Castalio, Sebastian

, was born in 1515, in Dauphmy, according to some authors, but according to others in Savoy. Spon and Leti mention Chatillon as the place of his birth; of his early life we have little information. We are told that Calvin conceived such an esteem and friendship for him, during the stay he made at Strasbourg in 154-0 and 1541, that he lodged him for some days at his house, and procured him a regent’s place in the college of Geneva. Castalio, after continuing in this office near three years, was forced to quit it in 1544, on account of some peculiar opinions which he held concerning Solomon’s song and Christ’s descent into hell. He retired to Basil, where he was made Greek professor, and died in that place, Dec. 29, 1563, in extreme poverty. He incurred the displeasure of Calvin and Theodore Beza, from whom he differed concerning predestination and the punishment of heretics, and they called him a papist, which appears to have been an unreasonable accusation, although it is certain he did not embrace the opinions of the reformers on many points. Beza is accused of having said that he had translated the Bible into Latin at the instigation of the devil. Another story is his stealing wood, | which is thus related: when rivers overflow, they frequently carry down several pieces of wood, which any body may lawfully get and keep for his own use. Castalio, who was very poor, and had a wife and eight children, got with a harping-iron some wood floating upon the Rhine. When Calvin and Beza heard of it, they proclaimed every where that he had stolen some wood belonging to his neighbour.

Castalio’s learning has been highly extolled. He was undoubtedly an able Latin, Greek, and Hebrew scholar, but aiming at classical taste, he betrayed the greatest want of judgment in the two works for which he is now principally known, his translation of the Bible into Latin, and his Dialogues. The quaintness of his Latin style in the former, evinces a deplorable inattention to the simple majesty of the original. In the song of Solomon he is particularly injudicious. This book he wished expunged from the canon, which was one of the causes of his differences with Calvin and Beza; when that could not be done, he contrived to debase the magnificence of the language and the subject by diminutives, which, though expressive of familiar endearment, are destitute of dignity, and therefore improper on solemn occasions .*


No critic, says Dr. Clarke, has ever taken so much liberty with the sacred writings as Castalio, who, having a fancy to give the world an elegant Latin version of the Bible, has mixed expressions borrowed from profane authors with the text of holy writ. His whole style is affected, efieminate, overcharged with false rhetoric, and has nothing of that noble simplicity which characterises the scriptures. He is too bold in his expressions, and after all, some critics suppose, he does, not always write good Latin. Clarke’s Bibliographical Dictionary,

This incongruous mixture of sublime ideas and words comparatively mean, degrades the noblest poetry almost to the level of burlesque. In his “Sacred Dialogues,” says an author, who cannot be supposed prejudiced against him on account of his ancient controversies, Castalio is so imprudent in the verbosity of his paraphrases, that if his character as a man of learning and piety were not thoroughly established, we should be tempted to think he had meant to burlesque some passages of the Old Testament. Indeed these dialogues are so frequently farcical, not to say indecent, that the reading of them seems to be very improperly continued in some schools.

He published in 1546, a translation of the Sibylline verses into Latin heroic verse, and of the books of Moses | into Latin prose, with notes. This was followed, in 1547, by his Latin version of the psalms of David, and of all the other songs found in scripture. In 1548, he printed a Greek poem on the life of John the baptist, and a paraphrase on the prophecy of Jonah, in Latin verse. He translated some passages of Homer, and some books of Xenophon and St. Cyril. He also turned into Latin several treatises of the famous Ochinus, particularly the thirty dialogues, some of which seem to favour polygamy. He advanced some singular notions in his notes on the books of Moses; as for instance, that the bodies of malefactors ought not to be left on the gibbets; and that they ought not to be punished with death, but with slavery. His reason for these opinions was, that the political laws of Moses bind all nations. His notes on the Epistle to the Romans were condemned by the church of Basil, because they opposed the doctrine of predestination and efficacious grace. He began his Latin translation of the Bible at Geneva in 1542, and finished it at Basil in 1550. It was printed at Basil in 1551, and dedicated by the author to Edward VI. king of England. He published a second edition of it in 1554, and another in 1556. The edition of 157& is most esteemed. The French version was dedicated to Henry II. of France, and printed at Basil in 1555, and in this he is accused of having made use of low and vulgar terms. Those who have indulged their invectives against- Calvin and Beza for their dislike of Castalio’s translations, do not seem to advert to the serious consequences of exhibiting bad translations to the people, who had but just been admitted to the privilege of reading the scriptures in any shape. 1


Moreri. Meister’s Portraits des Hommes Illustres de la Suisse. Gen. Dict. Life in German by —Fuesslin, 1778, 8vo. Seattle’s Essays, p. 246, and Dissertations, 644, 4to, Blount’s Censura.