Vol 8, Chapter XV (Cont’d) – 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 again 126-129st 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. Fuesslin: 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 Bekaempfer der Calvinischen Praedestinations-lehre, in Baur’s “Theol. Jahrbuecher” for 1851. — Staehelin, 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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. Castellio was summoned before the Council, which, after a patient hearing, found him guilty of calumny, and banished him from the city.

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.”

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. 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. 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 Wuerttemberg (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.


127. Calvinism and Unitarianism. The Italian Refugees

Comp. §§ 38-40.

I. Calvin: Ad questiones Georgii Blandatrae responsum (1558); Responsum ad Fratres Polonos quomodo mediator sit Christus ad refutandum Stancari errorem (1560); Impietas Valentini Gentilis detecta et palam traducta qui Christum non sine sacrilega blasphemia Deum essentiatum esse fingit (1561); Brevis admonitio ad Fratres Polonos ne triplicem in Deo essentiam pro tribus personis imaginando tres sibi Deos fabricent (1563); Epistola Jo. Calv. quo fidem Admonitionis ab eo nuper editae apud Polonos confirmat (1563). All in Opera, Tom. IX. 321 sqq. The correspondence of Calvin with Lelio Sozini and other Italians, see below. On the controversy with Servetus, see next chapter.

The Socinian writings are collected in the Bibliotheca fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant, Irenopoli (Amsterdam), 1656 sqq., 8 vols in 11 tomes fol. It contains the writings of the younger Socinus and his successors (Schlichting, Crell, etc.).

II. Trechsel: Die Protestantischen Antitrinitarier, Heidelberg, 1839 and 1844, 2 vols. The first volume treats chiefly of Servetus; the second, of the Italian Antitrinitarians. — Otto Fock: Der Socinianismus, Kiel, 1847. (The first part contains the history, the second and more valuable part the system, of Socinianism.) — Schweizer: Die Protest. Centraldogmen (Zürich, 1854), vol. I. 293 sqq. — Henry, III. 276 sqq. — Dyer, 446 sqq. — Staehelin, II. 319 sqq. — L. Coligny: L’Antitrinitarianism à Genève au temps de Calvin. Genève, 1873. — Harnack: Dogmengeschichte, III. (1890) 653-691. Comp. Sand: Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum, 1684.

The Italian Protestants who were compelled to flee from the Inquisition, sought refuge in Switzerland, and organized congregations under native pastors in the Grisons, in Zürich, and Geneva. A few of them gathered also in Basel, and associated there with Castellio and the admirers of Erasmus. An Italian Church was organized at Geneva in 1542, and reorganized in 1551, under Galeazzo Caraccioli, Marquis of Vico. Its chief pastors were Ragnione, Count Martinengo (who died 1557), and Balbani.

Among the 279 fugitives who received the rights of citizenship in that city on one day of the year 1558, there were 200 Frenchmen, 50 Englishmen, 25 Italians, and 4 Spaniards.

The descendants of the refugees gradually merged into the native population. Some of the best families in Geneva, Zürich, and Basel still bear the names and cherish the memories of their foreign ancestors. In the valleys of Poschiavo and Bregaglia of the Grisons, several Protestant Italian congregations survive to this day.

The Italian Protestants were mostly educated men, who had passed through the door of the Renaissance to the Reformation, or who had received the first impulse from the writings of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. We must distinguish among them two classes, as they were chiefly influenced either by religious or intellectual motives. Those who had experienced a severe moral struggle for peace of conscience, became strict Calvinists; those who were moved by a desire for freedom of thought from the bondage of an exclusive creed, sympathized more with Erasmus than with Luther and Calvin, and had a tendency to Unitarianism and Pelagianism. Zanchi warned Bullinger against recommending Italians for sound doctrine until he had ascertained their views on God and on original sin. The same national characteristics continue to this day among the Romanic races. If Italians, Frenchmen, or Spaniards cease to be Romanists, they are apt to become sceptics and agnostics. They rarely stop midway.

The ablest, most learned, and most worthy representatives of orthodox Calvinism among the converted Italians were Peter Martyr Vermigli of Florence (1500-1562), who became, successively, professor at Strassburg (1543), at Oxford (1547), and last at Zürich (1555), and his younger friend, Jerome Zanchi (1516-1590), who labored first in the Grisons, and then as professor at Strassburg (1553) and at Heidelberg (1568). Calvin made several ineffectual attempts to secure both for the Italian congregation in Geneva.

