THE RIGHT TO HERESY OR, HOW JOHN CALVIN KILLED A CONSCIENCE
Conscience against Violence
PERSONS who are ruthless in the attempt to suppress the opinions of others are extremely sensitive to con tradiction. Thus Calvin regarded it as monstrously unjust when the world at large ventured to discuss Serve tus's execution, instead of enthusiastically accepting it with out other comment than that it was a pious action most pleasing in the sight of Almighty God. With perfect seri ousness the man who had just roasted a fellow-man to death, on account of a difference of opinion, demanded sympathy, not for the victim, but for himself. "If you could know," he wrote to a friend, "of as much as a tenth of the invectives and onslaughts to which I have been subjected, you would feel compassion for me in my tragical position. On all sides, the curs are yapping at me; every conceivable term of abuse has been showered on me. Even more fiercely than by my papistical adversaries, am I attacked by those of my own camp who are inspired with envy and hatred." Great was Calvin's exasperation when he found that, notwithstanding the texts he quoted from the Bible and the arguments he vociferated, he was not to get away unchallenged after the murder of Servetus. The neurotic irritability roused in him by an uneasy conscience became intensified to panic as soon as he learned that Castellio and others in Basle were prepar ing a polemic against him.
The first thought of anyone of dictatorial temperament is to suppress or to gag opinions differing from his own. On hearing from Basle, Calvin seated himself at his writing desk and, without having read the book De haereticis, he exhorted the Swiss synods to prohibit its circulation. Above all, there must be no more discussion. Geneva had spoken, "Genava locuta est"; whatever other persons might wish to contribute to the story of Servetus must, on general prin ciple, be stigmatized as error, nonsense, falsehood, heresy, or blasphemy-because it would express opposition to Cal vin. His pen worked busily. On March 28, 1554, he wrote to Bullinger that a book had been published in Basle, with a false name on the title-page, in which Castellio and Curio endeavoured to prove that heretics ought not to be cleared out of the way by force. It would never do to allow such a doctrine to be diffused, since it was "poisonous to demand considerateness, this implying that heresies and blasphemies are not to be regarded as punishable offences." Quick, quick, a gag for these advocates of toleration! "May it please God that the pastors of our Church, even though somewhat late in the day, shall see to it that this mischief shall not spread." One appeal did not suffice him. Next day, his second self, Theodore de Beze, wrote even more urgently: "You will find on the title-page the name of Magdeburg as the place of publication, but to my way of thinking this Magdeburg must be on the banks of the Rhine, in the place where many other such infamies have had their birth. I cannot but ask myself what is still left intact of the Christian religion if people are going to 'tolerate' what this miscreant has spewed out in his preface."
Such protests, however, came a day after the fair. The polemic appeared before the denunciation. When the first copy reached Geneva, there was a volcanic eruption of fury. What! Were there actually persons who wished to give humanity precedence over discipline? Those who held unrighteous views were to be handled gently, in a brotherly spirit, instead of being hurried to the stake? Was every Christian to be allowed to interpret Holy Writ according to his will and pleasure, instead of that privilege's being re served for the Genevese Consistory? This would be a deadly peril to the Church-by which Calvin naturally meant his own Church. As if at the word of command, shouts of "Heresy!" were raised in Geneva. "A new Heresy has been discovered!"-thus people cried to all the winds of heaven; a peculiarly dangerous heresy, "Bellianism." The name was henceforward and for a considerable time given to the doc trine of toleration in matters of belief, the word being coined from the name of the reputed author of the book-Martinus Bellius, alias Castellio. "We must stamp out this burst of hell-fire before it spreads over the surface of the earth." Frenzied with wrath, de Beze wrote about the first public demand for toleration: "Since the earliest days of Christen dom, no such infamies have been heard in the land."
A council of war was summoned in Geneva. Should the polemic be answered or not? Zwingli's successor, Bullinger, whom the Genevese had so urgently implored to have the book promptly suppressed, wrote shrewdly from Zurich to the effect that it would soon be forgotten unless it were ad vertised by suppression. Better take no steps against it. But Farel and Calvin, impatient as ever, insisted upon a public rejoinder. Since Calvin had not come off very well in a re cent attempt, he preferred to remain discreetly in the background, and confided the theological spurs to one of his younger disciples, Theodore de Beze, who was to earn the dictator's thanks by an overwhelmingly vigorous onslaught upon the "devilish" doctrine of toleration.
