Gribaldi, Matteo

Matteo GribaldiMatteo Gribaldi Mofa (c.1505-September 1564), an eminent Italian legal scholar and university professor, was an Arian and a champion of Michael Servetus. Because of his personal influence on Polish students studying under him in Italy and Germany, such as Peter Gonesius and Michael Zaleski, and on Italian expatriates in Geneva who later traveled in eastern Europe, including Giorgio Biandrata, Gianpaolo Alciati, and Valentino Gentile, and because of the writings that he composed and attributed to Servetus, he can be regarded as an important link between Servetus and antitrinitarians in Poland. Not as cautious and diplomatic as his radical Italian expatriate friends Celio Secondo Curione and Lelio Sozzini, he was targeted as a trouble-maker and prosecuted by Protestant authorities in Germany and Switzerland.

Gribaldi was born in Chieri, near Turin, in the Italian Piedmont, then part of the Duchy of Savoy. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, youth, and education. He taught law in France: Toulouse, 1535-37; Cahors, 1537-40; Valence, 1540-43; and Grenoble, 1543-45. Before 1536 he married Georgine Carraxe, heiress of the estate of Farges, a dozen miles from Geneva. They had seven children. Wherever he worked during the academic year, throughout his life Gribaldi spent his summer holidays at Farges. Although the region around Farges had belonged to Savoy, in 1536 it was conquered by the Protestant Swiss city of Bern. Although a Protestant by 1542, while still teaching in France he attended mass and was outwardly a Roman Catholic. He left the University of Grenoble when it could no longer afford to pay him.

It is unknown how or where Gribaldi was employed between 1545 and 1548. He taught at the University of Padua, 1548-55. In Padua the largest group of students were Protestants from Germany and Switzerland. Because of their numbers, and the revenue they brought to the city, Protestants were for a time immune from the Roman Inquisition. Gribaldi was a popular lecturer amongst these foreign students.

In 1548 Gribaldi witnessed the death of Francesco Spiera, a Protestant Venetian legal scholar who had been forced by the inquisition to publicly deny his beliefs. In his ensuing last days Spiera suffered greatly from pangs of conscience and was convinced that he was irredeemably damned for having betrayed his faith. Gribaldi came to the attention of the Inquisition after he wrote his version of these events, Historia de quodam, quem hostes Evangelii in Italia coegerunt abiicere agnitam veritatem (The story of someone whom the enemies of the Gospel in Italy compelled to renounce acknowledged truth), 1549.

Shortly after this time Gribaldi’s views became even more objectionable to Roman authorities. Around 1550 he received a copy of Servetus’s On the Errors of the Trinity from the Italian expatriate publisher Pietro Perna. Having read this, Gribaldi announced that, without Servetus, he might never have known Christ. This may have been true, but this did not make his theology entirely Servetan. For Gribaldi misunderstood Servetus and adopted a theology that couuld be described as Arian or even ditheistic. He of course would have rejected such designations. Like Servetus, he believed that the Father and the Son ought to be thought of as a single deity because of their “agreement and harmony of spirit.”

Unlike Servetus, Gribaldi emphasized the doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement. Christ’s ordeal and sacrifice on the cross was central to Gribaldi’s piety, while at best peripheral in Servetus’s writing. Gribaldi said that God “reconciled the world to himself through the Son” and that “This redemption and reconciliation was accomplished by means of his only begotten son, who, absolutely obedient to the Father, out of ineffable love, like a spotless lamb, offered himself up as a willing sacrifice for the sins of humanity.”

In the late summer of 1553, Gribaldi, while vacationing on his Farges estate, visited nearby Geneva. He condemned the ongoing trial of Servetus, saying that no one should be punished for their beliefs, however false, and offering to argue that Servetus was not, in fact, wrong. He asked for a debate or an interview with Calvin, but was refused. While visiting Swiss cities on his way back to Italy, he continued to argue for toleration. In his classes in Padua, he promoted his version of Servetus’s theology. That autumn he hosted Lelio Sozzini in his home. Sozzini, a few years before, had addressed some difficult questions to Calvin upon the sacraments and resurrection. While Sozzini was there, Perna arrived from Basel with news of Servetus’s execution. Gribaldi’s lectures helped to convince a number of his Polish students, including Peter Gonesius and Michael Zaleski, to become antitrinitarians. They later followed him when he took up a teaching post in Germany.

Under the pseudonym, “Alphonsus Lyncurius Tarraconensis,” Gribaldi issued a pamphlet, Apologia pro Michaele Serveto(A Defence of Michael Servetus), 1554, criticizing the legal proceedings adopted by the Genevans against Servetus. A few years later, adapting selected material from Book 1 of Servetus’s On the Errors of the Trinity, he composed Declarationis Jesu Christi filii Dei (A Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God) and De vera Dei et filius eius cognitione (On the True Knowledge of God and His Son), works which he attributed to Servetus, but which reflect Gribaldi’s style and antitrinitarian thought more than they do the theology of Servetus. He revived the fictitious author of Apologia in order to provide a preface to Declarationis. These works were smuggled into Poland in manuscript form by Gribaldi’s students.

