Precedent in Servetus' Case Unleashes Calvinists to Kill Political Opponents On Specious Heresy/Blasphemy Charges
When Calvin and his party, mostly French, first came to Geneva, the city accepted them out of tolerance. When Calvin tried to exert a domineering influence, he was at first expelled in 1539. That year, Calvin had refused to give the entire town any communion on Easter Sunday in protest that the church Consistory could not excommunicate persons deemed `unworthy.' Rather than bow to Calvin, the city expelled him. Calvin stayed in Strasbourg for three years. In 1541, he was permitted to return.
Eventually, in time, Calvin in the 1550s would wreak his revenge, and take over Geneva. Calvin would subvert the democratic institutions of Geneva, as we will see, by taking a tiny election victory in 1555, and use it to oust the old order using the precedent the Servetus' execution provided. Calvin would then create a tyrannical regime that he controlled as President of the Consistory from which charges of heresy could be filed in the criminal court which the Calvinists now undisputedly controlled.
This is not denied by Calvinist scholars. This frank account of Calvin's path to tyranny by terror and subversion of democratic institutions is painstakingly demonstrated in William G. Naphy's Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) at 182 et seq. Naphy neutrally and dispassionately recounts this shocking story.
As we shall see later, the Calvinists repeated this subversion of democracy in the Dutch Republic after its constitution of 1579 had promised freedom of religion.
All this evil starts at its head with Calvin's criminal complaint that he filed through his assistant in 1553 against Servetus. Once the door was opened to kill a man for mere heresy, Calvinists were able to turn the power of killing opponents over to the magistrates' office at Geneva. This model was then followed in Salem, Massachussets and then again in the Dutch Republic. Because the Calvinists in 1555 dominated the Geneva magistrates on the Petit Conseil, the Calvinists used that office's power to kill as a means of using pretexts to eliminate by death their leading political opponents. The Geneva example became an example in subversion that Calvinists would repeat many subsequent times.
We can trust this information on what happened in Geneva because William Naphy's 2003 book was published by Westminster John Knox Press. This means it is released by one of the most well-known and respected publishing houses specializing on Calvinist history.
Moreover, for those unfamiliar with Naphy, when he wrote this book, he was the head of the Department of History and the Director of Teaching at the School of History and History of Art at King's College at the University of Aberdeen. His book is based on an extensive study into the archives at Geneva. This included looking at the minutes of governing bodies such as the Geneva Consistory, and the criminal court including its notary records.
With that background, let's now examine what William Naphy had to say about the case involving Servetus.
In the latter half of 1553, two new cases started which would and convulse Geneva for the remainder of the year and beyond. One, involving Michel Servetus, is undoubtedly the more famous today but of lesser importance in 1553. The premier case was Philibert Berthelier's attempt to have the Petit Conseil overturn the ban of excommunication placed on him. The magistrates cooperated with the ministers in prosecuting Servetus while violently clashing with the ministers over the actual scope of Consistorial authority....
However, there are some aspects of Servitus case in which merit examination. First,... the action against Servetus was wholly a secular affair. Servetus did not appear before the Consistory[,] and ministers were brought into the case as theological specialists to dispute Servetus' opinions. It is also useful to recall that Servetus' case followed close on the heels of the Bolsec affair which had ended unsatisfactorily from Geneva's point of view; Bolsec had simply moved to Berne and continued his attacks on Calvinist doctrine from there. The issues involved were also of much greater importance; Bolsec disagreed with Calvin on predestination while Servetus rejected traditional Trinitarian doctrine and paedobaptism....
Servetus was arrested on 13 August 1553 after he was denounced by Nicolas de la Fontaine, Calvin's secretary. After an initial investigation, the lieutenant, Pierre Tissot, began the prosecution. On a 17 August, Germain Colladan appeared as a lawyer for De La Fontaine who was being held, according to Geneva law, until his accusations could be substantiated. At that point, the Lieutenant stepped aside and gave the case to his assistant, Philibert Berthelier, who was still excommunicated. The following day, for the first time, Calvin appeared as an expert witness to evaluate and refute Servetus' views. as it became apparent that Servetus would probably become the first person to be executed for heresy in Geneva, the city decided to seek advice of the other Swiss Protestant cities....[T]he Petit Conseil condemned Servetus; he was burned as a heretic the next day. (William G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) at 182-183.)
