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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 126. Calvin and Castellio.


I. Castellio’s chief work is his Biblia sacra latina (Basil., 1551, 1554, 1555, 1556, 1572; the N. T. also at Amst., 1683, Leipz., 1760, Halle, 1776). His French version is less important. He defended both against the attacks of Beza (Defensio suarum translationum Bibliorum, Basil., 1562). After the execution of Servetus, 1553, Castellio wrote several anonymous or pseudonymous booklets against Calvin, and against the persecution of heretics, which provoked the replies of Calvin and Beza (see below). His views against predestination and the slavery of the will are best set forth in his four Dialogi de praedestinatione, de electione, de libero arbitrio, de fide, which were published after his death at Basel, 1578, 1613, 1619, and in English, 1679. See a chronological list of his numerous works in La France Protestante, vol. IV. 126–141. I have before me (from the Union Seminary Library) a rare volume: Sebastiani Castellionis Dialogi IV, printed at Gouda in Holland anno 1613, which contains the four Dialogues above mentioned (pp. 1–225); Castellio’s Defence against Calvin’s Adv. Nebulonem, his Annotations on the ninth ch. of Romans, and several other tracts.

Calvin: Brevis Responsio ad diluendas nebulonis cuiusdam calumnias quibus doctrinam de aeterna Dei praedestinatione foedare conatus est, Gen. (1554), 1557. In Opera, IX. 253–266. The unnamed nebulo (in the French ed. le broullion) is Castellio. Calumniae nebulonis cujusdam adversus doctrinam Joh. Calvini de occulta Dei providentia. Johannis Calvini ad easdem responsio, Gen., 1558. In Opera, IX. 269–318. In this book Castellio’s objections to Calvin’s predestinarian system are set forth in twenty-four theses, with a defence, and then answered by Calvin. The first thesis charges Calvin with teaching: "Deus maximam mundi partem nudo puroque voluntatis suae arbitric creavit ad perditionem." Thes. V.: "Nullum adulterium, furtum, homicidium committitur, quin Dei voluntas intercedat."

Beza: Ad Seb. Castellionis calumnias, quibus unicum salutis nostrae fundamentum, i.e. aeternam Dei praedestinationem evertere nititur, responsio, Gen., 1558. In his Tractat. theol. I. 337–423 (second ed. Geneva, 1582).

II. Bayle: Castalion in his "Dict. Hist. et crit."—Joh. C. Füsslin: Lebensge-schichte Seb. Castellio’s. Frankf. and Leipzig, 1776.—F. Trechsel: Die protest. Antitrinitarier, vol. I. (1839), pp. 208–214.—C. Rich. Brenner: Essai sur la vie et les écrits de Séb. Chatillon, 1853.—Henry: II. 383 sqq.; III. 88 sqq.; and Beilage, 28–42.—*Alex. Schweizer: Centraldogmen, I. 310–356; and Sebastian Castellio als Bekämpfer der Calvinischen Praedestinations-lehre, in Baur’s "Theol. Jahrbücher" for 1851.—Stähelin, I. 377–381; II. 302–308.—Jacob Maehly: Seb. Castellio, ein biographischer Versuch, Basel, 1862.—Jules Bonnet: Séb. Chatillion ou la tolérance ait XVIe siècle, in the, Bulletin de la Société de l’hist. du protest. français," Nos. XVI. and XVII., 1867 and 1868.—Em. Brossoux: Séb. Chasteillon, Strasbourg, 1867.—B. Riggenbach, in Herzog2, III. 160 sqq.—Lutteroth: Castallion in Lichten-berger, II. 672–677.—*La France Protestante (2d ed.): Chateillon, tom. IV. 122–142.—*Ferd. Buisson: Sébastien Castellion, Paris, 1892, 2 vols.


Castellio was far superior to Bolsec as a scholar and a man, and lived in peace with Calvin until differences of opinion on predestination, free-will, the Canticles, the descent into Hades, and religious toleration made them bitter enemies. In the beat of the controversy both forgot the dignity and moderation of a Christian scholar.

Sebastian Castellio or Castalio was born at Chatillon in Savoy, in 1515, six years after Calvin, of poor and bigoted parents.902902    His French name is Bastien de Chatillon or Chateillon. He assumed, not without vanity, the classical name Castalio with allusion to the Castalian fountain at the foot of Parnassus. The usual spelling is Castellio. His precise origin is uncertain. He was either a Frenchman or a Savoyard. He was numbered with the liberal anti-calvinistic Italians, and charged with using a corrupt French dialect. See Bayle, l.c., and Schweizer, I. 311. He acquired a classical and biblical education by hard study. He had a rare genius for languages, and mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In 1540 he taught Greek at Lyons, and conducted the studies of three noblemen. He published there a manual of biblical history under the title Dialogi sacri, which passed through several editions in Latin and French from 1540 to 1731. He wrote a Latin epic on the prophecies of Jonah; a Greek epic on John the Baptist, which greatly delighted Melanchthon; two versions of the Pentateuch, with a view to exhibit Moses as a master in all the arts and sciences; a translation of the Psalms, and other poetic portions of the Old Testament.

