Gentilis John Valentine
Gentilis John Valentine
Gentilis John Valentine (Ital. Gentile,) the son of Francis Gentilis, was a native of Cosenza, in the kingdom of Naples, and suffered death at Bern, on account of his religious sentiments; "his only error" being, in the words of Mosheim, "that he considered the Son and Holy Spirit as subordinate to the Father."
Budzinius says, that the opinion, which Gentilis delivered in at the Synod of Pinczow, Nov. 4th, 1562, was, "that God created, in the breadth of eternity, a most excellent Spirit, which afterwards, in the fulness of time, became incarnate." This was substantially the opinion of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, particularly of Justin and Lactantius ; and was the basis, upon which Arius afterwards erected his system. It appears, indeed, that Gentilis was more of an Arian than anything else ; for though he has been called a Tritheist, he essentially differed from Dr. Sherlock and others, who held three Infinite Spirits, perfectly equal, whereas he maintained the priority and supremacy of the Father. Bayle acquits Gentilis of the charge of Tritheism ; but says, that he held different opinions at different times. Lubieniecius, in his "History of the Polish Reformation," (p. 107,) says, in allusion to him, "I remember having read that it was his opinion, that God had the power of generating what he wished ; and therefore generated the Logos before the ages, and propagated the Spirit."
Benedict Aretius extracted from the writings of Gentilis the following propositions.
1. The Trinity is a mere human invention, unknown to the Catholic Creeds, and diametrically opposed to evangelical truth.
2. The Father alone is that God, who in Scripture is called the One, and the Only God.
3. The Son is not of himself, but of the Father, to whom, as deriving his essence from him, he is subordinate.
4. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct, not only as regards their persons, but their essence.
5. The Son was begotten of the Father, according to his essence, as a subordinate Spirit, different from the Father.
6. There are three Eternal Spirits, each of whom is a god of himself.
7. These three Spirits are distinct in order, degree, and essential properties.
Gentilis was far advanced in life, when he found it expedient to quit Naples, on account of holding heretical opinions. He joined Blandrata, Gribaldi, Alciati, and other Italian refugees, who had renounced the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and formed themselves into a separate Church at Geneva. When their opinions became known to the public authorities in that city, they were cited to appear before the Senators, Ministers and Elders, and required to subscribe to the orthodox faith. But Gentilis, undaunted by the threats which were held out against him, still continued to disseminate his sentiments. He disregarded the vigilance of the great Genevese Reformer, and paid the penalty.
In the middle of July, 1558, a charge of heresy was brought against him, and he was thrown into prison, at the instigation of Calvin. His incarceration taught him, that he was in greater danger than he had apprehended ; and in order to avert this danger, he drew up various Confessions, which were presented to the Senate. But he first of all addressed a letter to the Ministers of the Church of Geneva, in which, besides setting forth his own opinion, and appealing to the testimony of Irenaeus and Tertullian, in confirmation of its truth, he complained that the mind of Calvin had been incensed against him, and entreated that they would endeavour to remove his prejudices, and soften his animosity.
On being questioned before the tribunal, he made a voluntary acknowledgment, that, a little while after he had subscribed the Genevese Confession, he returned to his former opinions, and did all in his power to disseminate them. The Ministers, or rather Calvin in their name, prepared a document, purporting to contain a refutation of the opinions advanced by Gentilis in his letter to them, and giving to the passages, which he had quoted from Irenaeus and Tertullian, a more orthodox interpretation than he had done. This answer did not satisfy him, and he continued to assert the truth of his own opinion. But when he found, that, by pursuing this course, he should only exasperate his Judges, and probably bring down upon himself the same punishment which had overtaken Servet, his courage failed, and he had recourse to entreaties and supplications. Copies of two Letters, or Apologies, which he addressed to the Magistrates, are still in existence, from which it appears, that Calvin was actuated by the same fiery zeal against Gentilis, as he had before shewn against Servet, and that nothing would satisfy him short of the life of his victim : and it is further evident, from the same documents, that it was not from conviction, but through fear, inspired by the death of Servet, that Gentilis was induced to recant. This is rendered still more evident by his relapse, after he had escaped from the clutches of Calvin.
The Magistrates and Ministers of Geneva, not content with the two Apologies above mentioned, insisted upon having from Gentilis's own hand a solemn recantation of his errors ; and an expression of his regret, that he had offended the Church by his heretical impiety. This they obtained, in the shape of a letter, and a formal abjuration of his opinions, written with his own hand, and addressed to the Senate of Geneva. His Recantation, which has been preserved, was as follows.
