You are hereThe Right to Heresy

The Right to Heresy

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By Virgil - Posted on 05 April 2006

by Virgil Vaduva
He killed fifty-seven people; banished seventy-six. Confiscated property of political and theological enemies; took power by public revolt and despotism; he ruled with an iron fist. Iste Gallusthat Frenchman – was the first reference to him in official books and records of Geneva, but his name was Jehan Calvin; an incredible attorney, stellar theologian, a tyrant and a murderer.

The Context

Dieu m’a fait la grace de declarer ce qu’est bon et mauvais – God has been gracious enough to reveal unto me good and evil.” – John Calvin

Without a doubt, our detractors will accuse of us being mean-spirited and unnecessarily rough in our treatment of Calvin, but what needs to be well outlined first is the context in which this conversation takes place. While I have many very good friends who openly subscribe to the doctrine of Calvinism, it has been my personal experience that many Calvin-ists display a very disturbing sense of self-righteousness and characteristics ranging from lone defender of the Elect, truth and the very essence of the Gospel of Christ to acknowledgement of a unique and lonely existence as God’s sheep in the midst of wolves and enemies. While these are not necessarily bad characteristics, they appear to take an overly negative and proprietary tone when Calvinists take them on.

The issue becomes even more disturbing in many instances when conversations and theological disagreements stray from theology and venture into the territory of deep personal attacks, obsessive behavior, stalking and public outbursts and wishes of personal destruction for those who disagree with them. Like their Maitre, many Calvinists view themselves proudly as the one and only defenders of Truth; and as they do so, they not only bear the name of their master by proudly calling themselves Calvin-ists but follow him in action too by actively rooting for the physical and spiritual harm of those who choose to differ in doctrinal matters.

By no means is this a Calvinist-only manifestation for sin permeates all men; however this does seem to be in my opinion – and the opinions of many I have consulted – a more common characteristic of Calvinists. Indeed, it seems as if many Calvinists wish to mirror their Maitre not just in doctrine but in all other actions, just as the tyrant himself forced his doctrine on the whole of Geneva, too often under the threat of excommunication and death. Is was quite normal for Calvin to get violently sick when he encountered theological dissent, with his stomach becoming severely and nervously affected by opposition, so much so that he would not sleep and eat and would often vomit bile. Such was the way Calvin handled disagreements, often dispatching threats of eternal fire with his warning letters to detractors.

And without a doubt, this will be perceived as a personal attack by our Calvinist friends who will likely take this honest and truthful criticism of their master as criticism of Christ himself, but I am not the one carrying the name of a man such as Calvin, nor am I afraid as Calvin’s contemporaries were, because God has blessed us with life in a country where we can freely speak our minds regarding both political and theological matters, and thankfully, no Calvinistic tyrant can climb the ladder of power and like Servetus, burn me at the stake, slowly, over matters of doctrine.

May it be as it will, I pray that however this message is perceived, it is perceived as coming from my heart, and may the outcome be on the heads of those choosing to ignore history, and those who choose to hide it because they shamefully equate “doctrine” with “Gospel” and because they seemingly choose to put the name of Calvin above that of Christ, perhaps not openly, but certainly in their action.

So the purpose of this article is not to insult or cause harm to any of my brothers, but rather to evoke the power of facts and history in regards to a man they hold in high esteem, and perhaps rightly so since Calvin was an illustrious theologian, attorney and politician, having had a great effect on the Reformation and the Christian world since his own time. But if illustriousness, political power and legal skill brings a man in accord with God’s will and brings justification for evil actions, then many men, including Nero, Hitler and Lenin would have been justified before God for their evil. And indeed, evil is what Calvin has done while reigning in Geneva. Evidently, killing heretics was so insidious that it came naturally at the time of Calvin; rarely was the death penalty opposed, and it never occurred to Christians as far as we can see that suppression of thought should be viewed as immoral and un-Christian. However, justifying the many executions and killings in Geneva with a Biblical framework is inexcusable regardless of the year and social context in which they take place, especially if we are to believe the Scripture to be the timeless, unchanging and inerrant Word of God.

So since the purpose of this article is to reveal history as it was, I ask you the reader to patiently read this not-too-lengthy analysis of Calvin and his actions in Geneva. There are many things covered, many names mentioned, so your patience may be required.

That Frenchman

In the 1500s, Luther’s Reformation swept Europe quickly and brought about not just religious change, but a thirst for political freedom and independence. Many people recognized that just as the Catholic Church has little power and sway over the individual’s freedom, neither did the noblemen and un-elected princes of Europe. In Germany, the peasants revolted against the rich landowners out of sheer poverty and desperation, and they were slaughtered by the thousands. Ironically, Luther wanted no part of the political changes that came about as a result of his actions. Regarding the peasants Luther wrote: "They should be knocked to pieces, strangled and stabbed, secretly and openly, by everybody who can do it, just as one must kill a mad dog!" [1]

Tumult and excitement spread across the known world, and Geneva, a city state at the time, was no exception. After a few years of Catholic killing and bashing, the Catholic faith has been completely and utterly eliminated from public life in Geneva, thus on a spring Sunday in 1536, on May 21, all men, women and children of the burghers of Geneva gathered in the town square and raised their hands declaring that from this day forward they would all live exclusively “selon l’evangile et la parole de Dieu.” – By the gospel and the word of God.

This was the environment in which Calvin rose to power and notoriety, and because the Reformation was often brought to fruition through violence and destruction, the post-Reformation years were often confusing and seeped in despair for the commoners like the citizens of Geneva. The authority of the Catholic Church was missing, and the theological and political void was so strong that many local governments and states were desperate to prevent a total collapse of order and justice. And in this environment Calvin happened to visit Geneva at the age of twenty-seven. Having already written his famous Institutio, Calvin was a well-known theologian and was well-received by Farel the preacher, a man who was credited for driving the Catholics out of Geneva.

Farel talked Calvin into staying in Geneva, and on September 5, 1536, the city officially allowed “iste Gallus” – that Frenchman (Gaul) – to take on the responsibilities of a preacher of the gospel. So minor and normal was this action that the secretary taking minutes did not even bother to find out the name of Calvin; he was only known as that Frenchman. [2] Having been trained in the best seminaries and law schools of Europe, Calvin was one of the most educated men of his time. He was a brilliant and calculated attorney, a careful and impassionate theologian and truly put the whole of his heart into whatever work he was involved in; we are told that he would often sleep three or four hours each night, with his light burning among the Genovese homes hours before the city would wake up for its daily work.

Within three months, Calvin has created a detailed Catechism or Creed for the city of Geneva, and he submitted it to the City Council with the insistence that there could be no separation between spiritual and political matters, and that the city should immediately adopt it as law, down to the letter.[3] Calvin and Farel’s proposed creed did not only outline matters of faith, but they were in essence State laws, and the City Council, while not educated on matters of theology, initially agreed to the demands but later recognized this as an attempt to usurp the democracy of Geneva and refused to continue their support for Calvin and Farel over many complaints from the citizens.[4] Furthermore, because of continuous political pressure coming from Calvin’s faction, in 1538 the city retracted Calvin and Farel’s powers to excommunicate. As retaliation, at the Easter service, Calvin refused to distribute the Lord’s Supper to the entire city of Geneva, so the Council banned Calvin from the pulpit. The confrontation came to the two factions, sword in hand, facing each other in the middle of the St. Pierre Cathedral on Easter Sunday, where Calvin and his supporters forced their way against the wishes of the City Council. Bloodshed was barely averted, and eventually both Calvin and Farel were expelled from Geneva.

It was not until three years later when Calvin’s supporters gained a majority in the City Council and decided to invite Calvin back as their preacher that Calvin accepted supreme power in Geneva under some very strict conditions; he was to put forth an interpretation of the Gospel after which political, social and judicial structure would be defined. This manifested later through the creation of the Consistory, which was essentially a judicial court in which men appointed by Calvin, and Calvin himself would handle various offenses brought before them. These offenses could range from daily matters of morality such as dancing and singing, to doctrinal and theological matters which often resulted in banishment, confiscation of property and even death. It was rare that the Consistory opposed Calvin; in fact doctrinal matters were almost always deferred to Calvin and were left up to his own judgment. While Calvin was adamant to explain that Consistory decisions involved the entire group, it is now historically evident that he had a large amount of political sway over the members of the Consistory. There is in fact only one recorded instance I was able to discover in which the Consistory disagreed with Calvin over punishment, and that is in the case of a man named Troillet who refused to accept the doctrine of Predestination and refused to punish the man despite Calvin’s vociferous recommendations.[5]

Calvin’s Rule

“…bete indomptable et feroce…une ordure…- wild and ferocious beast…a refuse…” – John Calvin describing mankind in Institutio.

