparli in altro, ne dispensarli, ne restringer l'autorita data da Dio.

(Because, if God has commanded the bishops to take continuous care of their flock, as a necessary consequence He has also prescribed them these duties and has given them the power to exercise them well; therefore, the Pope is allowed neither to call them and give them another task, nor to exempt them and restrict the authority given them by God.)


The accusations against the pope and the Roman Curia aroused the interest of those English Protestants who found important religious and political value in Sarpi's work. They used it quite openly to strengthen the position of the Church of England and to justify that church's separation from Rome, declaring on the strength of Sarpi's arguments that the Church of England alone had kept the original meaning of Catholicism intact. Moreover, James I and his supporters endorsed Sarpi's History because they saw in it a confirmation of the pope's arrogance towards other Churches, which constituted in their view a good reason to give religious power to the king. (17)

Sarpi's History makes no claim for the superiority of the Church of England, but does include many references to the arrogant and deceitful claims made by the Catholic Church during the Council of Trent. In Chapter I, Book I of the History, Sarpi declares that although the Council had been called for the purpose of reuniting the Christian world, it instead created deeper fractures between the Church of Rome and the Protestant Churches and increased the pope's power, as a result of which the Council illegally affirmed the pope's authority; and by subduing even the bishops, the pope strengthened his position inside the Catholic Church:

Imperocche questo concilio, desiderato e procurato dagli uomini pii per riunire la Chiesa che principiava a dividersi, per contrario ha cosi stabilito lo scisma ed ostinate le parti, che ha fatto le discordie irreconciliabili; e maneggiato dai principi per riforma dell'ordine ecclesiastico, ha causato la maggiore disformazione che sia mai stata dopo che il nome cristiano si ode; e dalli vescovi adoperato per racquistar l'autorita episcopale, passata in gran parte nel solo pontefice romano, gliel'ha fatta perder tutta intieramente, ed interessati loro stessi nella propria servitU [...].

(For this Council, desired and organized by godly men to reunite the Church which was becoming divided, has so established the Schism and made the parties so obstinate that it has rendered disagreements irreconcilable, and, manipulated by princes to reform the ecclesiastical discipline, it has caused the greatest deformation ever to happen since the name of "Christian" was first heard; and, used by the bishops to regain episcopal authority, which has moved for the most part exclusively to the Pope, it has made them lose their authority altogether, bringing them into servitude [...].)


The pope's attitude during the Council caused anger and disappointment in Europe, and he became the object of a violent attack from the reformed churches across the Alps. In the Direction to know the true Church, Bishop George Carleton expresses bitterness towards the Church of Rome and argues that the true doctrines of the Roman Church had been wiped out because of the authority of the pope, not because of the authority of God. He claims that the present Church of Rome, is not the church of Christ, but an assembly, I say, not of heretikes, but of farre worse, and more dangerous then any heretikes heretofore have bene: For the former heretikes, that have openly forsaken the Church, could neuer doe so much harme, as Antichrist with his creatures, who having secretly forsaken the Church, yet make open claime to the Church, and to all the rights thereof.


In his treatise Carleton meant to contrast the Roman corruption and degeneracy with the traditional values and ideals still in evidence in the only remaining "true" Catholic Church, which in his view was the Church of England.

In 1627, Rev. Thomas Jackson published Two Treatises on the Church defending the Anglican faith against the Roman, claiming that "the present visible Church of England retains the holy catholic faith, which the romish church hath defiled; and by defiling it hath lost that true union with the primitive and apostolic church which the visible church retaineth" (115). (18) In England, Carleton and Jackson were only two of many ecclesiastics focused on discerning which church was the "true church," and on identifying what truly pristine dogma would be. They were convinced that the Church of Rome had lost its purity and that it had become corrupt and its dogma erroneous. (19) Because the Church of Rome and the Church of England were different aspects of the same church, the latter had the right to pick up the mantle abandoned by the Church of Rome when it first began to stray from the path of truth. (20) Moreover, for the English divines, the pope's authority and arrogance was a deeply controversial problem that did not correspond to the principles of the "true church."

