Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Calvin Beheaded a Child in Geneva?

I  recently came across a detailed description of Calvin's Geneva from historian Will Durant's book, The Reformation. Durant doesn't pull any punches. He provides  a number of pages describing Geneva as an horrific place to reside, unbearable terrors that resulted from the despotic tyrant, John Calvin.

If anyone is under the illusion that Durant's vague belief in God and rejection of organized religion equipped him to provide a fair and unbiased historical account of the life of John Calvin, this historian concluded his coverage of Calvin with,  "...we shall always find it hard to love the man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense" [Will Durant, The Reformation: The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 490]. That conclusion sums up well Durant's treatment of Calvin. Later in his Dual Autobiography, he and his wife jab the Reformation's seeming rejection of the Renaissance "as pagan" and a reversion "to the gloomy theology of saint Paul and Saint Augustine, leading to the predestinarianism of Calvin and Knox, the Puritan regime, and the replacement of papal authority with the authoritarianism of the state in religion in Germany and Great Britain." Durant did not hide the fact that he was not sympathetic to either Calvin or the Reformation.

It's not that every fact or tidbit offered by Durant on John Calvin is suspected erroneous due to inherent bias. There were unfortunate, oppressive, and deadly results from the strict morality imposed by the Genevan church and state while Calvin was in residence. While every societal atrocity that occurred cannot necessarily be linked to the Reformer,  Calvin cannot be completely exonerated from his role or place in that society (nor would he probably want to be). Calvin, despite his intellectual greatness and piety, was still a man with faults, flaws, and sins. He did have influence in Geneva (at least at certain times), and he was in favor of strict societal discipline. But Durant's Calvin comes off more like a left-over inquisitor from the golden era of the Inquisition, a power-hungry ruthless mogul who transformed Geneva into one of the most oppressive societies in history. Durant's basic tendency is to make Calvin worse than he was by necessarily linking him to a number of historical events (which he may, or may not have been a part of), and also by describing him in an overly negative and lopsided way. Here's a brief snippet of evils attributed to Calvin from Durant to demonstrate this point:
To speak disrespectfully of Calvin or the clergy was a crime. A first violation of these ordinances was punished with a reprimand, further violation with fines, persistent violation with imprisonment or banishment. Fornication was to be punished with exile or drowning; adultery, blasphemy, or idolatry, with death. In one extraordinary instance a child was beheaded for striking its parents (link).
Notice how Durant's thoughts flow: from the crime of speaking words against Calvin, linked to  severe punishment for sexual crimes, then to the beheading of a child, all the direct result of John Calvin. While the last statement will be our main focus, of the sentences here selected leading up to it, Durant provides documentation only for the first, citing this secondary source, which says only, “…to laugh at Calvin’s sermons, or to have spoken hot words of him in the street, was a crime…” This source provides no documentation for the assertion. That's typical of Durant's historical work. Often, primary materials allude his conclusions. He simply cites some other historian making an undocumented assertion. Here, Durant's historical trail dead-ends at a secondary source merely making an undocumented claim.

Given that it's almost impossible in our modern age to examine the subject, "John Calvin" without immediately being bombarded with Calvin's involvement with the execution of Michael Servetus, how is it that, according to Durant, there was an "extraordinary instance" in which Calvin had a child beheaded, and that account isn't center-stage, usurping the Servetus incident?  It sounds outrageous: Calvin had a child executed for simply striking their parents, and that's not more despicable than Calvin having a grown man executed for heresy?  Doesn't the execution of a child typically have more societal emotional capital? Something doesn't add up here.

Documentation: Durant
Durant does document the child's beheading. He first mentions it's from the same source as the previous documentation mentioned above, Charles Beard, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century in its Relation to Modern Thought (Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1885), 250. That source states,
Two things are especially to be noticed in the holy reign of terror which Calvin established and left behind him as a legacy to Geneva: first, the vast extension given to the idea of crime, and next, the worse than Draconian severity of the punishments inflicted. Adultery was repeatedly punished with death. A child was beheaded for having struck father and mother. Banishment, imprisonment, in some cases drowning, were penalties inflicted on unchastity.
Similar to the previous assertions, this author does not document his claims. It may be Beard relied on the "Registers of the city of Geneva" (which is mentioned in a footnote at the bottom of the page), or it may be this author simply borrowed the fact from another secondary source. Durant may have realized this lack of  primary evidence and actually provided another source, one of a much better pedigree: Phillip Schaff's History of the Christian Church. In describing "the most striking cases of discipline" in Geneva, Schaff  launches into numerous examples, including, "A girl was beheaded for striking her parents, to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment" (link). Schaff though doesn't document this either. Later on in the same section Schaff mentions the Genevan Registers, but it appears to be for a different example. Once again, Durant's trail of facts reaches a dead-end for anyone venturing deep into history.