Please note that in the above quote there simply was an indictment based solely on a complaint from Calvin's personal employee. The only witness was Calvin. The penalty doled out by the civil authorities was death.
What Willie Naphy also points out is that concurrent with the Servetus' case, Berthelier -- the one Naphy just identified as one of Servetus' early prosecutors -- was battling against excommunication by Calvin's Church-run Consistory. ( Calvin was president; this board had 6 pastors and 12 elders.) The same court that was about to rule against Servetus was simultaneously put under every unfair means of external pressure that Calvin could bring to bear to get his way. Calvin denounced their decision from the pulpit. Calvin had his allies threaten mass resignation from the criminal court (Petit Conseil) itself, to cripple its function. Naphy explains this simultaneous sub-plot involving Berthelier who now served as one of Servetus' prosecutors:
The other important case of 1553, involving Berthelier, began a fortnight after Servetus's arrest. Berthelier launched a fierce assault on the Consistory's power to excommunicate. On September 1, while excommunicated, he appealed to the Petit Conseil; he asserted that magistrates had the authority to overturn the Consistory's ruling.... when the Conseil upheld its earlier ruling and supported Berthelier, Calvin's reaction was swift, uncompromising and guaranteed to provoke a hostile response from his opponents. He presented an ultimatum against the ruling on to September and announced decision from the pulpit the next day. By 7 September all the other ministers had rallied to Calvin's inside, threatening the Council with mass resignation. Id., at 184.
As this debate raged over Berthelier in 1553, Calvin continually appealed on the Berthelier matter to ministers throughout Switzerland to support him while the non-Calvinist magistrates of Geneva were soliciting support from other magistrates throughout Switzerland to support themselves.
It turned out that the "other Swiss Protestant cities" did not support Calvin on this issue. "They clearly wished to avoid offending, but showed no desire to support his views on excommunication and ecclesiastical authority." (Naphy id.)
The magistrates who so opined were clearly correct as a matter of law in the Swiss cantons. William Naphy points out that the church throughout Switzerland always insisted excommunication was a civil affair of the state, and did not belong as a power of the church. If followed in this case, the church Consistory at Geneva had no final authority to excommunicate Berthelier. This law giving the state such jurisdiction was something that the Protestant faithful had initially sought to achieve in Switzerland, apparently designed to protect the individual from loss of a perceived civil liberty at the hand of the church.
The first revised ruling in the case of Berthelier was a face saving one. The Petit Conseil insisted that Berthelier was "free to receive communion but advised that he voluntarily refrain from doing so...." Id., at 185.
However, the ministers/pastors at the urging of Calvin would not back down. The pressure became too great:
Faced with the impasse created by the determined opposition of the ministers, the magistrates had little choice but to climb down unless the Petit Conseil had been willing to expel the entire company of pastors. Its members had no other option; the issue itself could not be settled. [They] were faced with historic reality that there was a practical limit to their ability to control the ministers. But simply, they had no effective means of forcing the creatures in the local supporters to give way; the best they could only hope to maintain the stalemate. Id., at 186.
What this concurrent history with Servetus' case demonstrates is that the judicial system at Geneva was not comprised of merely civil authorities operating independent of Calvin's church. Instead, within the same civil authority of the Petit Conseil, many members of the decision-making body of the panel of magistrates were a significant number of Calvinist ministers. These ministers could vote and move as a block, and thereby pressure all the other magistrates to follow their will. The other magistrates could only hope to stalemate and check the Calvinist ministers. But such action had its practical limits because the ministers would use the pulpit to attack the magistrates for doing so.
In other words, the very same civil magistrates who decided the case involving Servetus were the very same group of magistrates who could not act independently of the Calvinist minister members on the Petit Conseil to assume jurisdiction over the Berthelier case of excommunication, as Geneva law had previously settled in favor of their civil jurisdiction.
