“Even the devils believe and tremble”

12 06 2008

 In 1603 Campanella noticed that this fellow-prisoner, whom he calls an “idiota adolescens,” had a horoscope indicating the power of communicating with demons and angels.  He taught him to address prayers to the sun and other planetary deities; and, after unspecificed ceremonies, put him into a state “between sleeping and waking,” in which he transmitted the angels’ replies to Campanella’s questions on important matters – that is to say, he was a medium in a trance.  The spirits which appeared claimed to be the angel of the sun, of the moon, and sometimes God Himself.  The answers began by being satisfactory, and included truthful prophecies; the controls were evidently angels.  But soon this became more doubtful, when the control denied the existence of hell and asserted the transmigration of souls.  Then, when Campanella asked for an unequivocal sign of their angelic nature to be given to the youth, they arranged, with great cunning, for his removal from the prison and eventual death.  Campanella carried on alone, and finally the control said that Campanella had written well on free-will, but that Calvin had written better; when asked its opinion of Augustine and Chrysostom on the same subject, it prudently remained silent.  For Campanella, who was always a fanatical anti-protestant, this was conclusive proof that the control was now a bad demon, and that, as he had suspected, Calvin was directly inspired by the Devil. 

 -D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella



9 responses

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ExecutedToday.com » 1603: Not Tommaso Campanella

[…] was a strange guy, but this was quite a far-out […]

6 02 2010
Blog happenings « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] described once how Tomasso Campanella (no paragon of “orthodoxy” himself) thought that Calvinism was the result of demonic influences. So why is it that we are so disturbed at people being ridden by the loa and eating glass when, in […]

16 06 2008
Steven W

I’ve been thinking about this too (two Calvinist Stevens!). Calvin gets accused of Platonism plenty, and there were certainly neo-Platonist Calvinists.

I also can’t help but point out that Calvin’s first publication was a commentary on Cicero. He was a good humanist in this regard, and he remained one in part his whole life. He certainly did not despise all “natural revelation.”

And then there’s also the interesting phenomena of the German Evangelicals. Hegelians as they were, they seized on the ancients as evidence of God preparing history for Christ, and to tell a family secret of sorts, they had their share of pagan elements as well, as they flirted with the naturphilosophie. Arturo should be proud.

It is funny that these would be criticisms on other blogs, but here they prove a helpful defense.

Papists are still the devil though =)

16 06 2008
Steve M

Greetings from a despicable Calvinist (a lifelong Presbyterian, one of very few who have read the Institutes). I think the line between lawyers and Platonists may be a thin one; I have always felt Plato and Calvin had more in common than not. Your post has persuaded me to revisit both Plato and Calvin.

I stumbled across your blog while looking for palatable recipes for goat (“Things White People Don’t Like”). You write with clarity, purpose, humor and insight, four virtues I admire in the writing of others but often fail to emulate. So I will be quiet and read for a bit. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will learn something.

14 06 2008
Steven W


I don’t really see Calvin’s “predestination talk” differing substantially from the pre-established tradition. Bradwardine and Rimini weren’t that far in the past, and Aquinas was something of a predestinarian himself.

William Prager’s The Domestication of Transcendence has a good, brief treatment on Calvin’s use of predestination in regards to the hidden aspects of God. The revealed aspects were always to be found in Jesus.

13 06 2008

Hey there. This is a fun anecdote. Many of that time spoke of possession leading to heresies professed and practiced. Calvin did the same. Both sides shouted “demon!”

Calvin, however, would relent with much of his predestination talk…his followers would not do so. He never agreed with Chrysostom (he even attempted to nuance Chrysostom saying that the gnostics of the Father’s day forced Chrysostom into a rhetorical corner), but confessed in a letter to Farel (I believe) that some of his thoughts on predestination and free-will were rhetorical traps he laid for himself unintentionally.

Calvin was first trained as a lawyer. Sometimes it bit him in the butt.

Good post, Arturo. Thanks.

13 06 2008
Sam Urfer


I understand what you’re saying, this anecdote is hardly conclusive proof against Calvinist positions. I feel Calvinist positions are despicable for much more objective, concrete reasons. But that he came to this conclusion from his experimenting with the occult to be highly amusing.

As a medievalist, I agree that the changes in acceptable practice within the Catholic Church have changed in the past few hundred years. This particular example is certainly interesting. The form of his probing questions actually remind me of the standards my father had for questioning spirits (my father has Pentecostal leanings, and has had some spooky experiences of his own). There’s a quirkiness to the similarity of method between Campanella’s methodology and that of Protestant demonologists, whatever that might mean.

12 06 2008
Arturo Vasquez


Thank you for your comments. However, I didn’t post this as a “gotcha!” to my Calvinist readers. I obviously don’t think that you have to take this anecdote seriously if you don’t want to, and it is not meant to be a substitute for a debate on the merits or the de-merits of Calvinism, the Reformation, or anything else (though I have a firmly negative opinion about all of these things).

What I think is really fascinating is what this means for the Catholic side of the Reformation debates. Tommasso Campanella was no paragon of orthodoxy as it would be defined in the aftermath of the Counter-Reformation in the Catholic Church. Indeed, most orthodox Catholics would blush at this anecdote now since they would wonder what Campanella was doing with magical incantations in the first place. To put it in postmodern jargon, this story shows that within the Church since his time there has been a dramatic paradigm shift on one level in how Catholics conceive of the spirit world and the cosmos. In terms of what Calvinism has to do with it, you can reach your own conclusions.

By the way, Sam, do I know you from somewhere? You seem familiar. Drop me a line at my e-mail address if you do (vasqart3@yahoo.com).

God bless.

12 06 2008
Sam Urfer

That would explain a lot about Calvin’s theology, and fits with the historical fruits of Calvinist teachings (Cromwell, Apartheid, Puritans, etc.) .

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