Documentation: Edward Babinski
This story of Calvin and the beheaded child is peppered throughout the Internet.  One of the best hits comes from Edward Babinski, a self-professed former fundamentalist who is now some sort of agnostic with an ax to grind against Calvin. Babinski came upon the same sentence from Schaff and states,
Schaff does not footnote the “beheading” incident, though he does provide on that page and the next a few footnotes regarding other incidents of prohibitions and their penalties in Geneva. He also lists the sources he consulted when writing his book (sources are listed at the beginning of each section). In this case, judging by nearby footnotes and by his source list for that particular section, he most likely obtained his information from either the Registers of the Council of Geneva, or, “Amedee Roget: Lʼeglise et lʼetat a Geneve du vivant de Calvin. Etude dʼhistoire politico-ecclesiastique, published in Geneve, 1867 (pp. 92). Compare also his Histoire du people de Geneve depuis la reforme jusquʼa lʼescalade (1536-1602), 1870-1883, 7 vols.”
Notice Babinski made an effort to track down where Schaff got his information from. Babinski says Schaff may have taken the information directly from the Registers of the Council of Geneva (more on this source later).  In the literature of source material section, Schaff doesn't directly cite the Registers (but he does reference them in his footnotes). The next source, Lʼeglise et lʼetat a Geneve du vivant de Calvin. Etude dʼhistoire politico-ecclesiastique is available here. Babinski mentions specifically "pp. 92" of the 1867 edition, but there doesn't appear to be anything remotely relevant to the story in this book, nor specifically on page 92. Babinski simply is repeating the reference as Schaff  noted it, that the book is 92 pages long.  Babinski then directs his readers to compare this source with seven volumes of "Histoire du people de Geneve depuis la reforme jusquʼa lʼescalade." I'm not sure how comparing a 92 page book to seven volumes is supposed to make this child's beheading more clear. The reason why is Babinski's "Compare also his..." is what Schaff wrote in his literature on the subject section, "Comp. also his..." Even though Babinski is quoting Schaff directly, the narrow focus of this beheaded child is getting obfuscated by Babinski's presentation of Schaff's basic bibliography of the literature about sixteenth century Geneva.

Despite this bibliographic rabbit trail, Babinski does provides some other interesting clues about this story: the year of the execution and the child's name. Quoting an old book from Paul Henry, he states, "Another child in 1568, for having struck his parents was beheaded," but again, documentation from this source is lacking. Then Babinski quotes an unknown English translation of Jean Picot who states, "Philippe Deville was beheaded in 1568 for having beaten his father and step-mother." This is documented, "Jean Picot Professeur dʼhistoire dans la faculte des lettres de lʼAcademie de cette ville] Histoire de Geneve, Tome Second (Published in Geneva, i.e., A Geneve, Chez Manget et Cherbuliez, Impreimeurs-Libr. 1811) p. 264." Here is page 264 from the 1811 edition. The text reads, "Philippe Deville fut décapité en 1568, pour avoir battu son- père et sa belle-mère." Babinski then states,
Picot and Schaff do not agree on the gender of the beheaded child, and my first source, Dr. Henry, only mentions that it was a “child,” not specifying its gender. Picotʼs History of Geneva provides the most complete information concerning the incident, including the childʼs name and the date of the beheading. The archives of Geneva are vast and include not only the Registers of the Council and the Registers of the Consistory, but many other records as well (that the Calvin scholar, Robert Kingdon, lists by category in Vol. 1 of his English translation of the Registers of the Consistory). Though massive, the Genevan archives could probably be searched by focusing on the year of the beheading and the childʼs name that Picot has given, and they could probably supply more information, such as the childʼs age when s/he was beheaded. — E.T.B.]
Babinski is correct, some of these massive archives can be searched. He's correct that Robert Kingdon  released the detailed Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin Volume 1: 1542-1544 (Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1996). It's an invaluable English reference, but unfortunately, I don't think the English version ever made it past volume one after Kingdon's death in 2010. Hathi Trust though lists thirteen volumes of the Genevan registers in French. The relevant volume would be volume 3 which covers the years 1565-1574. I  searched a number of key terms  (including, "Philippe Deville," "Philippe de Ville," "Philippe de la Ville, Philippe la ville" "décapité," to name a few).  I did not come across anything relevant. In full-disclosure, I do not have physical access to these French volumes. I'm relying on online search engines from Google Books and Hathi Trust.

I appreciate that Babinksi mentions the discrepancy in the accounts, that it could either be a boy or a girl (this source claims Philippe Deville was female). There are though some other interesting details if one combines the accounts presented (and also assumes all the accounts are of the same historical  event). Schaff adds the beheading took place "to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment." While this may have been the actual reason, it also could simply be Schaff's added comment or inference rather than something specifically noted in the Genevan records about this incident.