With Calvin back in charge, Geneva was now on its way to infamy. Willingly subjecting itself to the worst kind of theocratic ruling, the citizens of Geneva were about to learn the value of freedom the hard way. The Elders in the Consistory were becoming very busy enforcing Calvin’s draconian regulations, so much so that well-established Church holidays like Christmas were banished. Incense, statues, paintings, music, the organ and even the church bells were destroyed or banished from use. In fact, the Elders of Geneva were allowed to randomly inspect all citizens at will. Grown men were tested on the memorization of prayers and women’s dresses were felt by the fingers of the Elders – if they had dangerous slits and frills, if they were too short and too long. They measured the hairdos of women to see if it was too high or too low, counted the rings on their fingers, and the pairs of shoes in their closets. They enforced dietary regulations to prevent one from indulging with too much meat, and to ensure that jams and sweets were not hidden in the kitchen; bookshelves were searched for any books not approved by the Consistory, and servants were questioned apart from the masters to ensure that truth was being told. No one was allowed to “make music” or enjoy anything that remotely resembled pleasure, and when Calvin was preaching, house visitations were made “where some slothful wretch was lying in bed instead of seeking edification from Master Calvin’s sermon.” [6]

But to be true to history, we should cover all of the actions of Calvin’s minions should there be enough paper and space allowing us to do so. Church informers would carefully watch the service to make sure that no citizen arrived or left late. They prowled the banks of Rhone to prevent late-night caressing and ransacked visitor’s luggage in inns and hotels for anything that would corrupt Geneva. Every letter that entered or left the city was opened. But perhaps the worst of the offence against freedom was that many citizens took on the unofficial role of “spy” that if a Genovese traveled to Paris or Lyons, he was just as much subject to the Elders’ enforcement as if he was still in Geneva. Truly, this sends shivers down my spine, because it rings true the Communist years spent in Romania where five out of every ten people were Communist informers and would turn in anyone and everyone would dare speak against the government.

But why stop there? Tailors were forbidden to create garments considered too extravagant by Calvin. Girls were not allowed to wear silk until they were fifteen, and women were never allowed to wear velvet clothing. Gold, silver, lace, golden hair, visible buttons, ornaments, curled hair, lace, gloves, carriages, meals with twenty or more people, parties, sweets, candied fruits, game, pastries, present giving, entering an inn, serving a meal without a prayer, printing books, sculptures, psalm-singing, naming children with non-Biblical names, and lastly, criticism of Calvin or his writings, were all strictly prohibited and severely punishable by the Consistory.

Death in Calvin’s Geneva

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. – 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.” – John Calvin, Institutio [7]

While Calvin’s ascension to power in Geneva is both fascinating and deeply disturbing, the moral policing of Geneva is in fact not where Calvin’s enforcement power stopped. Thanks to the detailed record-keeping, we know the outcome of many of the practical aspects of Calvin’s theology and the methods of punishment, death often being not overlooked in the process. Let us take a look at just a few of the incidents listed in the minute-book:

  • A man smiled while attending a baptism: three days in prison.
  • A man slept during Calvin’s sermon: prison.
  • Some men ate pastries for breakfast: three days on bread and water.
  • Two men played skittles: prison.
  • Two men played dice for a quarter-bottle of wine: prison.
  • Man refused the name Abraham for his son: prison.
  • Blind fiddler played a dance: expulsion.
  • Man praised Castellio’s Bible translation: expulsion.
  • A girl went skating; a widow threw herself on her husband’s grave: ordered to penance.
  • Some youngsters stuck a bean into the cake: 24 hours bread and water.
  • A citizen said “Monsieur Calvin – Mister Calvin” rather than “Maitre Calvin – Master Calvin”: prison.
  • Two peasants discussing business matters coming out of church: prison.
  • Man singing “riotously” in the street: expulsion.
  • Two boatmen brawling: execution for both.
  • Two boys behaving indelicately: burning at the stake, sentence commuted.
  • Some men laughing while Calvin was preaching: three days in prison.
  • Young girl insulted her mother: bread and water.
  • Young boy called his mother a devil and threw a stone at her: public whipping and suspended by his arms to a gallows as a sign that he deserved death.
  • Sixteen year old boy threatened to hit his mother and was condemned to death. Because of his youth, his punishment was changed to banishment after public whipping.

It seemed that with every sentence handed out, the Consistory was becoming more and more violent until death became an acceptable punishment for those who personally criticized Maitre Calvin. A man named Jacques Gruet was racked and executed for simply calling Calvin a hypocrite and for atheism.[8] As adultery was punishable by imprisonment before Calvin’s arrival to Geneva, it was now punishable by death. A woman by the name of Anne Le Moine who supposedly committed adultery with Antoine Cossonez faced death together with her partner in crime. After both being severely tortured, they admitted to the charges of adultery and they were both executed; she was drowned in the Rhone and he was decapitated.[9] Two other citizens of the best families in Geneva, Heinrich Philip and Jacques le Nevue were also beheaded at the orders of the Consistory for adultery.[10]

While these punishments may seem in line with the contemporary lifestyle and the judicial systems of the day, there was no harsher punishment than of those who publicly criticized Calvin and challenged his social and theological positions. Thus a man who challenged predestination was severely flogged and expelled and a book printer who railed at Calvin had his tongue perforated with a red-hot iron and kicked out of Geneva. A woman named Copa de Ferrara was banished from Geneva within twenty four hours “or she will lose her head.” This was because she “uttered heretical expressions against Calvin and the Consistory.” In the two years of 1558 and 1559 alone, there were four hundred and fourteen such trials regarding heresies against Calvin and the Consistory.[11]

As in any dictatorial and tyrannical society, those running the affairs of the government often exclude themselves from the requirements, responsibilities and the laws to which the citizens are bound. In 1542 and 1545, the plague struck the city of Geneva. But under these dire circumstances in which the citizens were dying by the thousands, Calvin’s strict rules went straight out the window. The same Consistory that insisted that “under pain of punishment every sick person must within three days summon a divine to his bedside” was now nowhere to be found. Calvin himself and his minions strictly refused to see any of the sick and were careful to stay out of danger. Not one single volunteer except Sebastian Castellio who was the school’s rector offered to be at the bedside of the dying and Calvin instructed his servants to declare him “indispensable” saying that “it would not do to weaken the whole Church in order to help a part of it.”[12]

Ironically, many Catholic priests during these very same times gladly risked and even gave their lives in order to console the dying citizens of other cities like Marseilles and Vienna. The same preachers who have been demanding the highest sacrifice from the Genovese were now carefully staying away from those truly in need; thus due to the discontent of the people, the Consistory put on quite a spectacle: “Some destitute fellows were seized and tortured until they admitted having brought plague into the town by smearing the door-latches with an ointment prepared from devil’s dung.”[13] Calvin fully endorsed these false charges and claimed from his pulpit that the “sowers of the plague” did a very good job and that as a punishment the Devil himself dragged an atheist Genovese out of his bed and tossed him into Rhone, all in broad daylight.

No better description of Calvin’s reign in Geneva can be used than that of Audin’s who writes: “There is but one word heard or read: Death. Death to every one guilty of high treason against God; death to every one guilty of high treason against the State; death to the son that strikes or curses his father; death to the adulterer; death to heretics. During the space of twenty years, commencing from the date of Calvin’s recall, the history of Geneva is a bloody drama, in which pity, dread, terror, indignation, and tears, by turns, appear to seize upon the soul. At each step we encounter chains, thongs, a stake, pincers, melted pitch, fire, and sulphur. And throughout the whole there is blood. One imagines himself in Dante’s Hell, where sighs, groans, and lamentations continually resound.” [14]

But while we may all marvel at the severity of punishment in relation to the crime, nothing comes close to the killing of Michael Servetus, a Spanish doctor, a refugee from the Spanish and French inquisitions and the hunting and persecution to the death of Sebastian Castellio, a friend and pupil of Calvin.

