TO THE LIFE OF CALVIN.
BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR.
THE following notes are thrown together in a separate form, because their length rendered it impracticable to place them at the bottom of the pages on which they respectively occur.
When Calvin returned from the Diet of Worms, he wrote to Farel the following account of the matter: “We have at length returned home, after an absence of almost three months. Our delay was occasioned by our adversaries, who constantly were devising new artifices to delude us by spinning out the time. When the Emperor, was said to be approaching, we supposed that they would have a good pretext for their own justification. For during the whole period they had eluded any conference by the most impudent shufflings; and why did they not pretend that they could have no consultation, since the Emperor was now going to Ratisbon to hold the Diet? But when all were preparing to depart, they unexpectedly gave us an opportunity for a conference. They were perhaps apprehensive, that they could not escape the accusation of dishonesty, if they did not commence, at least in appearance, when we had submitted to all their obtrusive conditions. For they had spent a whole month in proposing absurdities for our admission, expecting that by our refusal, they should have an ostensible reason for accusing us with having prevented the conference. By our patience, we frustrated all their expectations, by yielding to every condition which did not materially affect injuriously the cause of truth. At length the colloquy was opened. Eckius, being chosen by our adversaries for their advocate, commenced with a speech of two hours.
Melancthon answered more concisely. After dinner, Eckius again proceeded boisterously. On the following day, Philip answered him with great moderation. Eckius spoke again after dinner. The judges then pronounced, that they had disputed long enough about that article. To the injustice of this sentence we objected, that it was intolerable that our adversaries should both open and close the debate. But Granville persisted in his sentence with the inflexible obstinacy of an Areopagite. Permission was obtained for our advocate to speak again, on condition, however, that our adversaries should close the dispute. On the following day, Philip closed his argument, and Eckius, with more moderation than usual, ended the debate. I will not attempt to describe the monkish fastidiosity, the great audacity, insolence, and impudence, with which this ostentatious man vociferated. Imagine to yourself a barbarous sophist, exulting foolishly among his illiterate companions, and you will have the half of Eckius. — Granville having assembled the Diet, read the Emperor’s letter by which it was dissolved; and the promise was given, that he would examine the unfinished business at Ratisbon.”
Calvin also attended the Diet at Ratisbon, and from that place thus writes to Farel concerning the meeting: “Many most splendid embassies have arrived from foreign nations.
Cardinal Contarinus, the legate of the Pope, on his entering the town, scattered over us so many signs of the cross, that his arm, I apprehend, did not recover in two days from the painful labor. The bishop of Modena was sent as a special Nuncio. Contarinus would have us submit without bloodshed, and labors by all means to complete the business without having recourse to arms. The Nuncio is for bloodshed, and has nothing but war in his mouth.
Both agree in cutting off all hopes of amicable discussion. The Venitian ambassador is a man of great pomp and parade. The English, besides the resident minister, have sent the bishop of Winchester with a splendid retinue, a man too maliciously cunning.
The ambassadors of Portugal, and several others, I omit to name.
The king of France has sent Velius, an importunate blockhead. In mentioning the princes, I passed over all the dregs of the order of Pfaci, excepting John Pfaf, elector of Mentz. The bishops assembled in great numbers, — the bishops of Ratisbon, Augsburg, Spires, Bremen, Saltzburg, Brescia, Worms, Bamberg, Hildesheim, and some others. — It would be in vain to conjecture what will be the result of this Diet.” “The confederates are desirous of having an audience; and if they can hope for no confidence or lasting peace, until there is an agreement in religious matters, and the Churches established in order, they will urge the imperial Chamber to consider this subject with care and attention. They are anxious that all dissensions should be ended without tumult, and detesting war as the certain ruin of this country, they show themselves the decided enemies of all violent measures. “Our opponents are divided into three parties. The first are for proclaiming war, and openly raved because it was not commenced the first day. Of this class, the leaders are the elector of Mentz, the Bavarian dukes, Henry of Brunswick, and his brother the bishop of Bremen. The second class wish to consult the good of their country, whose ruin or devastation they foresee will be the calamitous effect of war, and they of course exert all their powers to effect a peace of any kind without a settlement of religion. The third would willingly admit a tolerable correction of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline, but being either deficient in the knowledge of the truth, or in fortitude to avow themselves abettors of these opinions, they go forward apparently seeking only the public tranquillity. Among this class are the bishop of Cologne and the bishop of Augsburg among the Ecclesiastics; both of the brothers of the Palatine, Otho, their grandson, and perhaps the duke of Cleves, among the princes. Those are the small number who are endeavoring to excite tumults, and being opposed by all the good, they cannot effect their wishes. The mind of the Emperor is entirely inclined to peace, and to obtain it he will contend with all his strength, putting off his care for the cause of religion to some future time. The confederates will not easily yield to this, but persist in demanding the reformation of the Church. We hope to effect something. “The Pope’s legate, with his usual solemnity, entreats us not to determine on violent measures; but violent measures, in his view, are any discussions about religion, or any consultation concerning the reformation of the Church, held without the authority of his master. They openly profess to encourage the Diet which we ask, and still secretly oppose its appointment by great promises and high threats. Contarinus professes to wish that we might be subdued without bloodshed; but if this cannot be done, and the Emperor will have recourse to arms, they are prepared to furnish him with large sums of money. While, at the same time, if he yields to any measure disagreeable to the Romish tyrant, they threaten him with those thunders with which they are accustomed to shake the whole earth. The state of things in Italy makes the Emperor anxious for his power. If he can, he will therefore take refuge there, in order, without meddling with religion, to place Germany in a more composed state, by a temporary peace, or a truce for a few years. In this he will be opposed. Thus you see that affairs are in such obscurity, that there is no place for probable conjecture. In these perplexities, let us invoke the name of the Lord, and beseech him to govern, by his wisdom, this great and weighty cause, so deeply interesting to his glory and the safety of his Church; and to manifest, in this crisis, that nothing is more precious in his sight, than that celestial wisdom which he has revealed to us in the Gospel, and those souls which he has redeemed by the sacred blood of his Son. In proportion as all things are uncertain, we must stir up our minds with the more assiduous zeal in our supplications. Casting our views over the whole progress of our affairs, we find that the Lord has governed events in a wonderful manner, without the aid or the counsels of men; and made them prosperous beyond all: our most sanguine hopes. In these difficulties, let us rest entirely on that wisdom and power which he has so often displayed in our protection.”
In another letter to Farel, he thus writes: “Our advocates passed from the subject of original sin, without difficulty. The disputation on free will followed, and was amicably settled, according to the opinion of Augustine. This harmony was somewhat interrupted by the contention about the meritorious cause of justification. At length, a formula was presented; and, after passing through various corrections on both sides, it was admitted. It will doubtless surprise you, that our adversaries made concessions so extensively favorable to our cause. I enclose a copy of the formula. The confederates have retained the principal doctrines of divine truth, and nothing was admitted into this formula contradictory to the Scriptures. You will, without question, desire a more full explanation, and in this respect we shall be perfectly agreed. But a moment’s reflection, upon the characters of the persons with whom we have to transact this business, will convince you, that we have effected much beyond our expectations. In the definition of the Church, the advocates were agreed; but an extensive and unyielding controversy arose about the government; and the article, by mutual consent, was omitted.
On the sacraments, they had some warm contention; but when ours admitted, that the ceremonies were a medium, they proceeded to the Supper. This was an insurmountable rock. Changing the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ, replacing the host, carrying it about, and other superstitious practices, were rejected. This was considered, by the Romish advocates, as an insufferable step. Bucer, my colleague, being wholly bent on unity, was incensed that these controverted questions were moved so prematurely. Melancthon was inclined to the opinion, that all hope of pacification should be cut off, about things so entirely corrupt.
Our advocates, having assembled us for consultation, demanded our individual opinions. We were unanimous, in our judgment, that transubstantiation was a mere fiction; that laying up the host was superstitious; and that the worship paid to it was idolatry, or at least very pernicious, as it was not warranted by the word of God.
I was requested to give my opinion in Latin, and although I understood not the opinions of the others, I freely, and without fear of giving offense, condemned the doctrine of the local presence, and declared that the worshipping of the host was intolerable. Believe me, in such cases, determined and resolute minds have a very great influence in establishing the opinions of others. Cease not to pray to God to support us with the spirit of fortitude. Melancthon drew up a writing, which being presented to Granville, was rejected with abusive language, which our three advocates announced to us. If, at the very commencement of the discussion, we have to encounter such difficulties, what an accumulation of them still remains to interrupt our progress, through the examination of the private mass, the sacrifice and communication of the cup? What obstacles will lie across our way when we come to the open profession of the real presence? What tumults will then be raised?”
