Happy Michael Servetus Day?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by DMcFadden, Oct 27, 2009.

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  1. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor


    Today marks the anniversary of the death of Michael Servetus.

    More pointedly, his death has become THE blot on the reputation of John Calvin who was falsely blamed for it as the "tyrant of Geneva." One need take into account several factors:

    * The sensibilities of the 16th century were quite different from those prevalent today. Atttacks on the trinity were taken rather seriously back then as endangering the public order, tempting weak persons into soul destroying damnable heresy, and a challenge to the political structures of society.
    * Servetus was condemned to death by the Roman Catholics prior to his ill-fated visit to Geneva.
    * Calvin was an "expert witness" in the trial, not the one entrusted with the authority of the sword. He was not even granted bourgois status in Geneva until 1559 (6 years after Servetus' death) and his popularity was at a particularly low ebb in 1553 when Servetus was put on trial.
    * The Council sought the opinion of surrounding cantons, receiving the unanimous recommendation to execute Servetus.
    * Everyone on all sides in Calvin's day agreed with the execution.
    * During an era when hundreds of people were executed in Germany and religious atrocities were not uncommon (cf. Peasants' War in 1525 and the Münster Rebellion of January 1534), Calvin's quarter century combined tenure in Geneva was marked by all of ONE religious execution . . . Servetus (banishment was more common, I count the case of Jacques Gruet as civil, not religious).
    * Calvin and the Genevan ministers petitioned the court to mitigate the sentence of Servetus by a more humane method of execution than burning. They were denied.
    * Calvin made several efforts to persuade Servetus to repent.

    Nevertheless, since the death of Servetus on October 27, 1553, Calvin has been tarred by historians and in the popular imagination as a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant. NOT true. Considering the weight of historical opprobrium piled on Calvin since then in the popular mind, one might argue about who really "got burned" by the death of Servetus.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2009
  2. MarieP

    MarieP Puritan Board Senior

    I should change my avatar in honor of it!!!!

    :D :eek:
  3. baron

    baron Puritan Board Graduate

    I have had Pastors tell me that is why John Calvin will not be in Heaven according to 1 John 3:15, Rev. 22:15.
  4. sastark

    sastark Puritan Board Graduate

    Don't you mean "Happy 6-point Calvinist Day"?
  5. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    It should be "Sad Michael Servetus Day". I'm pretty sure he wasn't happy on this day way back when. :)
  6. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Do you mean this kind of "Six Point Calvinist"???

  7. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    Servetus was an incorrigible heretic, blasphemer of God and His ministers, and received a just punishment.
  8. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    quote by Michael Servetus
  9. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    Sometimes I wonder if things will be easier if we could just do it like they did back then. No more Benny Hinn, no more Joel Osteen, no more Joyce Meyer, no more (...).
  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I suppose Benny Hinn and Salman Rushdie could hide out together.

    If we began killing heretics, this would do wonders for the Great Commission.
  11. tt1106

    tt1106 Puritan Board Freshman

    Good thing the Christian Church is united and there is no longer any heresy to confront. :wink:
  12. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    Some of the points are irrelevant to whether or not his action was right or wrong:

    The "sensibilities of the day" don't determine whether it was right or wrong.

    The Roman Catholics have been wrong before. :)

    This is a good point.

    Another good point.

    Again, their opinions don't make the action right or wrong.

    Comparing Calvin to contemporaries rather than the standard of good isn't particularly helpful either.

    Another good point.

    Yet another good point.

    Not to defend Servetus or anything--but using fallacious arguments like those doesn't help Calvin's case.
  13. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Are you saying that you believe Calvin et. al could not defend the doctrine of the Trinity against Servetus? or Are you saying that after they have defended such they should not be able to prevent him from teaching such?


    -----Added 10/27/2009 at 12:20:19 EST-----

    One thing you must remember, no one cared what Servetus believed. They cared about what he was willing to spread and teach publicly.