These works were preparatory to a complete Latin translation of the Bible, which he began at Geneva, 1542, and finished at Basel, 1551. It was dedicated to King Edward VI. of England, and often republished with various improvements. He showed some specimens in manuscript to Calvin, who disapproved of the style. His object was to present the Bible in classical Latinity according to the taste of the later humanists and the pedantic Ciceronianism of Cardinal Bembo. He substituted classical for biblical terms; as lotio for baptismus, genius for angelus, respublica for ecclesia, collegium for synagoge, senatus for presbyterium, furiosi for daemoniaci. He sacrificed the contents to style, obliterated the Hebraisms, and weakened the realistic force, the simplicity and grandeur of the biblical writers. His translation was severely criticised by Calvin and Beza as tending to secularize and profane the sacred book, but it was commended as a meritorious work by such competent judges as Melanchthon and Richard Simon. Castellio published also a French version of the Bible with notes (1555), but his French was not nearly as pure and elegant as his Latin, and was severely criticised by Beza. He translated portions of Homer, Xenophon, the Dialogues of Ochino, and also two mystical books, the Theologia Germanica (1557), and, in the last year of his life, the Imitatio Christi of Thomas à Kempis,—"e latino in latinum," that is, from monkish into classical Latin,—omitting, however, the fourth book.

Castellio was a philologist and critic, an orator and poet, but not a theologian, and unable to rise to the lofty height of Calvin’s views and mission. His controversial tracts are full of bitterness. He combined a mystical with a sceptical tendency.903903    Stähelin (II. 303) calls him "ein rationalistischer Gefühlstheologe mit ausgeprägt aesthetischem Anstrich." He was an anachronism; a rationalist before Rationalism, an advocate of religious toleration in an age of intolerance.

Castellio became acquainted with Calvin at Strassburg, and lived with him in the same house (1540). Calvin appreciated his genius, scholarship, and literary industry, and, on his return to Geneva, he secured for him a call as rector of the Latin school at a salary of four hundred and fifty florins (November, 1541), in the place of his old teacher, Maturin Cordier. He treated him at first with marked kindness and forbearance. In 1542, when the pestilence raged, Castellio offered to go to the hospital, but he was either rejected as not qualified, not being a minister, or he changed his mind when the lot fell on him.904904    The latter is Beza’s explanation, Vita Calv. in Annal., Opera, XXI. 134.

Early in the year 1544, Castellio took offence at some of Calvin’s theological opinions, especially his doctrine of predestination. He disliked his severe discipline and the one-man-power. He anticipated the rationalistic opinion on the Song of Solomon, and described it as an obscene, erotic poem, which should be stricken out of the canon.905905    "Carmen obscoenum et lascivum, quo Salomo impudicos suos amores descripserit." Comp. Reg. du Conseil, Jan. 28, 1544, in Annal. 329. He also objected to the clause of Christ’s descent into Hades in the Apostles’ Creed, or rather to Calvin’s figurative explanation of it, as being a vicarious foretaste of eternal pain by Christ on the cross.906906    Calvin, in his catechism, explains the descensus ad inferos to mean the suffering of the "dolores mortis" (Acts 2:24) or "horribiles angustias" on the cross in behalf of the elect. This unhistorical exposition passed into the Heidelberg Catechism, Quaest. 44: "Christ, my Lord, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors, which he suffered in his soul on the cross and before, has redeemed me from the anguish and torment of hell." The true meaning of the clause is, that the descent was an event which took place between the death and the resurrection of Christ. Comp. 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6; Eph. 4:9. For these reasons Calvin opposed his ordination, but recommended an increase of his salary, which the Council refused, with the direction that he should keep better discipline in the school.907907    See Reg. du Conseil, Jan. 14, 1544, quoted in Annal. 328. He also gave him an honorable public testimony when he wished to leave Geneva, and added private letters of recommendation to friends. Castellio went to Lausanne, but soon returned to Geneva. In April, 1544, he asked the Council to continue him in his position for April, May, and June, which was agreed to.908908    Extract from Reg. du Conseil, April 12, 1544, in Annal. 333.

In a public discussion on some Scripture text in the weekly congregation at which about sixty persons were present, May 30, 1544, he eulogized St. Paul and drew an unfavorable contrast between him and the ministers of Geneva, charging them with drunkenness, impurity, and intolerance. Calvin listened in silence, but complained to the Syndics of this conduct.909909    May 31, Annal. 336. Castellio was summoned before the Council, which, after a patient hearing, found him guilty of calumny, and banished him from the city.910910    This is the report of Beza: "ex urbe excedere jussus est;" but Castellio seems to have remained in Geneva till July 14. See Reg. du Conseil, in Annal, 340.