Because these very same Calvinist ministers were being led by Calvin, this gave the denunciation of Servetus by Calvin's cook/student/secretary an enormous foot forward. There could be no realistic expectation of a fair neutral judiciary to decide the fate of Servetus.
Polarization by Calvin's Troops To Gain Power to Kill
William Naphy points out these disputes at the time were "all polarizing the population throughout Geneva..." He continues: "the [Calvinist] ministers were in a position to drive home their message that their opponents were godless lovers of disorder and immorality, opposed to God's truth." Id., at 186-87.
However, in reality, Calvin was stirring up friction over any disagreement with his views. He was willing to instigate criminal prosecutions against people solely because they did not acknowledge what Calvin taught was true. Thus, what is happening in the background is Calvin is actually trying to step up and begin using the church-court to inflict punishments which previously belonged exclusively to the state: excommunication and death. Calvin was stymied in this, and thus at this juncture he is relying upon the magistrates of the town council or Petit Conseil to inflict the punishments which can give Calvin de facto authority to eliminate opponents.
William Naphy points out that at this juncture "Calvin repeatedly stressed his view that his opponents were arrogant man who tolerated sin and delighted in wickedness." Id., at 188. Thus, Calvin's view allowed himself to see his political opponents as simultaneously sinners worthy of at least expulsion based on the mere fact of their opposition to Calvin. This was enough to smear them as Libertines -- a label invented solely by the Calvinists to describe the opposition. (This epithet is used so often by Calvinist apologists in historical writings that one would think there was actually a political party called the Libertines at Geneva. Alas, there was no such party. It is simply a smear systematically employed first by Calvin and then by any historian of a Calvinist-bent to describe those in opposition to Calvin. It was an epithet to demonize opponents, and hence justify what is about to be done to them in 1555 -- death and expulsion.)
In reality, Calvin was sowing violent discord and hateful abuse on opponents rather than seeking to convince by means of persuasion.
Eventually, this led to political success for Calvin. The last stronghold of traditional Swiss independence crumbled as the French reformers who started as mere immigrants now took control of Geneva. For 1554 was the last time that the Swiss party was able to defeat at the polls the French immigrants led by Calvin. William Naphy explains the change:
The first dramatic sign of a shift in the political landscape came on 24 January 1555, a week after... [an] execution for sodomy and in the midst of the trial for [an alleged] blasphemous procession. The Conseils des Soixante and Deux Cents overruled the Petit Conseil and accepted the ministerial interpretation of the [city] ordinances about excommunication; the [Church] Consistory's authority to discipline was secured. Id., at 189.
In other words, in 1555, as a result of Calvin's backdoor pressure, the civil magistrate authorities overruled Swiss practice, and now ruled that the church could inflict church discipline of excommunication without approval or review by the state/the courts.
Prior to this change in 1555, there was one good effect of the lack of separation of church and state in Geneva. If you wanted to express yourself freely, you had some hope that the magistrates would shield you from the Calvinist influence over the city. The Petit Conseil could suspend any penalties the church-Consistory wanted to impose. However, that last hope of independence of the civil authorities from the Calvinist party was now in collapse in 1555. The Calvinists could now have their way, forcing the magistrates to accept findings of the Calvinist church-Consistory which had authority over every citizen due to the compulsory oath to the Confession of Faith. Once the Consistory was given independent power to inflict discipline on members, this led the Consistory under Calvin's presidency to seek to undermine any independent influence at the Petit Conseil to check its power.
This came about because in February 1555, the Calvinist party won a slight but decisive triumph at the polls. It was the "evidence of an equally decisive shift in Geneva and politics." (Naphy, supra, at 189.)
As a consequence, Calvinists were then being appointed in greater numbers to all magistrate councils including the Petit Conseil and the superior Conseil de Deux Cents. Id., at 190.
As a result, William Naphy could say "all the election results of 1555 show a substantial if not overwhelming shift towards the Calvinists." Id., at 190. Nevertheless, "it is essential to stress the slim majority the Calvinist had." As a result, such a "slender majority suggested the shift in the balance of political power in Geneva without implying an overwhelming realignment of public opinion." Id., at 191.