The (unknown) English translation of Picot says it was not simply striking of the parents, but rather a beating of a father and step-mother. It makes one wonder exactly how old this child was that it beat both parents. This "beating" should  at least rule out that it was a young child having a temper tantrum "striking" the parents in adolescent defiance. Even if it was an older teenager, it would not justify the death penalty in our day and culture,  but it does make one wonder exactly what the other details may have been to provoke such a harsh sentence in that time period. How severe was this beating?

If all these historians are describing the same event, there is one blatant fact mentioned by Paul Henry and Jean Picot that, for some unknown reason, Will Durant, Charles Beard, and Philip Schaff left out. It was also a fact mentioned but downplayed by Mr. Babinski: the year of the incident: 1568, in which some of the accounts say the beheading took place. What was John Calvin, the despotic tyrant doing in 1568?  Was he staring down the child in Genevan court as a prosecutor, boldly proclaiming God's law was broken and the child must be punished with death? Was he watching the beheading of a child for breaking God's law? No, Calvin was at rest in his grave. He died May 27, 1564. If 1568 is the correct year, the best Calvin's detractors can do with this event is to argue the beheading was the result of Calvin's earlier influence in Geneva. This connection would need to be proven as a necessary connection from the historical record, not simply assumed (post hoc ergo propter hoc).

Did Geneva behead Philippe Deville in 1568? Despite not finding any specific corroborating primary evidence, I assume they did. As to the specifics, and why they invoked the death penalty, I don't know. Yes, I think Geneva went overboard with discipline, yes there were unfortunate atrocities committed by the state; yes Calvin played his part in both until his death in 1564. But, Geneva played its part in the progression of piety and practice away from Rome, and of eventually separating the church from the state (which took a long time!). There is a tendency to think that once the Bible was made central in the church and the Papacy was defanged, all of the medieval worldview and practices would immediately fall away. No, this took time. Geneva demonstrates the dissonance of a church seeking to reform according to the Bible and still function with aspects of the medieval structure of government. It didn't work.

Here were some other sources mentioning the 1568 beheaded child. More will be added as I come across them.
 "Le manque de respect aux parents constitue alors une atteinte à la loi sur laquelle il n'est pas question de transiger :un enfant du village de Genthod, Damian, fou de colère, insulte sa mère: «Diablesse! diablesse!» en lui jetant des pierres. Il est fouetté publiquement, pendu à une potence et n'échappe à la mort qu'en raison de son jeune âge.Son aîné, Philippe de Ville, est décapité pour avoir battu père et mère. Son aîné, Philippe de Ville, est décapité pour avoir battu père et mère" (link).
"En 1568, Philippe Deville fut décapité pour avoir battu son père et sa belle-mère" (link).

"In 1568 Philippe Deville was beheaded for striking his father, and the year before Antonia Sambuzide was condemned to prison for taking her husband by the beard" (link).
"To understand what the word 'severity' means, let it be added that certain men who laughed during a sermon were imprisoned for three days; another person had to do public penance for neglecting communion on Whit-Sunday; a girl was beheaded for striking her parents; several women were imprisoned for dancing; and a lady was expelled from the city for expressing sympathy with the 'libertines,' and abusing Calvin and the Consistory" (link).
"Calvin allowed a girl to be beheaded (for the heinous crime of striking her parents) during his reign of terror in Geneva 400 years ago. This atrocity is not exactly a secret; it is soberly reported by leading historians; but it is the sort of fact that is not taught." (link).


Anonymous said...

Modern historical accounts of these events are completely worthless. I would only trust the account of a contemporary favorable disposed to Calvin, otherwise you will just get war propaganda.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Someone who was favorably disposed to Calvin (though not a contemporary), wrote:

"There is great beauty in the earnestness with which the authority of parents is defended. In the year 1563, a young girl who had insulted her mother was kept confined, fed on bread and water, and obliged to express her repentance publicly in the church. A peasant boy who had called his mother a devil, and flung a stone at her, was publicly whipped, and suspended by his arms to a gallows as a sign that he deserved death, and was only spared on account of his youth. Another child in 1568, for having struck his parents was beheaded. A lad of sixteen, for having only threatened to strike his mother, was condemned to death; on account of his youth the sentence was softened, and he was only banished, after being publicly whipped, with a halter about his neck." [p. 361]

