Thursday, June 17, 2010

John Calvin and Michael Servetus

In October 1553 in Geneva in western Switzerland,on the border of France,many,from citizens to magistrates to the chief of police(etc.) began a procession from the town hall.Their destination being a hillside at Champel.

I found all the following from the book "They never told me this in Church" by Greg Deuble.pp. 50-54.

In his book,he included this remarkable story about Michael Servetus from ANOTHER book :
"Out of the flames--The remarkable story of a fearless scholar,a fatal heresy,and one of the rarest books in the world" by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. pp. 1-4

"In the midst of these fair skinned Swiss,one man stood out,a prisoner.He was in his forties,dark,almost Moorish,dirty and weak,with long,unkempt beard and ragged clothing.He was surrounded by a crowd of pastors exhorting him to confess his sins.An aging churchman walked next to him ,whispering in his ear.The prisoner prayed silently in reply.The prisoner's shabby appearance belied his status as one of Europe's leading physicians and preeminent thinkers.His name was Michael Servetus,and his crime was publishing a book that redefined Christianity in a more tolerant and inclusive way.Although this book contained,almost as an afterthought,a great scientific discovery--one which a century later would propel medicine into the modern age--on that October afternoon in 1553,no one in Geneva knew or cared.

Michael Servetus had risked life and position to publish this book..Shortly after its publication,he had been arrested by the inquisitors of France and sentenced to death.On the eve of his execution,he had managed a daring escape and had eluded capture for months.He was on his way to Italy,where he would be safe,but chose instead to stop in Geneva.There his dark skin betrayed him.He was recognized while praying in church and was arrested.

Before his supporters could rally to his defense,Michael Servetus was thrown into a dark,airless,vermin-infested cell,where he was kept for 75 days,denied a change of clothes,bedding and often food and water.His access to the outside world was limited to forced participation in a gaudy show trial,where he was to go head to head with his accuser,perhaps the greatest mind of the Reformation.He defended himself brilliantly,but the quality of his arguments never mattered.Servetus' fate had been sealed from the moment he was recognized.He was found guilty of the charges brought by a council and prosecutor handpicked by his archrival and sworn enemy,Jean Chauvin,an obscure failed humanist who had reinvented himself as the reformer John Calvin and risen to be virtual dictator of the great city.On October 26,1553,Michael Servetus was condemned to be led to Champel and burned there alive on the next day together with his books.

Torture and cruelty were no strangers to sixteenth-century justice.There was a strict hierarchy of punishment,from relatively painless to gruesomely agonizing,depending on the severity of the crime.Slanderers had their tongues cut out,thieves were impaled.The penalty for murder--beheading--was considered relatively charitable.But out of all the punishments,the very worst was to be burned alive,and so this horror was reserved for the most terrible crime there was --heresy.Heretics were especially loathed because they put not only their own souls in mortal jeopardy,but also those of the otherwise innocent people infected by their teachings.

skipping ahead a little..

Hollywood has gotten it wrong(in their movies,how burning alive sometimes works<--my own words)It was never over quickly.The whole point of burning at the stake was to subject the condemned to prolonged,horrible,unendurable pain.That was the type of pain that awaited Michael Servetus -and he knew it.

When Servetus was led to the hill at Champel,the stake and pyre were made of fresh wood,green wood,newly cut branches with the leaves still attached.They sat him on a log and chained him to a post.His neck was bound with thick rope.On his head they put a crown made of straw,doused in sulphur.Chained to his side was what was thought to be the last available copy of his book,the last having been zealously hunted down and destroyed.The ideas were to be burnt along with the man.There was no escape.

The fire was lit.Green wood does not burn easily,does not roar up.It smokes and sputters,burning unevenly and slowly.And so Michael Servetus' life was not extinguished quickly in a blazing wall of fire.Rather,he was slowly roasted,agonizingly conscious the entire time,the fire creeping upward inch by inch.The flames licked at him,the sulphur ripped into his eyes,not for minutes but for a full half hour."Poor me who cannot finish my life in this fire," the spectators heard him moan.At last,he screamed a final prayer to God,and then his ashes comingled with those of his book.

Deuble says in his book:

Having read the story of Servetus' judicial murder it is shocking to see how some historians to this day endeavor to sweep this awful event under the carpet.Calvin's involvement is rationalized.He was a "child of his age" which thought nothing of exterminating "heretics"(free thinkers);Servetus was the only heretic John Calvin ever burned alive;Calvin was historically conditioned and so must be contextualized;Calvin's motives were pure in that he wanted to save the wider community from infection of heresy;John Calvin was only the chief witness and "technical advisor" of the Genevan authorities;Calvin attempted to alter the mode of execution to the more humane beheading but was ignored;and other crimes of the day are ignored by historians.This only proves that the historians themselves have axes to grind!In 1903,a granite monument was erected at the site of Servetus' execution.Its inscription condemns an "error which belonged to his century."It is to us incredible to realize that Calvin was subsequently regarded as the defender of the true faith within Protestant circles!

