Castellio Against Calvin



Enter Castellio


A DICTATOR who is feared is not necessarily loved; and those who submit to a reign of terror may be far from acknowledging its justification. No doubt, during the first months after Calvin's return to Geneva, the burghers and the civil authorities were unanimous in their admiration. All parties seemed well affected towards him. Since there was only one party, and only one supremacy, all were compelled to admit that the dictator moved resolutely towards his goal. Most of those whom he had been recalled to rule over were carried away by the intoxication of unity. Soon, a soberer mood set in. The men who had summoned Calvin to restore order were inspired by the secret hope that this fierce dictator, when he had accomplished what was expected of him, would prove somewhat less draconian in his zeal for morality. Instead, from day to day the "discipline" grew stricter. Far from slackening the curb, and far from uttering a word of thanks to his fellow-citizens for the enormous sacrifices they were making by the surrender of individual liberty and joyfulness, he continued to rail against them from the pulpit, declaring, to their profound disappointment, that the gallows was needed to stretch the necks of seventeen or eighteen hundred young men of Geneva before morality and discipline could be established in so corrupt a city. The Genevese at length realized that, instead of summoning one who would effect the mental healing they desired, they had brought back within the city walls one who would lay shackles on their freedom, and one whose more and more outrageously coercive measures would, in the end, alienate even the most loyal of his adherents.

Within a few months dissatisfaction with Calvin was again rife, for his boasted "discipline" had seemed far more seductive as a wish-dream than in reality. The glamour and romance had faded, and those who yesterday were rejoicing now began to murmur. Still, a palpable and easily understood reason is needed to shake the prestige of a dictator, nor was Calvin slow to provide one. The Genevese first began to doubt the infallibility of the Consistory during an epidemic of plague, which devastated the city from 1542 to 1545. The very preachers who had, in loud proclamations, insisted that, under pain of punishment, every sick person must within three days summon a divine to his bedside, now, when one of their number had been attacked by the infection, allowed the sick in the lazaretto to perish without spiritual consolation. Vainly did the municipal authorities try to discover at least one member of the Consistory who would be willing "to visit and to console the unfortunate patients in the pest-hospital." No one volunteered except Castellio, rector of the school, who was not commissioned because he was not a member of the Consistory. Even Calvin got his colleagues to declare him "indispensable," openly insisting "it would not do to weaken the whole Church in order to help a part of it." The other preachers, who had not so important a mission as Calvin's, were equally careful to keep out of danger. Vain were the appeals of the Council to these timid shepherds. A critic said frankly of the preachers: "They would rather be hanged than go to the lazaretto." On June 5, 1543, all the preachers of the Reformed religion in Geneva, headed by Calvin, appeared at a meeting of the Council to make the shameful admission that not one of them was bold enough to enter the pest-hospital, although they knew it was appropriate to their office to serve God and the Church in evil days as well as in good.

Now, nothing is more enheartening to the populace than a display of personal courage by its leaders. In Marseilles, in Vienna, and in many other towns, after the lapse of centuries the memory of the heroic priests who did their duty during the great epidemic is held in high honour. The common folk never forget such heroism on the part of their leaders, and are even less inclined to forget pusillanimity in the decisive hour. Scornfully did the Genevese watch, and make mock of, those divines who, from the pulpit, had been accustomed to demand the greatest sacrifices of their congregation, but were now neither ready nor willing to make any sacrifice at all. A vain attempt to allay popular discontent ensued, an infamous spectacle being staged. By order of the Council some destitute fellows were seized and tortured until they admitted having brought plague into the town by smearing the door-latches with an ointment prepared from devil's dung. Calvin, instead of contemptuously dismissing such a tale, showed his fundamental conservatism by heartily supporting the medieval delusion. He did himself even more harm by publicly declaring that the "semeurs de peste" had done their work abominably well, and by maintaining in the pulpit that, in the broad light of day, an atheist had been dragged out of bed by the devil and flung into the Rhone. For the first time in his experience he had to endure the humiliation of noticing that many members of his congregations did not even try to hide their smiles.