In another letter to Farel, he thus writes: “The messenger having delayed his departure a day longer than I expected, I write again, to mention some things which have taken place, and which may be interesting to you. Granville, although he had destroyed by his answer all hope of agreement, when he heard of the apoplexy of Eckius, whose importunity he perhaps supposed had prevented the agreement, commanded that Pistorius should also be excluded, and that the other four should proceed in their consultations without witnesses. As far as I could understand, our advocates might have easily accomplished the business, if we would have been contented to be half Christians.
Philip and Bucer framed an ambiguous and deceptive confession concerning transubstantiation, endeavoring, as far as possible, to satisfy their adversaries, without yielding any thing. I am not pleased with this method of proceeding. They however have a motive which guides them. They indulge the hope that the things will manifest themselves, whenever there shall be an opening for the true doctrines. They prefer to pass over present difficulties, regardless of the consequences of that flexible mode of expression.
But in my opinion, this will be very injurious to the cause. I am persuaded, however, that they have the best interests of religion at heart, and are extremely anxious to advance the kingdom of Christ.
Our advocates are decided and prompt to every thing; but in their intercourse with our opponents they are too temporizing. It grieves me, that Bucer is exciting against himself the displeasure of so many persons. Being conscious of his own integrity, he expects more security from it than circumstances will warrant. We should not be so satisfied with our purity of conscience as to throw off all regard to the opinions of our brethren.”
Perhaps no man has ever been more slandered and calumniated by the enemies of truth, nor more respected and venerated by its friends, than John Calvin. Not only have the doctrines which he taught, been grossly misrepresented and shamefully caricatured, but his life has been charged with the grossest immoralities. To disparage or to praise the illustrious dead, is generally a matter of fashion, and secondhand retailing, with those who are the most extravagant in either. Hence there are to be found those who bestow unbounded applause upon the Iliad or AEneid, without ever having seen either; as well as those who lavish with a most unsparing hand, upon the Geneva Reformer and his doctrines, the stereotyped calumnies of his enemies, without a knowledge of the character of either.
This persecuting spirit discovered itself even while Calvin was yet alive, and in self-defense he published a tract entitled “Calumniae Nebulonis cujusdam adversus doctrinam Calvini de occulta Dei Providentia et ad eas ejusdem Calvini Responsio.” While his enemies were charging him with persecuting Servetus, they seemed not to be aware that they were also persecuting him, and endeavoring to destroy what he valued far more than life, namely his character and usefulness. It is not infrequently the case, that those who raise the cry of persecution in order to excite public sympathy in behalf of any individual, at the same time seem not to know that they may be cruelly persecuting the very individuals on whom they labor to bring public odium. So it was with the calumniators of Calvin.
It is a striking fact that this eminent Reformer, to use the language of the Christian Observer, has borne the blame of many an erroneous opinion, both doctrinal and practical, which he spent his life in opposing; and of which no confutation could be found, in the whole circuit of theology, more masterly than his own scriptural commentaries. The Christian Observer proceeds to remark thus: “It should be observed in common justice to Calvin, that his very highest notions of absolute decrees are by his own representations, as entirely practical in their results as any opinion gathered from the decalogue; that he himself would be the last man to defend the religion of a licentious predestinarian; nay, that he would utterly deny any such character to be possessed of a particle of genuine faith; but, on the contrary, would view him as a practical atheist, whose speculations about grace were only a species of more elaborate blasphemy. “Consistently with the fundamental principle of the Reformation, Calvin went directly to the Bible, and not by the circuitous route of councils and fathers; although he frequently refers to them with much veneration, and has indeed constructed the work before us f43 in the order of the Apostle’s Creed, considering it to be a brief compend of Christianity, of high antiquity, though not of inspired origin. He seems to have been perfectly aware (as we have been lately and truly reminded) that the introduction of the fathers into the ranks of controversy, as decisive authorities, was as impolitic as the obsolete practice of bringing elephants into battle; such allies being, in the contingencies of an engagement dangerous alike to both armies. f44 “Liberated, however, as he was, from ecclesiastical fetters, yet well knowing the dangers resulting from independence, there was, to a serious mind, a third consideration, which if duly regarded, would certainly restore the equilibrium when disturbed by the other causes; namely, that having no accredited church to lean upon on the one hand; and, on the other, being at the disposal of an individual not to be trusted, (for every religious man is suspicious of himself,) the only resource was the volume of inspiration; and this resource was happily a safe and effectual one. To this infallible guide, therefore, he resorted; and, if he misunderstood, darkened, or perverted what he found in the Bible, he uniformly says, there is my doctrine, and here is its authority; than which nothing can be a more simple and Christian method of proceeding. It is referring the objector from the deduction to the principle; and inviting him to examine, not only the process of the reasoner’s logic, but the truth of the premises with which he sets out, and of the conclusions at which he arrives. How different is this appeal to the common standard of the Christian world, from the fides carbonaria of such papists, or papal Protestants, as grope in voluntary darkness amidst the noonday blaze of revelation!”
Chambers, in his Dictionary, represents one tenet of Calvinism to be that God gives to man “a necessitating grace which takes away the freedom of the will.” And yet to repel this slander was one object which Calvin had in view, in writing his “Book of Scandals.” It had been also charged against Calvin, that his views of the divine sovereignty made God the author of sin. “To check the growth of these errors,” says Waterman in his life of Calvin, “and to vindicate the cause of Christ and the Reformation from reproach, Calvin published, June 1, 1544, his Instructions against the errors and fanaticism of the Anabaptists and Libertines. In his arguments against the latter, he points out, with great clearness, the nature of the divine sovereignty, its absolute exercise over man, a fallen, depraved, but still amoral and accountable being, he exposes, with a strong hand, the absolute falsity of the libertine position, that God, as the cause of all things, is the efficient cause of evil, or author of sin. He rejects these assertions as blasphemous, while he maintains the scriptural doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God. Calvin discriminated dearly the limits which bounded the human intellect on that subject, and wisely stopped short of that duplex labyrinthus, double labyrinth, as he calls it, which lies beyond the light of revelation. Neither Augustine, Calvin nor Edwards, who thought and wrote much concerning the sovereignty of God, will probably ever be surpassed in intellect, in acquisitions or distinct apprehensions in the science of morals, or the doctrines of religion.
They neither ventured themselves, nor have they given license to others, but have left many warning counsels to prevent even their attempts to intrude into the secret things which belong to God.” f50 Jortin, in his second dissertation, is guilty of a similar misrepresentation of Calvinism. The learning of so distinguished a divine forbids us to ascribe to ignorance, what seems to have arisen from a less pardonable failure. He says, “they (the Calvinists) held a Synod at Deft, and established their Calvinistical decrees by cruel insolence and oppression.” And a little after, in the following anecdote, he tells us what this Calvinism was: “Two of their (Calvinistic) divines, elated with victory, insulted a poor fellow who was a Remonstrant, and said, what are you thinking on, with that grave and woeful face? I was thinking, gentlemen, said he, of a controverted question, who was the author of sin? Adam shifted it off from himself, and laid it to his wife; she laid it to the serpent; the serpent who was then young and bashful, had not a word to say for himself; but afterwards growing older and more audacious, he went to the Synod of Dort, and there had the assurance to charge it upon God.”
Jortin proceeds to state that in England, almost all persons of any note for learning and abilities, have bid adieu to Calvinism, have sided with the Remonstrants, and have left the fatalists to follow their own opinions, f51 and to rejoice (since they can rejoice) in a religious system, consisting of human creatures without liberty, doctrines without sense, faith without reason, and a God without mercy. “This system,” continues Jortin, “so far as it relates to the eternal misery of infants for the fault of Adam, is the very fable of the wolf and the lamb.” This fable we need not repeat, as it is familiar to all the readers of AEsop.
Jortin then quotes Bernard, a father and a saint of the twelfth century, as saying “Nothing burns in hell but our own wills,” and remarks that he is highly to be commended for being the father of so good an aphorism, which is worth half his writings, and all his miracles. Now, in all this can be seen a continued misrepresentation of Calvinism; and just such as Calvin himself has again and again refuted, and branded as calumny.