Sebastian Castellio and the Freedom of Conscience

If Christ himself came to Geneva, he would be crucified. For Geneva is not a place of Christian liberty. It is ruled by a new pope, but one who burns men alive, while the pope at Rome at least strangles them first.” – Sebastian Castellio in his response to Calvin’s Defense of the Christian Faith

About two hundred years after Calvin, when discussing the life and events surrounding Castellio and Calvin, Voltaire wrote: “We can measure the virulence of this tyranny by the persecution to which Castellio was exposed at Calvin’s instance – although Castellio was a far greater scholar than Calvin, whose jealousy drove him out of Geneva.”[15] Indeed, Voltaire seems to have understood the matters at hand very well, and if there ever was a spiritual hero to hold up, especially for us Preterists, Sebastian Castellio is certainly someone to behold and admire.

Born in 1515, Castellio was educated at the University of Lyons in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Having been educated also in German and Italian, he quickly became one of the most learned men of his time, speaking a large number of languages, and having vast knowledge of theology and astronomy. Having experienced the Catholic Inquisition in Lyons and being forever changed after seeing heretics being burned alive, he adopted the ideas of the Reformation and found himself soon attracted to Strasbourg where Calvin was exiled at the time. Castellio made a very strong impression on Calvin after only one meeting; therefore after Calvin’s return to Geneva, he was offered the position of rector at the newly created school in Geneva and the position of preacher in Vandoeuvres.

All was well for Castellio and Calvin in Geneva until Castellio decided to do a full translation of the Bible into his native language, French. While an extremely noble goal, Castellio in his innocence failed to anticipate the opposition he would receive from Calvin in this simple task. Because Calvin required all books printed in Geneva to be approved by him, Castellio had to meet with Calvin in order to secure permission to print his Bible and seek his endorsement. Sadly, Calvin already endorsed a French translation done by a relative so Castellio’s Bible was inconveniently interfering with his publishing enterprise, and Calvin was quite irritated with his pupil’s endeavor. In a letter to Viret, Calvin wrote: “Just listen to Sebastian’s preposterous scheme, which makes me smile, and at the same time angers me. Three days ago he called on me, to ask permission for the publication of his translation of the New Testament.” [16]

Calvin issued a blanket denial to Castellio’s request; he would only grant permission with the provision that Calvin would be the first to read the translation and have veto power to make any changes he considered necessary. This was in line with Calvin’s view of himself as inerrant and perhaps even divinely inspired. In a dramatic contrast to Calvin’s attitude, later on Castellio would humbly admit in the preface to his Bible translation that he did not fully understand the Bible, that he viewed it as a hard-to-understand book and that he could only offer his own interpretation of the text, not a certainty and inerrant commentary on it.

Sebastian Castellio

Castellio attempted to compromise and offered Calvin the most he could offer without offending him: he offered to read the manuscript aloud at any time that was best for Calvin and take all the advice from Calvin regarding the translation, but again, his offer was rejected without any explanation. It was after this disappointing meeting that Sebastian was appointed by the City Council unanimously on December 15, 1543 to the office of preacher. But since the appointment was done without Calvin’s approval, it was soon reversed at Calvin’s opposition. In a letter to Farel, Calvin wrote: “There are important reasons against this appointment. To the Council I merely hinted at these reasons, without expressing them openly. At the same time, to avert erroneous suspicion, I was careful to make no attack on his reputation, being desirous to protect him.”[17]

Ambiguous words coming from Calvin, ambiguous enough that nobody on the Council could make any sense of, so much so that Castellio challenged Calvin to appear before the Council and explain what the “important reasons” again his appointment as preacher were. It turns out that these important reasons consisted of two disagreements over vague theology. Castellio declared that the Song of Solomon was insulting through the presentation of breasts who are “like two fawns that are twins of a roe” thus was not a sacred, but a profane poem; secondly he explained the descent of Jesus into hell slightly different than Calvin. Those two points of disagreement were quoted by Calvin as disqualifying Sebastian from the office of minister of the Gospel. Yet again, this confirms the absolute tyranny Calvin perpetrated upon the citizens of Geneva, considering his own interpretation of the Scripture as ultimate and inerrant truth, therefore demonizing anyone even slightly disagreeing with him.

Calvin and Castellio’s disagreements widened even more when during a public meeting, Castellio rose to his feet and proclaimed that clergy should no longer hide behind the Scripture and be held to the same standards they demand of others: “Paul was patient, but we are extremely impatient. Paul suffered injustice at the hands of others, but we persecute the innocent.” [18] How often have we Preterists heard this very same argument being made in our own defense, and how often have we also been attacked under the pretenses of “Paul condemned Hymenaeus therefore we also condemn you?” Castellio himself recognized the difference between Paul and Calvin and did not hesitate to point out that Calvin was not Paul, was not inerrant, and lacked the authority to make decisions and judgment calls as Paul did.

Calvin was finally fed up with him and charged Castellio with the crime of “undermining the prestige of the clergy.” Castellio’s profession was over. He asked the Council to relieve him of his duties and asked for the following dismissal letter: “That no one may form a false idea of the reasons for the departure of Sebastian Castellio, we all declare that he has voluntarily resigned his position as rector at the College, and up till now performed his duties in such a way that we regarded him worthy to become one of our preachers. If, in the end, the affair was not thus arranged, this is not because ay fault has been found in Castellio’s conduct, but merely for the reasons previously indicated.” [19]

After Castellio left Geneva, he lived in abject poverty, barely being able to provide even the most basic needs for himself and his family. He found himself often tutoring and proofreading for little money, and often did physical labor by digging ditches for food. Indeed, being one of the most learned and intelligent men of his time, an equal to Calvin, he was unable to find a job to match his qualifications, mostly because no one would hire someone that was on Calvin’s bad side and in order to avoid upsetting Geneva. But soon enough, Castellio would settle in Basle with a job at the local university. He would be quiet for a few years, until something atrocious upset him to no end. And nothing upset Castellio more than the heartless execution and outright murder of Michael Servetus.

The Murder of Michael Servetus

"He declares himself ready to come hither if I wish him to; but I will 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." – John Calvin in a letter to Farel, seven years before the execution of Servetus.

There are very few inequities in the world that equal that of the early Reformed church spilling the blood of tens of thousands of heretics and sinners, and if one of these individuals should be identified above the others – should we be forced to choose – Miguel Servetus is perhaps the most striking of them all. Servetus was a Spanish man having one important thing in common with Calvin: he was also on the run from the Inquisition. While his education certainly did not match that of Calvin and Castellio, Servetus was also a very educated man in the historical context of the Reformation. In what Stefan Zweig describes a “Don Quixotic” style, Servetus was a man to challenge all things established; Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were certainly not revolutionary enough for him. So Don Quixotic was Servetus in his approach to theology that at the ripe age of twenty, he proudly declared that the Council of Nicea made the wrong decision regarding the doctrine of Trinity; and so zealous was Servetus about his ideas that he traveled to Strasbourg and Basle to meet with several of the leaders of the Reformation, like Martin Bucer, Capito and Johannes Oecolampadius to convince them that the Reformation needs to get its doctrine on Trinity “right.”

Michael Servetus

Of course, Servetus in his innocence greatly miscalculated. The Reformed preachers were furious with him. Bucer denounced Servetus from his pulpit as “a child of the devil.” Zwingli wrote about the “criminal Spaniard, whose false and evil doctrine would, if it could, sweep away our whole Christian religion” and Oecolampadius kicked him out calling him a “blasphemer and a man possessed.” [20] But while this would discourage and rightly warn any person from further pursuing this line of action, Servetus became even more motivated to spread his ideas.

When he was twenty two years old, he published his first book De Trinitatis erroribus libri septera declaring both Protestants and Catholics mistaken in their doctrine; as a result, calls for his death on both sides became louder and louder. Bucer wrote that he deserved “to have the guts torn out of his living body” and the Catholic Inquisition actively started to hunt him down. Eventually, Servetus ended up assuming aliases under which he taught medicine (in Paris) and eventually became the personal doctor of the Archbishop of Vienne, taking on the name Michel de Villeneuve.