The sceptical and antitrinitarian Italians were more numerous among the scholars. Calvin aptly called them “sceptical Academicians.” They assembled chiefly at Basel, where they breathed the atmosphere of Erasmian humanism. They gave the Swiss Churches a great deal of trouble. They took offence at the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, which they misconstrued into tritheism, or Sabellianism, at the orthodox Christology of two natures in one person, and at the Calvinistic doctrines of total depravity and divine predestination, which they charged with tending to immorality. They doubted the right of infant baptism, and denied the real presence in the Eucharist. They hated ecclesiastical disciplina. They admired Servetus, and disapproved of his burning. They advocated religious toleration, which threatened to throw everything into confusion.

To this class belong the two Sozini, — uncle and nephew, Curio, Ochino (in his latter years), Renato, Gribaldo, Biandrata, Alciati, and Gentile. Castellio is also counted with these Italian sceptics. He thoroughly sided with their anti-Calvinism, and translated from the Italian manuscripts into Latin the last books of Ochino.

Thus the seeds for a new and heretical type of Protestantism were abundantly sown by these Italian refugees in the soil of the Swiss Churches, which had received them with open-hearted hospitality.

Fausto Sozini (1539-1604) formulated the loose heterodox opinions of this school of sceptics into a theological system, and organized an ecclesiastical society in Poland, where they enjoyed toleration till the Jesuitical reaction drove them away. Poland was the Northern home of the Italian Renaissance. Italian architects built the great churches and palaces in Cracow, Warsaw, and other cities, and gave them an Italian aspect. Fausto Sozini spent some time in Lyons, Zürich (where he collected the papers of his uncle), and Basel, but labored chiefly in Poland, and acquired great influence with the upper classes by his polished manners, amiability, and marriage with the daughter of a nobleman. Yet he was once mobbed by fanatical students and priests it Cracow, who dragged him through the streets and destroyed his library. He bore the persecution like a philosopher. His writings were published by his nephew, Wiszowaty, in the first two volumes of the Bibliotheca fratrum Polonorum, 1656.

This is not the place for a full history of Socinianism. We have only to do with its initiatory movements in Switzerland, and its connection with Calvin. But a few general remarks will facilitate an understanding.

Socinianism, as a system of theology, has largely affected the theology of orthodox Protestantism on the Continent during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was succeeded by modern Unitarianism, which has exerted considerable influence on the thought and literature of England and America in the nineteenth century. It forms the extreme left wing of Protestantism, and the antipode to Calvinism. The Socinians admitted that Calvinism is the only logical system on the basis of universal depravity and absolute foreknowledge and foreordination; but they denied these premises, and taught moral ability, free-will, and, strange to say, a limitation of divine foreknowledge. God foreknows and foreordains only the necessary future, but not the contingent future, which depends on the free-will of man. The two systems are therefore directly opposed in their theology and anthropology.

And yet there is a certain intellectual and moral affinity between them; as there is between Lutheranism and Rationalism. It is a remarkable fact that modern Unitarianism has grown up in the Calvinistic (Presbyterian and Independent) Churches of Geneva, France, Holland, England, and New England, while Rationalism has been chiefly developed in Lutheran Germany. But the reaction is also found in those countries.

The Italian and Polish Socinians took substantially the same ground as the English and American Unitarians. They were opposed alike to Romanism and Calvinism; they claimed intellectual freedom of dissent and investigation as a right; they elevated the ethical spirit of Christianity above the dogmas, and they had much zeal for higher liberal education. But they differ on an important point. The Socinians had a theological system, and a catechism; the modern Unitarians refuse to be bound by a fixed creed, and are independent in church polity. They allow more liberty for new departures, either in the direction of rationalism and humanitarianism, or in the opposite direction of supernaturalism and trinitarianism.

Calvin was in his early ministry charged with Arianism by a theological quack (Caroli), because he objected to the damnatory clauses of the pseudo-Athanasian creed, and expressed once an unfavorable opinion on the Nicene Creed. But his difficulty was only with the scholastic or metaphysical terminology, not with the doctrine itself; and as to the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, he was most emphatic.