Sarpi: An Emblem among the British Anti-papal Writers In many of his works, Sarpi points out the numerous deceits committed by the Church of Rome and describes his disappointment in the pope's unscrupulous handling of political and spiritual affairs and his use of religious means for political ends. In a Consulto, Sarpi writes:

Ma reputando parimenti li pontefici che ogni mezzo (se ben del resto iniquo ed empio) adoperato per conservare ed accrescere l'autorita temporale che pretendono, diventi giusto e legittimo, tentano tutti quelli che possono eccitare li sudditi a sollevazione e concitare li prencipi a muovere le arme usando a questi fini anco le indulgenze e altri tesori spirituali, ordinate dalla chiesa romana per salute delle anime. (21) (But the popes, who believe that any means--even though wicked and impious--used to preserve and increase their secular power, become just and legitimate, try all possible means to incite the subjects to revolt and stimulate the princes to move their weapons for this purpose, even using indulgences and other spiritual treasures, intended by the Roman church for the salvation of souls.)

(Storia dell 'Interdetto 2: 159)

When English authors accused the pope of usurping temporal powers, they often pointed to Sarpi's writings as strong testimony. For example, in his A Treatise of the Holy Catholike Faith and Church, Jackson mentions "Father Paul" as a careful observer of the pope's inappropriate actions during the interdict against Venice (122), and refers to Sarpi's work, The history of the quarrels of Pope Paul Vwith the state of Venice, translated and printed in London in 1626.

We can find strong echoes of Sarpi's anti-papal line in the writings of Richard Crakanthorp as well. (22) Crakanthorp was an important Anglican divine and the author of a treatise entitled Of the Popes Temporall Monarchy, and what important consequents doe ensue thereof (London, 1621), in which he explains that the absolute and infinite power claimed by the pope is illegitimate because the Kingdome of Christ, is inomnicable [incommunicable] unto any mere creature whatsoever, for it is gronded on the Infinitie of Gods power, who as by his infinite power, he made all things of nothing, so by the same infinite power, he ruleth, ordereth, and disposeth of all things. And because no creature is capable of that Infinitie of Power neither is any, capable of that universall kingdome of excellencie, whith ariseth from the Infinitie of divine power. And as infinite of nature cannot be transferred unto any creature [???].


In this passage, Crakanthorp refers to the pope's claim to be the most powerful person in the world and his self-investment with the absolute authority to subjugate all other Churches, princes and kings, as described in Sarpi's History of the Interdict (3, 5).

Even later, years after Sarpi's death, the Servite's work was kept alive and considered a strong reference. The scholar Isaac Barrow, in A Treatise of the Pope's Supremacy, refers to passages from Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent in describing the pope's illegitimate claims of authority with respect to temporal power (2). (23) Barrow explains that during the Council the pope could not be contradicted, and thus the legates of the pope had the task of warning that "nobody should for any cause whatever dispute the Pope's authority" (72). Here, Barrow introduces a quote from the Historia del Concilio Tridentino, the Italian edition published in London by Billio in 1619 (159).

The popularity of Sarpi's treatises in England was particularly driven by the desire to identify the pope as the "Antichrist" (Vester). The use of this expression in reference to the pope was widespread among divines and ecclesiastics; it has been estimated that over 100 pamphlets and treatises were written by British authors on the "Romish Antichrist" between 1588 and 1629 (Milton 93). Sir Henry Burton's Truth's triumph over Trent (1629) introduces claims for the pope's status as Antichrist that were related to Sarpi's exposition of the pope's corruption. (24) Burton compared the modesty of the ancient Fathers to the grasping ambition of the contemporary ecclesiastics who took part in the Council of Trent; he refers to them by the derogatory name "Pontificians," probably in order to highlight their similarity to the pope. Burton writes: "The Pontificians cast up their caps in triumph, as if the field were theirs" (83). In the margin, Burton notes his source to strengthen his argument: "Hist. Concil. Trid. p. 157 Latina editio." (25)