Anyhow, a large part of the faith in Calvin's infallibility, the faith which is an indispensable psychological element of every dictator's power, vanished during the epidemic of plague. The enthusiasm with which his return had been welcomed was passing off, and a spirit of resistance spread in widening circles. It was Calvin's good fortune that they were widening circles, and that there was no concentration of hostility. Concentration has always been the temporal advantage of dictatorship, ensuring the persistence of a dictator's rule long after his active supporters have become no more than a minority. The militant will of these supporters manifests itself as an organized unity; whereas the contraposed wills, derived from various quarters and animated by various motives, rarely become assembled into an effective force. No matter that many are inspired with an inward revolt against dictatorship; if their hostility be not such as leads them to join in a unified movement for the carrying out of a common plan, their revolt is futile. Consequently, the period that elapses between the moment of the first challenge to a dictator's authority and the moment of his eventual overthrow is usually a long one. Calvin, his Consistory, his preachers, and the refugees who formed the bulk of his supporters represented a single bloc, a circumscribed will, a concentrated and clearly directed energy. The adversaries were recruited haphazard from all possible spheres and classes. Some of them had been Catholics and still clung in secret to the old faith; some of them were topers against whom the doors of the inns had been closed; some of them were women who were not allowed to make up their faces as of yore; on the other hand, among the malcontents were members of illustrious patrician families, enraged at the rise of the penniless to power, at the rise of those who, within a few months of setting foot in Geneva, had been able to secure the most comfortable and most lucrative posts. Thus the opposition, though numerically strong, was composed both of the noblest and of the basest elements; and so long as malcontents cannot join forces in pursuit of an ideal, they can only murmur impotently, remaining potential energy instead of becoming kinetic. They are a mob against an army, unorganized disaffection against organized terror, and therefore make no headway. During these first years Calvin found it easy to hold the scattered groups in leash. They never combined effectively against him, and he dealt with each group in isolation.

The chief danger to an ideologist who has grasped the reins of power is a man who advocates a rival ideology. Calvin, a lucid thinker and ever on the alert, was quick to recognize this. The only opponents he seriously dreaded were those intellectually and morally his equals; and above all he feared Sebastian Castellio, who was certainly more than Calvin's equal intellectually and morally, and who rebelled with the ardour of a free spirit against the dictator's spiritual tyranny.

One portrait of Castellio has come down to us, and unfortunately it is a poor one. It shows a serious and thoughtful countenance, with candid eves beneath a high, bold forehead. That is all the physiognomist can say. It does not grant us an insight into the depths of his character, and yet the man's most essential trait is unmistakably limned-his self-confidence and balance. If we place the portraits of Calvin and Castellio side by side, the opposition the two men were to manifest so decisively in the mental field is here plainly symbolized in the domain of the sensual. Calvin's visage is all tension, it expresses a convulsive and morbid energy, urgently and uncontrollably seeking discharge; Castellio's face is gentle and composed. The former displays fury and fret; the latter, serenity. We see impatience versus patience; impulsive zeal versus persistent resolution; fanaticism versus humanism.

We know almost as little about Castellio's youth as we do about his likeness. He was born in 1515, six years later than Calvin, in Dauphine, the country bordering Switzerland, France, and Savoy. His family called itself Chateillon, Chatillon, or Chataillon; under the Savoyard rule, perhaps Castellione or Castiglione. His mother tongue seems to have been French rather than Italian, though he spoke both fluently. Soon his effective language was to be Latin, for at the age of twenty he entered the University of Lyons, acquiring there absolute mastery of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Subsequently he learned German as well. In all spheres of knowledge his zeal and his command were so outstanding that humanists and theologians unanimously voted him the most learned man of his day. Music attracted him, and it was by giving music lessons that he first earned a pittance. Then he wrote a number of Latin poems and prose works. Soon he was seized with a passion for the problems of his era, which seemed to him more fundamental than those of a remote classical past. If we consider humanism as an historical phenomenon, we find that the early phase of the movement, when the humanists gave most of their attention to the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, lasted for no more than a brief though glorious blossoming, during a few decades between the Renaissance and the coming of the Reformation. Only for this short space of time did the young look for deliverance to a revival, a renovation, thinking that systematized culture would redeem the world. Ere long it became plain even to the devotees of classical lore, to the leaders of their generation, that valuable energy was being wasted in elaborating the texts of Cicero and Thucydides at a time when a religious revolution was affecting millions and was devastating Germany like a forest fire. At the universities there were more disputes about the old Church and the new than about Plato and Aristotle; professors and students studied the Bible instead of the Pandects. As in later times people have been engrossed by political, national, or social movements, so in the sixteenth century all the young folk in Europe had an irresistible craving to think and talk about the religious ideals of the day, and to help in this great movement. Castellio was seized by the same passion, and a personal experience set the keynote for a man of his humane temperament. When, for the first time, in Lyons, he watched the burning of heretics, he was shaken to the depths of his soul, on the one hand by the cruelty of the Inquisition, and on the other by the courage of the victims. Henceforward he resolved to live and fight for the new doctrine, which for him would involve the apotheosis of liberty.

