THE RIGHT TO HERESY
OR, HOW JOHN CALVIN KILLED A CONSCIENCE Castellio Against Calvin
Violence Disposes of Conscience
SELDOM has a spiritual despot been attacked more vigorously than was Calvin in Castellio's Contra libellum Calvini, perhaps never with so fulminant a passion. Its essential truth and its clarity would, one might have imagined, teach even the most indifferent that freedom of thought under Protestantism and therefore the general freedom of European thinkers would be lost if they did not instantly rebel against Genevese dragooning. According to all earthly probability, it was to be expected that, after Castellio's flawless demonstration of the bearings of the trial and burning of Servetus, right-thinking persons throughout the western world would have endorsed the judgment. An adversary, in such a cause, overthrown by so formidable an onslaught, must surely have been defeated for all time, and Castellio's manifesto could hardly fail to make an end of Calvin's uncompromising orthodoxy.
Yet nothing happened! This dazzling polemic, this splendid appeal for toleration, did not seem to produce the smallest effect; for the simplest and cruellest of reasons-because Castellio's Contra libellure Calvini was not, at that date, allowed to go to press. On Calvin's instigation, the book was throttled by the censorship before it could voice its appeal to the conscience of Europe.
At the last moment, when transcripts were already being passed from hand to hand by the writer's intimates in Basle, the Genevese potentates, being well served by their spies, had learned how dangerous a challenge to their authority was about to be issued by Castellio. They struck instantly. and struck hard. Terrible, under such conditions, is the preponderance of a State organization as against an isolated individual. Calvin, who had committed the atrocity of burning Servetus alive because Servetus differed from him upon doctrinal points, was able, thanks to the one-way working of the censorship, to defend his atrocious deed unmolested; whereas Castellio, who wanted to protest in the name of humanity, was refused a hearing. True, the town of Basle had no reason for forbidding a free burgher, who was also a professor at the university, to engage in a literary polemic; but Calvin, a master tactician, pulled his wires skilfully. He worked through diplomatic channels. An official protest was made, not by Calvin as private citizen, but by the town of Geneva, against Castellio's proposed attack on "doctrine." Consequently the Town Council and the University of Basle were confronted with a painful choice: either they must abandon the cause of a free author, or else must maintain that cause in opposition to one of the mightiest of the federal States. As almost always happens, might prevailed over right, power over morality. It would be better, thought the prudent town councillors of Basle, to sacrifice an individual than to run their heads against a wall, so they issued a prohibition against the publication of any writings which were not strictly orthodox. This edict made it impossible for Castellio to publish his Contra libellure Calvini; and enabled Calvin to exclaim gleefully: "Il va bien que les chiens qui aboient derriere nous ne nous peuvent mordre."
Even as Servetus had been silenced by blazing faggots, so now was Castellio silenced by the censorship; and once again "authority" was maintained by terror. Castellio's swordarm had been smitten off; the writer could no longer write. Nay, worse than this, he had been deprived of the power of defending himself, when his triumphant adversary hit back with redoubled wrath against the man who had not been permitted to deliver his blow. More than half a century was to elapse before Contra libellure Calvini could be printed. What Castellio wrote in this pamphlet had a prophetic ring: "Why do you do to others that which you would not endure if done to yourself? We are concerned with a dispute about religious matters; why, then, do you gag your adversaries?"
Against a reign of terror there is no appeal. In gloomy resignation, Castellio had perforce to submit. None the less, there is some consolation for the oppressed during epochs in which force prevails over mind, and that is the sovereign contempt the vanquished can show for the victor. "Your words and your weapons are only those common to every despotism; and they can but give you a temporal, not a spiritual dominance, a dominance based upon coercion, and not upon the love of God. Nor do I envy you your power and your weapons. I have other powers and other weapons--an imperturbable conviction of innocence, and trust in Him who will help me and give me grace. Even if, for a season, truth is suppressed by the blind 'justice' of this world, no one can permanently coerce truth. Let us cease to heed the judgment of a world which slew Christ; let us ignore an assize before which only the cause of violence proves victorious. The kingdom of God is not of this world."
Once more terror had gained the upper hand. Worse still, Calvin's temporal power was actually intensified by his crimes. It is fruitless, in the annals of history, to seek for the poetic justice of the story-books. We have to accommodate ourselves to the fact that history, being a reflexion of the world spirit, is neither moral nor immoral in its doings. It neither punishes evil nor rewards good. Since it is based, not upon right, but on might, it usually assigns victory to men of might; unrestrained boldness and brutal decisions do, as a rule, in temporal matters, bring advantage rather than disadvantage to the doers or misdoers.
Calvin, having been attacked for his unfeeling severity, realized that only one thing could save him--yet more severity and a yet more relentless use of force. Again and again in history, we can trace the working of the law that one who has appealed to force must use force to the bitter end, and one who has established a reign of terror must intensify terror to frightfulness. The opposition to Calvin during and after the trial of Servetus only confirmed him in his opinion that for an authoritarian ruler the forcible suppression and unqualified intimidation of his adversaries, the ruthless crushing of opposition, was the only way of stabilizing totalitarian power. At first Calvin had been content to paralyse the republican minority in the Genevese Town Council by manipulation of the votes. At each successive sitting of that body, additional Protestant refugees from France, men materially and morally dependent upon himself, were granted the privileges of citizenship in Geneva, being thus given the vote. Thereby the opinion of the Town Council was moulded in his favour. Official positions were packed with his adherents, and the influence of the republican party was sedulously undermined. Though patriotic Genevese of the old school were not slow to perceive that foreigners were being systematically preferred, the uneasiness of those democrats who had shed their blood on behalf of the liberties of Geneva was aroused too late. They held secret meetings, to discuss how they could save the last vestiges of independence from the clutches of the Puritans. The public mood grew more and more strained. Street brawls between native-born and immigrants became frequent. The injuries that resulted were not serious, only two persons being bruised by stones.