King James I also describes the pope as the Antichrist. In his Apology for the Oath of Allegiance (1609) and in his collected Works (1616), the king underlines the importance of bringing Protestants and Roman Catholics together and freeing them from the tyranny of the papal "Antichrist." (26) English divines and ecclesiastic writers were eager to find evidence in Sarpi's work that would endorse their arguments about the pope, but his work only aided them up to a certain point: he often portrayed the pope as a corrupt and venal person, but he never used the word "antichrist" in his treatises, and even less did he identify the pope with the antichrist.

In this aspect, we see one of the ways in which Sarpi's work was manipulated by English divines and ecclesiastical writers, who used the criticism of the papal office in his treatises as a fundamental element upon which to base their claims for the rights of the Anglican church against the religion of Rome, and to encourage a military conquest of the papal secular power. (27)

The Broad Use of Sarpi's Work in England

Sarpi's History was also an important source for English writers who sought to rebuild an understanding of events and situations as they had happened in Europe over a period of almost fifty years. Sarpi drew upon his knowledge of the political and religious aspects of European history from 1520 to 1565 to show the direct or indirect influence of political and historical events on the Council of Trent, and he was able to enliven and describe the history of the Catholic Reformation in its historical frame by reconstructing that historical period with numerous details and specifics.

In An Historical Vindication of the Church of England in Point of Schism (1663), Roger Twysden, a royalist pamphleteer and first baronet at the court of James I, drew on Sarpi's History as an important source (97, 150, 201, 202), and he references Sarpi's work directly. (28) Twysden extracted from Sarpi's History important historical and political information about the relationship between Mary Stuart and Paul IV, as well as that between Elizabeth Tudor and the Church of Rome (97, 150, 201). In particular, Twysden reports what he learned from Sarpi's work about Queen Elizabeth's invitation to the Council of Trent by the pope, how she was advised by Sir Edward Carne, and of the reaction of the Roman Curia, supported by France against England (202-03). Moreover, also drawing from Sarpi, Twysden describes the way in which the pope aggressively and audaciously declared himself the only person in Christendom to have absolute power, asserting "that he would have no prince his companion, but all subjects under his foot" (150).

England accepted Sarpi's pamphlets and other papers written during the interdict controversy with enthusiasm and excitement. Some of Sarpi's papers were even published together with English sermons in order to reinforce the Anglican Church's assertion that it, rather than Rome, was the true heir of the apostolic Church. For example, Christopher Potter published his Sermon preached at the consecration of the right Reverend Father in God Barnaby Potter DD, together with An Advertisement touching the history of the quarrels of Pope Paul Vwith the Venetians, written by Sarpi and translated into English. (29) Potter's sermon argued that the pope abused Scripture in order to assert his power (19). He wrote that the pope "pretends to be a king as well as a Bishop and says his temporal power is as wide and broad as his spiritual" (21). Potter then pointed out the pope's aggressiveness in asserting his omnipotence by arguing that the pope's dictums gave "him all power not only in heaven and earth but (where God hath nothing to doe) in Purgatorie" (22). Moreover, Potter wrote that "Scriptures and councils are needlesse: for the Pope claimes to be supreame judge off all controversies" (21). Potter added Sarpi's pamphlet to his published sermon because the Servite pointed out that both the pope and the other ecclesiastics bound to the Church of Rome gave themselves absolute authority in political as well as spiritual matters. In his pamphlet, Sarpi wrote, for example, about the Cardinal de Joyeuse, the French ambassador to Venice, who claimed that the pope gave him the "power to take away the censures" and prescribed for him "a form of absolving from the Excommunication, Protestation, Reservation, and other clauses [...]" (89). Moreover, Sarpi decried the forged authority of the Roman church and wrote: "It is a case evident out of the Word of God that the Church hath no authority to remit the sinners of any, or to grant absolution to any, save only to such as are penitent" (95). There is no doubt that Potter added Sarpi's pamphlet to his sermon in order to reinforce his assertion against the illegitimate power brought to bear by the Church of Rome and the pope.

