Jacopo Aconcio was one of the most important religious reformers of the Renaissance. His works, in which his religious interests are intertwined with philosophy and science, encompass a critique of Catholicism as well as certain aspects of the Reformation, in a perspective where an affirmation of the idea of tolerance is accompanied by the rejection of all dogmatism.
KeywordsNearby Village Epistemological Issue Religious Issue Harsh Criticism Strong Condemnation
Jacopo Aconcio was born around 1520 in the city of Trento or in the nearby village of Ossana. He studied law and practiced as a notary until (probably in 1551) he followed the Archduke Maximilian, son of Emperor Ferdinand I, to Vienna. A few years later he returned to Italy and at the end of 1556 arrived in Milan to work as secretary to Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo, who had recently become governor of Milan. However, in June 1557 his adherence to the reformed religion – an adherence matured during his years in Trento and Vienna – prompted him to flee Italy to reach the land of the Reformation. Thus, he went first to Basel and Zurich (where he befriended Bernardino Ochino) and then to Strasbourg (where he met several English exiles) until in 1559, following the death of Mary Tudor and the ascent of Elizabeth I to the throne, he decided to settle in London. In England, he alternated his work as religious reformer with his activity as expert in military fortifications, until his death in approximately 1567.
Aconcio’s commitment as a religious reformer is characterized overall by his harsh criticism of the errors and excesses of Roman Catholicism, but at the same time, also by his strong condemnation of the dogmatic and absolutist consequences of Reformed confessions. His first work, the Dialogo di Giacopo Riccamati (previously written in Vienna but later published in Basel in 1558), depicts a close comparison between the character of Muzio, a Catholic totally convinced of his faith, and that of James Riccamati, a good Christian who aspires to know the truth of Christ beyond any confessional rigidity, and also through the exercise of doubt. In this work, Aconcio aims to explain the reasons for his rejection of the Church of Rome and at the same time, rather than set it in opposition to the reformed religion, to simply indicate two essential principles of the search for truth in matters of religion: on the one hand, the use of the word of God – that is, Scriptural text – as the sole criterion for verification of individual opinions, and on the other hand, a willingness to deal with those whose beliefs are different. His identification of the reformed religion as a landing place during the journey in search of truth becomes explicit in the Somma brevissima della dottrina cristiana, also published in Basel in 1558. In this work, Aconcio continues to lash out against Catholics and their errors (first of all the unjustified multiplication of sacraments, which according to the Scriptures should be kept to only Baptism and the Eucharist) and outlines the contours of a reformed religion that is more Lutheran than Calvinist, mainly based on direct reading of the Bible, reducing the value of good works, and on the absolute centrality of Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of man. Finally, in his most famous work, the Stratagemata Satanae, which was printed in Basel in 1565 and would enjoy great fortune in the following decades, Aconcio continues his anti-Catholic polemic but now also criticizes the Reformed Churches, to which he imputes an increasing dogmatic rigidity, frequent internal conflicts, and repeated manifestations of intolerance. To combat these wrongs, he proposes a twofold remedy: on one hand, to abandon any theological subtleties and reduce dogmatic apparatus to a few essential truths, that is, those deriving directly from the Scriptures that must be known in order to obtain salvation; on the other hand, constant application of the principle of tolerance – a principle based not on denial of the existence of a single truth, but on the belief that the truth cannot but reveal and assert itself when sought through dialogue based on rational persuasion rather than violent coercion (Rossi 1952).
However, Aconcio’s importance in the cultural landscape of the sixteenth century goes beyond the sphere of religious issues. Among his major works should also be recalled De methodo (Basel 1558), in which he sets up – following Aristotelian logic interpreted with great originality – a new foundation for the means of gathering and transmitting knowledge, based on the analytical method. Moreover, this strong interest in logical and epistemological issues is by no means foreign to the religious problem. Aconcio’s philosophical, religious, and technical-scientific interests spring from a single, fundamental need: to find a solution to the practical, theoretical, and spiritual problems that daily life presents to man, who is always at the center of his perspective. And thus, Aconcio finally appears as a figure whose sincere adherence to the Reformation does not cancel out a basic concept of purely humanistic inspiration (Rossi 1952).
- Aconcio, G. 1944. De methodo e opuscoli religiosi e filosofici, ed. G. Radetti. Florence, Vallecchi.Google Scholar
- Aconcio, G. 1946. Stratagematum Satanae libri VIII, ed. G. Radetti. Florence, Vallecchi.Google Scholar
- Aconcio, G. 2011. Trattato sulle fortificazioni, ed. P. Giacomoni et al. Florence, L.S. Olschki.Google Scholar
- Caravale, G. 2013. Storia di una doppia censura. Gli Stratagemmi di Satana di Giacomo Aconcio nell’Europa del Seicento. Pisa, Edizioni della Normale.Google Scholar
- Cristofolini, P. 1984. Aconcio e l’Anticristo. Rinascimento 24: 53–79.Google Scholar
- Giacomoni, P., and Dappiano, L., eds. 2005. Jacopo Aconcio. Il pensiero scientifico e l’idea di tolleranza. Trent, Università degli Studi di Trento.Google Scholar
- O’Malley, Ch.D. 1955. Jacopo Aconcio. Rome, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.Google Scholar
- Rossi, P. 1952. Giacomo Aconcio. Milan, Bocca.Google Scholar