Calvin, however, had merely been waiting for a pretext. He was now able to carry out a coup d'etat which he had long been preparing. These small bickerings were magnified into a "terrible conspiracy," which was said to have been frustrated "by God's grace alone." The dictator struck one blow after another, arresting the leaders of the republican party, who had had nothing whatever to do with the disturbances. They were racked until the dictator possessed the evidence he required to support his assertion that a massacre had been planned by his opponents. Calvin and his supporters were to have been killed, and foreign troops brought into the city. "Confessions" of this alleged plot having been gained by the most atrocious cruelty, and "treason" having been "proved," the executioner could begin his work. All who had resisted Calvin even in the most trifling way were put to death. Those alone escaped who fled from Geneva. When "justice" had been done, the only political party remaining in the city was Calvin's.
Having purged Geneva of dissentients, Calvin might have been carefree, and therefore magnanimous. But, since the days of Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch, all readers of history and biography have been aware that victorious oligarchs tend to become harsher than ever. The eternal tragedy of despots is that they continue to fear persons of independent mind even when these have been disarmed and gagged. The very fact that a crushed adversary says nothing, but refuses to enrol himself among the toadies and servants of the tyrant, makes his continued existence a source of irritation. Now that Calvin had rid himself of all his political opponents save one, the theocrat's wrath was intensified by concentration upon this one man, Sebastian Castellio.
Yet it would not be so easy to make an effective onslaught upon Castellio unless he could be induced to break his discreet silence. He had grown weary of open quarrel. Humanists of the Erasmian type are rarely persistent fighters. The customary methods of the partisan, with his unceasing hunt for proselytes, seem to them unworthy of an intelligent man. Having testified to the truth, they feel that it would be a work of supererogation to reiterate their protest. They are rarely propagandists. In the Servetus affair, Castellio had said his say; he had done his best to defend the memory of the martyred Spaniard, and had condemned more energetically than any other man of his day, the use of violence to subdue conscience. But the times were unfavourable; and he could not fail to see that force would remain in the saddle for an indefinite period. He therefore resolved to wait until the battle between toleration and intolerance could be resumed under more favourable auspices. Disappointed, but with his convictions unshaken, he returned to his studies. Basle University had at length appointed him professor, and he had nearly finished what he regarded as his most important task in life, the translation of the Bible into Latin and French. During the years 1555 and 1556, he desisted from polemic writing.
But Calvin and the Genevese were informed by spies that, within the immediate circle of his friends at the university, he continued to promulgate humanist views. Though his hands were tied, he was still free to speak; and the crusaders of intolerance grew infuriated when they noted that his irrefutable arguments against the doctrine of predestination secured wider and wider acceptance among the students. A man whose strength is predominantly moral exerts an influence by the mere fact that he exists, for his essence diffuses itself in ever-widening circles, spreading his convictions as ripples spread when a stone is flung into a pool. Since Castellio would not bend, he must be broken. A trap was baited, to lure him back onto the battle-field of "heresy." One of his colleagues at the university was found ready and willing to act as provocative agent. This man sent a friendly letter, couched in terms which implied that the question was purely theoretical, asking Castellio to expound his views with regard to the doctrine of predestination. Castellio agreed to a public debate, but had hardly opened his mouth when one of the audience rose and accused him of heresy. Castellio was quick to realize what was afoot. Instead of springing the trap by defending himself. and thus giving his adversaries justification for their charge, he broke off the discussion, and his colleagues at the university would not allow any further steps to be taken against him. Geneva, however, refused to be discouraged. The first trick having failed, recourse was had to another. Subsequent challenges to public debate being ignored, rumours were circulated and pamphlets issued, in the hope of goading Castellio into the open. His enemies made mock of his translation of the Bible; he was denounced as the author of anonymous libels; the most abominable calumnies were disseminated; as if at the word of command, a storm was raised against him from every quarter of the compass.
The ubiquity and the excesses of the zealots made it clear to all unbiased humanists that an attempt was to be made upon the body and the life of this distinguished and pious scholar, now that he had been deprived of freedom of speech. The venomousness of the persecution brought him much friendly support. Melanchthon, the doyen of the German Reformation, ostentatiously came to the front as one of Castellio's backers. As Erasmus in earlier days, so Melanchthon now was nauseated by the spleen of those for whom the meaning of life was to be found, not in reconciliation, but in quarrels. He addressed a letter to Sebastian Castellio, writing: "Hitherto I have refrained from corresponding with you, being overwhelmed with work. An additional reason for my silence has been my profound regret to notice how grave are the misunderstandings among the friends of wisdom and virtue. Nevertheless, I have always greatly esteemed you because of the way in which you write. This letter of mine is to convey evidence of my general agreement and proof of my earnest sympathy. I trust we shall be united in eternal friendship.
"Your justified complaints, not only as to the differences of opinion that prevail, but also as to the savagery with which certain persons attack the friends of truth, have intensified a sorrow which continually afflicts me. According to classical legend, the giants rose out of the blood of the titans. In like manner, the new sophists who try to reign at courts, in families, and among the masses, and who believe scholars to be a hindrance to their aims, have sprung from the seed of the monks. But God will know how to protect the remnants of his flock.