At this point, we are led to ask who benefited more from the dissemination of Sarpi's work in England: was it of greater help to the English ecclesiastics in gaining support for the English Church, or did popularity in England bring Sarpi more benefit in his politicking against the pope and the Curia of Rome? Unquestionably, English writers and divines exploited Sarpi's work and used it to increase the popularity of the Anglican Church, claiming that the English Church was the only church whose liturgy, principles and doctrines remained untouched and, therefore, that it was the only church that hewed to the historic Catholic tradition of Christianity. Because Sarpi was one of the most eminent Catholic theologians of the period, Protestants gladly drew on his criticisms of the Roman church for support for their cause; his work offered Protestant writers the means to demonstrate that their arguments against the pope and the Church of Rome were echoed from within the Catholic Church as well as from without. Moreover, Sarpi was a "hero" who had survived an assassination attempt, had defeated the Pope during the interdict, and had defended Venetian liberty. (30)

Sarpi's Hopes and Disappointments

The effect of Sarpi's popularity in England because of his political and religious beliefs, on the other hand, was mixed. Sarpi was very unhappy at finding that Marco Antonio de Dominis had published his History of the Council of Trent in London without his knowledge or consent. (31) Though the treatise had been published under a pseudonym, the large audience who was interested in the book did not have difficulty working out the identity of the author (Cozzi, "Fra Paolo Sarpi" 561-63). Sarpi did not approve of the Archbishop's conduct because he understood that de Dominis had acted to achieve his own designs against the Roman Curia and had used the History (along with a flattering dedication) in order to receive the attention and benevolence of King James.

Sarpi was in all likelihood afraid that the publication of the History in England would stir up the Roman Curia's animosity toward him and increase problems for both himself and the Venetian Republic. The risk was that the pope's response would be bellicose enough to force Sarpi to leave Venice (this was in fact an option that Sarpi considered when King James offered him protection and greater safety in England after the attempt on his life). (32) Even though Sarpi contemplated taking asylum in England, he refused the offer because he believed that he could not help the Venetian Republic from England as well as he could from Venice. Sarpi was filled with and strengthened by a strong patriotic spirit and he served the Republic from "a sense of duty" (Robertson 123). As such, we can deduce that for Sarpi, leaving Venice would have meant betraying his motherland. And indeed, he spent almost all of his life in Venice except for the short periods of time in his youth that he passed in Mantua, Milan and Rome.

If Sarpi was worried about the publication of his History of the Council of Trent, why did he write this colossal work to begin with? Certainly, he wanted to leave his reading of the Council of Trent for posterity, and he hoped that his written testimony would influence later authors who might otherwise have approved of the Roman Church's actions. Sarpi intended to document papal absolutism and the corruption of the Roman Curia and to analyze the mistakes and abuses of the Church of Rome that caused (in his view) the reform movement at Trent to fail. To record the behavior of the Church of Rome towards the other churches during the Council would offer the Christian world a means by which to judge the decrees approved at Trent. His idea of writing for posterity rather than for the present is made clear in his September 4, 1607, letter to Jerome Groslot De L'Isle:

Nessuno debbe scrivere, pensando d'aver lode o ringraziamento dalla sua eta. Si scrive per la posterita sola, alla quale riguardando, egli si puo consolare dell'ingratitudine che li viene usata.

(Nobody should write while thinking to receive praise and thanks from his age. You write only for posterity and looking at it, you can console yourself for the ingratitude that is being used against you.)