Theodore de Beze, in general a pious and just man, who, as a reward for many years of faithful service to Calvin, was in due time to succeed his chief, outdid even Calvin (as a servile spirit will often outdo a creative one) in his furious hatred of any breath of spiritual freedom. From him de rives the terrible utterance which, in the history of thought, has given his name a sinister glory, "Libertas conscientiae diabolicurn dogma"-freedom of conscience is a devilish doctrine. Away with freedom. Much better to destroy with fire and sword those who commit the abomination of inde pendent thought; "better to have a tyrant, however cruel," exclaims de Beze, "than permit everyone to do what he pleases .... The contention that heretics should not be punished is as monstrous as the contention that parricides and matricides should not be put to death; for heretics are a thousandfold worse criminals than these." From the fore going sample, the reader can judge to what insensate folly this pamphlet descended in its crusade against "Bellianism." What? "Monstres deguises en hommes" were to be treated with humaneness, in accordance with their own demand? No, discipline must come first, and humaneness afterwards. Never should a leader yield to the promptings of mercy when doctrine was at stake; for this would be "charite dia bolique et non chretienne." Here, and not for the last time, we encounter the militant theory that humaneness--"cru delis humanitas" are de Beze's words--is a crime against mankind, since mankind can be led towards an ideological goal only by iron discipline and inexorable strictness. "We must not tolerate a few ravening wolves, unless we are pre pared to deliver over to their fangs the whole flock of good Christians .... Shame upon this reputed clemency, which is in reality the utmost cruelty." Thus de Beze, in his zealous determination to exterminate the Bellianists; and he goes on to implore the authorities "de frapper vertueusement de ce glaive."
Castellio, in the abundance of his compassion, had raised his voice to a merciful God, praying that an end should at length be put to this bestial slaughter. Now the Genevese pastor, inspired with hatred no less earnest than had been Castellio's compassion, beseeches this same God to permit the massacre to continue without pause, "and that the Chris tian princes shall be vouchsafed enough magnanimity and firmness to extirpate the whole rout of evil-doers." But even such an extirpation is not enough for the vengefulness of a de Beze. Heretics should not merely be put to death, but their execution must be made as slow and painful as can be. Beforehand, he excuses every conceivable torture by the pious exclamation: "If they were to be punished in accord ance with the measure of their offences, I think it would be difficult to find any form of martyrdom which could ade quately chastise them for their heinous transgression." One sickens as one reads such paeans in defence of holy terror, such cruel arguments on behalf of brutality. Still, we have to bear them in mind if we are to grasp the peril to which the Protestant world would have been exposed had it al lowed itself to be driven by the hatred and fanaticism of the Genevese into the foundation of a new Inquisition--and also if we are to grasp how bold was the venture of the thought ful souls who, in defiance of these maniacs, staked their lives on behalf of toleration. For de Beze, in his pamphlet de manded that, in order to blunt the edge of this dreadful idea of toleration, every friend of the doctrine, every advocate of "Bellianism," must henceforward be treated as "an enemy of the Christian religion"-must be regarded as a heretic, and, consequently, burned alive. "We should, in their own persons, teach them every point of the thesis I advocate, namely that atheists and heretics must be punished by the civil authorities." To ensure that Castellio and his friends should have no doubt as to what awaited them if, prompted by their own consciences, they went on defending such wretches as Servetus, de Beze assured them that the false name of the place of publication and the pseudonymous au thorship would not save them from persecution. "Everyone knows who you are and what are your plans .... I warn you while there is yet time, Bellius and Montfort and your whole clique."
