- Rituals of Prosecution: The Roman Inquisition and the Prosecution of Philo-Protestants in Sixteenth-Century Italy by Jane K. Wickersham
As her title indicates, Jane Wickersham aims to show how the Roman Inquisition assessed religious doctrines expressed in words and ritual practices in order to assemble proofs with which to prosecute philo-Protestants in sixteenth-century Italy. The project begins with an analysis of several important inquisitorial manuals: those written by Nicolau Eymeric (1376; published in a version revised by Francisco Peña, 1578), Prospero Farinacci (1616), Eliseo Masini (1621), and Cesare Carena (1626). Naturally, these authorities did not speak with a single voice. After having described characteristic positions held by Italians adhering to the Reformation (improperly termed “Protestant”—in fact, as Wickersham notes, their stances cannot be ascribed directly to any of the evangelical and reformed churches of northern Europe, except the Waldensians), the author examines various important issues related to the conduct of an inquisitorial trial. These are accurately described: the importance of ritual practice (participation in heretical rites; nonparticipation in Catholic rites) in raising suspicion of heresy; the qualities rendering valid the testimony of witnesses (at least two credible persons in agreement, to which the author should have added; and also firsthand observers of the allegedly heretical words and/or actions); the Holy Office’s motives for lenient treatment of some accused persons (admitting error promptly; [End Page 788] coming forward during a “time of grace”; showing total ignorance of theology), given its main objective to convert heretics and punish only the impenitent; ways of obtaining a complete confession; the role of defense attorneys; the use of torture; types of sentences (canonical purgation; condemnation for slight, vehement, or violent suspicion of heresy; formal heresy), to each of which corresponded a particular type of required abjuration and assignment of spiritual penances.
Beginning in the third chapter, Wickersham compares prescriptive statements from the manuals with a small selection of trial records: one from Siena, twelve others from Modena and Venice, none from Rome. The fourteen sentences analyzed come from the records in the library of Trinity College Dublin, which holds, for the period between 1564 and 1582, approximately 188 sentences promulgated in Rome and about 233 in peripheral seats of the Inquisition—a random remnant of the sentences issued by all tribunals. Analysis of the trial records takes up only one-third of the book, an indication that the author considers them of limited relevance. Given this slender documentary base, it is difficult to ascertain to what extent, if at all, inquisitorial practice in these three tribunals conformed to the dictates of the manuals.
This reviewer also has doubts about how accurately the author represents the content of trials. For example, her treatment of the one of Girolamo da Udine (pp. 211–21) diverges in important respects from the documentary record. Girolamo abjured, so to speak, not on August 11, 1543, along with the others accused in the same case, but on April 15, 1544, in the cathedral of Udine, boldly proclaiming some ideas of the Reformation. He was condemned to death on May 2, 1544, seventeen days later (rather than nine months later, as Wickersham claims). At that point he appealed the sentence. The appeal phase took place in Venice, not in Udine, before a three-judge panel nominated by the papal nuncio, Giovanni della Casa. It annulled the capital sentence and required that Girolamo repeat his earlier abjuration of fourteen articles, not two.
Wickersham states incorrectly that in Venice and its possessions the Roman Inquisition, with the secular government’s approval, began to function in 1547 (pp. 113, 180, 211, 225, 269). Between 1541 and 1546, however, the Venetian Holy Office tried thirty-nine people; the Council of Ten adjudicated twenty cases of heresy in various cities of the Venetian terraferma. Clearly, the Inquisition was officially operating in the Republic seven years before the appointment of the Tre Savi all...