Bernardino Ochino - Encyclopedia

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BERNARDINO OCHINO (1487-1564), Italian Reformer, was born at Siena in 1487. At an early age he entered the order of Observantine Friars, the strictest sect of the Franciscans, and rose to be its general, but, craving a yet stricter rule, transferred himself in 1534 to the newly founded order of Capuchins, of which in 1538 he was elected vicar-general. In 1539, urged by Bembo, he visited Venice and delivered a remarkable course of sermons, showing a decided tendency to the doctrine of justification by faith, which appears still more evidently in his Dialogi VII. published soon after. He was suspected and denounced, but nothing ensued until, at the instigation of the austere zealot Caraffa, the Inquisition was established at Rome, June 1542. Ochino was at once cited, but was deterred from presenting himself at Rome by the warnings of Peter Martyr and of Cardinal Contarini, whom he found at Bologna, dying of poison administered by the reactionary party. After some hesitation he escaped across the Alps to Geneva. He was cordially received by Calvin, and within two years published six volumes of Prediche, tracts rather than sermons, explaining and vindicating his change of religion. Twenty-five of these were published in English at Ipswich in 1548. In 1545 he became minister of the Italian Protestant congregation at Augsburg, which he was compelled to forsake when, in January 1547, the city was occupied by the imperial forces in the Schmalkaldic War. Escaping by way of Strassburg he found an asylum in England, where he was made a prebendary of Canterbury, received a pension from Edward VI.'s privy purse, and composed his chief work, A Trajedy or Dialogue of the unjust usurped Primacy of the Bishop of Rome (1549)This remarkable performance, originally written in Latin, is extant only in the translation of John Ponet, bishop of Winchester, a splendid specimen of nervous English. The conception is highly dramatic; the form is that of a series of dialogues. Lucifer, enraged at the spread of Christ's kingdom, convokes the fiends in council, and resolves to set up the pope as Antichrist. The state, represented by the emperor Phocas, is persuaded to connive at the pope's assumption of spiritual authority; the other churches are intimidated into acquiescence; Lucifer's projects seem fully accomplished, when Heaven raises up Henry VIII. and his son for their overthrow. The conception bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Paradise Lost; and it is almost certain that Milton, whose sympathies with the Italian Reformation were so strong, must have been acquainted with it, and with some of his later works. In the Labyrinth (dedicated to Queen Elizabeth of England), a discussion of the freedom of the will, he covertly assailed the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, and showed that his views were tinged with Socinianism.

The accession of Mary in 1553 drove him from England, and he became pastor of the Italian congregation at Zurich. In 1563 the long-gathering storm of obloquy burst upon the occasion of the publication of his Thirty Dialogues, in one of which his adversaries maintained that he had justified polygamy under colour of a pretended refutation. His dialogues on divorce and the Trinity were also obnoxious. Ochino was banished from Zurich, and, after being refused a shelter by other Protestant cities, directed his steps towards Poland, at that time the most tolerant state in Europe. He had not resided there long when the edict of the 6th of August 1564 banished all foreign dissidents. Flying from the country, he encountered the plague at Pinczoff; three of his four children were carried off; and he himself, worn out by age and misfortune, died in solitude and obscurity at Schlakau in Moravia, about the end of 1564. His reputation among Protestants was at the time so bad that he was charged with the authorship of the treatise De tribus impostoribus, as well as with having carried his alleged approval of polygamy into practice. It was reserved for Dr Benrath to justify him, and to represent him as a fervent evangelist and at the same time as a speculative thinker with a passion for free inquiry. The general tendency of his mind ran counter to tradition, and he is remarkable as resuming in his individual history all the phases of Protestant theology from Luther to Socinus.

See Life by B. O. Benrath (2nd ed., Brunswick, 1892), translated into English by Helen Zimmern (London, 1876). In addition to the books already named, he wrote Italian expositions of Romans (Geneva, 1545) and Galatians (Augsburg, 1546).

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