A brief  biography of Alessandro Gavazzi.

By J. B. Thompson (Circa 1880).

Outside of Italy there is but one Gavazzi, In Italy there have been many. Magistrates of this name have more than once ruled at Bologna, and here, in the early part of the century, Alessandro Gavazzi was born. His father was an eminent barrister and judge. His nineteen brothers and sisters have had all the respect and esteem of all who knew them. They are of tall and commanding figure, the men being six feet high and proportionally stout. In this country the typical Italian is a Genoese; but the Bolognese are as well-nigh as different from these in stature, appearance, and character as are the English. And the Gavazzis surpass the other Bolognese in size and vigor.

Gavazzi was educated at the University of Bologna, and at twenty was a Professor at Naples, He became a monk and a priest. His preaching was new and unusual. He ignored rites, ceremonies, processions, penances, and urged the weightier matters of the law - justice, truth, integrity, piety. Moreover, he was a patriot preacher. He boldly denounced the corrupt court of Gregory XVI., and for this had been a year in virtual confinement at a convent when the pontiff died.

As is usual upon accession to the Papal throne, Pius IX began his reign as a reforming pope. His brother, Count Joseph Mastai, was a friend of Gavazzi's and introduced him to the Pope, who became his friend, thought warning him not to speak of a united Italy. The Pope had been frightened from his better purposes by the conspiracy which had nearly accomplished his assassination. Gavazzi, however, was appointed to preach the sermon of thanksgiving for the Pope's escape. In it, he denounced the abuses which had grown up, and called for their redress in no measured terms. Cowardice was never one of his characteristics. But Pius had thrown himself into the hands of the Jesuits, and Gavazzi was forbidden to preach. He obeyed - for a time.

In 1848, the Italians of Milan and Mantua were in deadly conflict with the Austrians. During that year, on one occasion, the Roman University Church was crowded with people praying for their brethren. Some one espied a stalwart form amid the crowd and instantly the cry arose, "Gavazzi! Gavazzi! Gavazzi!" The preacher ascended the pulpit and poured out a torrent of invective and scorn, such as only he could utter, against the Austrian "butchers" and did not spare the court of the pontiff, composed largely as it was of the corrupt members of that of his predecessor. For this he was imprisoned in the Franciscan convent of La Polviera, where five thousand Romans called upon him within three day, to express approval of his course. A deputation of nobles waited on the Pope, and received the promise: "Tomorrow morning he shall be delivered." At midnight he was forcibly removed to Genazano, twenty miles away. It was five days before his prison was discovered - several days of excitement in Rome - but then he could be held no longer, and was set free. Even Pius IX. could not entirely resist the swelling of the Italian spirit.

Like a second Peter the Hermit, Gavazzi led a crusade to drive the Austrians from Italy. The night before they left Rome, he preached to thirty thousand in the Coliseum. The pontiff gave his blessing, and made Gavazzi grand captain of the legion, sixteen thousand strong, which had been enlisted so largely by his fiery patriotism. And when the vacillating Pius changed his mind and recalled the legion from the walls of Vicenza, Gavazzi and the more determined of his soldiers refused to return. In every city of note he preached his patriotic mission, and made collections for his soldiery. The oration to the assembled thousands in the Piazza San Marco, at Venice, secured for this purpose a sum equal to twenty thousand dollars. Men emptied their purses on the platform; women cast in their jewels, and even cut off their hair and threw it upon their country's altar.

On the flight of the Pope from Rome, November 5, 1848, a provisional government was proclaimed, and Gavazzi returned and took charge of the military hospitals. When he called for nurses, six thousand Roman women responded to his appeal, and were duly organized for the care of the sick and wounded.

When the republic was suppressed by the French arms, Gavazzi, through the kindness of the American Consul, was enabled to escape, and reached England in safety. Throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States he told the story of Italy's wrongs, and then returned to London.

Once and again he was in Italy, always stimulating his countrymen with patriotic zeal. In 1860 he was with Garibaldi, at Palermo. This perhaps, may be reckoned as the last of this great adventures as a patriot, through the spirit of patriotism flames as brightly in his soul today as ever.

