John Calvin Personally Admits to Killing Servetus

Calvin apologists take different approaches to defending their theological hero with regards to the Servetus execution.   One such approach is to say that Calvin was not culpable for the killing of Servetus, since he did not personally have the power or authority to put him to death.  Unfortunately, for the Calvin apologist who takes this approach, Melanchthon and Calvin (who makes use of Melanchthon’s pronouncement in his own defense) would disagree.  Calvin writes,

Let Baudouin abuse me as long as he will, provided that, by the judgment of Melanchthon, posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster. (emphasis mine)

Therefore, Calvin was proud to take personal credit for “purg[ing] the church of so pernicious a monster [as Servetus].”

Writing in 1561 to the Marquis Paet (chamberlain to the King of Navarre), Calvin said,

Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others] , who stir up the peoples to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard. (emphasis mine)*

Therefore, Calvin was proud to take personal credit for having “exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”

So much for that defense.

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*Update: Concerning the second quote, there is some question as to its authenticity based largely on what are claimed to be historical inconsistencies in the whole of the letter.  I hope to look into this more when I get the time and write a follow-up post.  This post was initially written without the second quote since the first quote is adequate enough to make the point.  The second quote served only as a second example.  If that quote proves to be inauthentic, the point of this post remains valid, that Calvin took personal credit for the death of Servetus.  A further point that needs to be made against those who wish to say that Calvin had tremendous pastoral concern for Servetus and tried to help him as much as possible, is the language he uses in describing him (as a “pernicious…monster”).  That doesn’t sound like the language that would proceed from a pastoral heart filled with concern for Servetus and grief over his unfortunate end.  There really is no way to rescue Calvin from his own words and it is hard to imagine anyone would try to do so unless they were being driven by some sort of strong bias.

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48 Responses

  1. And yet it has nothing to do with the value of his theological system, unless you want to impugn the vast majority of the Reformers who believed the same thing and would have done the same thing. The Genevan magistrates received the full consent of the other (Reformed) Swiss states before proceeding with the execution, and undoubtedly the Lutheran ministers and magistrates would have consented as well. All believed that the tolerance of an outspoken and aggressive heretic (“heretic” by Nicaean standards) threatened the apologetic of their Reformation of the Church.

    I think Calvin was wrong, and I wish he had the foresight to see that such executions were wrong. Still, it gets a little nauseating to continually see Arminians bringing the subject up — Arminians who are heirs and benefactors of the very Reformation that these flawed men brought by the grace of God.

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks for stopping by and giving your two cents. A couple of things. First, I said nothing about Calvin’s theology in this post, so I am not sure why you brought that up. This has nothing to do with his theology, but is simply demonstrating the fact that those who wish to defend his “character” (and not theology) by saying he is not culpable for Servetus’ death, need to contend with the words of Calvin himself who takes personal responsibility for Servetus’ death. Second, Rives’ demonstrates in his book, Did Calvin Murder Servetus?, that the “Four Cities” and other churches did not sanction the death penalty for Servetus (not that it would make it right even if they did), and could have never even anticipated that Servetus would have been put to death based on the charges against him (pp. 359-364).

    You might do well to read the thread and comments that led up to this post to gain a better context.

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/do-you-really-want-to-claim-john-calvin-as-your-homeboy/

    I think Calvin was wrong, and I wish he had the foresight to see that such executions were wrong. Still, it gets a little nauseating to continually see Arminians bringing the subject up — Arminians who are heirs and benefactors of the very Reformation that these flawed men brought by the grace of God.

    Likewise, it gets a little nauseating to see Calvin apologists continue to twist and turn in all directions in order to defend the actions and character of Calvin with regards to his role in the death of Servetus (and by the way, no Christians, Arminians or otherwise, are “benefactors” of the heinous act that I am drawing attention to in this post).

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Kevin,

    I’m not sure if you realize that Ben has continually made it a point to say that he does not bring up the Servetus incident against Calvin’s theology and that it is an illegitmate basis to use against Calvin’s theology. He pointed you to a post that shows all this clearly. His concern was that people not especially honor Calvin in light of this incident for which Calvin remained impenitent. This had to do with people sporting “John Calvin is my homeboy” tee shirts. In fact, Ben got into it pretty heavy with a guy who said that it does undermine Calvin’s theology, with Ben arguing forcefull that it does not.

  4. Kevin, I suspect that all those Anabaptists persecuted, many to death, would not have felt some sense of obligation to those attempting to force their errant beliefs onto them. I ask Calvinists a particular question and it seems to upset them. Can you identify a single pogrom of persecution conducted by the Arminians or Wesleyans against other theological bodies in an effort to instill any sense of theological purity? If not, why do you suppose it is that the Calvinist church felt so enamored of the ways of the world to embrace them in such a manner as to be indistinguishable from the Romish pit they supposedly came out of?

  5. Ben,

    No one would ever think twice today about the Servetus affair if it were not for its polemical use by Arminian apologists. There was nothing extraordinary about it, given the context. This polemical use is why I brought-up theology. If it were merely a matter of Calvin’s character, I do not think Arminians would have harped on it for as long as they have. Even supposing that character was the only contingency involved, Arminians have hardly made the case that Calvin did not exhibit remarkable devotion and spiritual insight. Calvinists have rightly insisted that the Servetus affair should not detract from this example of devotion and spiritual insight, even while recognizing (as Calvinists always have) that he was flawed, as we all are.