"Like sages we must endure that which we cannot alter. I find age an alleviation to my distress. I look forward, ere long, to entering the Heavenly Church and to being far removed from the raging storms which so cruelly agitate the Church here below. If I am spared, I shall enjoy discussing many things with you. Farewell."
Melanchthon's hope, in thus writing to Castellio, was that his letter (speedily to be diffused in numerous transcripts) would help to protect Castellio, and would serve as a warning to Calvin to desist from his crazy persecution of that great scholar. Unquestionably, Melanchthon's words of recognition had an effect throughout the humanist world, and even some of Calvin's intimates advised him to make peace. For instance, the famous scholar and theologian Francois Baudouin wrote to Geneva: "You can now realize what Melanchthon thinks of the bitterness with which you persecute this man; and also how far Melanchthon is from approving your paradoxes. Is there any sense in your continuing to describe Castellio as a second Satan, while simultaneously honouring Melanchthon as an angel?"
It is, however, futile to attempt to teach or appease a fanatic. Strangely (or logically,) enough, Melanchthon's letter acted by contraries on Calvin, whose animus against Castellio was intensified by Melanchthon's championship. Calvin knew only too well that these pacifist intellectuals were more dangerous to his militant dictatorship than were Rome, Loyola, and the members of the Society of Jesus. As regards the latter group of adversaries, it was a case of dogma against dogma, word against word, doctrine against doctrine; but in Castellio's demand for liberty he felt there was involved an attack upon the fundamental principle of his own activities, upon the very idea of unified authority, upon the essential significance of orthodoxy; and, in warfare, a pacifist in the ranks of the commander-in-chief's army is more to be feared than enemies in the open field. For the very reason, therefore, that Melanchthon's letter enhanced Castellio's prestige, Calvin's one desire, henceforward, was to destroy Castellio utterly. The war was a war to the knife.
Just as, in the Servetus affair, when the campaign became a campaign of annihilation, Calvin thrust aside his man of straw, Nicholas de la Fontaine, and drew his own sword, so now, when he proposed to inflict a crushing blow, he dismissed his handyman de Beze. He was no longer concerned with right or wrong, with Holy Writ and its interpretation, with truth or falsehood, but with the speedy destruction of Castellio. Yet, at the moment, he could think of no adequate reason for attacking Castellio, who had retired from controversy to resume his learned labours. Since there was no warrant, one must be manufactured, haphazard, at all risks. Any cudgel would do with which to batter the detested Castellio. Calvin seized as his excuse an anonymous lampoon which his spies found in the luggage of a travelling merchant. There was not a shadow of evidence that Castellio was its author; and, indeed, Castellio was not. But, having decided "Carthaginem esse delendam"-that Castellio was to be annihilated-Calvin, with rabid and vulgar abuse, fathered the authorship on Castellio. Calvin's polemic, Calumniae nebulonis cujusdam, was not a seemly discussion by one theologian of the views of another, but an outburst of frenzy, wherein, in language unworthy of a drunken sailor, Castellio was reviled as a thief, a rascal, a blasphemer. The professor of the University of Basle was accused of having stolen firewood in broad daylight. The savage opusculum, growing more scurrilous from page to page, ended with the wrathful outcry: "May God destroy you, Satan!"
Calvin's defamatory pamphlet may be regarded as one of the most notable examples of the way in which partisan rancour can debase a man of outstanding intelligence and literary mastership. It can also serve as a warning to statesmen, showing them how foolishly they may behave when they fail to bridle their emotions. Moved by its sense of the terrible wrong here inflicted upon an honourable man, the senate of the University of Basle annulled its previous decision to forbid the publication of Castellio's writings. A university of high standing in Europe did not think it tolerable that one of its stipendiary professors should be accused before the humanist world of being a thief, a rogue, and a vagabond. Since manifestly such accusations had nothing to do with a discussion of "doctrine," but were mere vulgar defamation, Castellio was expressly authorized by the senate to make a public rejoinder.
Castellio's reply is an admirable example of humanist polemic. He was so tolerant a man that his adversaries' hatred could not poison his mind, nor could any baseness on their part render him base. A distinguished calm breathes through the opening periods. "Not with enthusiasm do I enter this path of public discussion. I should have greatly preferred to come to a brotherly understanding with you, in the spirit of Christ, and not to adopt this boorish method of mutual accusations, which cannot fail to injure the prestige of our Church. But since you and your friends have frustrated my dream of peaceful collaboration, it seems to me incompatible with my duty as a Christian to abstain from answering your passionate onslaught, with all due moderation." Castellio went on to expose the crookedness of Calvin's methods, for Calvin, in the first edition of the Calumniae, publicly asserted that Castellio was the author of the aforesaid anonymous pamphlet; but in his second edition, the Genevese dictator, having been by that time doubtless convinced of error, withdrew the charge, letting the matter go by default, without any frank admission that he had accused Castellio unjustly. Castellio, however, nailed the lie to the counter: "Yes or no. Were you aware that you had no warrant for naming me as author of that pamphlet? How can I tell? But either you brought your accusation at a time when you already knew that it was unjustified, in which case you were cheating; or else you were still uncertain, and then your charge was heedlessly brought. In either event your behaviour was unworthy, for every point of your contention is false. I did not write that pamphlet, nor did I send it to be printed in Paris. If its diffusion was a criminal offence, the crime was yours, for it was through you that the writing first became widely known."