Then a decisive subversion took place of the Swiss rulers by the French refugees loyal to Calvin. This is what allowed the Calvinists to take complete control. It was ingenious while at the same time bordering on diabolical. William Naphy explains this in neutral tones:
The Calvinists were left with the problem of devising a means of securing and strengthening their position. The change they made to the councils and courts showed that they tried to entrench their supporters at every level of Geneva government.... Their greatest change was to the Conseil General.... The obvious answer to this problem [i.e., the risk of retrenchment to the Swiss traditional ruling families] was to alter the character and composition of this body in such a way as to guarantee Calvinist majorities. The method which the Calvinists chose involved the admission of substantial numbers of French refugees to the borgeoisie [entitled to vote].... The enfranchisement of a dedicated block of pro-Calvin refugees, coupled with the fortuitous chance to exile many of the opposition, gave the Calvinists just to change a desired before the next election in 1556 around 130 new bourgeois [voters] were admitted and over 50 [Swiss traditionalists] faced judicial action ranging from warnings and disenfranchisement to exile or death. In a city of 12,000 persons with an evenly divided electorate, the addition of so many new voters and the expulsion of the opposition's leadership was sufficient to alter Geneva's entire magisterial structure." (Naphy, supra, at 191-92.)
In other words, by expanding French immigration, the power of the civil magistrates now fell into the hands of the Calvinists. They used this judicial power to accuse opponents of blasphemy or heresy. The effect was to then expel or kill opponents on `moral' grounds. The intention was clearly to then even more certainly centralize power and take undisputed control.
William Naphy makes no bones about what was taking place. He states "there is no doubt that the admission of these bourgeois [i.e., immigrants] was a calculated political move to pack the Geneva electorate.... Recent history works have presented a very confused picture of the Calvinist victory and its aftermath. Bouwsma simply fails to give any explanation of the Calvinist triumph." Id., at 192.
Naphy is identifying facts which apologists for Calvin do not want to see. However, if the validity of Calvinism were not at stake, surely such Christian men would themselves be aghast over such subversive tactics to undermine a state to allow a religious faction to assume undisputed control. Such sedition and subversion of a peaceful God-fearing (Protestant) democratic community is wrong in every age and in every place. The Calvinist' desire to subvert such a city, driving out those Christians who differed from Calvin's doctrines, reveals something defective at the core of Calvinism. For in doing this, Calvinists at Geneva were transgressing the universally-recognized crime of sedition.
Thus, the true Christian response is to recognize Calvin was making a calculated Stalinesque effort to subvert a democracy, control the ballot box, and then kill and expel opponents so as to turn a democracy into a one-party regime.
For example, in mid-1555, Calvin criticized the Swiss traditional leaders of Geneva who had attended a sermon in a Bernese church. In that sermon, Calvin was attacked from the pulpit. Calvin was making himself a sacrosanct figure. Simultaneously, the old guard were shown what criticizing Calvin could mean. The magistrates now had André Vulliod arrested upon Calvin's charge that Vulliod committed blasphemy. Vulliod's statement was wholly innocuous. He simply said, "we have done a great wrong by the arrest of Jesus Christ, whom the Jews have rejected and given over to the Gentiles." Apparently, Calvin thought this was intended to criticize Calvin's arrest of all the good citizens in his grab for undisputed power. Yet, on its face, it lacks any such meaning.
How did the slightest statement about Jesus end up in a blasphemy charge? Naphy explains why: the Petit Conseil (the magistrates) were now "dominated by the Calvinists..." Id., at 193.
Then the final shoe fell.
In time the magistrates began to move decisively against the [traditional Swiss rulers of Geneva]. Throughout the summer [Swiss traditionalists] were fined, exiled or sentenced to death. Id., at 194.
A very thorough list was compiled by William Naphy of the names of the Swiss traditionalists who were resisting the Calvinists and were put under threat. It is a frightening list of numerous names where next to their name we see often "sentenced to death, fled" or "executed." Included within the this list was one of those who vigorously fought his excommunication from the communion table -- Berthelier. Next to his name, it says "sentenced to death, fled." Id., at 195.
