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Servetus & Calvin

Was It Murder by Calvin? A Knol by Standford Rives

The trial of Servetus for alleged verbal crimes ended in October 1553 with a verdict of death. Servetus was burned alive the very next day. The question whether Calvin murdered Servetus as a judicial witness and prosecutor has dogged Calvin ever since.

Introduction

In 1553, Miguel Servetus (1511-1553), Spanish by birth, was a medical doctor practicing in Vienne, France under a pseudonym of Michael Villaneuve. He was an old classmate of Calvin's at Paris during their university days. In August 1553, Servetus came to Geneva, and

michaelservetus1
Servetus

the very first day at Geneva went to hear Calvin preach. While seated in a pew listening to Calvin's sermon,  Calvin recognized Servetus. Later Calvin admitted contacting the Syndic (police) during the service. While sitting in a pew, Servetus was seized and placed in jail. Later the next day, Calvin drafted out a criminal complaint that charged Servetus with various verbal crimes in his books.[1] In particular, Calvin made charges loosely based upon Servetus' belief that Jesus' divinity arose from the Word in Jesus, but not as the eternal Son of God. Calvin also charged Servetus with calling the trinity a "Cerberus," -- a pagan deity with three heads that guarded the gates of Hades. Calvin also accused Servetus of heresy by condemning Calvin's doctrine that infant baptism made an infant part of the New Covenant without faith. Servetus called Calvin's idea a "doctrine of demons," claiming it violated Sola Fide. Nevertheless, Calvin put this issue in the accusatory complaint as a key point of prosecution.[2]

Calvin also accused Servetus of blasphemy for supposedly adding an annotation to a translation of Ptolemy'sGeography of 164 A.D. that said the promised land of Palestine was to "ancient travelers" not a very promising land, but rather was a desert. Calvin claimed this contradicted Moses' statement in Exodus in 1250 B.C. that Palestine was "flowing with milk and honey."[3]

The initial accusatory complaint did not claim Servetus was an anti-trinitarian. However, during the trial, when Servetus served a legal brief that heresy did not deserve to be punished with death, Calvin countered by insinuating the death penalty was proper under the Justinian Codex of 534 A.D. for antitrinitarianism. This implied thereby that this defunct law should be followed by Geneva despite its own Civil Code's very different terms. The Civil Code of Geneva only provided expulsion/banishment for the only religious verbal crime--  blasphemy. Calvin then submitted a mid-trial brief of thirty five articles (quotes) proving Servetus was an antitrinitarian, as indeed Servetus was.[4]

Despite Servetus' several written petitions for counsel to be appointed, as was his right under the prevailing law of Geneva, it was ignored in light of Calvin's written counter-motion to deny Servetus counsel. Calvin claimed that a perjurer was not entitled to legal counsel to be appointed, and that Servetus had so far in the proceedings supposedly lied, and thus counsel should be denied.[5] However, there was no such exception in any legal system that required legal counsel to be appointed in a criminal matter. As a result of Calvin's resistance, the Petit Council (the small council) never granted the petition for counsel to be appointed.

The final verdict found Servetus guilty of blasphemy on the purported claim that Servetus called the trinity a Cerberus. It also found he was a heretic because he denied the validity of the trinity doctrine.[6] There was no mention of the Justinian Codex of 534 A.D. in the ruling. This is because it was not the law of Geneva. The puzzle that dogs the decision is that there in fact was no law in Geneva that authorized death, whether for heresy[7] or blasphemy at that time, as pointed out in the article on "Servetus" by the Encyclopedia Brittannica.[8]

Servetus sought to appeal after the sentence was announced, as was his right under Geneva's law. Calvin openly scoffed at the request, and Servetus' request was ignored.[9] Servetus was executed the very next day by being burned alive by slow roasting fresh wood. His books were tied to his thighs and his head was taughtly tied by metal chains to the pole under which the flames rose to consume him.

Injustices in the Final Ruling

The decision in Servetus' case was extraordinary unjust, as was first pointed out by Castellio in 1554, a Christian scholar and former close associate of Calvin at Geneva.
castelio
Castellio

First, many charges were blatantly false and thereby improperly inflamed the court. 

For example, the accusation that Servetus wrote the annotation to the translation of Ptolemy's work was false. The very same quote used by Calvin at trial specifically said the speaker's native tongue was German. Servetus was a Spaniard by birth, and never spoke German.[10]Moreover, the quote itself did not even plausibly deny the inspiration of the Exodus passage of 1250 B.C. It was simply a comment that in 164 A.D. Palestine was a desert. This is apparently why the Court did not rely upon this accusation in the final ruling.

However a significantly false accusation was accepted by the Court. At trial the Latin used by Servetus about a Cerberus was falsely paraphrased[11] from a letter by Servetus to Pastor Pepin in 1547.[12] None of the judges could read Latin[13] --- it was the city council sitting as a court. The Court on this issue was thus completely

800px-hercules-capturing-cerberus-corrected
Hercules Grappling Cerberus

unable to know whether Calvin misled the Court or not. Servetus in the letter did not call the Trinity a Cerberus, which would sound blasphemous, as the term "Trinity" was used synonymously to mean "God" in those days. Rather, Servetus had said that Pepin had "exchanged the One true God for a three-headed Cerberus." Thus, Servetus never said the One True God was a Cerberus but that Pepin had let go of the one true God in favor of a Cerberus -- a pagan deity with three heads. Nothing was blasphemous in saying that, as it attributes no evil to God. Yet, the Court adopted Calvin's exact wording from the initial Accusation,[14] and the misleading examination of Calvin at trial,[15] and pinned the label 'blasphemer' on Servetus for the Cerberus remark, claiming Servetus said "the trinity was a Cerberus" which Servetus never said.

(What Servetus meant was the opposite of what Calvin was contending. Servetus was implying that the depiction of the One True God as a being with three heads -- popular in that day -- was a monstrous depiction of God as a Cerberus. For centuries before and long after 1553 until the pope banned this in the 1600s, God was often depicted as a Being with three heads -- one facing left, one right, and one looking straight-ahead. You can see several such wood-cut examples in Did Calvin Murder Servetus at 280 and 281. Modern scholars aware of these wood-cuts defend them as doctrinally justified by the trinity doctrine, but query "how can God and Cerberus be rendered similarly?" (Strickland, Saracens, etc.). Thus, Servetus asked Pepin a thought-provoking but legitimate question: how can you give up the One True God and favor instead imagining God as a three-headed Cerberus? -- a remark Pepin would surely have understood was a criticism of the popular imagining that God's nature was three heads occupying one torso -- the exact same imagery of the pagan god of Cerberus. It was such a valid point, and not a blasphemy, that the pope ninety years later banned depicting God any longer in a manner similar to a Cerberus -- three-heads on one torso.)  

The second area of injustice was the fact Geneva had no jurisdiction over the alleged offense. Servetus' books were never sold in Geneva. He was just a visitor of a few hours duration when he was arrested and put in jail.

The third area of injustice was the fact that a death penalty was imposed when none was authorized under any law in effect at Geneva. Calvin falsely insinuated that the Justinian Codex should be relied upon despite its antiquated nature and non-adoption in Geneva. It was a secondary non-binding resource used in the Holy Roman Empire since its rediscovery in 1050 A.D., but Geneva broke free of the Holy Roman Empire in the 1200s and would have no reason to give it any weight. Most important, there was no penalty of death for anti-trinitarianism in the Justinian Codex anyway.[16] The suggestion by Calvin was misleading and false, which he should have known as Calvin mentions Justinian's Institute, Codes and Novella numerous times in his book De Clementia of 1532.[17] Also, the Justinian Code was an important focus of his legal training in France at the Bourges law school which Calvin had attended.[18] Calvin's insinuation that the Justinian provided a death-penalty for antitrinitarians is commonly indulged in as true in the Servetus-Calvin literature by historians on both sides of the issue. However, Calvin was misleading, and historians have mistakenly trusted him. One of the features of my book Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2009) was to provide extensive appendices from the Justinian which should now finally demonstrate that banishment, not death, was the maximum punishment for anti-trinitarianism in that Codex. No doubt this is why Calvin merely intimated that the Codex provided death as a penalty for anti-trinitarianism when he full well had to know it did not.

