Pomponio Algerio and His Resolute Faith

Pomponio Algerio and His Resolute Faith

 In 2008, the University of Padova erected a memorial plaque in Algerio’s honor, remembering how he was arrested and executed “for his religious beliefs, which he inflexibly defended” and how he “faced the stake with exceptional composure and courage.”

Most tourists to Rome stop by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona. Some drop a coin in the water and make a wish. Hardly anyone is aware that in the same square a young Italian man was boiled in a cauldron of oil, pitch, and turpentine for his religious convictions. And yet, the man’s young age, stubborn refusal to recant, and astonishing composure during that final, agonizing ordeal, have contributed to imprint his name in the history of the Protestant Reformation.

Algerio was born around 1531 in Nola, near Naples, Italy – the same birth-place of another famous dissenter, Giordano Bruno. That general area was also where a Spanish Reformer, Juan De Valdes, held a Protestant-leaning conventicle. Quite possibly, Algerio had already been exposed to dissenting ideas by the time he moved to the university of Padova (or Padua, as it is known outside of Italy).

In Padova, he lived with other students and professionals (including a physician and a jurist and his wife) near Porta Portello, the main city gate. More than simple room-mates, these people shared a desire to read new publications and join recent discussions.

It was not unusual. The University of Padova was known for its free exchange of ideas (which might have been a reason why Algerio moved there). The Italian Reformers Pier Paolo Vergerio and Peter Martyr Vermigli were famous alumni.

All this changed in 1555 with the election (by a slight margin) of Gian Pietro Carafa as pope, with the name of Paul IV. The mastermind behind the 1542 re-institution of the Italian Court of Inquisition, Carafa was determined to stamp out any ember of dissent. He was quoted as saying, “If our own father were a heretic, we would gather the wood to burn him.”[1]

Little is known about Algerio and his life. He is simply described as a young man with a short blond beard. From a court deposition, it appears that he was married. He was arrested in his home on May 9, 1555 and sent to the prison called “Le Debite” (“the dues” – originally meant for those who could not pay their debts), near the university.

Refusing to Budge

During three trials held in Padova between May and July 1555, Algerio didn’t pull any punches. He started by saying he didn’t know why he was being tried. “I declare as true the triune God in whom I place all my trust, and likewise confess Jesus Christ as true God and true man,”[2] he said. If he was in error, he was willing to be corrected, as long as the correction was according to the Scriptures, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul who warned the Galatians not to believe anyone – even an apostle of an angel of God – who preached something contrary to God’s Word.[3]

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