It need hardly be said that from the moment when Castellio, then twenty-four years of age, decided to espouse the cause of the Reformation, his life was in danger. Wherever a State or a system forcibly suppresses freedom of thought, only three possibilities are open to those who cannot endure the triumph of violence over conscience. They can openly resist the reign of terror and become martyrs; this was the bold course chosen by Louis de Berquin and Etienne Dolet, and it led them to the stake. Or, wishing to preserve internal freedom, and at the same time to save their lives, the malcontents can ostensibly submit, and conceal or disguise their private opinions; such was the technique of Erasmus and Rabelais, who outwardly kept peace with Church and State and, wearing motley and a fool's cap, skilfully avoided the weapons of their adversaries, while shooting poisoned arrows from an ambush, cheating the brutalitarians with the cunning of an Odysseus. The third expedient is to become a refugee, who endeavours to carry his own share of internal freedom out of the country in which freedom is persecuted and despised, to a foreign soil where it can flourish unhindered. Castellio, being of an upright but yielding nature, chose the peaceful path. In the spring of 1540, shortly after he had watched the burning of some of the early Protestant martyrs, he left Lyons and became a missionary on behalf of Protestant teaching.

He made his way to Strasburg, and, like most of these religious refugees, "propter Calvinum"-for Calvin's sake. Inasmuch as Calvin, in the preface to his lnstitutio, had boldly challenged Francis I to show toleration and to permit freedom of belief, that author, though still quite a young man, came to be regarded by the inspired youth of France as herald and banner-bearer of evangelical doctrine. The refugees who had been persecuted like Calvin hoped to learn from Calvin how to express their demands better, how to state their course more clearly, how to perform their life's task. As a disciple and an enthusiastic one (for Castellio's own enthusiasm for freedom made him regard Calvin as advocate of spiritual freedom), Castellio hastened to call on the latter in Strasburg, remaining for a week in the students' hostel which Calvin's wife had established in the city for these future missionaries of the new doctrine. Nevertheless the hoped-for intimacy could not immediately begin, for Calvin was soon summoned to the Councils of Worms and Hagenau. Thus the first contact profited no one. Yet it soon became plain that Castellio had produced a considerable impression upon Calvin; for hardly was the recall of the latter to Geneva decided on when, through Farel's recommendation, and unquestionably with Calvin's full assent, the youthful French or Savoyard scholar received a call to become teacher in the College of Geneva. Castellio was given the post of rector, two assistant teachers were placed under his direction, and he was also commissioned to preach in the church at Vandoeuvres, a suburb of Geneva.

Castellio justified this confidence, and his teaching activities secured for him a remarkable success. In order to facilitate the study of Latin, and to make it more attractive, Castellio translated and recast the most vivid episodes of the Old Testament and the New into Latin and French dialogues. Soon the little volume, which had been primarily designed as a pons asinorum for the youngsters of Geneva, became widely known throughout the world, and had a literary and pedagogic influence which was perhaps equalled only by that of Erasmus's Colloquies. For centuries the booklet was printed and reprinted, there having been no less than forty-seven editions; and through its pages hundreds of pupils learnt the elements of classical Latin. Although, among Castellio's humanist endeavours, the manual is no more than a parergon, a chance product, still, it was thanks to this book that Castellio became a prominent figure.