Prior Impact of Servetus Upon Protestant Leaders

Servetus during 1531-1532 had written two books disputing whether speaking of God as a trinity was proper from a Biblical literalist approach. Servetus had significant impact on both Luther and Calvin in this regard. After meeting Servetus in September 1530, Luther in 1531 in the Smaller Catechism exposed to public attention that the trinity doctrine was unknown in the church until the 2d century.[19] This would be quite shocking to his contemporaries. As a result, Luther was suspected of being anti-trinitarian. In fact, in Melanchton's Augsburg Confession of 1530, there is no mention of the "trinity."[20] Given it was intended to replace the latest common confession of Catholicism -- the Athanasian Creed, which mentions the "trinity" over a dozen times, this silence was significant.

Likewise, Calvin in 1535 omitted the term "trinity" or "persons" from the Geneva Confession of Faith[21] which similarly served to replace the Athanasian Creed within the Genevan Reformed church. In 1537, Calvin was confronted later as having an antitrinitarian heresy in a church hearing held by Bucer at Strasbourg. Calvin responded:  “We have pledged ourselves to faith in the One God, not to faith in Athanasius, whose Creed was never received the approbation of any rightful church.”[22] Part of the evidence against Calvin in the hearing was that Calvin in 1536 in the Institutes said the trinity doctrine was "invented" by the church to combat Arianism, but all that was essential was to keep in mind that God had three "properties" (not personages) of Father, Son and Spirit.[23] Servetus had said a very similar thing. Calvin in the 1537 heresy trial was accused of being a follower of Servetus. Calvin never affirmed the trinity in this hearing, but changed the issue into whether he was being accused of not believing in Jesus' divinity (i.e., whether he was Arian). Yet, Caroli, the complainant, never had made that charge; Calvin was changing the issue, as a clever lawyer might do. Calvin then answered that question by saying  he did believe in Jesus' divinity. Calvin then claimed that the matter should be dropped in the spirit of keeping Protestantism united. Bucer decided to drop the whole matter after Calvin had run from the room in an outburst.

In 1563, Calvin wrote in the Letter to the Polish Brethren that the term "trinity" was a barbarism, and he would not suggest praying to it.[24] Elsewhere, Calvin said the Nicene Creed was due to the "fanatical" Nicene fathers who invented a creed that was more "suitable as a song than a creed."[25] In Bonet-Maury & Edward Potter Hall's Early Sources of English Unitarian Christianity (1884) at 16 fn. 4, they translate the 'barbarism' passage and provide a wider context, indicating that Calvin wrote we must “adhere to the usual phraseology of Scripture” but the “hackneyed” prayer “Holy Trinity, One God...savors of barbarism,” so that pertaining to those who reject use of the trinity language, we should not “stickle for things of no consequence” as long as “you keep unimpaired the doctrine I have laid down respecting the three persons in one essence.” And as to the latter, Servetus would only say there was a unity of one essence in three manifestations, not three "persons" in one (just as Calvin wrote in the Institutes in 1536), as that creates three independent beings in one unity.

This Creates A Puzzle Over Calvin's Motives

Thus, the puzzle is to explain why many believe Calvin persecuted Servetus because of the latter's anti-trinitariansm when Calvin substantially was in accord. The reason is that after Servetus at trial proved that it was wrong to execute someone over heresy, and the original charge only centered on various heresies of Servetus other than anti-trinitarianism, Calvin switched theories. Calvin intimated mid-trial that the Justinian Codex of 534 A.D. applied, and Calvin implied it provided a death-penalty for anti-trinitarianism. (It did not.) Thus, with that suggestion planted, Calvin wrote up the mid-trial 35 Articles brief which contained 35 quotes proving Servetus was an anti-trinitarian. Calvin had thus retreated into this argument to attack Servetus despite the self-evident hypocrisy involved. Calvin realized that nothing else utilized thus far would suffice to get an execution. Calvin was so adamant for that result that he was willing to reach for the weak reed of the anti-trinitarianism of Servetus -- something that Calvin himself substantially shared belief in up to that time. 

Later, in his Defensio of 1554, Calvin made it sound like he was a trinitarian, titling the book in part "The Orthodox Defense of the Trinity," but in the Defensio Calvin never made defending the trinity a point of doctrinal exposition. Thus, because historians rarely have carefully examined the original charges and the mid-trial charges, and what prompted them, and the fact Calvin was an avowed anti-trinitarian prior to that time (and arguably again near the end of his life), it is often mistaken that Calvin persecuted Servetus because of Servetus' anti-trinitarianism. That was a belated pretext solely designed to obtain a death penalty by a misleading retreat into the Justinian Codex. In more frank terms, Calvin hypocritically relied upon the issue of anti-trinitarianism in Servetus' writings in order to see Servetus killed.

The Truth Whether Calvin Murdered Servetus

a) The True Motive

The truth is Calvin wanted Servetus dead for reasons that went further back into the acrimonious insults that Servetus heaped on Calvin during their correspondence in the 1540s. Servetus in particular insulted Calvin by saying Calvin's doctrine on infant baptism was a "doctrine of demons." In Calvin's Defensio, Calvin betrayed his true motive when he said that had Servetus not been so abusive toward Calvin, then Calvin would have sought to spare Servetus' life. Based on this quote, Mosheim and Gibbon concluded three centuries ago that Calvin's motive for persecuting Servetus unto death was revenge over personal insults by Servetus of Calvin. For Christians, revenge over insults is an unsound basis to execute someone, and by every standard is murder. See Rives, Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2009) at 37-38; 41-42.

b) Disproof Of The Purported Motive To Fight Heresy

Why could Calvin's motives not be due to belief that heretics deserved death, as Calvin claimed in 1554 was his rationale? Because Calvin had advocated tolerance of heretics just months earlier (speaking of Servetus, in fact, in a quote by De Trie of Calvin in a letter to the Inquisition at Vienne) and since 1536 in the Institutes, while in that same period having privately written in 1546 that he would have Servetus killed if he should set foot in Geneva. And hatred is the self-evident explanation, not love of the Lord, as Calvin abused Servetus with epithets (a) many years before the case; (b) during the trial; and (c) after the trial. Here are the chronological proofs about the fact Calvin consistently advocated tolerance for heretics but made a private exception for Servetus whom he hated for reasons obviously having nothing to do with a belief in a legitimate exception:

1. 1536 Institutes

In the 1536 Institutes, Calvin wrote: "It is criminal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity."[26] Calvin continued: “the law... leaves the conscience free.” (Inst. 4:10.4.) “But thus the kingdom of Christ, as I lately observed, is invaded; thus the liberty, which he has given to the consciences of believers, is completely oppressed and overthrown.” (Inst. 4.10.1.) Calvin called the papists the “most savage butchers” and "murderers" for attacking mere heresy.[27]

Calvin also wrote those excommunicated from the church (in particular heretics) should be restored by “exhortation and teaching, clemency and mildness, [and] prayers to God,” and the same should be extended to "even the Turks and the Saracens and other enemies of the true religion. Far be it that we should approve of the means which many have employed hitherto to force them to our faith by denying them...the offices of humanity, and [by] persecuting them with the sword and arms."[28]

2. 1546 Letter Promising To Have Servetus Killed

In a letter Calvin addressed to William Farel and Peter Viret dated February 13, 1546, Calvin wrote: “If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.”[29]

3. Letter March 1553 Quoting Calvin About His Desire Is Not To Kill Servetus

Calvin's friend, De Trie, shares these words from Calvin with the Inquisitor at Vienne, France in a letter of March 26,1553. It was a cover letter transmitting to the Inquisition the private correspondence of Servetus written years earlier to Calvin. This was the same Inquisition that Servetus escaped only to fall into Calvin's hands a few months later. This letter from Calvin's friend said:
I must confess one thing to you, that I had a great trouble to get what I sent you out of Mr. Calvin’s hands, not that he does not desire, that such execrable heresies should not be suppressed, but because he thinks that as he does not bear the sword of justicehis duty consists rather in exposing heresies by doctrine, than persecuting them by such means. But I have importuned him so much, remonstrating to him the reproach of levity which I would certainly incur, if he did not give me his insistence: at last he agreed to give me what you see.[30]
This conveys the impression that Calvin does not join in the desire to have Servetus killed, but only seeks to have his heresies suppressed. His duty is to expose not to persecute by "such means," i.e., kill a man.

