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
  • mitchg's picture

    Perhaps the most mature advice you can give, Davo.

    And it's funny, since I became a believer in "fulfilled grace/prophecy", that's the direction my heart has been led to. Praise God.


    paul's picture


    You invested a great deal of serious scholarship and work into this passionate treatise, for which you deserve every Christian's commendation!

    I have a brother (both naturally and spiritually) who rejects the arguments in favor of what is commonly called "Calvinism" largely on the basis of the trial of Servetus, and the attitude of the Reformed churches toward anabaptists. He is a Southern Baptist.

    Everyone wants "tolerance" as he or she defines it, I think. Life demands decisions which tend to radically contradict the public pronouncement of the love of tolerance. (Personally, I have seen far more of this in my experience being alive, from anti-calvinists than from calvinists.)

    Yet, I do believe that there is a distinct brand of calvinism which does, in fact, produce an inordinate fear of being disagreed with, and which fosters discredit upon any and all, such as myself, who happen to believe that the Bible teaches predestination most explicitly. Dare I say it?

    The components to be observed which induce a brand of calvinism which produce such an excess of authoritarian compulsion in some who agree with me that God is absolutely sovereign in all things, is that some who claim to be "calvinistic" actually doubt that God rules! So, they are afraid of the unplanned emergence of each new day.

    Calvinism, that is the glad proclamation that God has every right to have mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and to harden whom He will harden, combined with the optimism that God really and truly rules all things, to the benefit of all who love Him, leads to joyful anticipation of the outworking of the Gospel into practical solutions for all of our problems.

    Far be it from me to defend tyranny in any form, Catholic or Reformed! But, you would certainly agree, and I can tell from the references that you give, that it is unfair to judge any man by raw facts of history, apart from the necessities of the times. All things Southern have been defamed (I NEVER heard a single critism of Abraham Lincoln in my ENTIRE public education!!!!) and only learned much later anything of any positive repute about most Southerners at all! They were all regarded by Northerners as racist bigots, period.

    There was no place on the face of the earth which practiced anything resembling separation of church and state when Calvin tried to invent Geneva. That point has to understood. Today, more than a few leftwing professors speak with disgust that our Founding Fathers tolerated the institution of African slavery. At that time, however, it was either tolerate what many of them saw as morally offensive, or have no union at all!

    Yes, without a doubt, Lord Acton's observation of all of humanity was quite true of Calvin: absolute power does, in fact, produce absolute corruption! He needed a Council of equals with equal power for his own gift to representative and presbyterian government to be effective in his own town in his own lifetime.

    The Salem Witch Hunts are what we can use as the descriptions of American Puritans. I see their contribution to governance through covenants as far more permanent and significant.

    I am a small c calvinist, for the reasons noted by others. If he was saved, Calvin was glorified, and would never desire any Christian to exalt him above any other servant of the Cross. His errors were proportionate with his unchecked power, in my opinion. That was no more caused by his belief in predestination and election that Wesley's bad marriage was caused by his faith in universal atonement.

    What a worthy work you have produced, Brother! We all need to build our lives and confidence in the sure Word of God, and not in any human being, no matter how powerful his or her thoughts! God bless,

    Paul Richard Strange, Sr.
    119 Marvin Gardens
    Waxahachie Texas 75165

    Virgil's picture

    Paul, your spirit is the spirit Calvin should have had, and I say that from my heart. This is a lot less about predestination than it is about being able to tolerate other opinions, and as you rightly pointed out, for various reasons, Calvinists are having a hard time doing this generally speaking. You are demonstrating something that is an anomaly in my experience, and that's a good thing :)

    Calvin's power was likely the ultimate cause for his abuse - but I am not ready just yet to exonerate his theology. What one believes about himself greatly influences your world view. If you believe that you are a sin-filled, worthless, evil-bent and totally and absolutely depraved individual, then human life becomes of very little value. If you think that's what God thinks of you, then you will never expect anything more of yourself. What you believe, affects the way you are and the way you treat other people.

    I appreciate your kindness brother. You clearly identified my intentions and I am glad to see that; you did not take offense at this article and that, as you said, build me up. I would never advocate separation based on these theological differences alone, so you and any Calvinist is welcome here to write and even promote Calvinism, because I believe that errors in a system can only be exposed in the open, be it Calvinism, or "comprehensive reconciliation" which I presented here a while back.