Only to outward seeming, then, was de Beze's diatribe a contribution to an academic dispute. The threat above quoted gives it its true significance. The defenders of spir itual freedom were to realize at last that they were putting their lives in peril every time they demanded humane treat ment. In his impatient desire to make Sebastian Castellio, leader of the "Bellianists," incautious, de Beze accused him of cowardice. The Genevese pastor wrote scornfully: "He who in other respects is so bold shows in this book, which speaks so much of compassion and clemency, that he is a coward, inasmuch as he ventures to thrust out his head only when his face is covered by a mask." Perhaps the writer hoped that Castellio would take warning, and cautiously re tire into the background; or perhaps he really wanted Cas tellio to disclose himself. Anyhow, Castellio was quick to raise the gauntlet. The very fact that Genevese orthodoxy now showed itself disposed to make a dogma and a regular practice of its repulsive behaviour forced Castellio, though a passionate lover of peace, to declare open war. He saw that the decisive hour had struck. Unless the crime committed upon Miguel Servetus was, though posthumously, brought before the court of appeal constituted by the whole of Christendom, brands from this first burning would be used to fire hundreds, nay, thousands, of similar ones. What had been no more than an isolated act of murder would petrify into a principle. Intermitting, for the moment, his learned labours, Castellio devoted himself to writing the most im portant indictment of the century, the accusation of Jehan Calvin for a murder in the name of religion, committed on Miguel Servetus at Champel. This public accusation, Contra libellure Calvini, although primarily directed against an in dividual, proved, through its moral energy, one of the most splendid polemics ever penned against attempts to over power the word by the law, opinion by dogma, and eter nally free conscience by eternally detestable force.
For years and years Castellio had been acquainted with his adversary, and had grown familiar with his methods. He knew that Calvin would transmogrify every attack upon his person into an attack against doctrine, true religion, and even into an attack on God. Castellio, therefore, made it clear from the outset that in Contra libellure Calvini he was neither accepting nor condemning the theses of Miguel Ser vetus, and was not proposing to pass any sort of judgment upon religious or exegetic problems, but was only bringing against the man, Jehan Calvin, a charge of murder. Being determined that no sophistical distortion should divert him from his purpose, in the lapidary style of an accomplished lawyer, he expounded the cause he was advocating. "Jehan Calvin enjoys great authority today, and I could wish that he enjoyed even more did I know him to be of a gentler dis position. But his last important public action was a bloody execution followed by threats levelled at a number of pious persons. That is why I, who detest the shedding of blood (should not all the world do this? ), have undertaken, with God's help, to disclose Calvin's purposes to the world, or at least to bring back into the right path some of those whom he has led astray.
"On October 27, 1553, the Spaniard, Miguel Servetus, was burned in Geneva on account of his religious convic tions, the instigator of the burning being Calvin, pastor of the cathedral in that city. This execution has roused many protests, especially in Italy and France. In answer to these protests, Calvin has just issued a book, which seems to be most adroitly tinted. The author's aim is to justify himself, to attack Servetus, and to prove that Servetus was rightly punished by death. I propose to subject this book to a crit ical examination. In accordance with his usual controversial manner, Calvin will probably describe me as one of Ser vetus's disciples, but I hope that no one will thereby be misled. I am not defending the theses of Servetus, but am attacking the false theses of Calvin. I leave absolutely un considered discussions about baptism, the Trinity, and such matters. I do not even possess a copy of Servetus's books, since Calvin has burned all the copies he could lay hands on; and I therefore do not know what ideas Servetus put forward. I shall do no more than pillory the errors of Calvin as to points which have no bearing upon differences of prin ciple; and I hope to make clear to everyone what sort of man this is whom the lust for blood has driven crazy. I shall not deal with him as he dealt with Servetus, whom he com mitted to the flames, together with the books whose writing was deemed a crime-Servetus whom, even now when he is dead, Calvin continues to revile. Calvin, having burned the man and his books, has the audacity to refer us to these books, quoting detached passages. It is as if an incendiary, having reduced a house to ashes, were then to invite us to inspect the furniture in the various rooms. For my own part, I should never burn either an author or his books. The book I am attacking is open to everyone, obtainable by everyone, in either of two editions, one Latin and the other French. To avoid the possibility of objection, I shall, in the case of every citation, put the number of the paragraph from which it is taken, while my answer to each passage will bear the same number as the original."
A discussion could not be opened more frankly. In the aforesaid book Calvin had unambiguously expounded his views, and Castellio uses this "exhibit," accessible to all, as an examining magistrate uses the depositions of an accused person. Word for word, Castellio reprints Calvin's book, so that no one shall be able to say the critic has falsified or modified his adversary's opinions, or that the critic has laid himself open to suspicion by having abbreviated Calvin's text. Thus this second trial of Servetus's case is much more just than had been the first trial in Geneva, when the ac cused was kept in a dark and damp cell, denied witnesses, and not allowed the services of defending counsel. Castellio was determined that the Servetus case should be discussed freely in its every detail by the whole humanist world, that its moral issues should be plainly brought to light.
