Will The Defenders Of Michael Servetus Please Stand Up

Some words of Michael Servetus provoking John Calvin:

“The title makes me marvel at the impudence of the man who boasts of being a Catholic, although he is a disciple of Simon the magician, as I have evidently shown in my Apology. Who will say that a prosecutor* and a homicide is a true minister of the Church?” 

“You do not know what you say—you are a wretch, if you persist in condemning what you do not understand. Did you think to stun the ears of the judges by your barking? You have a confused intellect, so that you cannot understand the truth. Wretch! perverted by Simon Magus, you are ignorant of the first principles of things—you make men only blocks of wood and stone by establishing the slavery of the will.”

“If I have said that—not merely said it, but publicly written it—to infect the world, I would condemn myself to death. Wherefore, my Lords, I demand that my false accuser be punished, pœnâ talionis, and that he be detained a prisoner like me, till the cause be decided for his death or mine, or other punishment. And to accomplish that, I now lodge an accusation against him for the said pœnâ talionis. And I am content to die if he be not convicted of these things, as well as of others which I shall bring forward” (emphasis mine).

“Wherefore, like a magician, as he is, he ought not merely to be condemned, but to be exterminated and hunted from your city; and his goods ought to be confiscated to me in return for mine, which he has caused me to lose; which things, my Lords, I request from you” (emphasis mine).

William Tweedie writes:

As to the right to inflict punishment for the excess of religious opinion, and to chastise impiety, that was never a question in the mind of the magistrate. In condemning Servetus and his doctrines, the Council of Geneva did not think that it was doing aught more strange than in declaring Berthelier capable of receiving the communion.* In principle, if not in fact, both decisions ought to be distinctly placed in the same rank; and they are both sufficiently explained by the confusion which existed in the constitution of the Republic, between the temporal and ecclesiastical domains. Besides, the Codes of Theodosius and Justinian, appealed to by the Attorney-General, the Imperial Constitutions which had helped to form the usages in criminal jurisprudence,† and the claims to all power on the part of the body-politic, would have helped to remove scruples regarding the competency of the civil magistrate, had any existed. These scruples did not arise in any country, except in some rare exceptions, till long after this epoch; and Montesquieu, in some degree justifies the Council of Geneva, when he writes, two ages thereafter: “I have not said that it is not necessary to punish heresy; I have only said that it is necessary to be very circumspect in punishing it.” We have seen Servetus himself acknowledging that principles subversive of religion should necessitate the death of their author. In the eyes of Genevese justice, his own opinions were of that nature. Hence he had in some degree, by anticipation subscribed his own condemnation.

…Scarcely had the sentence been passed when Calvin was informed of it, and in his turn he announced it to Farel, to whom he had written some days before, beseeching him to come to Geneva, when the sentence of Servetus was pronounced. As Farel had not arrived, Calvin wrote to him again, and the pastor of Neufchatel crossed the letter of Calvin by the way. In it the Genevese Reformer told his brother, that his colleagues and himself had put forth all their efforts to change the nature of the punishment of Servetus, and substitute the sword for the fire. The motive of this attempt was, no doubt, to avoid the use of these means which the Roman Inquisition employed against heretics and Protestants, and not to recur to instruments of punishment already become odious. Calvin wished to leave to Romanists the monopoly of the auto-da-fe, but the magistrates did not enter into his views. The canon law condemned to the flames persons convicted of heresy; without disturbing themselves as to the origin of the punishment, the Little Council conformed to the practice; and the judicial usage, already followed by the judges of Vienne, triumphed over the request of Calvin. It is to him, notwithstanding, that men have always imputed the guilt of that funeral pile, which he wished had never been reared!

Farel having arrived at Geneva on the previous evening, he was with Servetus when he learned the fatal sentence.* After the first explosion, the criminal, addressing himself to the venerable old man, who tried to convince him of his guilty error, asked him to quote a single place of Scripture where Christ was called Son of God before he was clothed with humanity. Farel pointed out the passages suited to satisfy him, but in vain. Servetus did not abandon his system; and even when imploring pardon, and praying to God and Jesus Christ, whom he called his Saviour, he would not consent that Christ was the Son of God, otherwise than by his humanity. In the eyes of Farel, of Bullinger, of Haller, of Melancthon, of Calvin, of almost all the Reformers, the dissemination of such an idea was a crime. The Council of Geneva appeared to have judged like them.

…In the meantime, before the sentence recorded by it had been solemnly pronounced, Farel was anxious that an interview should take place between Calvin and Servetus. The latter showed himself quite disposed to it; and Calvin requested, through one of his colleagues, the Council’s warrant to that effect. It was granted without delay, and the Councillors Corna and Bonna were appointed to accompany him to the condemned. Being asked by one of them what he had to say to Calvin, Servetus answered, that he wished to ask his pardon. To this the Reformer replied: “I protest that I have never pursued against you any private quarrel. You must remember that it is now more than sixteen years since, at Paris, I spared no pains to gain you to our Lord, and if you had yielded to reason, I would have endeavoured to reconcile to you all the good servants of God. You then shunned the light, and I did not cease, notwithstanding, to exhort you by letters; but all has been in vain—you have cast against me I know not how much fury rather than anger. But as to the rest, I pass by what concerns myself. Think rather of crying for mercy to God whom you have blasphemed, in wishing to efface the three persons who are in his essence; ask pardon of the Son of God, whom you have degraded, and, as it were, denied for your Saviour.” This address of Calvin had no greater success than the exhortations of Farel, and the Reformer withdrew, as St Paul (said he) orders us to withdraw from a heretic.* Taught by adversity, Servetus now appeared as mild and humble towards his adversary as he had hitherto been arrogant and bold; but though he controlled his feelings, he did not sacrifice his convictions (emphasis mine)*

 The reader should note how Servetus’ hatred and vitriol towards Calvin was returned with kindness. To be sure Calvin did use harsh words towards Servetus but in line with biblical principles. Furthermore, Calvin met with Servetus after the latter was told of his death sentence and urged the man to repent of his heresy and place his faith in Christ, the Son of God, the second Person in the Godhead. He also reminds Servetus that it was not a matter of personal quarrel, as Servetus made it, but of truth concerning the Triune God but more specifically the divinity of Christ.

* Sevetus quotes quoted from, Tweedie, W. (2009). Calvin and Servetus : The reformer’s share in the trial of Michael Servetus (190). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

*Tweedie, W. (2009). Calvin and Servetus : The reformer’s share in the trial of Michael Servetus (205–212). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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