Having shown how threadbare had been Calvin's pretext for attacking him, Castellio turned to pillory the unpolished form of the invective. "You have an ample store of abusive terms at your command, and, speaking out of the fullness of your heart, you have let your tongue run away with you. In your Latin tract you call me, without drawing breath, blasphemer, calumniator, malefactor, yapping cur, an impudent wretch full of ignorance and bestiality, an impious misreader of Holy Writ, a fool who mocks at God, a despiser of the faith, a man without shame, a dirty dog, a being full of disrespect and obnoxiousness, a distorted and perverted spirit, a vagabond, and a mauvais sujet. Eight times you call me a rapscallion (at least I take that to be the meaning you attach to the word 'nebulo'). These malicious terms are the ones you delight in interspersing through two sheets of printed matter, while you have chosen as title of your book Calumnies of a Rapscallion. Its last sentence runs: 'May God destroy you, Satan!' From the title to the conclusion, the whole work is penned in the same style, although the author is reputed to be a man inspired by apostolic earnestness, by Christian gentleness. Woe unto those whom you lead if they are infected by such moods, and if it should prove that your disciples resemble their master. But these invectives do not touch me in the least .... Some day truth will prevail, and you, Calvin, will have to account to God for the abuse you have showered on one to save whom, as to save yourself, Christ died. Is it possible that you are not ashamed, that you cannot remember Jesus's own words: 'Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council'?" Serenely uplifted by a sovereign sense of inviolability, Castellio went on to defend himself against Calvin's most serious accusation, that he, Castellio, had stolen firewood in Basle. "Certainly," he writes ironically, "it would be a grave offence if I had committed it. But calumny is an equally serious matter. Let us assume that the charge is true, and that I really stole wood because I, in the terms of your doctrine, was predestined to do so. Why should you revile me on that account? Should you not rather have compassion on me because God foreordained me to such a fate, and therefore made it impossible that I should not steal? If that be so, why should you fill the heavens with outcries and denunciations? To prevent my stealing any more? But if I am a thief because of divine predestination, you must in your writings acquit me of blame, since I act under coercion. On your own showing I could as little refrain from theft as, by taking thought, add a cubit to my stature."
Having thus made merry over Calvin's preposterous accusation, Castellio went on to explain upon what a slender foundation the charge had been built up. Like hundreds of others, during a freshet in the Rhine, he had with a grappling-hook hauled driftwood out of the river. This was permissible, for not only was driftwood treasure-trove to anyone, but the citizens of Basle were, by the town authorities, specially invited to retrieve it, since, when the river was in flood, floating logs were a peril to the bridges. Castellio was in a position to prove that the Basle municipal authorities had paid him, and certain other "thieves," a reward of "quaternos solidos" (a respectable sum of money) for having committed the "theft." After reading this rebuttal, even the zealots of Geneva made no further attempts to revive a ridiculous calumny which dishonoured, not CasteIlio, but Calvin.
No mendacity, and no attempt to gloss over the matter, could save Calvin's face. The dictator, eager to do anything in his power that would sweep a political enemy out of the way, had tampered with the truth just as he had done in the Servetus affair. Castellio's character was unspotted. "Let those judge who please to do so," he wrote to Calvin; "I fear no man's opinion if he judge without bias or hatred. Those who have known me since childhood know that I always lived in needy circumstances, as numberless persons can testify. Must I call witnesses? Do not you yourself know what my life has been? Your own pupils have had ample opportunity of recognizing that no one can entertain the least doubt as to the uprightness of my behaviour. This being so, the only charge they can bring against me is that my doctrine does not coincide with yours, and that therefore I must be in error. But how can you dare to diffuse such scandalous reports about me, and to call upon God's name in this connexion? Do you not see, Calvin, how terrible it is to call God to bear witness on behalf of accusations which are inspired exclusively by hate and anger.
"I, too, can call upon God; and since you have called upon Him in order to support your reckless accusations against me, I appeal to Him because you have accused me unjustly. If I am lying and you are speaking the truth, then I pray that God will punish me according to the measure of my transgression, and I beg my fellow-men to deprive me of life and honour. But if I have spoken the truth and you are a false accuser, I pray that God will shield me against the pitfalls set by an adversary. I also pray that before your death He will give you opportunity of repenting your conduct, that the sin you have committed may not imperil your salvation."
How different is the tone from Calvin's; the tone of a free-spirited and unprejudiced man as against the tone of a man congealed in self-assurance. Eternal is the contrast between the disposition of the humanist and that of the doctrinaire, between the nonchalant man whose only desire is to maintain his right to have his own opinion, and the positive-minded authoritarian who can never rest till all the world has said ditto to himself. A man whose conscience is pure and clear speaks moderately, but the zealot spouts threats and hatred. There can be no clarity in a mind clouded by hate. Truly spiritual deeds cannot be performed by a fanatic, and are at the command only of one who, in silence and calm, has learned self-control and moderation.
Partisans, however, are never concerned with justice, but only with victory. They never want to concede another's point, but only to uphold their own. As soon as Castellio's rejoinder appeared, the assault on him was renewed. True, personal abuse of the "dog," the "beast" Castellio, and the absurd fable as to the theft of wood, were quietly withdrawn. Even Calvin did not dare continue harping on these strings. Hastily the line of attack was transferred to the theological field. Once more the Genevese printing presses were set in motion, and for the second time Theodore de Beze was sent into the breach. More loyal to his master than to truth, in the official Genevese edition of the Bible (t558) he prefaced Holy Writ with so malicious an attack on Castellio that, in such a setting, it reads like blasphemy. "Satan, our old opponent," writes de Beze, "having recognized that he cannot, as of yore, arrest the progress of God's word, uses even more dangerous methods. For a long time there was no French translation of the Bible, or at least no translation worthy of the name. Now Satan has found as many translators as there are frivolous and impudent minds; and he will probably find even more, unless God give them pause before it is too late. If the reader asks me for an example, let me refer to Sebastian Castellio's translation of the Bible into Latin and French-Castellio being a man whose name is well known to our Church because of his ingratitude and impudence, and also because so much trouble has been taken in the vain endeavour to keep him on the right path. We therefore regard it as a conscientious duty to break the silence we have hitherto kept, and to warn all Christians against this man, the chosen of Satan."