4. Post-October 1553 (Execution): Change in Calvin's Doctrine

These passages and sentiments were later changed. Richard Taylor Stevenson, in John Calvin, the Statesman(Jennings and Graham, 1907) quotes Calvin from the pre-1553 version of the Institutes, and notes how this and similar expressions were later eliminated from the Institutes. Stevenson quotes Calvin and comments as follows: 

In the earlier editions of his Institutes are passages which show that he had convictions that heretics should not be punished, at least with harshness. [Calvin] says: “We should strive by all possible means, by exhortation, and teaching, by clemency and kindness, and by our prayers to God, that they may be commended to better thoughts, and return to the bosom of the Church.” This and other passages are altered in later editions. What changed the man?[31]

Then, after killing Servetus by means of being a judicial witness, and a firestorm broke out, Calvin in 1554 uttered this horrifying call to kill heretics:

Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt....Wherefore [God] does demand of us so extreme severity...and [to] forget humanity when the matter is to combat for his glory....[H]umanity must be almost obliterated from our memories…. [32]
Castellio, an old but estranged friend of Calvin's, wrote how opposite this New Calvin was from the Old Calvin. He opined: 

"Let all my readers compare Calvin’s original declaration with his writings and his deeds today and it will be come plain that his present and his past are as unlike one another as light and darkness. Because he has had Servetus put to death, he now wishes to execute in like manner all who differ from himself. He, the lawmaker, repudiates his own law, and demands the death penalty for dissenters...."[33]

5. Kindness of 1536 Turns Into Hateful Epithets

Calvin only had one mention in his public books about Servetus prior to the execution of 1553. This appeared in his Institutes edition of 1539. Calvin makes a reference to “that wonderful rascal Servetus” (Institutes, 1539 A.D.).[34]

This actually seems somewhat a whimsical reference. It reveals no hatred and even some kindness. The topic did not have to do with the trinity, but an issue of the covenant in the patriarchal age.

Calvin revised and re-released the Institutes in 1559 -- after the execution of Servetus. Calvin in the same passage omitted "wonderful rascal." Why do so? It appears that Calvin saw this 1539 remark as whimsical and kind when now the Institutes of 1559 took a very harsh tone against Servetus. Calvin in the 1559 edition used every hateful epithet imaginable when talking about Servetus. He was now a “profligate fellow,” one “full of pride,” the “proudest knave of the Spanish nation,” an “arrogant knave,” a “dog” and an “obscene dog.”[35]Hence, by inference, we must regard the term "wonderful rascal" in 1539 was actually a kind remark. But by 1559, such kindness was gone. These kindly words were removed. Thus, by 1559, Calvin in the Institutes displayed an intense hatred for Servetus by many malicious epithets.

6. Inference of Murderous Intent

Thus, conjoined with the proof of hatred, the facts prove that before 1543 and a decade after 1543 Calvin was in favor of tolerating heretics. His remarks to DeTrie in March 1553 about Servetus demonstrated the same doctrine of correcting heretics by doctrine, not the sword. Thus, something other than a decision to now persecute heretics must explain the motive of Calvin. 

Is it so hard to accept Calvin had murderous hatred? Resentment at being abused by Servetus' harsh words, as all the evidence demonstrates? Had Calvin used loving and kind words perhaps one could defend that a neutral affection for doctrine was dominant. Yet, when Calvin over and over used hateful epithets towards Servetus: (a) before 1553; (b) during the trial; and (c) after the trial by additions to the Institutes, it is implausible in the extreme to suggest Calvin's religious zeal for doctrine had him repetitiously violating Jesus' command against using hateful epithets and Calvin's own acknowledgment that we are not to persecute heretics. Indeed, our Savior taught us to leave the tares in the field. What explains the use of hateful epithets if not hatred?

7. Murderous Intent from Misinterpretation of the Law of Geneva

Some in response to Did Calvin Murder Servetus? say that Calvin was blurring heresy with blasphemy, and everyone believed blasphemy was a death penalty offense, and thus Calvin was justified in applying the penalty of death to Servetus.

This has a false premise.

Calvin did at the trial blur Servetus' alleged offense with blasphemy and did intimate that death was proper. However, this is just more proof of Calvin's murderous guilt.

Blasphemy in Geneva was in the Civil Code, and punishable only by banishment. It was only in Lutheran lands that the Emperor's law provided death for blasphemy. Calvin was the author of the Geneva Civil Code since the Geneva Revolution of 1535. Thus Calvin knew better than any he had exaggerated at Servetus' trial the penalty applicable if there was a finding of blasphemy under Geneva's laws. When Castellio exposed this, Calvin was forced to retreat after the verdict into arguing HERESY justified death. Calvin had Beza confirm this in a book where Beza claimed heresy (not blasphemy) deserved death based on the traditions of the Catholic Church. This was the only plausible way that Calvin post-verdict could justify what he had done. Since the Geneva Civil Code did not even have a crime of heresy, no one could cite the limitation was to banishment as was the case with blasphemy. Thus, Calvin did a quick retreat into defending heresy was a capital offense in his own bookDefensio

As a result, what took place at trial (i.e., blurring heresy with blasphemy) proves murderous intent on Calvin's part. For what Calvin did at trial on its face was implausible due to the Civil Code (i.e., contending blasphemy was a capital offense). Yet, he was trusted by the laymen court (city councilmen sitting as a court) for telling them blasphemy was a capital offense when Calvin knew (better than any other) it was not true. 

Hence, Calvin clearly had given the Court a murderous interpretation of the Civil Code of Geneva. When Castellio exposed this, and pointed out there was no capital offense attached to blasphemy, Calvin knew his deceit at trial would be exposed, and therefore Calvin was forced post-trial to pretend HERESY deserved a death penalty so as to avoid a conflict with the Geneva Civil Code. 

Thus, the blurring of heresy with blasphemy at trial by Calvin, when put in the true historical context, proves murder. Calvin's effort to twist heresy into a blasphemy duped the court. Then Calvin's retreat after trial where he called blasphemy the same as heresy duped the Calvinists. But both sets of claims duped people in two different directions. Calvin's murderous guilt explains the two sets of inconsistent positions: one to induce death of Servetus at trial and one to deflect people seeing his murderous misinterpretation of the law at trial.

Examples of Modern Erroneous Defenses of John Calvin


In an April 29, 2009 Youtube, one Christian ministry spells out its defense of Calvin. It repeats many common misconceptions. At about the 4 min. 12 second mark the host of what appears a radio show begins to counter-attack Dan Barker, an atheist, who pointed out Calvin persecuted people who disagreed with him on doctrine. The host in the course of rebuttal repeats many commonly heard misconceptions. For the sake of correctness, which Christians should always adhere to as our standard, let's set the record straight. The host says Barker gives a "tortured, imbalanced, and false" case. He claims that Barker omits key exculpatory facts and as a result Barker is guilty of fashioning a "lie about history." (At 7:36 mark). Let's see whether that charge is true or false. As Christians, we cannot call others liars unless we have carefully verified our facts.

Did Servetus Commit A Crime of Heresy Under Geneva's Law in Geneva?

1. Heresy Was No Crime in Geneva

First, the host says that Barker wrongly said that Servetus "broke no laws in Geneva" in 1553. The host says this is untrue ("it is a joke"), and insists that Servetus committed the crime of heresy. "The crime," the host says, "was in fact heresy." The host is wrong, and Barker is correct. Not only was there no law prescribing heresy in Geneva, the city's founding church document as a Republic in 1535, written by Calvin, known as the Confession of Faith gave complete freedom of conscience to all Christians. 

The only law in Geneva's Civil Code which proscribed mere words was blasphemy (an insult on God's goodness), which comparably was condemned in the Geneva Confession of Faith. But it had no death penalty; the maximum punishment was banishment. This is why post-execution Calvin strenuously tried defending the death penalty was for heresy in Servetus' case. Calvin argued in a tortured manner that the capital offense of heresy existed in the Bible, but the passages he cited all dealt with blasphemy, as Castellio pointed out at the time. Calvin, however, could not cite any provision in the Geneva Civil Code that proscribed heresy.

Because of Calvin's inability to find any Biblical or legal basis under Geneva's Civil Code to justify persecuting heresy, Beza on Calvin's behalf answered Castellio. In a 1554 work, Beza shamelessly said the support for the verdict in Servetus' case came from the tradition of the church -- the Catholic Church -- which supported prosecuting heresy as a crime, and a capital one at that. Sola scriptura died at that trial.

2. Servetus Committed No Verbal Offense In Geneva

Alternatively, another way of analyzing whether Barker was correct that Servetus committed no crime "in Geneva" is to look at the geographical aspect of Mr. Baker's statement. By narrowing our focus to Geneva, Barker is again correct even if Servetus outside Geneva's Republic had committed heresy or even blasphemy. 

