Risorgimento

The period in Italian history between 1815 (the Congress of Vienna) and 1870 (the liberation of Rome). After the defeat of Napoleon, Italy (a merely geographical expression) was divided into various small states: the Kingdom of Sardinia under a Savoy king; the Lombard Venetian kingdom directly governed by Austria; the duchies of Parma, Modena, and Lucca, and the grand duchy of Tuscany; the Papal States*; and the kingdom of the two Sicilies under a Bourbon king.

Most of the Italian people accepted the situation, but some of the more enlightened had high ideals of independence, constitutional liberty, and unity and so formed secret societies. Their activity led to various uprisings in which temporary successes were followed by repression and the reinstatement by Austrian and French forces of the old regimes. Patriots were executed, imprisoned, or exiled. Gioberti* for a time considered a confederation of Italian states under Pius IX* as the best solution. That pope by his liberal attitude had raised great hopes in the minds of the patriots, but dashed them later by a complete volte-face. Finally, however, the wars of independence completed the unity of Italy (except for Trento and Trieste) when in 1870 Italian troops marched on Rome, causing the pope to withdraw into the Vatican.

Many reforms were badly needed: a constitutional regime, equality of citizens, and that separation of civil and religious powers so essential for religious liberty. It is important to see how the Roman Catholic Church and other religious movements were connected with the great political and national developments. The papacy, and Gregory XVI* (1831-46) in particular, held a position of marked conservatism, opposing any liberal and progressive movement. In the Papal States, bishops and the Inquisition tribunal had unlimited power, and there was no participation of the laity in government. Manzoni* and Rosmini* pointed out the importance of a closer association between church and people, suggesting even a renewed liturgy. Lambruschini* urged liberalism in all its aspects, but this was condemned by Pius IX both in 1864 and in the dogma of papal infallibility (1870). The laws of Guarentigie, establishing the relationship between the Vatican and the newly formed Italian state, were refused by Pius, who remained in voluntary exile in the Vatican. Roman Catholics were ordered not to vote-and thus to withdraw from political life.

Not to be overlooked is the contribution of the various “evangelical” movements to social and educational reform and the cause of religious liberty. Though small in numbers, they made their presence felt by their missionary zeal and by the opposition they met everywhere. Various factors contributed to the birth and growth of evangelism in nineteenth-century Italy: the Waldenses* in their valleys with a well-established church, the activity of Reformed foreign churches in most Italian cities, the contacts established with European Protestantism by many political and religious exiles, the development of philanthropic enterprises financed by rich Protestant foreigners. A great impact was made also by publication of S. Sismondi's Histoire des republiques italiennes dans le Moyen Age (1818), which attributed to the Roman Catholic Church and its ethics the decadence of Italian customs. Finally there was the great influence of Le Réveil.*

The Gospel spread at first especially in Tuscany, where there was a certain religious tolerance under Grand Duke Leopold II. Of great importance was a meeting held in Florence in 1844, in the house of a Swiss Christian, Charles Cremieux, at which leading reformers such as Lambruschini, Guicciardini,* and Montanelli were among those present. All considered religious reform an essential part of the national movement, but while some thought this would be better achieved from within the Roman Church, others wished to break away from it. The failure of the 1848-49 uprisings and the suppression of reformers brought the cause of Italian liberty to international notice, and in Britain particularly public opinion rose against the reactionary government which was stifling liberty of conscience.

The religious exiles in Geneva, Malta, and London formed evangelical communities. In London, Ferretti* published a journal aimed at spreading the Gospel among Italians and exposing the errors of Roman Catholicism. In Piedmont, however, the constitution had not been revoked, and the Waldensians had obtained permission to build a church in Turin (1851) while other communities were founded in Genoa and Nice. Desanctis* and Mazzarella* collaborated for a time with the Waldensians. In 1854 Guicciardini settled at Nice; in 1857 his collaborator Pietrocola- Rossetti* settled in Alessandria, a small Piedmontese town. An independent evangelical movement was thus started, and gradually communities of believers were formed in many places in Piedmont and thereafter throughout Italy. The communities formed were called Free Italian Churches, and it was the intention of the founders that the movement should be neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but simply Christian.

In the 1860s a division occurred within the Free Italian Churches. A. Gavazzi* had joined the movement hoping to overthrow the papacy and unite Italians into one national Protestant church, but his sermons were mainly political and violently anti- Roman Catholic. He founded a new Free Italian Church which at the turn of the century was absorbed by the Methodist mission. Most of the communities of the original movement are still in existence, with many more added to them, under the name of Christian Brethren Churches (Chiesa cristiana dei fratelli).

With the gradual liberation of Italy, foreign missions also increased their efforts, and contributed to the spread of the Gospel. Between 1860 and 1870 three Baptist missions (two British and one American) and two Methodist missions (one Episcopalian and one Wesleyan) were founded. Because of social conditions and appalling illiteracy, side by side with all missionary endeavor, whether Italian or foreign, has gone the founding of schools, orphanages, and hospitals.

Lastly, mention should be made of the attempts to found an autonomous Roman Catholic Church by those who opposed the dogma of papal infallibility. A first attempt in 1872 failed, but a second lasted from 1885 to 1900 when the founder of the movement, Count Campello, returned to orthodox Roman Catholicism and his collaborator Ugo Janni joined the Waldensian Church.