SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO MEMORIAL
New start in Basle among like-minded people
At that time, Basle was a city of about 10.000 inhabitants, one of the largest of the Confederation, whose development and economy was favoured by the good location at the intersection of the communication routes from north to south and from east to west. After the introduction of the reformation by Johannes Oekolampad, an evangelical community emerged equal to the time of the Council of Basle (1431-1449): a harbourage of scholars, a meeting place of nations, a place of free intellectual exchange across national and linguistic borders. This became apparent not only with regard to the university and the letterpress, but also with regard to the circle of religious refugees, who – in hope of being able to live here in the freedom of a Christian - found a new centre of life.
This circle included the Italian rhetoric professor Celio Secundo Curione, the Dutch Anabaptist David Joris, his son-in-law Nikolas Blesdijk, the Professor of the Old Testament Martin Borrhaus, who came from Saxony; the Spanish humanist Francisco de Enzinas (Dryander), the French medical scientist Jean Bauhin, the printers Pietro Perna from Lucca and Jakob Parcus from Lyon, just to name a few. They were men who, for the most part, would later participate in the tolerance controversy against Calvin. In this circle Castellio found his spiritual homeland.
The first years in Basle were marked by bitter poverty and hardship: Castellio worked as a proofreader for the compositor Johannes Oporin. But the wage was barely enough to feed the growing family. He also had to work as gardener, fisherman and wood collector. Probably not without any reason Michel de Montaigne described these living conditions as a "great shame of our century". Only when Castellio became a Greek professor at the University of Basle in the spring of 1553 and received a fixed salary, his situation improved.
His social environment included not only the mentioned religious refugees as well as compositors and members of the university, but also reputable Basle residents like the council counsellor Bonifacius Amerbach, the schoolmaster Thomas Platter and Simon Sulzer, the antistes (head) of the Basle church; furthermore students, who came to him from all over Europe, especially from The Netherlands, France, Poland, Italy and Germany, because of his scholarliness and piety. With many he remained in touch also later. They spread his writings and thoughts in their home countries.
Despite the difficult first years in Basle, Castellio still found the time and energy for numerous important publications, which were mainly used for religious and Latin lessons. Mentioned here are only the extended edition of "Dialogi Sacri" (1545), the Latin translation of the "Sibyllina Oracula" (1546), the "Moses Latinus" as well as the Psalms and some Old Testament texts.
In particular mentioning deserves the translation of the Bible into the Latin and French Language. While the French Version was completed in 1553 and printed in 1555, with a preface dedicated to the French King Henry II, the Latin was released already in 1551 by Jacob Parcus and Johannes Oporin with a preface dedicated to the young English King Eduard VI. These works prove that Castellio was a philologist, pedagogue and theologian.
His great joy was undoubtedly translating. And he would have certainly spared himself some bitter experiences and hostilities from Geneva, if, as Pierre Ramus later meant, he had dealt only with the tasks of his Greek professorship and had not stood up as a pioneer of tolerance against
Calvin: “Then Basle would not have had one's pears in this branch of meritorious activity.” But the fame of Castellio was to grow in another area.