Théodore Béza, Calvinist Theologian and Church Reformer (d 1605)

If Théodore Beza had been Catholic, and honoured as a saint, the October 13th would be regarded as his “die natale”, or day of new birth in heaven. He was not Catholic, but a Calvinist pillar of the Reformation, and so definitely not a recognized Catholic saint. He is honoured by Calvinists for his reformist theology, and deserves to be remembered by modern gay and lesbian Christians as one of us: he had  a male lover, Audebert, at a time when the Swiss Calvinists of Geneva were burning sodomites as enthusiastically as the Inquisition had done earlier in Spain and Italy.

Théodore De Bèze, born at Vezelay (8 miles west-south-west of Avallon), in Burgundy, settled at Geneva, where he worked with Calvin, and succeeded him in 1564, as head of the reformed church at Geneva, a post he resigned in 1600. He wrote in defence of the burning of Servetus (1554), translated the New Testament into Latin, and presented in 1581 a 5th century Graeco-Latin manuscript of the Gospels and the Acts, the Codex Bezae, to Cambridge university.

His lover was Audebert. He published a collection of Latin poems, a book of amorous verse, Juvenilia (1548), which made him famous, and he was everywhere considered one of the best Latin poets of his time. In a poem in this collection, De sua in Candidam et Audebertum benevolentia he tells he is uncertain if to hug his friend Audebert or his friend Candida… and he concludes he embraces both of them, even though he prefers Audebert.

The evidence for a sexual relationship however is slight.

Although twice married, Bèze was openly attacked and vilified for his supposed homosexual liaison with his friend Audebert, the evidence for which was an epigram in the collection of poems officially entitled Poemata, unofficially Juvenilia (first edition: Paris, 1548). Admired by many when they were published, the poems were strongly influenced by the classical authors with their pederastic interests and allusions, so that the evidence for Bezels homosexuality is uncertain at best. What is certain is that the Catholic party joined in vilifying him after a writer named François Baudouin, who had changed sides several times and been nicknamed Ecebolius by Bèze himself, in 1564 denounced him as a vice-ridden cinaedus.

TWO years later a Catholic theologian named Claude de Sainctes, embroiled in a polemic with Bèze, gave vent to a personal attack in which Bèze’s sodomitical union with Audebert is likened to his spiritual embrace of Calvin and Bèze himself is branded as unworthy of a holy office. In 1582 Jérôme Bolsec, a Catholic physician and theologian, further reproached Bèze in a pamphlet addressed to the magistrates of Geneva, saying that many scoundrels    and housebreakers had taken refuge there in the guise of adhering to the Reform, including felons apprehended in the crime of sodomy; that in Paris and Orléans Bèze had in his youth freely pursued sensual pleasures and debauchery of all kinds. The opponent added that a Latin Poem had been composed in which Bèze is termed pathic and an effeminate and lustful Poet who became a teacher of sacred eloquence at the instigation of Satan. Others joined in the chorus of abuse even after Bèze’s death, while the Protestant party defended him as the victim of malicious misinterpretation on the part of his foes. Even from the standpoint of the twentieth century, the sources do not sustain the allegation that Bèze’s friendship for Audebert amounted to a homosexual liaison. His life is more an emblem of the web of insult and countercharge that characterized the first century of the Reformation.

-Dynes, Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

Leave a Reply