SOURCE: Paul Henry, D.D. [Protestant minister and seminary-inspector of Berlin], The Life and Times of John Calvin, The Great Reformer, Vol. I (Translated by Henry Stebbing, D.D., F.R.S., author of “The Church and Reformation” in Lardnerʼs Cyclopaedia; History of the Church of Christ From the Diet of Augusburg; Lives of the Italian Poets, etc.) (London: Whittaker and Co., 1849) [The “Translatorʼs Preface” in Vol. I states: “The present work affords ample details on the main points connected with Calvinʼs history, and with that of his age. They have been derived from sources now, in great part, for the first time made public… Dr. Henryʼs admiration of Calvin is almost unbounded. But devoted as is his veneration for the great reformer, he has been too candid to conceal either his faults or his errors. Though generally taking the part of an apologist, he never omits facts or documents; never garbles a letter, or weakens, by an imperfect abstract, a hostile argument… Twenty years, we understand, intervened between the commencement and the completion of Dr. Henryʼs work.” The “Authorʼs Preface” follows the “Translatorʼs Preface” and the translator has injected merely a paragraph where the author had originally listed the sources he consulted for his information. The sources are therefore listed in the original German publication, but not in the English translation, which contains only this paragraph: “Dr. Henry gives a detailed account of the sources of his information. The substance of this statement will be found in the notes and references. No author perhaps could ever lay claim to greater industry or honesty in the examination of original authorities than Dr. Henry.”

So the original German edition of Dr. Henryʼs work must be consulted for the sources that he employed.

Edwardtbabinski said...

I have an "ax to grind" against Calvin? I daresay Calvin's ax was self-sharpened, as sharp as his tongue, his penchant for OT laws and punishments, lengthy sermons, and admonishments delivered endlessly at Consistory meetings. And I find Bellarmine, the famous Catholic legal scholar and saint who defended the death penalty for heretics, just as deplorable in his views. Of course Bellarmine praised Calvin's views when it came to how to treat heretics as I wrote about here:

So, my ax if you wish to call it that, is an equal opportunity employer in finding the death penalty for heretics deplorable. And yet Christian leaders from popes to founders of the Reformation all endorsed such a penalty for 1400 or so years, right down to more modern day laws and punishments against blasphemy. I also noticed that you did not dispute Calvin's desire that adulterers be executed, nor the fact that such did occur in Geneva per Calvin scholars I mentioned, Kingdon and Harkness. But allow me to flesh out a bit more concerning what I have learned from reading biographies of Calvin:

Calvin was one of only two lawyers in town, and when he was asked to return after being tossed out of Geneva the first time he helped write the church rules, organized the Consistory, wrote the catechism and prayers that everyone had to memorize, and had the Consistory quiz people on them and admonish people for not learning them.

Calvin asked that fines be imposed for not attending church (to listen to lengthy sermons several days a week), the fine was an average day's wages. And he delivered admonishments/reprimands to people at nearly every Consistory meeting, which he rarely missed, per Kingdon.

One also can't help but notice the long lists of things Calvin didn't like and for which he was certain people in Geneva ought to be punished. Dancing, wearing striped breeches, hair too high, naming their children non-biblical names, doing or saying anything Catholic (Catholics who refused to convert had all been exiled from Geneva). Calvin also pushed for the death penalty for adultery, and also apparently for children who struck their parents, though the town council did not agree in the latter case, but apparently allowed some children to be hung by their armpits from gallows to show that they at least deserved the death penalty.

And speaking of modern day opinions among some Reformed, there is that of Rev. William Einwechter, vice-moderator of the Association of Free Reformed Churches, who is convinced that we as a nation are in danger of suffering the penalty of Godʼs wrath unless we begin stoning to death “disobedient children” who are in their “middle teens or older.” The reverend cited Deuteronomy 21:18-21 as his keystone verse:

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

He and his fellow Free Reformed Christians should not be chided for focusing on “disobedient children,” because they believe that blasphemers, witches, adulterers, and those who seek to convert people to religions other than Free Reformed Christianity, are all candidates for a good stoning.

(See Rev. William Einwechter, “Stoning Disobedient Children,” Chalcedon Report, Jan. 1998)

Edwardtbabinski said...

I have read about Calvin's care for refugees arriving in Geneva. But the refugees that wound up in Geneva were the result of religious dogmatism, and not a one-sided dogmatism either.

Refugees were being created on all sides. Calvin created them himself, since Geneva began punishing and banning people from Geneva who had theological differences with his views.

Prior to the Reformation when Genevans were still Catholic they banished Jews from Geneva.

After the city became Protestant, Catholics were banished or forced to convert and abandon Catholic prayers and rituals.

After Anabaptists sought refuge in Geneva, Calvin debated them, after which they were banished.

In the end the people’s beliefs were whittled down so finely that it became illegal for a fellow Protestant in Geneva to even dispute Calvin’s theology of predestination.

The refugee crisis was exacerbated by Calvin sending missionaries to preach Calvinism at night in Catholic France, under cover of darkness in shuttered homes with blinds drawn, as he taught them, and with books published in Geneva.

Geneva became filled with incoming French Calvinist converts. As for the city’s Swiss natives, they were less than adoring toward Calvin than his French converts. Swiss natives pushed back against Calvin’s more extreme views, but remained afraid of being reabsorbed by Catholicism should he leave.

Calvin’s influence grew after Servetus’ execution which was followed by the banishment of Geneva’s native Swiss ruling families.

