The Risorgimento in Italy: A period when the doors open (part 1)

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It's common to think of Italy as a nation whose history extends back to before the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Certainly, the rich and colorful recorded history of the people living on this Mediterranean peninsula does go back a long ways. However, following the breakup of the Roman Empire, Italy became a patchwork of small nation-states. Many of those states wound up being ruled by a succession of various occupying armies. Some were governed by the Pope while other areas were controlled by powerful noble families. It would not be until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the Savoy family would reunite the area we know today as Italy under a single government.

The period in the middle 1800s that culminated in the reunification of Italy is called the Risorgimento. The Risorgimento, an Italian word which is usually translated re-birth, literally means "rising again." This rising again time -- the Risorgimento -- opened a whole new chapter in the history of Christianity in Italy. In fact, Italian historian Domenico Maselli has called the 1800s "the foundation century in the story of the evangelical presence in Italy."1 For until this point in time, the only significant non-Roman Catholic Christian presence on the Italian peninsula was formed by the 20,000 French-speaking Waldensians in north-western Italy.

With the flowering of the Risorgimento, the door opened for what one writer has called the "second evangelization" of Italy2 -- the first having taken place, of course, during the first three centuries of Christianity. In this second evangelization, it wasn't just that someone had gotten a door of this Roman Catholic area cracked open wide enough for evangelical Christianity to squeeze in before it slammed shut. It was more than that. For the churches being formed and for those denominations which entered Italy in that period, the Risorgimento was, says Spini, the "easy years."3

The purpose of this essay is:

  1. To see in what ways the Risorgimento fostered the planting of Protestantism on this peninsula
  2. To take a look at the Italian Risorgimento, those years from about 1815 to 1890, to try to discern some outlines of Protestant strategy
  3. To look at some of the personalities involved and their theological outlooks.

     Several sources in Italian have been used in the research. All the quotes from these my own (Howard Culbertson) original translations. [ continue reading ]

1Domenico Maselli, Breve Storia dell'Altra Chiesa in Italia (Naples: Edizioni Centro Biblico, 1971), p. 22. Note: In terms of Maselli's use of the word "evangelical," he is referring to the entire Protestant movement and not simply a section of it.

2 Luigi Santini, Un'impresa difficile: l'unione degli evangelici italiani (Torre Pellice: Società di Studi Valdese, 1964), p. 23.

3Giorgio Spini, I protestanti in Italia (Marchirolo: Edizioni Uomini Nuovi, 1965), p. 8.

  Page:  1: Introduction  |   2: Target culture  |   3: God's men  |   4: Polemics  |    5: Strategy   |    5: Conclusion   |   

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The target culture

Next chapterWhat was there in the Italian society of the middle and late 1800s that opened the door for Protestant work? [ read more ]

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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