It would be difficult to denounce a scholar in plainer terms as a heretic. Castellio, however, "chosen of Satan," need no longer keep silence. Encouraged by Melanchthon's letter, the senate of the university had restored the persecuted man's freedom of expression. Castellio's answer to de Beze is profoundly, one might almost say mystically, sad. He can feel only sorrowful that men who profess devotion to the things of the spirit should surrender to such uncontrolled hatred. He knew well enough that the Calvinists were not trying to spread truth, but only to maintain the monopolist position of their own doctrines; and that they would not rest until they had swept him out of their path, as they had previously swept theoretical and political adversaries. For his part, he refused to descend into such abysses of hate. "You are inciting the authorities to compass my death," he wrote prophetically. "Were it not that your books make this plain to all who read them, 1 should never venture such an allegation, however convinced I may be of its truth. You know that as soon as I am dead, it will be impossible for me to answer you. You find my continued existence a nightmare. Since you perceive that the authorities will not yield, or at any rate have not yet yielded to your pressure, you try to make me generally hated, and to discredit me in the eyes of the world." Though he was absolutely assured that his enemies sought his life, Castellio was satisfied to appeal to their consciences. "Tell me, please," he said to these professed servants of Christ, "in what respect can you justify your attitude towards me by an appeal to Jesus? Even when Judas was handing Him over to the myrmidons of authority, Jesus spoke in kindly tones to His false disciple, and, on the cross, He prayed for those who were putting Him to death. But what are you doing? Because I differ from you in respect of certain doctrines and shades of opinion, you persecute me wherever I may be, and urge others to treat me no less despitefully than you do yourselves. How bitter it must be to you, in the depths of your hearts, to know that such conduct as yours received His unqualified condemnation. For instance: 'Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.' These are simple truths, accessible in the Scriptures to those who consult the sacred writings with minds freed from theological distortion. You yourselves pay lip-service with spoken words and in your books. Why do you not apply the same doctrine in your daily lives?"
Castellio knew well enough that de Beze was only an underling sent as forerunner. Calvin, despot in the realm of conscience as well as in the real world, was the true source of the murderous hatred clamouring for Castellio's destruction. Castellio, therefore, ignoring de Beze, addressed himself directly to Calvin. "You style yourself a Christian, you appeal to the gospels, you take your stand upon God's word, and boast that your mind is wholly devoted to fulfilling God's intentions. You believe yourself well acquainted with evangelical truth. But if you would teach others, why do you not begin with teaching yourself? How do you dare fulminate from the pulpit against those who bear false witness, when your own writings are continually bearing false witness? Why, apparently in the hope of breaking my pride, do you condemn me with as much arrogance and self-assurance as if you were sitting at God's right hand and He had revealed to you all the secrets of His heart? Look within, before it is too late. Try, if it be still possible, to doubt your own all-sufficingness for a moment, and then you may be able to see what many others see. Rid yourself of the self-love which consumes you, and of the hatred you feel for so many persons, especially myself. Let us vie with one another in kindly consideration, and then you will discover that my alleged impiety is no less unreal than was the disgraceful offence which you tried to fix upon me. Put up with my diverging from you a little in matters of doctrine. Is it impossible that two pious persons may have differences of opinion, and yet be at one in their hearts?"
Surely no one attacked by doctrinaires and zealots has ever answered them in a more humane and conciliatory spirit? This is no mere matter of words, for Castellio is himself a living example of toleration in the struggle which has been forced on him. Instead of answering scorn with scorn, hatred with hatred, he writes: "I know of no country to which I could have fled if I had brought such charges against you as you have brought against me," going on to renew his attempt at such a kindly settlement of the dispute as, in his view, a dispute between intellectuals should always have. Once more he holds out the hand of peace and friendship, although his opponents are sharpening the ax for his neck. "For the love of Christ I implore you to respect my liberty, and cease to overwhelm me with false accusations. Let me preserve my own faith uncoerced, as you preserve yours with my full approval. Do not continue to believe that he who differs from you must be wrong, and deserves to be burnt as a heretic .... When I see how so many other pious persons interpret Holy Writ in different ways from yourself, it makes me turn with more devotion to my own faith in Christ. Unquestionably one of us two must be mistaken, but that need not prevent our loving one another. The Master will some day guide the strayed sheep back into the right path. The only thing either of us certainly knows (or ought to know) is the duty of Christian charity. Let us practise this, and by practising it close our adversaries' mouths. You believe your opinions to be right. Others believe the same of their opinions. Well, let the wisest among us show themselves the most brotherly. Let us not pride ourselves on our own wisdom. God knows all; and we must remember that He 'hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.'
"I penned these words when my heart was filled with desire for love. I offer you love and a Christian peace. I appeal to you to show love towards me, calling God and the Holy Ghost to witness that I do so out of the depths of my heart.
"If despite all I can do, you continue to attack me with hatred in your heart, if I cannot persuade you to love me as a Christian should love his brother, I can only keep silence. May God be our judge, deciding between you and me in accordance with the degree to which we have served Him faithfully."
