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Condemnation of Servetus. gins and all the paraphernalia of destruction, which a thousand eager eyes were watching to put in operation.
The case had not long been submitted to the Swiss churches, before the clergy had come to a decision, and it was noised abroad that they were opposed to Servetus. As a consequence, expostulations were sent to the magistrates to oppose the clergy. An anabaptist who lived at Basil under a feigned name, was especially active in this matter, saying, if the good and pious man as he thought Servetus to be, were a heretic, he should be admonished in a friendly manner, and then banished. But these admonitions were unavailing. Substantially the same answer was returned by all the churches: They wished that Servetus should be prevented from exerting an evil influence either in Geneva or elsewhere. Calvin says, and his assertion is borne out by the original documents which remain: “ With one mouth, all declare that Servetus has again revived the impious errors, by which Satan in earlier ages distracted the church, and that he is a monster which cannot be endured.” The Zurichers, he says in a letter to Farel, are "omnium vehementissimi" and the Basilians, “cordati.” None of the churches specify distinctly in what manner punishment shall be inflicted, but they all feel it necessary that Servetus should in some way be prevented from doing further mischief, and that the Genevans by punishing him, should free themselves from the charge of holding heretical dogmas.
Servetus' Condemnation, last Days and Death. After the answers were received from the churches, the Syndics and the Council of Sixty were assembled, as sentence of death could not be pronounced but by a majority of the votes of these two bodies in joint session. Their deliberations continued three days. They were divided in opinion. Some preferred perpetual banishment, some imprisonment during life, but the majority desired the infliction of capital punishment, unless the prisoner should retract. But in what way should the execution be performed? The greater number finally decided, in accordance with the ancient law, in favor of punishment by fire. During these deliberations, Perrin feigned sickness and the factious party seemed to lose courage. But they again rallied, when it was too late. Perrin appeared, and attempted to obtain a reversion or suspension of the decision. “ « Our comic Caesar,"1 says Calvin,
i Calvin was accustomed, according to Beza, to call Perrin “ Caesar comi
"after he had pleaded sickness for three days, finally showed himself again in the council, in order to free this wicked man from punishment. He did not blush to demand that the whole matter should be committed to the Two Hundred." -As soon as Calvin learned the decision of the council, he assembled the clergy, and they with him unanimously petitioned to fix upon a milder form of punishment. Thus Calvin showed until the last, that he had no malicious or vindictive feeling towards Servetus. The good of the church, he erroneously judged, required the destruction of so impious a heretic; he therefore rejoiced in the decision, but desired the object to be accomplished in the way that would cause the least suffering to the victim. He had previously expressed the same opinion to Farel, who was then in favor of severe mea
After this petition, he again wrote to Farel : We have attempted to mitigate the severity of the condemnation, but in vain; the reason I will give when I see you.” The entire refusal of the council to comply with so reasonable and merciful a request, was probably occasioned by the difficulty, in the distracted state of the little republic, of coming to such a decision, and the desire to avoid the protracted discussions which would ensue, if a change was attempted.
On the twenty-sixth day of October the jailor opened the door of the prison and the beadle entered unexpectedly to Servetus, and read to him the decision of the council, that “ he should, on the following morning, be burned alive until his whole body become ashes." He was at first as dumb, as if a thunder bolt from on high had fallen upon him. Then, after deep sighs which resounded through the whole room in which he was, followed by most terrible moanings and howlings, he cried aloud: "mercy, mercy." But he soon composed himself, and showed signs of a repentant spirit. It is not related in what manner he passed the night following. The twenty-seventh of October dawned brightly and cheerfully upon that so variously agitated little community. The snow capt mountains around, contrasting so beautifully with the greenness which still lingered in the valley, neither assumed a darker hue or sent forth a more chilling blast in sympathy with the sad scene that was that day to be enacted, and the distant glaciers clothed themselves even in unwonted brilliancy. Farel, deputed by Calvin to accompany the unfortunate man to his place cus" and “ Caesar tragicus," to designate his boldness, his love of power and his empty pretension. Mosheim, (Gesch Servet. S. 192,) thinks that “tragicus" and "comicus” had special reference to his manner of speaking, at one time solemn and pompous, and at another sportive.
The last hours
83 of execution, was present at seven o'clock and left an account of the occurrences of the day. The hearty old man was soon introduced into the prison, and, with all his roughness, surely a better companion for the last stage of his journey could not have been found by Servetus. Little asperities are easily passed over when a way is so soon and so abruptly to terminate, and a new course of existence so speedily to be entered upon.