Calvin's arch defender from 1771 --- Chauffpie --- admits the one aspect of injustice he could not refute, despite valiantly trying to dispute every other charge against Calvin over this trial, was that indeed Servetus committed no crime in Geneva. Chauffpié writes: 

“Servetus had reason to complain of his imprisonment at Geneva: he was not a subject of the Republic, he had not been detected in doing anything contrary to the law, and consequently the magistrates of Geneva had no jurisdiction over him; what he had done elsewhere, did not belong unto them, and they could not retain a stranger, without injustice, who was passing through their city, and who continued in it peaceably.”[36]

3. Conclusion

Hence, Barker is correct in two different ways: there was no crime of heresy in Geneva's Civil Code, and even if prohibited in the Civil Code, Servetus never committed heresy in the Republic of Geneva. Therefore, the host of this radio program was wrong in two different ways: he erroneously said that (a) Servetus committed the crime of heresy under Geneva's laws and (b) he did so in Geneva. Neither claim was true.

Exculpation By Supposedly Compelled Testimony About Servetus' Identity

The radio host in the Youtube reference above begins a recitation of supposedly exculpatory facts. He first argues: "Why didn't [Dan Barker] mention that Calvin knew Servetus' assumed identity as Michael Villanueva" and "Calvin had to be coerced because of a legal proceeding to even identify Servetus so he was arrested by the Inquisition." (5:20-50 minute mark)

The way this is worded makes it sound like Calvin revealed Servetus' identity by compulsion from the Inquisition Court. This is absolutely false, and is part of the evidence that is most damning of Calvin. 

Calvin and De Trie had voluntarily initiated a letter to the Inquisition of France in February 1553, discussed below. (Servetus later escaped this Catholic Inquisition but ended up in Geneva where Calvin initiated his own version of an inquisition.) There was no compulsion on Calvin or De Trie to send that letter to France.

The first letter sent a few pages from Servetus' recent book on the trinity doctrine. It also told the Inquisition of France that Villaneuve's identity was actually Servetus. However, the Inquisition replied that Villaneuve denied being Servetus, and now they needed more verifiable proof that Villaneuve was the Servetus who wrote the anti-trinity book. In response, Calvin then sent handwritten letters of Servetus as handwriting samples (which repeated heresies) so as to aid the Inquisition to prove Servetus' identity as Villaneuve. This was sent in a letter of March 1553. In this same letter, DeTrie wrote that Calvin did not believe that heretics should be punished by the sword, and Mr. Calvin does not wish to cooperate with the Inquisition for that reason, but impliedly due to his friendship with De Trie, Calvin finally turned over the 24 handwritten letters. This March 1553 letter from De Trie to Arneys said:

I must confess one thing to you, that I had a great trouble to get what I sent you out of Mr. Calvin’s hands, not that he does not desire, that such execrable heresies should not be suppressed, but because he thinks that as he does not bear the sword of justice, his duty consists rather in exposing heresies by doctrine, than persecuting them by such means. But I have importuned him so much, remonstrating to him the reproach of levity which I would certainly incur, if he did not give me his insistence: at last he agreed to give me what you see.[37]

Now with the Inquisition of France in March 1553 having the handwriting of Servetus able to prove Dr. Villaneuve was the same as Servetus, Dr. Villaneuve finally admitted that he was indeed Servetus. He was now under arrest, and later sentenced to death. In July, Servetus escaped the Inquisition as well as France, then went to Italy for three months, but retraced his steps to confront Calvin at Geneva in August 1553. Servetus was obviously angry about the betrayal of their private correspondence which led to a death sentence from their common enemy -- the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church.

The often-heard notion that Calvin was compelled to cooperate is thus false. Calvin gave the eight pages of Servetus's Restoration to De Trie in February 1553 to try to open the Inquisition proceedings at Vienne, France. De Trie made the disclosure of Servetus' identity and whereabouts in the same letter which information Calvin provided to him. There was no compulsion possible at that juncture because no Inquisition proceedings existed at Vienne, France involving Servetus. Moreover, Calvin lived in the Protestant Republic of Geneva, which was outside the Inquisition's jurisdiction. Calvin had seen to it in 1536 that the Roman Catholic faith was banned at Geneva.

Now with these facts let's examine the radio host's statement for accuracy. He said: "Why didn't [Dan Barker] mention that Calvin knew Servetus' assumed identity as Michael Villanueva" and "Calvin had to be coerced because of a legal proceeding to even identify Servetus so he was arrested by the Inquisition." It turns out that Calvin was not coerced at any point to cooperate with the Inquisition of France, as he lived in a Protestant Geneva deliberately to avoid the Inquisition's jurisdiction over himself. Nor did De Trie hold any subpoena or have legal hold on Calvin that bound him to cooperate. It is clear that in February 1553, the disclosure by De Trie of Servetus' identity which came from Calvin was voluntary. No proceedings from which any legal compulsion could issue were even pending, and certainly none with power to compel evidence in Geneva.

Hence, the radio host was wrong saying Calvin was compelled to provide this information on Servetus's true identity and whereabouts. Calvin instead voluntarily gave this to the Inquisition in France when no case was even pending at Vienne (France) in February 1553.

Exculpation Based Upon Servetus Supposedly Going To Geneva Knowing He Would Be Arrested

The radio host continues in his list of exculpations, asking why Barker did not mention that "Servetus made a B-line for Geneva knowing he would be arrested." (Video at 6 min mark.) This too is false.

As mentioned before, Geneva had no jurisdiction over Servetus for nothing he did previously touched Geneva. He would be like a vacationer passing through. Hence, for that reason alone, the statement is false. Servetus had no expectation he would be arrested for he did nothing in Geneva.

More important, Protestantism was predicated upon Luther's 95 theses of 1517 which provided as one thesis: “heretics be[ing] burned is against the will of the Spirit.” This was one of the theses which the Roman Catholic Church demanded Luther recant, but Luther refused.[38] As a result of this foundational document of Protestantism, heresy was not a crime anywhere in the Protestant world, either in Germany or Geneva up through 1553. 

Hence, pacifism toward heretics as a fundamental tenet of Protestantism through 1553 was a second reason why Servetus felt free to travel to Geneva. As one historian notes, in 1553, that if convicted, Servetus “would... become the first person to be executed for heresy in Geneva....”[39] As the Encyclopedia Brittanica mentioned as well:

No law, current in Geneva, has ever been adduced as enacting the capital sentence [employed in Servetus case]. Claude Rigot, the procurer-general, examined Servetus with a view to show that his legal education must have familiarized him with the code of Justinian to this effect; but in 1535 all the old laws on the subject of religion had been set aside in Geneva; the only civil penalty for religion, retained by the edicts of 1543, was banishment.[40]
Hence, Servetus did not invite the punishment of death on himself by going to Geneva, as the radio host implies. Quite the contrary, he had every reason to expect that Geneva honored the Protestant universal ethic up to that date that no one should be killed for mere heresy, let alone persecuted. Instead, as one encyclopedia records, one reason Servetus felt he could go to Geneva safely was precisely its legal adherence to the policy of no persecution of heresy prior to 1553: 

It was natural for him to hope for an asylum amongst a people who had founded their liberties upon their right of thinking for themselves in matters of religion, and disclaiming authority in points of conscience.[41]

Thus, the radio host was wrong again. Servetus had no reasonable expectation that he would be arrested in a Protestant city that had no law against heresy and had no law persecuting heresy unto death. Servetus also clearly had no expectation of being persecuted by a city where he committed no crime.

Exculpation By Claim That Servetus Tried Having Calvin Arrested

The radio host goes on and next rhetorically asks about "why doesn't [Barker] mention that Servetus tried to have Calvin arrested while in Geneva....?" (At 6 min 06 second mark).

The apparent point of the radio host is to suggest that Calvin acted defensively to being sought out by Servetus for arrest, and thus arrested Servetus before he, Calvin, could be arrested.

This claim is false or at least misleading. Calvin had a duty under Geneva law, if he was the accusing witness against Servetus, to allow himself to be kept under arrest during the entire period it took to try Servetus. This was Geneva's law trying to fulfill the Biblical command that a witness suffer like the defendant does, and suffer the same punishment in the end that the witness might suffer if the witness were false. Calvin later admitted in his Defensio of 1554 that the Accusation signed by Fontenelle (Calvin's cook/aid) was indeed written by Calvin. Calvin said he 'employed' him for this purpose. 

