A time line is in order:
[Valdéz had a twin brother, Alfonso, prominent in Spanish politics, and there is some confusion among those who write on the subject about just which Valdéz they are talking about. Alfonso was secretary of the imperial chancellery at the court of Charles V in the 1520s. His brother, our Juan, was the "Protestant" under discussion here.]
I have had difficulty
finding out even where Juan lived or had meetings
with similarly-minded reformers (or nascent
Protestants, as the case may be). One source
claims that the place was “on an island in the Bay
of Naples.” That is too vague to be of any help.
It couldn’t have been Capri, Procida or Ischia.
Maybe the writer meant Nisida. Who knows? Another
source has the clumsy sentence, “On the western arm of the
Bay of Naples, hard by the tomb of Virgil,
looking forth on the calm sea, and the
picturesque island of Capri, with the opposite
shore, on which Vesuvius, with its pennon of
white vapor atop, kept watch over the cities
which 1,400 years before it had wrapped in a
winding-sheet of ashes, and enclosed in a tomb
of lava, was placed the villa of Valdez.” That,
too, is of no help.
way of background, Valdéz, while he was
still in Spain, was certainly influenced by the
movement of Christian mystics known as the alumbrados (illuminated ones);
because of their allergy to external ritual, their
dislike of priestly intermediaries, and their
emphasis on personal, inner spiritual experience,
they were in constant conflict with Church
authorities. By the
time of his arrival in Naples, Valdéz had
already published Diálogo de Mercurio y Caron,
attacking the corruption in the Roman Catholic
Church. His first publication at Naples was a
philological treatise, Diálogo de la Lengua
(1533), but the thrust of his work was towards
interpreting the Bible and—the mainstay of
Protestantism—justification by faith. He also
translated portions of the Bible from Greek and
Hebrew into Spanish. Valdés died in Naples in May,
I found a glowing passage about him and his group. (Obviously, this was written by a Protestant!):
Today, the only thing evident about Reformation in Naples—indeed, in all of Italy—is that it failed. No Italian city or region went over to the Reformation. (On the other hand, Italy never had to suffer through a later Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants, either.) I have nothing illuminating to offer as to why the Protestant Reformation failed in Naples or Italy, in general, other than to assume that it simply could not overcome Inquisitorial suppression or the entrenched alliances that bound the governing classes to the Church. Massimo Firpo* (below) points out that “…In Europe the Reformation succeeded where it could count on significant intervention by the political powers, and it failed where this did not occur.”
After the death of Valdéz, his writings continued to inspire church reformers (not necessarily outright and schismatic Protestants) throughout Italy, but, eventually, in the face of the Counter-Reformation, they were forced into that silent state of “inner emigration” called "Nicodemism" (1)—outwardly conforming to Roman Catholicism while inwardly professing their true faith.
As you might imagine, there is a great wealth of literature about the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and, specifically, the Reformation—or ostensible lack thereof—in Italy (see bibliography, below). As far as I can tell, recent writers, such as Firpo (below) view as oversimplified the traditional claim that Protestants simply went into hiding in Italy in the mid-1500s and didn’t come out until the Risorgimento and anti-clericalism swept Italy in the mid-1800s. Also as far as I can tell, neither Valdéz nor the group around him should be viewed as flaming rebels against the Catholic church—transplanted German Lutherans, so to speak—, but much more as reformers in the spirit of Erasmus, less interested in schism than in adherence to evangelical simplicity and their own inner voices when it came to the interpretation of Scripture.
But that is only as far
as I can tell, for as the song says…don't now
1. "Nicodemism." The term is attributed to Calvin and is based on the Gospel of John, which describes one Nicodemus as afraid of being seen openly with Jesus but willing to visit him in secret. The term is not altogether positive since—while it may be taken to mean inward steadfastness—it can also imply cowardice.
Relevant works from the 19th and early 20th century include:
MacCrie, History of the Progress
and Suppression of the Reformation in Italy,
—Benjamin Barron Wiffen, Life and Writings of Juan de Valdéz, otherwise Valdesso, Spanish Reformer in the Sixteenth Century, London 1865.
—Christopher Hare, Men and Women of the Italian Reformation, London 1914.
—Frederick Corss Church, The Italian Reformers 1534-1564, New York 1932.
—George Kenneth Brown, Italy and the Reformation to 1559, Oxford 1933.
More recent bibliography is found in
—Gleason, Elizabeth. “On the Nature of Sixteenth-Century Evangelism: Scholarship, 1953-78” in Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 9, n.3. (Autumn, 1978).
References cited in text:
Massimo. “The Italian Reformation and Juan de
Valdéz” in Sixteenth Century
Journal, XXVII/2, (1996).
—Tejada, Francisco Elìas. Napoli Spagnola, vol. 2. Controcorrente, Napoli, 2002. (Original: Nàpoles hispanico. Madrid. 1958.)