Giovanni Luzzi (1856-1948), originally from Engadine, professor of theology at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Bible translator, ecumenist, he completed the daring undertaking of translating and commenting on the entire Bible in twelve volumes on his own.
Giovanni Luzzi was born in Tschlin, Lower Engadine village, in 1856. In that year, and a few days before his birth, much of the village was destroyed by a terrible fire. Many inhabitants of Tschlin – and the Luzzi family was among them – seeing compromised any possibility of continuing to live in the Engadine, they emigrated to Tuscany. Giovanni Luzzi grew up in Lucca where his father opened a modest café – the “Filarmonico”, renamed later “Brotherhood coffee”- and a grocery store. In 1873 Giovanni Luzzi's mother died, affected by smallpox. Three years later, when Giovanni only attended the second high school, his father also died. At the age of twenty Luzzi therefore found himself the head of a family, and a company that was getting worse and worse.
Finished high school and found accommodation for the sisters – and after having entrusted coffee and groceries to the only paternal uncle – he enrolled in the theology courses of the Waldensian Faculty, then in Florence. Animated by a profound philological passion, Luzzi also attended David Castelli's Hebrew and Latin literature courses in Trezza at the Florentine Institute of Higher Studies in those years. In 1880, after the third year exams, Giovanni Luzzi moved from the Faculty of Theology, in via dei Serragli, at the Asylum Commands, in via Aretina.
Kindergarten – an orphanage founded by Dr. Giuseppe Comandi, an evangelical – offered about one hundred children an excellent education and at the same time the opportunity to learn a trade in well-equipped workshops. The pedagogy adopted in the kindergarten was, as you can see, clearly inspired by Pestalozzi. Luzzi was in charge of religious education, but also to accompany the children in their daily life, to advise and encourage them. From time to time he preached in the Asylum chapel, he went to visit the sick and dedicated himself to evangelization work among the workers of the proletarian districts of Oltr’Arno.
Alongside work in the nursery and his private studies – continued with great zeal even after the years spent at the Faculty of Theology – Luzzi also found time to help his former professor, Paul Geymonat, in the pastoral work at the Florentine evangelical church of the Oratory. Placing his hopes for an awakening of religious culture in Italy in his youth, Luzzi also dedicated himself to pastoral work among young people collaborating in the foundation, always in Florence, of the Evangelical Youth Association.
After seven years at the Asilo Comandi, the Waldensian church, as a sign of gratitude, offered Luzzi a scholarship for Edinburgh. Before leaving for Scotland, Luzzi presented his degree thesis and asked for consecration to the pastorate. He was consecrated pastor, in Torre Pellice, in September 1866.
In Edinburgh Luzzi continued the study of Hebrew (cultivated, in Florence, in the previous years, with Francesco Scerbo), he devoted himself to reading the biblical studies of German theologians, who met with great interest in those years in Scotland and England and was fascinated by the social work of the Salvation Army. When from Florence he received the request to hire, on his return, the post of pastor to the community of via dei Serragli, Luzzi accepted immediately. And after marrying the Scottish Eva Henderson, he returned to Italy.
In the following years Luzzi devoted all his energy to biblical studies and to work in the Florentine Waldensian community. Among its many initiatives, in Florence, the opening of economic kitchens and a medical dispensary should also be noted. In the San Frediano district, overpopulated and impoverished, Luzzi started, in a room of the former Augustinian convent of Borgo Stella, to a kind of popular cuisine, where the neediest inhabitants of the neighborhood could have a hot meal. And together with his brother-in-law, the Scottish physician Thomas Henderson, Luzzi opened a small neighborhood hospital next to the kitchens. In the dispensary, that the two directed until 1914, Henderson visited patients for free twice a week. A Florentine pharmacist provided medicines and the children were regularly given cod liver oil and milk.
In 1902, Luzzi was called to hold the chair of systematic theology at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology. Attentive to the most recent developments in the field of theological studies, Luzzi introduced the Italian evangelical world to the thought of liberal theology. The works of the German Protestant scholars Ritschl and Von Harnack – to name just two of the most representative names of theological liberalism – they were presented and disseminated in Protestant and Catholic circles throughout Italy. Liberal theology emphasized the ethical values of the gospel, he expressed an extraordinary confidence in the progress of history (that it would carry itself, without any break of a revolutionary type, to the kingdom of God) and inaugurated the study of the history of religions. Theological liberalism was one of the elements that allowed Luzzi to come into contact with many Catholic priests and theologians, interested, like the native of Engadine, to a renewal of Christianity through an in-depth study of its origins and to grasp them, this way, the intimate essence. Friendship with Catholics was born in this period “modernists” (accused by the Roman curia of excessive openness to dialogue with modern culture and harshly opposed) Ernesto Buonaiuti, don Brizio Casciola, Romolo Murri, Giovanni Semeria, Umberto Fracassini and dozens and hundreds of Catholic lay people and religious wishing to deepen their knowledge of the Scriptures and give, thereby, new vitality to Christianity.