In the end Calvinism reigned in Geneva, preachers of any other Protestant theology that challenged Calvinism were banished.

Edwardtbabinski said...

When some Genevans took to naming their dogs Calvin, Calvin got a law passed that one could not do that. One fellow left a threatening note on Calvin's pulpit and that fellow was found out, his house searched, where they found other things he had written denouncing Calvin or Christian belief and he was tortured horribly in public and executed. Women who acted in inappropriate ways had to wear a metal cage round their heads and were kept chained up outside the church so others could mock them while entering or leaving from one of the thrice weekly sermons that lasted a few hours.

One of Calvin's former friends who taught children in Geneva, Sebastian Castellio, questioned whether the Song of Songs was strictly about Jesus' love of the church. Calvin disagreed on that point, and a few others, and he was forced to move out of Geneva with a letter of recommendation from Calvin which was nice, until the heretic Miguel Servetus was executed in Geneva, after which Calvin's former friend, Castillo, produced a book advocating that the death penalty should never be used against heretics. Castellio’s plea for tolerance concerning religious differences infuriated Calvin.

So Calvin and Beza after him, wrote defenses of the view that magistrates in Christian cities and lands must persecute heretics. Must. But Calvin didn't stop there. He wrote letters to the magistrates in the new city where Castillo lived, and demanded they arrest him and put him in prison.

When they didn't do that Calvin claimed Castillo must be put in prison for taking logs out of the river (apparently this was a crime and such logs belonged to the ruler of the town). But Castillo was poor and needed the logs to fuel his fire to keep himself and his family warm.

Calvin at this time also wrote letters to rulers in Poland, one of the more tolerant places in Europe at the time when it came to both Jews and heretics, warning such rulers that had better start executing heretics like Servetus the Socian whom Calvin had prosecuted. Calvin wrote a similar letter to Reformed leaders in Britain.

Calvin would have liked to see all heretics and witches dead. He said so concerning the “witches of Penney” near Geneva.

Sebastian Castillo was a more tolerant and interesting fellow than Calvin and deserves much praise for writing a book advocating tolerance of different religious points of view. Calvin sought Castellio’s destruction and called him a Trinitarian denying heretic, connecting him with Socianism.

Toward the end of Calvin's life so many Calvinist converts fled France and sought refuge in Geneva that eventually the city council was made up of a majority of them rather than native Swiss speaking Genevans. In fact most of the native Genevans who had formerly made up the city council and were related to the founders of the city were exiled because they sought to resist the authoritarian rules that Calvin and the Consistory aspired to enforce. In the end Calvin had only one native Swiss Genevan from a founding family who remained his friend, the majority of his friends now being immigrants from France like him, Calvinists like him, and sitting on the town council when Calvin died.

The college Calvin helped found in Geneva received the nickname The College of Bleeding Bottoms It still exists in Geneva, though I doubt it espouses only the views Calvin would have approved of. In fact, in Geneva today there are not one but several statues honoring the heretic who was executed in Geneva, Miguel Servetus, along with an apology attached to at least one statue. There's even a soccer team named after Servetus.

James Swan said...

Mr. Babinski:

Thanks for stopping by. I realize you've left multiple comments. I will publish them one at time, as I work through them. Fair enough?

I appreciate you posting comments from Paul Henry (and about Paul Henry). These efforts, however intentionally helpful you expect them to be, are superfluous. A careful reading of this blog entry candidly demonstrates I mentioned Paul Henry. I also provided a hyperlink to the page in which the first paragraph you cited is located. There was no attempt here to either disavow Henry's comments or camouflage Henry's comments.

You state, So the original German edition of Dr. Henryʼs work must be consulted for the sources that he employed. That's a fine suggestion. While I haven't read through all your pending comments, I suspect that the "must" here refers to efforts on my part, not any on your part? If I'm mistaken, please accept my apology.

Here then, is a link to the page in question in the German. Notice, there are no footnotes on the page attached to any of the information in the paragraph you've directed attention to. Here also is a link to the beginning page of sources from the author's preface. The cliché "needle in a haystack" comes to mind... as if I have the time and energy to go through each source listed (even if I could locate all of those sources), and figure out what Henry used as his source for the event in question! Had Henry footnoted his information, that would've been helpful, but that's not how scholars did things in those days. Now that I've located the German version, feel free to go through it and post any pertinent information to the issue at hand. I'll gladly accept research help.

I do not deny the events in Geneva described by Paul Emil Henry actually happened, in whatever language Henry's text appears in (perhaps review my conclusion in this blog entry). My contention is that Calvin died in 1564. The beheading of this "child," according to the facts both you and I have pieced together, occurred in 1568. As my blog conclusion states,

"If 1568 is the correct year, the best Calvin's detractors can do with this event is to argue the beheading was the result of Calvin's earlier influence in Geneva. This connection would need to be proven as a necessary connection from the historical record, not simply assumed (post hoc ergo propter hoc)."