    Thanks for everything!

    Ozark's picture

    "What you believe, affects the way you are and the way you treat other people."

    This is a huge issue. Our theology is inseparable from our view of our neighbor. What is the difference between a Muslim terrorist and Mother Teresa? Both have/had zeal for what they believe. Yet, one devalues human life in the name of religion. The other assigned infinite value to the lowest of the low. I think the answer to this question is not all that complicated. One hates because he believes God hates. The other loved because she saw the vastness of the love of God.

    Which one really knows God? John would say it is the one that loves their brother. Why? It is because God is love. Those who love “get it.” If we see that God is love, we love.

    I am not saying if you are a Calvinist, you do not know God. I am saying that if your theology leads you to hate your brother, then maybe it is time to reconsider. All the exegesis in the world means nothing if you do not love. Calvin was a brilliant man, but I see little evidence he knew God. A chilling lesson for us all.

    paul's picture

    Dear Ozark,

    We live in an American culture which is a dynamic interraction of radically opposing worldviews, in my opinion. Because of this reality, I think that the temptation is overwhelming for most people, whether Christian, religious non-Christian, or secular, to "over-prove" almost anything and everything they believe, which has resulted in the demonization of Calvinists, and the perception of being demonized by anti-Calvinists.
    As evidence, I would cite the current self-serving uses of the word "tolerance". To a modern American who is committed to the homosexual lifestyle, and persons who enjoy some degree of the good pleasure of journalists, entertainers and others with clout, anyone who dares to suggest that God's assessment of the immoral nature of homosexuality hasn't changed, is regarded as "intolerant", "hateful", "Nazi", and many more perjoratives, ad infinitum, ad nausem, etc, forever. The incentive to defend the proposition that God "hates" homosexuality is greatly reduced for most persons who private believe that He does, while the incentive to pretend that homosexuality is the greatest thing since the invention of the lightbulb is reported as some kind of "enlightened" and supposedly "tolerant" point of view!

    Now, to add to the mix, some who become annoyed that they are despised for being honest about what the Bible and history have pronounced, i.e. that homosexual behavior does not glorify God, become guilty of over-proving, to the point of being just as rancid and bitter as the puke which is heaped upon them for being honest. Around and around it goes, and where it stops nobody knows! An example of this is a church in Topeka, Kansas, which opposes American participation in the United Nations, and opposes American overseas military intervention. It is not sufficient to them to use their 1st Amendment liberty to condemn what they oppose. They believe that American society has become too indulgent of the homosexual lifestyle, and they oppose our foreign policy, so they protest the funerals of American soldiers, whose deaths they regard as God's punishment. They are a limited number of nuts, whose stupidity IS NOT caused by their professed Calvinist views, in my view, any more than the Anabaptists who decided to raid Lutheran communities and set up the kingdom of God were in any way reflecting the view of baptistic Christians that the local church is the focal point of Christian authority.

    We over-prove things all the times, by attributing "causes" when all we have our incidental and anecdotal "correlations". That's the American way, in both church and state. God bless the thinkers who rise above it!

    paul richard strange sr

    Ozark's picture


    I agree that tolerance and love are often not the same thing. Jesus never tolerated sin. However, how Jesus treated sinners is extraordinary. The tax collectors were considered the greatest sinners among the Jews in the first century. What would you think of a man who would torture a debtor’s family while forcing the debtor to watch until payment was made? What would you think of a man who would enslave another human being or send them to debtor’s prison for non-payment of taxes? Tax collectors had the power to do such things, and they often exercised that power. Jesus ate and drank with such folks. This was not tolerance of sin, but it was love. In fact it was a love far greater than you or I would ever dare express. We might treat a homosexual with kindness and pat ourselves on the back for being Christ-like. That is nothing compared with befriending a first century tax collector. Such astonishing love is what changes sinners into saints not condemnation.

    As for debates such as the ones between the Calvinist, the Arminian, and the Universalist, what does it take to be right in such a conflict? Is it just about who is the best at bashing his brother over the head with a Bible? When others see such things, do they look on and say, “Wow, God is really at work there!” Never. Yet, when a Calvinist can love a Armenian, or God forbid a Universalist, that is when the world stops and takes notice that God is among us.

    Truth is much bigger than getting our doctrinal ducks in a row. It is those who think that truth is just about being right that are often capable of the greatest wrongs. Ironic isn’t it?