"I confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are One God ; that is, three distinct persons in one essence. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit ; but each of these persons is that entire essence. In like manner, the Son and Holy Spirit, as regards the Divine Nature, are one God, coequal and coeternal with the Father. This is what I think, and profess with the heart as well as the mouth ; and I trust, through the grace of God, that I shall live and die in this confession. But all heresies contrary to this most holy truth I condemn and detest ; and especially those blasphemies, which I have written with my own hand, in which, among other errors, I asserted a quaternity, and made Christ the Son of the One God of Israel, so as to rob him of his Eternal Divinity. Lastly, since many very erroneous consequences arise from these premises, I condemn and execrate them all, and openly profess, that I assent in all and everything to the doctrine of this Holy Church, and especially and expressly in this most sacred article of the Trinity ; in which I acknowledge, that I have so grievously and blasphemously sinned, that I would sooner die, than repeat so great a crime. This is what I think with my heart ; and I pray the infinite mercy of God, that He may hereafter impress upon me such a sense of these things, that the fruits of my true penitence may be in some measure known to all men. —Aug. 29th, 1558."
The original of this Recantation the Ministers of Geneva afterwards sent to Prince Nicholas Radzivil, Palatine of Wilna, in order to put him upon his guard against Gentilis, who had fled from Geneva, and was disseminating his opinions on the confines of Poland. Meantime, however, the Recantation having been made, he was sentenced to be stripped close to his shirt, and walk barefoot and bareheaded, with a lighted torch in his hand ; then to beg God's pardon, and that of the Court, on his bended knees, for having maliciously and wickedly spread abroad a false and heretical doctrine. After this, he was to declare, that he detested and abhorred from his heart those abominable, lying and blasphemous writings, which he had composed in its defence ; and to cast them, with his own hands, into the flames, there to be burnt to ashes. To complete his degradation, he was, last of all, to be led through the principal streets of Geneva, in a penitential habit, at the sound of a trumpet ; and was strictly commanded not to leave the city without permission.
It was scarcely to be expected, after his forced Recantation, that he should comply with the last part of this cruel sentence ; and remain in a place, in which he had been compelled to submit to such indignities, and was still in imminent danger of his life. Accordingly, he embraced the first favourable opportunity for effecting his escape. But being poor, he was unable to do this without pecuniary aid ; and was indebted for his freedom to the liberality of his friend Alciati, whom, according to Budzinius, they durst not attack in the same way, because he was rich, and of a noble family. For some time he led a wandering life in Savoy, France and Germany ; and was actively employed in making converts to his opinions, which led, on more occasions than one, to his apprehension and imprisonment.
At length, about the year 1561, he either accompanied his friend Alciati into Poland, or joined him there: but the Genevese clergy did all in their power to prejudice the minds of the authorities of that country against him. A Letter, addressed by them to Prince Nicholas Radzivil, was printed, by way of Appendix to a Polish work of Christopher Threcius, "On the Doctrine of the Unity of the inseparable God, against the blasphemous Errors of the New Arians of the present Day," A. D. 1566. To this was subjoined the written Recantation of Gentilis, signed, as was stated, with his own hand, and confirmed on oath ; "by which," it was added, "he became reconciled, for a time, to the Church of Geneva, in all things, but especially in the article concerning the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity."
Calvin, who, a few years before, had been actively instrumental in procuring the condemnation of Servet, was incensed beyond measure, that a second victim had escaped him ; and, in a letter dated the 26th of October, 1561, (the anniversary of Servet's condemnation,) and addressed to a distinguished Pole, he vented his rage in the following not very dignified language. "Valentine Gentilis, whose ravings I have briefly refuted, was of the same faction with Blandrata ; and so like him, that there was nothing to choose between them. That his frauds have not been detected in Poland, and that it has not yet been discovered how insidious and deceitful he is, might perhaps be borne: but I am greatly surprised, that a man, who has no other recommendation than his own conceit and impudence, should have acquired so much influence among you, as, like another Atlas, to carry the Church on his shoulders. Assuredly, if I did not blush for such inconsiderate credulity, I should not love your nation. But you will learn to satiety, nay even to loathing, what kind of man, or beast, or monster he is, from a common letter, which I am writing to the Churches."
A few years after this, Gentilis, having first visited Moravia and Austria, went, in the year 1566, to Gex, a prefecture of the Canton of Bern, where he was again taken; and his person being demanded by the authoritiesof the city of Bern, he was delivered up to them. Several attempts were made, between the 5th of August and the 9th of September, in that year, to wring from him another Recantation ; but they proved ineffectual. He was, therefore, condemned to be beheaded; and the following was the sentence pronounced against him.—"Whereas, Valentine Gentilis, a native of Cosenza, in the kingdom of Naples, after eight years preparation to attack the doctrine of the Trinity, began openly to teach, that there are in the Trinity three distinct Spirits, differing from each other in numerical essence, among which (three Spirits) he acknowledges the Father only to be that infinite God whom we ought to worship, which is manifest blasphemy against the Son ; and besides this, has broached several other dangerous errors, for which he was apprehended by the Magistrates of Geneva, and being fully convicted by them, made his Recantation there, and publicly abjured these his wicked opinions; and bound himself by an oath not to depart out of that city without leave of the Senate, yet violated the sacred obligation of his oath, by stealing away from thence, and by relapsing into the same erroneous opinions which he had abjured, and reassuming their defence with greater heat and earnestness, by disputing and writing books, in opposition to the plain and express testimony of Scripture ; and hath been guilty of the vilest scurrility, and most horrid blasphemies against the Son of God, and the glorious mystery of the Trinity: and lastly, since his being made prisoner to this Honourable Senate, hath notwithstanding that full and sufficient instruction which hath been given him, still continued obstinate in his perverse and heretical opinions: This Honourable Senate, to prevent disturbances, and to root out such pestilent errors, have adjudged him to be beheaded."—As he was led out to execution, and just before he laid down his head upon the block, he said, "Many have suffered for the glory of the Son ; but none, as far as I know, have died for the glory and superiority of the Father."
