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10 Venice Spain, and the Papacy Paolo Sarpi and the Renaissance Tradition
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Venice Spain, and the Papacy
Paolo Sarpi and the Renaissance Tradition

This essay, another by-product of my book Venice and the Defense of Renaissance Liberty, sought to place Sarpi in the broader context of civic humanism and Renaissance historiography. It thus argued for the persistence of Renaissance values in Venice long after, as it has been assumed, they had disappeared from Italy. The essay was first published in an admirable Italian translation by my Berkeley colleague, the late Arnolfo Ferruolo, in the Rivista Storica Italiana 74 (1962), 697–716. Translated into English by Catherine Enggass, it appeared again in The Late Italian Renaissance, 1525–1630, ed. Eric Cochrane (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 353–376. It is reprinted here with the permission of the publishers .

Although Paolo Sarpi is one of the great figures of the seventeenth century, not only of Italy, but of all Europe, and although many historians, Italian and non-Italian, have studied his career and thought, he remains an enigma and a subject of controversy. It is true that we have good editions of his most important writings and an increasing body of information concerning his life and surroundings. Yet there is still no satisfactory general work on Sarpi, nor is there any generally accepted interpretation of his personality, his thought, and his purposes.

In the past, attempts to interpret his career have taken two main directions. On one hand, they have tried to ascertain whether Sarpi's hostility to the papacy and his loyalty to his native Venice were chiefly religious or political in motivation. On the other, these interpretations have sought to establish whether he was, as he protested, a loyal Catholic, or whether he was rather a secret sympathizer with Protestantism and


a heretic at heart.[1] These questions, however, have too often led to mere polemics, and Sarpi has chiefly been exploited by both sides in the great controversies that continue to divide Italy. Largely for this reason the endeavor to answer these questions has been inconclusive. Some scholars have even come to believe that Sarpi himself was singularly evasive and enigmatic regarding his true position and purposes.[2] I should like to suggest, rather, that not Sarpi but the questions have been at fault. They are based, in my opinion, on certain modern distinctions that are hardly applicable to Sarpi and his times.

The first problem, whether Sarpi's motives were essentially religious or political, depends on a tendency to distinguish between religion and politics, and hence between church and state. That distinction is characteristic only of more modern times. For Sarpi, as for the supporters of the pope, the struggle between Venice and the papacy was only one more chapter in the age-old debate about the location of supreme authority in Christendom.[3] It is important to recognize (as we too often fail to do) that this debate was not, after all, between the rival powers of church and state. As Pope Nicholas the Great wrote in the ninth century, "The Church is the world"; and this famous definition meant that the struggles between popes and emperors were always seen as taking place within the church. The issue was not between church and state or between politics and religion (although each side accused the other of mere worldliness), but between two rival conceptions of church order and between two religious agencies.[4] For Sarpi the state was a religious institution with divinely appointed responsibilities and a major role in the church. In promoting the cause of Venice against the papacy, he was defending an ancient religious position; and as historians we have no reasonable grounds to doubt his sincerity. The distinction between a political Sarpi and a religious Sarpi thus seems to me false: the political Sarpi does not exclude, but rather helps to explain, the religious Sarpi.[5] The second problem, whether Sarpi was truly a Catholic, seems to me equally anachronistic. For several generations before the appearance of Martin Luther a rich doctrinal ferment, both various and free, had permeated Western Christendom; and this variety persisted among men who continued to think of themselves as Catholics long after the last session of the Council of Trent. What true Catholicism was, what the authority of the council was, and what its decrees meant, were still open questions for many thoughtful Catholics in Sarpi's time.[6] If doubts about these matters were displayed less openly in Italy than in France, the reason was as much lack of opportunity as religious conviction.[7] From this point of view it was therefore quite legitimate to attack Tri-


dentine Catholicism as a merely factional position which did not adequately reflect Catholic tradition, and even, without any disloyalty toward Catholicism, to share certain Protestant formulas. We are not justified in assigning the consolidated, monolithic Catholicism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the early seventeenth century. Nor are we justified in imputing subversive Protestant intentions to Sarpi.[8] Sarpi must be taken literally. He was struggling against what he considered a false Catholicism in favor of a true one.

