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Nicodemism and Deconfessionalisation in early modern Europe

Jean-Pierre Cavaillé

Notes de l’auteur

English version of the paper given at the conference Konfessionnelle Ambiguität. Uneindeutigkeit und Verstellung als religiöse Praxis in der Frühen Neuzeit, Münster, 20-22 September 2010. A French version of this paper can be read here.

Texte intégral

Definitions

1It is important at the outset to dwell upon the terms used in the title. In this article, the word deconfessionalisation is employed in a sense which is not the most commonly accepted. Deconfessionalisation, as used here, will not designate the process by which the State, the institutions and the public sphere in general freed themselves from the confessional power, but rather the process of disengagement of individuals from their confessional affiliations. The latter is clearly one of the origins of the former, although linked to the movement of secularisation and laicisation of European societies.

  • 1  Delio Cantimori, Eretici italiani del Cinquecento, Firenze, 1939 (hg. v. Adriano Prosperi, Torino, (...)
  • 2  Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Dis/simulations. Jules-César Vanini, François La Mothe Le Vayer, Gabriel Nau (...)

2The notion of nicodemism will be used here by referring to the way in which Calvin describes the nicodemite attitude, in order to stigmatize it, in his famous text of 1544: Excuse à Messieurs les nicodémites, but one can give the word the broad sense it assumes within the historiography, before, after and against Carlo Ginzburg, who identified in his famous book, behind the name used by Calvin, a specific group of dissenters within the world of the Reformation1. In this paper nicodemism will label the behaviours of dissimulation, either transient or permanent, adopted by important dissidences in matters of religion, that is to say forms of conduct in order to hide a deep disagreement in respect of a substantial part or even in respect of the whole body of doctrine, sacramental device, rituals and ceremonies of the Church in which somebody continues to be publicly a member (or, as so often the sources say, "externally" a member). As religious membership generally implied, in those times, an active participation in the sacraments and offices, not only nicodemism is a conduct of dissimulation – by concealing a religious dissent – but also of simulation, that is to say, the fact of uttering words and performing acts that seem to demonstrate a faith that one, in fact, does not have2: what Calvin describes, for condemning it, as "

  • 3  "Faire semblant par dehors de consentir à ce [qu’on] connaît en sa conscience être mauvais et cont (...)

[...] pretending outwardly to consent to something which [somebody] knows in his conscience to be wrong and against God.3

Calvin, moreover, uses in his Petit Traité the classic distinction between simulation and dissimulation to condamn nicodemism, as a practice of simulation and not only of dissimulation :

  • 4  This extract is quoted, in a spelling modernized, from Francis Higman, Calvin polémiste, in Idem, (...)

Ce que nous avons proprement entrepris de traicter pour ceste heure est assavoir, si l’homme Chrestien, estant droictement instruit en la verité de l’Evangile, quand il est entre les papistes, offence Dieu ou non, en faisant comme les autres, allant à la messe, honorant les images et reliques, et usant de telles ceremonies. Et afin de prevenir la cavillation d’aucuns : nous ne sommes pas sur ceste difficulté, assavoir si c’est mal faict de dissimuler : mais de simuler et se contrefaire contre la verité. Dissimulation se commet en cachant ce qu’on a dedans le cueur. Simulation est plus, c’est faire semblant et feindre ce qui n’est point.4

3In the present case, the emphasis will not be upon nicodemism as secret worship (in the cases of an undeclared conversion or of a hidden loyalty to a confession that one has publicly renounced, by choice or by coercion), but rather upon nicodemism as confessional disengagement, whether a conversion is not entirely fulfilled, or a conversion of which the sincerity is doubtful, or a simple disaffection, partially or totally concealed, for the professed faith.

  • 5  See at least the books of Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics. The Marrano of reason, Prin (...)

4There are obviously two distinct cases of such nicodemism, that is to say of such secret confessional disengagement: either at the expense of the religion in which the individual was born, or under the cover of a new religion he has embraced, willfully or not (and his conversion being sincere or not). In the latter case, which was perhaps the most frequently described and condemned at the time, we are not dealing here with nicodemism which consists in preserving within one’s heart a full or partial support to one’s first faith (marranism for example is an expression of this form of nicodemism), but with nicodemism aiming to hide a crisis of any form of religious affiliation (and we know precisely that it was also the case with numerous Marranos and ex-Marranos, like Uriel d’Acosta or Spinoza, until, at least, their dissent became public and until they were punished or expelled from the synagogue5).

  • 6  See in particular the work, still essential, of Leszek Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Église. La consc (...)
  • 7  See, for exemple, Libérer le libertinage. Une catégorie à l’épreuve des sources, Annales HSS, t. L (...)