James Swan said...

Edward T. Babinski said...
I have an "ax to grind" against Calvin? I daresay Calvin's ax was self-sharpened, as sharp as his tongue, his penchant for OT laws and punishments,.....

Mr. Babinski.

Notice that in my blog entry, I complimented you as well:

This story of Calvin and the beheaded child is peppered throughout the Internet. One of the best hits comes from Edward Babinski, a self-professed former fundamentalist who is now some sort of agnostic with an ax to grind against Calvin.

It's true, as far as I can tell, your mentioning of Calvin and the beheaded child was one of the best presented mentions I could locate in cyber-space. "Ax to grind" is a simply a saying to point out having a grievance against someone or something. You yourself go on to admit in your comment, So, my ax if you wish to call it that, is an equal opportunity employer in finding the death penalty for heretics deplorable.

In regard to the Calvin history lesson you've presented in your second comment above, at best, it's superfluous to the focus of this blog entry. At worst, it's an example of text-bombing to obfuscate the focus of this blog entry.

James Swan said...

Edward T. Babinski said...
I have read about Calvin's care for refugees arriving in Geneva. But the refugees that wound up in Geneva were the result of religious dogmatism, and not a one-sided dogmatism either.

Your third comment is another Calvin history lesson, while interesting, not relevant to the focus of this blog entry.

James Swan said...

Edward T. Babinski said...
When some Genevans took to naming their dogs Calvin...

Your fourth comment is also not relevant to the focus of this entry. While I didn't check, I suspect you're just cut-and-pasting something you've previously put together, which would be fine, if it was meaningful to the events of 1568 that this blog entry focuses on.

Now, I've text-bombed in the past as well. I get this method of debate and defense. However, my time to play around in cyberspace is limited. My own conclusion in this blog entry does not say Calvin was a guiltless angel fluttering his wings around Geneva waving his fairy wand of happiness and peace. In other words, you're text bombing the wrong guy.

Miles Stoneman said...

Mr. Swan,
I waded through your blog and slogged through Mr. Babinski's "comments". What I never heard was something about the repentance of Mr. Calvin for his atrocities. And you agree there were at least some. In a recent study released by the Baptist Theology Seminary about their founders link to slavery and possibly a "death camp" in Georgia (a coal mine which worked Negroes to death, by law, I never saw once a statement of repentance. What it said, and what you've said,is that, "well, that's how it was at that time for everyone". But, Mr. Swan, we, who claim the name of the Lord Jesus, are supposed to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and we are not supposed to be conformed to this world. So I would have been content with something which showed Mr. Calvin's repentance. There is no record of his conversion, and no record of his repentance for these horrific sins. So...elect? Doubt it.

James Swan said...

Hi Miles,

Thanks for reading my entry and taking the time to comment.

You've described my position on Calvin as, "well, that's how it was at that time for everyone." That's fair, as far as it goes. My point is that sixteenth century Genevan society is not modern-day America... so judging Calvin or Geneva with modern-day notions of tolerance and freedom is simply unfair. Hostile Biblical scholarship does this all the time with the Bible: they point out how the morality or recorded episodes demonstrate an inferior moral quality (i.e. particular Old Testament narratives). Yet, particularly with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, the punishments and narratives have their place in the historical Biblical record, and are to be understood in the context of the time in redemptive history. My point is that Calvin needs to be understood in his own historical context. I'm not willing to throw him under the bus because he had the worldview of a sixteenth century person.

You said also, "... we, who claim the name of the Lord Jesus, are supposed to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and we are not supposed to be conformed to this world." I say it's much easier for us to know what this means for us today than it is for how someone in the sixteenth century understood this. For us it means (in part) standing against the secularism that's pervading modern culture. What was the "world" like in sixteenth century Geneva? The "world" then was enveloped by the Papal church!

If you take the time to read Calvin, the man simply loved the Scriptures. In his commentary on Romans 12:2, Calvin lays it out simply that "...the whole world lies in wickedness, it behooves us to put off whatever we have of the old man, if we would really put on Christ: and to remove all doubt, he explains what he means, by stating what is of a contrary nature; for he bids us to be transformed into a newness of mind."


Edwardtbabinski said...

