The writings of the opponents of Calvin are barely known
But it was an unequal struggle between Geneva and Basle. While the writings of Calvin and Beza against Castellio were printed in Geneva and spread from there in the whole world, could Castellio’s writings only be distributed and read secretly in the underground as a manuscript.
The “Contra labellum Calvini” with the famous phrase “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man” was printed in The Netherlands only in the 17th century; the “De haereticis non puniendis”, discovered before the outbreak of the Second World War in Rotterdam, was published in 1971 by a Geneva publisher. Both pamphlets were known neither to Calvin nor to Beza, nor to a wider public that time.
Until his death, Castellio found himself exposed to the attacks of his Geneva opponents who obviously wanted to muzzle him and banish him from Basle. Calvin's and Beza's criticism shifted from the tolerance question to Castellio's Bible translations, to the doctrines of Predestination and other theological questions. It was linked with violent verbal attacks against Castellio: he was insulted as a liar and traitor, as a Pelagian (follower of a doctrine in which men are able to achieve salvation on their own), as a patron of all possible criminals, heretic, papist, blasphemer and “academic”, which meant back then as much as radical doubter.
He was also accused of having written the translation of the Bible under the influence of the devil, of stealing wood from the Rhine and many other things of this kind. Especially Calvin did not shrink back from any insult and defamation; known is his curse directed against Castellio “Compescat te Deus, Satan” (“God tame you, you Satan”).
Castellio was given moral support by Melanchthon, who himself suffered from the political and theological antagonisms in German Lutheranism. In 1557, Melanchthon wrote a letter to Castellio. In which he deals with the religious disputes of the time and praises the Basle professor for his eruditeness and linguistic competence. Calvin reacted extremely upset. On the verge of his death – due to a complaint - Castellio had to defend himself before the Basle Council against the accusation that he was a heretic and would seduce the youth with his doctrine. However, neither a trial nor the realisation of the plan to emigrate to Poland took place, because Castellio died on December 29, 1563 in Basle.
The humanist's last statement , his written defence before the Basle Council, also contains the claim to settle religious disputes in the spirit of Christian love: “I also think now that the disputes that exist among theologians cannot be settled from the Scripture unless the spirit of Christ, who manifests the mind, and love are present”.
Castellio, like Calvin, had an impact on the history of The Netherlands, the United States of America as well on other countries of Europe. Even though he did not establish a church like the Geneva reformer, but his demand for religious freedom and partly the idea of separation of state and church have been included in the catalogue of human rights of the USA and the French Revolution. They have been incorporated into many constitutions and have become self- evident ideas of modern man.•
Dr. Uwe Plath
born in 1942, is a historian and theologian and has translated and commented parts of the writings of Sebastian Castellio.
SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, Gegen Calvin. Contra libellum Calvini (Against Calvin. Contra labellum Calvini). Translated by Uwe Plath. Essen 2015.
UWE PLATH, Der Fall Servet und die Kontroverse um die Freiheit des Glaubens und Gewissens (The Case of Servet and the controversy over the freedom of faith and conscience). Essen, 2013.
Translated by Dr. Dieter Baumgarten (Taunus, Germany)