5This brief presentation argues that this form of nicodemism, which thrives on confessional ambiguities, is a kind of spectre haunting early modern Europe. This spectre is identified in various ways with the threats posed to the Church by secret conventicles, hidden sects, heresies lurking in the shadows, but also dissimulated circles of deists or "achristes" (men without Christ), coteries of "beaux esprits" or "esprits forts", etc.6 One of the terms that has been most successful in expressing this threat is that of "libertines", and Calvin, again, was very important in its diffusion. In this respect, it might be useful to add that the present reflection on nicodemism is inseparable from a revision of the history of libertinism which has been the subject of our study hitherto, in order to go back to the uses of the words "libertine, libertinism" in the various European languages at that time, thereby distancing ourselves from the current historiography which reduces libertinism to "libertinage", that is to say, in a climate of Catholic domination and State gallicanism, the French expression of libertinism, which is also, for the Seventeenth Century, a notable expression in France of the type of nicodemism stressed in this paper.7

6A final methodological precision must be added : this reflection is situated at the meeting point, and within the conflict between the discourses denouncing the various forms of nicodemism and those which express and defend nicodemite practices, and the present topic is precisely this conflicting reality, which occurs on the one hand in the interaction between the discourses of denunciation, and the coercive measures which accompanied them, and on the other hand the various expressions of effective confessional disengagement.

The numerous forms of confessional disengagement

  • 8  Lucien Febvre, Le problème de l’incroyance au xvie siècle. La religion de Rabelais, Paris, Albin M (...)
  • 9  See especially the case of Giulio Basalù, in Luca Addante, Eretici e libertini nel Cinquecento, Ba (...)

7These expressions have an extremely wide range, from a permissive, latitudinarian and irenic conception of Christianity, which seeks to reduce and tolerate religious differences, to forms of religiosity which involve the rejection or the devaluation of the revealed religions (natural religion, deism, pantheism, etc.), indeed, going as far as to include the most radical irreligion (atheism, if we bear in mind that the boundaries between the atheist position and those already cited are extremely slender in early modern texts). It should be noted in passing that it is easy to observe the presence of the most radical forms of irreligion in the sources, despite despite the authority of Lucien Febvre, and [despite] nowadays the very popular teachings of Michel Onfray (who casts the curé Meslier as the "inventor of atheism")8. This very broad spectrum of confessional disaffiliation embraces the multiple spiritualist variations which entertain more or less profound relations of dissidence with confession : that is to say, to give as a general indication some of the terms by which these dissidences are named : antinomians, antiformalists, “spiritual” libertines, familists, socinians, antitrinitarians, allumbrados, quietists, etc. It may be objected that forms of expression of dissent fundamentally different from one another are here bracketed together. For example (and this is only one among many), those who maintain secretly that salvation can be secured in every religion seem as far removed as possible from those who reject the very idea of salvation and profess, in a more or less discrete way, the mortality of the soul. It could countered that we do not concieve the broad spectrum indicated as being gradual, although we can really find ways of nicodemite radicalization which seem have led individuals from some dissent within the framework of their own confession to the most radical irreligion. A recent book by Luca Addante, dedicated to the libertine tendencies in some of the followers of the nicodemite Juan Valdés, exhibited striking examples of this kind of radicalization9. All the moreso since the valdesian movement was an entirely nicodemite one (not necessarily involving a tacit challenge to the Catholic faith on the part of the individuals). This book also indirectly highlights an interesting paradox, which would require further analysis, going far beyond the mere valdesian movement: we can find in the same people who adopt nicodemite practices a very strong resistance, not only prudential and theoretical, but also emotional which prevent them from renouncing openly their first faith ("the religion of their parents" as the saying goes), while they develop a bold critique against every kind of confessional tie. However, we want to show here, above all, that nicodemism itself, that is to say the accepted clandestinity (from this point of view nicodemismus is just a convenient name and we might as well talk about dissimulation in religious matters), is precisely the common denominator of otherwise incompatible forms of confessional disengagement. The interpretative hypothesis is that these nicodemite practices – or practices of dissimulation – have been, across Europe, a prerequisite for the deconfessionalisation of the public sphere, a kind of historical laboratory for the deconfessionalisation understood in the strict sense. The use made here of the term may seem troubling, because extremely broad and because it could cover indifferently practices of dissent, both motivated by an intense religiosity and by a more or less deep detachment from religion. But it is interesting precisely for this reason, because it captures, as do the men who employed this word in those times, a common attitude of confessional disengagement or of critical distance from confessional membership.

Calvin against Nicodemites

  • 10  See particularly, Carlos M. N. Eire, War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship From Erasmu (...)

