« PreviousContinue »
1546) Servetus burned in Efigy at Vienne.
The trial proceeded after Servetus' escape, as if he had been present. The judges were at last persuaded that the Restitutio was printed in secret in Vienne. They then proceeded to make a synopsis of the errors contained in it, and on the 17th of June condemned its author to be burned at the stake. Until they could get possession of him, they decided that he should be bumed in effigy. Arnoullet made it appear that he was assured by Gueroult that the Restitutio was an entirely harmless book, and was set at liberty. Gueroult probably saved himself by flight. On the same day in which the sentence was passed, the executioner carried the effigy of Servetus with five bales of books upon a cart, from the palace to the market place, and thence to the Place de Charneve, and there suspended it upon a gallows and caused it, with the books, to be slowly consumed by fire. The wealth which Servetus had acquired was found to be so considerable, that a nobleman applied to the king for it for his son, and his request was granted.
The Arrest and Trial of Servetus at Geneva. Servetus, after his escape from Vienne, designed to go to Naples and establish himself as physician there. He did not venture to pass through Piedmont lest he should be discovered by his popish persecutors, and after wandering for a month in France, he took the route through Switzerland. About the middle of July at evening, a man was seen silently entering the gate of the ancient city of Geneva on foot, having left his horse at a small village near, where he had passed the preceding night. He stopped at a little Inn called Auberge de la Rose, upon the banks of the lake. There was something in the bearing of the stranger, in the enthusiasm which shone through his dark, glowing, south
ern eye, in the ease and familiarity of his conversation, which attracted the notice of the people of the Inn and led them to at. tempt to learn something about him by questions. In answer to the inquiry whether he was married he replied: On trouve bien assez de femmes sans se marier. This man was soon seen going to the church where Mr. Calvin preached. To any one acquainted with the life of the stranger, the circumstances of his escape from Vienne, the admonition which he received in respect to coming to Geneva, especially if they had heard him say as he was accustomed to do, that it was by means of accusations made by Calvin that he was first arrested, his conduct should seem so unaccountable as to suggest the suspicion that he was
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate,
No wonder is it that Calvin himself said: “ Nescio quid dicam, nisi fatali vesania fuisse correptum ut se praecipitem jaceret."
After remaining a month in Geneva, Servetus proposed to go to Zurich, and ordered a boat to convey him over the lake. But just as he had made preparations for departure on the 13th of August, 1553, a sheriff appeared and arrested him in the name of the council. How it became known that Servetus was in the city, does not appear. Some relate that he was recognized in church. Musculus says, that he wished to take advantage of the disaffection of some of the principal citizens against Calvin, in order to disseminate farther his own heretical principles and make disturbance. If it were so, his presence in the city would not probably long remain a secret from Calvin. Be this as it may, it seems that Calvin was the immediate cause of the arrest. He speaks of it in several letters, and expresses the firmest confidence that by taking measure, for silencing or causing a retraction of the blasphemous teachings of this man, he was rendering a service to God, to the church and to humanity. It is perfectly evident that Calvin felt it to be his imperative duty to inform the council that Servetus was in the city. Not only his love for the truth, but the civil law of the city which had come down from the previous dominion of the Emperors, requiring the infliction of the same punishment upon heretics and those guilty of high-treason, made it his duty to give this information to the council.' It appears, how
He says in his Refutation of the Errors of Servetus: Nec sane dissimulo mea opera consilioque jure in carcerem fuisse conjectum. Quia recepto hujus civitatis jure criminis reum peragere oportuit, causam hujusque me esse prose
1846.] The Arraignment of Servetus at Geneva. 73 ever, that Calvin had little expectation that the issue of the trial would be such as it proved to be, in consequence of the obstinacy and blindness of the Spaniard. Calvin wished only to prevent the evil which he believed the dissemination of such impious dogmas was causing, and had no malicions designs upon the life of his enemy. He says: “ No danger of a more severe punishment threatened him, if he had only been reclaimable (sanabilis).”—“I wish this only to be known, that I felt no such hostility to him that he could not have saved his life, by the simple exercise of discretion (sola modestia), if he had not been insane." He also later exclaims in sorrow for his fate: "if we could only have obtained from Servetus as from Gentilis a retraction !" Still he all the time felt that Servetus was deserving of the most summary punishment if he did not change his course. And thus during his trial, when speaking of his dogmas and his conduct, in letters to Farel, he frequently expresses the hope that he will receive capital punishment, but wishes it to be in a mild form.