Castellio's ambition was directed towards higher aims than the writing of a convenient and useful manual for school-children. He had not renounced humanism in its familiar form in order to squander his energy and learning upon such petty tasks. The young idealist had the sublime intention to repeat and outclass the mighty deeds of Erasmus and Luther. He determined upon no less an undertaking than the translation of the entire Bible into Latin, and subsequently into French. His own people, the French, were to have the whole truth, as the humanist and German world had received the whole truth through Erasmus's and Luther's creative will. Castellio set himself to this gigantic task with characteristic tenacity and quiet confidence. Night after night he burned the midnight oil, although in the daylit hours he had to work hard for meagre pay in order to earn a subsistence for his family. Thus did he devote himself to carrying out a plan to which he intended to give up his life.

At the outset, however, Castellio encountered determined resistance. A Genevese bookseller had promised to print the first part of his Latin translation of the Bible, but Calvin was unrestricted dictator in Geneva as far as psychological and spiritual things were concerned. No book could be printed within the walls of the city without his imprimatur. Censorship is the inevitable sister of dictatorship.

Castellio called on Calvin, a theologian knocked at the door of another theologian, to ask for his colleague's endorsement. But persons of authoritarian nature always see their own will-to-power unpleasantly caricatured by any sort of independent thought. Calvin's immediate reaction was displeasure and scarcely concealed annoyance. He had written a preface for a relative's French translation of the Bible, recognizing this as, in a sort, the Vulgate, the officially valid vernacular Bible of Protestantism. How presumptuous of this young man not to recognize that the version which Calvin had approved and collaborated in was the only authorized French translation. Yet Castellio actually proposed to shove it aside and make a new version of his own. Calvin's irritability concerning his junior's impudence is shown by the following letter to Viret: "Just listen to Sebastian's preposterous scheme, which makes me smile, and at the same time angers me. Three days ago he called on me, to ask permission for the publication of his translation of the New Testament." The ironical tone shows that Calvin has taken Castellio's rivalry much to heart. As a matter of fact Calvin refused Castellio an unconditional imprimatur. He would grant permission only with the proviso that he himself would be the first to read the translation and make whatever corrections he thought expedient.

Nothing could be further from Castellio's nature than conceit or undue self-confidence. He never did what Calvin so often did-never proclaimed his opinion to be the only sound one, his outlook upon any matter to be flawless and incontestable. The preface he later wrote to this translation is a signal example of scientific and human modesty. He admitted frankly that he did not understand all the passages in Holy Writ, and therefore warned the reader against putting undue confidence in his (Castellio's) translation. The Bible was an obscure book, full of contradictions, and what the author of this new translation could offer was no more than an interpretation, not a certainty.

But though Castellio was able to contemplate his own work in a humble spirit, he regarded personal independence as a jewel beyond price. Aware that as a Hebraist, as a Greek scholar, as a man of learning, he was nowise inferior to Calvin, he rightly regarded this lofty kind of censorship, this authoritarian claim to "improve," as derogatory. In a free republic, scholar beside scholar, theologian beside theologian, he had no intention of sitting as pupil at Calvin's feet, or of allowing his work to be blue-pencilled as a schoolmaster blue-pencils exercises. Wishing to find a way out of the difficulty without offending Calvin, whom he greatly respected, he offered to read the manuscript aloud at any time that best suited Calvin, and declared himself ready to do his utmost to profit by Calvin's advice and proposals. But Calvin, as I have already said, was opposed to conciliation or compromise. He would not advise, but only command. He bluntly rejected Castellio's proposal. "I told him that even if he promised me a hundred crowns I should never be prepared to pledge myself to discussions at a particular moment, and then, perhaps, to wrangle for two hours over a single word. Thereupon he departed much mortified."

