Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sebastian Castellio:
Michael Servetus' being burned at the stake
& the freedom of conviction /

Σεμπάστιαν Καστέλιο:
Η καύση στην πυρά του Μιχαήλ Σερβέτου
& η ελευθερία πεποίθησης

Sebastian Castellio /
Ο Σεμπάστιαν Καστέλιο

To seek truth and to utter what one believes to be true can never be a crime. No one must be forced to accept a conviction. Conviction is free.

«Η αναζήτηση της αλήθειας και η έκφραση αυτού που πιστεύει κάποιος ότι είναι αληθινό δεν μπορεί ποτέ να αποτελεί έγκλημα. Κανείς δεν πρέπει να εξαναγκάζεται να αποδεχτεί μια πεποίθηση. Η πεποίθηση είναι ελεύθερη».

Sebastian Castellio [Martinus Bellius] *,
De haereticis an sint persequendi
et omnino quomodo sit cum eis agendum doctorurn virorum
turn veterum tum recentiorum sententiae
[Concerning heretics,
whether they should be persecuted
and what is to be done about them,
illustrated by the opinions of learned authors both old and new]

Stefan Zweig
The Right to Heresy,
Hallam edition, 1951,
p./σ. 293.
[English/Αγγλικά, DJVU]

After John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake, he considered the matter ended. Servetus had denied the Trinity, a crime that Calvin could not see unpunished. After the execution, Calvin was reimbursed from the property of Servetus for his own expenses and the rest of Servetus’ money was turned over to the public treasury of Geneva.

Calvin was glad to see the matter finished. Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague, wrote that it was a deed well done. In general the matter seemed to be ended. But Calvin had not reckoned on Sebastian Castellio, a mild professor of Greek Literature in nearby Basle.

The death of Servetus was defended by Calvin in a book. He called Servetus monstrous and attempted to show the dreadful harm his teachings would spread. But the damage was done. The death of Servetus, who had done nothing but disagree with Calvin’s opinions, opened discussions Calvin could not stop. In Calvin’s book he nowhere expressed the least regret at what he had done and showed loathing and contempt for Servetus as a very monster of iniquity, applying to him the foulest epithets. Seldom if ever in religious history has posthumous insult been more violent or odious, or more self-righteously used in the pretended service of God. Calvin called Servetus, among other things, detestable infidel, rabid magician, great pest, vomit, obscene dog, stupid, ferocious beast, and several others best not translated from the Latin.

Sebastian Castellio was a Professor of Greek Literature and a biblical scholar. He was born in 1515, near Geneva. At first he was friendly to Calvin and Calvin made him rector of the school system. When it was found that Castellio did not believe certain parts of the creed and that he questioned the literal accuracy of the Bible, it became prudent for him to leave Geneva.

Castellio’s reaction to the death of Servetus, whom he never knew personally, was immediate. He wrote Calvin, “If those thus butchered had been, I will not say horses, but only swine, every prince would have considered he had sustained a grave loss.” “I doubt,” he groaned, “whether in any epoch of the world’s history so much blood can have been shed as in our own.” “To seek truth and to utter what one believes to be true can never be a crime. No one must be forced to accept a conviction. Conviction is free.”

* Rev. J. Frank Schulman,
"Unitarianism Begins: II. Sebastian Castellio", 2003.

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