« Prev The Consensus of Geneva. A.D. 1552. Next »

§ 60. The Consensus of Geneva. A.D. 1552.


I. De Æterna Dei prædestinatione qua in salutem alios ex hominibus elegit, alios suo exitio reliquit: item de providentia qua res humanas gubernat, Consensus pastorum Genevensis Ecclesiæ a Jo. Calvino, expositus. Genevæ, 1552. Reprinted in the Opera, Vol. VIII. (187O), pp. 249–366. Also in Niemeyer. pp. 218–310. The German text in Böckel (Die Genfer Uebereinkunft), pp. 182–280.

II. Alex. Schweizer: Die Protest. Centraldogmen der Reform. Kirche, Vol. I. (1854), pp.l80–238; Henry Vol. II. p. 285; Vol. III. pp. 40 sqq.; Stähelin, Vol. II. (1863), pp. 271–308, and Vol. I. pp. 411 sqq.


Calvin's doctrine of predestination904904   See § 57, pp. 450 sqq. met with strong opposition, which drew from him some able defenses.

The first assault came from an eminent Roman Catholic divine, Albertus Pighius, 1542, who taught the freedom of will almost to the extent of Pelagianism, and conditioned predestination by foreknowledge.905905   Pighius of Campen (d. at Utrecht, Dec. 26, 1542) wrote against Luther and Calvin De libero hominis arbitrio et divina gratia, Colon. 1542, dedicated to Cardinal Sadolet. This book was first greatly lauded by the Romanists, but after the Council of Trent had fixed its more cautious doctrine of free-will and condemned semi-Pelagianism, it was put by the Spanish Inquisition on the Index of forbidden books. Calvin wrote a reply to the first part (1543), and dedicated it to Melanchthon, who in the second article of the Augsburg Confession had expressed the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity.906906   Defensio sanæ et orthodoxæ doctrinæ de servitute et liberatione humani arbitrii adv. calumnias A. Pighii Campensis, Genevæ, 1543. Opera, Vol. VI. pp. 225–404.

A more troublesome opponent was Jerome Bolsec, formerly a Carmelite monk from Paris, then a fugitive Protestant and physician at Geneva and Lausanne, a restless and turbulent spirit. He denounced Calvin's doctrine of predestination as godless and blasphemous, and tried to break down his influence, but was publicly refuted and admonished, and at last expelled from Geneva (1551) and from Berne (1555). He returned to France and to the Roman Church (1563), and thirteen years after Calvin's death he took cruel revenge by a shameless and malignant libel (1577 and 1588), long since refuted.907907   On Bolsec, see Bayle, Dict.; Henry, Calv. Vol. III. pp. 48 sqq.; Trechsel, Antitrinitarier, Vol. I. pp. 185 sqq.; Baum, Beza, Vol. I. pp. 160 sqq.; and especially Schweizer, l.c. pp. 205–238. It is a sad fact that the blind zeal of modern Romanism has repeatedly republished the libel of Bolsec, with its wicked and absurd charges of theft, adultery, unnatural crimes, blasphemy, insanity, and invocations of the devil. See Audin's biography of Calvin, which has gone through six editions in French (also translated into German and English), and several popular polemic tracts, published by the Society of St. Francis of Sales, of which Stähelin gives some specimens, Vol. I. p. 414.

These attacks were the occasion of the Consensus Genevensis, which 475first appeared at Geneva, 1552, in the name of the pastors of that city. Calvin contemptuously alludes in the preface to Bolsec, but without naming him, and directs his attack mainly against Pighius (whose doctrine of predestination he had not noticed in the previous work), and a certain Georgius of Sicily (whom he calls an ignorant monk, more deserving of contempt than persecution). The Consensus is, in fact, the second part of his controversial treatise against Pighius (the first being devoted to free-will). It is an elaborate theological argument for the doctrine of absolute predestination, as the only solid ground of comfort to the believer, but is disfigured by polemical violence, and hence unsuited for a public confession. It received the signatures of the pastors of Geneva on account of the disturbances created by Bolsec, but was not intended to be binding for future generations. Beyond Geneva it acquired no symbolical authority. The attempt to enlist the civil government in favor of this dogma created dissatisfaction and opposition in Berne, Basle, and Zurich. Several of Calvin's old friends withdrew; Bullinger counseled peace and moderation; Fabri, of Neuchatel, declared the decree of reprobation untenable; Melanchthon, who in the mean time had changed his view on free-will and predestination, wrote to Peucer that Geneva attempted to restore Stoic fatalism, and imprisoned men for not agreeing with Zeno.908908   Bullinger prepared, March, 1553, for an English friend (Barthol. Traheron), a tract, whose title indicates his partial dissent from Calvin: 'De providentia Dei ejusque prædestinatione, et quod Deus non sit auctor peccati, . . . in quo quæ in Calvini formulis loquendi circa hæc improbet, candide et copiose satis exponit, 3 Mart. 1553.' (Appended by mistake to Peter Martyr's Loci communes, Gen. 1626. See the extracts of Schweizer from a MS. copy in Zurich, Centraldogmen, Vol. I. pp. 266 sqq.). Bullinger disapproved of the supralapsarian assertion, 'Deum non modo ruinam (lapsum) prævidisse sed etiam arbitrio suo dispensasse.' Nevertheless, he called Peter Martyr, who was a strict predestinarian, to Zurich, took sides with Zanchi in the Strasburg controversy, and expressed the infralapsarian view in the Second Helvetic Confession, Art. X. See J. H. Hottinger, Histor. eccles. Vol. VIII. p. 723; Schweizer, pp. 237 and 255 sqq.