By this method, it is an undisputed fact that the Calvinists resorted to brazen killing of opponents for no other reason than they were opponents of Calvinism. Yet, Calvin and his party were on a mission to usurp all aspects of city government, and then use that political power to physically drive out their political opponents from Geneva. Berthelier had said it best when his brother, Francois Daniel, was executed at Geneva in June 1555. (His crime apparently was sympathy with those executed or exiled.) Berthelier responded to his brother's death, saying that the city was now run by murderers. (Naphy, supra, at 196.)
Upon their narrow election victory of February 1555, the Calvinists quickly completed their goal of making Geneva a totalitarian religious regime. These tightening measures also had the advantage of ensnaring anyone who was not a strict Calvinist in thought or deed. For example, one of the first orders after the narrow election victory for the Calvinists was that as of February 1555 women must now sit apart from men in church. (Naphy, supra, at 198.) Because attendance at church was mandatory for every resident of Geneva, this separation decree would test whether the non-Calvinists would submit to another level of cruel oppression.
Cottret records the February 1555 explanation for this decree: "It has been brought to notice here that women mix among the men and men among the women at the sermon." In consequence, the people must no longer "mix with each other," but "each should take a place only for himself." (Cottret, id., at 252.)
In March 1556, those who broke measures barring the mixing of men and women were subjected to public humiliation in the collar -- a sort of pillory. This was in keeping with Calvin's Geneva earlier having criminalized dancing between a man and woman.
In 1557, further interference in matters unquestionably private involved a ban on an older woman from marrying. This was on the theory that a marriage union which would not produce children was fornication, the Calvinists forgetting the possibility that care, comfort and mutual support (i.e., love) could also be a primary purpose of a marriage union!
These decrees and rulings are but a small glimpse at a parade of many other tyrannies over innocent behavior which was never criminalized in the Bible, and which even the Bible endorsed!
Then to effectuate totalitarian control, the Consistory -- the church's governing body with Calvin as President -- established "spies and watchmen" who were to "report to the Consistory all breaches of discipline."
Of course, none of this was a laughing matter. For indeed, since 1550, laughter was outlawed during any sermon. The penalty: three days imprisonment.
By 1557, Geneva had become a cheerless tyranny. No dancing. No mixing of sexes. No laughter. No light.
When the old Swiss traditionalists were in a slight dominance, Calvin felt free to condemn them at every turn without fear anyone would accuse him of any un-Christian attack on those `in authority.' However, when Calvin (the Frenchman) used his fellow loyal French immigrants to subvert the city of Geneva, now anyone who spoke out against using this subversive tactic was deemed un-Christian. With the same power those new voters gave him, Calvin could use the Consistory's powers (over which he was President) to now drive out and expel anyone who spoke out. He labelled all his intended victims as political subversives or blasphemers. Calvin would now be able to rely upon his doctrine from his Institutes which taught that it is a Christian duty to submit to tyranny and not rebel. Institutes 4:20.1 ("spiritual liberty may very well consist with political servitude.") As a result, Calvin could now twist this principle to his advantage, so that "it was considered blasphemy to speak against the foreigners who had taken refuge at Geneva for the sake of religion." In other words, any political speech that exposed the stratagem of how Calvin would subvert and eventually did subvert the city government was banned as blasphemy!
William Naphy does not hide all the evil that was afoot by Calvin and his cohorts. These stringent policies were used to effectuate the "mass explusion of... many leading citizens" to solidify Calvin's dominion. Id., at 197. In May 1555, just over a year after Servetus' execution and on the heals of the February 1555 prohibition on mixing-of-sexes during church services and other similar tyrannies, Perrin (the leader of the Swiss traditional ruling class) tried opposing the church now taking over the entire life of Geneva. This led to a melee, Perrin's expulsion and "the execution of four of his associates." All involved were tried without the benefit of being arrested and hence the right to defend their innocence. Yet, the final decrees ordered their death.
William Naphy sums up the whole pernicious process of how Calvin and his `ministers' subverted the entire city government:
It is essential to recall that the margin of the Calvinists' victory [in February 1555] and electoral swing which produced it were very slight. [The Calvinists exploited this slim margin and] they were ruthlessly willing to alter the Genevan electorate to secure their grip on power: and when presented with the chance, they were able and willing to crush [sic: kill] the opposition and expel a significant number of their fellow citizens. As the next chapter will show, the Calvinists were not content with this singular victory; they used their new-found political power to sweep away much in Geneva's ruling elite. Id., at 199.