It is chiefly due to Calvin’s and Bullinger’s influence that Unitarianism, which began to undermine orthodoxy, and to unsettle the Churches, was banished from Switzerland. It received its death-blow in the execution of Servetus, who was a Spaniard, but the ablest and most dangerous antitrinitarian. His case will be discussed in a special chapter.


128. Calvin and Laelius Socinus

F. Trechsel (pastor at Vechingen, near Bern): Die protest. Antitrinitarier vor Faustus Socinus nach den Quellen und Urkunden geschichtlich dargestellt. Heidelberg, 1839, 1844. The first part of this learned work, drawn in part from manuscript sources, is devoted to Michael Servetus and his predecessors; the second part to Lelio Sozini and his sympathizing contemporaries. The third section of vol. II. 137-201, with documents in the Appendix, pp. 431-459, treats of Lelio Sozini. — Henry, II. 484 sqq.; III. 440, Beilage, 128. — Dyer, 251 (very brief).

Laelius Socinus, or Lelio Sozini, of Siena (1525-1562), son of an eminent professor of law, was well educated, and carried away by the reform movement in his early youth. He voluntarily separated from the Roman Church, in 1546, at the sacrifice of home and fortune. He removed to Chiavenna in 1547, travelled in Switzerland, France, England, Germany, and Poland, leading an independent life as a student, without public office, supported by the ample means of his father. He studied Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic with Pellican and Bibliander at Zürich and with Foster at Wittenberg, that he might reach “the fountain of the divine law” in the Bible. He made Zürich his second home, and died there in the prime of early manhood, leaving his unripe doubts and crude opinions as a legacy to his more gifted and famous nephew, who gave them definite shape and form.

Laelius was learned, acute, polite, amiable, and prepossessing. He was a man of affairs, better fitted for law or diplomacy than for theology. He was constitutionally a sceptic, of the type of Thomas: an honest seeker after truth; too independent to submit blindly to authority, and yet too religious to run into infidelity. His scepticism stumbled first at the Roman Catholic, than at the Protestant orthodoxy, and gradually spread over the doctrines of the resurrection, predestination, original sin, the trinity, the atonement, and the sacraments. Yet he remained in respectful connection with the Reformers, and communed with the congregation at Zürich, although he thought that the Consensus Tigurinus attributed too much power to the sacrament. He enjoyed the confidence of Bullinger and Melanchthon, who treated him with fatherly kindness, but regarded him better fitted for a secular calling than for the service of the Church. Calvin also was favorably impressed with his talents and personal character, but displeased with his excessive “inquisitiveness.”

L. Socinus came to Geneva in 1548 or 1549, seeking instruction from the greatest divine of the age. He opened his doubts to Calvin with the modesty of a disciple. Soon afterwards he addressed to him a letter from Zürich, asking for advice on the questions, whether it was lawful for a Protestant to marry a Roman Catholic; whether popish baptism was efficacious; and how the doctrine of the resurrection of the body could be explained.

Calvin answered in an elaborate letter (June 26, 1549), to the effect that marriage with Romanists was to be condemned; that popish baptism was valid and efficacious, and should be resorted to when no other can be had, since the Roman communion, though corrupt, still retained marks of the true Church as well as a scattered number of elect individuals, and since baptism was not a popish invention but a divine institution and gift of God who fulfils his promises; that the question on the mode of the resurrection, and its relation to the changing states of our mortal body, was one of curiosity rather than utility.

Before receiving this answer, Socinus wrote to Calvin again from Basel (July 25, 1549) on the same subjects, especially the resurrection, which troubled his mind very much. To this Calvin returned another answer (December, 1549), and warned him against the dangers of his sceptical bent of mind.

Socinus was not discouraged by the earnest rebuke, nor shaken in his veneration for Calvin. During the Bolsec troubles, when at Wittenberg, he laid before him his scruples about predestination and free-will, and appealed to the testimony of Melanchthon, whom he had informed about the harsh treatment of Bolsec. Calvin answered briefly and not without some degree of bitterness.

Socinus visited Geneva a second time in 1554, after his return from a journey to Italy, and before making Zürich his final home. He was then, apparently, still in friendly relations to Calvin and Caraccioli. Soon afterwards he opened to Calvin, in four questions, his objections to the doctrine of the vicarious atonement. Calvin went to the trouble to answer them at length, with solid arguments, June, 1555.