Calvinʼs Geneva was ahead of the curve when it came to employing execution for adultery. Calvin's "love of Scripture" also lay at the heart of what inspired him to argue sternly for the death penalty for adultery:
"In Basel, where the law explicitly provided for the death by drowning of a chronic adulterer, the penalty was never applied. Even in Rome there was no use of the death penalty for adultery, although the possibility was seriously considered. During a drive against prostitution in 1570, Pope Pius V thought of issuing an order that all the many married prostitutes in the city be put to death for adultery. He was finally persuaded, however, to use milder penalties. In Geneva the death penalty was quietly dropped in later centuries as the exaltation created by religious fervor faded away.
"There was substantial support… in Geneva for the use of the death penalty against people convicted of adultery. That support came in part from ministers such as John Calvin, who kept reminding the local population of the biblical condemnation of adultery and of the Old Testament prescription of death by stoning for anyone found guilty of this crime.… Genevan municipal ordinances, however, made no provision for the death penalty in cases of adultery… We find in the surviving dossiers of Genevan criminal trials a cluster of several cases of adultery punished with the death penalty in 1560 and 1561. This was a time when the Calvinist Reformation was at its peak, not only in Geneva… Within Geneva itself, Calvin too, was at the peak of his career, with a new and definitive edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, just off the press. [p 118]…
"Theodore Beza, who was to become Calvinʼs successor… and Calvin … held a power that was now without any effective local challenge. It may be that it was the enthusiasm and optimism of these climactic years that led the Genevan community to take this last fateful step, to begin using the death penalty in order to complete the work of moral reformation, to wipe out all traces of the pollution introduced into their community by this abominable crime, to escape for good the threat of divine retribution hovering over any community lax enough to tolerate such vice. If this crackdown on adultery was an expression of a triumphalist hope in impending victory for the Reformed cause, however, we cannot hold Calvin himself responsible. [p 119] [We canʼt? Does the author also not hold Calvin “responsible” for preaching so long and hard to the Genevans concerning the God-given necessity of executing adulterers? — etb]…
"The convictions and punishments for adultery in these cases were the work of secular authorities, perhaps inspired by religious zeal. [p 140] [“Perhaps?” The author admits Calvinʼs religious zeal was contagious and that Calvin had no real opposition to his views after 1555, all of his major political & theological opponents having been banished or executed by that time. The author also admits on p 179, 'In Geneva the death penalty [for adultery] was quietly dropped in later centuries as the exaltation created by religious fervor faded away.' 'Perhaps inspired by religious zeal’ is an understatement based on the author’s own admissions.-etb]
SOURCE: Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvinʼs Geneva (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995)

Edwardtbabinski said...

Calvin's love of the Scriptures influenced a number of Genevan laws, making the city void of anything in the way of entertainment except reading the Bible, memorizing prayers, catechismal and creedal statements, and attending lengthy sermons at least three times a week under penalty of a day’s wages. Things prohibited in Geneva included:

1) Viewing unapproved plays (all plays eventually were forbidden),
2) Reading unapproved literature (Bible reading was de rigueur, the Consistory sometimes commanded people brought before them to buy one and read it, and Geneva became a center for Bible publishing, in several languages, and in many editions),
3) Dancing,
4) Singing secular songs,
5) Instrumental music (organ music even in church was not permitted),
6) Singing in harmony (not permitted even in church).

A type of “entertainment” allowed was public punishment and execution.
“There is some reason to believe … that in many communities of the period an execution also served as a gruesome form of public entertainment.” [Kingdon, p 30]

Whether or not executions (and letʼs not forget public beatings, and people held in restraints outside churches so they could be jeered at) served as a form of “entertainment” is a moot point. They probably did serve, however, as severe object lessons to anyone watching who thought about resisting the city council or the new religion of Calvinism.

Edwardtbabinski said...

The kind of laws Calvin wished to see Genevans embrace, based on his love of Scripture and interpreting God's divine word, extended even to strict prohibitions concerning music:

Although the Protestant Reformer John Calvin believed in the singing of hymns in church he was set against accompanying such singing with any kind of instrumental music (or of singing complex harmonies for that matter). There was no instrumental music in Strassburg or Geneva so long as Calvin controlled the services. The tubes of the organ in the Genevan church of St. Peterʼs were melted down in 1562 and turned into cups for holding communion wine. Calvin believed he was purifying the western church from recent musical innovations. In his opinion musical instruments and complex hymnody were all part of the corruptions introduced by the Roman Church. Calvin was concerned that love of instrumental music (and the human voice singing complex harmonies) were forms of idolatry and detracted from what was most important, namely to hear the Bible preached. Being Genevaʼs leading preacher (and the theologian with all the answers as he saw it) of course had nothing to do with Calvinʼs decision to ban instrumental music and complex hymnody in church, which he claimed was based purely on the teachings of Scripture (as he understood them):

If we now consider it to be necessary we shall return to our former darkness and obscure the light which appeared in the Son of God. The Papacy was guilty of foolish and ridiculous imitation when it decorated churches and thought to offer God a more worthy service by employing organs and other follies of that sort. By these the Word and worship of God are profaned, for the people interest themselves in these things more than in the Divine Word. Where there is no intelligence there is no edification . . . That which was useful under the Law has no place under the Gospel, and we must abstain from such things not only as superfluous, but as frivolous. All that is needed in the praise of God is a pure and simple modulation of the voice. Instrumental music was tolerated because of the condition of the people. They were, Scripture tells us, children who used childish toys which must be put away if we wish not to destroy evangelical perfection and quench the light we have received through Christ. [John Calvin, 66th Homily on 1 Samuel, as cited in Hugh Young Reyburn, John Calvin: His Life, Letters, and Work, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914, pp. 85-86]