Having a hard time keeping himself from espousing “heresies,” Servetus found a way to contact Calvin in Geneva. The two of them started to exchange a large number of letters, Servetus being always on the offensive, trying to convince Calvin of the error of Trinity. While at first Calvin patiently pointed out the theological errors, he grew more and more annoyed and angry with Servetus’ insistence and correspondence. The last straw was then Servetus sent Calvin a copy of Institutio with corrections written in the margins. In a letter to Farel, Calvin describes his contempt for Servetus: “Servetus seizes my books and defiles them with abusive remarks much as a dog bites a stone and gnaws it… I care as little for this fellow's words as I care for the hee-haw of a donkey.” [21]

Rather than realizing the deadly danger he was in, Servetus continued to send Calvin letters, culminating with a copy of his not-yet-printed manuscript Christianismi Restitutio (Restoration of Christianity or The Payback of Christianity) a play on words off Calvin’s book Institutio. Finally, this seems to have been the time when Calvin decided that Servetus will die, and this is when he wrote to Farel that if Servetus even comes to Geneva, he will not walk out alive.[22]

The next several years were marked by silence from both Calvin and Servetus, until Geneva’s spies in Vienne discovered the true identity of the Archbishop’s doctor. As I learned of Calvin’s next course of action, I was blown away by the outright attempt to assassinate Servetus. Since Servetus was out of Calvin’s reach, Calvin decided to throw his opponent to the jaws of the Inquisition. At his request, one of Calvin’s subjects in Geneva wrote a letter to his fanatic Catholic cousin in Lyons. On February 26, 1553 the letter dispatched to Antoine Arneys reveals the true name of the Archbishop of Vienna’s doctor, even including fragments from his newly published books. This was a calculated move, and rightly so, Calvin counted on Antoine to immediately take the letter to the Catholic authorities, which is what happened exactly. But perhaps to Calvin’s disappointment, Servetus had friends in high places; by the time the inquisitors made it to Vienna, his printing press, copies of his books and any incriminating documents were all gone, and the Archbishop vowed for his own doctor, that he was a man to be trusted.

This enraged Calvin even more. He directed his Genovese friend to write yet another letter to his Catholic cousin, this time showing surprise at the fact that the first was turned over to the authorities, but also including incriminating letters from Servetus to Calvin, written in his own handwriting. Ironically, Calvin even lied later when denying that he had anything to do with the letters sent out to the Inquisitors. But as Zweig rightly asks, how did a citizen of Geneva get his hands on Calvin’s personal letters, and at last, why did this man, named Trie write: “I was so importunate as to declare that if Monsieur Calvin would not help me, the reproach of bringing an unwarrantable charge would attach to me, unless he handed over to me the confirmatory material I enclose.” [23]

Trie’s own letter proves Calvin to be not just a liar, but a man bent on the physical destruction of his theological detractors. How I tremble thinking of the cold-blooded, calculated steps taken by Calvin to ensure the death of Servetus; but disappointment was again to come soon to Geneva. After Servetus was arrested based on his letters to Calvin, good fortune smiled on him again – he soon escaped from prison and for whatever reason he found necessary, in August 1553 he entered Geneva and got a room at “The Rose.” And if coming to Geneva was not bad enough, he immediately went to St. Pierre’s Sunday morning service where Calvin immediately recognized him and had him arrested after the service.

Proudly and wishfully writing to a friend before the trial and before any evidence was brought to light Calvin said “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.” [24] But if the spectacle involving Servetus could even be called a trial, Calvin refused Servetus even the most basic human requirements. Servetus was chained into a dark room at the mercy of devouring fleas and was left to sleep in his own filth without any change of clothing. Treated worse than a petty criminal, he petitioned the City Council for better conditions: “Fleas are devouring me; my shoes are torn to pieces; I have nothing clean to wear…I beg of you, for the love of Christ, not to refuse me what you would give to a Turk or a criminal. Nothing has been done for to fulfill your orders that I should be kept clean. I am in more pitiful condition than ever. It is abominably cruel I should be given no chance of attending to my bodily needs.[25]

It is apparent that even when the City Council tried to intervene and better the condition in which Servetus was imprisoned, someone intervened and ensured that the orders of the Council were ignored. What possible cruel conscience would allow for such horrible punishment and imprisonment of a man over matters of theology?

Furthermore, the conditions in which Servetus was imprisoned also affected his temperament, so much so that during the trial, he would let his temper get the best of him rather than deal with the questions at hand, although many of the questions were related to his private affairs, such as his sexual life and had little to do with the charges of heresy.

Eventually, on October 27, 1553, at eleven in the morning, Servetus was brought out of his prison cell and was taken to Champel, “there to be burned alive, together with the manuscript of his book.” Falling of his knees, Servetus begged the City Council to execute him instead by the sword, admitting that under the agony of the fire he “may repudiate the convictions of a lifetime.” This last request was refused, and purposefully, the pieces of wood setup for burning were chosen to be half-green rather than dry, so they would burn slower and cause more agony. The manuscript of his book which he mailed to Calvin seven years earlier was tied around his neck, and a crown of leaves soaked in sulfur was placed on his head.

After the executioner lit the fire, Servetus screamed “Jesus, Son of everlasting God, have pity on me!” Farel, who accompanied him every step, mockingly noted that should Servetus have called on “Jesus, the Eternal Son” he would have been saved, but the wording of his last cry proved his theological error and eternal damnation.

It is without a doubt that the execution of Servetus was one of the darkest moments in the history of Christianity. I have read every excuse on Calvin’s behalf, from blaming the City Council alone, to blaming Servetus himself for his own death; not once did Calvin take responsibility for arresting and killing a man who committed no crime in Geneva, and history itself shows that most likely, the killing of Servetus was a premeditated and cold-blooded affair.

And this is where Sebastian Castellio becomes enraged at Calvin’s outrageous and murderous actions. Responding to Calvin’s vain attempts to defend his actions and shift blame to the City Council, Castellio started writing under the name Martinus Bellius. In his Manifesto on Behalf of Toleration, Castellio appealed to a host of Church Fathers, and contemporary theologians. Rather than using masterful words to convince the audience, Castellio used opinions of theologians regarding tolerance. From St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Chrysostom to Luther, Franck and Erasmus all opinions quoted were against death and torture of heretics. Calvin’s own words from Institutio were quoted: “It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind.” [26]

Castellio masterfully demonstrated how the word “heretic” is subjective to each group of people; to the Catholics, a Protestant was a heretic, and to Protestants, a Catholic was a heretic. He plainly concludes: “When I reflect on what a heretic really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views.” If there is a man to admire for his cunning logic and theological common sense in the 1500s, Castellio meets and surpasses my expectations. Demonstrating that peaceful living can only take place when we control our intolerance of other opinions, Castellio put forth the very first thesis for a world in which various theological, political and social opinions can peacefully coexist.

Often Calvin is credited by some Calvinists with the very invention of democracy and freedom. Far be it from me to believe such a claim. If anything, we have seen that Calvin was a tyrant and a dictator. Rather Castellio and even Servetus should be the ones credited with the ideas of religious tolerance and freedom; and if anything, we can observe from the behavior and outright hatred coming from Calvin’s followers that Calvin-ism encourages anything but love and tolerance of those who believe and think differently.

Dedicated and with endless energy, Castellio continued his quest to demonstrate Calvin’s guilt in regards to Servetus. He set forth to write Contra libellum Calvini. Being well acquainted with Calvin, he took a line of reasoning from which Calvin could not escape. Using Geneva’s own minutes as evidence, he showed that the only charge of which Servetus was guilty was that “the Spaniard interpreted the Bible independently and arbitrarily, leading him to other conclusions than those of Calvin’s ecclesiastical doctrine.”