  14. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Precisely. This is the point that needs to be most understood; the civil arm was not used to "make people believe Christianity;" it was used to quell those notorious heretics who were poisoning the state with their public teachings. Whether one agrees with this role of the christian Civil Magistrate or not, this point must be understood lest we continue to caricature the actions of our predecessors.
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am saying that the Gospel is not promoted by the burning of heretics and Servetus will always be a stain upon Christianity and used against both Calvin and us.

    I also believe that heretic-burning ranks up there with witch-burnings as evidence that the Reformers were children of their time.

    Finally, I am glad that church and state are not merged in such a way that witches, heretics and quakers are still punished by the civil sword for ecclesiastical offenses.

    As we attempt to show the love of Christ to all the people-groups of the world, we do not want to dominate through governmental power, or oppress any of the unbelievers, but we want to serve and suffer for the Gospel rather than eliminate unbelief through the power of the sword.

    John F. Fulton, Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr (Herbert Reichner, 1953), asserts that the Reformers used half-green wood for the funeral pyre.

    Walter Nigg, The Heretics (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962), p. 328, speaks of the inhumane conditions of Servetus' imprisonment prior to his execution.

    -----Added 10/27/2009 at 12:31:58 EST-----

    Servetus' errors had to do with the Trinity.

    Do reformed churches merely lack resolve today, because we have a whole lotta Arians and anti-Trinitarians whom we have never tried to execute?

    Would any of you be willing to submit that proposal to Congress?
  16. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    This has nothing to do with it; nor does it mean any churches lack any resolve. Further:

    1.) The *church* didn't execute anyone.
    2.) No, I would not be willing to submit a proposal to Congress (if I were a congressman) for that; simply because, we are not a Christian Republic which has covenanted. So to make laws for the maintenance and preservation of a religion which has not even been established does not even make logical sense.
    3.) Even those nations which did have such laws only had them after the spiritual work of advancing the gospel had produced a Christian people. A people were never coerced by the State to the Christian religion.
  17. puritanpilgrim

    puritanpilgrim Puritan Board Junior

    Burning people is not justice. We have no new testament warrant to burn people who teach false teaching. And neither does a governing authority. If that is the plumb line then I deserve to have been burned too. And likely most people on this board. If they didn't want him there they should have just kicked him out. And if they looked around they could have found many more people to burn. Seriously were there no people committing adultery in Geneva? No thief's? No one who believed in baptism by immersion? Why not just drowned them too? Should we just burn all people who are in the UPC? There is no reason to make statements like this.
  18. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Burning of heretics lest they recant or leave seems to be a form of coercion.
  19. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    The coercion has to do with what one teaches publically not what one believes. If one didn't want to be a Christian, then alright.

  20. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Respectfully, sir, whether you think Geneva's actions were right or wrong, please read a bit of history on the subject so that you can base your sweeping condemnation on what actually happened instead of upon fabrications of men's minds. Even this very thread contains information which show that your statements have nothing to do with what actually happened.
  21. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The points of contention were original sin, infant baptism, and the Trinity. They were theological issues that were being discussed.
  22. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    And.... is this supposed to be a refutation of my previous post? My point is that this was not 1984.

    Secondly, if you did not like the laws of the nation, you could find another nation that was run according to how you wished to see it run.

  23. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I wasn't trying to make tight "logical" arguments, valid or fallacious. My point was to provide some historical perspective on the mitigating factors. The environment of 16th century civil practice WAS much different from our own. The prevailing "sensibilities" of the 16th century were quite different from our day. Just as today our sensibilities flag ethnic jokes as utterly inappropriate whereas they were considered "normal" a few decades ago, the 16th century understanding of debate (i.e., filled with pro forma insults and scatological language) is shockingly different from our own, as was their medical practice, as was their jurisprudence respecting heresy. As Prufrock noted, heresy was deemed a crime against the state.