Ironically, Calvin had committed the very wrongs that Tyndale, a leading reformer, said the Pope and the Catholic church had done to the civil governments of Europe.
In Tyndale's Answer to More, Tyndale proved the Catholic church has long been corrupt because the Pope had managed to subvert temporal power. Tyndale argued the Pope has become the true ruler of Europe. The monarchs of Europe were only his servants. Yet, look at Calvin in Geneva? He had subverted the civil system, and turned it into a power-mad servant of his lusts for killing to guarantee control. Remember, real people died for mere thoughts in Geneva's Republic during Calvin's Reign of Terror.
The Lesson This Teaches
Yet, in August 1553, Calvin's long-term strategy was not known. It was not clear how the killing of Servetus as a heretic would create a precedent -- a very dangerous precedent -- to steal the liberty of every Genevan. We cannot trust the motive of the learned or the religious when they come to take away our liberty of thought. Instead, we must guard the law from ever being used to infringe on the freedom of speech. Any such effort perverts the purpose of the law and allows the loss of every other protection offered by the law. For once a community loses freedom of thought due to overbearing laws or prosecutors, all other liberties can be destroyed. For freedom of speech is the foundation of all other liberties. Without it, all citizens are subject to the whim of the state. No one explained this principle better than Calvin himself, which proves his knowing violation of it in 1553. Prior to becoming a Christian, Calvin wrote a commentary in 1532 entitled Seneca's book On Mercy. There Calvin said:
If there is anything free in man, it is his tongue. A man is thrust into utter slavery when his FREEDOM OF SPEECH is taken away. In a free city, says Tiberius [Suet., Tib. 28.1], there must be free speech.
All these words but the last sentence are Calvin's own thoughts at one time.
Thus, Calvin meant in 1532 that anyone who seeks to infringe on the freedom of speech of his neighbors, and wishes to cast them onto the fire for disagreement with their views, is nothing but a tyrant -- the enslaver of men. Ironically, these words belong to none other than Calvin himself. As our Lord Jesus said, "you will be judged by every word that comes out of your own mouth."
Yet, the lesson Calvin taught in 1553-1554, not 1532, is the one that his adherents followed, with deadly consequences. Next we shall see the example of subversion at Geneva was repeated in the Dutch Republic, leading to killings of heretics and loss of religious liberty.
Other Nightmarish Murders by Calvinists For Which Calvin's Precedent With Servetus Makes Calvin Morally Responsible
Calvin's murderous precedent with Servetus and lesson in the Defensio of 1554 lived on among his most zealous followers. The first place this repeated itself outside Geneva was in the Dutch Republic in 1618 and 1659-1661.
The Dutch Republic Turns To Murder of Non-Calvinists
In the Dutch Republic, freedom of conscience was enshrined in the 1579 Union of Utrecht. This was the Republic's basic constitutional document. Article 13 of the Union specifically stated: "each person shall remain free, especially in his religion, and that no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their religion."
However, by a series of subversions, the Calvinists gained hegemony. They began doing so in 1582 by means of censorship laws. With a Calvinist as governor over the most influential province of Holland, the Calvinists used censorship laws to persecute religious views different from strict Calvinism. As a result, the Dutch Reformed Church became the de facto but never de jure church of the Netherlands. All other denominations were suppressed.
This persecution became murderous at Dort in 1619 and at Boston in 1656.
The Murderous Council of Dort of 1618-1619
The unchristian and murderous behavior of Calvin's heirs towards heretics is on full display in the Council of Dort. (The Dutch name was Dordrecht.) This council was to determine policy for Holland -- one of the seven provinces of the United Netherlands. It was not a national council of the Netherlands, even though Holland was the most influential province.
We in the Reformed churches praise the rulings at the Council, but we are never told the same men who endorsed the five principles of Calvinism at this Council simultaneously ordered beheaded a famous pastor. This pastor's crime? He did not believe in rigid predestination. All the others who dissented from strict Calvinism were banished.