The year after the death of Gentilis, Beza published a short account of him, bearing the following title. "Valentini Gentilis, teterrimi Haeretici Impietatum et triplicis Perfidiae et Perjurii brevis Explicatio, ex Actis publicis Senatus Genevensis, optima Fide descripta: Genevae, ex Officina, Franc. Perrini: 1567." In the same year appeared another account of him by Benedict Aretius, a Divine of the Protestant Reformed Church of Bern, entitled, "Valentini Gentilis justo Capitis Supplicio Bernae adfecti brevis Historia, et contra ejusdem Blasphemias orthodoxa Defensio Articuli de S. Trinitate, &c. Auctore D. Bened. Aretio, Bernensis Ecclesiae Doctore Theologo: Genevae, ex Officina, Franc. Perrini: 1567." To the latter of these two works is prefixed a Dedication "to the Most Honourable and Noble Lords, Nicolas a Diessbach, Nicolas a Graffenried, and Petermann ab Erlach, most worthy Senators of the Republic of Bern," &c. A translation of this work into English was published in the year 1696, towards the close of the controversy between Sherlock and South, and has been attributed to the pen of the latter. This translation bears the following title. "A short History of Valentinus Gentilis the Tritheist, tried, condemned, and put to Death by the Protestant Reformed City and Church of Bern in Switzerland, for asserting the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity to be [Three Distinct, Eternal Spirits,.]. Wrote in Latin, by Benedict Aretius, a Divine of that Church, and now translated into English for the use of Dr. Sherlock: humbly tendered to the Consideration of the Arch-bishops and Bishops of this Church and Kingdom. London, printed, and sold by E. Whitlock, near Stationers' Hall, 1696," 12mo. The work itself is divided into twenty Chapters, and extends from p. 17 to p. 134. The last Chapter closes with a brief account of Gentilis's trial, condemnation and death.
Besides the Confessions which he wrote during his imprisonment at Geneva, and some manuscript verses on the Trinity, Sandius attributes to him the following.
1. A Book written with his own hand, and dedicated to the King of Poland. In this book he inserted the above Confessions.
2. Antidotes to the reply of the Genevese Clergy.
3. A Refutation of the 13th Chapter of the First Book of "Calvin's Institutions," in which he wholly condemns the doctrine of the Trinity, as received by all Christian Churches down to his own time.
4. Pro theses from Augustin's 15 Books on the Trinity.
5. Extracts from the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Koran, in defence of his own Opinion.
6. Annotations on Athanasius.Sandius observes, that the " Protheses from Augustin " appear to have been those, which were printed in the work of the Ministers of Poland and Transylvania, "On a false and true Knowledge of God." (Bk. ii. Ch. vi.) He also mentions, as having been found among the papers of Gentilis, a manuscript treatise, in Italian and Latin, On the Incarnation of Christ ; but professes his inability to decide, whether it was written by Gentilis or not.(Vidend. Val. Gentilis Impietatum et Perjurii Brevis Explanatio. Genev. 1567. Val. Gentilis Brevis Hist. Auctore D. Bened. Aretio. Genev. 1567. Bayle, Diet. Hist, et Crit. Art. Gentilis. Sandii B. A. pp. 26, 27. Bock, Hist. Ant. T. I. pp. 369—371. 1079; T. TL C. ii. § xi. pp. 427—455. Trechsel, Lelio Sozini und die Antitrinitarier seiner Zeit. 5ter und 6ter Abschnitt. Lubieniecii Hist. Ref. Pol. L. ii. C. v. pp. 107, 108. Moshem. Inst. H. E. Saec. xvi. Sect iii. P. ii. C. iv. § vi. et. Ref. Calvini Epist. N. 319, p. 599. Mon. Rep. Vol. III. (1808) pp. 309—312. Clopperib. Theol. Opera, T. LL pp. 326, 327. Melch. Adam. Vitae Exter. Theol. pp. 47, 48. Moreri, Diet. Hist. Art. (Jean Valentin Gentilis.)
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