Thus, Servetus would justly have asked the Court, since Calvin came forward at the trial as the true accuser and then prosecutor, that Calvin be kept in the dock each night after court, just as Servetus was being held each night. The radio host seems to imply that Servetus did request this. In doing so, Servetus would have been in the right. But the key point is that the implication of the radio host that Calvin acted defensively at Geneva to some action of Servetus first is false. All Servetus had done is attend a sermon, and he was arrested in the pew. If he asked Calvin to be arrested thereafter, it was Servetus who acted defensively, not Calvin. And Servetus would have been in the right, for Calvin had a legal duty to stay under arrest as long as his complaint lodged against Servetus forced Servetus to remain under arrest.

Exculpation By Claim That Calvin Was Not A Citizen

The radio host continues and says that Barker "does not mention that Calvin was not even a citizen of Geneva in 1553. He did not become a citizen until 1559." (At 6 minute 9 second mark).

What exculpatory aspect of this is not clear. Calvin admitted he was the accuser, and wrote out the original criminal complaint signed by Fontenelle. Calvin was allowed to act as prosecutor during the proceeding, cross-examining Servetus. This is not conjecture, but is admitted in Calvin's own Defensio of 1554, explaining his role in the Servetus Affair. Thus, not being a citizen had no relevance and served as no check on Calvin's role at this trial.

Exculpation By Claim That Many People in Geneva Sided With Servetus

The radio host continues and asks "why doesn't Barker mention that many people were in Geneva who sided with Servetus, Calvin's political enemies at the time. For a period of time it was uncertain what would happen in that situation." (At 6m 21 seconds.)

This is irrelevant, for it did not justify the arrest of Servetus within his first day of visiting and while in a pew. Moreover, it was not part of the evidence at trial to justify killing Servetus. There was no claim of subversive activity whatsoever made at the trial or set forth in Calvin's Defensio of 1554. This is, however, a commonly heard insinuation, baseless as it is, from defenders of Calvin. Finally, even if political enemies of Calvin existed at Geneva, so what? Are Democrats justified killing a Republican who walks into a Democratic city where some Republican dissenters also live? It is a puerile argument.

Exculpation By Claim Other Swiss Cantons Agree on Actions

The radio host goes on and makes a terrible blunder when he asks "why didn't [Barker] mention that Geneva sent letters to all the other Swiss cantons asking their advice about what to do about Servetus, and everyone of the Swiss cantons without exception said Servetus had to be burnt." (At 6 min, 39 seconds).

This is utterly and completely false. None of the Cantons were asked about what penalty to apply. They were asked whether Servetus' religious opinions were correct, and the letter was directed at four pastors in four different Swiss cities asking them their views. None of the four in reply volunteered even a thought about the penalty. 

Incidentally, since the Accusation in the action did not seek a death penalty, and Geneva did not even have a death penalty anywhere in its Civil Code for religious crimes (written by Calvin in the 1540s), there is no way of even supposing the Swiss pastors could anticipate a Christian heretic could be punished by death in Geneva. 

Hence, the radio host is again wrong.

Exculpation By Philip Melancthon's Post-Trial Blessing of The Punishment

The radio host queries again why Mr. Barker "did not mention that they {Calvin's friends? who?) wrote Philip Melancthon, Luther's successor, the rather squishy Melancthon," and "Melancthon's response [was] Servetus must die by burning."

After the verdict, Melancthon voiced an opinion. Calvin apparently had solicited Melancthon's view on the opinion rendered in Servetus' case. In response, Melancthon wrote a letter to Calvin saying that Servetus deserved to die for "blasphemy." 

However, Melancthon was deceived by Calvin about the facts. To understand how so, one must first realize Melancthon chose his words carefully, limiting the justification of a death penalty on a finding of blasphemy. For Melancthon in 1531 explained Luther's doctrine, saying a heretic should suffer capital punishment only if he was also “guilty of blasphemy and sedition.”[42] This was in the law Carolina in Germany. (Geneva had only banishment as a penalty for blasphemy, but Melancthon was obviously voicing his view within the law with which he was familiar in Germany.)

While Servetus was surely a heretic, it is ridiculous to say he blasphemed God. Blasphemy is an insult on the good name and character of God. It is distinct from heresy, although, of course, heresy can be a blasphemy as well.

Then why did Melancthon believe Servetus was a blasphemer? Why did the Court in Geneva believe the same thing, which is in the final verdict? The answer is the Geneva Court rested the conviction principally on the following proof of blasphemy: “You [Servetus] here call the trinity a monster with three heads.”[43]

As mentioned earlier, this conclusion in the final ruling was factually erroneous. The Court was misled to this conclusion by the misleading Accusation of Calvin. It was misled at trial as well by the misleading form of Calvin's question posed to Servetus which again suggested Servetus said the Trinity (God) was a Cerberus. (A Cerberus was a three-headed pagan deity.) 

What Servetus had actually written in Latin to a pastor in Geneva in 1547 was not that "the trinity was a Cerberus," as found by the Court. Had that been what Servetus said, it would sound blasphemous. But what Servetus said in Latin was "you have exchanged the One True God for a three-headed Cerberus." That clearly did not call the One True God a Cerberus but said the opposite. The One True God is NOT a Cerberus and thus should not be depicted as one, but others were wrongfully giving up the True God for a Cerberus. 

Incidentally, as mentioned above, Servetus was alluding to the fact that in that era God was often depicted as a Being with three heads -- one facing left, one right, and one looking straight-ahead. I provide several wood-cut examples in my book Did Calvin Murder Servetus at 280-81, visible at this link. Modern scholars aware of these wood-cuts defend them as doctrinally justified by the trinity doctrine, but query "how can God and Cerberus be rendered similarly?" (Strickland, Saracens, etc.)

Hence there was no blasphemy in Servetus' remark. However, none on this particular Court knew Latin. This was because the Court hearing this case was not actually a traditional court. Rather, these were the city-council functionaries sitting as a court. As a result, no one on the Court knew whether the translation provided by Calvin in the Accusation and in his question posed to Servetus was false. As a result, the final verdict misquotes Servetus by quoting the misleading translation within the Accusation of Calvin and the question Calvin posed. Thereby, the court wrongfully found Servetus instead said the "trinity [was] a monster with three heads." 

Thus, Melancthon after reading the verdict could have concluded nothing else than that someone found by a court to have called the trinity a Cerberus had blasphemed God. But that error in the final verdict was due to none other than John Calvin's misleading form of the question during the trial as well as Calvin's Accusation. Both provided the Court a misleading translation of the pertinent Latin involved. 

Hence Calvin by prosecutorial misconduct induced not only the Court but also Melancthon to improperly believe Servetus was guilty of blasphemy. (Yet, Melancthon's approval that blasphemy was punishable by death could only have been true had Servetus been tried in Germany. There the Law Carolina had such a penalty, but in Geneva this was not true where banishment was the maximum penalty for blasphemy. Thus, Melancthon was commenting from within his own national laws and his view on what penalty applied in Germany is no sanction to what Calvin did wrongfully in Geneva.) 

Hence, the radio pastor relied upon a person duped by Calvin's false testimony, i.e., Melancthon. Thus it deserves no more credence than the same false finding in the Geneva court's final opinion. Instead, what this evidence proves, which the radio pastor cited, was that Calvin murdered Servetus' reputation twice -- once at trial by a false accusation/misleading questioning, and a second time with Melancthon by letting him believe the false facts on blasphemy in the verdict were true. Yet, these false facts were induced by Calvin's misrepresentations in the first place.

Exculpation Supposedly That Everyone In That Day Believed in Death to Heretics

The radio host's biggest blunder was to ask rhetorically why did Dan Barker not mention "that everyone in that day including Miguel Servetus believed it was the state's duty to do what it did." (7:06 minute mark). The host means everyone approved of the killing of heretics.

This is utterly and absolutely false. No one in Protestantism before Calvin in 1553 believed killing heretics was proper. Instead, this doctrine was vilified by Protestants, including previously by Calvin, from one end of Europe to the other. Attacking a death penalty for heresy was foundational to Luther's 95 Theses posted at Wittenberg in 1517. This document sparked the Protestant Revolution. It was only in 1554, in Calvin's and Beza's excuses for the killing of Servetus that any Protestants ever defended the killing of heretics even without evidence of blasphemy. Beza cited the tradition of the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH as justification! 