On his next visit to Geneva, in 1554, Gribaldi preached about the unity of God at a service of the Italian congregation, and, upon request, wrote to his hearers a written statement of his beliefs. In consequence some of the Swiss reformers began to question his orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Italian church authorities campaigned to have him dismissed from his post at the University of Padua. Fearing that the Venetian state would no longer be able to protect him from the Inquisition, in 1555 he accepted a professorship at the university in Tübingen, Germany. Passing through Geneva on his way from Farges to Zürich and Tübingen, he was pressured by Calvin to explain his doctrines at a meeting of the Geneva ministers. When Calvin refused to shake hands until they agreed on doctrine, Gribaldi immediately departed. Calvin then had him summoned and examined by the City Council. Under interrogation Gribaldi revealed some of his heretical ideas. The Council nevertheless ruled that, as a foreigner, he should be allowed to depart the city unmolested.

In Zürich his friend, the relatively tolerant Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, convinced Gribaldi to deflect suspicion by composing a confession of orthodoxy. This reassured another friend of his, Pierpaolo Vergerio, who had recommended him in Tübingen. There, in addition to teaching, Gribaldi helped his new employer, the Lutheran political leader Duke Christoph of Württemberg, in a lawsuit filed against the Hapsburgs. What Vergerio learned about Gribaldi’s influence in Poland, however, led him in 1557 to tell the Duke, “[Gribaldi] nourishes new and most pernicious opinions.” By then the Duke had also been provided with Calvin’s version of Gribaldi’s activities in Geneva.

Shortly after he barely escaped assassination in Bern—he was stabbed at the behest of the disgruntled losers of a lawsuit over the Farges estate—Gribaldi was interrogated by the Tübingen university senate. Because they were unsatisfied with the evasive answers he gave when asked about his theology, the senate required him to subscribe to the Athanasian creed. When he demurred, he was allowed three weeks to meet this demand in a way that would satisfy his conscience. Just before the deadline, he fled to Switzerland. When the Duke had Gribaldi’s library searched, investigators discovered a heretical manuscript work, “De vera cognitione Dei” (On the true Knowledge of God). The Duke sent this document to Bern, along with a record of the senate hearing.

Accordingly the Bernese government decided to closely monitor Gribaldi’s activities. As soon as it was clear to them that he was continuing to disseminate antitrinitarian theological writings, they had him arrested and imprisoned. He was sentenced to banishment and his estate confiscated. In an attempt to have this decision reversed, he met with Bern’s ministers and signed a confession affirming the Athanasian Creed and denying his own radical doctrines. But, as the government doubted his sincerity, they exiled him anyway. In 1558, after the death his wife, he petitioned to be allowed to return to Farges. This was granted, on condition that he henceforth keep his religious opinions to himself.

In 1559 Gribaldi accepted a new offer to teach at the University of Grenoble. Partisans of a rival professor, however, soon complained about Gribaldi’s unorthodoxy. Early in the following year, under pressure from the French government, the university reluctantly dismissed him. The Protestant reformers continued to keep a wary eye on him. In 1563 Calvin was warned that Gribaldi was preparing a commentary on Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Before Gribaldi could cause any further trouble to either Catholic or Protestant authorities, he died of plague at Farges.

Gribaldi’s religious writings are collected and translated in Peter Hughes and Peter Zerner, ed.and trans., Declaratio: Michael Servetus’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and other Antitrinitarian Works by Matteo Gribaldi (2010). An earlier English translations of De vera Dei et filius eius cognitione, by George Huntston Williams, is in Stanislas Lubienicki, History of the Polish Reformation and Nine Related Documents (1995), Apologia pro Michaele Serveto was translated by David Pingree in “The Apologia of Alphonsus Lyncurius,” in John Tedeschi, ed., Italian Reformation Studies in Honor of Laelius Socinus (1965). Gribaldi wrote a number of educational textbooks. One of these is The Way and the Approach to Study (De methodo et ratione studendi, 1541).

Information about Gribaldi can be found in the introduction to Hughes and Zerner, Declaratio; Francesco Ruffini, “Matteo Gribaldi Mofa,” in Studi sui Riformatori Italiani (1955); Frederic C. Church, The Italian Reformers, 1534-1564 (1932); Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and Its Antecedents (1945); and George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation (3rd ed. 2000). Discussion of the authorship of Apologia and Declaratio can be found in Stanislas Kot, “L’Influence de Servet sur le mouvement antitrinitarian on Pologne et Transylvanie,” in Bruno Becker, ed., Autour de Michel Servet et de Sébastien Castellion (1953); Uwe Plath, Calvin und Basel in den Jahren 1552-1556 (1974) and “Nocheinmal ‘Lyncurius’.Einige Gedanken zu Gribaldi, Curione, Calvin und Servet,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance (1969); Carlos Gilly, Spanien und der Basler Buchdruck bis 1600 (1985); and the introduction to Hughes and Zerner, Declaratio.

Article by Peter Hughes
Posted on October 19, 2008