Radical Reformation and Medicine in the Late Renaissance

The Case of the University of Padua

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  • 1 University of Erfurt

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This paper, which presents first results of a wider book project, will reconstruct the influence of the so-called ‘radical wing’ of the Reformation, above all Anabaptism, Socinianism, and Antitrinitarism, on the tradition of natural philosophy that had established itself in particular in Veneto through the works of Pietro Pomponazzi, Agostino Nifo, and Giacomo Zabarella. Italian physicians and foreign students at the University of Padua developed theories that anticipated many scientific innovations of the 17th century (especially with regard to blood circulation). Often they were forced into exile, persecuted by the Inquisition and by political authorities of Protestant territories. In my article, I would like to give an overview of the education and European peregrinations of some of these heterodox physicians, in whose work medical, theological, and philosophical theory, religious dissent, conversion, and exile were remarkably entangled. I will focus on their international correspondence networks and on their relationship with political and religious authorities, with diplomats and with physicians from other confessions.

  • 3

    See Ralf Bröer, “Antiparacelsismus und Dreieinigkeit. Medizinischer Antitrinitarismus von Thomas Erastus (1524–1583) bis Ernst Soner (1572–1605),” Beiträge zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2006, 29:137–154; Id., “Blutkreislauf und Dreieinigkeit. Medizinischer Antitrinitarismus von Michael Servet (1515–1588) bis Giorgio Biandrata (1515–1588),” Beiträge zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 2006, 29:21–37. The articles, though overly dependent on secondary sources, offer an extremely helpful short introduction to the issue and to the main protagonists of these events. However, in my opinion, they establish an excessively strict relationship of cause and effect between Paduan medicine and religious nonconformism, insisting on theoretical aspects that do not in my opinion suffice to adequately distinguish the role of physicians within the Radical Reformation; they require integration within a micro-historical and sociological perspective. See § 4.

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  • 5

    Michael Servetus, Christianismi restitutio (s.l.: s.n., 1553), p. 170: “Hinc dicitur anima esse in sanguine, et anima ipsa esse sanguis, sive sanguineus spiritus […]. Ad quam rem est prius intelligenda substantialis generatio ipsius vitalis spiritus, qui ex aëre inspirato, et subtilissimo sanguine componitur, et nutritur. Vitalis spiritus in sinistro cordis ventriculo suam originem habet, iuvantibus maxime pulmonibus ad ipsius generationem […]. Generatur ex facta in pulmonibus mixtione inspirati aëris cum elaborato subtili sanguine, quem dexter ventriculus cordis sinistro communicat. Fit autem communicatio haec non per parietem cordis medium, ut vulgo creditur, sed magno artificio a dextro cordis ventriculo, longo per pulmones ductu, agitatur sanguis subtilis: a pulmonibus praeparatur, flauus efficitur: et a vena arteriosa, in arteriam venosam transfunditur. Deinde in ipsa arteria venosa inspirato aëri miscetur, exspiratione a fuligine repurgatur. Atque ita tandem a sinistro cordis ventriculo totum mixtum per diastolem attrahitur, apta supellex, ut fiat spiritus vitalis.”

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  • 22

    Bernardino Tomitano, Espositione letterale del testo di Mattheo Evangelista, di M. Bernardin Tomitano (Venice: Dal Griffo, 1547). See on this Silvana Seidel Menchi, Erasmus als Ketzer. Reformation und Inquisition in Italien des 16. Jahrhunderts (Leiden: Brill, 1993), pp. 88–89.

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  • 23

    Leandro Perini, “Note e documenti su Pietro Perna libraio-tipografo a Basilea,” Nuova Rivista Storica, 1967, 51:363–404; Id., La vita e i tempi di Pietro Perna (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2002); Antonio Rotondò, Studi e ricerche di storia ereticale italiana del Cinquecento (Turin: Giappichelli, 1974), pp. 273–291. On Girolamo Donzellini see Palmer, “Physicians and the Inquisition” (cit. note 10), pp. 122–129; Alessandra Celati, “Heresy, Medicine and Paracelsianism in Sixteenth-Century Italy: The Case of Girolamo Donzellini (1513–1587),” Gesnerus, 2014, 71:5–37.

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  • 24

    For a biography see Mariano Verdigi, Simone Simoni. Filosofo e medico nel ‘500 (Lucca: Pacini Fazzi, 1997).

  • 27

    Nicolas F.J. Eloy, Dizionario storico della medicina (Naples: s.n., 1761), p. 177.

  • 28

    Antonio Riccoboni, De Gymnasio Patavino (Padua: Bolzeta, 1598), p. 75: “Cum in cathedra a nonnullis agnitus Apostata, & propterea accusatus fuisset, postea quam a sanctissimo quaestionis officio in ius vocatus, ac comprehensus est, ut vite suae redderet rationem, noctu ex altissimo loco Episcopatus, in quem erat coniectus, chorda ex linteis, culcitra, alijsque rebus, quomodo potuit, confecta periculosissime descendit, & aliquandiu latuit, sibisque salute fuga quaesivit.”

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  • 31

    Girolamo Donzellini, Synopsis commentariorum De Peste, Das ist Kurtzer Doch beständiger Begriff dreyer Außbündiger Tractätlein von der Pestilentz, deren Natur, Praeservation, Curation und sonsten in gemein von allerhand dißfals bedencklichen Sachen (Lich: Erben, 1597). The Donzellini-Camerarius correspondence is held at the Universitätsbibliothek of Erlangen, Trew collection.

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  • 32

    Simone Simoni, D. Stephani primi Polonorum regis magnique Lithuanorum ducis, etc. Sanitas, vita medica, aegritudo, mors (Nyssae: Reinheckel, 1587); id., Scopae quibus verritur confutatio, quam advocati Nicolai Buccellae Itali chirurgi Anabaptistae, innumeris mendaciorum, calumniarum, errorumque purgamentis infartam, postremo emiserunt (Olmütz: s.n., 1589); Niccolò Buccella, Refutatio scripti Simonis Simonii Lucensis, cui titulum fecit, D. Stephani Primi Polonorum Regis, &c. Sanitas, vita medica, aegritudo, mors (Krakow: Rodecki, 1588).

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  • 37

    Ian Maclean, “The Medical Republic of Letters before the Thirty Years War,” Intellectual History Review 2008, 18:15–30; Nancy Siraisi, Communities of Learned Experience. Epistolary Medicine in the Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). Siraisi’s book, though short, is extremely important for the lines of research suggested.

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  • 38

    See on this Monika Ammermann, “Die gedruckten Briefe Conrings und die Brieftypologie des 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Hermann Conring 1606–1681. Beiträge zu seinem Leben und Werk, edited by Michael Stolleis (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1983), pp. 437–464.

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  • 44

    See Martin Schmeisser, “Italienischer Aristotelismus und Altdorfer Sozinianismus: Johann Crells Kritik an der Philosophie Andrea Caesalpinos,” Mitteilungen des Sonderforschungsbereichs 537 Pluralisierung und Autorität in der Frühen Neuzeit, 2011, 1:23–31; id., “Johann Crells aristotelische Ethik und die Moralphilosophie an der Academia Norica in den ersten Jahrzehnten des 17. Jahrhunderts,” in Religiöser Nonkonformismus und frühneuzeitliche Gelehrtenkultur, edited by Friedrich Vollhardt (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), pp. 101–120; Martin Mulsow, “Die wahre peripatetische Philosophie in Deutschland. Melchior Goldast, Philipp Scherb und die akromatische Tradition der Alten,” in Fördern und Bewahren. Studien zur Europäischen Kulturgeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996), pp. 49–77; Wolfgang Mährle, Academia Norica. Wissenschaft und Bildung an der Nürnberger Hohen Schule in Altdorf (1575–1623) (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000).

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  • 47

    Henri Tollin, Die Entdeckung des Blutkreislaufs durch Michael Servet (1511–1553) (Jena: Dufft, 1876).

  • 49

    Aldo Stella, Dall’anabattismo al socinianesimo nel Cinquecento veneto: ricerche storiche (Padua: Liviana, 1967); Domenico Caccamo, Eretici italiani in Moravia, Polonia, Transilvania (1558–1611): studi e documenti (Chicago: Northern Illinois University Press, 1970); Antonio Rotondò, Studi e ricerche di storia ereticale italiana del Cinquecento (Turin: Giappichelli, 1974); Delio Cantimori, Eretici italiani del Cinquecento (Florence: Sansoni, 1939); Frederic C. Church, The Italian Reformers 1534–1564 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).

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  • 52

    See Salvatore Caponetto, La Riforma protestante nell’Italia del Cinquecento (Turin: Claudiana, 1992); Massimo Firpo, Riforma protestante ed eresie nell’Italia del Cinquecento (Rome/Bari: Laterza, 1993); Mario Biagioni, Matteo Duni, Lucia Felici (eds.), Fratelli d’Italia. Riformatori italiani del Cinquecento (Turin: Claudiana, 2011). Addante, Eretici e libertini (cit. note 18), on Valdesian groups. There are also a series of studies on individual geographical contexts: Simonetta Adorni-Braccesi, “Una città infetta”: la Repubblica di Lucca nella crisi religiosa del Cinquecento (Florence: Olschki, 1994); Guido Dell’Olio, Eretici e inquisitori nella Bologna del Cinquecento (Bologna: Istituto per la storia di Bologna, 1999); Achille Olivieri, Riforma ed eresia a Vicenza nel Cinquecento (Rome: Herder, 1992); Susanna Peyronel Rambaldi, Speranze e crisi nel Cinquecento modenese: tensioni religiose e vita cittadina ai tempi di Giovanni Morone (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1979).

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  • 53

    See Clifford Geertz, Dichte Beschreibung. Beiträge zum Verstehen kultureller Systeme (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003). On the concept of contact zone see Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

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