It seems almost incredible that so moving an appeal for reconciliation should have been fruitless. But one of the contradictions of our mortal nature is that ideologues, being in thrall to one narrow idea, are blind to all other ideas, and therefore cannot be moved by such appeals, humane though they be. Bias in thought inevitably leads to injustice in action; and when a man or a nation is a prey to the fanaticism of a restricted outlook, there is no space for mutual understanding and toleration. Castellio's moving appeal made no impression whatever upon Calvin. What was it but the appeal of a man eager for peace, who did not preach in public, did not dispute, had no desire to impose his own views by force on any other living person? The pious Genevese pastor rejected as "monstrous" this appeal to Christian peace. All he did was to start a new barrage of drumfire against Castellio, reinforced by the poison gases of contempt and incitation. Another lie was launched in the hope of exposing Castellio to suspicion or at least to ridicule. Perhaps this was the most perfidious of all Calvin's onslaughts. Although attendance at dramatic performances was regarded as a sin in Geneva, in the Genevese seminary Calvin's disciples staged a "pious" school comedy in which Castellio, under the thin disguise De parvo Castellio, appeared as Satan's chief servant, and in which he was made to say:
Quant a moy, un chacun je sers
Pour argent en prose oy en vers
Aussi ne vis-je d'aultre chose ....
This gross calumny, that a man whose life had been passed in apostolic poverty had sold his pen, and that the advocate of toleration was a salaried agitator on behalf of the papacy, was voiced by permission, nay, by encouragement, of the leaders in Geneva. But the rancour of the Calvinists had long since made them unable to distinguish between truth and calumny. All they cared about was getting Castellio deprived of his professorial chair at Basle, seeing to it that his writings should be burned, and, if possible, himself burned as well.
These good haters were now favoured by fortune. During one of the customary house-to-house visitations in Geneva, two burghers were found conning a book which lacked Calvin's imprimatur. There was no author's name on the title-page or colophon, nor any place of publication mentioned. But all the more for that did the opuscule, Consell a la France desolee, smell of heresy. The two readers were promptly brought before the Consistory. l)reading thumb-screw and rack, they hastened to acknowledge that one of Castellio's nephews had lent them this Conseil. Impetuously the hunters followed up the fresh trail, hoping, at last, to bring their quarry to bay.
In very truth the book, "evil, because crammed with errors," was a new work by Castellio. He had lapsed into his old "error." Incurable, it seemed, was his Erasmian desire for a peaceful settlement of the conflict that raged within the Church. He could not remain silent when, in his beloved France, religious persecution was beginning to reap a bloody harvest, and when the Protestants, incited by the Genevese, were taking up arms against the Catholics. As if he could foresee the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the horrors of the Huguenot wars, he felt impelled, at the eleventh hour, to demonstrate the futility of such bloodshed. Not one doctrine, nor the other, he explained, was, in itself, erroneous; but invariably false and criminal was the attempt to constrain a man to a belief he did not hold. All the evil on earth arose out of this "forcement des consciences"; continually renewed was the bloodthirsty attempt of narrow-minded fanatics to impose constraint upon conscience. However, as Castellio goes on to show, it is not only immoral and illegal to try and constrain anyone to avow acceptance of a belief to which he is opposed; but it is also foolish, nonsensical. Such a press-gang to gather in recruits for the support of a philosophy or a creed can secure only hypocrites. The thumb-screw, the rack, or any other such constraint achieves no more than a nominal increase in the membership of a party. Proselytes are thus gained at the cost of a mathematical falsification whereby genuine adherents are deceived as well as the outer world. Castellio writes, in words that are universally applicable: "Those who wish to win over the largest possible number of supporters willy-nilly resemble a fool who has a barrel containing only a little wine, and fills it up with water in order to have more wine. The result is not to increase the wine, but to spoil the good wine which the fool already had. It is preposterous to assert that those who are forced to profess a belief really believe what they profess. Were they free to follow their own inclinations, they would say: 'What I sincerely believe is that you are unjust and tyrannical, and that what you have compelled me to profess is false.' Bad wine is not made good by forcing people to drink it."
Again and again, therefore, and ever more vigorously, does Castellio reaffirm his conviction that intolerance will inevitably lead to war, and that only through toleration can peace be achieved. A philosophy or a religion cannot be established by thumb-screws, battle-axes, and big guns, but only by influencing individuals to accept a conviction without constraint; by true understanding alone can wars be avoided and ideas linked together. Let us, therefore, leave those to be Protestants who wish to be Protestants, and those to remain Catholics who are honestly so disposed, trying to constrain neither one set of persons nor the other. A generation before the rival creeds were reconciled at Nantes over the tombs of myriads who had been senselessly sacrificed, a lonely and distressful humanist foreshadowed the edict which was to establish toleration in France. "My counsel to you, France, is that you should cease the constraint, the persecution, and the murder of conscience, and, instead of that, you should allow everyone who believes in Christ to do so in his own way."
It need hardly be said that in Geneva a proposal to reconcile French Catholics and French Protestants was regarded as a heinous crime. At that very moment Calvin was secretly trying to incite the French Huguenots to take up arms. Nothing could be less accordant with his aggressive ecclesiastical policy than Castellio's humanist and pacifist proposals. The dictator pulled all possible strings to secure the suppression of Castellio's Conseil. Messengers were speeded to every point of the compass, bearing hortatory letters to the Protestant authorities. So effective was Calvin's organization that, in August 1563, at the General Synod of the Reformed Churches, a resolution was passed as follows: "The Church is hereby informed of the appearance of a book entitled Conseil a la France desolee penned by Castellio. This is an extremely dangerous work, and the faithful are warned to be on their guard against it."