For the first time the blades had crossed. Calvin realized that Castellio was far from inclined to submit unprotestingly in spiritual and religious matters. Underneath the studied courtesy, he sensed the eternal adversary of every dictatorship, the man of independent mind. From this hour Calvin determined to take the first pretext for dislodging one who would serve his own conscience rather than obey another's orders. If possible, Castellio must be driven out of Geneva.

He who seeks a pretext for his actions will always be able to find it. Calvin had not long to wait. Castellio, who had a large family and was unable to meet expenses out of the starveling salary paid him at the College, aspired to the more congenial and better-paid post of "preacher of God's word." Since the day when he fled from Lyons this had been his chief aim-to become a servant and expounder of evangelical doctrine. For months the distinguished theologian had been preaching in the church of Vandoeuvres, without rousing adverse criticism. Not another soul in Geneva could put forward so reasonable a claim to be appointed a member of the Protestant priesthood. In fact Castellio's application was supported by the town authorities, who, on December 15, I543, unanimously passed a resolution to the effect: "Since Sebastian is a learned man and well fitted to be a servant of the Church, we hereby command his appointment."

But the town authorities had not taken Calvin into account. What? Without submitting the matter to their chief preacher, they had ventured to appoint Castellio, one who, as a person of independent mind, might give Calvin trouble? Especially so since the appointment of preacher carried with it membership in the Consistory. Calvin instantly entered a protest, justifying his action in a letter to Farel by the obscure phrase: "There are important reasons against this appointment. To the Council I merely hinted at these reasons, without expressing them openly. At the same time, to avert erroneous suspicion, I was careful to make no attack on his reputation, being desirous to protect him."

When we read these obscure and mysterious words, a disagreeable suspicion creeps into the mind. How can we avoid thinking that there must be something against Castellio, something wrong with the man which unfits him for the dignity of preacher, some blot known to Calvin, but which Calvin wishes to conceal with the mantle of Christian charity in order to "protect" Castellio? What offence, we ask ourselves, can this highly respected scholar have committed-an offence which Calvin magnanimously conceals? Has he taken bribes from across the frontier, or has he cohabited with loose women? What secret aberrations underlie a repute which has hitherto been blameless? Plainly Calvin must have wished to surround Castellio with an atmosphere of vague suspicion; and nothing can be more disastrous to a man's reputation than such a "protective" ambiguity.

Sebastian Castellio, however, had no desire to be "protected." His conscience was clear; and as soon as he learned that there was an endeavour to get the appointment cancelled, he came out into the open, insisting that Calvin must publicly declare before the Town Council why his (Castellio's) appointment as preacher should be refused. Now Calvin was forced to show his colours, and to declare what had been Castellio's mysterious offence. Here it is, this crime Calvin had so delicately concealed. The error was the terrible one, as concerned two minor interpretations of the Scriptures, of having differed a little from Calvin. First of all Castellio had declared that the Song of Solomon was not a sacred but a profane poem. The paean on the Shulamite, whose breasts "were like two fawns that are twins of a roe," is part of a secular love poem and is far from containing a glorificatory allusion to the Church. The second deviation was a matter equally trifling. Castellio had explained the descent of Jesus into hell in another sense than Calvin.

So unimportant seems the "magnanimously concealed" crime of Castellio, the offence because of which Castellio must be refused appointment as preacher. But, and this is the really important matter, for such a man as Calvin there are, in the doctrinal domain, no such things as trifles. To his orderly spirit, claiming, under the seal of his own authority, to establish supreme unity in the Church, an ostensibly trifling deviation is no less dangerous than gross error. In the logical edifice which he was building upon such consistent lines, every stone, and every smaller fragment, must be snugly fitted into its place; and as in political life, as in respect of customs and laws, so also in the religious sphere, he objected on principle to any kind of freedom. If his Church was to endure, it must remain authoritarian from its foundations to its topmost pinnacles; and there was no room in his State for one who refused to recognize his supreme leadership or entertained liberal aspirations.