Since the study of Sarpi by way of these questions has not proved fruitful, I should like to put the problem on a different basis. It seems to me that one must start by identifying in Sarpi a certain forma mentis and certain fundamental attitudes that correspond to a particular political situation and to a related moment in the history of culture. This observation, however commonplace it may appear, will be far more helpful in our endeavor to understand Sarpi than any effort to seek the origin of his thought in particular literary sources. Books and ideas are important historically not because of their intrinsic value and abstract force, but because of the fertile ground they find in certain readers; and the historian's major problem is that of determining not the lineage of a position, but the reasons for its attraction for a specific individual or group. It is in this sense, for example, that we must interpret Sarpi's preference for the philosophy of William of Ockham over that of any other Scholastic.[9] Sarpi was not identifying himself with a school. He was simply reporting his discovery of a kindred spirit.

For this reason we must approach Sarpi by way of a certain context of sympathies and values. These alone, I believe, will bring us to the heart of the question. First of all, it seems to me that Sarpi is best understood as a representative of certain attitudes prevalent in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These attitudes have been variously described. Georges Delagarde has defined them as "l'esprit laïque" and has given particular attention to their expression in the thought of Marsilio of Padua and William of Ockham.[10] Eugenio Garin and Hans Baron have defined them somewhat differently and have preferred to associate them with the Italian humanistic tradition, especially in Florence.[11] Notwithstanding the differences between them, both positions insist upon the relationship of these tendencies in philosophy to the attempts of townsmen to free themselves from certain medieval forms of thought and social organization. It is against this general background that I wish to consider Sarpi, though without placing him too precisely within any particular tradition. If in the course of this discussion I make frequent allusions to the Renaissance, my intention is only to suggest a


general framework of values. I do not claim, for example, that Sarpi was a humanist in any exact sense. He had no interest in rhetoric; and although he received a classical education, he did not attach much importance to ancient models of thought and expression. Nevertheless, profound influences from the Renaissance can be discerned in him.

Whatever else may be said about them, the republican communes of Renaissance Italy clearly provided an atmosphere favorable to the development of wide interests and broader spiritual horizons; and the responsibilities of civic life stimulated both patriotism and a new historical consciousness. Local tyranny and the Spanish domination eventually destroyed this political framework in most of the Italian states, and the Counter-Reformation generally suppressed what was left of the culture that the older political order had supported. But Venice, as has been too little recognized, was a unique exception to the rule. Venice retained the liberty that was lost by the rest of Italy.[12] At the same time, she jealously guarded her religious autonomy in the face of all attempts at centralization by Rome: and neither the Inquisition nor the Index managed to acquire much power within her dominions.[13] Thus, however much the world around her had changed, Venice remained the unwavering champion of Renaissance values as late as the first decade of the seventeenth century.[14] And the serious threat to these values posed by the papal offensive of 1606, which was encouraged by Spain, had almost the same effect on the Venetians, and on Sarpi in particular, as the Milanese aggression against Florence had had on Bruni's generation two centuries earlier.

Much of Sarpi's position is rooted in these circumstances and events. His youthful openness to all human thought and experience is typical of the varied and stimulating life of the Italian city. Endowed with an inexhaustible curiosity, he cultivated every branch of natural sciences. He actively participated in the philosophical inquiries of the University of Padua. He studied law and history. He talked with everyone, Italian or foreign, who could feed his curiosity about le cose humane ("the affairs of men"). And he longed to travel in order to see with his own eyes what his foreign acquaintances reported.

The variety of Sarpi's interests is one of the most significant aspects of his personality.[15] But the way in which he dealt with these interests is even more suggestive. What is impressive in Sarpi is his directness, his concreteness, and his flexibility in the face of any kind of experience. Perhaps the central conclusion of his early philosophical speculation was that the mind can return again to the real world of immediate experience.[16] This conclusion seems to be reflected in aspects of his later


thought as well. For Sarpi, man must always start from the concrete and the particular, since general principles are deceptive. And it is his constant attachment to this conclusion that explains the rigidity of the positions he subsequently took.

