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History of the Reformation in Italy

Thomas McCrie

Published on demand - Google Books

IThis book was once rather difficult to obtain, but now thanks to Google Books it has been digitised and is available as a print on demand book. My own copy came from the library of the late Edward Greene and is therefore, filled with precious memories on that account alone.

Thomas McCrie (1772-1835) was born into a merchant family in Duns and was brought up in the Secession Church as an Anti-Burgher. At 16, he went to study at Edinburgh University and in 1795 he was licensed as a minister. He is in my opinion to be regarded as the foremost historian that the Scottish Church has ever produced. His books are readable, critical, modern and timeless. He is held in the highest regard by modern secular historians for his accuracy and method, and he has been appreciated for generations by the godly for his records of the lives of saints now in eternity.

I am sure that all of my readers will know of his lives of both John Knox and Andrew Melville. Many will have read the History of the Scottish Church (re)published by the Free Presbyterian Church. It is easy to understand why a skilled Scottish historian, in the early nineteenth century would be interested in writing articles in a relatively obscure Christian historical journal (The Christian Magazine). I can only admire the depth of work and scholarship that you find in those articles, as you see the lives of Knox, Hamilton and Henderson.

Yet, where I think McCrie is just extraordinary, is when he then departs into examining the Reformation as a whole. He writes histories (including this one) of the Reformation in Spain, France and in this case, Italy. They are not small portraits of areas where the history is well known – these are beautifully crafted and researched historical accounts (in this case 500 pages).

If you had asked me before I picked up this book whether the Reformation ever got a foothold in Italy, then I would have been hard pressed to point to any real literature on the subject. Indeed, from his foreword it is clear that just finding and accessing material had been a considerable challenge. He cites the Specimen Italiae Reformatae of Daniel Gerdes and the usefulness of that book (that he found late in his research). He comments on Gerdes book, that it is scarcely known in Britain, and “has not, so far as I have observed, been mentioned by any of our writers”.

The book charts the links with the Vaudois who fled into Italy from persecution in both Piedmont and Italy. He picks up Savonarola and is very balanced in his assessment. Yet, again and again he shows the influence of the Reformation within Italian cities. Schenk, a German Nobleman living in Venice, writes in 1520 to Spalatin that Martin Luther’s books are much esteemed in the city. He explains that Melancthon was printed in Venice under a different title, and were being widely circulated in Rome. He explains the influence of German and Swiss troops in the armies of Charles V and Francis I, as they spoke to the people about Luther and his associates.

For a period, Ferrara afforded a place of refuge for those Protestants fleeing from abroad, or within Italy itself. It appears that Modena, with its links to Ferrara at the house of Este, was also at the forefront of the Italian Reformation. Yet, McCrie charts the progress of the Reformation in a range of cities, such as, Florence, Venice and Bologna.

Helpfully, he introduces characters like Bernardino Ochino (born in Sienna) and Peter Martyr (born Pietro Martire Vermigli in Florence) and their effect on their native land, for example in the establishment of a Reformed Church in Naples (from where it spread as far South as Sicily). It then goes on to show the brutality of the Papal suppression of the Protestants.

This is a book, that only a few years ago was very hard to acquire. Now you can just download and read it, or have it print on demand. I would strongly encourage you to read McCrie,  you will not be disappointed.

August 2020

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