The dissatisfaction was increased and the matter complicated by the trial and execution of Servet which soon followed (1553), and by the controversy with Castellio, which involved likewise the doctrine of predestination, together with the question of inspiration and the canon. Sebastian Castellio909909   Also written Castallio (by Calvin); in French, Chateillon and Chatillon, probably from his birth-place in Savoy. (1515–1563), a convert from Romanism, a classical philologist of unusual ability and learning, an advocate of toleration, 476and a forerunner of Socinianism and Rationalism, was received by Calvin into his house at Strasburg (1510), and called by him to the head of the college at Geneva (Sept., 1541), but was refused admission to the clergy on account of his 'profane view' of the Canticles, which he regarded as a sensual love-song.910910   'Carmen lascivum et obscænum, quo Salomo impudicos suos amores descripserit.' Castellio doubted the verbal inspiration, and called the Greek of the New Testament impure. These and other theological differences caused his resignation or dismissal from the school, though with an honorable letter of recommendation from Calvin (Feb. 17, 1545). He removed with his family to Basle, and spent there the remainder of his life—for eight years in great poverty, supporting himself by literary and manual labor, then as professor of Greek in the University (since 1553). His principal work is a Latin translation of the Bible (1551), which was much praised and censured for its pedantic Ciceronian elegance. He attacked Calvin and the Church of Geneva very bitterly in anonymous and pseudonymous books, to which Calvin and Beza replied with equal bitterness. In his 'Dialogue on Predestination,' he charges Calvin with making God the author of sin, and dividing the will of God into two contradictory wills. His own view is that all men are alike created in God's image and for salvation, and are by nature the sons and heirs of God; but that final salvation depends upon faith and perseverance. God loves even his enemies, else he could not command us to love them, and would be worse than the wild beast, which loves its own offspring. God's foreknowledge involves no necessity of human actions: things happen, not because God foreknew them, but God foreknew them because they were to happen. God wills a thing because it is right, and not vice versa. He reasons as if there were an established moral order outside and independent of God. He compares God to a musician who unites two tunes because they harmonize. Christ came as a physician to heal all the sick, and if some remain sick it is because they refuse the medicine. The famous passage about Jacob and Esau (Rom. ix.) does not refer to these individuals (for Jacob never served Esau), but to the nations which proceeded from them; and 'to hate' means only 'to love less;' moreover, Esau was not foreordained to sell his birthright, but he did this by his own guilt. Paul himself says 477that God will have all men to be saved, and that 'he concluded all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.' Castellio died a few months before Calvin, without leaving a school behind him; but his ideas were afterwards more fully developed by the Socinians and Arminians.911911   On Castellio, see Schweizer, Centraldogmen, Vol. I. pp. 310–373, and his essay, S. Castellio als Bestreiter der calvinischen Prädestinationslehre, in the Theol. Jahrbücher of Baur and Zeller, 1851.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the doctrine of predestination made headway in the Reformed Church. It was strongly advocated in Zurich by Peter Martyr. His opponent, Theodor Bibliander (Buchmann), a distinguished Orientalist, 'the father of exegetical theology in Switzerland,' and a forerunner of Arminianism, was removed from his professorship of Hebrew on account of his advocacy of free-will (1560), though his salary was continued to his death (1564).912912   See Schweizer, pp. 276 sqq. The dogma of predestination consolidated the Calvinistic creed, as the dogma of consubstantiation consolidated the Lutheran creed. Both these distinctive dogmas maintained their hold on the two Churches until the theological revolution towards the close of the eighteenth century began to undermine the whole fabric of Protestant orthodoxy and to clear the way for new creations.

« Prev The Consensus of Geneva. A.D. 1552. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection