Preaching and Inquisition in Renaissance Italy

Words on Trial


As has been well documented, the printed word was an essential vehicle for the transmission of reformed theology, and one that has left a tangible record for historians to explore. Yet as contemporaries well recognized, books were only a part of the process. It was the spoken word – and especially preaching – that created the demand for printed works. Sermons were the plough that prepared the ground for Lutheran literature to flourish. In order to better understand the relationship between oral sermons and the spread of protestant ideas, Preaching and Inquisition in Renaissance Italy draws upon the records of the Roman Inquisition to see how that institution confronted the challenges of reform on the Italian peninsula in the sixteenth century. At the heart of its subject matter is the increasingly sophisticated rhetorical skill of heterodox preachers at the time, who achieved their ends by silence and omission rather than positive affirmations of Lutheran tenets.
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Biographical Note

Giorgio Caravale, Ph.D. (2000), University of Rome 'Sapienza', is Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Roma Tre. He has recently been a member in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2013-2014) and Lauro De Bosis Lecturer in the History of Italian Civilization at Harvard University (2010-2011). He is the author of Forbidden Prayer. Church Censorship and Devotional Literature in Renaissance Italy (Ashgate, 2011; first Italian edition 2003); George Mosse's Italy (ed. with L. Benadusi, Palgrave McMillan, 2014; It. ed. 2012); The Italian Reformation Outside Italy. Francesco Pucci's Heresy in Sixteenth Century Europe (Brill, 2015; It. ed. 2011), Beyond the Inquisition. Ambrogio Catarino Politi and the Origins of the Counter-Reformation (Notre Dame University Press, forthcoming; It. ed. 2007), and Storia di una doppia censura. Gli Stratagemmi di Satana di Giacomo Aconcio nell'Europa del Seicento (Edizioni della Normale, 2013).

Review Quotes

“an excellent study of the Inquisition’s attempts to curb subversive preachers”.
Christopher Black, University of Glasgow. In: Renaissance and Reformation, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Fall 2017), pp. 190-192.

“This is a good book that advances our knowledge of the complex religious situation in the middle of the sixteenth century.”
Paul F. Grendler, University of Toronto Emeritus. In: The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 103, No. 3 (Summer 2017), pp. 584-585.

"In this book, Giorgio Caravale has managed to “shed light on the darkness” of heretical preaching, to great effect [...]. This volume makes an important contribution to sixteenth-century Italian religious scholarship available to an Anglophone audience."
Jane K. Wickersham, University of Oklahoma. In: Journal of Jesuit Studies, 5 (2018) pp. 136–138.

Table of contents

List of Figures

Introduction to the English Edition
1 The Ambiguity of the Word
2 Words on Trial
3 Inquisition and Historiography
4 The History of Preaching in Renaissance Italy. Continuity and Discontinuity
5 Preaching and Heresy. A Two-sided Coin
6 Sermons, Orality and Inquisitorial Sources
7 Orality and Written Culture
8 Risks and Limits

Prologue: Preaching, Heresy and Inquisition in the First Half of the Sixteenth-Century
1 Brescia, Land of Contagion
2 A Dangerous Friendship
3 A Network of Compromising Relationships
4 Pulpit on Trial: The Beginning of the Roman Inquisitorial Process
5 An Erasmian Preacher
6 A Controversial Sacrament
7 Ambiguities of the Word: Dissimulation, Confession and Preaching
8 The End of the Trial
9 Rehabilitation
10 Conversion
11 Cosimo de Medici’s Roman Spy: ‘Secret Afffairs’ and ‘Insults’
12 At the Service of Holy Roman Church
13 The ‘Scorpion’s Tail’: Controversy in Power

Appendix: Chizzola trial
Index of Names


All interested in the history of Renaissance and in the History of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. All scholars of Religious History and History of the Church. Anyone concerned with the history of orality and the history of the Inquisition.


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