Farel in his desire to lead the soul of the doomed man to true faith, began once more to confute his errors in respect to the Trinity, and then passed to an admonition to Christian affection. Servetus retained withont change his previous explanation, and desired it to be proved from the Scriptures that Christ was called Son of God before his assumption of human nature. Farel argued with him, but he would not give up his delusion. “He had nothing to answer," it is said, “and yet he remained unyielding." This controversy continued a long time and as the hour of execution approached, Farel and some other of the clergy who were present, warned Servetus that if he would die like a Christian, he must become reconciled to Calvin whom he had treated in so hostile a manner. He assented, and Calvin was called in. When he appeared, attended by two of the Syndics, the prisoner received him quietly and with composure. The seriousness of his last hour aroused his conscience, checked his arrogance and subdued his anger. Calvin says: “When one of the councillors asked him what he desired of me, he said he wished to ask my forgiveness. I answered frankly and in accordance with the real truth, that I had never pursued any personal offence in him; with much mildness I reminded him, that sixteen years before I had used all my exertions even with apparent danger to my life, in order to enlist him on the side of our Lord; and it was not my fault that all the pious did not extend their fellowship to him, if he had only shown any discernment; that, although he' took to flight, I still readily exchanged letters with him; that finally, no office of kindness was omitted on my part, until he, embittered by my free admonitions, had delivered himself up not so much to anger as to a real rage against me. But averting the conversation from myself, I besought him rather to direct his thoughts to the attainment of forgiveness from the eternal God whom he had terribly blasphemed, by striving to annihilatet he three persons," etc.-Servetus made no reply, and the conclusion of the interview is given in the words of Calvin: “Since I by persuasions and warnings availed nothing, I wished not to be wise beyond the
direction of my master. I drew myself back from a man who sinned as a heretic, and in my heart. I pronounced the judgment in Titus 3: 10, 11: 'A man that is an heretic, after the first and the second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself?" After Calvin left, and some hours before his execution, Servetus smote upon his breast and invoked God with tears, calling upon Jesus Christ for pardon, and recognizing him as his Saviour. “ The unfortunate man could not, however,” says Farel, “ be prevailed upon to confess that Christ is the Eternal Son of God, but only that he is the Son of God because of his miraculous conception."
The council was in session the whole morning, in order either to receive the retraction which they hoped Servetus would give, or to read to him the sentence that had been passed. He was brought before them, and the staff broken over him. When the sentence of the judge was read, he fell down at the feet of the magistrates and besought, that they would put an end to his life by the sword, in order that he might not through great pain be driven to desperation, and thus lose his own soul. If he had sinned he had done it unintentionally,—his desire had been to promote the glory of God. Farel interposing told him that he must in good faith confess his misdeeds, before he could hope for mercy. Servetus answered, that “ he suffered unjustly and was led as a victim to slaughter, but he prayed to God, that he would be merciful to his persecutors." Farel felt so strongly that this was mere mockery in one who would act the part of martyr, that he could not silently endure it. He accordingly threatened Servetus if he continued in that strain, that he would leave him, and give him up to the judgment of God. Servetus was afterwards silent and no longer attempted to justify himself. This deeply affected the excitable Farel, and he now besought the council with tears to mitigate the severity of his punishment. But the council were so firmly convinced of his wickedness, that they remained immovable, and replied that the sentence could not be changed.
The hour for the execution having nearly arrived, Servetus might be seen with Farel and many others, descending with hesitating steps from the council-house, and proceeding towards the place of execution, on the Hill Champel, at a little distance from the city. Several times while on the way, he exclaimed, “ O God, save my soul! Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have compassion upon me.” But he could not be persuaded to call upon
The Execution of Servetus.
the eternal Son of God. When they arrived in sight of the pile of oak-wood, which had been hastily prepared for the execution, Servetus threw himself upon the ground, and remained for some minutes in silent prayer. In the mean time Farel addressed the assembled multitude, saying: “ You see what power Satan has when he takes possession of any one. This man is eminently learned, and perhaps supposed that he acted rightly, but he is now possessed by a devil, which may also happen to you.”1 Servetus then rose up, and Farel urged him to speak to the people. Deeply sobbing, he exclaimed, “ O God, o God!" When asked by Farel if he had nothing else to say, he replied, “ What else can I speak than of God.” After saying to him that if he had any will to make, a notary was present, and inquiring if he had any messages to send to near friends, Farel again asked him if he would not reqnest the people to implore God for him. He finally was prevailed upon to make this request of those about him.? Farel then once more urged him to call upon the eternal Son of God, which he would not do; yet he did not again repeat his own belief, which Farel, in accordance with the spirit of the times, believed to be a special interposition of providence, whereby “ Satan was hindered from uttering his blasphemies."
Whilst they were placing Servetus upon the pile, Farel admonished the people to pray for the unfortunate man, that the Lord would have mercy upon a creature lost and condemned, unless he was turned from his sad errors.—Unfortunately for Servetus, and as if to entirely thwart the wishes of Calvin and the other clergy, that he should die an easy death, the executioner of Ge. neva was less skilled in his terrible work, than those of many other places in that age. The pile was constructed of green oak wood covered with leaves, and Servetus was fastened upon it with the manuscript and a printed copy of his Restitutio tied to him. As soon as this had been done, the wretched man request. ed that his sufferings should be ended as speedily as possible. The fire was brought and soon enveloped its victim, who shrieked so piteously that the whole assembled multitude was exceedingly moved. And in consequence of the slow progress of the fire, persons from the crowd brought bundles of wood and threw
See Mosheim Gesch. des. M. Servet. S. 449.
This seems to have been urged by Farel, because Servetus had said, that the church at Geneva were without a God, and prayed to the devil. Vol. III. No. 9.