    My reference to Roman Catholic condemnation of Servetus was not an appeal to the authority and infallibility of Rome. It was rather an attempt to mute the standard complaint that Calvin, the "tyrant of Geneva" went on a tear and killed Servetus in some rogue act of idiosyncratic anger. EVERYONE, including the other Swiss Cantons and even the Romanists had believed him worthy of death. He had been sentenced to death in France, escaped prison, and made his way to Geneva. The French petitioned Geneva for extradiction so that they might execute him. My point was that not only did Geneva not act alone or unbecomingly, the "whole world" had declared a bounty on Servetus' head, EVEN the Roman Catholics.

    Pretty much everyone today (on all sides) says that it was "wrong" to execute Servetus. My points were not about rightness or wrongness, just providing context and mitigation.

    1. Calvin didn't "do" it, Geneva did.
    2. In that day where heresy was a crime against the state, the whole of Christendom would have agreed with the action. The comparison with the prevailing patterns may not impress you, but it does me. In an age when hundreds were put to death in Germany, France, and Spain, it is noteworthy that the impact of the Reformation in Geneva was that only ONE man was executed in a quarter of a century for religious reasons. It points to an unusually "humane" jurisprudence contrary to the secular misrepresentations of "Calvin's Geneva."

    If you want to judge the past by contemporary standards, you might as well excoriate civil magistrates and Christian ministers for the dangerous practice of blood letting through leeches, which was standard "medical" practice in a former age.

    In a battle of emotions and impressions, mitigating circumstances (such as the universal practice of the day) DO count as helping rehabilitate Mr. Calvin's reputation, in my opinion.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2009
  24. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Yet again -- there was not just a general, free-for all burning of anyone who believes something contrary to the Christian faith. Servetus was publicly teaching and proclaiming things contrary to the laws of the state.

    Coercing select people into a cessation of publicly teaching certain things is not the same as coercing anyone to be a Christian. If one cannot see the difference between these two things, then any conversation on the topic will be fruitless. The state cannot make me esteem all races alike (not to worry -- of course, I do!); but it can prohibit me from publicly spreading teachings that a particular race is, in itself, inferior.
  25. AThornquist

    AThornquist Puritan Board Doctor

    This shouldn't have happened. I certainly don't blame Calvin for it though.
  26. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The laws of the State were closely aligned with the teachings of the church. There was not a "wall of separation" for sure.

    Calvin was also part of the fixture of the Geneva city gov't. He helped with city planning, social welfare, and even sanitation. Church and State were not separate but mixed, such that what the church wanted done, the government would often do.

    Yes, Calvin was not the prosecuting attorney.

    He was, however, consenting to Servetus' death, though he appeared to have tried to persuade Servetus in private. During the trial, however, Calvin did write, ""I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty." (Walter Nigg, The Heretics (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962).

    When church and state are intermingled, then a heretic also becomes a traitor to one's community. This happens all the time among Muslims in Muslim-States.

    The environment of the Reformation led to theocratic thinking, which fueled the false notion that the civil sword out to punish ecclesiastical heretics.
  27. tcalbrecht

    tcalbrecht Puritan Board Junior

    Ironically, on this date in 1659, Quakers William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were executed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for their religious beliefs. Massachusetts had a law forbidding Quakers in the colony under penalty of death.
  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, and in 1626 Felix Manz was arrested in Zurich and on January 5 1527 was executed by drowning. Later the same year Conrad Grebel was also imprisoned and died the following year from the black plague. Two years later George Blaurock was tortured to death by burning in Italy.

    An unhealthy close relationship between church and state led to a number of Reformation-era incidents of "heretics" being killed for ecclesiastical and theological offenses. Some of the Puritans carried this over to the New World, but it did not stick.
  29. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    So you believe what a person teaches has no effect on the actions in a state/country so the state should not be involved in such matters?

    My view is that church and state cannot be separated and if one thinks that one has accomplished such, they are just deluding themselves.

    "We will just teach that one should sacrifice their children to Molech to appease the gods, but the state should not be concerned".

  30. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Maybe this is turning into a theonomy thread.

    I am glad for the 1788 Revision of the Westminster Confession.
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