    Mallett,

    The 17th century was a different time from the 16th century. Arminians and Wesleyans arose once the Reformation was already established and no longer seriously threatened by Roman imperialism. They were products of the liberality afforded by the stated churches (Dutch and English) from which they arose.

  6. Mallet I think you make a good point. Arminians historically have not persecuted others. In fact, Arminianism has championed freedom of religion I think in part because we believe that man is free. Calvinisism has indeed persecuted others especially Arminians. After the Synod of Dort Arminians were banned from preaching, condemned as heretics, and many lost their lives including one of the Arminian representatives. I think Calvinism, with its rigid views on perdition and election, finds a loop hole for such persecution.

    I am thankful that Arminius was not such a man. Arminius, while opposing Anabaptist views, believed they such have freedom to believe as they believed and preach as they preached. Arminius never sought to set up a Geneva-type state with him as king. Arminius never advcoted killing anyone for their beliefs even heretical. Arminius’ love of God and his belief in God’s love for all no doubt led to these views.

  7. I am afraid that the theology of Calvin and his character are intertwined. By the Servetus affair, it is evident Calvin had a flawed character.

  8. Kang,

    I don’t know nor do I care.

    I do care for you Kang and for your brud posting in here in such ways as these Words:::>

    Psa 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
    Psa 130:2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
    Psa 130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
    Psa 130:4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
    Psa 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
    Psa 130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
    Psa 130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
    Psa 130:8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

    Calvin is dead.

    Arminius is dead.

    You too will be dead soon enough too.

    What amazes me is on one side of your life into eternity and on the other side of your life into eternity you exist as I and all mankind. What are we but a flash, a blink, a vapor and then poof, we too are out of here and into there.

    Whatever Calvin did or was in conspiracy to have done is of little significance if at the end of the day Servetus went to be with the Lord.

    I wonder what significance it holds in the heart of God when we mis-step by a mis-deed done and after, there is forgiveness of sins?

    Ok, I have read a lot of Calvinists claim to see error in some of Calvin’s thinking and writings and ways. Still, as Kevin above pointed out, there is much insight to be gained from his teachings. And I think you acknowledge that?

    I would ask, can you do the same for your leader Arminius? Do you read and see and sense some error with him in his writings and ways that you can point out as do the Calvinists Calvin?

    A lot of the men of Faith from Genesis on to Jude have been party to murder and adultery and lying and stealing which all amounts to covetousness, idolatry.

    Why, the great Apostle Paul falls in line with Calvin in a sense in that he may not have physically murdered or killed a person in the Cause of God’s Glory, but he certainly is one who was party to the killing of many Christians. You do not have any trouble with him or his writings do you?

    Using Brian’s argument there, Paul’s character and his theology are equally intertwined, let me ask you then, should we accept his position with regards Paul the Apostle, too?

    I think not.

    As the Scripture, Psalm 130, teaches, there is forgiveness with God that He may be feared.

  9. Paul did all of his evil while being a Jew. He even said under the Law he was blameless. He then converted and became an apostle for Christ. John Calvin on the other hand claimed to be a prophet of the Church.

    .

  10. Brian,

    well and good. However I would put some more fellows on the table with Paul the Apostle.

    How about Moses, killing an Egyptian?

    Then there is David, ordering his loyal soldier to be slaughtered?

    And Elisha calling for the youth’s destruction for calling him names?

    I guess I understand your defense. It just seems to me to go flat, that’s all.

    Why, if God were to mark iniquites where would anyone of us stand?

  11. I guess I shall not try and reason for it seems that I am unable to convince anyone of anything.

  12. Kevin,

    Sorry it took me so long to reply. I have been away from the computer until today (Tuesday). I will have to simply disagree with you entirely. I do not think it is just a point of Arminian polemics. There were plenty in Calvin’s day who thought his actions were reprehensible (in fact, the quote in the post is Calvin trying to defend his actions). In fact, I think that if it wasn’t for the fact that Calvin’s theology gained such a strong foothold in the church, no one would be trying to defend his actions in any way.

    Even supposing that character was the only contingency involved, Arminians have hardly made the case that Calvin did not exhibit remarkable devotion and spiritual insight.

    It really doesn’t matter how much devotion or spiritual insight he may have exhibited, if he did indeed commit murder and remain unrepentant of it (and there are plenty of other historical issues that taint his character as well).

    Calvinists have rightly insisted that the Servetus affair should not detract from this example of devotion and spiritual insight, even while recognizing (as Calvinists always have) that he was flawed, as we all are.

    If Calvin did indeed murder Servetus, then that certainly detracts from his example of devotion and spiritual insight (though it doesn’t necessarily falsify his theology). I find it hard to believe you would even suggest it shouldn’t. To dismiss his actions by simply calling him “flawed, as we all are” is to purposely trivialize the fact that he was instrumental in having a heretic killed with no Biblical sanction whatsoever.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  13. Michael,

    As has been pointed out before, your counter examples are disanalogous. Calvin remained unrepentant and proud and his words were filled with hate and disdain for another man even nine years after his killing. Such actions should not be winked at under any circumstances, and I for one find it ridiculous that so many venerate and exalt the man while trivializing or ignoring such actions. Why are we only allowed to focus on his “spiritual insights” and castigated when his actions against Servetus are brought to the forefront? It really doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, you are welcomed to disagree.

