« PreviousContinue »
them upon it. When the fire had well nigh accomplished its work, with a powerful voice the miserable man cried out : “ Jesus thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me.” Thus, by the form of this petition, as was supposed, proclaiming with his last breath, the dogma, which more than any other had been the means of his wretched end, this ill fated man passed to receive an unerring sentence before a higher tribunal.--Sad indeed is the whole scene from the first examination before the council, until the fire had gone out upon Champel. But we do not see, if there must have been such a trial, how in the circumstances, it could have been conducted more fairly and kindly, both on the part of Calvin and the council. It is true, an advocate was refused Servetus, but it does not appear that it was from any illwill to him. The whole examination, we suppose, was considered rather as a discussion or arbitration. The object was first to find what Servetus' views were, and then to attempt by.argument to induce him to retract. Surely there was little occasion for an advocate in such a process.
Calvin's Defence of the Execution of Servetus. In consequence of the execution of Servetus, much hatred was exhibited towards Calvin and the council of Geneva. Pamphlets in prose and verse were issued against them. They were reproached with establishing a new inquisition. Even if Christ should come to Geneva, it was said, he would be crucified. There was a pope there, as well as in Rome. At the same time the clergy preached against Servetus, and in justification of the course pursued in his punishment. But others contended that heretics should be confined in prison, or banished, or be allowed to go entirely free. Calvin did not for a time show that he took any notice of this ebullition of hostile feeling. He considered his opponents to be, as they really were at the time, although right in principle, enemies of good order who were best answered by silence. He did not think it important, he said, “ to refute calumnies invented to asperse him by factious, foolish or malicious men or drunkards." But this feeling of hostility spread so much, that Bullinger urged him to defend the position, that it was the duty of magistrates to punish heretics. The danger of disunion in the church, which Calvin had labored so much to prevent, finally influenced him to publish, in French, his Work against Servetus. He first endeavored to show that magistrates were
The Letters from Zurich and Schaffhausen.
under obligation to punish with death not those who were simply errorists, but those who wickedly and obstinately persisted in heresy and blasphemy. Even Servetus with all his boasted love of freedom, as appears from his Restitutio, defended this same principle. In the second place, Calvin showed, from his life, his relation to himself, his trials before the civil authorities of Vienne and Geneva and from his works, that Servetus was justly denominated an irreclaimable heretic and a blasphemer, and consequently deserving of the punishment which he had received. All the Genevan preachers, fifteen in number, signed this writing and it was published.
This work caused much dissatisfaction, even among some who were not favorers of Servetus. It was objected that it was too brief for the difficulty and obscurity of the subject, and Calvin himself says in a letter to Bullinger, that his efforts to make the subject clear in so short a space are not entirely, satisfactory. Some also reproach him for making Servetus' character a subject of remark after his death. A passage in a letter to Bullinger shows that he was far from any feeling of hatred or ill will to Servetus in this matter. “But I count it fortunate, that I have you as a partaker with me in this sin, if indeed it be a sin, for you are the proper author and instigator of it.” Answers appeared to this work from various quarters, and the Libertines made use of the excited state of feeling for attempting to crush the influence of their enemy, but their efforts, as is well known, were fruitless.
The Voice of the Age in reference to the Execution of Servetus,
Toleration. It has already been mentioned that the Swiss churches virtually recommended the course pursued by the council of Geneva. They seem to have believed that Servetus was possessed by Satan; and they accordingly desired to free themselves from the reproach of participation in his errors. The clergy of Zurich in their letter, after enumerating some of the proofs of the “pestilential errors and insufferable blasphemies” of Servetus, say:“ We therefore judge that you need to exercise great faith and diligence in opposing this nian, especially as our churches are reported abroad as being heretical and as favoring heretics. Surely the holy provi. dence of God has, in the present case, afforded you an opportu
! Hoc crimen [i. e. obstinate wickedness and blasphemy) est morte simpliciter dignum et apud deum et apud homines.
nity of freeing both yourselves and us from the vile suspicion of this crime, if you shall be vigilant, and promptly take care, that the contagion of his poisonous errors spread no further by his means." The letter from Schaffhausen is perhaps even more decided : “ We doubt not,” they say, “that you, in the exercise of your distinguished prudence, will suppress his attempts, in order that his blasphemies may not, like a cancer,
the members of Christ. For what else is it, to oppose his ravings by long arguments, than to be insane with one who is insane.". But neither the opposition of the churches to him, nor that of the clergy and council of Geneva, was founded merely on his defence of dogmas, which they considered heretical. Laelius So. cinus at Zurich was suffered to defend nearly the same dogma which was made most prominent in Servetus' trial, without molestation. If Servetus had only attacked the doctrine of the Trinity by arguments, he would have been answered by arguments; and without danger of persecution by the Protestants, he might have gone on defending it, until called to answer for his belief by him whose character he had impugned. Argument was not that which Calvin and his contemporaries opposed by the civil tribunal. It was insult and ribaldry, and that too, against the Most High, whose character they would defend in the midst of a perverse and rebellious generation. It cannot be denied that Servetus had done all in his power to provoke the feeling of the Christian church. It has been well said that “if ever a poor fa: natic thrust himself into the fire, it was Michael Servetus."'2
It has also been stated that the civil law, which had been in operation at Geneva from the time of the emperor Frederic II, required the punishment of heretics. This law, it should also be mentioned, was not repealed until long after the time of Calvin. The spirit of the Catholic church at this time is too well known to need any comment. Their whole course is stained with innocent blood. The year of Servetus' death is signalized by the triumph of a great number of martyrs in France. In May of that year, five students, who had gone from Geneva to proclaim the truth in different places in France, were burned. The condemnation of Servetus at Vienne was delayed by the Catholics, only by the want of proof that he was really the author of the work im
"See the letters from which these extracts are made, as well as those from the other churches, in Calvin, Opp. Omn. ed. Amst., Tom. IX. Epistolae, p.