Here is some history to disprove the radio host:

We mentioned previously that the fundamental tenet of Protestantism was that the Roman Catholic church erroneously believed in killing heretics. Attacking death for heresy was one of Luther's 95 Theses posted in 1517 on the door of the Wittenberg church.[38] All within Protestantism unanimously agreed, including Servetus, contrary to what the radio pastor claimed. Servetus wrote in 1531:

It seems to me a grave error to kill a man only because he might be in error interpreting some question of the Scripture when we know that even the most learned are not without error.[44]

The most beautiful speech on the Christian right of liberty of conscience without church oppression, and decrying the error of persecuting heresy by death, ironically comes from John Calvin. This was in the 1536 Institutes in passages either deleted or removed in the 1559 edition by Calvin. In the 1536 Institutes, Calvin wrote: "It is criminal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity."[26] Calvin continued: “the law... leaves the conscience free.” (Inst. 4:10.4.) “But thus the kingdom of Christ, as I lately observed, is invaded; thus the liberty, which he has given to the consciences of believers, is completely oppressed and overthrown.” (Inst. 4.10.1.) Calvin called the papists the “most savage butchers” and "murderers" for attacking mere heresy.[27]

Calvin also wrote those excommunicated from the church (in particular heretics) should be restored by “exhortation and teaching, clemency and mildness, [and] prayers to God,” and the same should be extended to "even the Turks and the Saracens and other enemies of the true religion. Far be it that we should approve of the means which many have employed hitherto to force them to our faith by denying them...the offices of humanity, and [by] persecuting them with the sword and arms."[28]

As mentioned above, these passages were later changed. Richard Taylor Stevenson, in John Calvin, the Statesman (Jennings and Graham, 1907) quotes Calvin from the pre-1553 version of the Institutes, and notes how this and similar expressions were later eliminated from the Institutes. Stevenson quotes Calvin and comments as follows: 

In the earlier editions of his Institutes are passages which show that he had convictions that heretics should not be punished, at least with harshness. [Calvin] says: “We should strive by all possible means, by exhortation, and teaching, by clemency and kindness, and by our prayers to God, that they may be commended to better thoughts, and return to the bosom of the Church.” This and other passages are altered in later editions. What changed the man?[31]

Then, after killing Servetus by means of being a judicial witness, and a firestorm broke out, Calvin in 1554 uttered this horrifying call to kill heretics:

Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt....Wherefore [God] does demand of us so extreme severity...and [to] forget humanity when the matter is to combat for his glory....[H]umanity must be almost obliterated from our memories…. [32]
Again as noted earlier, Castellio, an old but estranged friend of Calvin's, wrote how opposite this New Calvin was from the Old Calvin. He opined:
Let all my readers compare Calvin’s original declaration with his writings and his deeds today and it will be come plain that his present and his past are as unlike one another as light and darkness. Because he has had Servetus put to death, he now wishes to execute in like manner all who differ from himself. He, the lawmaker, repudiates his own law, and demands the death penalty for dissenters....[33]

Thus, the radio host was wrong again in saying everyone in that day believed that the state had a duty to kill heretics. This was rejected everywhere in Protestantism, including by Servetus, and most ironically, by Calvin himself!  Which is one of our key points to prove murder: Calvin violated his own principles of right and wrong, and thus in his own conscience he knew it was wrong.

Exculpation By Calvin Supposedly Asking For A More Humane Method of Execution

The radio host claims that Calvin asked for a more humane method of execution than burning by fire. While the host here is not speaking in bad faith, essentially he is being deceived by something Calvin wrote. There is no record at the trial of this request mentioned by the radio pastor. More important, there is no mention made of this fact by Calvin in the Defensio book of 1554 even though that was his opportunity to defend himself over the Servetus Affair. It was his chance to place the facts in their best light. So where is this evidence of such a request to make execution more humane? Calvin wrote Farel in October 1554, a year later, in a private letter that "we" asked for a different method of execution. This unsubstantiated claim -- put where no one would see it but for posterity to use it to mollify opinion about Calvin -- is completely unreliable. Why did Calvin never mention it in his public writings which would have allowed contemporary witnesses to either affirm or rebut this factual claim? Because it never likely happened.

Even so, what does it prove? A death by beheading or by burning is still a killing. The Bible condemns unjustified killing. That's the point.

Tragic Repetition of History

One should note that the radio host challenges Mr. Barker's "morality" for having engaged in a "gross imbalance" in the presentation of facts on these issues. Yet, the host was entirely wrong on EACH and EVERY point. Not one was correct. And what we see happened in 1553 repeats itself: defenders of Calvin commit the same persecution of others, accusing them of immorality, and unworthy of belief for what they claim are factual errors when in fact by their own standards they are engaged in the same 'immorality' (factual errors) which they decry. Jesus said "with the same judgment you judge it will be judged back to you." I trust instead the host was honestly mistaken, and was not truly 'immoral' in his wrong statements. We should not accuse others in a debate of immorality if they happen to be wrong. This is what animus was in Calvin's heart and led him to murder.

Christianity Today Discussion

In a September 8, 2009 discussion online, many misconceptions are repeated. Timothy George writes a post entitled "Calvin's Biggest Mistake."
This post is replete with errors. So let's review some of them. 

Error #1: Those Judges Condemning Servetus Were Opponents of Calvin

The first such claim was:
We can note that the Genevan officials who condemned Servetus to death were actually Calvin's opponents, not his henchmen.
This is not only false; it is the opposite of the truth. Rilliet, a pro-Calvin historian, studied the records carefully of the Servetus’ verdict. He recounts all the Calvinist members of the Court attended, but five Calvin-opponents did not attend on the day of the verdict. Rilliet recounts: "[T]he keenest adversaries of the Reformer [i.e., Calvin] were not present, except Perrin, whilst not a Calvinist councillor was absent..."([45] at page 203.) Rilliet's care in this respect is proven by his naming each individual judge and their affiliation: Rilliet’s footnote on page 203 of his text states:
There were present at the meeting of the 26th of October, Perrin, De Chapeaurouge, Darlod, Desfosses, Philippin, Chamois, Chaultems, Malagnyod, Beney, Rigot, Delarche, C. Vandel,
Sept, Botellier, Coma, Bonna, Aubert, Jesse, Du Pan, and Lambert. The last seven were decided Calvinists; the minority was probably composed of Perrin, Philippin, Malagnyod, C. Vandel, [and] Sept. There were absent Chicand, Des Arts, Du Mollurd, P. Yandel, [and] Favre.[45] at 203 fn.

Error #2: Examples of Persecution Prove Calvin Was Man of His Time

Timothy George continues with a very inappropriate statement that prior to 1553 the standard of persecution of heresy was so well established that Calvin had never seen the light of this error. George says:
We can also point out that religious persecution was commonplace in Calvin's century: Mary Tudor sent hundreds of Protestants to their deaths in England, thousands of Huguenots were killed in the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, and many more Dutch Calvinists were slain by the Duke of Alva.
Anyone can see this is talking of Catholic persecution. Was this the standard Calvin was following? No. Prior to urging of the execution of Servetus, all Protestant leaders, including Calvin, consistently taught it was wrong to persecute heretics at all, and especially with legal punishments. See above "Exculpation Supposedly That Everyone In That Day Believed in Death to Heretics." Thus, it is no justification or excuse to say Catholics persecuted heretics when Calvin and all Protestant leaders previously rejected persecuting heretics.

Interesting YouTube Videos

I am an evangelical Christian, and hence am not endorsing deism. Thus, even though I wish to cite to a series of talks about Jefferson at Monticello where he is admired for his deistical beliefs, it is not to endorse deism. Instead, I do so because these videos have valuable professional discussion of historical issues about Servetus. These videos are:

Michael Servetus and the Rebirth of "Anti-trinitarianism" 3 m 33 sec. doctrine summarized
Servetus, Calvin, Socinus, and the Spread of Unitarianism 3 m 49 sec. - discussion of trial, and introduction to            Socinus. 
"A sect unto myself:" Three Points of Jefferson's Beliefs 3 m 56 sec. - Jefferson was born Episcopalian and attended Episocpalian churches. Jefferson's religion displays unitarian-like beliefs. He liked Quakers because they had no clergy. This video mentions Jefferson opposed Calvin. Another interesting video is:
Jefferson, the Deist 6 m


Admirable Christian Response

Guy Davies in his knol "John Calvin: His Relevance Today" makes an admirable statement:
We should not try to exonerate Calvin for his role in this affair. He was a man of his time, yes. But his knowledge of the gospel of Jesus should have taught him better. [49]
Still, no admirer of Calvin has yet admitted that indeed Calvin did know better, and thus Calvin had Servetus killed in betrayal of Calvin's own conscience which means Calvin murdered Servetus.