In those years of frenetic pastoral activity, theological and social (every week he spent several afternoons at the economic kitchens of San Frediano) Giovanni Luzzi began the work on which he would have worked for 25 years and to which above all his name would later remain linked in Italy. Called at first, in 1906, to be part of the review committee of the biblical translation of the Diodati (a translation from the early 1600s, which was now outdated), a few years later he founded his own publishing house, the “Love and faith”, to publish a biblical translation entirely redone from the original texts.
For Luzzi, the spread of the Bible was the indispensable prerequisite for the Italian moral and civil renewal. And indeed his translation had an extraordinary diffusion, both in the small Italian Protestant world, and in numerous Catholic circles of the peninsula. Countless were the attestations of esteem and gratitude sent to Luzzi by many lay people, bishops, priests, women religious and regular religious persuaded, like him, the usefulness of translation for the pastoral ministry. The success of Luzzi's translation was not too compromised even by the intervention of the Vatican Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office which, with a warning from 2 April 1925, tried to ban its circulation.
Awarded an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh, in 1905, Luzzi was also invited to teach courses at the US universities of Princeton, Harvard, New York e Washington. Between 1911 and the 1912 Giovanni Luzzi spent a few months across the Atlantic and on that occasion met presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson (then president of the United States since 1913 al 1921), with whom even later he maintained correspondence.
In 1920 the Waldensian Faculty of Theology was transferred from Florence to Rome. When the new headquarters was inaugurated, in 1922, Luzzi, with his 67 years, he was already not at ease in Rome. He was homesick for Florence and had the impression that his theological work no longer found the echo that he would have expected at the Faculty. After only two years of teaching and after being repeatedly asked by the reformed community of Poschiavo, moved to the Grisons, in 1923. Giovanni Luzzi was shepherd in Poschiavo until 1930, year in which he returned to Florence. During the years he spent in Poschiavo he continued to devote himself to the Italian translation of the Bible, collaborated in the translation of the Bible into Romansh (with the Engadine shepherds R. The beginning of J. Gaudenz), he published collections of biblical studies and preaching and was committed to dialogue between the Reformed and Catholic communities.
In 1940 Giovanni Luzzi was in the Grisons, on holiday, when Italy entered the war. He decided then, with his wife, to stay in Switzerland and settled again in Poschiavo. In the last years of his life, Luzzi changed his judgment on the Catholic hierarchy. The clerical-fascist persecutions against the evangelicals, in Italy, they pushed him to express himself in increasingly critical tones towards the Catholic Church. In Poschiavo it also took shape, in that time, in Luzzi's reflection, a critical evaluation of the whole of Christianity: alongside the criticism of Catholic sacramentalism and the scarcely evangelical character of the Catholic mass, Giovanni Luzzi also expressed, in studies and articles, the belief that infant baptism was a grave error introduced into Christianity – Catholic and Protestant – and that only adult baptism was evangelically legitimate. And Luzzi did not spare Protestantism from the criticism directed against the too academic and not sufficiently 'popular character’ of preaching.
Luzzi remained in the Grisons village of Poschiavo until his death, occurred on 25 January 1948.
On the biography of Luzzi, in many ways extraordinary, constantly marked by evangelical inspiration, however, there is a shadow, constituted by his inability to be critical of fascism. Luzzi, like other personalities of the time, he was unable to see, behind the regime's rhetoric, the totalitarian danger and the profound injustices and violence it was the bearer of. Unlike, he saw in Mussolini a man invested with an almost divine task, capable of renewing Italy. And he never publicly distanced himself from this assessment.
Multifaceted and charming personality, the Swiss-Tuscan Protestant theologian Giovanni Luzzi had an extraordinary network of knowledge in the theological world, missionary and “pancristiano” international that will give life to the ecumenical movement e, in Italy, in the small but lively Catholic modernist world, severely repressed. Giovanni Luzzi was a true precursor of ecumenism. Unjustly forgotten by the anti-liberal reaction of the theological current headed by the Basel professor Karl Barth, Giovanni Luzzi's work has recently been re-evaluated in all its importance thanks to the careful research conducted by Hans Peter Dür, shepherd, from the 1978, of the reformed community of Tschlin, the Engadine village where Giovanni Luzzi was born.