It was, therefore, a waste of pains for the Council to cite Castellio and Calvin to a public disputation, when they would furnish documentary warrants for their respective opinions. I cannot repeat too often that Calvin wished only to teach, being never willing to rally in support of another's teaching. He refused to discuss matters with anyone, but merely dictated. In his first utterance upon this affair, he demanded that Castellio should "come over to our way of thinking," and warned him against "trusting in his own judgment," which would conflict with the essential unity of the Church. Castellio, no less than Calvin, remained true to himself. For Castellio, freedom of conscience was man's supreme spiritual good, and on behalf of this freedom he was ready to pay any secular price. He knew that he need merely give in to Calvin as regards these two unimportant details and that thereupon a lucrative position in the Consistory would be open to him.

With unyielding independence, Castellio replied that nothing would induce him to make a promise he could not keep, since that promise would involve his acting in defiance of his conscience. A public disputation between Castellio and Calvin would therefore be futile. In their respective personalities, at this particular moment, the liberal Reformation, that of those who demanded for everyone freedom in matters of religion, found itself faced by the orthodox Reformation. After this futile controversy with Castellio, Calvin was justified in writing: "As far as I have been able to judge from our conversations, he is a man who holds such opinions concerning me as to make it hard to believe that we can ever come to an understanding."

What sort of opinions had Castellio about Calvin? Calvin discloses this by writing: "Sebastian has got it into his head that I crave to dominate." How, indeed, could the actual position of affairs be more tersely and expressively stated? For two years Castellio had known what others would soon know, that Calvin, in accordance with his tyrannical impulses, would tolerate in Geneva the opinions of only one person, his own; and that no one could live within his sphere of spiritual influence unless, like de Beze and similar followers, he was prepared to be guided by Calvin in respect of every jot and tittle of doctrine. Now Castellio could not breathe this prison air, could not endure such spiritual coercion. He had not fled from France and escaped the Catholic Inquisition in order to subordinate himself to a new, a Protestant control and supervision; he had not repudiated ancient dogma in order to become the slave of a new dogma. Whereas Calvin regarded the gospels as a rigid and systematized legal code, for Castellio, Jesus was the most human of human beings, was an ethical prototype, to be imitated by every Christian disciple in his own way and to be humbly interpreted by the light of reason, and he did not presume to imply thereby that his was the only true interpretation. Castellio could not but be outraged to notice with what overweening confidence the preachers in Geneva were expounding the word of God, as if it had been so uttered as to be intelligible to themselves alone. He was exasperated by such opinionatedness, by the cocksureness of those who were continually insisting upon the sanctity of their calling, while speaking of all others as miserable sinners. When, at a public meeting, a comment was made upon the apostolic utterance: "But in all things approve ourselves as the ministers of God, in great patience," Castellio rose to his feet and asked "God's ministers" themselves to abide by the results of such an examination, instead of testing, punishing, and slaying others from whom they differed. Unfortunately we can only guess at the actual words used by Castellio from a study of the remarks as edited by Calvin-who had no scruples about altering even the sacred text when alteration was needed to get the better of an adversary. Still, even from Calvin's biased description we can infer that Castellio, in his avowal of universal fallibility, included himself among the fallible; "Paul was one of God's servants, whereas we serve ourselves. Paul was patient, but we are extremely impatient. Paul suffered injustice at the hands of others, but we persecute the innocent."

Calvin, who was present at the meeting, would seem to have been taken altogether by surprise by Castellio's onslaught. A passionate and sanguine disputant, such a man as Luther, would have hastened to reply stormily; and Erasmus, a humanist, would most likely have argued learnedly and without too much heat. But Calvin was first, last, and all the time a realist, a man of tactics and practice, a man who knew how to curb his temperament. He was able to note how strong an impression Castellio's words were having on those present, and realized that the moment was inopportune for retaliation. So he made no rejoinder, narrowing his thin lips even more. "For the moment I held my peace," he says when he wishes to excuse himself for his strange reserve, "but only to avoid initiating a violent discussion before numerous foreigners."

What will he say later in more intimate circles? Will he expound his differences with Castellio, man against man, opinion against opinion? Will he summon Castellio before the Consistory, challenge his opponent, document general accusations with names and with facts? Not a bit of it. Calvin was never inclined to take a straightforward course in political matters. For him every attempt at adverse criticism represented something more than a theoretical divergence of opinion; it was also an offence against the State, it constituted a crime. Now crimes must be dealt with by the secular arm. Castellio was summoned to appear, not before the Consistory, but before the temporal authority; a moral dispute was transformed into a disciplinary procedure. His indictment, as laid before the Town Council in Geneva, ran: "Castellio has undermined the prestige of the clergy."