(Lettere ai Protestanti 1: 4)

Through his intense religious and political activity, Sarpi hoped to create an anti-papal alliance, wherein Venice would move closer to the Protestant powers in order to undermine the Church of Rome. Sarpi's correspondence with prominent people such as the English Ambassador Dudley Carlton, the British chaplain William Bedell, and French Gallican thinkers such as Jacques Gillot and Jacques Leschassier, served as a network of alliances to assure support and help for Venice during his fight against papal authority and power. Political motivations aside, Sarpi also sought to restore the beliefs of the early Church through the Protestant creed with the help of the Protestant powers. (33)

Sarpi's writings brought many British writers and ecclesiastics into sympathy with the Venetian cause, increasing La Serenissima's reputation and prestige in England and in the rest of Europe. Sarpi's popularity and the dissemination of his work did not, however, bring concrete, practical benefits to the Republic, which ultimately was left alone in its fight for "liberty" and in its attempt to achieve a reformed Church. No reformed Protestant power's army ever set foot in the Republic, for reasons beyond Sarpi's control: James I, despite misgivings, decided not to intervene and his backing was more moral than material. As a result, the king lost the opportunity to operate effectively in Venice and disappointed many of his supporters. Among them was Sarpi, who in his correspondence with Simone Contarini complained that James I contributed nothing to defend Venice but "books and words." He further deprecated the king by pointing out that "it is one thing to be a clever theologian, quite another to be a valorous King" (Lettere inedite di Fra Paolo Sarpi a Simone Contarini 49, 61). He also expresses his indignation in a letter written to Grosolt, wherein (referring to the king) he insists that "too much prudence ends in imprudence" (Lettere ai Protestanti 1: 48).

The weakness of James I's actions combined with the Venetian fear of an invasion by Philip II of Spain--who was backing the papacy and its cause--resulted in the Venetians choosing to resolve the quarrel with the pope, to reinstate relations with Rome, and to restore a quiet and peaceful political and religious life to the Republic. By June 1607, the crisis had ended: the two imprisoned clerics were released and the interdict was withdrawn (Logan 1: 389).

Though the Venetians had shown enthusiasm for the Reformation, they were nonetheless content to return to their previous situation, continuing to venerate the Saints and observe the Church's feasts and ceremonies. Venetians were not ready for a radical change and were still much attached to their religious traditions and customs; after the interdict, the rise of a more pro-papal faction suggested that in Venice a sizeable group of patricians was in fact inclined to an alliance with Rome (Kainulainen 202).

After 1607, Sarpi became progressively more isolated from the Venetian government and excluded from political responsibility (Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense 514). From the other side, Rome successfully came between Sarpi and the Venetian theologians who had participated animatedly during the interdict, creating a vacuum around the Servite friar. (34)

After realizing that James I could not bring the hoped-for changes to the Republic, Sarpi made no real effort to continue working on behalf of reform. (35) Even though he won the conflict against Rome as a legal adviser, he lost his battle as theologian (Pin 350). But the English interest in Sarpi did not cease after his influence waned (Lievsay 196). Even after his death, when the Roman Church still offered a bitter opposition to Sarpi's writings, in England many of his works were translated and greeted with enthusiasm. (36) Likewise, many people still admired Sarpi for his actions and his writing, for his courage in standing up to the Roman Curia, and for his ability to put Venice in the spotlight, making the city an emblem in the fight against the hegemony of the Roman Church.

Although we must admit that Sarpi and his writings were used by the Protestants, who presented him as a dissatisfied Catholic champion of Reform in Italy in order to discredit the Catholic Church and to help the English Church gain popularity, the publication and dissemination of Sarpi's works in England allowed the spread of his ideas, making him a most prominent representative of the political and religious thought of the early modern era, when the medieval papal-imperial debate on spiritual and temporal powers was still a pressing issue, and the boundaries between religion and politics were undefined.

