Angela Groppi

Economic competition and religious belief. Catholic merchants against Calvinist and Lutheran rivals in papal Rome (17th-18th centuries)

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Papal Rome; Roman Inquisition; Protestant Merchants; Religious In/tolerance.

This essay reconstructs the story of some Calvinist and Lutheran merchants who played an important economic role in papal Rome between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, despite the prohibitions issued against the presence of heretics in Catholic territories. Several factors explain the presence of non-Catholic merchants in the papal capital: 1) the desire of the Church to protect Catholics living in Reformed territories through the principle of reciprocity; 2) the needs of an urban market largely dependent on imports of foreign goods; and 3) the support given to their own people by foreign Catholic communities in Rome, who clearly privileged their common «national» identity over religious belief. In this context, the Inquisition (Holy Office) did not usually investigate Calvinist and Lutheran merchants on its own initiative; investigations always began with the complaints of local merchants, who aimed to remove dangerous competitors from the Roman market, urging punitive measures against the «scandal» caused by the presence of «heretics» in the city. The events narrated in these pages reveal a papal Rome that was often more flexible and accommodating in practice than in its proclaimed principles. At the same time, in the presence of laws discriminating among subjects on the basis of religion, they show that religious difference could at any time become a weapon used by the population of the dominant faith to defend their interests and to discriminate in civil matters.

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