Castellio writes: “Calvin, however, taking for granted his own infallibility, regards his views as right and the views of anyone who may differ from his as wrong…who appointed Calvin judge concerning what is true and what is untrue? Of course, Calvin tells us that every writer who does not say aye to his aye, and no to his no, is an evilly disposed person. He therefore demands that those who differ from him shall be prevented, not only from writing, but also from speaking, the implications being that he alone is entitled to expound what he regards as right.” [27]

Sadly, because of Calvin’s power and Geneva’s influence, Castellio’s magnificent book was never published for another fifty years; there seems to be no English translation of the work. I will see to it that through my effort, or that of a translator, Castellio’s Contra libellum Calvini will soon become available in English, so that others may benefit from the work of this obscure but most excellent theologian. Being one of the first to espouse freedom of the conscience, toleration, mercy and understanding among believers, Castellio is often ignored in Christian circles dominated by Calvin’s theology; perhaps this is due to the fact that generally speaking, with a few exceptions, Calvin’s way of handling discord appeals well to certain individuals who mostly label themselves as Calvinists. This is true especially within Preterism, where Calvinist Preterists seem to be utterly unable to tolerate anything different or at odds with their own theological notions; furthermore they go above and beyond simple disagreement, actively rooting for the physical and spiritual destruction of their opponents.

Just as Calvin allowed only one opinion in Geneva, his opinion, such are those carrying his name still today. They hate, scorn, mock, destroy, kick, scream and attack anyone and everyone who chooses to think independently from them, be it on small theological matters, or drastic differences such as Trinity, Universalism and Predestination. Should we all be back in the 1500s Geneva, without a doubt they would be standing at Calvin’s side, warming their hands by our burning bodies; ironically, they do all this while actively professing Preterism, something Calvin would consider an outrageous heresy worthy of the most abominable torturous death in his Geneva. While it is not surprising, it is ironic and sad that of all critics, Preterists would take the unilateral attitude of Calvin and be so ready to condemn others over their differences. It is in accordance to history and the freedom of conscience first professed by Castellio and Servetus that I also profess my right to heresy.

I dedicate my work and research for this article to Miguel Servetus, Sebastian Castellio, Socrates, Galileo, Jesus and all the other “heretics” who lost their lives in their quests to reveal and unfold Truth before the world.


[1] Martin Luther, Against the Thievish and Murderous Hordes of Peasants, 1524

[2] The Geneva Council kept detailed minutes of all their meetings. They can all be found in the city archives and on various Internet websites.

[3] Calvin and Farel’s Creed was to be read at St. Pierre’s Cathedral every Sunday “until the people understood it.” As Calvin wrote, “We easily succeeded in obtaining that the citizens should be summoned by tens, and swear to adopt the confession, which was done with much satisfaction.” Those who refused to adopt the confession lost their citizenship rights.

[4] Complaints from the citizens of Geneva intensified when Farel refused to use unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper, and refused to observe Christmas, New Year, Annunciation and Ascension. The city of Berne was consulted on this matter and ruled against Farel.

[5] The Troillet case in 1552 came about after strong public reaction to the banishment of Jerome Bolsec, who also spoke against predestination. The negative public reaction motivated the Consistory to refuse punishment when predestination was publicly criticized – William Gilbert, Renaissance and Reformation, Lawrence, KS: Carrie, 1998, Ch. 14.

[6] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 57.

[7] This phrase appeared only in the first edition of Institutio and was later erased by Calvin in subsequent editions.

[8] Phillip Schaaf, History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII, Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.

[9] Robert N. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1995, pp. 123.

[10] Paul Henry, D.D., The Life and Times of John Calvin, The Great Reformer, Vol. I, pp. 360.

[11] Ibid. pp. 448.

[12] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 70.

[13] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 71.

[14] Vincent Audin, Life of Calvin, ch. XXXVI. 354, Am. ed.

[15] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 89.

[16] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 79.

[17] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 82.

[18] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 86.

[19] When Castellio asked to be dismissed as a preacher in Vandoeuvres over his differences with Calvin, he asked for a letter from the City Council to prevent Calvin from manufacturing charges later on. The letter can be found today in the Basle Library.

[20] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 104.

[21] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 102.

[22] The entire paragraph in question from Calvin’s letter to Farel is: “Servetus wrote to me lately, and besides 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 will 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.”

[23] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 112.

[24] Walter Nigg, The Heretics, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962, pp. 328.

[25] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 124.

[26] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 152.

[27] Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 175.

Other Related Articles:

  • Preterism and Calvinism: The Philosophical Argument, Part 1
  • Preterism and Calvinism: The Historical Argument, Part 2
  • Preterism and Calvinism: The Scriptural Argument, Part 3
  • Parker's picture


    Servetus was not persecuted for mere inward thoughts. He was not a mere sympathizer but an activist revolutionary. It is activist revolutionaries that run into problems with law enforcement in any country. Servetus was active in seeking to subvert the Christianity that had universally been accepted (Trinitarian). Perhaps an equivalent today would be if some group sought to redefine Christianity around a non-divine Jesus. Such would be seen as a direct attack on Christianity by most Americans. So it was with Servetus.

    No one--not Calvin (i think) and not the Catholic Church--seeks to regulate a person's conscience. But when people cross over to being activist revolutionaries, they are taking on the law at their own risk.

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    Sorry, I wasn't aware that writing letters criticizing another's ideas was considered being an activist revolutionary.

    Virgil's picture

    Perhaps God has given the state a sword, but does that mean Christians should wield that sword?

    That's where the disconnect is Kyle - Parker sees the Church and Government as one and the same entity. Consequently breaking Church Laws is equal to breaking Church Laws, so it is morally acceptable to kill people for breaking Laws made by Church councils and Popes. Honestly, Parker and the rest are talking past each other...he rightly observed that there is no common ground on this matter.

    Parker's picture

    That's where the disconnect is Kyle - Parker sees the Church and Government as one and the same entity. Consequently breaking Church Laws is equal to breaking Church Laws, so it is morally acceptable to kill people for breaking Laws made by Church councils and Popes. Honestly, Parker and the rest are talking past each other...he rightly observed that there is no common ground on this matter.

    Virgil, please quit misrepresenting my position. The Church and the government are two entirely separate entities in the same way Microsoft and the government are two separate entities. The corporate structure of Microsoft has entirely no jurisdiction over the state and the state has entirely no jurisdiction over Microsoft. They are two different spheres.

    However, that does not mean a Microsoft employee cannot become a mayor if he should so choose. We have lots of Christians in America who serve their country in government. There is not one thing wrong with that.

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    We have lots of Christians in America who serve their country in government. There is not one thing wrong with that.

    Of course not, as long as they continue to represent the best interests of those under his/her jurisdiction. However, unilaterally passing laws (sometimes by bribes or force) which alienate the same people you represent is not welcome.

    Parker's picture

    Of course not, as long as they continue to represent the best interests of those under his/her jurisdiction.

    In America, the people determine the "best interests." If the majority of Americans decide it's in the best interest of the people that no one be allowed to restrict the free exercise of Christianity, and if such becomes law, then lawbreakers that seek to restrict the free exercise of Christianity will be subject to punishment. Simple enough. Atheist leaders Marx and Lenin did just the opposite: they saw to it that no person was permitted to practice religion. And so it was for many decades as christians were killed off. Such will happen in the US if Christians neglect their God-given responsibilities in the society.

    Another point. If a majority of Americans decide that Christianity be the *only* religion given protections, that would become the law of the land. As a result, those who would wish to subvert Christianity would then be subject to imprisonment, exile, or in the worst cases, execution. The Catholic Church strongly urges that governments NOT use capital punishment. Even so, the Church admits that the state does have a right to use lethal force.

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    Parker, you keep getting off track here by providing a pluthera of "what ifs".

    Just to remind everyone here....
    The ethical issue we are discussing is:

    Should a Christian holding government office make and/or enact theological-based (I believe)laws on his/her voters of which are punishable by death?

    You are arguing that this is okay.

    Parker's picture

    Situation: Christian majority votes to make a law saying that Christianity has the right of free exercise -- thus, government will step in with law enforcement if anyone like the ACLU tries to impede Christian activities and worship in any way.

    Kyle, is this situation immoral to you? Keep in mind that punishment can range from fines, imprisonment, exile, or execution, depending on the level of violation.

    Parker's picture


    It does seem strange that Virgil would co-opt the argument of a book written by a jewish pacifist who basically used the story of Calvin and Castellio as a shot at Hitler and Germany. If true, I think Virgil has some explaining to do.

    chrisliv's picture

    Dear, Parker,

    You're doing it again: The Nazi Defense.