The Council was loath to consider this question. It had no love for quarrels among preachers. We cannot help thinking that the secular authority was uneasy about the Consistory's usurpation of power. The councillors postponed a decision for a considerable time, and their ultimate judgment proved ambiguous. Castellio was censured without being either punished or dismissed, but his activities as preacher in Vandoeuvres were suspended until further notice.

It might be thought that so lukewarm a reprimand would suffice Castellio. But he had made up his mind otherwise. This affair merely served to confirm his previous opinion that there was no room for a free spirit in Geneva under the dictatorship of a tyrant like Calvin. He therefore begged the Council to relieve him of his office. From this first trial of strength, and from his adversary's tactics, he had learned enough to know that political partisans deal arbitrarily with truth when they want what they call truth to serve their policy. Castellio plainly foresaw that his frank and manly rejection of office and dignity would only make his enemy spread hints that Castellio had lost his position for some sort of misconduct. Before leaving Geneva, therefore, Castellio demanded a written report about the affair. Calvin had no choice but to sign this report, which is still extant among State documents in the library at Basle. There we read that Castellio was refused appointment as preacher merely because of two theological deviations concerning matters of trifling importance. Here is the actual wording of the latter part of the report: "That no one may form a false idea of the reasons for the departure of Sebastian Castellio, we all declare that he has voluntarily resigned his position as rector at the College, and up till now performed his duties in such a way that we regarded him worthy to become one of our preachers. If, in the end, the affair was not thus arranged, this is not because any fault has been found in Castellio's conduct, but merely for the reasons previously indicated."

Calvin had certainly gained a victory by securing the expulsion from Geneva of the only man who could stand up against him; but this victory was indubitably Pyrrhic. Castellio was highly esteemed, and many regarded his departure as a serious loss to the city. It was publicly declared that "Calvin has done grave wrong to Master Castellio"; and throughout the cosmopolitan world of the humanists it was generally held that Calvin would tolerate in Geneva none but those who said aye to all his opinions. Two hundred years later Voltaire mentioned the suppression of Castellio as a decisive proof of Calvin's attitude of mind. "We can measure the virulence of this tyranny by the persecution to which Castellio was exposed at Calvin's instance-although Castellio was a far greater scholar than Calvin, whose jealousy drove him out of Geneva."

Calvin's skin was unduly sensitive to criticism. He was quick to realize that public opinion was against him, that the general inclination was to make him responsible for Castellio's downfall. Hardly had he attained his end-and directly he had been successful in expelling the only independent from Geneva-when he was troubled by the thought that Castellio's consequent poverty and hardships would be laid upon his (Calvin's) shoulders. In truth Castellio's decision was made in desperation. As a declared opponent of the man who, politically speaking, was the mightiest Protestant in Switzerland, Castellio could not count on the likelihood of soon receiving another appointment in the Reformed Church; and his impetuous determination to leave reduced him to penury. Hunger-stricken, the man who had been rector of the Genevese Reformed College was constrained to beg subsistence from door to door; and Calvin was keen-witted enough to recognize that the manifest destitution of a vanquished rival would react upon his own head. Calvin, therefore, now that Castellio no longer annoyed him by proximity, tried to build a golden bridge for the hunted man's flight. At this juncture he must have spent a large proportion of his time in writing letter after letter of self-exculpation, declaring what a lot of trouble he had taken in order to obtain for Castellio a suitable position-for Castellio the poor and needy. (Why was Castellio poor and needy except through Calvin's fault? ) "I wish that I could find satisfactory accommodation somewhere, and I would do anything I could to promote this." But Castellio would not, as Calvin hoped, allow his mouth to be closed. He told all and sundry that he had been compelled to quit Geneva because of Calvin's autocratic ways; thereby touching a very sore spot, for never would Calvin openly admit himself to be a dictator, but invariably described himself as one who modestly and humbly performed the difficult task that had been assigned to him.