There could be no dispute about certain essential facts. A man who, while the flames were devouring him, loudly proclaimed his innocence had been cruelly executed at the instigation of Calvin and with the consent of the Genevese Town Council. Castellio goes on to ask the question: "What really was Miguel Servetus's offence? How could Jehan Calvin, who held no political office but only an ecclesiastical one, submit this purely theological affair to the municipal authorities? Had the municipal authorities of Geneva any right to sentence Servetus on account of the alleged crime? Finally, upon what authority, and in accordance with what law or statute, was this foreign theologian put to death in Geneva?"
As regards the first question, Castellio examines the min utes and Calvin's own utterances, in order to ascertain with what crime Miguel Servetus was charged. The only accusa tion Castellio can find is that Servetus "has impudently dis torted the evangel, being driven thereto by an inexplicable longing for novelties." Thus the sole charge Calvin brings against Servetus is that the Spaniard interpreted the Bible independently and arbitrarily, leading him (Servetus) to other conclusions than those of which Calvin's ecclesiasti cal doctrine was the expression. Thereupon Castellio hits back. Did Servetus stand alone among the champions of the Reformation as regards such independent and arbitrary in terpretations of the gospels? Who will venture to declare that, if he did promulgate arbitrary interpretations, he was thereby departing from the true significance of the Refor mation? Was not such individual interpretation one of the fundamental demands of the Reformation? What else did the leaders of the Evangelical Church busy themselves about than to establish a right to reinterpret Holy Writ? Had not Calvin himself, and Calvin's friend Farel, been the boldest and most resolute of all those who had endeavoured, in this way, to reconstruct the Church? "It is not merely that Cal vin himself showed an extravagant zeal for innovations, but that he has done so much to impress them on others as to make contradiction dangerous. In the course of ten years he has made more innovations than the Catholic Church made in six centuries." Calvin, having himself been one of the boldest of the reformers, is not entitled to stigmatize as crime the making of new interpretations within the bounds of the Protestant Church.
"Calvin, however, taking for granted his own infallibility, regards his views as right and the views of anyone who may differ from him as wrong." This brings Castellio to the sec ond question: Who appointed Calvin judge concerning what is true and what is untrue? "Of course Calvin tells us that every writer who does not say aye to his aye, and no to his no, is an evilly disposed person. He therefore demands that those who differ from him shall be prevented, not only from writing, but also from speaking, the implication being that he alone is entitled to expound what he regards as right. Now Castellio wishes to insist, once for all, that no man and no party is justified in saying: "We alone know the truth, and every. other opinion than ours is erroneous." All truths, and especially religious truths, are contestable and ambigu ous. "It is presumptuous to decide with so much positiveness concerning mysteries which are understood by God alone, and to behave as if we were party to His most hid den designs. And it is no less arrogant to fancy we can at tain certainty about such matters, and can represent them clearly to our imagination, when in reality we know noth ing at all about them."
Since the world began, multifarious disasters have been the work of doctrinaires who intolerantly maintained their own views and opinions to be the only sound ones. It is these fanatics for the unification of thoughts and actions in accordance with their own model who, by self-glorification and contentiousness, trouble the peace of the world, trans forming the natural juxtaposition of ideas into opposition and murderous disputes. Castellio accused Calvin of such spiritual intolerance: "All the sects have founded their re ligions upon the word of God, and the members of each sect regard their own as being in exclusive possession of the truth. But, according to Calvin, one sect alone is right, and the others must accommodate themselves to it. Of course to Maitre Jehan Calvin his own doctrine seems true. But the leaders of other sects hold the same belief about their opinions. Calvin says that the others are wrong, but these others say that Calvin is wrong. Calvin wants to be supreme judge; so do the others. Who is to decide? At any rate, who appointed Calvin supreme arbiter with an exclusive right to inflict capital punishment? Upon what warranty does he base his monopolist position? On this, that he derives his justification from the word of God. But the others make the same claim. Or, perhaps, he assures us that his doctrine is incontestable. Incontestable in whose eyes? In his own, in Jehan Calvin's eyes. Why, then, does he write so many books, if the truth which he proclaims is obvious? Why has he never troubled to write a book in order to prove that murder or adultery is a crime? Because that is clear to every one. If Calvin has in fact unveiled the whole field of spiritual truth, why does not he allow others a little time in which to grasp the facts that are so clear to him? Why does he strike them to earth before they have had a chance, thus depriv ing them of the possibility of recognizing the truth as he sees it?"