? S. T. Coleridge, quoted in the Bib. Repertory, Vol. VIII. p. 94.
1846.] Intolerance exhibited by Cranmer and others. 89 puted to him. This fact was known by the Protestants at Geneva, and yet months passed before they could decide upon his fate. How different the spirit manifested by the two parties, even where the Catholics had interest in showing unusual lenity!
But it is not necessary to go to the Catholic church to find parallels to the execution at Geneva. Scarcely three years had passed since the death fires had been kindled at Smithfield, in England, and the good bishop Cranmer had solicited Edward N. V to sign the death warrant of Joan of Kent and of George Van
Let any unprejudiced person examine the conduct of Cranmer and his associates and that of Calvin, and say if he ean, that one tithe of the cruelty and bigotry is exhibited by Calvin, that appears in the conduct of his neighbors across the chan
Observe, for a moment, Cranmer in company with the young king, who finally yields to the bishop's "arguments and eloquence,” and with tears in his eyes says, that if he does wrong, the bishop must answer for it to God, as he signs the warrant for the burning of Joan of Kent only “in submission to his authority;" and then turn your attention to Calvin, as seen after the de. cision of the council, pleading before that body for a mitigation of its severe sentence. And yet the one case is scarcely known, whilst the other is in the mouth of every opponent of a system of doctrines, which is frequently as little understood as the private character of their author. The Lutheran church, too, cannot wash its hands in innocency in respect of this matter.1
But our present object is rather to adduce the opinion of the other leaders in the Reformation, in reference to the punishment of Servetus. Zuingli, the year before his death, 1630, and con: sequently long before Servetus' character and dogmas were fully developed, in a conversation with Oecolampadius, said: “ This is intolerable in the church of God; therefore strive in whatever way you can, not to allow his horrible blasphemies to spread abroad to the detriment of Christianity." Reference has already been made to the opinion of Oecolampadius and Bucer.
Bullinger admonished Calvin in a most decided manner, to use his influence for the punishment of Servetus as a heretic. Lord,” he says, “ has delivered this Spaniard into the hands of your Senate. If then the council shall decree to this miscreant and blasphemer the punishment which he deserves, the whole
See an account of the execution of Nicholas Crell and Peter Gunther, Henry III. 223 sq. • See Mosheim Gesch. des M. Serveto, p. 17 note.
world will see, that the Genevans hate blasphemers, that they pursue those heretics who persist in their obstipacy with the sword of righteousness, and avenge the honor of the Divine majesty." Again he says: “My mind is filled with horror when I recollect his heresy and his blasphemies, and I am persuaded that if Satan should come from hell and preach to the world according to his inclination, he would use many of the phrases of the Spaniard Servetus." In a letter written somewhat later to Calvin, Bullinger defends the principle that heretics must not only be restrained and imprisoned, but be put out of the way of injuring others, and expresses the thanks of his church for Calvin's work upon the subject, and adds: “I see not how it was possible to have spared Servelus, the most obstinate of men and the very hydra of heresy.” Farel's exhortations to Calvin in favor of severe measures, have been repeatedly noticed, and the feeling of Viret and Beza, it is hardly necessary to say, was entirely in accordance with that of Calvin.1
Three years after the execution, Peter Martyr gives the following judgment in reference to Servetus: “I have nothing else to say of him, than that he was a genuine child of the devil, whose pestilential and horrible doctrine must everywhere be put down; and the magistrates who condemned him to death, are not to be blamed, since no indications of amendment could be seen in him, and his blasphemies were in no manner to be endured.”
But there is one other opinion upon this case, which is still more to the point, and may be taken as an exponent of the feeling of the German reformers; that of the good and gentle Melanchthon, then so far advanced in age and experience, as to exclude all danger of hasty judgment. “ Most honored man and very dear brother," he writes to Calvin, “ I have read your work in which you well oppose the horrible blasphemies of Servetus, and I thank the Son of God, who has been an arbiter and guide of your struggle. To you the church of Christ is now, and will be in all future time, under obligation. I am entirely of your opinion, and I also affirm that your magistrates have acted rightly, in putting this blasphemer to death, after having gone through the trial according to law.” In a letter to Bullinger, after commending the piety and judgment exhibited in his writings against Servetus, and expressing his own decided convictions in favor of
I See Flenry, 111.215 sq.; Beza, Calvini Vita; and Epistola et Responsa, Calvini Opp. Omn. Tom. IX. ed Amst.