Once more the zealots succeeded in suppressing a "dangerous" work by Castellio before it had been circulated. Yes, the book was suppressed, but what about the author, this imperturbable, inflexible, anti-dogmatic and anti-doctrinaire philosopher? An end must be made of him. Gagging was not enough; his spine must be broken. Once more Theodore de Beze was called in to use the garotte. His Responsio ad defendones et reprehendones Sebastiani Castellionis, dedicated to the pastors of the town of Basle, showed (if by this dedication alone) what sort of steps were to be taken against Castellio. "It is time, and more than time"-such was de Beze's insinuation-"that religious justice shall deal with this heretic and friend of heretics." In a spate of defamatory language, the pious theologian pilloried Castellio as a liar, blasphemer, wicked Anabaptist, desecrator of sacred doctrine, stinking sycophant, protector, not only of all heretics, but likewise of all adulterers and criminals. To conclude, he was stigmatized as at. assassin whose weapons of defence had been forged in Satan's smithy. True, de Beze, in his fury, mixed his opprobrious epithets so indiscriminately that many of them cancelled one another out. Still, what clearly emerged from this volcanic tumult was the determination to gag Castellio once for all, if possible by taking his life.
The fanatics had plainly disclosed their intention to have Castellio put on trial for heresy; the denunciation stepped shamelessly into the open, without a fig-leaf. A plain appeal had been made to the Basle synod to set the civil authorities straightway to work. Castellio was to be arrested as a common criminal. Unfortunately, however, there was a trifling obstacle to prevent the immediate carrying out of this amiable intention. By the laws of Basle, a prosecution could not be opened without a written indictment having been laid before the authorities, and the mere existence of a disapproved book would not suffice. In these circumstances the obviously proper course would be for Calvin and de Beze to bring the charge against Castellio. But Calvin followed his well-tried tactics, preferring to remain in the background while urging others to step into the breach. The method adopted against Servetus in Vienne and in Geneva would be the most appropriate. In November 1563, immediately after de Beze's book had been published, a completely unqualified person, Adam von Bodenstein by name, brought before the Basle authorities a written plaint against Castellio on the ground of heresy. Assuredly this Adam von Bodenstein was the last man entitled to assume the role of defender of orthodoxy, being a son of the notorious Carlstadt, whom Luther had expelled from the University of Wittenberg as a dangerous fanatic; besides, being a pupil of the distinctly irreligious Paracelsus, it was absurd for him to pose as an upright pillar of the Protestant Church. Nevertheless, Bodenstein's indictment reiterated the confused arguments of de Beze's book, wherein Castellio was simultaneously described as a Papist, an Anabaptist, a free-thinker, a blasphemer, and, in addition, as protector of adulterers and criminals. No matter whether the charges were true or false; with the lodging of this written accusation (which is still extant) the legal requirements had been fulfilled. Now the Basle authorities had no other choice than to initiate a prosecution. Calvin and company had secured their aim; Castellio must sit on the penitent's bench.
Surely it would be easy for Castellio to defend himself against these accusations? In excess of zeal, Bodenstein had charged him with such contradictory offences that the absurdity of the indictment was manifest. Besides, everyone in Basle knew Castellio's life to be blameless. The upshot was that the accused was not, as Servetus had been, promptly arrested, loaded with chains, jailed, and maltreated, but, as a professor in the university, summoned before the senate to answer the charges.
He declared (as was true) that his accuser Bodenstein was a man of straw, and insisted that Calvin and de Beze, being the real instigators of the prosecution, ought to appear in person. "Since I am attacked with so much venom, I earnestly beg you to give me an opportunity of defending myself. If Calvin and de Beze are acting in good faith, let them come into court and prove that I have committed the offences with which they charge me. If they believe themselves to have acted rightly, they have no reason to dread the tribunal of Basle, since they made no ado about attacking me before the whole world .... I know my accusers to be influential, but God, likewise, is mighty, and He judges without distinction of persons. I am aware that I am an obscure individual, lowly placed and comparatively unknown; but God keeps watch over the lowly, and will demand atonement if their blood should be unjustly shed. I acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court, and declare that if I am guilty of any of the things with which I am charged, my head ought to answer for it."
Calvin and de Beze were unwilling to comply with so frank a demand. Neither of them appeared before the senate of Basle University. It seemed as if the malicious denunciation would go up in a cloud of smoke, when chance rendered Castellio's enemies unexpected aid. Something came to light which gave disastrous support to the suspicion of heresy and friendliness to heretics attaching to Castellio. A strange thing was disclosed. For twelve years a wealthy foreigner, ostensibly of noble birth, had been living in the canton of Basle, at the chateau of Binningen. He was known as Jean de Bruges, and was highly respected and loved in bourgeois circles. He died in 1556, and the Baslers turned out in force to attend his sumptuous funeral, when the coffin was placed in the vaults of the church of St. Leonard. Years had elapsed when an almost incredible report began to gain ground, it being asserted that the distinguished foreigner had not been a nobleman or merchant, but none other than the infamous and outlawed arch-heretic, David Joris, author of the Wonder Boek--a man who had mysteriously disappeared from Flanders in the days of the massacre of the Anabaptists. Greatly were the Baslers discountenanced to learn that they had paid such high honour, both during life and after death, to a man who had been an enemy of the true faith! To atone for the misuse the impostor had made of their hospitality, the long-deceased offender was solemnly tried by the authorities. The body of the heretic was exhumed, the mass of corruption was hanged for a time on the public gallows, and then, in the marketplace of Basle, was burned, together with a number of heretical writings. The gruesome spectacle was witnessed by thousands of spectators among these being, perforce, Castellio, side by side with the other professors of the university. Imagine his feelings. David Joris, during his exile in Basle, had been bound to Castellio by the ties of close friendship. They had joined hands in the attempt to rescue Servetus; and it seems probable that Joris was one among the group of anonymous authors of "Martinus Bellius's" De haereticis. This much may be regarded as certain, that Castellio had never believed the inmate of the chateau of Binningen to be the simple merchant that refugee had proclaimed himself, but must have known from the first the true identity of the alleged Jean de Bruges. Nevertheless, as tolerant in actual life as in his writings, Castellio would never have played the informer, or have refused to extend the hand of friendship to a man, though the latter had been outlawed by all the churches and all the civil authorities in the world.
