Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Calvin and the Execution of Servetus

Recently, I read the following:

“Calvin was of a pallid, bloodless complexion, thin, sickly, irritable, gloomy, impatient, egotistic, tyrannical, heartless, and infamous. He was a strange compound of revengeful morality, malicious forgiveness, ferocious charity, egotistic humility, and a kind of hellish justice. In other words. he was as near like the "Sovereign God" of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" as his health permitted."


"This is what it says in Frank Schaeffer's book on the history of Christianity: Those who questioned Calvin's theology were dismissed by Calvin as "pigs," "asses," "riff-raff," "dogs," "idiots," and "stinking beasts." One morning Calvin found a poster on his pulpit accusing him of "Gross Hypocrisy." A suspect was arrested. No evidence was produced, but he was tortured day and night for a month until he confessed. Then his feet were nailed to a stake by which he hung in public for a day. Ultimately he was decapitated.Here was Calvin's justification for the execuation of the alleged "mocker," who had left the offending message on Calvin's pulpit: "When the papists are so harsh are not Christ's magistrates shamed to show themselves less ardent in defense of the sure truth?"

Just my 2 cents- The modern idea of "tolerance" can't be read back into the 16th Century. It simply did not exist. Even the word itself originally meant to "suffer and permit, at most, what one could not manage to destroy".It becomes very silly to speak about the big bad meanie John Calvin the intolerant dictator, and subsequently to see his adversaries as hippie-esque "give peace a chance" flower children. His adversaries had the same societal concept of "intolerance" that he did. Given the opportunity, all parties would probably go down swinging.

I'm not familiar with the snippet posted from Frank (aka "Frankie") Schaeffer, a man whose recent work breaks my heart. I'm tempted to say "some facts be missing". Schaeffer has written books that directly attack the gospel, and he writes from the position of anger. He's always been angry- he used to be angry at Evangelicals from a Reformed perspective. Now he's angry at the Reformed from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Who knows who he'll be angry at next...perhaps the Eastern Orthodox from a Roman Catholic perspective?

I'm only aware of Servetus being put to death with the involvement of John Calvin. Beza commenting on Geneva highlighted this fact, that it was only 1 heretic- most of the others deemed "heretic" were banished (Bolsec, Castellio, etc). Many of the other towns in Switzerland and Germany had no problem putting Anabaptists to death. In Geneva however, Anabaptists were banished, not executed.

Sometimes Calvin’s opponent Castillo is put forth as the champion of tolerance: Castillo was busy having “bed-ins for peace” (without Yoko) while Calvin was sharpening his sword and getting the fire hotter. Actually though, While Castellio did write books asking for heretics to be treated better, he also wrote that the magistrates have the duty to punish blasphemy or irreligion. In other words, once his own theology got kind of wacky (like his hatred for the Song of Solomon and his bogus Bible translation), he himself was hopeful to argue himself away from punishment for heresy, but he still had no problem with the punishment of blasphemy or those active against Christianity.