Valentine Gentile

Steven Avery


Trinitarian Confession of the Italian Church of Geneva (1558)
James T. Dennison, Jr. and George C. Young II
Assisted by Francis X. Gumerlock and Andrea Rafanelli
On May 22, 1558, John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote a letter to Peter Martyr Vermigli (1500-1562) detailing the troubles in the Italian congregation of Geneva over the doctrine of the Trinity.1 The ghost of Michael Servetus (1511-1553),2 as it were, reappeared in the several Italian heterodox refugees huddled in Geneva against the Catholic Inquisition and other threats. Among the agitators were Giorgio Biandrata/George Blandrata (1516-1588), Matteo Gribaldi/Matthew Gribaldi (1506-1564), Paolo Alciati/Paul Alciati (ca. 1515-1573) and Giovanni Valentino Gentile/John Valentine Gentile (ca. 1520-1566). Of Gribaldi, Calvin remarked to Vermigli that he "had been scattering the seeds of his errors" on the Trinity in the Italian congregation.3

Steven Avery

Curcellaeus (master refers to Episcopius)
vouchsafe him this honor. Notwithstanding all this, it is
notoriously known, and that from his own very Apology,
that he was no less an enemy to the Council of Nice than
his Master before him, if not more than he; that he was no
friend at all to the use of the word ‘Trinity’; that he so
explained himself concerning that mystery as to assert no
more than a ‘specifical unity’ in the divine Persons; that he
defended the cause of Valentinus Gentilis, beheaded at Bern
in Switzerland for Tritheism, maintaining his doctrine to have
been the same with that of the primitive fathers, particularly
of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Tertul-
lian, and Clemens Alexandrinus; that he impeached the com-
mon (which he called the Modem and Scholastic) doctrine
of the Trinity for approaching so very near Sabellianism,
as hardly to be distinguished from it. and charged it to be
a thousand years younger than that which was taught by
Christ and His apostles; that he exploded the notion of con-
substantiality, in the sense in which it is now generally
taken, when applied to the Father and Son; that he was very
much afraid to have his mind perplexed with the ‘divine
relations’, or with the manner of ‘generation’ and ‘proces-
sion’ in the Deity, or with modes of ‘subsistence’ and ‘per-
sonalities’, or with ‘mutual consciousness’, and the like; and
therefore was for discarding at once all such terms and
phrases as are not ‘expressly legitimated' by the sacred
writers; that he fully believed the Godhead of the Father

The next might be Warfield above or from him.

Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy (2001)
Arthur Middleton
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Steven Avery

Maurice Wiles

It is not easy to determine either the precise course or the precise content of this Arianlike theology. The antitrinitarian leaders were clear enough about what they objected to, but less clear about what should be put in its place. Their thought was in a state of continuous flux and many of the leading figures altered their views substantially in the course of their public careers. The first public attack on Trinitarian doctrine was by Peter Gonesius at the synod of Secemin in 1556. After studies in Cracow he had been influenced by the writings of Servetus while in Switzerland, and the views he propagated at the synod are close to those of Servetus. The Father is the one true God, greater than the Son. But the Son is also God, because 'he is the Word, which was in the beginning, entered into the virgin's womb and converted into flesh'. 31

31 S. Lubienecki, Historia Reformationis Polonicae (Warsaw, 1771), 115. Cf. R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography (London, 1850), vol. ii, art. 44, pp. 169-76. Gonesius is not explicit about the status of the pre-existent Word, but the evidence suggests that, at that time at least, he did not envisage the existence of a distinct divine Son before the incarnation any more than Servetus did. Valentine Gentile, an Italian exile who had to flee Geneva in 1558 to escape suffering the same fate that had befallen Servetus there, only to be executed for his beliefs at Berne in 1567, was present at a synod at Pinczow in 1562, where he affirmed the belief that 'God in the breadth of eternity had created a certain most excellent spirit, which afterwards in the fullness of time became incarnate'. The language is once again not entirely explicit, but from our knowledge of Gentile's earlier teaching it seems likely that he is envisaging, as Gonesius had not done in 1556, the existence of a second, distinct but subordinate, pre-existent divine being. Moreover, he himself sees his position on that issue as in agreement with the ante-Nicene writers, particularly Justin and Lactantius. They, he recognized, had been a source of the teaching of Arius. But the fault with Arius lay not in his kinship with them but in his construction of a dogmatic superstructure on that basis which went far beyond anything that could be justified by Scripture. 32


Lubienecki, Historia Reformationis Polonicae, 107-8. Cf. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, vol. ii, art. 20, pp. 103-12.

Despite Gentile's explicit differentiation of his own position from that of Arius, Aretius, one of those involved in his execution, argues for a significant similarity between the two. He acknowledges that Gentile asserts that 'the Word was begotten of the substance of the Father, and is consubstantial with him', whereas Arius describes the Son as 'made out of nothing'. But end p.58 both, he argues, are agreed that 'as to his substance the Son is numerically distinct from the Father'. In this respect, and also in their understanding of the Son's generation as belonging to the temporal order, the two can, he claims, be said to share the same, wholly unacceptable view. 33 33 B. Aretius, A Short History of Valentinus Gentilis the Tritheist (London, 1696), 58-63. This work was originally published in Geneva in 1567 under the title Valentini Gentilis justo capitis supplicio Bernae affecti brevis historia, et contra eiusdam blasphemias orthodoxa defensio articuli de S. Trinitate. The production of an English translation and the choice of its title were part of a campaign against William Sherlock in the 'tritheist' controversy in England at the end of the 17th century. Protestant orthodoxy shared with its Catholic counterpart a strong urge to associate any heretic in the area of Trinitarian doctrine with the name of Arius. Emphasis on the pre-existence of the Son became an explicit issue at the synods of Lancut and Skrzymo in 1567. The debate centred on the interpretation of the Johannine prologue. Gonesius and Stanislas Farnovius argued strongly for the pre-existence of Christ against the dominant antitrinitarian view which by that time had begun to take a more consistently adoptionist approach. 34 34 Lubienecki, Historia Reformationis Polonicae, 217. The change in Gonesius' views since the time of the synod of Secemin is clearly evidenced by the title of a work published by him in 1570: 'On the Son of God: intended to prove, in opposition to the opinions of the Ebionites, that he existed before the creation of the world, and that all things were made by him'. 35 35 See Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, ii. 176. Farnovius is described as teaching a pre-existence of the Son 'almost exactly in accord with the principles of Arius'. 36 36 Praeexistentiam fere secundum Arii placitum (Christopher Sandius, Bibliotheca AntiTrinitariorum (Freistadt, 1684), 52). Their leading opponent was Gregory Pauli, who had once been close to Gonesius but whose thought had moved in the opposite direction. Like Gonesius he saw the anteNicenes as the effective precursors of Arius; those whom he names as primary influences are Origen, Theophilus of Antioch, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Lactantius. But for him it is not just the excesses of Arius but the whole movement of thought that has to be abjured. That ante-Nicene tradition had affirmed 'the Son of God as existing before the ages or before the world, who was God but other than the Father in number and in substance. There is no earlier example of serious deviation from the truth than that view'. 37 37 Lubienecki, Historia Reformationis Polonicae, 203.