Castro, Alfonso y (DNB00)

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CASTRO, ALFONSO y (1495–1558), theologian, was a native of Zamora in Spain, and at an early age entered the Franciscan order at Salamanca. He became famous both as a theologian and a preacher. So great was his reputation that about 1532 he was summoned to Bruges by the Spanish merchants resident there, that they might have the advantage of his teaching. As a theologian he had followed with interest the controversies opened up by the Lutheran movement, and while he was at Bruges he finished the great work on which he had been long engaged, a treatise ‘Adversus Hæreses,’ which was published at Paris in 1534. The object of his book was a classification and examination of all heretical opinions, together with a refutation of them, and an account of their condemnation at previous times by the church. So great was the learning of Fray Alfonso that his book was at once accepted as a repertory for controversial purposes on the Roman side. In twenty-two years it passed through ten editions in France, Italy, and Germany. The best known are Cologne, 1536, 1539, 1543, 1549; Lyons, 1546, 1556.

Soon after the publication of this work he returned to Salamanca, and continued his work as a preacher. In 1537 he published a volume of sermons on Psalm li. (‘Homiliæ xxv. in Psalmum li.,’ Salamanca, 1537), and in 1540 another volume of sermons on Psalm xxxi. (‘Homiliæ xxiv. in Psalmum xxxi.,’ Salamanca, 1540). His merits were recognised by Charles V, who made him one of his chaplains. He was present as a representative of the Spanish church at the first session of the Council of Trent. He seems, however, soon to have returned to Salamanca, where he published, in October 1547, a treatise ‘De justa hæreticorum punitione,’ which was dedicated to Charles V. In this work he set himself to prove—not that it was just to punish heretics, which he regarded as sufficiently proved already, but that the actual punishments inflicted by the church were justly imposed. In 1550 he published at Salamanca his last book, ‘De potestate legis pœnalis,’ in which he discussed, with much ability, several questions regarding the moral obligations attaching to legal enactments. The book is curious, as giving some insight into the difficulties which arose from the movement of the Reformation, and the conflict between conscientious convictions and legal obligations. The question, Has the law an inherent claim on man's obedience, or only a power of punishing its non-observances? was one which exercised the minds of men.

Fray Alfonso is connected with English history because he was chosen by Charles V to accompany his son Philip when he came as the accepted husband of Queen Mary in 1554. The re-establishment of the old faith in England was a difficult matter, requiring wisdom and discretion, and Alfonso was sent to be Philip's counsellor, as well as his spiritual director. He was not favourably impressed with the discretion shown by the English bishops in pursuing their ends by severities which alienated popular sympathy. The imperial envoy, Simon Renard, urged greater moderation, but his remonstrances were unheeded. At last Philip was advised, in his own interests, to make it known that he did not favour the policy of persecution. On 9 Feb. 1555 six heretics were burnt in London. On the following day Fray Alfonso publicly preached an eloquent sermon against persecution. ‘He did earnestly inveigh against the bishops for so burning men, saying plainly that they learned it not in the Scripture to burn any man for his conscience; but the contrarie, that they should live and be converted, with many other things more to the same purpose’ (Foxe, Acts and Monuments, ed. 1841, pp. 704–5).

This sermon of Alfonso made a great impression at the time, and no doubt delayed the execution of Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer. But the English bishops resented Spanish interference, and those who were the objects of Alfonso's intercession did not thank him for it. John Bradford (1510?–1555) [q. v.], who was in prison awaiting his death, was told of Alfonso's sermon. ‘Verily,’ he said, ‘I had a book within these two days of his writing, and therein he saith that it is not meet nor convenient that heretics should live’ (Bradford's Works, Parker Society, i. 554). This was the book ‘De justa hæreticorum punitione,’ and Bradford's remark shows how impossible is fairness of mind in times of excitement. Even the modern editor quotes as Bradford's authority Alfonso's position: ‘Teneo justum esse ut hæreticus incorrigibilis occidatur.’ In those days scarcely any one disputed that proposition; but they differed about the meaning of the word ‘heretic,’ and Alfonso's sermon only meant that he took a different view from the English bishops of the meaning of the word ‘incorrigible.’ The ambassador Renard, writing to Charles V at the same time, said that the English bishops were hasty in their punishment, and did not show the moderation which the church had always used in weaning the people from error by teaching and preaching; unless punishment was called for by some scandalous act it ought not to be employed (Papiers d'État du Cardinal Granvelle, iv. 397, 404). There is no good ground for questioning Alfonso's good sense or sincerity.

A few days after his sermon, on 25 Feb., Alfonso visited Bradford in his prison, and tried to convince him of his errors. We have Bradford's own account of the interview (l. c. 530, &c.), and what he tells us is sufficient to show that his calm assumption of superior enlightenment must have sorely tried the temper of a man of Alfonso's learning. ‘He hath a great name for learning,’ says Bradford, ‘but surely he hath little patience;’ he spoke ‘so that the whole house did ring again with an echo.’ Bradford was quite convinced that the controversial triumph was on his own side.

This is all that we hear of Alfonso in England. In May 1556 he was in Antwerp, where he issued a revised and enlarged edition of his work, ‘Adversus Hæreses,’ which had occupied him during his leisure in England, and which he dedicated to Philip. From this time he seems to have stayed in the Netherlands, and at the end of 1557 was appointed archbishop of Compostella. He had not time to enter on his office, but died in Brussels on 11 Feb. 1558, at the age of sixty-three.

The best edition of the works of Alfonso is ‘Alfonsi a Castro Zamorensis Opera Omnia,’ 2 vols. Paris, 1578.

[Most of the information about Alfonso is gleaned from the dedications and prefaces of his works; besides this there are short accounts of him in Antonius's Bibliotheca Hispana Nova, vol. i., and Wadding's Scriptores Ordinis Minorum.]

M. C.