After Romano Amerio's investigations, Sarpi's scientific empiricism and his positive conception of law can no longer be open to question.[17] It will therefore be more useful to illustrate this attitude in other aspects of his thought. The attitude underlies his work as a historian. The historian, he says, must avoid general principles and base his work on concrete situations and the accumulation of particular detail. At one point in his History of the Council of Trent Sarpi suddenly seems to realize that his meticulous attention to particulars might bore his readers. He therefore stops to explain: "To someone reading this report, its attention to trivial things and causes may seem excessive. But the writer of the history, taking a different view, has thought it necessary to show what tiny rivulets caused the great lake that occupies Europe."[18] Thus the flow of time seems to be composed of innumerable tiny droplets, each of which requires individual attention. This same attitude is manifested in Sarpi's view of education, as his friend and collaborator Fra Fulgenzio Micanzio tells us. Sarpi resolutely refused to deal systematically in his teaching with any author, because he held that this method was in general followed "not [to gain] knowledge or to improve the mind, but to speak with subtlety, to show one's cleverness, and to make oneself more pertinacious than sincere as an investigator of the truth." He preferred instead to teach "in the Socratic and obstetric manner," that is, to employ that method which emphasized particular human insights and the immediate and concrete response of the student.[19]

I have insisted on Sarpi's concrete and direct method because I think it crucial to our understanding both of the man and of his place in the development of Western culture. Efforts have been made to identify this tendency in Sarpi with particular systems of thought—with nominalism, for example.[20] I will not deny certain affinities between Sarpi's thought and that of Ockham. But I think that the attempt to classify Sarpi in this way obscures the essential quality of his mind. He did not have a system of his own, and he deeply opposed all systems as falsifications of reality. We must look first of all at Sarpi himself, at his concern with all things human and at his refusal to be constrained by any intellectual construction that he believed might cut him off from the richness and paradoxes of human experience.

This interpretation of Sarpi as a Renaissance man gains substance when two other aspects of his career are considered: his view of history


and his connections with the Venetian Republic. Sarpi's view of history reveals the same sense of discontinuity between his own age and antiquity that had been characteristic of the Florentine historians; and his writings likewise reveal how well he had learned, like them, that institutions develop and change in time by natural processes. But in one way Sarpi went further than they: he applied this insight systematically to the church. He did so with regret, since he believed that the church ought to be identical and continuous with its primitive forms. In this sense he was a foe of history: he saw time as the great corrupter.[21] Nevertheless he recorded the changes that he observed; and though dealing with that institution to which some superiority over history was generally attributed, he noted the relativity of particular arrangements and pronouncements in terms of the concrete historical circumstances in which they occurred.[22] His extension of this Renaissance theme to the church is perhaps Sarpi's greatest technical contribution to Western historiography.

But Sarpi's major link with the Renaissance tradition appears in his attitude toward society and in his political thought and activity. His career falls naturally into two parts. Until 1605 he devoted himself to study, although his vita contemplativa was interrupted from time to time by the demands of his order. But with the crisis provoked by the interdict, he was suddenly called to take part in the affairs of the world; and from then until his death he was strenuously committed to the vita activa . Thus Sarpi in his own life was forced to grapple with a problem that had been crucial to the development of Florentine humanism. He was not the only one of his circle to be so involved. The problem had been faced by his close associate Nicolò Contarini;[23] and the comment of Fra Fulgenzio on this abrupt change in Sarpi's life shows us the traditional way in which Venetians regarded this central problem of the Renaissance circle. "At this period," Fulgenzio wrote, "it might be said that he terminated his tranquil studies and his private life; and from then until the end of his life he entered into another world, or rather into the world. And it pleased God to call him to labors to which he would never have thought to apply himself. But man is not born for himself. [He is born] principally for his country and for the common good."[24] It is interesting to observe the ardor with which Sarpi threw himself into the fray and what little regret he felt for the serene life of study he had forsaken. He seems, indeed, to have been waiting all his life for this moment.[25] Indeed, as though this activity corresponded to some profound personal need, his health, which had always been poor, suddenly improved.[26]


Yet even in action Sarpi did not base himself on general principles. What attracted him was not the abstract moral obligation of social duty but service to a particular community. Sarpi loved Venice as Salutati and Bruni had loved Florence; and his pride in the political achievements of the Republic and in the long duration of her freedom frequently recurs in his writings, both public and private. For him the cause of Venice against the papacy was that of "our liberty, which Divine Providence has preserved inviolate for one thousand and two hundred years. . . amongst innumerable dangers."[27]