It were well if all who undertake to refute or to ridicule Calvinism, would listen to the advice of bishop Horsley. In his primary charge to the clergy of the diocese of St. Asaph, he says, “Take especial care, before you aim your shafts at Calvinism, that you know what is Calvinism, and what is not; that in the mass of doctrine which of late it is become the fashion to abuse, under the name of Calvinism, you can distinguish with certainty between that part of it which is nothing better than Calvinism, and that which belongs to our common Christianity, and the general faith of the Reformed churches; lest, when you fall foul of Calvinism, you should unwarily attack something more sacred, and of higher origin. I must say,” adds that able prelate, “that I have found great want of this discrimination in some late controversial writings on the side of the church (of England), as they were meant to be, against the Methodists; the authors of which have acquired much applause and reputation, but with so little real knowledge of their subject, that give me the principles upon which these writers argue, and I will undertake to convict, I will not say Arminians only, and archbishop Laud, but upon these principles, I will undertake to convict the fathers of the Council of Trent of Calvinism. So closely is a great part of that which is now ignorantly called Calvinism, interwoven with the very rudiments of Christianity.”
The life of Calvin was also charged with immoralities. But this was done principally by the famous Bolsec, of whom Beza gives some account.
After he had been banished from Geneva, through the influence of Calvin and Farel, for sedition and Pelagianism, he wrote a life of Calvin, with a view to destroy the reputation of that great and good man.
The great Dr. Moulin observes, that not one of Calvin’s innumerable enemies ever carped at the purity of his life, but this profligate physician, whom Calvin had procured to be banished from Geneva, for his wickedness and impieties. The reproach of such a man, says Middleton, was an honor to Calvin, and especially upon such an account, for as Milton truly says, “Of some to be dispraised, is no small praise.” The calumnies of Bolsec, however, were reiterated by other enemies, and are sometimes, even in this age, raked from the filth where truth has long since consigned them. “One of the greatest uses,” says Middleton, “which may be drawn from reading, is to learn the weaknesses of the heart of man, and the ill effects of prejudices in points of religion. No less a person than the great cardinal Richelieu, has produced all accusation against Calvin, on the credit of Bertelier, than which none was ever worse contrived, and worse proved; though it has been adopted, and conveyed from book to book. Bertelier pretended, that the republic of Geneva had sent him to Noyon, with orders to make an exact inquiry there into Calvin’s life and character; and that he found Calvin had been convicted of sodomy; but that, at the bishop’s request, the punishment of fire was commuted into that of being branded with the Flower-de-luce. He boasted to have an act, signed by a notary, which certified the truth of the process and condemnation. Bolsec affirms, that he had seen this act; and this is the ground of that horrid accusation. Neither Bertelier, nor Bolsec, are to be credited. If Bertelier’s act had not been suppositious, there would have been at Noyon, authentic and public testimonies of the trial and punishment in question; and they would have been published as soon as the Romish religion began to suffer by Calvin’s means. Bertelier had no party against him in Geneva more inexorable than Calvin, who held him in abhorrence, on account of his vices. Bertelier was accused of sedition and conspiracy against the state and church: but he ran away, and, not appearing to answer for himself, was condemned, as being attainted and convicted of those crimes, to lose his head, by a sentence pronounced against him, the sixth of August, 1555. No envoy or deputy was ever sent from Geneva on public business, who was not in a higher station than that of Bertelier; besides, there were some considerable persons at Noyon, who retired to Geneva, as well as Calvin: by whose means it was very easy to receive all the information which could have been desired, without going farther.
If what Bertelier said was true, he would have had his paper when he fled from Geneva: but it is plain he had not the commission he boasted of, after that time. But can any one believe, that, before the year 1555, when those who were called heretics durst not show themselves for fear of being burnt, a deputy from Geneva should go boldly to Noyon, to inform himself of Calvin’s life? Who will believeth that if Betrelier had an authentic act of Calvin’s infamy in 1554, he would have kept it so close, that the public should have no knowledge of it before 1557? Was it not a piece which the clergy of France would have bought for its weight in gold? ‘But why (says Bayle), do I lose time in confuting such a ridiculous romance? Nothing surprises me more than to see so great a person as cardinal de Richelieu, depend on this piece of Bertelier; and allege as his principal reason that the republic of Geneva did not undertake to show the falsehood of this piece.’ The truth is, this cardinal made all imaginable inquiry into the pretended proceedings against Calvin at Noyon, and that he discovered nothing; yet he maintained the affirmative on the credit of Jerom Bolsec, whose testimony is of no weight in things which are laid to Calvin’s charge. Bolsec would have been altogether buried in oblivion, if he had not been taken notice of by the monks and missionaries for writing some satirical books against the Reformation. He was convicted of sedition and Pelagianism at Geneva, in 1551, and banished the territory of the republic. He was also banished from Bern: after which he went to France, where he assisted in persecuting the Protestants, an even prostituted his wife to the canons of Autun. He was an infamous man, who forsook his order, had been banished thrice, and changed his religion four times; and who, after having aspersed the dead and the living, died in despair.
Varillas thought Bolsec a discredited author: Maimbourg rejected the infamy that was thrown upon Calvin: and Florimond de Remond owns, they have defamed him horribly. Papyrius Masso spoke very ill of Calvin, but would not venture to mention the story of the Flower-de-luce: and he called those, mean wretched scribblers, who reproached that minister with lewdness. It is not strange that cardinal de Richelieu, in one of the best books of controversy that has been published on the part of the church of Rome, should be less scrupulous and nice than Remond, Masso, and Romuald; and that he should give out, as a true matter of fact, the story of Bolsec, which began then to be laid aside by the missionaries? Richelieu intended to have reconciled both religions in France, but was prevented by death; and there was not one story which people did not believe, when it defamed him or cardinal Mazarin.”
Calvin’s political opinions have also been questioned, and variously represented, as might suit the purposes of those who sought to bring him into disrepute.
Dr. Kenny, dean of Achonry, in his “Principles and Practices of pretended Reformers,” labors to prove that Calvin was a sanguinary democrat, and the avowed champion of political principles, which are subversive of social order, and of legitimate government. What Dr. Kenny considers “a legitimate government” would be questioned by the American people, as well as by Calvin. The question of Calvin’s political principles has been ably discussed by bishop Horsley. The subject was taken up by that learned prelate in the appendix to a sermon preached before the House of Lords, on the 30th of January, 1793. He was constrained to acknowledge that Calvin was unquestionably a republican in theory. He says that Calvin frequently declared his opinion, that the republican form, or an aristocracy reduced nearly to the level of a republic, was of all the best calculated in general to answer the ends of government. So wedded indeed was he to this notion, that he endeavored to fashion the government of all the Protestant churches upon republican principles. Calvin affirms, with his usual wisdom, that the advantages of one government over another, depend very much upon circumstances; that the circumstances of different countries, require different forms. And this is strictly true, for until a nation is prepared to appreciate the advantages of a republican form, and to use civil liberty, without abusing it, such a form can not be said to be the best for them, under such circumstances. Calvin’s political views may be fairly collected from his Commentaries on the Prophecy of Daniel.
It ought to be remarked, however, that Calvin always enjoined obedience to the powers that be; in as much as governments are ordained of God.
And so taught the apostle Paul. Romans 13:1-3. Titus 3:1.
THE CASE OF SERVETUS
Robertson, in his History of Charles V remarks that “in passing judgment on the characters of men, we ought to try them by the principles and maxims of their own age, and not by those of another; for, although virtue and vice are at all times the same, manners and customs vary continually.”
Although we are by no means disposed to justify Calvin in the part he took in the unhappy affair of Servetus, yet there are facts connected with that transaction, which must be known, in order to form all impartial and just decision of its true character, and of the conduct of those who were the principal actors in the tragic scene. The enemies of Calvinism have united with the opposers of all evangelical religion, in selecting this event in the history of the Geneva Reformer, as the topic of vituperative harangue. While the opposers of Calvinism dwell, even to tediousness, upon this subject, as an argument against the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation; the enemies of all godliness use it as an argument against religion, and especially against the ever memorable Reformation. Some point it out as the “first fruits of the Reformation,, and others as resulting naturally from the adoption of the peculiar tenets of that Reformer.
Roscoe, in his life and pontificate of Leo X, denominates it the “first fruits of the Reformation;” but persecution certainly existed before the occurrence of that melancholy event. Thirty-six years at least elapsed between the commencement of the Reformation and the death of Servetus.