He went to Basel, where the liberal spirit of Erasmus had not yet died out. He lived there several years in great poverty till 1553, when he obtained a Greek professorship in the University. That University was the headquarters of opposition to Calvinism. Several sceptical Italians gathered there. Fr. Hotoman wrote to Bullinger: "Calvin is no better spoken of here than in Paris. If one wishes to scold another, he calls him a Calvinist. He is most unjustly and immoderately assailed from all quarters."911911    Trechsel, Antitrinitarier, I. 219; Stähelin, II. 304.

In the summer of 1554, an anonymous letter was addressed to the Genevese with atrocious charges against Calvin, who suspected that it was written by Castellio, and complained of it to Antistes Sulzer of Basel; but Castellio denied the authorship before the Council of Basel. About the same time appeared from the same anonymous source a malignant tract against Calvin, which collected his most obnoxious utterances on predestination, and was sent to Paris for publication to fill the French Protestants, then struggling for existence, with distrust of the Reformer (1555). Calvin and Beza replied with much indignation and bitterness, and heaped upon the author such epithets as dog, slanderer, corrupter of Scripture, vagabond, blasphemer. Calvin, upon insufficient information, even charged him with theft. Castellio, in self-defence, informs us that, with a large family dependent on him, he was in the habit of gathering driftwood on the banks of the Rhine to keep himself warm, and to cook his food, while working at the completion of his translation of the Scriptures till midnight. He effectively replied to Calvin’s reproachful epithets: "It ill becomes so learned a man as yourself, the teacher of so many others, to degrade so excellent an intellect by such foul and sordid abuse."

Castellio incurred the suspicion of the Council of Basel by his translation of Ochino’s Dialogues, which contained opinions favorable to Unitarianism and polygamy (1563). He defended himself by alleging that he acted not as judge, but only as translator, for the support of his family. He was warned to cease meddling with theology and to stick to philology.

He died in poverty, Dec. 29, 1563, only forty-eight years old, leaving four sons and four daughters from two wives. Calvin saw in his death a judgment of God, but a few months afterwards he died himself. Even the mild Bullinger expressed satisfaction that the translator of Ochino’s dangerous books had left this world.912912    He wrote to Zanchi at Chiavenna, March 17, 1564: "Optime factum, quod Basileae mortuus est Castellio." Quoted by Trechsel, I. 214, from the Simler Collection in Zürich. Three Polish Socinians, who happened to pass through Basel, were more merciful than the orthodox, and erected to Castellio a monument in the cloister adjoining the minster. Faustus Socinus edited his posthumous works. The youngest of his children, Frederic Castellio, acquired some distinction as a philologist, orator, musician, and poet, and was appointed professor of Greek, and afterwards of rhetoric, in Basel.

Castellio left no school behind him, but his writings exerted considerable influence on the development of Socinian and Arminian opinions. He opposed Calvinism with the same arguments as Pighius and Bolsec, and charged it with destroying the foundations of morality and turning God into a tyrant and hypocrite. He essentially agreed with Pelagianism, and prepared the way for Socinianism.

He differed also from Calvin on the subject of persecution. Being himself persecuted, he was one of the very few advocates of religious toleration in opposition to the prevailing doctrine and practice of his age. In this point also he sympathized with the Unitarians. After the execution of Servetus and Calvin’s defence of the same, there appeared, under the false name of Martinus Bellius, a book against the theory of religious persecution, which was ascribed to Castellio.913913    De haereticis an sint persequendi, et omnino quomodo sit cum eis agendum, doctorum virorum tum veterum tum recentiorum sententiae. Liber hoc tam turbulento tempore pernecessarius. Magdeburgi, per Georg. Rausch, 1554, mense martio, 173 pp. 80. I copy the title of the book (which I have not seen) from La France Prot., IV. 130. The writer of this article and Baum attribute the book to Castellio, but Schweizer, I. 315 sq., shows that he wrote only a part of it. Comp. Buisson, l.c., I. 358 sqq., and II. 1 sqq. He denied the authorship. He had, however, contributed to it a part under the name of Basilius (Sebastian) Montfortius (Castellio). The pseudo-name of Martinus Bellius, the editor who wrote the dedicatory preface to Duke Christopher of Württemberg (the protector of Vergerius), has never been unmasked. The book is a collection of judgments of different writers against the capital punishment of heretics. Calvin and Beza were indignant, and correctly ascribed the book to a secret company of Italian "Academici,"—Laelius Socinus, Curio, and Castellio. They also suspected that Magdeburg, the alleged place of publication, was Basel, and the printer an Italian refugee, Pietro Perna.

Castellio wrote also a tract, during the Huguenot wars in France, 1562, in which he defended religious liberty as the only remedy against religious wars.914914    "Conseil àla France désolée, auquel est montrée la cause de la guerre présente et le remède qui y pourroit être mis, et principalement est avisési on doit forcer les consciences." The writer in La France Prot., IV. 135-138, gives large extracts from this exceedingly rare tract. See also Buisson, II. 225 sqq.



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