But under the pressure of papal attack Sarpi also developed a theoretical justification for the authority of the Venetian government. It was one which, in its glorification of the powers inherent in the community, suggests a radical extension of certain elements of Renaissance patriotism. The obvious feature of Sarpi's political thought is the large authority it attributes to the "prince," a term by which he seems to have meant administrative office in general as well as the person holding it. Like other theorists of his time, Sarpi derived the sovereign authority of the prince directly from God;[28] and he attributed to sovereignty a remarkable comprehensiveness. Sovereignty, he declared, is necessarily indivisible and inalienable. Above all, it is absolute in its own realm. "Sovereignty is a power absolute by nature from which nothing can be exempted or excepted," he declared. "And the moment that it yields to any condition or exception, it loses its supreme being and becomes dependent."[29]

This sentiment may suggest that Sarpi was only another of the many exponents of seventeenth-century absolutism. But such a suggestion should be corrected in the light of another important aspect of his political thought. Although Sarpi's term "prince" is applicable to every supreme political authority, from the French monarchy to the Venetian dogato , he was thinking primarily of his own Republic. Absolute sovereignty of divine derivation is or Sarpi evidently consonant with republican government; it would therefore be somewhat misleading to associate him too closely with conventional theories of divine right. In reality Sarpi was concerned with the duty of the prince to the community; and this duty had for him a meaning very close to the function of government for Locke. "The prince and the senate have not sinned," Sarpi maintained; "they have rather obeyed the commandments of God in seeing to the preservation of the lives, honor, and property of His subjects."[30] Sarpi's absolutism, then, is not an unregulated and arbitrary power but unlimited authority to be exercised for the common good.[31]

If Machiavelli is the only touchstone of Renaissance political thought, this association of Sarpi's politics with the Renaissance would be quite


unconvincing. As Chabod has emphasized, Sarpi's political philosophy has little in common with Machiavelli's, and it reveals rather more affinity with that of the French jurists of the period.[32] Sarpi's divergences from Machiavelli are many. The most notable is his insistence that the moral and religious obligations of the prince are greater than those of the ordinary citizen.[33] But Sarpi's intention was to defend what he considered the ancient rights of a free republic and not, as was Machiavelli's, to propose extraordinary remedies to halt a process of degeneration. So conservative a purpose really somewhat resembles that of those French theorists who were trying to bolster the position of an established monarchy. On the other hand, Sarpi's aim had also some precedent in a more vital period of Florentine history; his real spiritual precursor seems to me to be Salutati, who loved and served Florence and who praised the laws of his community as instruments of God's will.[34]

To identify Sarpi with the Renaissance past may appear somewhat anachronistic, and it therefore calls for some further elaboration. The seventeenth century is certainly not the fifteenth; the world had altered greatly since the time of Bruni and Salutati. But to establish Sarpi's relationship with the Renaissance will provide a point of departure for the next stage in our investigation. We must now examine how the Renaissance motives in Sarpi were adapted to new conditions and how they were modified in the process. Indeed, this appears to me to be the unique value of Sarpi, and indeed of the whole Venetian episode, for the historian. The special political conditions basic to Renaissance culture no longer existed in other parts of Italy, and what remained of it was defensive or merely academic. In Venice alone at this late date can we find central attitudes of the Renaissance still alive and engaged in an encounter with a changing world. Sarpi was the major Venetian exponent of these values, and because of a mentality extraordinarily open and sensitive to change, he was also the outstanding witness to their transformation.

The changes that had taken place since the "golden age" of the Renaissance were of several kinds; and it will be useful to distinguish here two major sorts of alteration, both of which deeply affected Sarpi and gave a particular direction to those of his characteristics that I have associated with the Renaissance. The first of these changes was political; and it resulted from the altered relation of Venice, as of the rest of Italy, to the powers of Europe. The emergence of a system of well-organized and ambitious states able to determine the destiny of Italy had made her role in European affairs increasingly passive. Venice's own field of


action was more and more restricted, and her very existence as an independent state often seemed to depend on developments and decisions elsewhere.[35] With his broad interests and clarity of vision, no one realized this better than Sarpi.[36]

Sarpi recognized that the impotence of Italy came in part from her political division.[37] But he also saw that her principal problem was of a moral nature. For that reason he included even his beloved Venice, during the years after the Interdict, in his indictment of Counter-Reformation Italy. Echoing Machiavelli, he wrote sorrowfully of his native city: "Now we have breathed out all our virtue; . . . we have drunk some opiate from the vessel that puts everyone to sleep."[38] On the other hand, all was not yet lost for Sarpi as long as Venice retained her freedom. But she needed powerful allies, such as France or the Netherlands,[39] and Sarpi would not have rejected an alliance even with the Turks. When a Turkish attack on Rome seemed in prospect, he commented: "It causes sorrow here, people fearing the Turk in Italy; but it would be a universal salvation."[40]