8We can carry on this reflection starting from Calvin himself. When, in his famous pamphlet, he condemned the "nicodemites", he meant the cryptoprotestants of all kinds in the various countries where Popery still reigned, and where Protestants were persecuted, Calvin reacted to the commotion he had himself provoked, especially among the community of France, with his Petit Traité (1543), in which he already took an uncompromising position10. He denounces what he considers a betrayal of true faith in idolatry (all his criticisms were indeed based on the highly questionable identification of nicodemism as a form of idolatry). Nicodemism, at the same time, appeared to him, a fortiori, as a threat to religion, which he confused, like many of his contemporaries, with confessional affiliation. Indeed, nicodemism involves relativisation and weakening of the confessional links, since it is clear that, if religious dissimulation is permissible as nicodemites assert, then the explicit and visible confessional attachment is not essential in itself, not first but second, and then becomes negligible, indeed superfluous. That is the case not only of Catholicism, whose rites the Protestant nicodemites agree to simulate, believing that they can keep their inner purity, but also for the Reformed Church itself, since the nicodemites content themselves with an inner attachment without a true confessional membership, which requires the double attachment of the heart and of the mouth, of the inner man and of the body, with a visible and public profession of faith.

  • 11  See C. Eire, op. cit., S. 254 sq.
  • 12  Alec Ryrie has shown that the starting point of the nicodemism so widespread in England is the obe (...)
  • 13  Markus Friedrich, Orthodoxy and variation: The roles of adiaphorism in early modern protestantism, (...)

9Of course, Calvinist intransigence was not without potential political consequences, which were highlighted by both Catholics and Lutherans11. In refusing any form of nicodemism, Calvin denied any political compromise in the matter of religious confession, and he was accused of preaching a doctrine leading to rebellion. It has been rightly pointed out, concerning this problem, the importance for France and much more for England, of the imperative of political allegiance in the adoption of nicodemism12. For the same reason, we understand the political and moral relevance of the Greek concept of adiaphora, "indifferent things", diverted from stoicism, which may in fact, step by step, embrace all the outward manifestations of religion; a major concept for the justification of nicodemism as researchers such as Albano Biondi and others have shown13.

10The taxonomy of the nicodemites proposed by Calvin is very interesting, because it refers both to various social groups and to very different attitudes and behaviours, which in effect opens the way for several types of confessional disaffiliation.

  • 14  Ed. quoted, S. 211-215.

11He stigmatizes first preachers and other clergymen who express from the pulpit only a part of their reformed convictions in order to pursue their careers within the Roman Church.14

  • 15  ibidem, S. 215-217.

12Then he attacks people from the court, "protonotaires délicats", "mignons de cour", "dames" of the best society, who subscribe to reformed ideas, but above all with the purpose of freeing themselves from the Catholic superstitions and the moral authority of the Roman clergy, but refuse to put their fortunes and their lives in danger for the sake of their faith, which in fact is seriously corrupted by the hedonism of the courts. These people assert emphatically that the law of Geneva does not apply where they live ("nous sommes bien ici, que Calvin se tienne là où il est")15.

  • 16  ibidem, S. 218-221.

13Then he comes to intellectuals from various professions (judges, doctors, teachers), humanists and philosophers, some of whom are followers of a inner spirituality indifferent to every outward form of worship, and even consider that superstitions are necessary to people ("il y a une autre partie d’eux qui imaginent des idées platoniques en leurs têtes, touchant la façon de servir Dieu, et ainsi excusent la plupart des folles superstitions qui sont en la Papauté, comme choses dont on ne se peut passer"). Such people therefore establish a strict division between their own religion and philosophy and (in on the other hand) popular superstitions which have their moral and political utility.16

  • 17  ibidem, S. 221-222.

14Calvin then points the finger at the "merchants and the common people" who want to go about their business unmolested. This makes, potentially, for a huge crowd of people, who have religious views rather favorable to the Reformation, but are not willing to sacrifice their interests. They too, therefore, experience a separation between inner conviction and outward worship, and refuse to consider outward worship as a priority.17

  • 18  "Et je puis dire qu’il y a vingt ans et quasi trente, que j’ay été en ces détresse la, que j’eusse (...)
  • 19  But see what he says in a recent article: "al di là delle loro ovvie, molteplici e macroscopiche d (...)

15Calvin finds in fact that there are nicodemites in all "states", that is to say, of all social conditions, each of them making a religion of his own, according to his convenience, both at the doctrinal level and at the level of the religious practices. This is probably unfair, because he knows perfectly well that the major cause of nicodemism, he himself admits in other texts to having practiced18, is of course the fear of persecution, but he grasps here, indeed, a relationship to religion which is certainly not new, but which the advent of the Reformation certainly has contributed to spreading : that is to say the temptation for individuals to make a religion at their convenience, through the regulation of what to show and what to hide in public. This is what one might call, within an other perspective, the process of religious subjectification, emphasized for example by Massimo Firpo in his studies on valdesians19.