How could leaders of Calvinism have the gospel truth but engage in judicial murder, contrary to our Lord's words in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares? Our Lord commands us to make this review, and reject as an authority in the church anything taught by men guilty of such misdeeds.
What is particularly deplorable about the Council of Dort is that many times we are taught in the Reformed Church that this council "settled" points of doctrine within the church. The way this is depicted is one would think this was a fair-minded discussion. However, what is instead true is the dissenting group of pastors at Reformed churches who did not accept rigid predestination and "eternal assurance" doctrine were invited to have a fair discussion and vote alongside the Reformed leaders invited from eight countries.
The deck was stacked from the beginning. The opponents of the Arminian Remonstrants invited as voting members to this church synod a superfluity of Calvinists from eight other countries. This created a total of 86 voters who likely could be counted upon to side with the Contra-Remonstrants. At the inception, the Arminian Remonstrants were given three seats with voting rights.
However, after arguments had been presented fairly by both sides for 26 sessions, on the 27th session everything was changed. The Synod displaced the three voting Arminians, and denied them their seats. Being forced to yield their chairs, now only the side opposing the Arminians were both the judge and witnesses. The Arminians were cut off any longer from any ability to dispute doctrine as equals, and vote as judges. "[T]he Arminian representatives were detained and were not allowed to sit on the synod. Thus the judges were comprised entirely of individuals who had already rejected the Arminian view." As one wry observer noted, the Arminian Remonstrants "were predestined to fail."
They were displaced effectively, contrary to the entire spirit of the meeting up to that point. Their opponents alone were thereafter permitted to be seated, vote and speak. The 86 remaining voting members of the synod, including the many foreigners who had been invived, then voted "unanimously" that the displaced Remonstrants were wrong in doctrine. The 86 then made pronouncements of imprisonment, banishment and through their influence over the States General death upon one famous supporter of the Arminians. Schaff--a Calvinist and famous historian--summarizes the results:
The victory of orthodoxy was obscured by the succeeding deposition of about two hundred Arminian clergymen, and by the preceding though independent arrest of the political leaders of the Remonstrants, at the instigation of [Prince] Maurice. Grotius was condemned by the States-General to perpetual imprisonment, but escaped through the ingenuity of his wife (1621). Van Olden Barneveldt was unjustly condemned to death for alleged high-treason, and beheaded at the Hague (May 14, 1619). His sons took revenge in a fruitless attempt against the life of Prince Maurice. (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I, 514.)
Hence, the Council of Dort is not a ruling we can raise as an honorable event, as is still done today in Calvinist denominations. Instead, it was conference tainted by murder, tyranny and oppression. The ones following the arguments of Arminius were, as the Freewill Baptist Quarterly relates, "persecuted with inveterate malice." All these 200 ministers in dissent from strict Calvinism "were accordingly silenced in their churches, or forced into exile" in the state of Holland. Id.
In Historia Quinquarticularis (London: 1650), the famous English preacher Peter Heylin, D.D. (1600-1662) commented that at the Synod of Dort ".... what the Contra Remonstrants (strict Calvinists) wanted in strength, they made good by power .. they prosecuted their Opponents in their several Consistories, by suspensions, excommunications, and Deprivations, the highest Censures of the church."
As one dispassionate summary states:
If we pass over into Holland [i.e., one of the seven provinces of the Netherlands], we shall also find that the reformers there, were, most of them, in the principles and measures of persecution.... the most outrageous quarrel of all was that between the Calvinists and Arminians.... The moment the two parties had thus got a dogma to dispute upon, the controversy became irreconcilable, and was conducted with the most outrageous violence. The ministers of the predestinarian party would enter into no treaty; the remonstrants [non-Calvinists] were the objects of their furious zeal, whom they denominated, mamalukes, devils and plagues; animating the magistrates to destroy them; and when the time of the new elections drew near, they prayed to God for such men as would be zealous, even to blood, though it were to cost the whole trade of their cities. At length, a synod being assembled, acted in the usual manner; they laid down the principles of faith with confidence, condemned the doctrine of the remonstrants; deprived their antagonists of all their offices; and concluded by humbly beseeching God and their high mightinesses, to put their decrees into execution, and to ratify the doctrine they had expressed. The states obliged them in this Christian and charitable request, for as soon as the synod was concluded, Barnwelt [Dutch: John of Olden Barneveld], a friend of the remonstrants and their opinions, was beheaded, and Grotius condemned to perpetual imprisonment; and because the dissenting ministers would not promise wholly, and always to abstain from the exercise of their religious functions, the states passed a resolution for banishing them, on pain, if they did not submit to it, of being treated as disturbers of the public peace." (J.J. Stockdale, The History of the Inquisitions (1810) at xxviii, xxix.)