Such "rationalization" was used by the Nazis on trial at Nuremburg.They were only following order;they were conditioned by the politics of Germany and Hitler,etc.The prosecutors at Nuremburg,however, quite rightly rejected all such "rationalization" and the guilty were justly condemend as being fully responsible for their actions.Same for Calvin.I offer you this tragic "Servetus affair" to illustrate the all-too-common spirit the Church and her doctrine has demonstrated throughout the centuries.Jesus said "You will know them by their fruits...Every good tree bears good fruit,but the rotten tree bears bad fruit"(Matt 7:16-17).It is not my province to pass judgment on individuals who profess the name of Christ.But I have to be honest and ask myself the question about John Calvin,so revered and so respected amongst millions of Christians even to this day:Will a man like this be in the Kingdom of God?Must not a follower of Jesus be like Jesus who was certainly not a child of his evil day?Jesus did not belong to the authority structures,whether civil or religious.Much less did he commit violence against any fellow human,whether friend or enemy.And the scripture is clear that "no murderer has eternal life abiding in him"(1 John 3:15).Whilst God is the one who will finally deal with Calvin I am prepared to say that the church and the doctrine which is guilty of such "fruit" is bad to the core.Sadly,"every major Christian body which traces its history back to the 16th century has blood liberally scattered over its credentials.Roman Catholic,Lutheran,Reformed and Anglican:all have condemend and executed their Servetuses."(last quotation from "A life of John Calvin:A study in the shaping of Western culture" by Alister E. McGrath pp116-120)

Something I couldn't help but think of the entire time I was reading his abominable story was how Christians who believe in a God who eternally torments people in flames,ceaselessly and unmercifully,would understandably be able to justify this madness.After all,a half an hour in torturous flames is nothing compared to an eternity,right?God HAS to annihilate the wicked (otherwise his kingdom cannot be peaceful,) and punish them "eye for an eye" (because he is perfectly just and they didn't allow Christ to cover their sin)but I can assure you he neither advocates eternal torture nor would he respect the fact that those who profess to know and love him would propagate the lie and slander his name viciously in their advancement of something they're so ignorant about.As a Christian,your mission should be to investigate something as wicked as the hellfire doctrine so thoroughly and meticulously that you will come to understand scripture doesn't support it at all,not when you research what Gehenna(the consuming fire Jesus preached!) means and interpret NT passages that seem to support it in the OT context.If it breaks your heart to read about what Servetus suffered,how will you live peacefully in a Kingdom where this ceaselessly happens to billions or more just below you?Good luck with that!You would literally have to be heartless,soulless,ignorant,and corrupt.That isn't possible when you're perfectly righteous,now is it?

I also thought about how Christians find Muhammed(of Muslim fame) disgusting for what he has done,in terms of his pedophilia and murders.Muslims of course will quickly defend him and say he was just acting like everyone would have at the time.As a Christian you don't accept this defense for his crimes.So why would you accept it for Calvin's?

Wouldn't it also be smart to question a doctrine like the trinity that produced this kind of fruit in so many?Because the word heretic can connote to those being called the title images of slaughter and torture,wouldn't it also be smart to think twice before so freely using it to condemn others?Do you really want that kind of spirit manifest in your witness to the Christ?Although technically those who promote a teaching that strays from the truth as presented in scripture are promoting heresy,oft times those who believe Jesus is the Christ,the Son of the Living God are called heretics because they won't confess he's the second person of a triune substance,coequal and consubstantial to the one he called the only true God,inexplicably!Scripture fails miserably to communicate the concept of a trinity,so check your motives,facts,and history.

I've also noticed the Christians who condemn Jehovah's Witnesses for being unwilling to question the men they follow are also often unwilling to question the men they follow.Once deception has kicked in it's almost like it's an unstoppable train.Do you know how EASY it is to believe the lies of men who can manipulate words and ideas that are impossible and make them sound plausible? The Watchtower organization does not have the monopoly on corrupt false teachers,deceptive rhetoric and bloodguilt.

ALSO for the Christians:

Do you know how difficult it is to actually understand when you're a slave to tradition that contradicts truth and deceived?If not,ask someone raised a Jehovah's Witness or Muslim if they have the truth.Don't think it's possible for them to be blinded but not for you.


  1. I love reading your posts. Although this story is disturbing, it also is history that should be told. Spot on with your logic. I think you're about ready for a book. (I'll be looking for a signed copy lol)

  2. A man of God does not believe in killing heretics! is Mohamed and his followers who do such despicable things!