But Socinus was not satisfied. His scepticism extended further to the doctrine of the sacraments and of the Trinity. He doubted first the personality of the Holy Spirit, and then the eternal divinity of Christ. He disapproved the execution of Servetus, and advocated toleration.

Various complaints against Socinus reached Bullinger. Calvin requested him to restrain the restless curiosity of the sceptic. Vergerio, then at Tübingen, Saluz of Coire, and other ministers, sent warnings. Bullinger instituted a private inquiry in a kindly spirit, and was satisfied with a verbal and written declaration of Socinus (July 15, 1555) to the effect that he fully agreed with the Scriptures and the Apostles’ Creed, that he disapproved the doctrines of the Anabaptists and Servetus, and that he would not teach any errors, but live in quiet retirement. Bullinger protected him against further attacks.

Socinus ceased to trouble the Reformers with questions. He devoted himself to the congregation of refugees from Locarno, and secured for them Ochino as pastor, but exerted a bad influence upon him. Fortified with letters of recommendation he made another journey to Italy, — via Germany and Poland, to recover his property from the Inquisition. Calvin gave him a letter to Prince Radziwill of Poland, dated June, 1558, to further his object. But Socinus was bitterly disappointed in his wishes, and returned to Zürich in August, 1559. The last few years of his short life he spent in quiet retirement. His nephew visited him several times, and revered him as a divinely illuminated man to whom he owed his most fruitful ideas.

The personal relation of Calvin and the elder Socinus is one of curious mutual attraction and repulsion, like the two systems which they represent.

The younger Socinus, the real founder of the system called after him, did not come into personal contact with Calvin, and labored among the scattered Unitarians and Anabaptists in Poland.

Calvin took a deep interest in the progress of the Reformation in Poland, and wrote several letters to the king, to Prince Radziwill, and some of the Polish nobility. But when the writings of Servetus and antitrinitarian opinions spread in that kingdom, he warned the Polish brethren, in one of his last writings, against the danger of this heresy.


129. Bernardino Ochino. 1487-1565

Comp. § 40. Ochino’s Sermons, Tragedy, Catechism, Labyrinths, and Dialogues. His works are very rare; one of the best collections is in the library of Wolfenbuettel; copious extracts in Schelhorn, Trechsel, Schweizer, and Benrath. A full list in Benrath’s monograph, Appendix II. 374-382. His letters (Italian and Latin), ibid. Appendix II. 337-373. Ochino is often mentioned in Calvin’s and Bullinger’s correspondence.

Zaccaria Boverio (Rom. Cath.) in the Chronicle of the Order of the Capuchins, 1630 (inaccurate and hostile). Bayle’s “Dict.” — Schelhorn: Ergoetzlich-keiten aus der Kirchenhistorie, Ulm and Leipzig, 1764, vol. III. (with several documents in Latin and Italian). — Trechsel: Antitrinitarier, II. 202-270. — Schweizer: Centraldogmen, I. 297-309. — Cesare Cantu (Rom. Cath.): Gli Eretici d’Italia, Turin, 1565-1567, 3vols. — Buechsenschuetz: Vie et écrits de B. O., Strasbourg, 1872. — *Karl Benrath: Bernardino Ochino von Siena. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Reformation, Leipzig, 1875 (384 pp.; 2d ed. 1892; transl. by Helen Zimmern, with preface by William Arthur, London, 1876, 304 pp.; the letters of Ochino are omitted). — Comp. C. Schmidt in his Peter Martyr Vermigli (1858), pp. 21 sqq., and art. in Herzog2 X. 680-683. (This article is unsatisfactory and shows no knowledge of Benrath, although he is mentioned in the lit.)

Illustration, Bernardino Ochino

Mi sara facile tutto in Christo per el qual vivo et spero di morire. (From Ochino’s letter to the Council of Siena, Sept. 5, 1540; reproduced from Benrath’s monograph.)


The Capuchin Monk

Bernardino Ochino is one of the most striking and picturesque characters among the Italian Protestants of the Reformation period. He was an oratorical genius and monkish saint who shone with meteoric brilliancy on the sky of Italy, but disappeared at last under a cloud of scepticism in the far North.

He reminds one of three other eloquent monks: Savonarola, who was burnt in Florence at the stake; Father Gavazzi, who became a Calvinist and died peacefully in Rome; and Père Hyacinthe, who left the Carmelite order and the pulpit of Notre Dame in Paris without joining any Protestant Church.