Yet, one often hears Calvinists claiming the Council of Dort was an ecumenical council, with broadminded input that then `settled' certain thorny issues, as if in a dispassionate manner. However, as the Court in Groesbeeck v. Dunscomb (New York Practice Reports, 1871), said, such a depiction of the Council of Dort as an "ecumenical council... wholly misrepresents" those proceedings. Instead, "it is perfectly notorious that it never pretended to settle doctrines of the Christian communion, but only some miserable controversies between Calvinists and Arminians." (Id. at 314). Some members of the church of England were invited, but they were without power of that church to commit to anything. "The decrees of the synod were never accepted in England, and were vigorously opposed by both the king and the archbishop of Canterbury." Id.
In England, the condemnation of the Council of Dort long echoed throughout history. Samuel Parr (1747-1825) wrote that we are "shocked at the vindictive dispositions of those who presided at the Council of Dort." He went on:
In England, we are disgusted by the sullen obstinancy of some puritans, at the brutal ferocity of others, and at the insolent domination of their headstrong and infuriated oppressors. Id.
The horrors of the Council of Dort are thus more of the terrible legacy of Calvin.
Calvinist Death Penalties At Boston: 1659-1661
In 1656, the Quakers of Boston were threatened by death by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (MBC)--a Dutch chartered corporation which means it was directly controlled by the Dutch Republic. In 1656, Endicott, the MBC governor, threatened the Quakers with the death penalty if they resisted the Dutch Reformed Church as the sole lawful church. "Take heed," he said, "ye break not our ecclesiastical laws, for then ye are sure to stretch by a halter."
The Dutch rulers were serious. Four Quakers were executed thereafter solely for their beliefs. These became known as the Boston Martyrs. Three were English members of the Society of Friends (Quakers): Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer. The forth was the Friend William Leddra of Barbados. Each were "condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659, 1660 and 1661."3
Murders by Calvinist Pilgrims of Massachusets: 1620-1693.
In Massachusetts -- murderous Calvinists known as Separatists (aka Dissenters) engaged in what is nothing less than mass murder. These were Puritans who morphed into `Separatist' Pilgrims but who were still Calvinist Puritans in doctrine.
In Salem, they restarted the pattern of Geneva. At first, they landed peaceably at Salem, Massachusetts from 1620-1630. Gradually, they passed laws that expelled "from the territory all those who did not profess what they called the orthodox faith" -- sending Priests, Quakers and other Protestants to resettle elsewhere. But then by 1692-1693, this turned ugly. The violent practices of Geneva revived in Salem. During those two years, the church there initiated discipline over church members that resulted in the killing of 29 women as alleged witches. (These were largely church-goers.)
The Pilgrim-Puritan/Calvinist party saw themselves as in a new type of Geneva: "the Puritans [of Salem] had established a type of theocracy... in which the church ruled in all civil matters, including that of administering capital punishment for violations of a spiritual nature."
Thus, one sees here the Salem Church, like the Church Consistory of Geneva under Calvin, arrogated to itself the right to impose punishment upon church members. These punishments included death. This was in reliance on the practices that Calvin inaugurated at Geneva. Hence, we see once more that Calvin's misdeeds suffered repetition. The reason it took so long to undo this pattern is that Calvin's defenders over the Servetus Affair continued to promote the power of the church to kill those in dissent or who were perceived as heretics. Calvin bears on his ledger all those murdered at Salem as well.