Pietro Manelfi, of San Vito, Italy, a Catholic priest, became a leading figure in the north Italian antitrinitarian "Anabaptist" movement of the late 1540s until he relapsed and exposed the sect to the Inquisition at Bologna in October 1551. Instructed in Lutheran teachings around 1540-1541 at Ancona by the Capuchin Fra Girolamo Spinazola and by Bernardino Ochino, after about a year he gave up his priestly duties on the advice of another ex-Capuchin, one Master Giulio. Some three years later he left for Padua where he was installed as a Lutheran minister. He then traveled about for some time in northern Italy visiting evangelical communities.
In 1548 or 1549 in Florence Manelfi met Tiziano, who had recently been expelled from the Rhaetian Leagues on account of radical doctrines he had probably acquired from Camillo Renato. Tiziano and two companions, Iseppo of Asolo and Lorenzo of Modiano, acquainted him with the "Anabaptist" doctrines; to wit, (1) infant baptism is not Scriptural, (2) Christians cannot be magistrates, (3) the sacraments are only signs, (4) the Scriptures are the sole standard of truth, (5) the Catholic Church is diabolical and its baptism is not Christian. Some months later in Ferrara a former canon Iseppo of Vicenza converted him to these beliefs, upon which Manelfi, along with four companions, was baptized by Tiziano.
Manelfi now went to Vicenza with these men and soon Christological questions were brought up in the congregation. To settle the disputed points it was decided to call a council of leaders of the sect, two from each congregation in Italy and Switzerland, plus other interested parties. Tiziano and Iseppo of Asolo recruited the delegates in northern Italy, the Rhaetian Leagues, and the Swiss cantons. Manelfi had part of the responsibility for seeking funds and providing housing for delegates. Some 60 persons, all Italians and representing around 30 places, including Basel, Chiavenna, and St. Gall, gathered at Venice in September 1550. They met for 40 days and reached nearly unanimous agreement on several points which may be summarized as follows: Jesus was a man but filled with the virtue of God; there are no angels, and there is no devil or hell; only the elect shall be raised at the Judgment Day, the souls of the wicked dying with their bodies; salvation is by election alone and not by good works or by the sacrifice of Jesus. Manelfi claimed to have been instrumental in getting these points discussed and adopted. There was agreement on the other "Anabaptist" views mentioned above, special emphasis being laid on the teaching concerning magistrates.
At the conclusion of the council several men were designated as "apostolic bishops" to bring the conciliar decisions to the member congregations. Manelfi, as one of these, traveled to Vicenza, Padua, Treviso, and Istria with Marcantonio of Asolo. Their labors brought about a separation between the congregations willing to accept the radical doctrines and those which held to the more moderate course, a division that was already in evidence at the council when the delegates from Cittadella refused to accept its conclusions. Manelfi named Lorenzo Niccoluzzo of Modiano and Pasqualino of Asolo as other companions on these visits, especially to the Romagna, Ferrara, and Tuscany. In September 1551 Manelfi was called to Verona to explain his doctrines. At a Sunday meeting attended by around 25 persons in a secluded spot not far from the city he found acceptance for his teachings on baptism and the incarnation of Christ but the meeting broke up in disagreement when he asserted that Christ was a man, born of the seed of Joseph.
October 1551 found Manelfi and a friend en route from Vicenza to Tuscany, when near Ravenna he decided to return to the Catholic Church. He told his companion of his decision, proceeded to Bologna and turned himself over to the Inquisition. On 17 October he made his first deposition, wherein, after describing the circumstances of his conversion, he revealed the story of the Venetian Council. The authorities saw the vital importance of this information and transferred the case to Rome, where Manelfi prepared three more statements. In a deposition made on 12 November 1551 he added details of his work as apostolic bishop and of what he knew about Tiziano. He also discussed the beliefs of his sect, stressing its teaching on magistrates, and pointed out that the unorthodox Christological doctrines did not form a part of the Anabaptist teaching until the council's meetings. He asserted that the only authority recognized by the sect was the Bible, excepting the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters and part of the third of Luke: these passages, he said, were believed to have been inserted into the Gospels by St. Jerome. On 13 November Manelfi provided more information about the council and named several men who attended it. He summarized the arrangements made for accommodating delegates and described the character of the proceedings. He named some of the other men who were selected as apostolic bishops: Nicola of Treviso, Tiziano, Iseppo of Asolo, Marcantonio of Asolo, Paolo of Treviso, Iseppo of Vicenza, Hieronimo Speranza of Vicenza, Bartolomeo of Padua, Giacometto of Treviso. Manelfi also listed as many members of the sect as he could recall and added the names of a number of Lutherans in Venetia. On 14 November in his final deposition he described several occasions on which he and others had narrowly escaped capture and how they had more than once effected entrance to prisons to comfort fellow believers and even to win new converts. Thus in 1549 with Benedetto of Asolo, Manelfi had bribed the guards at a prison in Venice and had persuaded Pietro Speziale of Cittadella, a Lutheran prisoner, to undergo rebaptism at their hands. In some other cases they actually helped prisoners to escape. It is evident that the sect had a well-organized underground network and communication system. Finally, after telling of his attempt to win over the Veronese community to antitrinitarianism, Manelfi concluded his evidence by listing the names of several more Anabaptists in Vicenza.
About Manelfi we have no further knowledge. Presumably he was received back into the Roman Church, but his fate is of less interest than that of the people on whom he informed. The Inquisition moved swiftly. In December 1551 orders for the arrest of the persons named by Manelfi were sent to the political authorities at Padua, Vicenza, Treviso, and Asolo, and arrests and recantations followed. Many persons were forced to hide or flee the country; some went as far as Thessalonica, while a few years later some found refuge in Moravia with the Hutterites. The fate of the remainder is obscure, but this much is clear: Manelfi's treachery was substantially responsible for the exposure of the movement to destruction, even though the last symptoms of evangelical religion did not disappear from north Italy for about two decades.
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|Author(s)||Henry A DeWind|
 Cite This Article
DeWind, Henry A. "Manelfi, Pietro (ca. 1519-after 1552)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 28 Apr 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Manelfi,_Pietro_(ca._1519-after_1552)&oldid=119975.
DeWind, Henry A. (1957). Manelfi, Pietro (ca. 1519-after 1552). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 April 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Manelfi,_Pietro_(ca._1519-after_1552)&oldid=119975.
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