University of Washington

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(1) Paolo Sarpi was born Pietro Sarpi in Venice (August 14, 1552) and was the son of a tradesman who had come to Venice from Friuli. Sarpi's father died when Sarpi was still a child. His mother, Isabella Morelli, was from a noble Venetian family. Sarpi's first teacher was his mother's brother, a priest and schoolmaster. Early in life, Sarpi showed prodigious scholarship, arousing the wonder of his contemporaries. At the age of thirteen, he excelled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, mathematics, theology in all its branches, and many of the sciences. At about this age, he joined the order of Servite friars and changed his name to Paolo. At eighteen, he became professor in the Cathedral of Bishop Boldrino in Mantua and the private theologian of Duke Gonzaga. In 1579, he was sent to Rome on matters connected with the reform of his order. He returned to Venice in 1588, and spent the rest of his life in Venice. In 1606, Sarpi was appointed Theological Counselor by the Venetian Senate. This duty of this office, created in addition to three Counselors of Law, was to instruct the Doge and Senate in the law. After the other Counselors died, the Senate left their whole duties to Sarpi. The Servite friar held entire control of the legal and theological principles of Venice for many years. During this time Sarpi was very prolific and wrote his most important works, which were published only many years after his death. He died on January 15, 1623 in his cell in the convent of Santa Maria dei Servi in Venice.

(2) Henry Wotton served as ambassador to Venice intermittently from 1604 to 1625.

(3) Concerning the Interdict, see Bouwsma, "Venice, Spain, and the Papacy." On Sarpi and the British Protestants, see Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense 512-55; Wootton 93-117; and Sarpi, Lettere ai Protestanti. On Sarpi and the French Gallicans, see the introduction by Ulianich in Lettere ai Gallicani.

(4) "Trattato intorno alla Scomunica" in Capasso XXXII. The term "war of writings" was coined by Sarpi: "[...] un'altra sorte di guerra, fatta con scritture, offensiva dal canto del pontefice, e difensiva dal canto della repubblica" ("another kind of war, made with writings, with the pontiff on the offensive and the Republic on the defensive") (Istoria dell 'Interdetto 102). On Bellarmino and his role as a representative of the papal curia, see Frajese 139-52. On the Interdict, particularly in reference to la guerra delle scritture, see Burke and also de Vivo 157-248. On the clash between those who supported the potestas absoluta on behalf of the religious authorities and those who supported the potentia ordinata on behalf of the secular authorities during the interdict in Venice, see Belligni 272-74. On the question of religious and political authority, see also Oakley.

(5) In fact, in 1538 Pope Paul III placed England under interdict and attempted to dethrone Henry VIII. Concerning this matter, see the collection of essays in McEachern.

(6) All translations are mine.

(7) As evidence that Bishop Bedell was an intimate friend of Paolo Sarpi, Burnet writes that after Sarpi was wounded "much precaution was used before any were admitted to come to him, Bedell was excepted out of those rules, and had free access to him at all times" (7).

(8) For instance, Thomas Coryat, the British "walking tourist," recalls the attempt on Sarpi's life as part of his narration on Venice in his Coryat's Cruditates, a description of his experiences traveling through Europe (2: 8).

(9) On the History and its popularity in England see Yates.

(10) Marco Antonio de Dominis (1566-1624) was a Roman Catholic archbishop who, threatened by the Inquisition, left for England in 1616. On his way, he published a violent attack on Rome: Scogli del naufragio cristiano (The Rocks of Christian Shipwreck). He was received with great honors by James I. Three years later he returned to Rome, where he lived on a pension assigned him by Pope Gregory XV. But the pension ceased after the death of the Pope in 1623, and he was declared a heretic and confined to Castel Sant'Angelo. One year later he died in prison, probably poisoned, and his body was burned at Rome's Campo dei Fiori, along with all his manuscripts. On de Dominis and the doomed reaction to the Protestant Reform in the Catholic Church, see Cantimori 47381.

(11) George Carleton (1559-1628) was an English churchman. He was a delegate to the Synod of Dort, in the Netherlands, and became Bishop of Llandaff in 1618, an office he held for a year. From 1619 to 1628, he was Bishop of Chichester. Among his many works on religious matters was Consensus Ecclesiae contra tridentinos published in 1613. On Sarpi and Dudley Carleton, see Lievsay 115-16.