But while in exile a change had come over the spirit of his dream. He had read the Bible. He had sought enlightenment, and found it. He now saw clearly that no mere patriotism could ever give to Italy, or any other country, the future it needed. Henceforth, leaving political affairs to others, he devoted himself to the spiritual regeneration of his people. Born to be a leader among men, beloved and revered by all who knew him, swaying multitudes like flames moved by the wind, he cast behind him every dream of earthly ambition and became simply and only a herald of the cross. United Italy received him not as a soldier but as an evangelist. When Garibaldi was Dictator at Naples, he said to his friend : "Go! Go! Evangelize all you choose."  Accordingly, Gavazzi credits Garibaldi with being the originator of evangelization in Italy! But the fact is that, as soon as religious freedom came to Italy, the pious colporteur found his way to every part.  He distributed tracts; he sold Bibles; he preached the gospel; he instituted prayer meetings; and went thus from town to town, leaving behind him what we should call neighborhood prayer-meetings, where one would read, another pray, and another, perhaps exhort, as the Spirit gave him utterance.

The leading spirits of Italy's renovation had long been casting about to discover some form of Christianity in which there should be no germ of priestly domination.  They found it, they thought, in England, among "The Brethren", who had their origin at Plymouth.  Here was no pope, no bishop, no priest, no presbyter, no deacon, even; but all were brethren.  No one claimed any authority over another.  And here it seemed, could be no danger of priestcraft.  Accordingly, this form of Christianity began to prevail in free Italy.

Gavazzi was the first to foresee that impending danger.  He perceived that without government there could be only anarchy.  He beheld congregations dividing, subdividing, disintegrating.  The results of so many years' efforts were in danger of being frittered away and lost.  And the isolation of the far-separated little congregations was painfully felt.

In 1865, an effort was made for union, but with little practical result. The churches could agree upon the desirability of some sort of union, but could not agree upon any form of union.  In 1870, Gavazzi induced the large and flourishing congregation of Milan to invite delegates from the other congregations to meet with them in that city.  They came together at the appointed time, and, to their surprise, found themselves of one heart and one mind.  They adopted a Declaration of Principles, embracing the doctrines held in common by evangelical Christians, and from that day to this the General Assembly of the Free Italian Church has met annually.

From the formation of this union, the churches adhering to it have regarded the evangelization of Italy as the work set before them.  The General Assembly each year elects an evangelization committee, which superintends the whole work of evangelization throughout the kingdom.  Of this committee, Gavazzi has always been the most active member.  Submitting to the authority of his brethren, he claims no higher title than that of evangelist.

The patriot, Mazzarella, is an elder of the church of Genoa.  An eminent philosophical writer, a Judge of the Supreme Court, and a member of the Italian Parliament, his devotion to the work of evangelization is second only to that of Gavazzi himself.  He was Vice-President of the General Assembly of 1879, of which Gavazzi was President, and it was indeed a joy to see these two sit together in conference respecting the true regeneration of their beloved Italy.

In 1872, Gavazzi came to America to secure funds for the work of evangelization, especially for the establishment of a theological seminary; he succeeded in gathering for the purpose thirty thousand dollars.  Many will remember with what graphic utterance he told the story of evangelization, with what torrents of eloquence he hurried his audience along through his historical lectures; with what tender pathos be delivered his message.  But only those who have heard him under his native sky and in his native tongue can adequately appreciate the power with which he moves the masses of his countrymen.

Hopefulness has ever been one of his characteristics. To an audience in Chicago, he said: "I think I shall have everything I want before I die. I have seen so many of my hopes realized- the independence of Italy, the unity of Italy, the freedom of Rome. I have been permitted to go back to the Eternal City and preach the free gospel in its streets.  So many of my dreams have come to pass that I despair of nothing".

He has since seen the church he chiefly founded steadily eliminating the last vestiges of Plymouthism, developing in prudence, in piety, in numbers, in influence.  A theological seminary in the heart of the Eternal City trains young men to preach a pure gospel, Gavazzi himself being their instructor in sacred oratory, and Professor Henderson, of the Free Church of Scotland, in theology.  And the call for more laborers comes constantly from every part of the United Kingdom, from the Alps to the Adriatic, from Susa to Sicily.

Gavazzi is no longer young. But his eye is not dim, nor his natural force abated. He speaks with all the forces and energy which have ever characterized him, through his fiery spirit has been tempered by the simple piety which manifests itself in all that he does. He has outlived the hatred and calumnies alike of enemies and rivals, and peace, like a benediction rests upon his maturing life.