    Anyway, this ground has already been covered in the last post. This post was simply to point out that Calvin himself proudly took credit for Servetus’ execution (since some defend him by saying he really had nothing to do with his death). Do you deny this? If not, then there is no reason for you post anything further in this thread.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Kevin,

    Concerning your reply to Mallet, the threat of Roman Imperialism had nothing to do with the killing of Servetus, or the persecution and killing of Anabaptists. It is strange that you would think such a point has relevance to Mallet’s objection.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. Ben,

    You are right about the outcry, in certain quarters, against Calvin’s actions. But most of these opponents were, for various reasons, already enemies of Calvin. Some, however, legitimately argued for freedom of conscience, et cetera. I recently read Bruce Gordon’s recent biography of Calvin (Yale U. P., 2009), where he gives an excellent and fair presentation of all of these matters related to Servetus.

    Also, Roman imperialism was a crucial factor, according to Gordon and pretty much every historian of the period. The magisterial Reformers were highly sensitive to the legitimacy of their reforms, which were continually skewed as heretical (anti-patristic, anti-Nicaea, etc.) by Rome, in order to convince magistrates to suppress the Reformation and persecute Protestants. Calvin himself was continually accused by Roman polemicists of being anti-Trinitarian, among other heresies. Calvin approached the Servetus affair with all of this in mind. Tolerance of Servetus would have been a boon to Roman agitators and legitimized, in the view of many, Calvin as a radical.

    Furthermore, to accuse someone of “murder” must include an account of their subjective culpability, not just the objective “fact” of murder. I am not willing to judge Calvin, given the context and long-held beliefs about heresy as a plague. It is easy to look back and believe that we (if born in the early 16th century) would be like certain anabaptists and humanists who rejected all persecution according to religious beliefs. Chances are, we would have agreed with the magisterial Reformers and their Roman counterparts.

  16. Kevin,

    You wrote,

    You are right about the outcry, in certain quarters, against Calvin’s actions. But most of these opponents were, for various reasons, already enemies of Calvin. Some, however, legitimately argued for freedom of conscience, et cetera. I recently read Bruce Gordon’s recent biography of Calvin (Yale U. P., 2009), where he gives an excellent and fair presentation of all of these matters related to Servetus.

    I am glad you concede that there were many who disapproved of Calvin’s actions, even then.

    Also, Roman imperialism was a crucial factor, according to Gordon and pretty much every historian of the period. The magisterial Reformers were highly sensitive to the legitimacy of their reforms, which were continually skewed as heretical (anti-patristic, anti-Nicaea, etc.) by Rome, in order to convince magistrates to suppress the Reformation and persecute Protestants. Calvin himself was continually accused by Roman polemicists of being anti-Trinitarian, among other heresies.

    So the Reformers engaged in persecution and execution of heretics in order to win the approval and favor of Rome?

    Calvin approached the Servetus affair with all of this in mind. Tolerance of Servetus would have been a boon to Roman agitators and legitimized, in the view of many, Calvin as a radical.

    Actually his involvement in Servetus’ death proved to be a “boon” to Roman agitators, as he aligned himself with the practice of Rome in persecuting and executing those believed to be heretics (a practice that Calvin had once denounced and condemned in Rome, and was now himself practicing and struggling to justify). This did not go unnoticed by Rome and gave them great polemical leverage as Rives points out in his book.

    Furthermore, to accuse someone of “murder” must include an account of their subjective culpability, not just the objective “fact” of murder.

    I think Calvin’s statement that he purged the church of Servetus (referring to him as a pernicious monster) qualifies on both counts. He was happy to take credit for Servetus death and his references to him were full of hate and disdain even nine years after the event (which, according to Christ, constitutes murder in and of itself).

    I am not willing to judge Calvin, given the context and long-held beliefs about heresy as a plague. It is easy to look back and believe that we (if born in the early 16th century) would be like certain anabaptists and humanists who rejected all persecution according to religious beliefs. Chances are, we would have agreed with the magisterial Reformers and their Roman counterparts.

    This is irrelevant speculation that does nothing to justify the actions of Calvin or anyone else who persecuted and executed heretics without Biblical sanction.

    If you want to comment further, please deal with the subject matter of this post, Calvin’s own admission that he was personally responsible for Servetus’ death and that posterity owed him a debt of gratitude for the deed (do you feel that you owe him a debt of gratitude?).