The zeal of some men is warmly enlisted against persecution on account of heresy or religion, while they themselves indulge the bitterest spirit of persecution against religion itself. This spirit is as active and powerful in men of no principle, as in the most ferocious bigots. No praise is due, therefore, to those who are exempt from the charge of open persecution, only because they are destitute of all religious principle. There are persons who, though little disposed to persecute on account, or rather in favor of religion, yet are ready enough to do so when the gratification of avarice, of a revengeful spirit, or of any other passion is concerned. Indeed, the apparent complacency with which some dwell upon this disgraceful event, seems to warrant the suspicion that it is as satisfactory to them, in as much as it furnishes occasion to heap abuse and obloquy upon Calvin, as they represent it to have been to that Reformer himself. It is a compliment unwittingly paid to the Reformation and to religion, that such an event seems as necessary to the enemies of both in sustaining their opposition, as Calvin misjudged it to be to the honor of both. But as explanatory of that spirit of persecution which to some extent, is justly chargeable upon the Reformers, it should be recollected that they only participated in a common error, an error belonging rather to the age in which they lived, than to the persecutors themselves. The rights of conscience and of private opinion were not then as well understood as at this day. These rights had been lost in the darkness which for ages had gathered and thickened around the human mind, and had been formally denied by the corrupt church from which the Reformers had emerged. In the midst of the papacy they had been born, in her lap they had been nursed, and from her breasts they had imbibed the poison. But from what quarter did that light issue which has since enabled us to understand, to appreciate and to defend these rights!
Not from the papal throne, for they are denied in her infallible and unalterable creed, and the exercise of them denied, even to this day, to all who are subject to its influence and control. That light sprang from the Reformation; for wherever that Reformation now obtains, these rights are understood and exercised. We appeal to facts, let them decide the question.
Let the number of individuals who suffered in Protestant and popish persecutions be compared. Let the persecutions under the five years reign of queen Mary alone, be compared with all the Protestant persecutions put together.
With respect to the wound which is designed to be inflicted through the sides of the reformer, upon the Reformation and upon Christianity itself, it is enough to observe that the truth and nature of pure religion, have never depended upon the character of its professors. Pure religion speaks for itself, and it needs only to be known, in order to be admired and loved.
Let us therefore, with calm, impartial, and unprejudiced minds, examine and weigh the facts connected with this case. The Biblical Repertory says, Michael Servetus was born at Villa Nueva, in Arragon, in 1509. He called himself Ville Neuve, or Villanovanus, from this place, but is said to have declared himself a native of Tudelle, in Navarre. At the age of fourteen, he is reported to have understood Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and to have been imbued with the knowledge of Philosophy, Mathematics, and Scholastic Theology. M. Simon, however, says: “it is evident by this author’s books, that it cost him a great deal of trouble to write in Latin;” and Servetus himself, in the second edition of a book, says, “Quod autem ita barbarus, confusus et incorrectus prior liber proderit, imperitiae meae, et typographi incuriae adscribendum est.” At the age of fifteen he went to Italy in the suite of Charles V, whom he saw crowned at Bologna. Just at this time the seeds of anti-trinitarian doctrine began to germinate in Italy.
The Socini and their fellows were then rising. It is believed that Servetus, under these influences, adopted his peculiar tenets. The late learned Dr.
M’Crie expresses his belief, that the anti-trinitarian opinions, which spread there so widely, were introduced into Italy by means of his writings. f52 From Italy he went to Germany, and thence to Switzerland; and, at Basle, held a conference with Oecolampadius, with whom he disputed about the Trinity, in 1530. He then repaired to Strasburg, and conferred with Capito, and with Bucer. The latter was so far overcome with indignation at the impieties of Servetus, as to say from the pulpit, that he deserved to be put to death. Such was the error and blindness even of one who was surnamed the Moderate Reformer; an error and blindness caught from his Romish education. Before he left Basle, Servetus had prepared a book in which he attacked the orthodox faith, respecting the Trinity. This he left there in the hands of Conrad Rouss, a bookseller, who sent it to Hagenau, as it was a dangerous business to print it. The author followed his manuscript, and published it at the last named place, in 1531. He published a second, of like contents, in 1532. The former of these was entitled “De Trinitatis Erroribus Libri Septem, per Michaelem Servetum, alias Reves, ab Arragonia Hispanum.” Scarcely a copy is known to be extant. Mosheim says that both this and the dialogues are “barbaro dicendi genere conscripti.”
The second work was entitled “Dialogorum de Trinitate Libri duo. De Justitia Regni Christi, Capitula Quatuor, per Michaelem Servetum, etc.” In this he retracts all that he had said in the preceding; not as being false, but imperfectly, and carelessly, and ignorantly written. These works were so largely circulated, especially in Italy, that, as late as 1539, Melancthon felt himself bound to write a caveat against them to the senate of Venice.
Servetus passed his time in Germany until 1533, but then, finding himself without adherents, and awkwardly situated, from his ignorance of the language, and particularly desirous of studying mathematics and medicine, he went to France. Here he sought notoriety both as a scholar and an author. He studied medicine at Paris, under the instruction of Sylvinus and Fernel, and was graduated Master of Arts and Doctor of Physic by the university. Beza relates that, in this city, as early as in 1534, Calvin opposed his doctrines. After taking his degrees, Servetus professed mathematics in the Lombard college. During this period, he was preparing an edition of Ptolemy’s Geography, and several medical works; being, meanwhile, in warm contests with the medical faculty. We next find him at Lyons, with Frellon, a publisher, whom he served as corrector of the press. After various excursions, he settled at Charlieu, and there practiced medicine. Bolsec, the noted enemy and slanderer of Calvin, and who wrote a memoir for the mere purpose of blasting his character, accounts thus for Servetus leaving his settlement: “This Servetus was arrogant and insolent, as those have affirmed who knew him at Charlieu, where he lodged with la Riviere, about the year 1540, but was forced to leave that place on account of his extravagancies.” From Charlieu he returned to Lyons. Here he fell in with Peter Palmer, archbishop of Vienne, followed him to his see, and enjoyed a harbor in his palace. While at Vienne, he worked at a revised edition of Pagnin’s Bible, which he furnished with notes, abounding in crudity and pravity of doctrine. By the intervention of the printer, Frellon, he opened a correspondence with Calvin. The manner in which Servetus conducted himself in this, may be seen in the published letters. Calvin chose to break off all communication with a man who treated him with perpetual arrogance, and, from this time, Servetus never ceased to vituperate and oppose the Reformer.
Servetus wrote a third book against the orthodox faith, and after several ineffectual attempts elsewhere, had it printed at Vienne, in 1553. This was his famous Restitution of Christianity. Attempts have been made to show that it was Calvin who caused information to be judged against Servetus, with the ecclesiastical authorities. After a careful examination of the authorities, and a full citation of all the witnesses on both sides, M.
Chauffpie pronounces the charge to be wholly without proof. If it were true, it could show no more, than that Calvin did what no good citizen of that generation would have denied to be a praiseworthy act. That Calvin communicated the evidence on which this process was founded, he expressly denies. And this denial must be credited, for, as he says, it is utterly against every presumption that he could correspond with Cardinal Tournon, one of the chief persecutors of the Protestants; and, accordingly, his virulent foes, Maimbourg and Bolsec, never hint such a charge. It is agreed, however, that process was instituted, and the issue was a sentence “that there was not as yet sufficient evidence for an imprisonment.” On a second examination, the Inquisition seized his person, by a finesse; and by a finesse, quite as allowable, Servetus escaped from them, June 17, 1553, and betook himself to the Lyonnois. The process went on in his absence, and, according to the usual course of popish trials, resulted in condemnation, and sentence that he should be burned alive in a slow fire.
This was executed on his effigy and five bales of his books. The unfortunate author, after thus flying from Vienne, wandered in places where historians cannot trace him. If Calvin is to be credited, four months elapsed before he arrived at Geneva; where he was arrested, tried, condemned, and executed.