But when they [believers] frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews . . . but we should always take care that no corruption creep in which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition. [Commentary on Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 539]

. . . musical instruments were among the legal ceremonies which Christ at his coming abolished; and therefore we, under the Gospel, must maintain a greater simplicity. [Commentary on the Four Last Books of Moses, Vol .1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 263]

. . . We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Cor. 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue. [Commentary on Psalms, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 98]

Final three quotations from W. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2009, pp. 74-75.

Edwardtbabinski said...

One cannot dismiss the strict harsh laws, regulations and punishments that Calvin strongly endorsed by claiming that everyone was acting like that in that day and age.

1) Because everyone was not strongly endorsing such strict harsh laws, regulations and punishments. Look at Castellio, a former Genevan and friend of Calvin who was strongly against the necessity of executing heretics and strongly in favor of religious tolerance. Look at anabaptists (a very general term used at that time for smaller groups of sectarian Christian believers lying outside of Catholic, Lutheran, Zwinglian, Calvinist, views).

2) The case of Calvin demonstrates that a lifetime of loving the Bible, studying it, begging God for divine guidance to lead one into truth seems to ensure nothing concerning what laws, regulations and punishments one eventually strongly endorses concerning civil society and civil liberties. Why is that so? Why do pious, devout, educated Bible believers come to such different conclusions? See for instance these biblical arguments for the necessity of a Christian majority/Christian ruled nation/city/state to persecute heretics:

"Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666) [a jurist of strict Lutheran opinions], lived to a ripe old age and looked back on an admirable life in the course of which he read the Bible fifty-three times, took the sacrament every week, greatly intensified the methods and efficacy of inquisitional torture [see his work, Neue sachsische Kriminalpraktik], and procured the death of twenty thousand persons." Source: Hugh Trevor-Roper, The European Witch Craze [See also Johannes Janssen (trans., A. M. Christie), History of the German People After the Close of the Middle Ages, Vol. XVI (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1910), p. 199-201]

"To the great humiliation of the Protestant churches, religious intolerance and even persecution unto death were continued long after the Reformation. In Geneva, the pernicious theory was put into practice by state and church, even to the use of torture and the admission of testimony of children against their parents, and with the sanction of Calvin. Bullinger, in the second Helvetic Confession, announced the principle that heresy should be punished like murder or treason. The treatment of the Anabaptists is a great blot on the page of the Reformation, Strassburg being the only center that tolerated them. Cranmer persuaded Edward VI to burn women. Queen Elizabeth [an Anglican] saw the death penalty executed upon Puritans. The spirit of intolerance was carried across the seas, and was as strong in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the American colonies, with some exceptions, as it was in Europe." [p524] Source: David S. Schaff, D.D. [Professor of Church History in the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny] The Middle Ages = Vol. V of History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 1907) [FU - BR 145 .S6 1967 v.5 ]

"Quite a few of the more infamous statesmen and churchmen of history were not called criminals only because they were powerful enough to define what was 'crime' in their society." Source: Robert Anton Wilson, The New Inquisition

Miles Stoneman said...

Even if we account for differences in "eras", the Holy Spirit is not bound by any era. So those who are led by the Spirit will be in accord with the Word. If the Word called for some discipline or "war action" that today we account as barbaric, then, perhaps, the fault lies with us, but even if it was only for "that time", fine, but NOWHERE, does the New Testament EVER speak to us to murder heretics. Nowhere. If Calvin was a "man of the Word", he must have been using a different Bible than the ones we possess today. Or perhaps, he was merely a man of tradition, who falsely claimed to be a man of the Word.

Miles Stoneman said...

You said, "The case of Calvin demonstrates that a lifetime of loving the Bible, studying it, begging God for divine guidance to lead one into truth seems to ensure nothing concerning what laws, regulations and punishments one eventually strongly endorses concerning civil society and civil liberties. Why is that so? Why do pious, devout, educated Bible believers come to such different conclusions?"

Again, there is no statement of repentance or being born again. I have no other axe to grind than that of the Scriptures, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. ~Jesus Lifetimes of loving and reading the Bible, even lifetimes of prayer simply do not qualify for having the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.

John could write in his day, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." Check the fruit to get a glimpse of the health of the root. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." This was echoed by Paul, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock."

Time to use the "duck test" except it's a "wolf test" in this case. If it devours like a wolf, forget about how it looks or walks - it's a wolf.

Leland said...

asserting that you would only listen to someone favorably disposed to Calvin doesn’t really place you in an unbiased posture.