But however conscious Sarpi might be of Venice's weakness and vulnerability, he retained his sense of the dignity of the Republic and his pride in the political values she represented. For Sarpi, Venice was the courageous defender of a common cause: "She alone upholds the dignity and true interests of an independent prince."[41] As such she merited the respect and assistance of the great powers., but she should beware of being absorbed by them. Therefore, the first rule for a state that "wanted an understanding with the Republic" would be "to demonstrate the desire for associates, not dependents."[42] In spite of all her vicissitudes, Venice continued to represent for Sarpi a complex of values that had to be preserved at any cost.

Closely connected with his estimate of the political situation was Sarpi's doctrine of "opportunity" (opportunità ), a doctrine which helped him to solve a very serious problem. In a world so menacing, so inimical to the development and even the survival of everything most dear to him, how was a man or a government to act? To struggle openly and continuously against superior force would only ensure destruction. Yet to do nothing was unthinkable. Sarpi resolved this dilemma by proposing a policy of alert vigilance, of patient waiting for the opportune moment which would be presented by Divine Providence, and then of striking with vigor.[43] The doctrine of "opportunity" reveals how much the mood of the Renaissance had changed since the time of Machiavelli. In so far as the doctrine counseled shrewdness and flexibility, it may have precedents in Machiavelli. But for Sarpi it became a measure of


human impotence. Virtù could no longer even hope to triumph over fortuna . Man is not incapable of controlling events. At the most he can only cooperate with the opportune moment. The wise man, therefore, must patiently resign himself to long periods of inactivity. Indeed, there is no certainty that God will even present him with a genuine opportunità . Sarpi himself began to suspect that it would not come in his generation and that, at best, he could work only for posterity. "It is well to instruct posterity," he pointed out, "at least with writings, so that when the evil of the present changes, they can regain liberty if it should be lost to us."[44]

A pessimism bordering on desperation with regard to the limits of human action is obviously not a characteristic generally associated with the Renaissance; and we are entitled to attribute Sarpi's gloom in great measure to altered political circumstances. Yet even here I think that his position was a natural development of the Renaissance emphasis on particular, concrete experience and of its rejection of all-embracing intellectual systems created by men. For the Renaissance mentality had two rather different aspects. On one hand, it tended to liberation and bold adventures of the mind; and this positive tendency could seem most prominent in a time of relative hope. But on the other hand, it rejected adventure in the present and withheld confidence in the future; and it manifested a profound skepticism concerning the limits of the human understanding and a resignation to man's imprisonment in the chaotic immediacy of direct experience. It is hardly surprising that for Sarpi this second tendency reflected the real truth about man's position in the universe. Indeed, notwithstanding his persistent pessimism regarding the probable course of events, he steadfastly refused to predict the future,[45] thereby revealing a deeper pessimism than would have been suggested by the certainty of disasters ahead. For Sarpi the world would always present surprises. He was convinced not only that all human calculation was useless but also that events usually turned out completely opposite to man's expectations.[46] Man,for Sarpi, was helpless in a world he could never hope to comprehend.

With this aspect of Sarpi's thought we have come to the other large set of changes that had altered the world since the time of the Renaissance, those released by the Reformation. If the political scene justified one kind of pessimism, the Christian view of man suggested another, though the two were closely related. The religious tendencies of the period were also reflected in Sarpi's thought. His most important writings, including his great Hitory , are works in which he tried to present the values and attitudes we have just examined within a religious context.


He did not sacrifice these values to a religious perspective. Indeed, it seems to me that the key to an understanding of his religious position is to be found precisely in his effort to preserve these values and to reconcile the demands of Christian belief to all that he held most dear. For Sarpi, as for each of us in some sense, the validity of a religious position was to be tested by its consistency with what he otherwise knew to be true.