    God Bless,
    Ben

  17. Here is another good one from the pen of John Calvin, whereby he proudly took responsibility for the execution of Servetus:

    Writing in 1561 to the Marquis Paet (chamberlain to the King of Navarre), Calvin said,

    “Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others] , who stir up the peoples to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”

    Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (pg. 292)

  18. I don’t see how Calvin’s “hate and disdain” for Servetus is much different than Christ’s condemnation of certain Pharisees and, famously, merchants in the temple. Both instances involve serious plagues in the Church and pose a spiritual threat. We believe the solution is not execution, but Calvin (along with the other magisterial Reformers and the Catholics) genuinely believed that such execution was not murder and not contrary to biblical (=Christian) law. If Calvin knew that such an action was wrong and yet boasted (as he did), then I would heartily pass judgment on him (as you have). I readily acknowledge that Calvin fully supported the execution, but I’m not willing to (nor capable of) judging his culpability. I believe he lacked a clear understanding of God’s will on the matter, but I cannot demonstrate that he knew God’s will and did contrariwise.

  19. All I can suggest for anyone interested in the motives or mind of John Calvin in the Servetus affair is to read Stanford Rives Esq. book, “Did Calvin Murder Servetus?” The author covers all facets of this sordid affair.

  20. Kevin,

    I am quite honestly shocked that you would defer to Jesus’ example as a means for defending the actions of John Calvin.

    There is much in the book by Rives that I think demonstrates forcefully what Calvin’s motives and intentions were concerning Servetus, and that Calvin knew that what he was doing was wrong. Hopefully, you will be willing to supplement your understanding of the situation (based on Gordon,’s book) with Rives’s work as well (Rives’s book is more up to date and exposes errors in the writings of previous historical accountings, many of which Gordon has likely relied on in his writings, eg, the issue of the four cities I referred you to above). The worst that can happen is you will gain another perspective.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  21. “defending the actions of John Calvin”?

    I’m hardly defending his actions. I’ve expressly said the opposite. If you care to back-up your claim that “Calvin knew what he was doing was wrong,” then I would be delighted to read it.

    And apparently I’m not as shocked at Jesus’ open disdain for spiritual deceivers (millstones around necks and such).

  22. The scribes and Pharisees used the ten commandments to crucify Christ. They believed they were doing the will of God. Jesus said otherwise. When he said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” he meant the Romans, who according to their law were already to let Jesus go. Then around 70A.D. Jereusalem was judged by the God using the Roman army. Because they said they saw and understood, their sin remained. Calvin sinned, so Servetus died because of this sin.

  23. I’m hardly defending his actions. I’ve expressly said the opposite.

    You began by saying you thought Calvin was wrong, but as the discussion progressed you continually made excuses for his behavior. In this last comment you seemed to compare Calvin’s hatred of Servetus with Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees. That sure seems like a defense of Calvin’s actions, but I apologize if that is not what you meant (if you are not trying to defend John Calvin, then please explain what you are doing).

    If you care to back-up your claim that “Calvin knew what he was doing was wrong,” then I would be delighted to read it.

    The book I recommended has several sections describing Calvin’s actions in great detail and, I believe, proving that he was motivated by hatred for Servetus and acted against his previous theological convictions in having Servetus put to death. The proof that Calvin knew he was wrong can also be seen in his actions afterward, changing his written views on the execution of heretics, etc., in order to justify his actions towards Servetus. All that and more can be found in the book if you care to read it.

    Furthermore, if Calvin was driven by hate, then that alone is enough to prove that he knew what he was doing was wrong (since Calvin knew that hate was wrong). Also, your claims seem to suggest that the Holy Spirit was not actively convicting him of his sin if he was indeed wrong in having Servetus put to death. I have a hard time believing that.

    And apparently I’m not as shocked at Jesus’ open disdain for spiritual deceivers (millstones around necks and such).

    I don’t think this is a valid comparison. Jesus was describing the seriousness of causing others to stumble. He said it would be better for them if they had a large millstone hung around their neck and be cast into the sea, rather than to cause a believer to stumble. However, he did not suggest that anyone treat them in such a way. Judgment would be left to God and it should have been left to God in the matter of Servetus as well.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  24. We believe the solution is not execution, but Calvin (along with the other magisterial Reformers and the Catholics) genuinely believed that such execution was not murder and not contrary to biblical (=Christian) law.

    And why do we believe it is wrong? Based on the word of God? So Calvin should be excused because he misunderstood the word of God in his execution of a heretic for…misunderstanding the word of God. (though he genuinely believed that his views on God’s nature were not contrary to biblical revelation). Interesting.

  25. What I fail to understand about the issue of heresy and heretics, is why so little was mentioned in the New Testament about this issue. Heretic is in 1 time and heresy is mentioned 3 times. Jesus never mentioned heresy or heretics. The parables were to spoken to the unbelievers.

    However, hate and murder are mentioned more than once.

  26. Calvin was the heretic.

  27. I find it ironic, that John Calvin in his finite mind could discern who was a heretic.

    All of this is based on the supposed church fathers, who incidentally had little in common with the master, Christ. It was not until there was a falling away from the true foundation of the church that the doctrine of the trinity emerged from the philosophic womb. With the combining of the law of Moses with the grace of Christ, it was unavoidable that a doctrine such as that would come forth. From then until now, the kingdom of heaven has been lost in the leaven of the scribes and pharisees. John Calvin stumbled on Christ and therefore was no better than those Jews who rejected him over 2000 years past.