    MiddleKnowledge's picture


    I really appreciate this post. It brings the real issues into focus for me -- the one that gets forgotten easily whenever Christians enter the arena of polemics.

    I respect the need for polemics. I sense confrontation is unavoidable in some situations. But it is always important to remember the real issues.

    Familial love is often the most difficult to show because of familiarity. Ironic, isn't it?

    Tim Martin

    paul's picture

    Many good points, Bro! I think that labels serve the best interests of clarification, which is necessity, but they certainly are not the sum of the Christian life!!!

    davo's picture

    Ozark: One hates because he believes God hates. The other loved because she saw the vastness of the love of God.

    Yes Doug -- "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he"; then obviously when some read Paul's injunction to "imitate God" then the rationale is that the two become one, and so one "feels" justified in one's mind accordingly.

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    Either it be imitating Christ or Imitating God - this is where some of the Calvinists I know take creative liberties.

    They argue since God rained fire on Sodom & Gommorah and Christ condemned the Pharisees that its perfectly okay for us to judge those who reject God (or as they say - whom God rejects).

    Is this really what being imitators of Christ means? Or does what the Bible states still ring true - "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord"?

    davo's picture

    "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" -- exactly; in relation to sin it has been dealt with, so who are we to usurp the Throne in self-righteousness and impose our sentence as well?

    mazuur's picture


    what is up with your site? It seems to be down. I have been trying for the last 3 or 4 hours and nothing.



    davo's picture

    Hi Rich, yeah it's down and I might be in for a rebuild -- fortunately I have all my stuff saved, but I'm not sure how long before I get back up. The folk hosting the site seem to have disappeared -- very strange.


    paul's picture

    Thanks so much for the kind remarks.

    What about the fact that the overwhelming majority of tyrants never ever doubted their own goodness, and would have either scoffed at the idea of the sovereignty of God?

    DavidF's picture

    Good history Virgil. Thanks for opening it up. I have never heard this side of Calvin. I do remember hearing how the followers of Calvin and Luther went to war with each other over the Lord‘s Supper, but this is amazing. O the treacherous side of man, even Christian man.

    This is the kind of thing that happens when Christians start to boast in any man or ideology. “there are quarrels among you… One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?… Do not go beyond what is written. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” 1 Cor. 1:11-13 and 1 Cor. 4:6.

    This history is a good example of how taking pride in any man can go way off course. Of course the Catholics with their Popes had been doing this for thousands of years prior to the Reformation and they did not leave a record of the millions in their human purges. When anyone says “I follow Calvin” or “I follow the Pope” or “I follow the Baptists”, and so on, they directly exclude favor with the rest who are in Christ and that is precisely when they show they are mere men. By the way, the names of Castellio and Servetus
    could also become blood-bath idols if men are not careful.

    DavidF :-)
    “So then, no more boasting about men!” 1 Cor. 3:21

    Virgil's picture

    David, well said...I could hardly add anything to your comment.

    Ozark's picture


    For sometime now I have been suspicious that Calvinism could lead to or even justify the kind of behavior you speak of in your article, but I didn’t have the guts to say it. You said it bro. My hat is off to you.

    Virgil's picture

    Doug, I am sure it won't be without consequences :) I hope that calvinist Preterists will step up to the plate and prove me wrong, through their actions, because that's what a man is measured by. One can scream that he is a good man all day from the top of a mountain, but actions always speak louder than words.

    valensname's picture


    Thanks for the article. I'll look into Calvin some as my studies haven't dealt with much about him.

    I did notice that your reference is mainly from The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin which is out of print and has been I guess for 50 years. Do you know why?

    I did find one copy on ebay.


    Virgil's picture


    I do not know why that book has been out of print, but I do know that it's the only edition ever translated into English. If I have anything to do with it, it will be reprinted again.

    You can also read it online for free if you cannot find a paper copy.