It seems to me, therefore, that Sarpi's religious position was based on the same renunciation of the general in favor of the particular that we have observed in other aspects of his thought—on the pessimism implicit in this point of view, and especially on the feeling of the helplessness of man as a moral being, which in some degree parallels and in some degree underlies his helplessness to understand and to control events. For Sarpi, the weakness of man was, among other things, certainly moral. "Every human action." he wrote, "lacks perfection";[47] and this gloomy vision seems to pervade the History of the Council of Trent , a work singularly lacking in heroes and one which appears at times to be almost a deliberate demonstration of the depravity of man. But this vision does not exclude all consolation. Sarpi also saw that man's moral deficiencies implied his dependence on divine grace, and this explains the attraction he felt for extreme forms of the Pauline-Augustinian tradition.[48]

Sarpi's sense of human limitations is equally evident in his attitude toward Christian doctrine. Here his affinities with the thought of the Renaissance are even clearer. I have in mind something more general than the influence of that evangelism which was so deeply rooted in sixteenth-century Venice. Regarding human reason as incapable of passing from particulars to general truth, and considering all intellectual conclusions as possessing a merely operational validity and as being incapable of final verification, Sarpi considered reason irrelevant to salvation. The truths of Christianity could only be approached by faith:[49] hence his bitter criticism of the systematic theological discussions which produced the doctrinal formulations of Trent. This aspect of the History , although it has been little noticed, is almost as important as his antagonism to Rome for the comprehension of his work.[50] To apply the subtle definitions and distinctions of human reason to the content of the faith was for Sarpi a shocking contamination of heavenly with earthly things, the product of human vanity, contentiousness, and presumption. It was therefore doomed to futility.[51]

The same skepticism also underlies Sarpi's tolerance of religious difference and his aversion to persecution. Since a precise, systematic, ra-


tional, and coherent definition of the faith is so far beyond human capabilities, diversity of opinion must be permitted, and condemnation should be slow. For Sarpi, the doctrinal cleavages of Europe were largely verbal;[52] and since words cannot penetrate to the heart of reality, they were also essentially frivolous. This position, rather than an expression of politique indifference or the consequence of a direct inspiration from Protestant doctrines, explains his willingness to collaborate, for both political and religious ends, with Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans. These "heretics" could not be excluded from the Church of Christ on dogmatic grounds, for no human authority could be considered intellectually competent to determine their orthodoxy.

We have thus arrived at another fundamental element in Sarpi's religious position: his theory of the church.[53] Here his emphasis on the particular as the exclusive reality in human experience merges with the other major Renaissance element in his thought, to which it is closely related: affection for a particular social community. Sarpi's concept of the church is based on his insistence upon the fundamental importance of the individual believer. The church thus becomes merely an aggregation of individuals, convocatio fidelium .[54] Moreover, Sarpi insisted on the right and duty of individual judgment in religious matters, which he held to be superior to the collective judgment of the church as expressed by ecclesiastical authority. The Venetians might therefore in good conscience defy the papal ban.[55] Obviously, this theory also implied a revision in the relations between layman and priest. If the authority of the church resided in the individual believer, then the priest was only a delegate of the faithful, and the authority of the clergy was based on consent.[56] In this way Sarpi was evidently attempting to supply a historical and theoretical foundation for the secular and anticlerical lay spirit that was so deeply rooted in the civic consciousness of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. But the essence of his position is that the clerical conception of the church is a violation of the true structure of reality, which resides in individuals rather than in comprehensive systems.

The basis of authority in the church thus resided in the individual believer. But the believer in turn belonged to a national and confessional community. Hence, Sarpi saw the universal Church Militant essentially as the sum of all individual churches—Roman, Gallican, Greek, Anglican, and even Lutheran and Reformed.[57] His ideal, in fact, was not an organizational unity but a loose confederation of autonomous units. For this reason he showed little enthusiasm for any formal reconciliation and institutional unification between Catholics and Protestants.[58] Unity


savored too much of authoritarian uniformity, and it was therefore the absolute negation of that freedom to which he so much aspired. Sarpi's idealization of division in the church was perhaps the primary reason for his approval of the Protestant Reformation.[59] Papalism as a theory of ecclesiastical government was obviously contrary to his conception of the proper organization of the church. Moreover, the papal concept of monarchy as the imposition of a general principle of authority over all particular churches and persons was radically opposed to Sarpi's almost instinctive location of essential reality in the individual.

