Sebastian Castellio bigraphy, stories - Translators

Sebastian Castellio : biography

1515 - December 29, 1563

Sebastian Castellio (also Sébastien Châteillon, Châtaillon, Castellión, and Castello) (1515 – December 29, 1563) was a French preacher and theologian; and one of the first Reformed Christian proponents of religious toleration, freedom of conscience and thought.

Years of poverty

The man who once was the Rector in Geneva was now homeless and in deep poverty. The next few years were desperate times for him. Though one of the most learned men of his time, his life came down to begging for food from door to door. Living in abject poverty with his eight dependents, Castellio was forced to depend on strangers to stay alive. His plight brought admiration from his contemporaries. Montaigne wrote "it was deplorable that a man who had done such good service as Castellio should have fallen upon evil days" and added that "many persons would unquestionably have been glad to help Castellio had they known soon enough that he was in want."

History indicates that many perhaps were afraid to help Castellio for fear of reprisals from Geneva. Castellio's existence ranged from begging and digging ditches for food to proof-reading for the Basel printshop of Oporinus. He also worked as a private tutor while translating thousands of pages from Greek, Hebrew and Latin into French and German.

Conflict with Calvin

Castellio's fortunes gradually improved, and in August 1553 he was made a Master of Arts of the University of Basel and appointed to a prestigious teaching position.Grayling, A. C. (2007) Towards the Light. The story of the struggles for liberty & rights that made the modern west. London: Bloomsbury. However, in October 1553, the physician and theologian Michael Servetus was executed in Geneva for blasphemy and heresy – in particular his repudiation of the doctrine of the trinity. Many prominent Protestant leaders of the day approved of the execution, and Melanchthon wrote to Calvin: "To you also the Church owes gratitude at the present moment, and will owe it to the latest posterity....I affirm also that your magistrates did right in punishing, after a regular trial, this blasphemous man." However, many other contemporary scholars were outraged both publicly and privately over the execution of Servetus. The synods of Zurich and Schaffhausen were far from enthusiastic, and Castellio took an especially hard line regarding the whole affair. He became enraged over what he saw as a blatant murder committed by Calvin, and spoke of his "hands dripping with the blood of Servetus."

As a defense of his actions, in February 1554 Calvin published a treatise titled Defense of the orthodox faith in the sacred Trinity (Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra Trinitate) in which he presented arguments in favor of the execution of Servetus for diverging from orthodox Christian doctrine.

Three months later, Castellio wrote (as Basil Montfort) a large part of the pamphlet Should Heretics be Persecuted? (De haereticis, an sint persequendi) with the place of publication being given on the first page as Magdeburg rather than Basle. The book was financed by the wealthy Italian Bernardino Bonifazio, was published under the pseudonym Martinus Bellius, and was printed by Johannes Oporinus, a known Basle book printer. It is believed that the pamphlet was co-authored by Laelius Socinus and Celio Secondo Curione. Concerning the execution of Michael Servetus, Castellio wrote: "When Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings." He invoked the testimony of Church Fathers like Augustine, Chrysostom and Jerome to support freedom of thought, and even used Calvin's own words, written back when he was himself being persecuted by the Catholic Church: "It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind." Castellio ventured into a passionate discourse revolving around the question "What is a heretic?" He repeatedly argued against one man (Calvin)'s inerrant interpretation of Christian Scripture and concluded that a heretic is anyone who disagrees with another regarding the meaning of Scripture, thus being a relative term and a relative charge.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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