16Finally Calvin doesn’t forget to mention by preterition the

Lucianiques ou Epicuriens, c’est-à-dire tous contempteurs de Dieu, qui font semblant d’adhérer à la parole et, dedans leurs cœurs, s’en moquent et ne l’estiment pas plus qu’une fable,

  • 20  Ed. quoted, S. 223-224.

the disciples of Lucian of Samosata and of Epicure, who secretly despise God and hold the Bible to be a fairy tale. He says that he does not even deign to address them, but they are for him an extreme form of nicodemism : these people remain Catholics or Protestants publicly while privately scoffing at any form of religion20. The miscreant nicodemism is of course a borderline case, since the reference to Nicodemus seems to involve an inner cult, so Calvin excludes it from his classification.

  • 21  See in particular C. Ginzburg, op. cit., et C. Eire, op. cit.
  • 22  About the necessary comparison between the attacks of Calvin against Nicodemites and those against (...)

17I will not insist on the various speculations that have been advanced about the groups and the individuals targeted by Calvin in his text, in France indoubtedly, but perhaps also in Flanders and in Italy21. The French and Italian nicodemite prelates were many, the courtiers too, and it is certain that among the French courtiers and intellectuals, Calvin had at least in mind the entourage of Marguerite de Navarre. Indeed Calvin denounced the following year, in his pamphlet against La secte fantastique et furieuse des libertins qui se nomment spirituels (the furious and fantastic sect of libertines who call themselves spiritual), the warm welcome given at Marguerite’s court in Nérac to the "libertins" Antoine Pocques and Quintin Thierry, who themselves represent a specific form of nicodemism, according to his analysis (and even if he didn’t use the term explicitly). For him, the so-called spiritual "libertines" are both practitioners and theorists of the most extreme nicodemism, although separate from the irreligious Lucianists and Epicureans22. The Libertines are Catholics with Catholics, Protestants with Protestants, but in fact they do not recognize internally any confession and claim in secret a doctrine of the free spirit, which is incompatible, at least in his eyes, with Christianity (since they go so far as to revoke the concept of sin, understand the Passion of Christ as a kind of spiritual comedy, consider the Bible to a fairy tale, etc.).

Pierre Bayle, observer of the nicodemite deconfessionalisation

18We have here a fairly complete overview of the various forms of nicodemism denounced throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in many European countries by reformed orthodoxies, but also by Catholic controversialists. Calvin himself is often quoted, but his analysis actually converges with those found in the writings of his contemporaries of the two confessions. We also know, thanks to the numerous studies on the topic, that various forms of nicodemite behaviour were effectively promoted, many of them participating, to varying degrees, in the process of deconfessionalisation described here.

19The list would be too long, tedious and disparate. We will confine ourselves here to some examples drawn from a book of the late seventeenth century, which seems a reliable observatory over two centuries of practices of nicodemite deconfessionalisation: the Dictionnaire historique et critique of Pierre Bayle, this work being in itself a powerful expression of such a process. Bayle is very attentive to all forms of nicodemism (he sometimes uses the term) and in particular those in which individuals freed themselves inwardly, secretly or at least as quietly as possible, from any confessional bound.

20Bayle indeed, throughout his Dictionary, valued in a prudent but undeniable way the position of sincere Christians, or supposed to be sincere, to withdraw, either openly or secretly, from Churches they consider corrupt and impossible to amend. The major reasons leading to this disenchantment are venality, the abuse of power and especially intolerance: each Church justifies its tyrannical and persecuting practices by claiming to be the repository of the exclusive truth. Now, persecution is for Bayle a clear and sufficient justification of nicodemism, to which he adds the concern – in his eyes not only legitimate but essentia – to preserve civil peace and political order. We can observe that, at these two quite distinct levels, it is hard to find an author more opposed to the doctrines of Calvin.

  • 23  See the edition from M. van Veen, in Ioannis Calvini, Opera Omnia, serie IV, Scripta didactica et (...)
  • 24  Dirk Coornhert, Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye… The treaty circulated as manuscript and (...)
  • 25  Benjamin J. Kaplan, Calvinists and Libertines. Confession and Community in Utrecht 1578-1620, Oxfo (...)
  • 26  H. Bonger, Leven en werk van D. V. Coornhert, G. A. van Oorschot, 1978, S. 264. Calvin, in his tex (...)
  • 27  "Il n’avait rien qui lui parût plus contraire à la raison et à l’Évangile, que de persécuter ceux (...)
  • 28  "le dogme affreux et impie de la contrainte de conscience" ; "Koornhert ne cessait de dire que Lut (...)

21This is particularly visible in the Dictionary’s very benevolent entry dedicated to Dirk Coornhert. It is against him that Calvin had in 1562 directed his latest anti-nicodemite text, the Responce à un certain hollandois23, by which in fact Calvin replied to the refutation by Coornhert of his Little Treaty of 154324, which had also shocked, as we have seen, the French crypto-protestants. It is worth remembering that Coornhert was a leading intellectual and political figure, and an expression of a very powerful current of thought in Netherlands hostile to Calvinism, as was clearly demonstrated, among others, by Benjamin Kaplan25. Lambert Daneau, for example, gave him the prestigious title of the "prince des libertins" (prince of libertines)26. But Bayle says about Coornhert: "He held nothing more contrary to reason and to Gospel, than to persecute those who are not of the State’s religion. He wrote about it against Beza and Lipsius"27. And if he attacked Luther, Calvin and Mennon, this was to denounce "the awful and impious doctrine of coercion of conscience"28. But above all,

  • 29  "il ne croyait point que pour être un véritable chrétien, il fût nécessaire d’être membre d’aucune (...)