  28. I updated the post to include the second Calvin quote on killing Servetus.

  29. Brilliant post, Ben!

  30. Excellent post kangaroodort, you are a very skilled writer. I have also read Rives’ book, it is a masterpiece.

  31. Thanks for the post Ben. This only confirms what a crack brain Calvin was, together with the lunacy of his doctrine. Before anyone says he was the great proponent of grace and that we should all be indebted to him, I would suggest they read the Bible first for the original and authentic version. Preposterous to suggest that man has no free will.Ludicrous to suggest God is the author of sin. He does not do what he hates.If we have no free will, how can we believe and be saved? How can we choose to to good and not evil, as we are exhorted throughout the Old and New Testaments? Why else all the warnings in the New Testament, of falling from grace? The warnings in the book of Revelation?Calvinists wish to read half the texts and ignore the rest. Election is conditional upon remaining in Jesus and keeping his commandments, to love one another and to love God. God is not mocked.Let no one convince you otherwise.
    To all the calvinists, how do you know if you are saved? Tomorrow if you commit a deadly sin, your friends will tell you that you were not saved in the first place. But today, you will say that you are saved and always will be. Time to wake up and smell the coffee…

  32. Helli,I am only an unregenerate Gentile who has some familiarity with Holy Scripture,as well as with some matters (and wineskins) that (intentionally or more likely,unintentionally) serve to desalinate and disempower (and leave unprepared) the British and American contingent of the Bride.That said,here’s a comment :

    I am not sure it pays high dividends to play intellectual tennis with Calvinists,Dispensationalists,Cessationists or Darwinists. Lutherans and Calvinists have had 500 years to come up with ways of returning any theological topspin serve delivered to them,they have not however,and never will,find an answer for the persecution and violence used to establish their ‘Covenant of Grace’ and populate their camp. David,if I had a time machine i would like to take Calvinists back to October 27,1553 and have them witness what happened ,in the hope it would bring them to their senses with regard to the so-called ‘Magisterial Reformers’ in the light of Matthew 12:33-37.

    Therefore,I just want to post two links,in case anyone is not aware of where to find fruit information on the Magisterial Reformers :

    Here is a free article by Daniel Corner,on the fruit of John Calvin,entitled ‘His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin’.

    http://www.revivaltheology.net/1_cal_arm/ashes.html
    ‘If he [Michael Servetus] comes [to Geneva] I [Calvin] shall never let him go out alive,if my authority has weight’.

    For a more in-depth account of the repulsive methods used to populate the camp (and deal with the opponents) of the ‘Magisterial Reformation’,read ‘The Reformers and Their Stepchildren’ by Leonard Verduin :

    http://www.amazon.com/Reformers-Their-Stepchildren-Dissent-Nonconformity/dp/1579789358/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325147580&sr=1-1

    Consider the following fruit information Leonard provides :

    ‘They [the leaders of the Magisterial Reformation] constantly urged the magistrate to draw the blood of the opposition’ (Chapter 1).

    ‘The burning of Servetus….was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible….He [Calvin] maneuvered it from start to finish’ (Chapter 1).

    Zwingli’s successor,Henry Bullinger,said this : ‘It is wrong,say they [opponents of the Magisterial Reformation],to compel anyone by force or coercion to embrace the faith,or,to put anyone to death because of erring faith’. (Chapter 2).

    If Leonard has his facts straight,and if a spade is still a spade,what is to be OBJECTIVELY made of that fruit information ?

    At the least,do read the free article. The book is TREMENDOUS – I would like to see it sell in huge numbers.

    Mark

  33. Hello i meant – not ‘Helli’ !
    (And ‘David’ ‘Dispensationalists,Cessationists or Darwinists’ were not meant to be in that piece on here.)

    (By the way,if my post gets the OK,how does someone start a thread on here ? If possible,I would like to start a thread on ‘The modern metamorphosis of John 3:16.’ (!)

  34. Mark,

    Thanks for the links. You can’t start your own thread here because this is a blog and not a chat room or discussion forum. However, you could create your own blog. Juts go to http://www.wordpress.com. It is very easy to do.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  35. Thankyou Ben

  36. If that’s your only source, you may want to read a bit more… Emanuel Stickelberger’s “Calvin: A Life” is a good starting point (follow this link for the chapter on Servetus: http://www.albatrus.org/english/potpourri/historical/burning_of_servetus.htm). Stickelberger quotes a bit from Emile Doumergue’s seven volume work on the life of John Calvin (who quotes extensively from Geneva’s historical records of the event). H. Y. Reyburn’s “John Calvin: His Life, Letter’s and Work”, likewise, makes use of the public records from Geneva, rather than citing opponents of Calvin who are more disposed to sullying Calvin’s good name, than to competent scholarship.

    History (as you will see in Stickelberger, Doumergue and Reyburn) reports that Calvin not only appealed to the Genevan Council to spare Servetus from burning at the stake (Servetus was condemned by the Council, not by Calvin), but he visited with Servetus prior to the sentence being carried out and plead with him to repent of his heresy and turn to God’s grace (Servetus’ supporters, the Libertine’s, did not visit him once!). Servetus declined! Letters to Viret, Farel, Malancthon, etc. show that while Calvin did not regret putting the heretic to death, he nevertheless struggled with the whole ordeal (because John Calvin was, first and foremost, a loving pastor).