There is great diversity of statement in the different accounts, as to the length of time he remained at large, and the manner of his being apprehended. According to the most unfavorable report, he was discovered at divine worship, on the Lord’s day, and his presence was made known to the magistracy by Calvin himself. That this was done, if done at all, from personal enmity rather than mistaken zeal for a code of laws against heresy which all the world then approved, is only asserted, can never be proved, is by no means probable, and will be rejected by impartial history as the conjecture of prejudice. Such writers as Gibbon and Roscoe have vented much bitter recrimination on this pretended motive. We may ask, with a late eminent historian: “Is it not with justice that it has been surmised, that philosophers who, not only iniquitously resolve to try men of the sixteenth century by rules and principles scarcely admitted before the eighteenth, but greedily receive every calumny or insinuation that ‘false witnesses’ can utter against them, and indulge in the most extravagant invectives in setting forth their misdeeds, had they themselves happened to live three centuries back, would not have been content to smite only with the tongue or the pen, but would eagerly have grasped the sword or the torch?” f58 We have conducted this brief narrative thus far, without any account of the opinions charged against this unhappy fugitive. As we approach the critical and final act of the sad drama, it becomes proper to state, calmly and from the best sources, the nature of those tenets which rendered him obnoxious to the laws. And let no one undertake to discuss this subject, who is so ignorant of history, as not to know, that in that day, and throughout Christendom, heresy, especially when joined with blasphemy, was a capital crime. In the noonday of civil and religious freedom, a child may detect the fallacy of the argument, that heresy, which slays the soul, should have as dire a penalty as murder, which slays only the body. But the Roman Catholic, the Protestant, and the Socinian, of the sixteenth century, assented to this argument. f59 According to the standard of the times, Servetus was a heretic. The following sketch of his published opinions is very far below their enormity; for details are purposely omitted. The authorities may be seen at great length in the life of Servetus, by M. Chauffpie.
Such is the jumble of inconsistent crudities in the works of this writer, that it is impossible to refer his tenets to any existing title in the nomenclature of error. He was not a cool speculator, but a hasty enthusiast. At the same time he was furiously opposed to many of the doctrines always regarded as fundamental in the church of Christ. It was not the favorite dogmas of Calvin, as some ignorantly or maliciously assert, which this heretic made it his business to impugn. It was not predestination, special grace, perseverance, or any of the tenets for which the reformed churches peculiarly contended, which were assaulted in his works. His shafts were aimed at more vital parts, the very nature of God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and similar foundations of our holy faith. He was at once a Pantheist, an Anti-trinitarian, and a Materialist. f60 Not content with philosophizing about the personality of God, he maintained that God is the Universe, and that the Universe is God.
According to him, God is the infinite ocean of substance — the essence of all things. Not only the devil is in God, as also depraved spirits — but hell is no other thing but God himself. As God is the principle and end of all things, so they return at last to him; and in going into eternal fire, demons shall go to God himself. f61 But it was the doctrine of the Holy Trinity that he set himself chiefly to impugn. In his first book he was more cautious than in those which followed; the doctrine of the earliest was nearer to Sabellianism than to any thing else. We have the authority of the ministers of Zurich, for saying that he often called the Trinity of the orthodox, “a triple monster, a threeheaded Cerberus, imaginary gods, and, finally, visionary and three-headed devils;” that he reviled Athanasius and Augustin, as “Trinitarians, that is Atheists.” To enlarge upon his other errors and heresies, respecting the creation, the immortality of the soul, regeneration, etc., would be unnecessary. Our object is not to detail the vagaries of an enthusiast, whose works indicate a perversion of mind almost amounting to insanity.
Still less is it our wish so to represent his pestiferous errors as to convey the idea that it was right to visit them with secular penalties and a cruel death. We reject the opinion, nor is it a merit in any one to do so at this time, when all reasonable Christians do the same. But we only mean to show that the tenets of Servetus were such, as might naturally lead even good men, in the twilight of religious liberty, to recognize the duty of surrendering him to the secular arm. That Calvin so thought, is not surprising, as we have the fullest evidence to make it probable that any one of the prominent men of the age, whether churchman or layman, whether Romanist or Protestant, would have held the same opinion.
Accordingly, as soon as Calvin discovered that Servetus was in the city, he used means to have him apprehended. The words of Calvin are: “He thought perhaps to pass through this city. Why he came hither is not known, but seeing that he was recognized, I thought it right that he should be detained.” It was necessary that the prosecutor should be personally held in durance while the process was pending, and Calvin used the intervention of Nicholas de la Fontaine, a student belonging to his household. Great reproach has been cast on the reformer for this step, as if it had been his intention to shun the appearance of being active in the affair. But he declares most fully the contrary: “I declare frankly, that since, according to the law and custom of the city, none can be imprisoned for any crime without an accuser, or prior information, I have made it so, that a party should be found to accuse him; not denying but the action laid against him was drawn by my advice, in order to commence the process.” f64 In our account of the trial we follow Chauffpie, in whose impartial statement are found abundant extracts, and references to authentic documents, of which most are beyond the reach of American students, and therefore need not be expressly cited. Servetus first appeared, August 14th, 1553. La Fontaine adduced in evidence the printed books, and a manuscript, which was owned by the author, though it had been several years lying in the hands of Calvin. On the 15th, the examination upon the same articles proceeded. On the 17th, La Fontaine and a certain German named Calladon, who was now associated with him in the prosecution, produced letters from Oecolampadius and passages from Melancthon, showing that Servetus had been condemned in Germany. They likewise cited further passages of a heretical character. On the 21st, he appeared again; and after the course of the ordinary investigations had proceeded, he conferred or disputed with Calvin on certain questions respecting the Trinity. This conference, however it may have been misrepresented, was not contrary to the prisoner’s interest: indeed it should seem that his abettors complained that there was not sufficient license allowed for frequent disputations. The judges then ordered that the books which Servetus required for his answer should be bought at his expense, and that he should retain those which Calvin had cited. On the 22d, Servetus sent a letter to the syndics and council, entering a plea to their jurisdiction — maintaining that it was unchristian to institute a capital prosecution for religious opinion — declaring that the ancient doctrine allowed merely the banishment even of such as Arias himself — and praying that he might have an advocate. The reader, while he weeps over the prejudice which could disregard pleas so reasonable, will remember that even in England, long since the reformation, prisoners have been denied counsel to plead their cause before a jury in any felony, whether it be capital, within the benefit of clergy, or a case of petty larceny. On the 28th, new articles of accusation were brought forward, and among other offenses, he was charged with the Anabaptist error about the power of the magistrate.
During these protracted investigations, he persisted in avowing his tenets, and his determination to avow them, unless he should be convinced. Even when charged with his indecent railings and dreadful blasphemies, he made no excuse: ‘I confess,’ said he, ‘I have written so; and when you shall teach me otherwise, I will not only embrace it, but will kiss the ground you walk on.’ In the mean time, information had most unnecessarily and ungenerously been sent to Vienne, of the arrest of Servetus. On the last day of August, an officer from that city appeared before the council of Geneva, with a copy of their sentence, and a request that the prisoner should be remanded to them. It was left to his choice, and as was most natural, he rejected the harsh proposal, and pathetically besought that he might be judged by the magistrates of Geneva.
Hitherto, we find nothing in the conduct of Calvin inconsistent with the standard of belief and feeling at that day. It is melancholy to observe how this important circumstance is overlooked by those who, from a hasty induction of mistaken facts, attribute to personal malice the whole of his conduct. Let it never be forgotten, that the proceeding of a democratical city and a judicial council is one thing, and the ministerial and subordinate act of their pastor and teacher, another thing. And even though the latter might willingly appear in the case as prosecutor, witness, or expounder of theological opinions, we are not to charge him with every enormity of the syndics and council; especially as it is matter of history, that the faction which was at that juncture dominant in the council of Geneva, was opposed to the Reformer. Plainly unjust is it then to repeat, for the thousandth time, that we are at liberty to consider every act of that body as emanating from Calvin. This charge of vicious and vindictive interference has been repelled by several impartial historians. “Calvin,” says M. la Roche, “never came into the court but when he was commanded, and there he did nothing but by the order of his master. Upon every emergency, it seems, they had recourse to divines; to consult with them, to confer with prisoners, to direct interrogations, to make extracts, examine answers, and many offer things of this kind. I believe, in the station this pastor of Geneva was in, they were afraid of transgressing, if they did any thing without him — but why represent him as an impertinent hypocrite, who intruded himself by his office in this affair; or as an implacable enemy, who earnestly solicited Servetus’ death?” And here it is but fair to let the defamed Reformer speak a word for himself.
The extract is from his French works as cited by la Chapelle: “I will not deny but that he was made prisoner upon my application. But after he was convicted of his heresies, every one knows that I did not in the least insist that he should be punished with death. And as to the truth of what I say, not only all good men will bear me witness, but I defy all malicious men to say it is not so. The proceeding has shown with what intention I did it. For when I, and my brethren, I mean all the ministers of the gospel, were called, it was not owing to us that he had not full liberty given him, of conferring and treating of the articles wherein he has erred, in all amicable manner with us.”