    "If Australia wages a war, individual Australians are not guilty of "murdering," are they?"

    Can't you see that you're positing Statist idolatry and mindless obedience to a totalitarian State to justify atrocities, i.e., "Just following orders..."

    Even John Paul II might have found such nonsense worthy of excommunication. And, although Mr. Ratzinger, your current Pope, as a former Hitler Youth may have once believed as you do now, I'm sure he has repented of his Nazi indoctrination.

    Peace to you all,
    C. Livingstone

    Parker's picture

    I'm out of time, so you all can continue this discussion amongst yourselves. Plus, I'll never be able to find common ground on this topic with people who seriously doubt the state has the right to use force.

    God bless,

    chrisliv's picture


    There you go again, speaking as if the State is a person.

    Peace to you all,
    C. Livingstone

    Parker's picture

    CLIV, you get reckless with your accusations, perhaps for effect. I would expect someone who claims to be so righteous for his opposition to state authority to at least be ethical in his historical analysis. Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 because membership was legally required from December 1936.

    Furthermore, according to one of Ratzinger's biographers, the National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen, Ratzinger was an unenthusiastic member who refused to attend meetings.

    Moving on...for you to be consistent, if a psycho comes to your house to rape your wife and kids, you are obliged to NOT call the cops. Is that really your position on the state and its right to use force?

    chrisliv's picture


    Wake up, Parker.

    Are you really going to rely on some State employees to protect your wife and kids from hypothetical psychos?

    The State (The United State) employs and promotes psycho sharpshooters (like Lon Horiuchi) to shoot and kill wives as they are holding their children in their arms.

    Peace to you all,
    C. Livingstone

    Parker's picture

    Are you really going to rely on some State employees to protect your wife and kids from hypothetical psychos? The State (The United State) employs and promotes psycho sharpshooters (like Lon Horiuchi) to shoot and kill wives as they are holding their children in their arms.

    This conversation is of no use when I'm talking to folks who think the state has no legitimate authority to use force for law enforcement, war, or other. For CLIV, I'm a murderer because I vote, and therefore Calvin is an absolute monster.

    Cliv will never accept that God has given legitimate authority to the state to execute (Rom 13/Acts 25:11) and even partnered with armies and states to execute His judgments upon Israel. For Cliv, God was a murderer for partnering with Titus, Nebuchadnezzar, and other state rulers.

    Your anarchist view just doesn't fly. It's nowhere in scripture.

    chrisliv's picture

    Well, Parker,

    Your position is clear:

    "Thou Shalt Kill, Murder, Steal, and Rob, But Thou Shalt Not Be Guilty So Long As Thou Hast Sworn An Oath To A State Or Has Donned A Uniform Before Doing So."

    Atheists, pagans, and homosexuals have morally superiority over that mentality.

    Parker, I'm beginning to think you're not even a Roman Catholic.

    Peace to you all,
    C. Livingstone

    Virgil's picture

    Nice and to the point...I don't know if I should hate or love the comments you are making here. :)

    Parker's picture

    I'm shocked to see Calvin's Geneva turn so many Americans into absolute pacifists. I'm trying to find out if Davo is an absolute pacifist. It looks as if Virgil may be thinking about becoming a pacifist. I KNOW CLIV is a pacifist.

    Fortunately, God is not a pacifist when it comes to states rights. God has given the right of punishment (even lethal punishment) into the state. Now, if we can't agree on that much, of course we'll never be able to have a fair discussion of Calvin. For Calvin was enforcing state laws and acting in a state capacity. States have the right to imprison, exile, and even execute criminals against state laws. Such does not mean individual cases will always be just. But it does mean that Calvin was not a "murderer."

    : )

    Virgil's picture

    Parker, you've manged to warp the discussion and comments on this article into a million directions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. No wonder people get fed up with the Catholic Church.

    Parker's picture

    Virgil, I don't know why you refuse to understand Calvin within a a proper state context. Calvin was acting in a state law enforcement capacity. Now, if you believe that states have the right to imprison, exile, or even execute, then you are bound to investigate Geneva within that context. President Bush acts in a state role. A jury acts in a state role. Calvin was acting in a state role.

    Your continued refusal to accept this reality leads me to think you are only interested in defaming Calvin simply to further a malicious personal agenda. I hope that's not the case, but I'm starting to wonder.

    Virgil's picture

    My patience is running thin with your continual accusations Parker, so please put a stop to it. You may continue your conversation here, but stop slinging mud...

    Parker's picture

    Pardon if it seems I'm trying to sling mud, Virgil. I admit that I think this conversation cannot move forward if few here think the state has a right to use lethal force. Without some basic agreement on this, there is no way to build bridges and move the conversation forward. To people like CLIV, Americans who vote are murderers in time of war or law enforcement. For others who are skeptical about the legitimacy of a government in using force, Calvin's actions will always appear illegitimate.

    Nevertheless, Calvin was in fact acting in line with the judicial and governmental norms of his day, and Geneva's codes are mild compared to the code of the Hebrews. Choosing to judge him by the norms of 2006 democracy and by American church-state values is bad scholarship at best.

    chrisliv's picture

    Well, Virgil,

    Parker has been trying to make a point.

    Doesn't anybody realize what it is?

    He wants us all to agree with the Statist idol worship known as Legal Positivism.

    Here's quick definition from a cursory web search:

    "Legal positivism is a conceptual theory emphasizing the conventional nature of law. Its foundation consists in the pedigree thesis and separability thesis, which jointly assert that law is manufactured according to certain social conventions. Also associated with positivism is the view, called the discretion thesis, that judges make new law in deciding cases not falling clearly under a legal rule. As an historical matter, positivism arose in opposition to classical natural law theory, according to which there are necessary moral constraints on the content of law. The word "positivism" was probably first used to draw attention to the idea that law is "positive" or "posited," as opposed to being "natural" in the sense of being derived from natural law or morality."

    That is to say, that State actors, whether of a secular or ecclesiastical office can do no wrong, which is akin to modern limited-liability granted most State actors, today.

    Parker argues that Calvin was holding a State office. That was true, even though it was ecclesiastical in nature. Calvin "ordered" the killings (for heresies, i.e. "thought crimes") to be carried out by other State office holders. And much in the same way that Adolf Hitler didn't personally execute 6 million Jews, John Calvin was just as culpable and guilty, maybe moreso, than those who are usually under some form of duress to actually commit atrocities for a State.

    Most North American "churches" are state-incorporated, but their "clergy" and members don't really hold State offices, and those religious corporations are not actual State Agencies.

    But, Geneva had Ecclesiastical offices within the State, and Calvin was acting as an Agent of the State.

    Today, the Church of England is still an actual Agency of the British State, with Ecclesiastical offices. The Church of England is not just incorporated under the State like churches in America.

    You can hear a lot of idolatry in Parker's repeated reference to the "State's right to defend itself."

    Parker really believes that the State is alive, with a persona, like a god.

    But, the State is an artificial entity, created by Men. It only exists in their silly heads or is described on paper.

    Christ argues against Parker's legal positivism, even when it came to God's Law given at Sinai and what was left of the Hebrew State, when He said:

    "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." Mark 2:27

    You see, Parker is arguing that Man was made for the State.

    Thus, the idol is created.

    Thus, John Calvin (an ecclesiastical actor of the State) could do not wrong then, because he was murdering for a god. Parker probably believes the same of George Bush, today.

    Or, here's another.

    Remember the blood shed in Tiananmen Square, China, during the student protests in the 1980's? Remember the student who stood in front of the State military tank, proclaming that the tank was part of the People's Army, and then he stated, "We are the People."

    You see, there's self-defense of people, and there's atrocities comitted to preserve or promote State power, politicians, and a hostile World System.

    The Spirit of Adolf Hitler or The Rule of Satan seems to find residence in certain Protestants, and in certain Roman Catholics, and in certain Israelis, and maybe even in a few Atheists, alike, with no trouble at all after 70 AD.