    Furthermore, as a matter of historical record, the first letter you cite shows that the decision was not Calvin’s, but was the decision of the Genevan Council with the support of the surrounding Churches (context matters a great deal!) You can read the portion of the letter omitted here in Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII…” (although, Schaff does not appear to address Geneva’s records much, if at all, in his retelling of the event). Servetus was condemned as a heretic who blasphemed the Trinity (among other things), and as heresy was in those days (heresy condemned a man’s soul, therefore, the teaching of heresy was considered the murder of the soul), it was treated with the same severity as murder. The second letter you cite, if you dig a little bit, is considered a forgery by some scholars because it does not fit the style of Calvin’s writing and there are some historical discrepancies with the letter that are highly suspect.

    There are all sorts of letters, taken out of literary and historical context, that people like to throw against Calvin… but the Calvin that is painted by his enemies is not the same John Calvin of history (again, see Stickelberger, Doumergue, Reyburn). The fact is that, according to the historical records in Geneva, Servetus was condemned to die in any state (whether Catholic or Protestant) as a heretic; the Genevan Council decided, with the support of the surrounding churches, to burn Servetus at the stake. Calvin plead with the Council to favor beheading over the stake (because he considered it too harsh a punishment), but the Council disregarded this plea and burned Servetus anyway. The Lutherans had already been beheading heretics by this time, so had Servetus not been condemned to the stake, Calvin’s enemies would have nothing to say about the matter!

    The letters you cite are, in the case of the first, taken out of context (again, see Schaff, “History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII”); and in the second, considered a forgery because it does not fit Calvin’s writing. This is not only sad scholarship, but biased scholarship.

    The fact is that, yes, Calvin was responsible for the arrest and trial of Servetus; but Servetus came to Geneva in the first place at the behest of his supporters in Geneva (the Libertines) in an effort to overthrow John Calvin and the Reformers! Stickelberger defends this point of view in his biography of Calvin (I won’t go into it here), and it seems likely, considering what had been going on in Geneva up to that point.

    Stickelberger’s biography of Calvin is a very good, informative, short biography of Calvin’s life; it’s only about 160 pages, but Stickelberger devotes more attention to this particular slander of Calvin’s good name than anything else. I highly recommend it (Calvin: A Life – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0718890019/ref=oh_details_o01_s00_i00).

    Was Calvin alone to blame for Servetus’ death? Schaff, Stickelberger, Demourgue, Reyburn all say “No.” Calvin was a child of his times, and as such, he treated heresy in the same manner that it had been treated by the Church. Had Servetus died by beheading, the whole matter would have been forgotten as is generally forgotten (or overlooked) of the Lutheran and Zwinglian beheadings of Anabaptists for heresy. While heresy is not necessarily condemned by the Bible, Leviticus 24:10-16 tells us that blasphemy is punishable by death, and it was for this reason that Servetus was put to death (whether in a Catholic or Protestant state). Servetus just happened to find his way to Geneva (which wasn’t incidental, but intentional — see Stickelberger), and because of that Calvin is remembered as “the murderer of Servetus.”

    In Rives’ bibliography, I look in vain for any citation of Genevan historical archives or anything of the like. I do see Doumergue listed there, but I wonder how much attention Rives allows to Doumergue, because Stickelberger’s heavy citation of Doumergue flies in the face of the conclusion that “Calvin murdered Servetus.” But Rives’ book is quite a bit longer than Stickelberger’s… so there’s no way Rives is just pontificating aloud his disdain for John Calvin. And those who likewise have no regard for Calvin, as their Christian brother, just jump on the bandwagon… it’s shameful at the very least.

    I’m sure that the author of this blog will answer each point of this post to their negation, so I’m going to simply leave what I’ve said as it stands. If anyone is curious about the books I’ve mentioned (assuming that this gets posted), I recommend them, and I think that even if in the end they can’t agree with his theology, they will give the reader a new found respect for John Calvin: the man, the pastor, the theologian.

  37. Daniel,

    Thanks for the reply. You wrote,

    H. Y. Reyburn’s “John Calvin: His Life, Letter’s and Work”, likewise, makes use of the public records from Geneva, rather than citing opponents of Calvin who are more disposed to sullying Calvin’s good name, than to competent scholarship.

    Are you suggesting that Calvin’s opponents should not be trusted, simply because they were his opponents? And why were they his opponents? It seems to me that the Servetus ordeal is what caused many to become his opponents. Still, the quotes in this post are from Calvin himself, so I don’t really see the relevance of what you seem to be claiming here. If your point is simply to encourage people to read many sources, I have no problem with that. I just wonder why you assume someone who is against Calvin should be automatically disqualified or not trusted. Do you feel the same way about his supporters? I have read many sources and most have good and bad to say about Calvin.

    What side of the debate do you fall on? Are you a Calvin supporter or a Calvin opponent? What qualifies as a Calvin opponent? I am against his theology, but really couldn’t care less about who he is as a man except for the fact that there is this Servetus ordeal to contend with and I think it wrong that Calvin “supporters” seem to want to downplay it or excuse Calvin altogether. I have made it clear on this thread and elsewhere that I do not take the position that because of Servetus Calvin must be wrong on theology. Rather, I have argued that Calvin could be perfectly correct about his theology and still be wrong for his involvement in Servetus death. On the flip side, I have a problem with those who hold to his theology and for that reason will not deal fairly with the history of Calvin’s involvement of the event.