Nicholas de la Fontaine, a student and scribe of Calvin, who had been six years with him, and was well grounded in theologi. cal knowledge,2 immediately appeared as complainant, according to the Genevan law, that the accuser, in case the accused is found guiltless, shall subject himself to the punishment due to the crime for which the accusation is made. His arrest met with general approbation, for Servetus was looked upon by all good citizens as an outlaw. The next day after the arrest, La Fontaine, in order to show his heresy, brought forward thirty-eight (or forty) propositions which Calvin had prepared. To the first thirty-six articles Servetus freely answered, acknowledged himself the author of the Restitutio, and said that he did not think that he had uttered anything blasphemous, but if it could be shown that he had, he would retract. When objection was made to the seventh article, upon the Trinity, he professed to believe in a Trinity, but understood by person something different from the modern doctrine. His book was adduced as a proof, that by inveighing against Cal
cotum fateor. And again : Qui non dissimulo, me auctore factum esse ut in hac urbe deprehensus ad causam dicendam postularetur. Obstrepant licet vel malevoli vel maledici homines, ego libenter fateor ac prae me fero, (quia secundum urbis leges aliter cum homine jure agi non poterat,) ex me prodisse aceusatorem.
Spero capitale saltem fore judicium, poenae vero atrocitatem remitti cupio. Letter to Farel, Aug. 20, 1553. * Not an ignorant servant, as the opponents of Calvin pretend. VOL. II. No. 9.
vin he defamed the doctrine held in the city, and he replied : "that since Calvin had inveighed against him in many books, he had answered him and shown that he had erred in various respects."
At the second and some of the following examinations the attendance of all the clergy of the city was requested. The principal enemies of Calvin, the leaders of the Libertine party, were also present. Calvin defended all the points of the accusation with so much power and justice, that Servetus was driven to consequences, especially in reference to his pantheistical notions, which seemed little else than nonsensical and contradictory. In opposition to the principle of Servetus that all things were made of the substance of God, Calvin answered: “ The devil then is substantially God.” “Do you doubt it?" said Servetus scoffingly. -“God dwells in the devils. Yea more, in each devil are several Gods; since the Deity has been committed equally to them in the process of formation) and to wood and stone.") Servetus addressed Calvin in this examination with unreasonable violence, and heaped reproaches and abuse upon him in the most insulting manner. In fine, not his dogmas only, but his whole bearing was such that his judges felt that he deserved punishment. La Fontaine was dismissed from prison upon the bail of Anthony Calvin, and Servetus was placed in close confinement.
It should be kept distinctly in mind during all this trial, that Calvin's authority was not dominant in Geneva. The Libertines had the ascendancy in the council of the Two Hundred, and used every exertion to destroy the influence of Calvin. But Calvin maintained a trusting and conciliatory spirit, notwithstanding the abuse which poured in upon him from all sides. His letters show that he was far more agitated by the disordered state of things at Geneva, the prevalence of vice, and by the frequent accounts of the wholesale butchery of the Protestants in France, than by anxiety in reference to the trial, which was managed by the gov. ernment and not by himself. He, however, felt called upon to preach against the doctrines of the Spaniard, so as to prevent the farther contamination of the citizens, which the Libertines were exerting themselves to bring about. But it is ridiculous and false in the extreme, when he is reproached with rendering the prisoner's condition in captivity uncomfortable. In the first place the
It is not strange that Servetus was thought guilty of blasphemy during this examination. He speaks of the Godhead as a “ Monstrum impossibile, Cerberum, monstrum Geryonis, tres illusiones Daemoniorum, bestiae trinitatem ignem infernalem esse apud Deum. Deum esse ipsam rerum universitatelu."
During several of the examinations which soon ensued after his committal, different accusations were brought against the prisoner. The opinions of Capito and Oecolampadius, and of Melanchthon, expressed in his Locis, were adduced. But Servetus replied that their opinion was not a judicial sentence upon him. His declaration of the false representations of Moses in the Pentateuch in reference to the fertility of Canaan, was also brought before the court. At first he denied, with truth, that he was the author of the words, for he had adopted them from a previous editor of Ptolemy; but when Calvin represented the dishonesty of using the works of another without credit, he angrily replied, that if he were the author of the passage in question, there was nothing wrong in it. This declaration called forth an able defence of the ancient historian from the Genevan reformer. Servetus' false in. terpretations of Scripture, especially the Messianic portions of the Old Testament, his blasphemous language in reference to the Trinity, his heresies in reference to baptism, his pantheistical views, all passed in review before the tribunal, and the consequences of such dogmas were expounded by Calvin. sometimes defended his positions and at other times, when he found no other way of escape, modified his earlier views. For example, he had affirmed previously that God's being was in all things, but now, he said, he would express himself differently: "God through his omnipresence is necessarily present to all things, yet these things themselves are not a part of God, but the prototype or idea or conception of all things is in God.” On the fourth day of the examination the Syndics decided that the accusation was substantiated, and the judge Colladon proclaimed that there had been sufficient proof adduced, and the prisoner, according to custom, was given over to the chief procurator for further trial, as required by law.
After four days (Aug. 21) Servetus was again brought before the council. Calvin had not arrived, and a letter was read from Arnoullet to Vertet, bookseller at Chatillon, requesting him to burn all the copies of the work of the Spaniard which had been sent to Frankfort, for he had been deceived by Gueroult in reference to the nature of the contents of the book, When Calvin