Standford Rives, Esq.
Author of Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2009)

You may contact Mr. Rives via email or by comment to this knol. His email is  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
If you are interested in seeing the book reviews and email commentary received by Mr. Rives on Did Calvin Murder Servetus?, go to this link.

Standford Rives is a litigation attorney, in practice for twenty-nine years. Mr. Rives was a member and attended a conservative Presbyterian Church for over fifteen years. He currently attends evangelical fellow-ships. 

For more information, see his book Did Calvin Murder Servetus? available through Amazon, etc. Here is the link to obtain a Kindle version.  An EPUB version is available through Google Books at this link.

References

  1. It was signed by Fontaine, has aid, but Calvin admitted: “The action laid against him was drawn up by my advice, in order to commence the process.” (Chauffpié [Calvin defender], The Life of Servetus (London: Baldwin, 1771) at 122. It can also be found in Opera Calvin. X:517.
  2. The complaint can be found in: Merrick Whitcomb, ed., Period of the later reformation in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, 6 vols., (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania History Department, 1898-1912), vol. 3, no. 3, from Hanover Historical Texts Project Scanned by Mike Anderson, January 1998. It also appears in Calvini Opera Vol. XIII at 727-731 in French. An online copy is at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/comserv.html#6 (accessed 1/27/ 2008).
  3. The criminal complaint was general: "III. Item, that since that time he has not ceased by all means in his power to scatter his poison, as much by his construction of biblical text, as by certain annotations which he has made upon Ptolemy." The annotation at issue appeared last in the 1531 edition and said: "Nevertheless be assured, dear reader, that it is sheer misrepresentation to attribute such excellence to this land which the experience of travellers and merchants and travelers proves to be barren, sterile and without charm, so that you may call it in the vernacular das gelobted land [i.e., German for the ‘promised land’] only in the sense that it was promised, not that it had any promise."
  4. The quote of the thirty-five articles provided mid-trial by Calvin is rare in the Servetus’ literature, but they are crucial to see how the theory of the case was switched mid-trial. These articles can be found in Hodges, An impartial history of Michael Servetus, burnt alive at Geneva for heresie (London: printed for Aaron Ward, 1724) at 131-32. Calvin’s excerpts were from what Calvin called Servetus’ First Book of the Trinity (1531). Calvin’s quotes of Servetus included: “All those who believe in a trinity in the essence of God are Tritheists, true atheists....” (First Book of the Trinity at 30.) Calvin paraphrases alot of sections to omit the Bible quotes that Servetus cites. Calvin wrote: “He asserts that the Hebrews being supported by so many authorities deservedly wonder at the tripartite deity that is introduced by us” citing page 36 of the same. Calvin likewise quoted: “To assert that the incorporeal deity is really distinct within itself has given the handle to Mahomet to deny Christ.” One can readily see Servetus is being faulted for being antitrinitarian (which incidentally was based upon the Bible verse that “God is one”), but not for blasphemy, i.e., he is never shown to have insulted the goodness of God.
  5. "In a ‘Representation and Articles,’ sent by Calvin into court, the following passage occurs: “For who, it is asked, is he who could or would assist him in such impudent lies, and horrible statements? not to mention that it is forbidden by law, and was never yet seen, that such suborners should have the benefit of an advocate. Beside, there is not a single grain of innocence apparent to justify the intervention of a counsel.” (“The Man, Calvin,” The Universalist Quarterly and General Review (1851) Vol. 8, 255 at 263-64..)
  6. The final verdict was: "The sentence pronounced against Michel Servet de Villeneuve of the Kingdom of Aragon in Spain who some twenty-three or twenty-four years ago printed a book a Hagenau in Germany against the Holy Trinity containing many great blasphemies to the scandal of the said churches of Germany, the which book he freely confesses to have printed in the teeth of the remonstrances made to him by the learned and evangelical doctors of Germany. In consequence he became a fugitive from Germany. Nevertheless he continued in his errors and, in order the more to spread the venom of his heresy, he printed secretly a book in Vienne of Dauphiny full of the said heresies and horrible, execrable blasphemies against the Holy Trinity, against the Son of God, against the baptism of infants and the foundations of the Christian religion. He confesses that in this book he called believers in the Trinity Trinitarians and atheists. He calls this Trinity a diabolical monster with three heads. He blasphemes detestably against the Son of God, saying that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God from eternity. He calls infant baptism an invention of the devil and sorcery. His execrable blasphemies are scandalous against the majesty of God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. This entails the murder and ruin of many souls. Moreover he wrote a letter to one of our ministers in which, along with other numerous blasphemies, he declared our holy evangelical religion to be without faith and without God and that in place of God we have a three-headed Cerberus. He confesses that because of this abominable book he was made a prisoner at Vienne and perfidiously escaped. He has been burned there in effigy together with five bales of his books. Nevertheless, having been in prison in our city, he persists maliciously in his detestable errors and calumniates true Christians and faithful followers of the immaculate Christian tradition. Wherefore we Syndics, judges of criminal cases in this city, h...
  7. Historians related that “during the 1560’s, though there was no provision for the death penalty in the city ordinances of Geneva, several people were executed for adultery, including two men who were beheaded.” (Merry E. Wiesner, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire (Routledge, 2000) at 77.)
  8. "No law, current in Geneva, has ever been adduced as enacting the capital sentence [in Servetus’ case]. Claude Rigot, the procurer-general, examined Servetus with a view to show that his legal education must have familiarized him with the code of Justinian to this effect; but in 1535 all the old laws on the subject of religion had been set aside in Geneva; the only civil penalty for religion, retained by the edicts of 1543, was banishment." (“Servetus,” Encyclopedia Brittanica (H.G. Allen, 1888) Vol. 21 at 685.)
  9. After Servetus' appeal immediately after the sentence was announced, Amadeus Perrin, one of the judges in the court (Petit Conseil)—who was also the chief Syndic (sheriff) of Geneva and previously Captain General of the Republic—called on the other judges to recognize the right of appeal had been exercised, and to delay the execution. Presbyterian Pastor Benson in his account of the final effort at appeal said: “And one of the judges proposed that [appeal be granted], but he was abused by Calvin who influenced most of the judges, and carried things very much as he pleased.” (Benson (1753): 184.) Chauffpié, a Calvin apologist, concedes: “Calvin was very ill pleased with him, who wanted to refer the affair to the Council of Two Hundred, who had the power to suspend or abolish the penal law.” (Chauffpié, The Life of Servetus (trans. James Yair) (London: Baldwin, 1771) at 141.)
  10. Calvin concedes in the Defensio that upon Calvin’s questioning, Servetus “muttered between his teeth that it was not his [annotation].” Chauffpié (a defender of Calvin) concedes, as a result of the quote upon which Calvin relied referencing the writer's native tongue is German -- quoted in note 3 supra, there is “no probability that a Spaniard” like Servetus would call German his native tongue. Chauffpie then comments on what this means: “Servetus spoke the truth in denying these words to be his.” (Chauffpié, The life of Servetus, supra, at 30.)
  11. The Latin is quoted in the next footnote. The meaning was stated by Calvin in a paraphrase only in a question, as he recounts in the Defension. He asked “have you ever compared the Trinity to a Cerberus?” (L’abbé d’Artigny, Nouveaux Mémoires d’histoire, de critique et de littérature (Paris, 1749-1758) 7 vol, Vol. 2 at 55-144.)
  12. The Latin words were: "pro uno Deo habetis triplcems Cerberum." This translates as: "Instead of the one God you have a three headed Cerberus;"
  13. "[Servetus’] books were in Latin, and not one of his judges understood that language...." (Jean Mary Stone, Reformation and Renaissance (circa 1377-1610) (Duckworth, 1904) at 334.)
  14. See note 6 supra.
  15. See footnote 11.
  16. See Appendices C & D in Rives, Did Calvin Murder Servetus? (2009) at 465 et seq. and 485 et seq. which set forth extensive portions of the Codex dealing with anti-trinitarianism and heresy to prove the only penalty was exuplsion, not death, for antitrinitarianism.