    Peace to you all,
    C. Livingstone

    Parker's picture


    You couldn't be more wrong. I support natural law, not logical positivism. I never said people acting in a state capacity can do no wrong. I have repeatedly said that states may at times use their legitimate God-given power towards illegitimate ends. Where you and I differ is that you don't believe the state ever has any authority to conduct basic law enforcement or war. You have no biblical basis for such a view.

    Next, you and I agree that Hitler used power for unjust ends. Where we differ is that you don't believe Germany had any right to use lethal force for any reason at any time. That's just not biblical or reasonable. States have the right to use force to conduct law enforcement and even war. Scripture has never said otherwise.

    Next, your view that identifying the state as an entity means one has made an idol is laughable. If we followed that ill-logic, anyone that uses the phrase "separation of church and state" has made state an idol, for they are treating the State as if it is "alive, with a persona, like a god" [CLIV's accusation against me]. That's silly.

    You are wrong to say the "spirit of hitler" is alive in protestants and catholics that believe state government has legitimate authority. But for sure, the spirit of anarchy is alive within you, CLIV.

    chrisliv's picture

    Thank you,

    That spirit was alive in Christ, too, if you mean with some accuracy by "anarchy" to be free from rulers or overlords.

    That Spirit is actually biblical law in Christ's fully-established Kingdom, today:

    "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But it shall not be so among you..." Luke 22:25 & 26

    Parker, mabye you need a policeman standing over you with the constant threat of punishment to somehow curb your evil desires.

    Citizens of New Jerusalem have no such need.

    Or, if you don't like the words of Christ Himself, take the Old Testament admonition of the what the Spirit and methodology for the New Covenant is:

    "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34

    So, Parker, come out of the Old Covenant.

    Peace to you,

    Virgil's picture

    Chris, I didn't know there was a name for this -- my hat off to you for informing us -- but I did point out the fact that what Parker is suggesting is absolutely irrelevant and has little to do with the issue at hand.

    The bottom line is that morality is not subject to the times and ages in which we live - killing people for disagreeing with a certain clergy leader was just as immoral back then as it is today, because we are all subject to an immovable and unchanging Scripture which is the same guide today as it should have been back then.

    And as you said, "the people" is us, not some guy ruling against our will. Once Calvin came to power he stayed there...he practiced favoritism with immigrants in order to get their votes (like politicians in Washington are doing today), he packed all the government councils with his own men and he became a dictator against the will of the people of Geneva, and dissenters were killed or kicked out of town. I am not the first point this out...his own friend Castellio accused him of being a tyrant and a murderer, which shows yet again, that what Parker is saying is not true even in that specific historical context.

    Most people back then were appalled at the killing of Servetus, so it was an immoral act, whether Parker is against it or not.

    chrisliv's picture


    The common misconception of equating "the people" with "the State" or "a government" is the beginning of a statist mind.

    Of course, virtually every State is quick to promote that misconception.

    Peace to you,
    C. Livingstone

    Parker's picture

    Virgil, Chris is wrong. I am not supporting logical positivism, but rather natural law. Natural law theory does not support Chris' anarchistic view of the state.

    And before you get too cozy with Cliv's rants, remember that, from his perspective, your very decision to vote makes you guilty of state murder, whether through the state's law enforcement duties or in war. So, you may want to rethink where Chris is headed with all this. If any should adopt his view, you are just as monstrous as you say Calvin was. Are you prepared to be labeled a murderer and a monster?

    By the way, you can't use scripture to say Calvin was immoral, for Calvin was using God's civil laws to the Hebrews as his basis for law. If anything, you should say that Calvin was ultra-biblical for modeling his codes after scripture.

    Finally, I've not said a thing about whether using capital punishment in the case of Servetus was just or not. The point is that it was not murder any more than a jury's decision to demand the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui is "murder."

    chrisliv's picture


    It's pretty much the same dialogue I was having with Parker a short time ago with the Greg Boyd Interview article:

    So, when I saw this thread going down the same line I thought I'd leave it alone, but ultimately did chime in.

    And, since Parker keeps coming around for dialogue, maybe we can all help him get what he came for.

    Peace to you,
    C. Livingstone

    Virgil's picture

    Interestingly enough, nobody has so far noted that for hundreds of years the Catholic Church was a synonymous with the State, so Parker is in fact making an argument against himself.

    It is as I have already pointed out, the height of irony that a Catholic is forced to defend Calvin because his own Church has committed the very same atrocities Calvin has - and now is defending them with "the government has rights" argument.

    Parker's picture

    Hi Virgil.

    A couple final comments here.

    Again, while your article has plenty of useful facts, it has not sought to understand Calvin in any other context than the improper one of 2006 democracy and church/state separation. Removing Calvin from the political and social context of his day and judging him by 2006 ideals is not a serious attempt at historic analysis. Your article never considers the states-rights issue of that day (Calvin didn't "murder" any more than George Bush or the State of California "murders"), and you didn't once make a link between Calvin's religious codes and the Hebrews. I think leaving out such considerations proves to unbiased observers that your article was more a polemical attack on Rod, Dave Green, et. al. and less a serious attempt at understanding history. (I do think, however, that your article exposes the dire impracticalities of the "sola scriptura" method of determining truth. Namely, ten men using "sola scriptura" reach ten different conclusions--and at least nine must be incorrect. Who is to say who is correct in that instance? There is no authority to settle the dispute, and the truth is lost.)

    Finally, since you asked, Pope John Paul II did not apologize for Catholic policy, for no apology was required. Rather, he apologized for wayward baptized Catholics (like Ferdinand) that often refused to follow the counsel of the Church during their over-agreesive attempts at conducting homeland security against Islamic and jewish subversives against their states. You seem to be completely unaware of the states-rights context of those times. I recommend that you take a little time to read a balanced non-Catholic write up on the Spanish Inquisition ( Not only will it help you see the state issues involved, but that in turn should help you situate Calvin more properly within an actual historic context (and not within a an improper 2006 context).

    The Spanish Inquisition (Wikipedia)

    Finally, the Catholic Church (and Pope John Paul II in particular), famously opposed communism and worked agressively for its collapse. JPII is widely credited as a key player in speeding the collapse of communism. The final fall of Communism was a direct result of a confederation between the U.S. government and the Vatican (see: His Holiness, by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi).

    Blessings, even if in disagreement,

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    Both political and social contexts of the time surely condemned the following woman to death, yet Christ refrains from passing judgment.

    The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the midst, they told him, "Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What then do you say about her?" They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.

    But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her." Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

    They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, "Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?"
    She said, "No one, Lord."
    Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more."

    So, do we join the state in executing people for their religious sins or do we follow the method of Christ and use non-violent correction out of a spirit of love? What did the Catholic Church choose? What have some of us chosen?

    Parker's picture

    Kyle, I'm glad you posted this. This discussion is entirely relevant to how we understand capital punishment.

    As you might know, the Catholic Church is against the use of capital punishment in all but the most extreme circumstances (namely, when a violent person cannot be imprisoned so as to protect the citizenry). There are many cases in scripture where the death penalty was eased based on other considerations: Jesus eased the just penalty for the woman, seeking for her reformation instead of her just execution; God protected Cain from the death penalty; and King David was also not given the death penalty. Death is not always *required* for capital crimes. But the death penalty is not unjust or inherently wrong, either. The Catholic Church has always advised states to restrict their use of the death penalty (even though states routinely ignore the Church's advice and teachings).

    Calvin did not "murder" people any more than George Bush or the State of California "murder" people. State law enforcement is not "murder." Capital punishment may be abused or potentially wrongly carried out on an innocent person, but capital punishment is never a "murder."

    chef's picture

    So are you concluding that Calvin (in Servetus's case) is not liable of any contempt when factoring in the Law of Christ; and that Christ himself is, and would be ambivalent to such cases??

    Chef Tony

    Chef Tony

    Parker's picture


    Assuming that Servetus was in violation of the known laws of the state, Calvin would then be as guilty as, say, the State of California, or perhaps as guilty as a jury during law enforcement proceedings and criminal execution.

    To portray Calvin as a cold-blooded murder for his involvement in state and civil law enforcement duties is just wrong. We may question the wisdom of the laws of Geneva, but state execution under a system of laws is not "murder."

    davo's picture

    I take it then Parker that consistency dictates that what gets labeled "STATE sponsored [sanctioned] terrorism" where one or many are summarily murdered and exterminated, sorry, "excommunicated", that such actually is NOT the case -- seeing as these can in their own historical context be determined, as you say, as "state law enforcement functions". I think NOT!!