It was on the first day of September that the judges again availed themselves of Calvin’s aid in procuring an extract of offensive propositions, in the very words of Servetus. These were thirty-eight in number. They were put into the author’s hands, that he might answer, explain, or retract. He wrote a reply; and this, in its turn, was answered by Calvin. The answer of Calvin was likewise delivered to Servetus, who made notes upon it. The reader who would pursue the subject into its lesser windings, may find all these documents among Calvin’s Opuscula.
A consultation of these will do more to show the virulence and headstrong fury of Servetus, than any second-hand statement. About a fortnight was spent in these proceedings. On the 15th, Servetus petitioned that his cause might be referred to the Council of Two hundred; in which body, it should be observed, the sovereignty of the commonwealth resided. “It is believed,” says the cautious Chauffpie, “that this request was suggested to him by Calvin’s enemies, who contributed as much, and even more than he, to Servetus’ destruction. Believing himself well supported, he observed no measures with Calvin or his judges. If he had had the least modesty or discretion, I doubt not but he might have brought himself off; but flattering himself with a triumph over Calvin, by the credit of the party which opposed this reformer, he was the victim of his pride and prejudice. This is the only way of explaining his constant conduct at Geneva; in all respects so different from his behavior at Vienne.”
The hopes of Servetus from the city faction must have been strong, as we find him, on the 22d of September, petitioning that Calvin should be punished as a calumniator. On the 10th of October, he made a new request, from which it appears that his situation in the prison was very miserable.
It is common to charge the persecution of Servetus upon Calvin alone, and the undiscriminating compilers of our biographical dictionaries, without adducing an authority, dogmatically declare that the reformer of Geneva acted out his mere personal hatred. It is glaringly false. It is not for us to say, how much false fire mingled with the zeal of Calvin; but we are well informed that not only he, but all Protestant Europe, looked upon it as the common cause of truth. From what has been already said, it is plain that the case was not precipitately issued. And at the point of fame which our sketch has reached, the magistrates of Geneva determined to consult the Swiss Cantons. For this purpose they sent to them the “Restitution of Christianity,” with Calvin’s papers and the prisoner’s answers; and requested the opinion of the Swiss theologians upon the subject. The unanimous reply was, that the magistrates of Geneva ought to restrain Servetus, and to prevent the spread of his errors.
Painful as the conclusion is, it cannot be evaded, that the judgment of John Calvin was simply the judgment of all the Helvetic Christians; too nearly allied, alas! to the popish errors from which they had half escaped, but palliated by the circumstances. M. d’Alwoerden, the great authority of Mr. Roscoe, in his hasty and petulent censures, pretends that Calvin kept back from the press all these letters except the one from Zurich. But the letters are happily extant to give triumphant refutation to the slander; and whoever reads them will conclude with La Chapelle, that “all the churches of Switzerland agreed to punish Servetus capitally, since they all concurred in testifying their utmost abhorrence of his heresies, and requiring that this outrage should not be left unpunished.” Beza was, therefore, not falsifying, when he wrote that the issue was ‘ex omnium enim Helveticarum ecclesiarum sententia.’ The prisoner himself showed a degree of confidence in these authorities, by the appeal which he is known to have made to the churches of Zurich, Schaff-hausen, Berne, and Basle.
What were the replies of the Swiss magistrates to this reference from Geneva? Those of Zurich used these terms: “In confidence that you will not suffer the wicked intention of your said prisoner to go farther, which is entirely contrary to the Christian religion, and gives great scandal and insult.” And the ministers still more decisively: “The holy providence of God has now offered an occasion for cleaning you from the suspicion (i.e. of fostering heresy) of this evil; that is, if you shall be vigilant, and diligently take heed that the contagion of this poison spread no farther.
Which we doubt not your excellencies will effect.” The magistrates of Schaffhausen, referred the question to their ministers, and sent the reply of the latter, which ends thus: “Nor do we doubt, but that of your remarkable wisdom, you will repress the attempts of this man, lest his blasphemies eat, as doth a cauker, still more extensively, into Christ’s members. For to set aside his ravings by long argumentation — what would it be, but to rave with a madman.” The magistrates of Basle, proceeding in the same way, replied by their ministers: “But if he persevere incurably in the perverseness which he has conceived, let him, in pursuance of your duty and of the authority granted you by the Lord, be so coerced, that he may no longer be able to molest the Church of Christ, and lest the last things be worse than the first.” The magistrates of Berne wrote: “We beg of you, doubting but you are thereto also inclined, that you will take proper measures that sects and heresies as these are, or such like, be not sown in the Church of Jesus Christ, our only Savior.” f74 Such was the unanimous answer of the Swiss magistrates; and we think the fact worthy of repetition, as being very important in its bearing on the whole affair, that Servetus, after a protracted examination and defense before the senate, and after the consistory, or ministerial body, had labored to confute and reclaim him, appealed to the Swiss Churches; and this, before the said consistory had given their official opinion, as to the question whether the positions, which the Senate considered as proved, amounted to heresy and blasphemy. f75 On the 26th of October, sentence was pronounced, by which Servetus was condemned to be burned alive. — Bib. Rep. vol. 8, p. 87, The sentence is as follows: — “The Judgment of the Syndics and Senators, pronounced upon Michael Servetus. “We, Syndics, Judges of criminal causes in this city, having witnessed the process made and instituted against you, on the part of our Lieutenant, in the aforesaid causes, instituted against you, Michael, of Villeneuve, in the kingdom of Arragon, in Spain, in which your voluntary confessions in our hands, made and often reiterated, and the books before us produced, plainly show, that you, Servetus, have published false and heretical doctrines; and also, despising all remonstrances and corrections, have, with a perverse inclination, sown and divulged them in a book published against God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit; in sum against all the true foundations of the Christian religion, and have thereby tried to introduce trouble and schism into the Church of God, by which many souls may have been ruined and lost — things horrible, frightful, scandalous, and infectious; and have not been ashamed to set yourself in array against the divine Majesty and the holy Trinity; but rather have obstinately employed yourself in infecting the world with your heresies and offensive poison; a case and crime of heresy grievous and detestable, and deserving corporal punishment. For these and other just reasons moving us, and being desirous to purge the Church of God from such infection, and to cut off from it so rotten a member, having had good counsel from others, and having invoked the name of God, that we may make a right judgment; sitting upon the tribunal of our predecessors, having God and the holy Scriptures before our eyes, saying, in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by that definite sentence which we here give by this writing — you, Michael Servetus, are condemned to be bound and led to the Champel, and there fastened to a stake, and burned alive with the book written with your hand and printed, until your body shall be reduced to ashes, and your days thus finished as an example to others, who might commit the same things; and we command you, our Lieutenant, to put this our sentence into execution. — Read by the Chief Syndic, De Arlord.” f77 Extracts from the refutation of the errors of Michael Servetus, drawn up by Calvin, with the assistance of the other Ministers of the Genevese Republic.
In this work the propositions in proof of the heresy and blasphemy of Servetus are stated, his answers and the reply to them, etc., etc., etc. And the question discussed, Whether it is lawful for Christian magistrates to punish heretics? The affirmative is maintained by Calvin, and subscribed by the ministers, as follows: John Calvin, Michael Cope, Abel Pouppinus, John Pyrery, James Bernard, John de St. Andrew, Nicholas Galasius, John Baldwin, Francis Borgonius, John Faber, Nicholas Little, John Macarius, Raymond Calvet, Nicholas Colladonius.
Matthew Malesian, The Repertory proceeds: — Calvin informs us, that Servetus, two hours before his death, sent for him, and asked his forgiveness. Calvin reminded him “with all mildness, that sixteen years before he had endeavored, even at the risk of his own life, to reclaim him, and that it had not been through his fault that Servetus had not by repentance been restored to the friendship of all religions persons.” He also endeavored to have the mode of execution changed to one less barbarous. Chateillon (otherwise called Castellio and Castellio) a declared enemy of Calvin, accused him of having smiled when the heretic passed the window from which he was looking.
There is no other alleged proof of this unlikely story. M. La Roche, who elsewhere deals harshly with Calvin, treats this as a wretched calumny.