Ochino was born in the fair Tuscan city of Siena, which is adorned by a Gothic marble dome and gave birth to six popes, fifty cardinals, and a number of canonized saints, among them the famous Caterina of Siena; but also to Protestant heretics, like Lelio and Fausto Sozini. He joined the Franciscans, and afterwards the severe order of the Capuchins, which had recently been founded by Fra Matteo Bassi in 1525. He hoped to gain heaven by self-denial and good works. He far surpassed his brethren in ability and learning, although his education was defective (he did not know the original languages of the Bible). He was twice elected Vicar-General of the Order. He was revered by many as a saint for his severe asceticism and mortification of the flesh. Vittoria Colonna, the most gifted woman of Italy, and the Duchess Renata of Ferrara were among his ardent admirers. Pope Paul III. intended to create him a cardinal.


Ochino as an Orator

Ochino was the most popular preacher of Italy in his time. No such orator had appeared since the death of Savonarola in 1498. He was in general demand for the course of sermons during Lent, and everywhere — in Siena, Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice — he attracted crowds of people who listened to him as to a prophet sent from God.

We can hardly understand from his printed sermons the extravagant laudations of his contemporaries. But good preachers were rare in Italy, and the effect of popular oratory depends upon action as much as on diction. We must take into account the magnetism of his personality, the force of dramatic delivery, the lively gestures, the fame of his monastic sanctity, his emaciated face, his gleaming eyes, his tall stature and imposing figure. The portrait prefixed to his “Nine Sermons,” published at Venice, 1539, shows him to us as he was at the time: a typical Capuchin monk, with the head bent, the gaze upturned, the eyes deeply sunk under the brows, the nose aquiline, the mouth half open, the head shaved on top, the beard reaching down to his breast.

Cardinal Sadolet compared him to the orators of antiquity. One of his hearers in Naples said, This man could make the very stones weep.

Cardinal Bembo secured him for Lent at Venice through Vittoria Colonna, and wrote to her (Feb. 23, 1539): “I have heard him all through Lent with such pleasure that I cannot praise him enough. I have never heard more useful and edifying sermons than his, and I no longer wonder that you esteem him so highly. He preaches in a far more Christian manner than other preachers, with more real sympathy and love, and utters more soothing and elevating thoughts. Every one is delighted with him.” A few months later (April 4, 1539) he wrote to the same lady: “Our Fra Bernardino is literally adored here. There is no one who does not praise him to the skies. How deeply his words penetrate, how elevating and comforting his discourses!” He begged him to eat meat and to restrain from excessive abstinence lest he should break down.

Even Pietro Aretino, the most frivolous and immoral poet of that time, was superficially converted for a brief season by Ochino’s preaching, and wrote to Paul III. (April 21, 1539): “Bembo has won a thousand souls for Paradise by bringing to Venice Fra Bernardino, whose modesty is equal to his virtue. I have myself begun to believe in the exhortations trumpeted forth from the mouth of this apostolic monk.”

Cardinal Commendone, afterwards Bishop of Amelia, an enemy of Ochino, gives this description of him: “Every thing about Ochino contributed to make the admiration of the multitude almost overstep all human bounds, — the fame of his eloquence; his prepossessing, ingratiating manner; his advancing years; his mode of life; the rough Capuchin garb; the long beard reaching to his breast; the gray hair; the pale, thin face; the artificial aspect of bodily weakness; finally, the reputation of a holy life. Wherever he was to speak the citizens might be seen in crowds; no church was large enough to contain the multitude of listeners. Men flocked as numerously as women. When he went elsewhere the crowd followed after to hear him. He was honored not only by the common people, but also by princes and kings. Wherever he came he was offered hospitality; he was met at his arrival, and escorted at his departure, by the dignitaries of the place. He himself knew how to increase the desire to hear him, and the reverence shown him. Obedient to the rule of his order, he only travelled on foot; he was never seen to ride, although his health was delicate and his age advanced. Even when Ochino was the guest of nobles — an honor he could not always refuse — he could never be induced, by the splendor of palaces, dress, and ornament, to forsake his mode of life. When invited to table, he ate of only one very simple dish, and he drank little wine; if a soft bed had been prepared for him, he begged permission to rest on a more comfortable pallet, spread his cloak on the ground, and laid down to rest. These practices gain him incredible honor throughout all Italy.”