    Letters to Viret, Farel, Malancthon, etc. show that while Calvin did not regret putting the heretic to death, he nevertheless struggled with the whole ordeal.

    Do you not see how your own language here suggests that Calvin saw himself as instrumental in putting Servetus to death?

    Furthermore, as a matter of historical record, the first letter you cite shows that the decision was not Calvin’s, but was the decision of the Genevan Council with the support of the surrounding Churches (context matters a great deal!) You can read the portion of the letter omitted here in Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII…”

    Yes, context matters a great deal, but there is nothing in the context to counter the point I was making in this post. In the initial post that lead to this one I quoted the entire context (https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/do-you-really-want-to-claim-john-calvin-as-your-homeboy/). Here it is:

    Servetus suffered the penalty due to his heresies, but was it by my will? Certainly his arrogance destroyed him not less than his impiety. And what crime was it of mine if our Council, at my exhortation, indeed, but in conformity with the opinion of several Churches, took vengeance on his execrable blasphemies? Let Baudouin abuse me as long as he will, provided that, by the judgment of Melanchthon, posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, pp. 690, 691)

    A couple things to note here. First, Calvin deflects to the Council temporarily, but quickly gets back to taking personal credit by using Melancthons’ own words as support for his actions; and Melancthon gave Calvin full credit. So Calvin’s “was it by will?” is answered with a “yes”. Second, he also makes it plain that it was by “his exhortation”. The fact that other churches may have been of the same opinion (like the church of Rome, for example, one of the reasons why other protestants were angry with Calvin’s actions on several levels) does not change the fact that it was by Calvin’s “exhortation” (and his influence was of no small consequence). But even worse, he plainly says that he “took vengeance” on Servetus and “purged the church” of him. So again, how does “context” discount the point made in this post that Calvin took personal credit for having killed Servetus? There is just no way around this quote (his own words, and not the words of his “opponents”).

    The letters you cite are, in the case of the first, taken out of context (again, see Schaff, “History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII”);

    See above.

    …and in the second, considered a forgery because it does not fit Calvin’s writing. This is not only sad scholarship, but biased scholarship.

    Considered a forgery by whom? How does it not fit Calvin’s writing? Where is the documentation for this claim? There are plenty of sources out there who put these words in Calvin’s mouth. I don’t see how it is sad and biased scholarship for me to reference it, especially since your claims of sloppy scholarship are based on a claim you leave no documentation for.

    Was Calvin alone to blame for Servetus’ death? Schaff, Stickelberger, Demourgue, Reyburn all say “No.”

    But Calvin says “Yes”. Is that because Calvin was just a Calvin opponent? And this post was not about saying Calvin was “alone” in what happened to Servetus, but showing how he did have a part in it and took personal credit for his death against those who claim he really had nothing to do with it. If many people are involved in killing someone, it is correct for anyone of them to say he or she “killed” the person (as Calvin did). It is incorrect for any involved to say he or she did not kill the person, just because others were involved in the killing. See the difference? So really, you have just vindicated my point with your above comment.

    I’m sure that the author of this blog will answer each point of this post to their negation, so I’m going to simply leave what I’ve said as it stands. If anyone is curious about the books I’ve mentioned (assuming that this gets posted), I recommend them, and I think that even if in the end they can’t agree with his theology, they will give the reader a new found respect for John Calvin: the man, the pastor, the theologian.

    I recommend any book that can help us better understand what happened, but no book can turn Calvin’s “yes I did” into a “no he didn’t”.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  38. Since Daniel did not provide documentation of the second quote being a forgery, I did some looking myself. I found a site that questions the authenticity of the second quote and gives some documentation. It needs more investigation, but the main issue seems to be with some apparent historical inaccuracies that would not be expected had Calvin penned the letter himself(http://anchoredbytruth.com/monster_servetus.asp). The rest of the argumentation seems pretty weak to me. It is claimed that the writing doesn’t fit his style, but from my readings of Calvin it sounds like him. But I am not a Calvin scholar. The writer of the post who cites documentation makes the point that the letter ends funny as if Calvin forgot what he was writing about and ended the letter that way. But that seems a strange interpretation of how Calvin ends the letter. First, the original document in his source (and in his quote) ends with an ellipsis, suggesting it is not the end of the letter at all (http://books.google.com/books?id=Aa1DAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA439&lpg=PA14&ots=KAPhuA1Puu&dq=%22Monseigneur+du+Poet%22+to+the+King+of+Navarre&output=text).

    It would be interesting to see what else was written. Second, Calvin’s saying that he forgot why he wrote seems to clearly be simply his stating that the main purpose of his letter (despite all that he had written to that point) was to commend the Monseigneur and “kiss [his] hand”, etc.

    Here is the quote,

    For the rest, Monseigneur, I forgot the subject for which I did myself the honour to write to you, which is humbly to kiss your hands, supplicating you to take in good part the quality which I shall covet during my whole life of . . .

    In other words, it was a common way to end the letter with pleasantries and flattery, basically saying, “Oh, I forgot the most important part, which is to tell you how great you are”, etc. It was not Calvin saying, “I can’t remember what this letter was supposed to be about.” And again, notice the ellipsis.

