Bernardino Ochino of Siena
Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564) has long been a misinterpreted historical figure. Even to specialists Ochino’s Siena is less well-known than Luther’s Wittenburg or Calvin’s Geneva. A once-famous Capuchin preacher turned “heretic,” Ochino was forced into exile in 1542 upon the re-establishment of the Roman Inquisition. Ochino’s life has often been defined in terms of success and failure, his exile as a personal tragedy, and his theological ideas as unclassifiable. An examination of some of his most important letters as well as a selection of his sermons, dialogues, and his catechism, however, illustrate that Ochino’s exile actually provided him with opportunities that allowed him to become the teacher of Italian reformed thought to his followers in Italy and throughout Europe. This was made possible largely by his now unimpeded access to the printing press, the medium to which he resorted after his preaching was silenced. From his state of exile he, quite literally, helped to compose the Italian Reformation and his story speaks to the growing interest among historians in conceptualizing exile and mobility as preconditions of religious transformation and the international Reformation. Ochino’s corpus of works reveals a man intimately engaged with the Protestant Reformation throughout Europe. His writings betray the influence of Luther and Calvin, while maintaining a certain Italian “anti-dogmatism” that historians have long recognized in Ochino’s work and in the Italian Reformation more broadly. Ochino’s eclecticism is a reminder that the Italian Reformation must be appreciated in its own right, as a crucial element of the international Reformation and not simply as a catalyst for the Counter or Catholic Reformation, as it is often portrayed. Ochino’s works—printed abroad and frequently transported clandestinely back to Italy—reveal the existence of a community of men and women who hoped to be agents of religious reform, not simply heretics who hoped to avoid the gaze of the Inquisition. Theirs was a religion that begged to be lived, not one that was meant to be hidden. Ochino was their leader.