    Virgil's picture

    I really hate to make addendums to articles I have already posted, but some people expressed confusion over the chronology and the events that took place in the 16th century. I am therefore posting a 16th century chronology of events related to the matter at hand and the Reformation in general. This may help our readers better contextualize this article. Many late thanks to Stefan Zweig for his wonderful list:

    1503 John Frith born at Westerham, Kent.

    1505 Birth of John Knox.

    1509 Calvin born at Noyon in Picardy, July 10.

    1509 or 1511 Etienne Dolet born at Orleans, August 3. Miguel Servetus born at Tudela (Navarre) or at Villanueva (Aragon)--exact place and date uncertain. 1515 Castellio born at Saint-Martin-du-Fresne, Dauphine

    1517 Luther's ninety-five theses against indulgences published at Wittenberg.

    1519 Beze born at Vezelay, June 24.

    1520 Excommunication of Luther.

    1521 Diet of Worms.

    1528 Capuchin order recognized by pope.

    1529 Louis de Berquin burned in Paris for heresy, August

    1531 Servetus's De Trinitatis erroribus libri septera published at Hagenau.

    Zwingli killed at the battle of Kappel, October 11.

    1532 John Frith arrested for heresy by order of Sir Thomas More.

    1533 John Frith burned at Smithfield for heresy, July 4.

    1534 Act of Supremacy whereby Henry VIII was appointed head of English Church. Bernardino Ochino becomes a Capuchin, when forty-seven years old.

    1535 Thomas More executed on Tower Hill, July 6.

    1536 Calvin's Institutio religionis Christianae, published in Basle, March.

    Town's Meeting in Geneva avers determination to live thenceforward exclusively according to the gospels and God's word, May 31.

    Death of Erasmus, at Basle, July 12.

    Calvin comes to Geneva, July. Calvin appointed "Reader of Holy Writ" in Geneva, September 5.

    1538 Calvin and Farel, after a referendum, ordered to quit Geneva within three days from April 23. Calvin settles in Strasburg.

    1539 General edict against the Lutherans in France, June 24.

    1540 Three Lutherans burned alive at Lyons, January.

    Castellio becomes overtly Protestant, and leaves Lyons for Strasburg, springtime.

    French translation of Calvin's Institutio first published.

    Foundation of Society of Jesus approved by pope, and Loyola becomes first general in 1541

    1541 Calvin re-enters Geneva by special invitation, amid popular rejoicings, September 13.

    1542 Castellio appointed rector of College of Geneva, March 23. Also informally commissioned to preach in Vandceuvres, a suburb of Geneva.

    Castellio's Four Books of Sacred Dialogues in Latin and French published at Geneva, end of year (antedated1543).

    Bernardino Ochino, denounced to the Inquisition as a "Lutheran," fiees from Italy.

    1542-1547 Ochino in Basle and Augsburg.

    1543 Plague in Geneva. Calvin and other preachers refuse to visit pest-hospital. Geneva Council recommends Castellio's appointment as preacher, December 15.

    1544 Six months' campaign of Calvin against Castellio, who thereupon wishes to resign.

    Castellio's informal position as preacher at Vandoeuvres quashed, and his appointment as rector of the college in Geneva cancelled, July.

    Castellio leaves Geneva for Berne, and thence removes to Basle, July and August.

    1546 Death of Luther, February 18.

    Servetus opens a correspondence with Calvin, January or February.

    Calvin touched on the raw by Servetus's outspoken criticism of lnstitutio; and outraged by the tenor of an MS copy of Servetus's still unpublished Restitutio. Calvin writes to Farel: "Did Servetus come to Geneva, I would never suffer him to go away alive," ides of February.

    Etienne Dolet burned in Paris as relapsed atheist, August 3.

    1547 Death of Henry VIII of England, accession of Edward VI, January 28.

    1547-1553 Ochino in England.

    1548 Giordano Bruno born at Nola.

    1549 Bucer, at Cranmer's instigation, becomes professor of theology at Cambridge.

    1551 Bucer dies at Cambridge, February 28.

    1553 Death of Edward VI of England, accession of Mary, July 6.

    Clandestine publication of Servetus's Christianismi restitutio.

    Calvin prompts Guillaume Trie's letter denouncing Miguel Servetus to the ecclesiastical authorities at Lyons, February 26.

    Servetus escapes from episcopal prison at Lyons (probably with connivance of authorities), April 7.

    Servetus burned in effigy at Lyons, together with his books, Christianismi restitutio, etc., June 17.

    Servetus arrested in Geneva, Sunday, August 13.

    Servetus burned alive at Champel, near Geneva, October 27.

    1554 Knox visits Calvin at Geneva and Bullinger at Zurich.

    1554-1563 Ochino in Basle and Zurich.