(12) Carleton and Field argued that the Council of Trent drew the line between the preReformation Latin Church and the corrupt, fraudulent and deceptive post-Reformation Church of Rome.

(13) On Sarpi and the achievement of his historical work in the European political and religious context, see Cozzi, Paolo Sarpi tra Venezia e l'Europa 264-81.

(14) Anti-papal polemics and arguments about whether Rome was the church of Christ were widespread among the English Reformation writers. See Bedell 257, Butterfield, Perkins and Carleton, Directions to know the true Church.

(15) The issue of the absence of Protestant reformers at the Council is very complex. Basically, they were invited, but, given the conditions imposed upon them, they refused to attend. Concerning the Catholic position on this matter, I refer to the entry on the Council of Trent:

(16) In Mantua, around 1574, Sarpi became a friend of Camillo Olivo, secretary of Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, who took part in the last phase of the Council. Later, according to Vivanti, Sarpi, during his stay in Rome between 1585 and the end of 1588 or the beginning of 1589, had access to the letters written by the papal legates and to other documents that belonged to the Cervini's family until 1771 (609). During this stay in Rome, Sarpi met people who helped him gather information about the Council. In Rome, Sarpi became close to Giovan Battista Castagna, future cardinal, and, later, Pope Urban VII, who was president of the committee appointed for drawing up the decrees of the Council, and established friendly relations with Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, who opened up to him the Cervini family archive that belonged to his uncle, Pope Marcello II (Asor Rosa 344). Later, in Venice, Sarpi was intimately acquainted with the French ambassador Arnaud du Ferrier, who had represented the king of France during the last stages of the Council of Trent (Wootton 9). "He was most intimate with those of France, with Ferrar, Demete and Fresnes, and particularly with Ferrier, who being present at the said Councell of Trent, had many great memorials (and letters which are the most secure and reall foundation of an History.)" (Micanzio 97).

(17) On James I and his religious ambitions see Butler, Figgis and Patterson.

(18) Thomas Jackson (1579-1640) studied at Queen's College, Oxford, where Richard Crakanthorp was his tutor. He obtained a scholarship to Corpus Christi College in 159697. Later in life he became president of that same college, and in 1638 became dean of Peterborough. Jackson won a considerable reputation for his varied learning, but mainly devoted himself to theology.

(19) On the claims of the English Church against the Catholic Church, see Marshall.

(20) The idea of separating the true Church from the false one even though the two Churches had the same origin is expressed by English Protestant writers such as Sutcliffe, Hall, Carleton, Morton, Crakanthorp and Powels. On this topic, see Milton.

(21) The complete title of Sarpi's work is "Consulto sui rimedi da opporsi ad una eventuale aggravazione della scomunica," in Storia dell 'Interdetto e altri scritti.

(22) Richard Crakanthorp (1567-1624) was an English clergyman who wrote on religious controversies. Crakanthorp's most famous work is Defensio, where he extended the argument against transubstantiation and rejected de Dominis's assertion, claiming that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist was figurative, not literal.

(23) Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) was a classical scholar, mathematician and theologian. In 1673, Barrow was appointed master of Trinity College by King Charles II. He was regarded by his mathematical contemporaries in England as second only to Newton, but he was better known as a theologian. He gained high esteem for his sermons and other writings on behalf of the Church of England.

(24) In this type of treatise, the Antichrist figure was usually introduced with an apocalyptic interpretation of Church history. Among the British authors who wrote about the pope as an Antichrist there are: Robert Abbot, George Downame, Nicolas Vignier and Gabriel Powel. Henry Burton (1578-1648) was an English puritan who in 1618 resolved to enter the ministry. He devoted himself to polemical religious controversy; his pulpit style was very effective and he had many followers.

(25) Burton mentions Sarpi's History as a source: 9, 44, 219, 232.

