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For centuries it was believed that the father of modern philosophy died of pneumonia. But a new book claims that Rene Descartes was murdered for having views similar to a Calvinist:

According to Theodor Ebert, an academic at the University of Erlangen, Descartes died not through natural causes but from an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest.

Ebert believes that Jacques Viogué, a missionary working in Stockholm, administered the poison because he feared Descartes’s radical theological ideas would derail an expected conversion to Catholicism by the monarch of protestant Sweden. “Viogué knew of Queen Christina’s Catholic tendencies. It is very likely that he saw in Descartes an obstacle to the Queen’s conversion to the Catholic faith,” Ebert told Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper.

Though raised as a Catholic, Descartes, who had been summoned in 1649 to tutor Queen Christina, was regarded with suspicion by many of his theological coreligionists. His theories were viewed as incompatible with the belief of transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine served during the Eucharist become the flesh and blood of Christ. “Viogué was convinced that . . . his metaphysics were more in line with Calvinist ‘heresy’,” said Ebert. The theory of foul play has been greeted with caution by scholars.

Seems a bit speculative to me, but if true it would be an particularly odd crime. As philosopher Bill Vallicella asks , “Isn’t a Catholic priest’s commission of murder by desecration of the host far worse than a philosopher’s holding of heretical views?”

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