    1554 Calvin publishes his first apologia for his conduct in the Servctus affair: Defensio orthodoxae fidei de Sacra Trinitate, etc., and, in French, Declaration, etc., contre les erreurs detestables de Michel Setvet, both at end of February in Geneva.

    Castellio's De haereticis puhlished in March.

    Calvin writes to Bullinger about De haereticis, March 28.

    Publication of de Beze's De haereticis a civili magistrata puniendis libellus, adversus Martini Belli farraginem, etc., September.

    Castellio's Contra libellure Calvini, written for publication this year, but first published at Amsterdam in 1612.

    1556 Cranmer burned at Oxford, March 21.

    Knox again in Geneva.

    Death of Loyola at Rome, July 31.

    1558 Death of Mary Tudor, November 17, accession of Elizabeth Tudor.

    1560 Melanchthon died, April 19

    Knox's Confession of Faith adopted, and Roman Catholicism formally abolished by Scottish Parliament.

    1562 Castellio's De arte dubitandi written, but not published.

    Castellio's Conseil a la France desolee, October.

    1563 De Beze's Responsio ad defensiones et reprehensiones Sebastiani CasteIlionis published in Geneva.

    Publication of Ochino's Thirty Dialogues.

    Formal complaint against Castellio, as blasphemer, etc., lodged with Basle authorities, November.

    Castellio died at Basle, December 29.

    1564 Calvin died in Geneva, May 27.

    1564 or 1565 Bernardino Ochino died in Moravia.

    1564 Beze succeeded Calvin as pastor at Geneva.

    1572 Massacre of St. Bartholomew, August 24.

    Death of John Knox, November 24.

    1592 Bruno arrested at Naples by order of the Inquisition, May

    1600 Bruno burned in the Campo dei Fiori, Rome, February 17.

    Paige's picture


    My life has become a series of consequences (is there ever such a thing, lol). I have recently become acquainted with someone who has done some intensive research on John Calvin. What you have provided for us here backs up many of his claims. He asserts that if Martin Luther had ever known about Calvin's catechisms for young children he would have been completely appalled. He also said that Calvin was responsible for killing off countless numbers of Luther's followers. His opinion is that John Calvin is one of the worst things that ever happened to christianity. From what you've shared above, I'm inclined to agree.

    I want nothing to do with a "kingdom" that looks anything like Calvin's Geneva. I'm sure that had I lived in that place at that time, I would've been a goner!


    Virgil's picture


    I am not surprised that my words are confirming history, truly, they are barely my words...most of my article consists of research and historical quotes from Calvin's own words. Fortunately for us, the Genovese kept very detailed minutes of everything they did, so we have an excellent historical record of these events. Nobody can argue that we are making them up because they are right there, written on paper by Calvin's own servants!

    It's funny what you said about living in Geneva...we were talking about the same thing here. Jamie went and counted the pairs of shoes in her closet...based on that alone Calvin would have chopped off her head in a second...I am tempted to do the same sometimes :)

    But seriously, you are absolutely right. What in the world would motivate anyone to become a Christian in that kind of an environment?

    Finally, I encourage you to grab a copy of Stefan Zweig's book "Castellio against Calvin." To date, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

    You can find it on or you can read it online for free at where the whole book is available. Many thanks to these folks for making that out of print book available!

    Paige's picture

    I'm going to check it out.

    I'm sure the shoe thing wouldn't have been a problem for me. How many pairs of really cool size 12 women's shoes can a woman find, LOL? My problem would be that bad habit I have of thinking independently and a big mouth to accompany it!


    JL's picture


    Where do you find any Women's size 12s? My wife mostly wears men's Nikes.



    JL Vaughn
    Beyond Creation Science

    Paige's picture


    I was once lucky enough to find a women's New Balance in a size 12. They fit me like a glove and were my favorite. With all the miles I put on them, they didn't last long and I had to go back to a man's 10 1/2. I get a shoe magazine called "Maryland Square". It is filled with a large variety of size 12 shoes. They have New Balance in there also, but you can expect to pay top dollar. Price is the only thing that keeps me going back to Big 5 and buying the mens shoes which are slightly too wide for me (about a $30 savings or more). Here is the web address for Maryland Square:

    They also have an 800#:


    You can get on their mailing list and see if there is anything suitable for your needs.


