Fun Facts From Church History: Geneva and Castellio

Sébastien Castellio (1515–63), who was six years younger than Calvin, was a Savoyard by birth, had risen from very humble origins to distinction in humanistic learning at Lyons, had fled to Strassburg by reason of his Protestant sympathies, and, while there, had for a brief time been a member of Calvin’s household.

Impetuous and rather arrogant of his scholarship, he was courageous and kind-hearted. At Farel’s recommendation he had become a teacher of the Genevan school on June 20, 1541, nearly three months before Calvin’s return. It was natural that Calvin should prefer the restoration of his old friend Mathurin Cordier to the rectorship in the school which that teacher had occupied before Calvin’s banishment; but when it proved impossible to draw Cordier from his new home in Neuchâtel, Castellio was given the place in permanency, in April, 1542, with the understanding that he should maintain two sub-teachers and preach at the village of Vendovre.

The time was one of great scarcity in Geneva, and his salary proved all too small for his needs. This, and possibly other considerations, added to a real desire for the pastorate, led him to propose to exchange his teachership for the active ministry. The Little Council favoured the plan on December 17, 1543; but Calvin opposed, since on his examination by the Vénérable Compagnie Castellio had criticised the inspiration of Solomon’s Song, holding it to be illustrative of that monarch’s less reputable characteristics, and also the current Genevan interpretation of the clause in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell,” which taught that it means that Christ on the cross suffered vicariously the pains of hell. For these reasons, Calvin declared to the Little Council that Castellio ought not to enter the pastorate.*

Calvin won. Calvin always won once he returned to Geneva.

*Williston Walker, John Calvin: The Organiser of Reformed Protestantism (New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), 288–289.