Immediately there came a change in the tone of Calvin's letters to his friends, and he no longer sympathized with Castellio. "If you only knew," he writes to one of his correspondents, "how this cur (I mean Sebastian Castellio) has yelped against me. He declares that he was expelled from office by my tyranny, and that I wished to be a supreme ruler." In the course of a few months the very man whom Calvin had described as worthy to occupy the sacred office of servant of the Lord has become a "bestia," a "cur"-merely because Castellio accepted extreme poverty rather than allow himself to be bought and silenced by the bestowal of prebends.

This heroic acceptance of poverty, voluntarily incurred, aroused admiration among Castellio's contemporaries. Montaigne said it was deplorable that a man who had done such good service as Castellio should have fallen upon evil days; and, added the French essayist, many persons would unquestionably have been glad to help Castellio had they known soon enough that he was in want. Montaigne was too sanguine. No one stirred a finger to spare Castellio the last extremities of want. Year followed year before the man who had been hounded out of his post could acquire one in the least accordant with his learning and moral superiority. For a long time no university gave him a call, no position as preacher was offered him, for the political dependence of the Swiss towns upon Calvin was already so great that no one ventured to do a good turn to the adversaries of the Genevese dictator. However, the hunted man was able to earn a pittance in a subordinate position as proof-reader at the Basle printing house of Oporin; but the job was irregular, did not suffice to feed his wife and children as well as himself, so Castellio had to do overtime work as private tutor in order to nourish his dependents, six or eight in number. Years of want, during which his energies were paralysed, had to be endured before the university was at length to give this man of encyclopaedic knowledge the position of lector in Greek. But this lectorship, more honourable than lucrative, was far from releasing Castellio from the pressure of unceasing toil. For years and years, while his life lasted, the great scholar (regarded by many as the greatest scholar of the day) had to do hodman's work. With his own hands he shovelled earth in a suburb of Basle; and since his daily labours did not suffice to feed his family, Castellio sat up all night correcting proofs, touching up the writings of others, translating from numberless languages. We can count by thousands the pages he translated from Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Italian, and German for the Basle book-printer-simply in order to secure daily bread.

By these years of deprivation the strength of his weakly and over-sensitive body was undermined, but never would the independent and resolute spirit be impaired. For, amid these arduous labours, Castellio never forgot his true task. Indefatigably he continued his life's work, the translation of the Bible into Latin and French. In interludes he composed polemics, penned commentaries and dialogues. Not a day, not a night, passed in which Castellio did not remain hard at work. Never was he to know the delights of travel, the joys of relaxation, nor even the more material rewards of fame and wealth. But he would rather accept the gall of unceasing poverty, would rather forfeit his chances of sleep, than be untrue to his conscience. Thus he provides us with a magnificent example of the spiritual hero, who, unseen by the world and in the darkness of oblivion, struggles on behalf of what he regards as a holy of holies--the inviolability of his words and his indestructible right to his own opinion.

The real duel between Castellio and Calvin had not yet begun. But two men, two ideas, had contemplated one another, and each had recognized the other to be an irreconcilable opponent. They could not have lived for an hour in the same town, in the same spiritual area; but although they were physically separated, one being in Basle and the other in Geneva, they kept a close watch on one another. Castellio did not forget Calvin, nor Calvin Castellio; and though they were silent about one another, it was only while waiting until the decisive word should be spoken. Such oppositions, which are something more than mere differences of opinion, being a primal feud between one philosophy and another, can never come to terms; never can spiritual freedom be at ease under the shadow of dictatorship; and never can a dictatorship be carefree and self-confident so long as one independent is afoot within its sphere of influence. But some special cause is requisite to rouse latent tensions to activity. Not until Calvin had the faggots fired to burn Servetus did the words which had long been trembling on Castellio's lips find vent. Only when Calvin declared war against everyone whose spirit was free, would Castellio declare, in the name of freedom of conscience, a life-and-death struggle against Calvin.

Chapter Four: The Servetus Affair

 Return to "HERESY" Table of Contents