Castellio hereby makes one decisive point. Calvin has ar rogated to himself a position to which he is not entitled, the position of supreme arbiter in spiritual and religious matters. It behoved him, if he regarded Servetus's opinions as er roneous, to inform Servetus where he had gone astray. But instead of arguing reasonably and kindly, Calvin, without further ado, resorted to force. "You began by arresting your opponent, by locking Servetus up in prison, and you ex cluded from the trial all except those who were the Span iard's enemies." Calvin had had recourse to the doctrinaire's usual practice. Whenever a doctrinaire finds that the argu ment is going against him, he closes his ears to his adversary's words and gags his adversary's mouth. Such a resort to censorship betrays a sense of insecurity in a person or in a doc trine. As if foreseeing his own fate, Castellio went on to speak of Calvin's moral responsibility. "Let me ask you a question, Monsieur Calvin. If you had gone to law with anyone concerning a heritage, and your adversary was able to procure from the judge a ruling that he (the adversary) alone was entitled to speak, while you yourself were for bidden to utter a word, would you not instantly have pro tested against this injustice? Why do you do to others what you would not wish them to do unto you? We are engaged in a dispute about faith. Why, then, do you wish to close our mouths? Are you so firmly convinced of the weakness of your case? Are you so much afraid that the decision will go against you, and that you will forfeit your position as dictator?"
For a moment Castellio interrupts his plea in order to call a witness. A famous theologian will testify, as against the preacher Jehan Calvin, that the laws of God prohibit the use of force by the civil authorities to control exclusively spiritual offences. The great scholar, the famous theologian, who is now summoned to testify is Calvin himself, who, in this matter, enters the witness box most unwillingly. "Inas much as Calvin finds that confusion prevails, he hastens to ac cuse others, lest he himself shall be suspected. Yet it is plain that one thing only has brought about the aforesaid confusion, namely, his attitude as a persecutor. The judg ment which, at his instigation, was passed on Servetus, aroused consternation and anger, not only in Geneva, but throughout the western world. Now he is trying to shift on to others' shoulders the blame for what he himself has done. But he sang another song when he himself was one of those who suffered persecution. At that time he wrote many pages inveighing against such persecutions. Lest any of my readers should doubt me, I will transcribe a passage from Calvin's lnstitutio."
The Calvin of 1554 would probably have sent to the stake the Calvin who wrote the words which Castellio goes on to quote. For in the lnstitutio he had written: "It is crim inal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity." As soon as he gained supreme power, Calvin had hastened to erase that appeal to humanity from his book. For in the sec ond edition of the lnstitutio the words just quoted have been sedulously modified. Just as Napoleon, when he be came First Consul, was careful to buy up and destroy all obtainable copies of the Jacobin pamphlet of his youth, so the leader of the Genevese Church, having become a per secutor instead of remaining one of the persecuted, was eager to suppress all knowledge of his erstwhile appeal for moderation. But Castellio will not allow Calvin to run away from his own words. He reproduces them textually in his polemic. "Now," Castellio goes on, having finished the quo tation, "let all my readers compare Calvin's original declara tion with his writings and his deeds today and it will be come plain that his present and his past are as unlike one another as light and darkness. Because he has had Servetus put to death, he now wishes to execute in like manner all who differ from himself. He, the lawmaker, repudiates his own law, and demands the death penalty for dissentients. . . Can we be surprised that Calvin wants to bring others down to death when he is afraid that they will disclose his instability and his mutations, thrusting these into the lime light? Those who act wrongly dread the clear light of day."
But clear light is what Castellio wants. He insists that it is incumbent upon Calvin to explain to the world why a sometime advocate of freedom of thought should have had Servetus burned alive at Champel. Inexorably, therefore, the trial is resumed.
Two questions have been settled. Dispassionate study of the facts has shown that Miguel Servetus's offence, if any, was committed on a purely spiritual plane; and, further, that the Spaniard's deviation from what Calvin regarded as a valid interpretation ought never to have been treated as ordinary crime. Why, then, asks Castellio, did Calvin ap peal, in a purely theoretical and abstract affair, to the secu lar powers in order to suppress an opinion that differed from his own? Between thinkers, differences must be settled by the instruments of thought alone. "If Servetus had taken up arms against you, you would have been entitled to call the Town Council to your aid. But since his only weapon against you was the pen, why did you attack his writings with fire and sword? Tell me, why did you get yourself backed up by the civil authorities?"