Conversion to Protestantism

Ochino was already past fifty when he began to lose faith in the Roman Church. The first traces of the change are found in his “Nine Sermons” and “Seven Dialogues,” which were published at Venice in 1539 and 1541. He seems to have passed through an experience similar to that of Luther in the convent at Erfurt, only less deep and lasting. The vain monastic struggle after righteousness led him to despair of himself, and to find peace in the assurance of justification by faith in the merits of Christ. As long as he was a monk, so he informs us, he went even beyond the requirements of his order in reading masses, praying the Pater Noster and Ave Maria, reciting Psalms and prayers, confessing trifling sins once or twice a day, fasting and mortifying his body. But he came gradually to the conviction that Christ has fully satisfied for his elect, and conquered Paradise for them; that monastic vows were not obligatory, and were even immoral; and that the Roman Church, though brilliant in outward appearance, was thoroughly corrupt and an abomination in the eyes of God.

In this transition state he was much influenced by his personal intercourse with Jean de Valdés and Peter Martyr. Valdés, a Spanish nobleman who lived at Rome and Naples, was an evangelical mystic, and the real author of that remarkable book, “On the Benefit of Christ’s Death” (published at Venice, 1540). It was formerly attributed to Aonio Paleario (a friend of Ochino), and had a wide circulation in Italy till it was suppressed and publicly burnt at Naples in 1553.

During the Lent season of 1542, Ochino preached his last course of sermons at Venice. The papal agents watched him closely and reported some expressions as heretical. He was forbidden to preach, and cited to Rome.

Caraffa had persuaded Pope Paul III. to use violent measures for the suppression of the Protestant heresy. In Rome, Peter had conquered Simon Magus, the patriarch of all heretics; in Rome’ the successor of Peter must conquer all successors of the arch-heretic. The Roman Inquisition was established by the bull Licet ab initio, July 21, 1542, under the direction of six cardinals. with plenary power to arrest and imprison persons suspected of heresy, and to confiscate their property. The famous General of the Capuchins was to be the first victim of the “Holy Office.”

Ochino departed for Rome in August. Passing through Bologna, he called on the noble Cardinal Contarini, who in the previous year had met Melanchthon and Calvin at the Colloquy of Ratisbon, and was suspected of having a leaning to the Lutheran doctrine of justification, and to a moderate reformation. The cardinal was sick, and died soon after (August 24). The interview was brief, but left upon Ochino the impression that there was no chance for him in Rome. He continued his journey to Florence, met Peter Martyr in a similar condition, and was warned of the danger awaiting both. He felt that he must choose between Rome or Christ, between silence or death, and that flight was the only escape from this alternative. He resolved to save his life for future usefulness, though he was already fifty-six years old, gray-haired, and enfeebled by his ascetic life. If I remain in Italy, he said, my mouth is sealed; if I leave, I may by my writings continue to labor for the truth with some prospect of success.

He proved by his conduct the sincerity of his conversion to Protestantism. He risked every thing by secession from the papacy. An orator has no chance in a foreign land with a foreign tongue.


Ochino in Switzerland

In August, 1542, he left Florence; Peter Martyr followed two days later. He was provided with a servant and a horse by Ascanio Colonna, a brother of Vittoria, his friend. At Ferrara, the Duchess Renata furnished him with clothing and other necessaries, and probably also with a letter to her friend Calvin. According to Boverius, the annalist of the Capuchins, who deplores his apostasy as a great calamity for the order, he was accompanied by three lay brethren from Florence.

He proceeded through the Grisons to Zürich, and stopped there two days. He was kindly received by Bullinger, who speaks of him in a letter to Vadian (Dec. 19, 1542) as a venerable man, famous for sanctity of life and eloquence.

He arrived at Geneva about September, 1542, and remained there three years. He preached to the small Italian congregation, but devoted himself chiefly to literary work by which he hoped to reach a larger public in his native land. He was deeply impressed with the moral and religious prosperity of Geneva, the like of which he had never seen before, and gave a favorable description of it in one of his Italian sermons.