[...] he did not believe that to be a true Christian, he would have to be a member of any visible church, and he practices it, for he didn’t communicate with either the Catholics or the Protestants, or even any sect.29

From this point of view Coornhert was hardly a nicodemite in his personal behavior (although Bayle should have added that he never formally broke with the Catholic Church), but Bayle said also that he ardently defended the practice of nicodemism for political and moral reasons:

  • 30  "Il ne nia point que pour la sûreté des infirmes il ne fallût établir une communion extérieure". I (...)

He did not deny that for the safety of the weak it is necessary to establish an external communion.30

The idea of Coornhert, as understood by Bayle, is that the removal of any visible Church, the abolition of any "external communion" is unthinkable, because every human mind is incapable of such freeing, which amounts to viewing nicodemite behaviour as normal and responsible for minds liberated from confessional yokes. We can obviously observe the close relationship between this position and that of the irreligious "libertines", who assert the necessity of religious superstition for holding people to their duties and thus think that underground life is an unsurpassable situation for miscreants.

  • 31  Mirjam van Veen, "Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye" : De polemiek van Calvijn met nicodemi (...)
  • 32  It is interesting to note that Bayle himself indirectly acknowledges his lineage from David Joris, (...)
  • 33  See in particular, Andrew Pettegree, Nicodemism and the English Reformation, in: Idem, Marian Prot (...)

22On the controversy between Coornhert and Calvin, it will sufficies to refer to the work of Mirjam van Veen31, who shows very well that Coornhert’s defence of deconfessionalised nicodemism lies within the context of the nicodemite tradition of different groups located in the Netherlands, such as the disciples of David Joris32 or these of Hendrick Niclaes, the founder and leader of the Family of love, which was a group entirely nicodemite, since its followers belonged equally to both confessions. In England, familist nicodemism has been continuously used for almost a century as a scarecrow in the controversial literature from the 1570s. Of course Familism was regularly accused of libertinism and associated with all forms of challenge both to the Church of State and to its Calvinist Presbyterian competitor. England however, as many recent studies have shown, was a land of nicodemite tradition, since at least the Lollards, and the practice of nicodemism among both Protestants and Catholics, became the most widespread diffusion throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not only, but also, in the form that interests us here33.

  • 34  "Parce qu’elles accordent plus de liberté que les autres à chaque particulier et qu’il lui semblai (...)
  • 35  "qu’il était persuadé qu’on peut être homme de bien sans souscrire au formulaire d’aucune secte, e (...)
  • 36  See for example Béat-Louis de Muralt : "En matière de religion, vous diriez presque que chaque Ang (...)

23Bayle was, indeed, also an fairly well informed observer of the forms assumed by deconfessionalisation in England, with the proliferation of independents and dissenters, who criticize ecclesiastical forms and often develop nicodemite postures. In particular, it is interesting to read the "Milton" entry in the Dictionary, again a very benevolent one, even if the man is presented as the "famous apologist for the execution of Charles I". Bayle describes the path of the apostle of civil and domestic liberties as a gradual abandonment of all faiths. Milton, he says, had left the Calvinist Puritans for the sects of "independents" and "Anabaptists", "because they give more freedom than the others to each individual, and their practice seemed to him more consonant with that of early Christians. Finally, when he was old, he broke away from any kind of communion, and didn’t attend any Christian assembly, even didn’t observe in his house the ritual of any sect"34 In the remark "O" of the entry, he examines the reasons that led Milton to break away from "all the Christian sects": this was either due to the "spirit of domination, and an inclination to persecute" he saw in all of them, or else "he was convinced that we can be good without subscribing to the formularium of any sect, and that all sects had corrupted in one way or another the statutes of Jesus Christ"35. But in the English context of the decades of revolution, republic and restoration, Milton is no longer, strictly speaking, a nicodemite. In English society, as in that of the Netherlands which has preceded it, while France was on the eve of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and while Italy and Spain remained the "lands of Inquisition", a place begins to exist, fragile and disputed (blasphemy Act against ranters fight against "conventicles", etc.), but effective, for the affirmation of a discrete deconfessionalised Christianity. It is even often considered preferable to Catholicism, through the argument of the intolerable papist intolerance defended among others by Milton and Bayle. We certainly remain far removed from the public tolerance of the most radical forms of irreligion (the "virtuous atheist" mentioned by Bayle was still a kind of theoretical fiction), but the process of confessional relativization was sufficiently enough , for allowing a life away from any confession, without protecting oneself under a strict nicodemism.36

