The Risorgimento in Italy: A period when the doors open (part 3)

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II. God's men

     The personalities involved in opening up Italy to Protestantism during the Risorgimento period came in successive waves from three different groups. The first wave was made up of expatriate Protestants who had moved to Italy for commercial, cultural, diplomatic or even health reasons. When these English, Swiss and German Christians couldn't find Protestant churches in Italy, they would start churches for themselves. Initially, the worship services of those churches were held in the native tongues of the founders. Soon, some of those foreign evangelicals -- particularly the Swiss -- were not content with keeping their Protestant brand of Christianity to themselves. They began to look for ways to evangelize the Italians.15 Their outreach efforts meant that even with cultural and language differences, "these foreign churches began to be secretly frequented by Italians."16
     The second wave of those involved in the Protestant evangelization of Italy during the Risorgimento were Italians. These were Italian Protestants both within and outside of the centuries-old Waldensian church. One key figure of this group was Count Pietro Guicciardini of Florence. Exiled for a time for his religious beliefs, Guicciardini returned to become instrumental in founding what is today the Brethren Church in Italy.
     In becoming a leader in the Italian Protestant movement, Pietro Guicciardini was not breaking with his family's tradition. One of his ancestors in the previous century was historian Francesco Guicciardini of whom it has been written:

     As a good Christian, [Francesco Guicciardini] despised the temporal power of the Popes, which had transformed the Vicar of Christ into a worldly prince playing dirty Renaissance politics. He denounced in his secret notebook the corruption which power, wealth and ambition inevitably furthered among priests. . . "My position under several Popes has compelled me to desire their aggrandizement for the sake of my own profit. Otherwise, I should have loved Martin Luther like myself."17

     Other important figures in the wave of Italian Protestant pioneers were ex-Roman Catholic priests like Pietro Taglialatela and Luigi De Sanctis. Both of these, as well as Pietrocola Rossetti, Bonaventura Mazzarella, and Alessandro Gavazzi, were active in the movement which developed into the Brethren Church. Mazzarella was originally Waldensian but left that church while Luigi De Sanctis finally wound up in the Waldensian church where he taught for years in their theological training school.
     The Waldensian school where De Sanctis taught had been founded in 1855 in the Waldensian enclaves of the mountain valleys near the French border. Five years after that school began, it moved south to Florence. That college-level school produced some top quality leaders for the Waldensians. In addition to De Sanctis, there was Giovanni Revel, Paolo Geymonat, Alberto Revel, and Emilio Comba.
     The third group of people important in the evangelization of Italy began arriving in 1861. They were the foreign missionaries. Prior to this time, there had been some prior outside involvement as churches outside Italy contributed funds to indigenous Italian Protestant ministries. Then, in 1861, the English Methodists sent their first missionary to Italy: Enrico Pigott.18
     In 1864 a Polish ex-priest named Czeehowski arrived. He came to Italy via the U.S. where he had become a part of the Adventist movement. In two years of work Czeehowski was able to start what became the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Italy.19
     In 1866 the English Baptists began sending missionaries. Some went to Italy under the Baptist Missionary Society. Others were sent by a mission board founded exclusively for the purpose of evangelizing Italy: The La Spezia Mission for Italy. In 1870, the U.S.A. entered the Italian scene when American Baptist missionaries arrived. Three years later, the American Methodist Board of Foreign Missions began sending missionaries to Italy. By the late 1880's the Salvation Army was sending personnel to Italy to open ministry centers.20
     None of these mission boards, however, sent in large numbers of personnel. Generally, the missionary staffs of mission agencies working in Italy never numbered more than two or three couples. [ continue reading ]


15Vinay, op. cit., p. 324.

16"La stampa periodica protestante in Italia -- 1845-1880," Confronto, Vol. 3, n. 13/14 (bimonthly publication of the Centro Sociale Evangelico of Florence, Italy), p. 7.

17Barzini, op. cit.

18Vinay, op. cit., p. 334.

19Giuseppe De Meo Granel di sale (Turin: Claudiana, 1980), p. 53.

20Vinay, op. cit., pp. 334-337

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The polemics

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