“In Geneva, where I am now residing,” he wrote in October, 1542, “excellent Christians are daily preaching the pure word of God. The Holy Scriptures are constantly read and openly discussed, and every one is at liberty to propound what the Holy Spirit suggests to him, just as, according to the testimony of Paul, was the case in the primitive Church. Every day there is a public service of devotion. Every Sunday there is catechetical instruction of the young, the simple, and the ignorant. Cursing and swearing, unchastity, sacrilege, adultery, and impure living, such as prevail in many places where I have lived, are unknown here. There are no pimps and harlots. The people do not know what rouge is, and they are all clad in a seemly fashion. Games of chance are not customary. Benevolence is so great that the poor need not beg. The people admonish each other in brotherly fashion, as Christ prescribes. Lawsuits are banished from the city; nor is there any simony, murder, or party spirit, but only peace and charity. On the other hand, there are no organs here, no noise of bells, no showy songs, no burning candles and lamps, no relics, pictures, statues, canopies, or splendid robes, no farces, or cold ceremonies. The churches are quite free from all idolatry.”

Ochino wrote at Geneva a justification of his flight, in a letter to Girolamo Muzio (April 7, 1543). In a letter to the magistrates of Siena, he gave a full confession of his faith based chiefly on the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Nov. 3, 1543). He published, in rapid succession, seven volumes of Italian sermons or theological essays.

He says in the Preface to these sermons: “Now, my dear Italy, I can no more speak to you from mouth to mouth; but I will write to you in thine own language, that everybody may understand me. My comfort is that Christ so willed it, that, laying aside all earthly considerations, I may regard only the truth. And as the justification of the sinner by Christ is the beginning of the Christian life, let us begin with it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His sermons are evangelical, and show a mystical tendency, as we might expect from a disciple of Valdes. He lays much stress on the vital union of the soul with Christ by faith and love. He teaches a free salvation by the sole merits of Christ, and the Calvinistic doctrine of sovereign election, but without the negative inference of reprobation. He wrote also a popular, paraphrastic commentary on his favorite Epistle to the Romans (1545), which was translated into Latin and German. Afterwards, he published sermons on the Epistle to the Galatians, which were printed at Augsburg, 1546.

He lived on good terms with Calvin, who distrusted the Italians, but after careful inquiry was favorably impressed with Ochino’s “eminent learning and exemplary life.” He mentions him first in a letter to Viret (September, 1542) as a venerable refugee, who lived in Geneva at his own expense, and promised to be of great service if he could learn French. In a letter to Melanchthon (Feb. 14, 1543), he calls him an “eminent and excellent man, who has occasioned no little stir in Italy by his departure.” Two years afterwards (Aug. 15, 1545), he recommended him to Myconius of Basel as “deserving of high esteem everywhere.”

Ochino associated at Basel with Castellio, and employed him in the translation of his works from the Italian. This connection may have shaken his confidence in the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and free-will.


Ochino in Germany

He labored for some time as preacher and author in Strassburg, where he met his old friend Peter Martyr, and in Augsburg, where he received from the city council a regular salary of two hundred guilders as preacher among the foreigners. This was his first regular settlement after he had left Italy. At Augsburg he lived with his brother-in-law and sister. He seems to have married at that time, if not earlier.


Ochino in England

After his victory over the Smalkaldian League, the Emperor Charles V. held a triumphant entry in Augsburg, Jan. 23, 1547, and demanded the surrender of the Apostate monk, whose powerful voice he had heard from the pulpit at Naples eleven years before. The magistrates enabled Ochino to escape in the night. He fled to Zürich, where he accidentally met Calvin, who arrived there on the same day. From Zürich he went to Basel.

Here he received, in 1547, a call to England from Archbishop Cranmer, who needed foreign aid in the work of the Reformation under the favorable auspices of the young King Edward VI. At the same time he called Peter Martyr, then professor at Strassburg, to a theological professorship at Oxford, and two years afterwards he invited Bucer and Fagius of Strassburg, who refused to sign the Augsburg Interim, to professorial chairs in the University of Cambridge (1549). Ochino and Peter Martyr made the journey together in company with an English knight, who provided the outfit and the travelling expenses.

Ochino labored six years in London, from 1547 to 1554, probably the happiest of his troubled life, — as evangelist among the Italian merchants and refugees, and as a writer in aid of the Reformation. His family followed him. He enjoyed the confidence of Cranmer, who appointed him canon of Canterbury (though he never resided there), and received a competent salary from the private purse of the king.