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Notes

1  Delio Cantimori, Eretici italiani del Cinquecento, Firenze, 1939 (hg. v. Adriano Prosperi, Torino, Einaudi, 1992) ; Antonio Rotondò, Attegiamenti della vita morale italiana del Cinquecento. La pratica nicodemita, in : Rivista Storica Italiana, LXXIX, 1967, S. 991-1030 ; Carlo Ginzburg, Il nicodemismo. simulazione et dissimulazione religiosa nell'Europa del'500, Einaudi, Torino, 1970 ; Salvatore Caponetto, Fisionomia del nicodemismo italiano, Movimenti ereticali in Italia e in Polonia nei secoli xvi-xvii, in : atti del convegno Italo-Polacco, Firenze, 22-24 septembre 1971, Firenze, 1974, S. 203-209 ; Massimo Firpo, in particular his long introduction at: Juan de Valdés, Alfabeto christiano. Domande e risposte. Della predestinazione. Catechismo, Torino, Giulio Einaudi, 1994, S. VI-CL.

2  Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Dis/simulations. Jules-César Vanini, François La Mothe Le Vayer, Gabriel Naudé, Louis Machon et Torquato Accetto, Religion, morale et politique au xviie siècle, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2002.

3  "Faire semblant par dehors de consentir à ce [qu’on] connaît en sa conscience être mauvais et contre Dieu" Excuse à Messieurs les nicodémites, ed. Albert Autin (associated with the Traité des reliques), Paris, Bossard, 1921, S. 207-208, here S. 203.

4  This extract is quoted, in a spelling modernized, from Francis Higman, Calvin polémiste, in Idem, Lire et découvrir. La circulation des idées au temps de la Réforme, Genève, Droz, 1998, S. 412.

5  See at least the books of Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics. The Marrano of reason, Princeton University Press, 1989. and The Other Within: the Marranos : Split Identity and Emerging Modernity, Princeton University Press, 2009.

6  See in particular the work, still essential, of Leszek Kolakowski, Chrétiens sans Église. La conscience religieuse et le lien confessionnel au xviie siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 1969.

7  See, for exemple, Libérer le libertinage. Une catégorie à l’épreuve des sources, Annales HSS, t. LXIV, 2009, n° 1, S. 45-80.

8  Lucien Febvre, Le problème de l’incroyance au xvie siècle. La religion de Rabelais, Paris, Albin Michel,1942 (hg. v. Denis Crouzet, Albin Michel, 2003); Michel Onfray, Contre-histoire de la philosophie Volume 3 : Les libertins baroques, Paris, Grasset, 2007.

9  See especially the case of Giulio Basalù, in Luca Addante, Eretici e libertini nel Cinquecento, Bari, Laterza, 2010 ; Idem, Hérésie radicale et libertinage. Le valdésien Giulio Basalù et Domenico Scandella dit Menocchio, in: Les Dossiers du Grihl, 2009-02, http://dossiersgrihl.revues.org/3779. But see also the important contribution of Marcel Bataillon, Juan de Valdés nicodémite ?, in: Aspects du libertinisme au xvie siècle, Actes du colloque international de Sommières, Paris, 1974, S. 93-103.

10  See particularly, Carlos M. N. Eire, War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship From Erasmus to Calvin, Cambridge University Press, 1986, chap. 7: Calvin against the nicodemists. It should be noted that Calvin does not use the term nicodemism frequently in order to signify the religious concealment outside in his other writings; it must be said that it was not satisfied with the term (which seems to imply that we should blame Nicodemus for his behavior, which can not be precisely the case). If he tells about Nicodemites, is that people who he calls by this name, assert that they follow the example of Nicodemus; which is for him an abuse. On Calvin and nicodemism see also, Francis Higman, The Question of Nicodemism, in: W. H. Neuser, Calvinus Ecclesiae Genevensis custos, Francfort/Main, P. Lang, 1984; Idem, Calvin polémiste, in Idem, Lire et découvrir. La circulation des idées au temps de la Réforme, Genève, Droz, 1998, S. 403-418.

11  See C. Eire, op. cit., S. 254 sq.

12  Alec Ryrie has shown that the starting point of the nicodemism so widespread in England is the obedience to the crown. He quotes especially Robert Barnes who, in 1531, uses the term adiaphora (things indifferent to salvation) in order to justify the nicodemite practice, which goes as far as the performance of false retractions, Alec Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, S. 71.

13  Markus Friedrich, Orthodoxy and variation: The roles of adiaphorism in early modern protestantism, in: Orthodoxies and heterodoxies in early modern German culture: Order and creativity, 1500-1750, hg. v. Christensenet R. Head, Leyde, Brill, 2007, S. 45-69. On the use of the notion by the heterodoxies, see Carlo Ginzburg, Il nicodemismo. simulazione et dissimulazione religiosa nell’Europa del’500, Turin, Einaudi, 1970 and especially Albano Biondi, La giustificazione della simulazione nel Cinquecento, in Eresia e riforma nell'Italia del Cinquecento, Miscellanea I, Florence/Chicago, Sansoni/Newberry Library, 1974, S. 7-68.