Servetus was accompanied to the stake by Farel, and so far maintained his characteristic obstinacy, that he would scarcely allow Farel to ask the prayers of the people. Thus miserably perished this unfortunate and wicked man, by a cruel death, on the twenty-seventh day of October, 1553.
During the whole trial, the contumacy and recklessness of the prisoner were remarkable. Especially did he seem to make it his aim to irritate and sting his great opponent, Calvin. In the notes, already mentioned, which Servetus appended to Calvin’s confutation of his arguments, he endeavors to goad the latter by every name of insult which could be foisted in. Cain, and Simon Magus, and murderer, are ordinary terms, and, in the course of a few hundred lines, we have counted instances of the lie direct, Mentiris, to the number of forty-six. Yet the replies of Calvin are comparatively mild. He deals with his opponent as if he scarcely thought him balanced in mind. And when sentence was pronounced, it is notorious that he used his influence with the judge to procure a mitigation of the punishment, but without effect. — Bib. Rep. Vol. 8, pp. 76-88.
Mackenzie, in his Life of Calvin, says “It has been confidently pretended, and boldly asserted, that Calvin had, through life, nourished an implacable hatred against Servetus, and that the Genevese theologian had employed all his efforts to satiate it in the blood of the unhappy Spaniard; that he denounced him to the magistrates of Vienne, and occasioned him to be arrested on the day after his arrival at Geneva. Things advanced with an air of confidence are readily believed, and it is scarcely suspected that they may be false. Bolsec, however, the mortal enemy of Calvin, who wrote the life of that illustrious man merely to blast his memory, and who was contemporary with the facts which he relates; and Maimbourg, equally known by his partialities and his falsehoods, have never dared to advance those things which modern historians have not been ashamed to risk.
Bolsec says, that Servetus quitted Lyons to establish himself at Charlieu, because his ‘pride, his insolence, and the danger of his projects, made him equally feared and hated.’ He adds, that Servetus returned to Lyons; that he entered into a correspondence with Calvin; that he communicated to him his ideas; that Calvin combated them with force, and that Servetus persisted in them with obstinacy; that he sent his work entitled Restitutio Christianismi, which he printed at that time; and that Calvin indignant, declined all acquaintance with him. f81 But Calvin, it is said, abused the confidence of Servetus; he sent to Vienne the letters which he had received from him, to which he added his work entitled Restitutio Christianismi, of which Servetus had made him a present. This accusation is mysterious: is it to be believed that Calvin, whose name was execrated in all Catholic countries, could expect from their magistrates any attentions to his complaints or any regard to his letters?
The extreme improbability of the correspondence here alluded to, may be inferred from the character of the individual to whom Calvin is said to have applied. All historians agree in representing Cardinal Tournon to us as the scourge of heresy. He caused the severest edicts to be published against the innovators, he established at Paris a fiery court (Chambre Ardente,) which was properly an inquisition, and ordered all the tribunals of the kingdom to prosecute the new errors as crimes against the slate. The fury of his zeal transported him so far, that he caused all the heretics to be burned who had the misfortune to fall into his hands. Behold the man they want to make a correspondent of Calvin by letters! Whatever wickedness they would load him with, they must suppose him a perfect blockhead to attempt such a correspondence, by a criminal accusation of his enemy, as it would appear by the loud fits of laughter they make the cardinal fall into, upon receiving this letter.
But, supposing that this reformer had been capable of such extravagant folly, how can we imagine that the cardinal ‘this scourge of heresy,’ would have satisfied himself with laughing at this affair? That he made himself merry with the accuser, needs not surprise us; but that he neglected to prosecute such a heretic as Servetus we cannot so easily be persuaded of.
Thus Calvin himself gives no other reason in answer to the calumny we are refuting, as we shall see by his own words, than that the calumny came originally from Servetus; and that Bolsec knew nothing of the matter, but from uncertain reports. “I have no occasion,” says Calvin, “to insist longer to answer such a frivolous calumny, which falls to the ground, when I shall have said, in one word, that there is nothing in it. It is four years since Servetus forged this fable upon me, and made the report travel from Venice to Padua, where they made use of, it according to their fancy. I don’t dispute, however, whether it was finally, on the confessions of that unhappy man. It is true that the magistrates of Vienne, having learned that Servetus corresponded with Calvin, demanded his letters with all the writings relating to him; but the demand was made to the Council of Geneva, who complied with their request. From these circumstances it appears that Calvin had no share in sending the letters of Servetus, and that they had no influence upon the decision of Vienne, as no mention is made of them.”
It is a little remarkable that Romanists in this country, frequently allude to the death of Servetus, as an indelible stain upon the character of Calvin and of the Reformation; when this unhappy man was sentenced to be burned alive by their own infallible church; and had he not escaped from prison, would certainly have been executed, on the same day that his effigy and books were consumed. Servetus fled from the jaws of Romish tyranny, and came to Geneva, although he had been forewarned by Calvin not to appear in that city. Nor could Servetus have been ignorant of the laws of that republic, enacted against heretics by the emperor Frederick II when it was under the imperial jurisdiction, and which were still in force.
The Socinians too, are clamorous in their denunciations of Calvin and of his doctrinal tenets, on the ground of his having burnt Servetus, who advocated their principal errors. But on the testimony of one of their own creed, they are as really chargeable with the spirit of deadly persecution as Calvinists. Not that either are justly so-chargeable; but if the conduct of Calvin must be made to operate to the disadvantage of Calvinists, the conduct of Faustus Socinus must affect in the same manner and degree, the character and cause of Socinians. Mr. Lindsey, in his Apology, p. 153 - 1150, acknowledges, that Faustus Socinus himself was not free from persecution, in the case of Francis Davides, superintendent of the Unitarian churches in Transylvania. Davides had disputed with Socinus on the invocation of Christ, and “died in prison, in consequence of his opinion, and some offense taken at his supposed indiscreet propagation of it from the pulpit. I wish I could say,” adds Mr. Lindsey, “that Socinis, or his friend Blandrata, had done all in their power to prevent his commitment, or procure his release afterwards.” The difference between Socinus and Davides was very slight. They both held Christ to be a mere man. The former, however, was for praying to him; which the latter, with much greater consistency, disapproved. Considering this, the persecution to which Socinus was accessary, was as great as that of Calvin; and there is no reason to think, but that, if Davides had differed as much from Socinus as Servetus did from Calvin, and if the civil magistrates had been for burning him, Socinus would have concurred with them. To this might be added, that the conduct of Socinus was marked with disingenuity; in that he considered the opinion of Davides in no very heinous point of light; but was afraid of increasing the odium under which he and his party already lay, among other Christian churches.
That divines and historians, who are members of the Church of England, should reproach Calvin about burning Servetus, even if the fact were so, is strange, when without reverting back to the burning of Lambert and Askew, in the reign of Henry VIII to Van Pare and Joan of Kent, in that of Edward VI (who, when he discovered some reluctance to sign the death warrant of the latter, was entreated and besought by Cranmer to do so) or of the two Anabaptists in that of Elizabeth; they may read, as late as 1612, under James I, of the burning of Legate and Wightman for the Arian heresy. And if they follow down the details of their history, during the reign of Charles I and archbishop Laud, and read the petition of Alexander Leighton, or his sentence and punishment, they will find causes enough for the chills of grief, and tears of sympathy, from persecutions, not only for heresy, but for non-conformity to the Common Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church.
Mackenzie proceeds to observe, that “the principal accusations exhibited against Servetus were, first, his having asserted in his Ptolemee, that the Bible celebrated improperly the fertility of the land of Canaan, whilst it was unfruitful and barren. Secondly, his having called one God in three persons, a Cerberus, a three-headed monster. Thirdly, his having taught that God was all, and that all was God. Servetus did not deny the truth of the principal accusations, but whilst in prison called the Trinity a Cerberus, a three-headed monster; he also grossly insulted Calvin, and was so fearful that death would be the punishment of heresy at Geneva, as well as at other places, that he presented a petition on the 22d of August, in which he defended the cause of ignorance, and urged the necessity of toleration: the procureur-general replied to him in about eight days, and no doubt did it very ill. Servetus was condemned upon extracts from his books, De Trinitatis Erroribus, and In Ptolemoeum Commentarius; from the edition of the Bible which he had published in 1552; from his book Restitutio Christianisimi; and from a letter which he had written to Abel Paupin, a minister of Geneva. “The enemies of Calvin exulted in this affair, and, for once, with the appearance of reason: but their efforts injured the cause of Servetus; they endeavored to bring him before the Council of Two Hundred, in which, however, they did not succeed. “The Council of Vienne claimed Servetus, who, being left at liberty to return to his ancient judges, preferred the chance of a more favorable judgment at Geneva, to the certainty of suffering the capital punishment pronounced against him at Vienne, where he had been condemned to be burned. “To the Council of Geneva, justice ought to be done with respect to this transaction, though we may blame the principles of its jurisprudence: they neglected nothing to discover the truth; they multiplied their interrogatories; they employed all possible means to make Servetus retract; and, as they experienced the inutility of these measures, they wrote to the reformed Swiss cantons for their advice. Is it credible? they were unanimous in exhorting the council to punish the wicked man, and to put it out of his power to increase heresy. If Calvin may be supposed to have influenced the Council of Geneva, shall he domineer at his pleasure over four councils of four different states, and all the persons who were consulted by them in forming their judgments? Shall the fury imputed to him render so many magistrates cruel, whom he had never known? It must be confessed, that the intolerant spirit of the age dictated the sentence of Servetus at Geneva; but, it is not equally evident that Calvin was the author of that atrocity, and that he shouted with ardor to accomplish it.”