    Parker's picture


    Are you arguing for or against Australia's right to armed self defense and law enforcement (up to lethal force, including capital punishment)? I'm arguing for it as a right of the state, and I'm trying to point out that such is not "murder." It is not "murder" when a government executes enemies or criminals. Calvin's Geneva was a legitimate municipality with a legal system (like Australia's cities). Calvin was not a murderer any more than a jury member is a "murderer" for judging a person guilty of death in a trial.

    Help me grasp what your position on the matter is.


    chef's picture

    OK then,
    Hitler, Stalin, and Sadam were not murders, it was the state’s judicial system!

    People don’t kill people, Guns kill people!

    Parker, murder is in the heart. Calvin, if he were yielding to Christ as the King, he would not have used the State (the gun in this case, my brother) to execute (murder, because the justice of Christ does not despise nor hate [murder in Jesus' own definition] due to religious differences) someone over petty differences of hermeneutics; Jesus’ Love seeks to preserve Life at all cost where no Law of Nature has been violated.

    The question is did John Calvin’s pride influence him to only seek excommunication? Was John Calvin an Actor for the STATE first, and then a follower of Jesus’ Truth and LOVE somewhere down the line?

    YHWH blessed Rahab for lying to the Jericho STATE and preserving innocent life (because spying is not a crime against Nature, only against pride).

    What I’m trying to say is: we who profess to be a disciple of Jesus and at the same time, are an Actor for the State, the Principles of Jesus supersedes those of the state (in our daily profession).

    To say that the Catholic Church does not murder is fallacious. The Catholic Church’s Political System has conspired to murders (“killings” via the STATE), which makes it culpable to murder (the absence of the LOVE of Christ) as well.

    Too, the words KILL and MURDER in this case is just semantics at best

    Chef Tony

    Chef Tony

    Parker's picture

    Tony, you are making the same argument against using Capital Punishment that the Catholic Church has urged down the centuries. Namely, because of potential abuses of the right to capitial punishment, it would be best if governments used their right in only the most obvious necessary cases. Same idea behind the Church's "just war" doctrine.

    Having said that, if a juror judges a man guilty of murder (based on evidence presented in a trial) and sentences that man to death, that juror is NOT therefore also a murderer. Or, if a jury judges a man guilty of treason and sentences that person to death, that jury does not commit murder. Now, if in both these cases the juries turned out to be wrong by accident, they are still NOT murderers.

    davo's picture

    Yes Tony that's it -- once you seek to hide unrighteous actions behinds "states rights" then anything and everthing becomes the go.


    Parker's picture

    I meant to write, "...for judging a person guilty and worthy of death in a trial."


    davo's picture

    Parker, you know full well my position – I simply pointed out that YOUR deplorable excusing of unlawful killing by hiding behind "states rights" is purely that of convenience to suite a weak argument, yet totally inconsistent because your whole thrust is spun according to YOUR definition of what constitutes "the state". You make for a good spin-doctor, but only as long as you keep such definitions within YOUR frame of reference.

    You try to divert by mentioning "Australia's right to armed self defense and law enforcement", yet what of a "states' rights" to defend herself where for example Australia may immorally invade, occupy and kill its citizens – do THEY fall under YOUR "right to armed self defense and law enforcement" DEFINITION in seeking to kill those it sees as attacking their states rights? Your consistency IMO is very, very shallow.

    So YES, Calvin DID have a hand in much "unlawful" killing.


    Parker's picture


    If Australia has the right to armed self defense and law enforcement (even up to the point of using lethal force) and if such is not "murder," then why did not Geneva also have this right? Keep in mind that I admit a state may abuse its legitimate right by exercising it toward unjust causes and cases, but Geneva had the right to law enforcement in the same sense as cities in Australia do. I don't know how you can deny this. Calvin was not involved in personal murders, even if some of the specific imprisonment cases and executions were unjust. When a jury of peers in the U.S. concludes a person guilty of a capital crime and sentences him/her to death, they are not guilty of "murdering." If Australia wages a war, individual Australians are not guilty of "murdering," are they?

    davo's picture

    Parker: Calvin was not involved in personal murders, even if some of the specific imprisonment cases and executions were unjust.

    If such unjust killings occurred as a result of what HE instigated, then YES he is involved, and "personal" absence is no defence.

    Parker: If Australia wages a war, individual Australians are not guilty of "murdering," are they?

    You've not heard of "war crimes" -- unjust killings that are sought to be hid within the midst of the fog of war? C'mon man stop creating smoke screens.


    Parker's picture

    Hi Davo.

    Ok. I'm tired of guessing.

    (1) In your view, under what conditions is it legitimate for Australia to exercise lethal force?


    Law enforcement?

    Capital punishment?


    (2) Who determines what is the legitimate use of force for Australia?

    Until I get a sense of where you are in terms of the state's right to use lethal force, this discussion is destined to go nowhere. The answers to your questions matter, for you are trying to accuse Calvin of murder for acting in a state capacity in a time when Geneva was basically in line with other Western cities and states, so far as its laws and punishments are concerned.

    MichaelB's picture

    Kyle - how does Romans 13 fit into what Christ did in the gospels...just curious ??? Isn't scripture supposed to interpret scripture...

    chef's picture

    The scriptures which you provided are not in support of the premise “…Governments have the right…”. Many who were murdered by the Catholic Church (the state, by proxy) were innocent of “evil doing”. One point about your scriptural reference;it says “Let all persons”; this includes the "State" (as well as you and I).

    James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge 12 *****There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

    Paul admonishes us to Judge according to the Law of Christ [1 cor 6]. God’s Laws and judgments are the same today, yesterday and forever. As well, He shows no partiality when He judges. So why would you advocate not judging the past by Christ’s standard. Can we not call evil, “evil” and good, “good” regardless of the dispensation?

    In the cases of many of the martyrs the were charged with fallacious crimes; their “crimes” were not against “Nature” (Rom 1-2).

    Chef Tony

    Parker's picture


    The Catholic Church didn't have any authority to kill anyone. Even if popes or bishops would have wanted such, they didn't have any state governmental authority (bishops aren't mayors, kings, or sheriffs). Bishops did not and do not hold government offices. They can only excommunicate people.

    Furthermore, the popes urged those who did have governmental responsibilities of law enforcement to not use capital punishment (just as the popes urge such today).

    Next, I think you may be misunderstanding me on states rights. When I say God has entrusted states with the duty of law enforcement, up to and including the use of war and the death penalty, that does not mean such powers are always used correctly or for just causes. It is a fact that legitimate powers are often misused on innocent people or in unjust wars. But that doesn't remove the fact that God has entrusted states with the legitimate power to conduct war and carry out capital punishment. Calvin's actions, likewise, were state law enforcement functions. Calvin did not "murder" anyone any more than the State of California murders anyone.

    valensname's picture


    Can you explain further the doctrine of "to excommunicate?" Or provide some good links to reference.

    Thank you,

    Parker's picture

    Hi Glenn.

    Excommunication, or being kicked out of God's covenant society, is most commonly associated with the New Covenant Church. But its roots go all the way back to Abraham.

    In Genesis 17:14, a Hebrew infant that did not receive circumcision was to be "cut off" from among the people of God. This act removed one from the Hebrew people and made a person as a pagan.

    Later, in Mosaic Law, a person would be "cut off" from among the covenant society under a variety of circumstances of disobedience (Num 9:13; Num 15:30; Lev 7:20-27; Lev 23:28-30). Such a person was at that point considered a heathen and not a child of Abraham. This practice of exclusion from the covenant society continued down to Ezra's time (Ezra 10:8) and all the way to the Christ's day (John 9:22; 12:42).

    Jesus continued this idea of exclusion from covenant citizenship by instituting it in the Church: "If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone...if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican" (Mt. 18:15-17). A person who would not submit to the Church's final judgment was to be viewed by the society as a heathen. St. Paul acted out this practice at 1 Cor 5:1-2,5 and commanded the churches to also follow this practice as necessary (1 Cor 5:11-13).

    That is the basic idea of what excommunication is and how it works.

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