14  Ed. quoted, S. 211-215.

15  ibidem, S. 215-217.

16  ibidem, S. 218-221.

17  ibidem, S. 221-222.

18  "Et je puis dire qu’il y a vingt ans et quasi trente, que j’ay été en ces détresse la, que j’eusse désiré d’avoir la langue coupée, pour ne dire le mot", Sermon on 2 Samuel 5. 13. 17, in: Supplementa Calviniana : Sermons inédits, E. Mulhaupt, Neukirchen, 1961, vol. I, S. 122, quoted by C. Eire, op. cit., S. 238.

19  But see what he says in a recent article: "al di là delle loro ovvie, molteplici e macroscopiche differenze [...], quello che Calvino combatteva in nicodemiti, anabattisti e libertini era poi un medesimo principio di individualismo e soggettivismo religioso che pareva rifiutare non solo la norma teologica e l’autorità costituita, ma soprattutto – almeno nel caso di nicodemiti e libertini, ma si pensi anche alle poderose tensioni profetiche presenti nel mondo anabattistico di quei decenni il concetto stesso di ortodossia, relativizzandolo e addirittura negandolo, per affidare invece alla coscienza individuale il compito, la responsabilità e il diritto di definire la propria fede", in: Calvino e la Riforma radicale : le opere contro nicodemiti, anabattisti e libertini (1544-1545), in: Studi Storici, 48, 2007-1, S. 97.

20  Ed. quoted, S. 223-224.

21  See in particular C. Ginzburg, op. cit., et C. Eire, op. cit.

22  About the necessary comparison between the attacks of Calvin against Nicodemites and those against the libertines, see L. Addante, op. cit.; M. Firpo, Calvino e la Riforma radicale..., art. quoted, but also Jean Wirth, "Libertins" et "épicuriens": aspects de l’irréligion en France au xvie siècle, in: Idem, Sainte Anne est une sorcière, S. 25-67 ; Mirjam van Veen, Introduction to Calvin, Contre les libertins and the article from Olivier Millet, Calvin et les "libertins": le libertin comme clandestin, ou de la sphère clandestino-libertine, in: Tendances actuelles dans la recherche sur les clandestins à l'âge classique, La Lettre Clandestine, n.°5, 1996, S. 225-240.

23  See the edition from M. van Veen, in Ioannis Calvini, Opera Omnia, serie IV, Scripta didactica et polemica, vol. I, Genève, Droz, 2005.

24  Dirk Coornhert, Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye… The treaty circulated as manuscript and was not printed before 1633. See the edition from M. van Veen, in Idem, "Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye" : De polemiek van Calvijn met nicodemieten in het bijzonder met Coornhert, Utrecht, Hes & De Graaf Publishers, 2001. Calvin based himself on a French translation provided by his friends in order to facilitate his rebuttal. In this response he gives vent to his anger with his usual vehemence and insults, particularly against the following argument: "c’est iniquement fait d’attacher à des liens charnels et terrestres les enfants de dilection et de l’esprit, lesquels ont ressuscités avec Jésus Christ et ne cherchent plus les choses terrestres mais d’en haut, et de condamner en œuvres externes à la façon des Juifs, ceux qui ne sont sujets au jugement d’autrui à cause de la liberté qui leur a été acquise; vu que c’est leur imposer sur le col un joug charnel" (spelling modernized), quoted by Calvin in his Réponse, ed. cit., S. 215.

25  Benjamin J. Kaplan, Calvinists and Libertines. Confession and Community in Utrecht 1578-1620, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995.

26  H. Bonger, Leven en werk van D. V. Coornhert, G. A. van Oorschot, 1978, S. 264. Calvin, in his text, first seems to distinguish Coornhert from the "libertines", then to relate him with them.

27  "Il n’avait rien qui lui parût plus contraire à la raison et à l’Évangile, que de persécuter ceux qui ne sont pas de la religion de l’État. Il écrivit là-dessus contre Bèze et contre Lipse", Art. "Koornhert"

28  "le dogme affreux et impie de la contrainte de conscience" ; "Koornhert ne cessait de dire que Luther, Calvin et Mennon avaient attaqué vivement une infinité d’erreurs des catholiques romains ; mais qu’ils avaient très mal réussi contre le dogme affreux et impie de la contrainte de conscience ; et qu’au lieu de le combattre de la bonne manière, ils l’avaient plutôt affermi : chacun ayant créé un nouveau papat par l’érection d’une église schismatique qui condamnait toutes les autres. Ils ont, disait-il, encouragé le papisme, par ce moyen, à continuer sa méthode […]", Art. "Koornhert"

29  "il ne croyait point que pour être un véritable chrétien, il fût nécessaire d’être membre d’aucune église visible, et il pratiqua cela ; car il ne communia ni avec les catholiques, ni avec les protestants, ni avec aucune secte", Art. "Koornhert".