For Sarpi, just as truth is inaccessible to man, who can know nothing but the particular, so the Holy Spirit does not function through institutions or other visible and tangible entities. There is no meeting point between the ultimate and the immediate, the spiritual and the worldly. Sarpi therefore insisted on the exclusively spiritual character of the church: "It is called the kingdom of heaven, not only because it will attain perfection in heaven, but because while yet on earth it reigns and governs not by rules and worldly interests but by completely spiritual ordinances. By another name this is called the Church."[60] He conceived of the clergy as a spiritual body that by its nature is far removed from laws, government, property, or questions of an earthly character in general.[61]

When the clergy concerns itself with such matters, another serious inversion of values occurs. His position here offers Sarpi the opportunity for another attack on Rome. In his view the papacy was generally guilty of confusing the temporal with the spiritual, thus contaminating spiritual things;[62] and the Roman Church had degenerated into a political instrument employed by shrewd rulers to govern the masses for their own interest.[63] To this extent Sarpi was Machiavellian. He accepted the "Averroist myth,"[64] and hence a political interpretation of papal policies. The political efficacy of religion, he held, was demonstrable.

Feeling strongly that such a church did not serve the Christian faith, however, Sarpi wished for something better. Yet how could a purely spiritual church function in the world? With his reply to this question we have come to what, in the more religious atmosphere that followed the Reformation, I would describe as a religious expression of the civic spirit of the Renaissance. Sarpi attributes a wide responsibility to the civil authority, or "prince" as he calls it, both for what concerns the institutional and secular aspects of the church and for what relates to its spiritual life. The institutional direction of the church naturally belongs to the prince, since he is the legitimate ruler of all temporal things.[65] But its spiritual direction also belongs to him. If the authority of the


church definitively resides in the lay community and is merely delegated to the clergy, the head of the church is unquestionably the representative of this community. Therefore it is the prince who in the last analysis determines both spiritual and material matters.[66] Thus Sarpi was able to declare that the Venetian Republic and other political goverments have frequently and rightly intervened in ecclesiastical matters, "not as princes and political authorities, but as believers and representatives of the whole body of believers."[67] The prince has been delegated by God to govern both the spiritual and temporal orders on behalf of the community. If we keep in mind his predilection for Venice, Sarpi's position evidently serves to combine civic and religious impulses; his radical ecclesiology expresses patriotic devotion and faith in his own community. From this point of view citizenship is the only social condition of importance, and the clergy themselves are first of all simply citizens like other men.[68] In this sense the Republic of Venice was not a secular state at all. It was in the fullest sense the church itself, in so far as the church impinges on man's experience in this world. The exaltation of the Renaissance city-state could go no further.

It is not my intention either to claim systematic consistency for Sarpi's views or to maintain that they have much intrinsic ecclesiological interest. Nevertheless, I think that the historians can discover in him more than a curious renewal of the doctrines of Marsilio of Padua or a late expression of the "Byzantinism" so often attributed to Venice. No doubt Sarpi's doctrine owes something to both these sources. But his importance comes rather from the concrete historical circumstances that elicited his position. Sarpi was the champion of the values inherent in a particular community, values that were seriously menaced; and to defend them he attributed to the community a set of religious sanctions that went far beyond the patriotic affirmations of the Renaissance, even though they were moving in the same direction and serving the same ends. Sarpi reveals the persistence at a remarkably late date of a fundamental motif of the Renaissance; and he helps us to see its development and transformation under the pressure of new historical conditions. He succeeded in being both a patriot and a realist, and in his radical glorification of the state he suggests an important contribution of the Renaissance to the absolutism of early modern Europe.

But even deeper than his attachment to Venice was Sarpi's aversion to the general and the rigidly systematic and his preference for the particular and the immediate. Two rather different historical impulses may be seen converging in this aspect of his thought. One is the reflection of a previous era; the other is an anticipation of much that was most


fruitful for the later development of Western thought. Living in a less happy age, he recognized the darker implications of these impulses, and he adapted them to the construction of a more religious world view. There is no question here of a calculated and cynical exploitation of religious values for political and secular ends, as in the case of Machiavelli. Sarpi was a product of the Reformation as well as of the Renaissance, and one of the most striking features of his thought is precisely the way in which it so honestly combines two movements frequently considered antithetical. If, indeed, Sarpi's religious position appears finally closer to Wittenberg and Geneva than to Rome, it is not because he was attracted by Protestantism as such, but rather because the position expressed in the Protestant creeds seemed to him more consonant with the values he held so deeply as a free citizen of a free republic. In this way Sarpi can perhaps provide some insight into major tendencies of both the Renaissance and the Reformation, and above all into their profound connection.

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