    Islamaphobe's picture

    Very interesting piece, Virgil. I was well aware of Calvin's "intolerance streak," but I have tended to pass it off as an illustration of the spirit of the times. With the detail you have provided, you have made a strong case for regarding Calvin's behavior as simply being unjustifiable, even in the context of the times. I cannot find justification for murder in the NT.

    Our futurist friends wonder how God could have permitted the theological wrong turn about the Second Coming to have occurred that we preterists insist is there. I am working on the theory that it has taken a long time for Christians to reach the maturity level required to accommodate preterist theology. Your article on Calvin helps demonstrate how far we have needed to come.

    John S. Evans

    Virgil's picture

    John you have made an excellent observation brother! By that same logic, our futurist friends would have to practice the same violent ways of Calvin because HE did it. How ridiculous is that?

    It is now very clear that just as morality and values, theology is not a static matter and continuously evolves. We have indeed come very far, thank God for his mercy and grace to allow us to live in these times.

    Randude's picture


    It looks like a lot of research went into this article. I applaud you for the work that went into compiling this information. That being said, the gut reaction of many will be to either explain away what happened or change the focus to condemn you for writing it. I implore other preterists and brothers in Christ to read this as what it is, a historical account of events surrounding a man. Am I right in saying that this is not a condemnation of those who agree with Calvin's doctrine, but rather a critique of the man who's name is attached to that doctrine and those who would follow Calvins way of forcing that doctrine on others?

    Virgil's picture

    Randall, of course this is not condemnation of those who subscribe to Calvin's doctrinal far as I know none of my Calvinist friends killed or burned anyone at the stake. My concern is twofold:

    1. Too many people blindly subscribe to a man's doctrine when his behavior is highly questionable. Calvin never retracted anything he's written...not once. He never admitted to be wrong on anything and never took any criticism from anyone -- this is very disturbing, especially when millions of people subscribe to his theology.

    2. There seems to be a psychological link between Calvinist doctrine and certain personality types. With a few exceptions (Sam Frost, David Curtis, Walt Hibbard and a few other people), many Calvinist Preterists seethe with hatred and disdain for any non-Calvinist out there, be it Preterist or Futurist. They manifest in public and in private the very same arrogance, contempt and "total inability" to accept disagreement as their Maitre.

    These are significant matters that need to be considered. Do we continue to live in the 1550s or do we profess Castillo's right to heresy?

    Flakinde's picture

    "...many Calvinist Preterists seethe with hatred and disdain for any non-Calvinist out there..."


    I have observed the exact same attitude you are describing. They even describe non-Calvinists as people who believe God is weak and unable to do anything. In a conversation with a die-hard Calvinist (nobody that you know), he said to me:

    " is unfortunate that you don't believe in an almighty God, because that god in which you believe does not have the power to save a soul, but he depends on man's own will... you should analyze your own point of view, and compare it against God's sovereignty... may God have mercy on you and allow you to know His Word. I have nothing more to say to you."

    And in effect, he has never again spoken to me. Needless to say, the things he kept repeating to me were blatant misrepresentations of my understanding, basically the other side of the false dichotomy many Calvinists need to use to validate their ideas, and impress upon anyone who disagrees with them. He had no regard for my opinion nor the Biblical case I was making. It was either his understanding, or nothing.

    I know many Calvinists would think that the quote above is just "speaking the truth in love", but, you know, I'm so sorry... that's just a bunch of mierda (crap, starting with an "s"). A person that says this is as blind as John Calvin was in his actions, as I can observe in your article and from other sources. (And for all those folks who say that people like me only want everyone to be "nice" and "pink" and "sissy" . . . ¡mierda pa' ti!)

    And just to clarify, this is no ad hominem against Calvin's soteriological paradigm. There are many people that hold to that understanding who I love, respect, and even admire. Not strangely, they would never ever speak like that folk I quoted... hmmmmm, I wonder why... ¿?

    Alexander Rodríguez

    Kyle Peterson's picture

    "May God have mercy on you and allow you to know His Word"

    "It is unfortunate that you don't believe in an almighty God"

    Typical Calvinist arrogance. There must be a Calvinist textbook somewhere because I see these statements used over and over again to insinuate that anyone who disagrees with them doesn't know God or God's word (you're not elect!).

    Flakinde's picture

    Yeah Kyle . . . and then on the other side of the mouth, they'll say that this is not a salvific issue. Yeah, right . . .