(26) On the Apology, see Patterson 75-123.

(27) On the use of military force against the papal power, the Essex clergyman Arthur Dent envisaged England taking part in the destruction of Rome with the help of Spain, Italy and France (250-51).

(28) Sir Roger Twysden (1597-1672) was an English historian and politician. He was knighted in 1620 and served in Parliament in 1625 and 1626, but later, in 1642, he opposed the Parliament and the ecclesiastical authorities. Accordingly, he was imprisoned for seven years. He is noted for his works on English law and constitutional government.

(29) The Advertisement is a translation from Sarpi Historia particolare delle cose passate tra 'l sommo pontefice Paolo V e la serenissima republica di Venetia. Christopher Potter (1591-1646) was an English academic and clergyman. In 1636, he became Dean of Worcester and in 1642 he received the rectory of Great Haseley, Oxfordshire. In January 1646, King Charles I nominated him to the deanery of Durham, but he died before his installation.

(30) See Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense 339-623.

(31) Fra Fulgenzio Micanzio outlines Sarpi's dismay in a letter to de Dominis: "My padre maestro Paolo complains much of this excess; and even more because, having lent to your Most Reverend Lordship to read his manuscript of The History of the Council of Trent, which he guarded so jealously, you had a copy made of it and have abused him not only by causing it to be printed without his permission, but also by interposing that most improper title and the terrible and scandalous dedication and that, as we are well informed, out of motive of [self-] interest, not of honoring the modest author" (qtd. in Bianchi-Giovini 2: 308).

(32) King James offered Sarpi asylum in England on a number of occasions. Aside from being a supporter of victims of the Roman Curia's persecution, the king also played the role of protector. Among the people who were offered and accepted asylum in England were Doctor Gaspare Despotini, the Carmelitan friars Giulio Cesare Vanini and Giovan Battista Genochi, Isaac Casaubon and Marco Antonio de Dominis. On Sarpi and the offer of asylum from King James, see the letters from Dudley Carleton to Sarpi dated August 12, 1612 and September 9, 1612 and the letter from Sarpi to Carleton dated August 14, 1612 in Sarpi, Opere 643-48.

(33) Sarpi believed in such Protestant tenets as the rejection of the Pope's temporal power, the acknowledgment of the faith as the only way to achieve salvation, and the recognition of the Scriptures as the sole way to receive guidance (Kainulainen 136).

(34) In 1608, the jurist Menino who wrote in support of the Venetian Republic, moved to Rome. In the same year the Franciscan friar Fulgenzio Manfredi, who, during the interdict, preached against the Pope and the Jesuits, was lured to Rome. In 1610, he was captured and hanged for heresy, and his body was burnt in the Campo di Fiori by order of the Holy Office. Pietro Antonio Ribetti and Fra Marco Antonio Capello also moved to Rome (Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense 488-89). On the theologians of the Venetian republic, see Mayer 67-71; Benzoni 57-108.

(35) Sarpi was accused by his friends who believed in the Reformed Church of being inert and insensible. See the introduction to the correspondence with the English ambassador Sir Dudley Carleton in Sarpi, Opere 636-37.

(36) Sarpi's works were placed for centuries on the Church's index of banned books. The hostility against the Servite friar was so strong that, even after his death, the plan to erect a monument in his memory encountered fierce opposition from ecclesiastics. The project, which was decreed in 1623, was canceled, and the monument was finally erected only in 1892. For discussions about Sarpi's monument, see Robertson, Fra Paolo Sarpi 155-83 and AA.VV. Fra Paolo Sarpi, il suo monumento e la storia. Moreover, because Pope Urban VIII opposed the decision to bury Sarpi in a church, the Servite friars dug up Fra Paolo's body and kept it in a wall inside their monastery in order to secure it (Robertson 162). By contrast, after his death many works by Sarpi were translated into English and published in England.

Caption: Eighteenth-century engraving of the assassination attempt against Sarpi (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana)
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