    However, even if this letter is inauthentic, the other one is not and says the same basic thing. Calvin took personal credit for killing Servetus (and it should be mentioned that when I first wrote this post I only had the first quote. I added the second later as a second, but not necessary, example. I will update the post concerning this issue soon, and I thank Daniel for bringing it to my attention.

  39. I just noticed that the link I found claiming this second letter is a forgery was written by a Daniel Knapp. I wonder if that is the same Daniel who wrote the comments above. Maybe he will drop by again and let us know. I would like to talk to him about his comments about the way Calvin ended his letter. I think he really needs to re-think that part of his argument. It weakens the rest.

  40. Meep meep meep. So many words just to accomplish nothing as far as theological accuracy is concerned.

  41. Wesley,

    Why would you assume that a post that is not dealing with theology should accomplish theological accuracy? That would be like saying your comment above should be dismissed because it accomplishes nothing as far as culinary accuracy is concerned. If you want theological engagement with Calvinism, you can find it all over this site.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  42. Well, isn’t that what we’re about? Knowing God? This blog is 1. Christian and 2. Informative in nature, which begs the question. What good end is being served here as far as the knowledge and glory of God? Calvin did something wrong. I get it. He was still used by God to explain scripture and positively shape culture. Why can’t one simply acknowledge both and derive whatever help they can get out of it and keep marching? I think that the focus here is a little bogged down.

  43. And yes I misspoke when I said theological accuracy. I didn’t explain my thought very well.

  44. Also, this post is indirectly concerned with theological accuracy. Calvin was, namely, a very influential theologian. He deeply impacted the last quarter of church history. We are now members of this church and, whether it’s for better or for worse, his theological undertakings have deeply affected the spiritual climate that we live in. That’s the only reason that anyone here is concerned about what he did with his life to begin with. To say that historicity is the sole objective here is dishonest.

  45. Wesley,

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion. This started with people wearing “Calvin is my Homeboy” Tee Shirts. I wrote about this as a little concerning since Calvin committed such a heinous act (remember, the shirts don’t say, “Calvin’s Theology is Awesome!”). That led to certain Calvinists trying to defend Calvin’s actions (not his theology) in a variety of ways.

    One way that kept coming up was to say that Calvin really had nothing to do with it, that it was out of his hands. This post shows that to be false by Calvin’s own words. I think it important to deal factually with erroneous attempts to excuse Calvin’s behavior. I am sorry if you do not agree. Of course, you have the freedom to read only the posts here that deal with theology, or to not read any posts at all. Your choice.

    My guess is that you would find it strange for me to to tell you what you should and shouldn’t read, or what topics you should and shouldn’t engage in or find worthwhile. Likewise, I find it odd that you feel you need to tell me what I should and shouldn’t write about.

    You write: Why can’t one simply acknowledge both and derive whatever help they can get out of it and keep marching?

    That’s exactly what I have done. I acknowledged both and have not revisited the subject. All you have to do is read through the comments to find that out. I know that is a hassle, but if you are going to make such accusations, you should know what you are talking about. The problem is that many Calvinists do not “acknowledge both”. They pretend that Calvin’s actions towards Servetus never happened, or they work very hard to excuse him. So they want to acknowledge the “good” and use that as an excuse to ignore the “bad.”

    You write: Also, this post is indirectly concerned with theological accuracy. Calvin was, namely, a very influential theologian. He deeply impacted the last quarter of church history. We are now members of this church and, whether it’s for better or for worse, his theological undertakings have deeply affected the spiritual climate that we live in.

    It is true that his theology has impacted the church, but this specific post is about Calvin’s actions, not his theology. People should know the truth about the “man” whose theology has so impacted the church, don’t you agree?

    That’s the only reason that anyone here is concerned about what he did with his life to begin with. To say that historicity is the sole objective here is dishonest.

    It’s too bad you feel the need to call people dishonest. To say that one’s historical influence is the reason for scrutiny doesn’t mean the scrutiny cannot be based on behavior and character rather than theology. I also find it interesting that you initially chided me for spending so much time on this subject and yet you feel the need to keep making comments. Anyway, thanks for sharing your opinion and your concerns. They have been duly noted.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  46. Excellent article, Ben! Your answers to all comments are equally thoughtful and well reasoned.

    I read Standford Rives’ book, “Did Calvin Murder Servetus” in 2009, and am ready to read it again. It was well researched and written, and has over 600 footnotes.

    What many among the Reformed don’t realize, or acknowledge is Rives was a “high” Calvinist for over 25 years. As an attorney for almost 30 years, he presents his book as he would for a trial. He does not cover up Calvin’s shortcomings, instead challenging readers to consider
    Matthew 12:33.

    Well done.

  47. AM Mallet, I have quoted you several times today. “Can you identify a single pogrom of persecution conducted by the Arminians or Wesleyans against other theological bodies in an effort to instill any sense of theological purity? If not, why do you suppose it is that the Calvinist church felt so enamored of the ways of the world to embrace them in such a manner as to be indistinguishable from the Romish pit they supposedly came out of?”

    I didn’t used your name, just referred to the quote as, “from another.” Would you like for me to credit you with the quote?

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