    Why don't these folks (those who speak this way) just say outright that salvation is by works ("if thou affirmest 5-point Calvinism, thou shalt be saved"), or that "by their 5-point Calvinism ye shall know them"? I mean, if the implications of disagreeing with them is blasphemy, then it IS a salvific issue, right?

    Just come out and say it... be honest and consistent with your implications, that's all I'm asking.

    Alexander Rodríguez

    Virgil's picture

    That would be consistent with Calvin's attitude in Geneva -- anyone who disagreed with him in the slightest would be excommunicated and/or killed.

    leo724's picture


    I agree with pretty much everything you've said in this article. I just wanted to point out that the Catholic church in Calvin's day was just as bad and I would say that most of the denominations today would be just as bad also if they had the power to use physical force instead of being restricted to just banning people. I've had Baptists and Dispensationalists and Navigators and Campus Crusade and others treat me the same way Calvin treated Severetus.

    Everybody has their "hot buttons" and all of us like to be "right".

    I really appreciate your efforts to bring the body of Christ to a place where we love all of those whom Christ loves and make no distinctions.



    Kyle Peterson's picture

    “I, Michael Servetus, do compose this testament on the eve of my death, which was decreed by Monsieur John Calvin, spiritual leader of the Geneva Protestants. This man’s fervor for God is so great I will burn in it.

    I think this is no defeat. I defy their ability to still my voice. Do they think wood and flame can erase my words? What optimists they are!

    My crime was simple enough: I read the Holy Book for myself and, to my shock found no Trinity, this three-beinged God. I recorded this; how can I recant what anyone can read?

    All I have done is glorify God with the truth I am permitted to perceive. There is no separation between God and humanity – Monsieur Calvin thinks this doctrine is heresy, a belief worthy of death at the stake. To the mind intent on uniformity, nothing is as cheap as human life.

    Do the heavens shake, Monsieur Ferel? Did my words harm, or curl the paper you are writing on? You look healthy enough; perhaps ideas are not as harmful as Monsieur Calvin thinks.

    It is too late, however, for my rhetoric. Send for the priest. I will confess my manifold sins and wickedness, but resist all attempts to sway me from the truth of my life. It is worth the dying, I think . . . The petals of fire will give me peace.

    There is no one to leave an inheritance to; I have even lost my brother. These Christians recall only too well the story of Judas. Who, then, will receive my legacy? Who will take my burden? You are right, the light is growing. Michael Servetus”

    leo724's picture


    Thanks for this quote. It is both inspiring and encouraging to one who hopes to share in the "growing" light of tolerance and diversity of thought amidst the darkness of the pride and indignation of those who "know" the truth.


    Virgil's picture

    Bill...I agree with you. Actually I got teary eyes when I read what Servetus wrote: "This man’s fervor for God is so great I will burn in it." And he was so right.

    This whole thing is so tough to deal with. Calvin was so convinced that he was doing the right thing for God, yet he was so wrong! It never occurred to him that you cannot instill holiness in people's hearts by force -- was that not what the Old Covenant was all about?

    leo724's picture

    Yep, Virgil, it's the same old story.

    Matthew 11:12

    From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.


    John 16:2

    They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.

    I've been kicked out of 2 churches because they didn't want me to share what I believe and I was even told I couldn't come to a home church that some "friends" of mine were starting because of this:

    Philippians 2:2

    make my joy complete by being of the same mind , maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

    For some reason, I couldn't convince them that the "same mind" wasn't their own version of doctrine but was explained in the very next verse:

    Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

    Maybe some day God will lead me to a body where we can enjoy the benefits provided by the different parts instead of all trying to be the same part and kicking out everyone who is different.

    I'm grateful that you've provided a virtual representation of the body of Christ here at Planet Preterist!


    Virgil's picture

    Very enlightening Kyle, I am surprised I did not run across his will in my research, in fact I wasn't even aware that he was allowed to write one. Thanks for this contribution.

    Ransom's picture

    Uh-uh, no you didn't, Virgil! :O

    Virgil's picture

    I just posted the thing 100 seconds couldn't have possibly read it already! :)

    Ransom's picture

    Haven't you heard of speed-reading? :)

    Besides, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this article will be received!

    Virgil's picture

    Besides, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this article will be received!

    I usually try to expect a little more from people rather than assuming, but perhaps you are right :)

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