The Dispute of Tirano and the Trial of Calvin’s Orthodoxy

In the eventful sixteenth century, few people took notice of a court trial in a small town on the Italian side of the Alps. And yet, the stakes were high.

It all started on May 1, 1595, when Simone Cabasso, parish priest of Tirano, preached from the pulpit that John Calvin denied the divinity of Christ. It was a serious accusation, all the more because of the town’s unusual circumstances.

From 1512, the region including Tirano, known as Valtellina, had been under the Free State of the Three Leagues (today known as the Grisons). Dealing with a population of both Roman Catholics and Protestants, a 1526 diet (Diet of Ilanz) had taken some preventative measures, placing limitations on the authority of Roman Catholic bishops over the general population and condemning acts of defamation or disturbance to the religious peace. Infractions to these statutes could be punished by death.

Most of the time, Simone Cabasso and Antonio Andreassi, pastor of Tirano’s Reformed church, had been coexisting peaceably. But when Andreassi learned of Cabasso’s sermon, he thought the matter was serious enough to be brought to the authorities.

It was a bold action in a town where Protestants amounted to about one hundred in a population of 4000. What’s more, the Catholic population was militant against Protestants. A legend told that the statue of the Archangel Gabriel, standing on top of their Basilica, had spontaneously turned, pointing its sword against the northern, Protestant nations.

It was also a risky action. If the authorities found Cabasso correct in his statement, the Reformed population (then commonly referred to as Calvinist) could be legally expelled as heretics. On the other hand, if Cabasso were found guilty, he could lose his life.

. . . Cabasso stood by his statement, asserting that Calvin, in the second book of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 14, had expressed the unity of the two natures of Christ in his role as mediator in a way that suggested that his human nature was lesser than the divine. Many Christian authors were quoted in the course of the discussion, including Augustine, Ambrose, Robert Bellarmine, and Protestants such as Guillarme Budé and Philippe du Plessis-Mornay.

The last session included representatives of the Three Leagues State, proof that the debate had become a matter of concern to the national peace.

A sentence was finally passed on January 7, 1597, ruling that “Calvin thought and wrote in a just and orthodox manner regarding the divinity of Christ,”[1] and that Cabasso was therefore guilty of defamation. The priest was, however, given the relatively small penalty of 130 crowns, possibly to avoid a potential rebellion by Catholics who would have objected to a harsher punishment.

Read more»

Simonetta Carr | “The Dispute of Tirano and the Trial of Calvin’s Orthodoxy” | May 18th, 2023


Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Simonetta, this has to be a typo: “A sentence was finally passed on January 7, 1987.”

    Italy was doing many strange things in the 1980s, but holding a civil heresy trial on the orthodoxy of John Calvin was not among them! (Though that would certainly be interesting if it were to happen.)

    I make plenty of my own typos — no offense intended. Great article, BTW, on how a Roman Catholic judge agreed that Calvin was theologically orthodox on the Trinitarian point under question.

Comments are closed.