A State has no jurisdiction in matters of conscience. The Town Council has nothing to do with the defence of theo logical doctrines, which are exclusively the concern of scholars. The business of the Town Council is to protect a scholar just as it protects a craftsman, a journeyman, a physician, or any other citizen to whom wrong has been done. Only if Servetus had tried to murder Calvin should the Town Council have been called upon to intervene in Calvin's defence. But since Servetus used nothing but ra tional arguments to further his attack on Calvin, Calvin should have defended himself by arguments and rational considerations. Castellio incontrovertibly refutes Calvin's attempt to justify what he had done by appeal to a higher, a divine command, for Castellio holds it impossible that there can be a divine or Christian command to murder. Calvin ap pealed to the Mosaic law, which, he declared, commanded the use of fire and sword to extirpate unbelief. Castellio re joins fiercely: "How, in God's name, will Calvin put into execution this law to which he appeals? It seems to me that in all towns he will have to destroy habitations, cattle, and furniture. If he should ever have enough military force at his disposal, he must attack France and all the other nations which harbour what he regards as heretical doctrines, must raze their cities to the ground, kill men, women, children, and even babes in the womb." Calvin, in his apologia, de clared that the whole body of Christian doctrine would perish unless those whose mission it was to safeguard it had courage enough to amputate a gangrenous limb. To which Castellio replied: "The severance of unbelievers from the Church is the concern of priests, who are entitled to excom municate heretics and to expel them from the congregation, but not to put them to death." Nowhere in the gospels, nor yet in any moral treatise ever given to the world, was such intolerance demanded. "Will you dare, in the last resort, to say that Jesus himself taught you to burn your fellow men?" Thus does Castellio thunder at Calvin, who, "his hands dripping with the blood of Servetus," had penned so preposterous an apologia. Since Calvin continued to declare he was forced to bum Servetus in defence of doctrine, forced to protect the word of God; since, again and again, like all who appeal to violence, he attempted to justify the use of violence with reference to some supra-personal in terest-there now came, like a flash in the dark night of a most gloomy century, Castellio's imperishable words: "To burn a man alive does not defend a doctrine, but slays a man. When the Genevese executed Servetus, they were not de fending a doctrine, but sacrificing a man. We do not tes tify our own faith by burning another, but only by our readiness to be burned on behalf of our faith."
"To burn a man alive does not defend a doctrine, but slays a man." How true and clear, how imperishable and humane, is this aphorism. In a pithy phrase Castellio passed judgment, once for all, upon the murderer of Servetus. Whatever logical, ethical, national, or religious pretext may be advanced to justify the execution of a human being, noth ing can abrogate the personal responsibility of the execu tioner or instigator. There is always some particular person responsible for a deed of blood, and murder can never be condoned by abstract philosophical precepts. Truth can be diffused, but cannot be enforced. No doctrine becomes sounder, no truth becomes truer, because of zealotry; nor can propaganda by deed exalt a doctrine or a truth. Still less does a doctrine or a philosophy become truer through the extirpation of individuals whose conscience compels them to deny that truth. ()pinions and conceptions are in dividual experiences and events, subject to none except to the individual who holds them. They cannot be drilled or regulated. A truth may invoke the name of God a thousand times, may again and again proclaim itself sacrosanct, but that does not warrant it in destroying a God-given human life, which has a sanctity superior to that of any doctrine. Although to Calvin, dogmatist and partisan, it seems of no moment that perishable human beings should perish for the sake of imperishable ideas, Castellio holds that every man who suffers or is slain for the sake of his convictions is an innocent victim. Coercion in spiritual matters is not only a crime against the spirit, but also labour lost. "We must constrain no one, for coercion has never made anyone bet ter. Those who try to coerce persons into accepting a faith behave as foolishly as one who, with a stick, should thrust food into a sick man's mouth." An end, therefore, to the suppression of those who hold dissentient opinions. "Let your officers at length be deprived of authority to use force or to persecute. Give to every man the right to use the tongue and the pen freely (for this is what St. Paul meant when he said: 'Ye may all prophesy . . . covet to proph esy, and forbid not to speak with tongues'), and soon you will learn what wonders liberty will achieve when freed from coercion!"