30  "Il ne nia point que pour la sûreté des infirmes il ne fallût établir une communion extérieure". Ibid. Bayle depends entirely on this point from Hoornbeek Johannis, that is to say a Calvinist extremely hostile to Coornhert: Summa controversiarum religionis cum infidelibus, haereticis, schismaticis, lib. VI, S. 438: "rogatusque, quid praestart, an extra visibilem ecclesiam vivere, quousque ipse Deus per certos ministros ecclesiam restauret ; an eccelisiam, infirmorum gratiâ, non velentium vivere absque externâ illâ formâ, quin ad secrarum partes prolabantur, colifere ? respondit : prius quidem esse magis certum ; at secundum videri sibi necessarium". This position is very close to Plantin one, member of the Family of Love : "Religionis, inquit, sunt et semper fuerunt plurimae et variae, sibique invicem et inimace. Habent enim omnes simulationis et dissimulationis plurimum : contemnendae tament non sunt, quamdiu nullum scelus habent admistum, propter imbeciliores animos. Vulgus hominem rudimentis huius modo habet opus : celestia et divina aliter capere non potest. Una tantum pietas est, quae simplex est, nec habet quicquam simulati. Multus reliosos mundus semper habuit, pios vere paucos", cit. par Leon Voet, The Golden Compasses, vol. I, S. 27.This text is commented by Andreas Pietsch, Die Causa Lipsius oder Messbesuch für Änfanger und Fortgeschrittene, to be pusblished in the proceedings of the Münster conference, Konfessionnelle Ambiguität. Uneindeutigkeit und Verstellung als religiöse Praxis in der Frühen Neuzeit (20-22 septembre 2010).

31  Mirjam van Veen, "Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye" : De polemiek van Calvijn met nicodemieten in het bijzonder met Coornhert, Utrecht, Hes & De Graaf Publishers, 2001.

32  It is interesting to note that Bayle himself indirectly acknowledges his lineage from David Joris, who he associates with the Quaker dissidence, using the pseudonym for his Commentaire philosophique of John Fox Brugge (David Joris concealed his identity under the name of John de Brugge and George Fox is a founder of the Quaker movement).

33  See in particular, Andrew Pettegree, Nicodemism and the English Reformation, in: Idem, Marian Protestantism : six studies, Aldershot, 1996; Alexandra Walsham, Church Papists: Catholicism, conformity and confessional polemic in early modern England, Woodbridge, 1993 ; Idem, Charitable hatred: tolerance and intolerance in England, 1500-1700, Manchester, Manchester University Press; New York, Palgrave, 2006.

34  "Parce qu’elles accordent plus de liberté que les autres à chaque particulier et qu’il lui semblait que leur pratique s’accordait mieux avec celle des premiers chrétiens. Enfin, quand il fut vieux, il se détacha de toute sorte de communions, et ne fréquenta aucune assemblée chrétienne, et n’observa dans sa maison le rituel d’aucune secte", Dictionnaire historique et critique, art. "Milton".

35  "qu’il était persuadé qu’on peut être homme de bien sans souscrire au formulaire d’aucune secte, et que toutes les sectes avaient corrompu en quelque chose les statuts de Jésus-Christ", ibid. here he refers to the Life of Milton by Toland, himself theorist of esoteric and dissimulated practices of writing. See, among others, his Clidophorus. See Pierre Lurbe, Clidophorus et la double philosophie, in: John Toland (1670-1722) et la crise de la conscience européenne, Revue de Synthèse, 1995, n°2-3.

36  See for example Béat-Louis de Muralt : "En matière de religion, vous diriez presque que chaque Anglais a pris son parti pour en avoir tout de bon, du moins à sa mode, ou pour n’en point avoir du tout, et que leur pays, à la distinction de tous les autres, est sans hypocrites. Si cela n’est pas tout à fait ainsi, du moins le nombre des libertins de profession est-il plus grand ici qu’ailleurs, chose qui ne doit pas faire déshonneur à cette nation, puisqu’il n’y a que ceux-là même qui seraient ailleurs hypocrites, qui sont libertins ici", Lettres sur les anglais et les français, s.l., 1725, S. 28. This text is partly quoted in Kaspar von Greyerz, Religion et culture, Europe 1500-1800, Paris, Cerf, 2006, S. 267.

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Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, « Nicodemism and Deconfessionalisation in early modern Europe », Les Dossiers du Grihl [En ligne], Les dossiers de Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Secret et mensonge. Essais et comptes rendus, mis en ligne le 30 mai 2012, consulté le 18 octobre 2017. URL : http://dossiersgrihl.revues.org/5376

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