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.
*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.