Handcuffs

SUFFERING PATIENTLY FOR CHRIST.

Negrino and Paschali exercised their ministry in Calabria, in comforting the persecuted Waldenseians among the woods and mountains. But when the sufferers were closely hunted, the preachers were not likely to escape. At the instance of the inquisitor, they were both apprehended. Negrino was starved to death in prison at Cosenza. At this place Paschali was detained in confinement eight months, whence he was sent prisoner to Naples, with a view of being conducted to Rome. The patience with which he endured the cross, appears from the sensible and ardent letters which he addressed to the persecuted church of Calabria, to his afflicted spouse Camilla, and to the church of Geneva. In one of these he thus describes his journey from Cosenza to Naples :

” Two of our companions had been prevailed on to recant ; but they were no better treated on that account, and we know not what they will suffer at Rome whither they are to be conveyed, as well as Marquet and myself. The Spaniard, our conductor, wished us to give him money to be relieved from the chain by which we were bound to one another; yet, in addition to this, he put on me a pair of handcuffs, so strait that they entered into the flesh, and deprived me of all sleep ; and I found that, if at all, he would not remove them until he had drawn from me all the money I had, amounting only to two ducats, which I needed for my support. At night, the beasts were better treated than we, for then litter was spread for them, while we were obliged to lie on the hard ground, without any covering; and in this condition we remained for nine nights. On our arrival at Naples we were thrust into a cell, noisome in the highest degree, from the damp, and the putrid breath of the prisoners.”

He was next sent in bonds to Rome, at which place his brother arrived from Coni, with letters of recommendation, to ask his liberty. With difficulty this brother obtained an interview with him, in the presence of a judge of the Inquisition. He gives the following description of this first interview :

“It was hideous to see him, with his bare head, and his hands and arms lacerated with the small cords with which lie was bound, like one to be led to the gibbet. On advancing to embrace him, I sunk to the ground. ‘My brother,’ said he, ‘ if you are a Christian, why do you distress yourself thus? Do you know that a leaf cannot fall to the ground without the will of God ? Comfort yourself in Christ Jesus, for the present troubles are not to be compared with the glory to come.’ “

At last, on the 8th of September, 1560, he was led to the conventual church of Minerva, to hear his process publicly read ; and the next day, the 9th September, he appeared, with the greatest fortitude, in the court adjoining the Castle of St. Angelo, where he was burnt in the presence of the Pope and a party of cardinals.
George Cheever, “SUFFERING PATIENTLY FOR CHRIST,” Religious and moral anecdotes [microform], 1850

George Barrell Cheever (1807-1890) was a Congregationalist pastor in New England.  The Waldensians were a religious group founded in 1173 around Italy, France, and Switzerland. They later saw the Protestant Reformation evolve and joined in it, and suffered intense persecution because of it.  When I first started looking up this group, I actually had the attitude of, “what exactly are their beliefs? Would I really want to defend them?” and soon repented of it!  That is the whole point of this blog entry.

I wasn’t able to find out much about Negrino and Paschali except that they suffered at the hands of the Inquisition for ministering to a persecuted religious minority. And as the persecution cranked up, they themselves became prisoners of conscience. One was allowed to starve in prison, the other suffered much on his transfer to Rome. Handcuffs cut into his flesh. The prison guards could be counted on to extract as much personal profit from the prisoners. Promises of benefits for recanting or bribing the guards really didn’t improve anyone’s condition: it was just another form of torment. It’s said that the pope and a party of cardinals attended his burning. Wonder if it were a “party” atmosphere?

We must however avoid the temptation of throwing too many stones at people dead for 500 years. The challenge is to examine ourselves for any ways we may be responsible for contributing to this kind of suffering, in thought, word, or deed, by what we have done or left undone. We can  “pray, sympathize, help, and cast” those suffering today for similar reasons.

The testimony that Paschali gives to his brother is more than heartwarming: Why do you weep if the present troubles are nothing compared to the glory to come?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, we thank you for the witness of Negrino and Paschali. Let us seek out those who are suffering because of any nonviolent expression of conscience and show them the love of Christ. Break the chains that bind them.  Give us the spirit of Paschali to meet all our suffering for You, even our daily inconveniences. Remind us that a leaf cannot fall to the ground without the will of God. Let us comfort ourselves in Christ Jesus, for the present troubles are not to be compared with the glory to come. AMEN.

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