  17. "Unquestionably, the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian is Calvin’s chief legal source. As our tables show, it has been employed at least 86 times by him in the Seneca Commentary....The Institutes of Justinian he used twice, the Digest 49 times, the Codex 13 times, and the Novellae once." (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia (Introduction/Translation/Notes by Ford Lewis Battles and Andre Malan Hugo) (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969) at 140.)
  18. Calvin graduated in 1531. The Justinian statutes were a focus at his school. In the The Cambridge Modern History (Macmillan, 1905) by John Emerich Edward Dalberg at page 58, he discusses what happened at the law school of Bourges—the same law school that Calvin graduated from in 1531: “Its pioneer in France was Pierre de 1’Estoile (Stella), the grandfather of the well-known diarist, who began to lecture at Orleans in 1512; but its real founder was the Italian, Andrea Alciati, who, coming to Bourges in 1528, definitely restored the Corpus Juris to the place which had been usurped by the Gloss. Under the wise patronage of Margaret, Duchess of Berry,... Bourges became the first school of jurisprudence in Europe....The services of Jacques Cujas (1522-90), ‘the pearl of jurists’... resolved the Corpus Juris into its component parts, purified the text, and enriched it with a commentary. His labours included... Justinian’s Institutes, the last three books of the Codex Justinianeus. three books of the Codex T(ieodosianus), and the Lex Romano, Burgundiorum.”
  19. Luther wrote, the “trinity” doctrine was “a term first used by Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch in Syria, in the later part of the second century.” ( Martin Luther, The Shorter Catechism with Proofs, Analyses (T. Nelson & Sons, 1888) at 27.)
  20. See “Articles of Faith” under “Augsburg Confession,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augsburg_Confession (accessed 4/6/08). The author of this article in Wikipedia erroneously states that Article 1 defends the trinity when in fact it makes no mention of that principle. It mentions instead the factors that justify a unity in One God.
  21. "[T]hey avoided in the Confession [of Faith of 1536] the metaphysical terms Trinity and Person....." ( Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vii. (1892) vii at 351.)
  22. Gaston Bonet-Maury & Edward P. Hall, Early Sources of English Unitarian Christianity (1884) at 16 fn. 20, citing A.L. Herminjard, Correspondance des reformateurs dans les pays de langue français (Geneva: 1878) Vol. 4, at 185.
  23. "I could wish that they [i.e. “these terms the [ancients] affirmed...invented (about) the trinity”] would have been buried, provided only among all men this faith were agreed upon: that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one God; and yet neither is the Son the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but they are distinct by a certain property." (Institutes etc. (1536)(reprinted Eerdmans 1995) at 48, 1.13.4- 1.13.5. For a comparable quotation, see Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity, footnote 20 text http://www.lgmarshall.org/Warfield/warfield_calvintrinity.html#fn07 (2/16/08).)
  24. Drummond quotes the original Latin: Calvin in the epistle annexed to his Admonito ad Fratres Polonos, confesses that he dislikes prayer to the Holy Trinity as savouring altogether of barbarism. “Precatio vulgo trita est, Sancta Trinitas unus Deus miserere nostri, non mihi places, ac omnino barbariem sapit.” (William Hamilton Drummond, D.D. (1778-1865), The Life of Servetus (John Chapman, 1848) at 191.) He miscited the Calvini Opera. The correct cite is Calvini Opera, ix:647. The fullest quote of this passage is found in Gaston Bonet-Maury & Edward Potter Hall, Early Sources of English Unitarian Christianity (1884) at 16 fn. 4.
  25. The Latin quote is in Wilhelm Kollner, Symbolik aller christlichen Confessionen (1837) at 48, 51 fn. 30, citing Calvin, De vera Ecclesiae reformatione at 480. It quotes Calvin: “patres Nicaenos fanaticos appellat—s. Nicsenum battologias arguit—carmen cantillando magis aptum, quam confessinis formulam.” Whale quotes it from Calvin’s official works at the correct cite page (Schaff cited the wrong page)—Adv. P. Caroli Calumnias, Calvini, Op., vii at 316, demonstrating that indeed it must be Calvin’s words. See J.S. Whale, Christian Doctrine (Cambridge University Press, 1941) at 106, footnote 2. Another scholar named Heinrich Ernst F. Guerike in his Allgemeine christliche Symbolik (1839) at 106 cites Calvin's De Vera Ecclesiae, just like Schaff, but this time to a different page—the same page Kollner cited—page 480. Schaff's miscite caused scholars like Warfield to conclude that the passage was spurious. Warfield was in error.
  26. Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin (Viking Press, 1936) at 179 (quoted by Castellio in 1554). The original French was: “Il est criminel pour mettre des hérétiques à la mort. Faire une extrémité de eux par le feu et l'épée est opposée à chaque principe de l'humanité.”
  27. Bainton, Here I Stand, A life of Martin Luther (1950) at 203, citing page 62 in F. L. Battles’ translation of the 1536 edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans: 1975).
  28. Bainton, Here I Stand, A life of Martin Luther (1950) at 203, citing page 62 in F. L. Battles’ translation of the 1536 edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans: 1975).
  29. 542.Calvin Opera XII, 284, quoted in Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House, 1950) at 371. The full quote shows that Calvin realized Servetus was excited and hopeful that Calvin would be impressed: “Servetus wrote to me lately, and beside his letter sent me a great volume full of his ravings, maintaining with incredible presumption in the letter that I shall there find things stupendous and unheard of till now. He declares himself ready to come hither if I wish him to; but I shall not pledge my faith to him; FOR IF HE DID COME HERE, I WOULD SEE TO IT, IN SO FAR AS I HAVE AUTHORITY IN THIS CITY, THAT HE SHOULD NOT LEAVE IT ALIVE.” (Zweig, The Right to Heresy, supra, at 263.)
  30. 89.See Chauffpié, The Life of Servetus (1771) at 80.
  31. Richard Taylor Stevenson, in John Calvin, the Statesman (Jennings and Graham, 1907) at 159. Cf. Institutes etc. (1536)(Eerdmans 1995) at 4.20.9-12.
  32. Calvin, Defensio orthodoxae fidei (1554) at 46-47, quoted in part in John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2006) at 325
  33. Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy or How John Calvin Killed a Conscience (1936) reprinted online at gospeltruth.net/heresy/heresy_chap7.htm (accessed 8/22/08).
  34. Willem Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals (trans. William Heynen) (Grand Rapids Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing, 1981) at 100 (quoting Institutes (1539) at II, x, i; I, 429).
  35. Francis Adrian Van Der Kemp, “The Life of Michael Servetus,” The General Repository and Review (edited by Andrews Norton) (1813) at 48 (Calvin’s comments on Gen. 1:3, 1 John 1:1 and John 1:1).
  36. Chauffpié writes: “Servetus had reason to complain of his imprisonment at Geneva: he was not a subject of the Republic, he had not been detected in doing anything contrary to the law, and consequently the magistrates of Geneva had no jurisdiction over him; what he had done elsewhere, did not belong unto them, and they could not retain a stranger, without injustice, who was passing through their city, and who continued in it peaceably.” (Chauffpié, The Life of Servetus (trans. James Yair) (London: Baldwin, 1771) at 133n.)
  37. Chauffpié, The Life of Servetus (1771) at 80,
  38. “Diet of Worms,” Wikipedia
  39. William G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) at 182-183.
  40. “Servetus,” Encyclopedia Brittanica (H.G. Allen, 1888) Vol. 21 at 685.
  41. “The History of Geneva,” The modern part of An universal history (1783) Vol. 32 at 302
  42. Harry Loewen, Luther and the Radicals: Another Look at Some Aspects of the Struggle Between Luther and the Radical Reformers (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1974) at 139.
  43. Carter Lindberg, The European reformations sourcebook (Blackwell Publishing, 2000) at 181-82.
  44. Servetus Letter to Oecolampadius in Calvini, Opera, Vol. IX, 861-862.
  45. Rilliet, Albert. Tweedie, W.K. Calvin and Servetus: The Reformer’s Share in the Trial of Michael Servetus (J.Johnstone, 1846).
  46. Calvin believed not too dissimilarly from Catholics, as explained in the Institutes, that baptism of an infant made the baby part of the New Covenant, just as circumcision made a baby in the Old Covenant a part of the Old Covenant. Servetus scribbled on this page of Calvin's Institutes of 1547, and sent it to Calvin, telling him that this was a salvation without faith, and hence was a "doctrine of demons.," Multiple proofs suggest this note of Servetus was a key insult that sent Calvin into a murderous outrage that eventually fed his hatred enough to judicially kill Servetus six years later.
  47. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (MacMillan, 1914) at 133.
  48. Gibbon, The Miscellaneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esq: With Memoirs of His Life (J. Murray: 1814) Vol. V at 402.
  49. http://knol.google.com/k/guy-davies/john-calvin-his-relevance-for-today/lo1o3ln4yg18/5