Tuesday, September 27, 2016

John Calvin Killing Servetus

John Calvin (AD 1509-1564), namesake of the Calvinists of today, is a hero to many.  His books are often recommended and referenced.  He was a leader in the Protestant Reformation.  

But Calvin had a dark side.  Part of that dark side was absolutely denying freedom of speech and religious liberty.  On October 27, 1553, John Calvin had Michael Servetus (c. 1509-1553) mercilessly burned to death.  Why?  Because Servetus disagreed with Calvin’s beliefs. 

Leonard Verduin (AD 1897-1999) speaks authoritatively on this issue.  He was a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, and the University of Michigan.  Verduin knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, French, Dutch, English.  On the subject of Calvin, it is noteworthy that Verduin is of the Reformed tradition. 
In his highly praised book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren,” Leonard Verduin says about John Calvin: 

“The burning of Servetus – let it be said with utmost clarity – was a deed for which Calvin must be held largely responsible.  It was not done in spite of Calvin, as some over-ardent admirers of his are wont to say.  He planned it beforehand and maneuvered it from start to finish.  It occurred because of him and not in spite of him.  After it had taken place Calvin defended it, with every possible and impossible argument.  There is every reason to believe that if it had not been for the fact that public opinion was beginning to run against this kind of thing there would have been many more such burnings.  The event was the direct result of the sacralism to which Calvin remained committed, a sacralism which he never discarded.” 

“Here was a man (Servetus) who posed no threat to civil serenity in Geneva – unless of course it be granted that anyone who deviates from the orthodoxy expoused by the State is ipso facto a threat to that civil serenity.  [Footnote in the book: In the sacral pattern heresy is automatically sedition.]  Servetus started no parades, made no speeches, carried no placards, had no political ambitions.  He did have some erratic ideas touching the doctrine of the Trinity; and he entertained some deviating notions concerning baptism, especially infant baptism.  No doubt there was something of the spiritual iconoclast in him, as there is in all men of genius (Servetus was something of a scientific genius in that he anticipated the idea of the circulatory course of the blood).  But he was not a revolutionary in the political sense.  He was indeed ‘off the beam’ in matters of religious doctrine, but he did not deserve to be arrested or executed – a judgment in which the man of sacralist convictions cannot of course concur.  Only in a sacralist climate would men deal in such a way with such a man.” 

Footnote from book, p. 55:  “In the sentences whereby heretics were sent to the stake it was usually specified that the execution was to be by ‘small fire.’  It seems that in the case of Servetus green wood was used, so that it took three hours before he was pronounced dead.”

“When the news was out that Servetus had died in the fire, a cry of outrage resounded over most of Europe.  It is true that many of the leaders of the Reform applauded the burning (Melanchthon, for example, wrote that ‘the Church owes and always will owe a debt of gratitude to you for having put the heretic to death’); although it is also true that some, even in Geneva itself, refused to put their names to a document supporting the execution.  But there was a chorus of protest that issued at once from those circles that had been deeply influenced by the humanizing tendencies of the times.  Contrary to the legend that is kept alive by over-ardent admirers of Calvin, the spirit of the age was already relegating such inhumanity to the limbo of the past.  The Renaissance had not been without its fruitage of toleration.” 
-Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, Eerdmans; 1964.  Reprinted by The Baptist Standard Bearer,Inc., Paris, Arkansas. 

 Verduin goes on to point out how after the burning of Servetus, John Calvin and Beza continued to vigorously defend their brutal, torturous murder of Servetus. 

Thank God for the ideal, largely promoted by Anabaptists and Baptists, of Religious Liberty for all.  Thank God for Religious Liberty in America, although that liberty is being threatened. 

The book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, should be read by anyone interested in Anabaptists, Baptists, the Radical Reformers, and Religious Liberty.  The book is marred in places by Latin and other languages with no English translation.  I’m a big believer in writing in easy to understand language.  It would also be helpful to explain the geographical sites with modern day language and countries, maybe a map or two.  In spite of this, it is well worth reading and studying. 

“It is difficult for me to speak in restrained terms about this most excellent study. Verduin has done a thorough job of research. He writes obviously out of a background rich in historical information and understanding. This book is all the more significant since it comes from the pen of one of the Reformers' family and not from among the offspring of the ‘stepchildren.’”  
- W. R. Estep Jr., SWBTS
The Reformers and Their Stepchildren has also been highly recommended by Paige Patterson. 

Sacralism – Leonard Verduin’s term for the belief and practice that the church and state are one.  The government should have a state religion and enforce those beliefs against any dissenters.  Religious Liberty is rejected.  This also means the church is filled with unsaved people, since everyone is automatically enrolled in the state church.  Anabaptists, Baptists, baptistic Christians, and others obviously dissented. 

-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, September 27, AD 2016. 


Other articles in lower right margin.  

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