None the less, the disclosure of Castellio's suspect relationships with the most notorious of the Anabaptists gave untimely support to the Calvinist accusation. It was plain that Castellio had, in very truth, been a protector and patron of one arch-heretic. Why not, then, of all? Since misfortunes seldom come singly, at the same moment evidence was adduced to show that Castellio had been in close touch with another much-maligned heretic, Bernardino Ochino. At one time a Franciscan monk, and vicar-general of the Capuchins, renowned throughout Italy for his sermons, Ochino fell under the ban of the Inquisition and fled to Switzerland. Even there, after becoming a pastor of the Reformed Church, he aroused alarm by the advanced nature of his views. Above all, his last book, Thirty Dialogues, contained an interpretation of the Bible which was regarded as blasphemous by the whole Protestant world; for Bernardino Ochino, quoting the Mosaic Law, affirmed that polygamy (though he did not venture to recommend it) was theoretically admissible, and was sanctioned by the Bible.
This book, containing such a scandalous thesis, and voicing many other opinions regarded by the orthodox as outrageous, was translated by Castellio from Italian into Latin. The heretical treatise was printed in its Latin dress, so that Castellio was unquestionably responsible for the diffusion of most "abominable" views. Proceedings had already been taken against Ochino; and it was natural that, under present conditions, the translator should be regarded as a confederate, and as no less blameworthy than the Italian author. Thus betwixt night and morning Calvin's and de Beze's vague assertions that Castellio was a focus of the most dangerous heresies had been given substantial support by the disclosure of his intimacy with David Joris and Bernardino Ochino. It was not to be expected that Basle University would continue to shelter and safeguard such a man. Castellio's cause was lost before the trial began.
What a Protestant advocate of toleration might expect from the intolerance of his contemporaries, Castellio could have learned from the fate of his friend Bernardino Ochino -though the latter's cup of sorrows was not filled before Castellio had himself passed away. Ochino, who had for some time been pastor to the Italian refugees in Zurich, was expelled from that city, where the authorities would not even grant him the respite he besought. He was seventy-six, destitute, and had recently been widowed; but these misfortunes secured him no pity. The pious theologians were glad to drive him into renewed exile accompanied by his innocent children. It was mid-winter, and the upland roads were deep in snow. So much the better, thought his adversaries, who would have been glad if the unfortunate old man had died by the wayside. Well, he must seek refuge somewhere, anywhere, in the world. The fanatics who had expelled him were determined to strew difficulties in his path. Lest the compassionate should be over-ready to provide him and his children with warmth and shelter, they sent letters speeding before him, warning good Christians to close their doors against such a wretch, who must be treated as if he were a leper. The aged scholar left Switzerland as a beggar, struggling through the snow, sleeping in barns; moved northward across Germany by way of Nuremberg, where also the Protestant congregations had been cautioned against him, but where he was allowed to stay for a time; his last hope being to find in Poland kindly persons to give him and his children sustenance and shelter. But even in Poland intolerance was too much for him. He fled to Moravia, died there in penury towards the end of 1564 or 1565, and was committed, like a vagabond, to a now forgotten grave.
Castellio, who was acquainted with the earlier stages of his friend Ochino's long-drawn-out martyrdom, knew that he himself might expect a similar fate. He was to be tried as a heretic, and the man whose only crime was that of having been too humane could look for neither humanity nor compassion in an era of such universal inhumanity. Servetus's defender might suffer Servetus's fate. The intolerance of the sixteenth century had laid a strangler's hand on the throat of its most dangerous adversary, the apostle of toleration.
Happily, however, the zealots were denied the supreme triumph of seeing Sebastian Castellio perish in prison, in exile, or at the stake. Death rescued him from his ruthless adversaries. For a long time his physique had been undermined by overwork, and his strength was not able to stand up against so many sorrows and so much excitement. Down to the last, fighting valiantly though vainly, Castellio went on with his occupations at the university and in his study. He was forced to take to his bed at last, having been seized with uncontrollable vomiting, until finally his overtaxed heart resigned its task. On December 29, I563, Sebastian Castellio died at the age of forty-eight, being thus, "by God's help, snatched from the claws of his enemies"-as a sympathetic friend phrased it when all was over.
His death put an end to the campaign of calumny. Too late, his fellow-citizens recognized how lukewarm they had been in the defence of the most worthy among the inhabitants of Basle. The scantiness of his estate showed how poverty-stricken had been this great scholar. There was not a fragment of silverware left in the house. His friends had to provide funeral expenses, pay his trifling debts, and take charge of his children. As if in recompense for the shamefulness of the accusation of heresy, Sebastian Castellio's interment was a moral triumph. Those who had timidly drawn away from him after the charge of heresy had been brought were now eager to show how much they loved and honoured him. The funeral train was followed by all the members of the university, the coffin being borne to the cathedral on the shoulders of students, and interred there in the crypt. At their own cost, three hundred of his pupils provided a tombstone on which were chiselled the words: "To our renowned teacher, in gratitude for his extensive knowledge and in commemoration of the purity of his life."
Chapter Nine: Extremes Meet
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