His chief work of that period is a theological drama against the papacy under the title “A Tragedy or a Dialogue of the unjust, usurped primacy of the Bishop of Rome,” with a flattering dedication to Edward VI. He takes the ground of all the Reformers, that the pope is the predicted Antichrist, seated in the temple of God; and traces, in a series of nine conversations, with considerable dramatic skill but imperfect historical information, the gradual growth of the papacy from Boniface III. and Emperor Phocas (607) to its downfall in England under Henry VIII. and Edward VI.


Ochino Again in Switzerland

After the accession of Queen Mary, Ochino had to flee, and went a second time to Geneva. He arrived there a day after the burning of Servetus (Oct. 28, 1553), which he disapproved, but he did not lose his respect for Calvin, whom he called, in a letter of Dec. 4, 1555, the first divine and the ornament of the century.

He accepted a call as pastor of the Italian congregation at Zürich. Here he associated freely with Peter Martyr, but more, it would seem, with Laelius Socinus, who was also a native of Siena, and who by his sceptical opinions exerted an unsettling influence on his mind.

He wrote a catechism for his congregation (published at Basel, 1561) in the form of a dialogue between “Illuminato” (the catechumen) and “Ministro.” He explains the usual five parts — the Decalogue (which fills one-half of the book), the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, with an appendix of prayers.

His last works were his “Labyrinths” (1561) and “Thirty Dialogues” (1563), translated by Castellio into Latin, and published by an Italian printer at Basel. In these books Ochino discusses the doctrines of predestination, free-will, the Trinity, and monogamy, in a latitudinarian and sceptical way, which made the heretical view appear stronger in the argument than the orthodox.

The most objectionable is the dialogue on polygamy (Dial. XXI.), which he seemed to shield by the example of the patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament; while monogamy was not sufficiently defended, although it is declared to be the only moral form of marriage. The subject was much ventilated in that age, especially in connection with the bigamy of Philip of Hesse and the deplorable connivance of the Lutheran Reformers. A dialogue in favor of polygamy appeared in 1541, under the fictitious name of “Huldericus Neobulus,” in the interest of Philip of Hesse. From this dialogue Ochino borrowed some of his strongest arguments. This accounts for his theoretical error. He certainly could have had no personal motive, for he was then in his seventy-seventh year, a widower with four children. His moral life had always been unblemished, as his congregation and Bullinger testified.


The End

The dialogue on polygamy caused the unceremonious deposition and expulsion of the old man from Zürich by the Council, in December, 1563. In vain did he protest against misinterpretation, and beg to be allowed to remain during the cold winter with his four children. He was ordered to quit the city within three weeks. Even the mild Bullinger did not protect him. He went to Basel, but the magistrates of that city were even more intolerant than the clergy, and would not permit him to remain during the winter. Castellio, the translator of the obnoxious books, was also called to account, but was soon summoned to a higher judgment (December 23). The printer, Perna, who had sold all the copies, was threatened with punishment, but seems to have escaped it.

Ochino found a temporary hiding-place in Nürnberg, and sent from there in self-defence an ill-tempered attack upon Zürich, to which the ministers of that city replied.

Being obliged to leave Nürnberg, he turned his weary steps to Poland, and was allowed to preach to his countrymen at Cracow. But Cardinal Hosius and the papal nuncio denounced him as an atheist, and induced the king to issue an edict by which all non-Catholic foreigners were expelled from Poland (Aug. 6, 1564).

Ochino entered upon his last weary journey. At Pinczow he was seized by the pestilence and lost three of his children; nothing is known of the fourth. He himself survived, but a few weeks afterwards he took sick again and ended his lonely life at the end of December, 1564, at Schlackau in Moravia: a victim of his sceptical speculations and the intolerance of his age. A veil is thrown over his last days: no monument, no inscription marks his grave. What a sad contrast between the bright morning and noon-day, and the gloomy evening, of his public life!

A false rumor was spread that before his journey to Poland he met at Schaffhausen the cardinal of Lorraine on his return from the Council of Trent, and offered to prove twenty-four errors against the Reformed Church. The offer was declined with the remark: “Four errors are enough.” The rumor was investigated, but could not be verified. He himself denied it, and one of his last known utterances was: “I wish to be neither a Bullingerite, nor a Calvinist, nor a Papist, but simply a Christian.”

His sceptical views on the person of Christ and the atonement disturbed and nearly broke up the Italian congregation in Zürich. No new pastor was elected; the members coalesced with the German population, and the antitrinitarian influences disappeared.