The facts have been examined, the questions answered. Now Sebastian Castellio sums up and passes judgment in the name of outraged humanity. History has endorsed this judgment. A man named Miguel Servetus, searcher after God, "un etudiant de la Sainte Escripture," has been slain. Calvin is indicted, having been the instigator of the trial, and the Town Council of Geneva is charged with the actual commission of the crime. A spiritual rehearing of the case has shown that both the aforesaid authorities, the ecclesi astical and the secular, exceeded their jurisdiction. The Town Council "has no warrant for passing judgment upon a spiritual offence." Still more guilty is Calvin, who thrust this responsibility upon the municipal authorities. "Influ enced by your testimony and by that of your accomplices, the Town Council put a man to death. But the Town Coun cil was as incompetent to act or to distinguish in such a mat ter as a blind man is to distinguish colours." Calvin is guilty twice over, guilty both of instigating and of executing the abominable deed. No matter what were the motives that led him to thrust the unhappy Servetus into the flames, his action was monstrous. "You had Servetus executed, either because he thought what he said, or because, in accordance with his inward conviction, he said what he thought. If you slew him because he gave expression to his inward convic tion, you killed him for speaking the truth, for even if what a man utters be erroneous, yet it is true if he only utters what he believes to be true. If, on the other hand, you had him put to death simply because his views were erroneous, then it was your duty to try, before taking such extreme measures, to win him over to what you regard as right views; or, quoting scripture to the purpose, to prove that you have no option but to order the execution of all who err, though they err in good faith." Calvin had, without justification, slain a dissentient, and was guilty, thrice guilty, of premeditated murder.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. As if with three blasts of a trum pet, Castellio's judgment is proclaimed to the world. Hu maneness, the supreme moral authority, has decided. But what avails it to save the honour of a dead man whom no posthumous atonement can recall to life? No, the essential thing now is to protect the living, by stigmatizing an act of inhumanity, so that countless similar acts may be averted. It is not the man Jehan Calvin alone who stands condemned. Calvin's book, with its ghastly doctrine of terror and sup pression, must be declared inhuman. "Do you not see," Castellio asks the man on whom he has passed sentence, "whither your book and your actions are leading? Many maintain themselves to be defending God's honour. Hence forward 'God's defenders' who wish to slaughter human beings will appeal to your testimony. Following the same disastrous path as you, they will, like yourself, imbrue their hands with gore. Like you, they will send to the scaffold those who hold other opinions than their own." It is not isolated fanatics who are so dangerous, but the evil spirit of fanaticism; not only autocratic, dogmatic, over-positive, and bloodthirsty persons need to be resisted by persons of free spirit, but any idea which calls Terror to its aid. Writ ing just before the opening of religious wars that were to last a hundred years, Castellio grows prophetic. "Even the most cruel of tyrants will not, with their cannon, shed so much blood as you have shed or will shed through your bloodthirsty conjurations--unless God take pity upon poor humanity, and open the eyes of princes and other rulers until they desist from their sanguinary work."
Even as Sebastian Castellio, gentle apostle of toleration, found it impossible to remain indifferent in view of the suf ferings of the persecuted and the hunted, but was moved to raise his voice to God in a despairing prayer for more humaneness on earth--so, in the polemic I have been quoting, his voice thunders forth a curse upon all persons whose fanatical hatred makes them disturbers of the peace; and his book closes with a magnificent invocation: "This infamy of religious persecutions was already raging in the days of Daniel. Since the prophet's enemies could find nothing as sailable in his behaviour, they put their heads together in order to attack him through his convictions. The same thing is happening today. When people cannot discover anything to complain of in their enemy's conduct, they take up the cudgels against his 'doctrine'; and this is extremely adroit, seeing that the authorities, who have no opinion of their own, are all the easier to persuade. Thus the weak are op pressed by those who loudly appeal to the 'sanctity of doc trine.' Alas, their 'sacred doctrine' is one which Jesus will repudiate with loathing on the Day of Judgment, when He will hold assize upon conduct, not upon doctrine. When they say unto Him, 'Lord, we were on Thy side, and acted in accordance with Thy teaching,' He will answer: 'Away with you, ye malefactors!'"
Chapter Eight: Violence Disposes of Conscience
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