Strange bedfellows

An idealised image of a Renaissance schoolmaster

A story of religious conflict and attempted conversion from the central archive of the Jesuit order:

Before a trip to Rome and a meeting with Diego Laìnez led him to enter the Society of Jesus, Giacomo Cerruti lived a tormented existence as a schoolmaster in the Piemontese countryside, and nothing was more likely to spark his rage and indignation than an encounter with one of the followers of the evangelical churches that populated the alpine valleys.

In his autobiography, written ca. 1570, Cerruti recounted several of the occasions on which he had met and debated with heretics, including the nameless inhabitant of the Valle del pellice with whom he spent the night in the darkened room of a country hostel; the two men had been put in the same bed by an innkeeper who had run out of space.   In order to pass the time, they began to discuss “good things, and above all the mass,” but when the other man argued that “it was nothing, and that it wasn’t necessary to attend it,” Cerruti became furious, “and it gnawed at it me inside.”  He continued the debate, only to hear the immaculate conception of the virgin denied, and Cerruti’s anger mounted: “That night seemed to last a thousand years,” he remembered, when morning came, the “ribald” escaped before he had the chance to learn his name.

Cerruti was equally intolerant of those who sought religious concord and truce with the ‘Lutherans.’  After a gentleman in Cuneo lamented the wars of religion in France and suggested that the Gospel taught Christians to behave otherwise, Cerruti exploded, telling him that the pope wanted the Lutherans to be exterminated, cut into pieces and buried in the depths of hell, before turning and leaving in disgust.

It was undoubtedly this rejection of the Reformation that led Cerruti to Rome during the pontificate of Pius V, and attracted him to one of the religious orders that had been most active in combating it across Europe, but becoming a Jesuit implied a kind of conversion of its own.  Cerruti’s instinctive and angry polemics against his religious adversaries must have given way later to the a more disciplined and circumspect mode of confrontation, of the kind that the first generation of Jesuits, men like Laìnez and Peter Canisius, had perfected in the course of missions and formal disputations across Europe, and made into one of the defining characteristics of their order.

Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Vitae 3, ff. 25-28

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