Some who labor to fix upon Calvin every thing which the senate did, assert that his influence was powerful with that body, and that to his influence must be attributed the death of Servetus. But how did it happen that his influence was not sufficiently great, to induce the syndics to commute the punishment they inflicted, nor to mitigate its severity, although he labored long and hard to effect it?
The syndics and senate of Geneva were annually elected. In 1553, Perrin was one of the syndics; and Bertelier, who is said by Beza to have excited Servetus personally to abuse Calvin, when before the senate as a witness, was clerk of the lower court, and had been about six months before the trial of Servetus excommunicated. The majority of the senate, at this very time, were under the influence of the Perrin and Bertelier faction, as abundantly appears from their proceedings in other matters, particularly when in August and September of this year, they voted, in the face of Calvin and the consistory, that Bertelier should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper. It may be asked where, and in what respect, Calvin had any influence over the senate that condemned Servetus? It must be admitted, that the senate who refused, at Calvin’s request, to mitigate and change the punishment of Servetus, were under the control of Perrin, and not of Calvin.
Calvin, in a letter to Farel, declares, that “from the time that the senate pronounced the charges against him (Servetus) to be proved, I never uttered a word concerning his punishment.” The learning and services of Servetus in the medical profession, have also been named as aggravating the cruelty of his persecutors. But those writers, who, in their zeal to honor Servetus, have attempted to credit him with a discovery relative to the circulation of the blood, ought to know that Harvey was the author of that discovery. The learned Wotton, in honoring Servetus with this discovery, says that the very learned Charles Bernard could inform him no farther, only that he had it from a learned friend, who copied it from Servetus. The authority is, then, that a learned writer says a very learned writer was told it by a learned friend!
The following extracts from Calvin’s own account of the matter, will throw much light on a transaction so much misrepresented and so little understood.
“As long as there was any hope of recalling him to a right mind, I did not, says Calvin, cease to afford all my assistance in private to effect it. But not to detain the reader with doubtful narrations, I will simply mention what he confessed to be true, only two hours before his death, in the presence of many witnesses. As he requested a conference with me, two senators were sent, who accompanied me to the prison. Being asked, what he desired, he answered, that he begged my pardon. I ingenuously observed, that I never had pursued any private injuries; — that as much as I was able I had admonished him with mildness; — that I had, sixteen years ago, offered my assistance to cure him, even at the imminent danger of my life; — that it was by no means my fault, that he had not repented, and received the hand of fellowship from all the pious; — that I had without ever exposing him, patiently dealt with him by private letters; — finally, that I had omitted towards him no office of benevolence, until so much enraged by my free remonstrances, he poured forth not the spirit of passion, so much as the fury of madness. But ceasing to speak of myself, I entreated him to think rather of asking forgiveness of the eternal God, against whom he had been so atrociously insolent, by endeavoring to blot out the three persons from his essence, and calling him the three-headed Cerberus; as if an essential distinction was established between the Father, and his Son, and Spirit. That he should resolutely seek to be at peace with the Son of God, whom he had deformed by his foul inventions, and by denying him to be like us in that flesh which he assumed, and breaking the bond of fraternal union, he had denied at the same time the only Redeemer.
But as my entreaties and admonitions availed nothing, I would not presume to be wise above the rule of my master. For, according to the directions of Paul, I departed from the man who is an heretic, and sinneth, being auJtokata>kritov , condemned of himself.
I wish the errors of Servetus were buried. But while I hear that they are spreading, I cannot be silent without incurring the guilt of perfidy. The object of this work, however, is more immediately to give the reason for the punishment of that man. For those things which were done by the senate, are by many ascribed to me. Nor do I at all dissemble, that by my influence and advice, he was by the civil power, committed to prison. For having received the freedom of this city, I was bound to impeach him if guilty of any crime. I confess that I prosecuted the cause thus far. From the time that the articles were proved against him, I never uttered a word concerning his punishment. To this fact all good men will bear me witness; and I challenge the wicked to produce whatever they know. But how far I proceeded is not of so much consequence, as that I ought to refute in this public work, the calumny invented to asperse me by turbulent, foolish or malicious men and drunkards.”
Tractatus Theologici Calvini, p. 511.
As Servetus was sentenced to be burnt by the papists at Vienne, the enemies of Calvin took occasion to accuse him of being the cause of his apprehension in that city. “Nothing was less becoming me, say they, than that I should expose Servetus to the professed enemies of Christ, as to huge beasts. For they affirm, that it was by my means, that he was taken at Vienne, in the province of Lyonnois. But whence this my so sudden familiarity with the inquisitors of the pope? Whence this great influence with them? Is it credible, that letters should pass freely to and from those, who are as much at variance as Christ and Belial? It is useless to spend words in refuting this calumny, which is broken to pieces and falls by a simple denial. — If indeed what they falsely object to me, was a fact, I do not see any reason why I should deny it; since I do not dissemble, that it was by my means, that he was seized in this city, and required to defend his cause. Let malevolent and slanderous men object what they please, I offer myself beforehand, and freely confess, (for according to the laws of this city the man could not be justly treated otherwise,) that the accuser proceeded at my request; that the formula was dictated by my advice; by which some entrance was made upon the cause. But what my design then was, is evident from the progress of the action. When my colleagues and myself were summoned, it was by no means our fault that he did not confer peaceably and freely with us concerning his dogmatisms. We in fact proceeded as in chains to give the reason of our faith, and informed him that we were prepared to answer his objections. It was then that, with swollen cheeks, he poured forth upon me such reproaches, as made the judges themselves ashamed and grieved for him. — I avoided all railing at him. And had he been in any manner curable, he would have been in no danger of any weightier punishment. But he was so entirely destitute of moderation, that, filled with boasting and ferocity, he petulantly rejected with scorn all wholesome and useful advice. But the execrable and absurd blasphemies which he uttered, during the conversation, may perhaps, be related elsewhere, with more propriety. This only for the present will I declare, that I was not so inveterate against him, but that he might have redeemed his life, by mere moderation, if he had not been destitute of reason. I know not what I shall say, unless that he was so seized with this fatal madness, that he threw himself headlong into ruin. Eight days after, I was again summoned; and the opportunity was again given him of a free conference with us. He formed an excuse, that he was prevented by his grief and anxiety. But whatever books he requested I freely lent him, partly from my own library, and partly from others. It is therefore a probable suspicion, that he was encouraged from some others, with a vain confidence, which destroyed him. — I trust that my moderation will be evident to all good men, unless indeed it should seem to be effeminacy.
But, as if he had taken new draughts of a poisonous humor, he proceeded to insert, in all the books he could obtain of mine, his insulting reproaches, so that he left no page free from his purulent vomiting. Concerning this, at that time, I thought it best to be silent, and my intimate friends know that I was entirely unruffled by his ungenerous insults.”
Tractatus Theologici Calvini, p. 517.
“By mutilating the word of God in a foul manner, he manifestly proved that all religion was equal to him; only provided that he could indulge himself after his own petulancy. Moreover, we entertain such a judgment of that man, who held only one object professedly, that he took no pleasure in reviling any traditions concerning religion, unless he could, through their obscurity, erase from the memories of men all belief of the Godhead. While his arrogance called up all the most violent heresies, yet he added and mixed up with them a certain rashness of intemperate zeal.
The life of Servetus was too dissolute, to lead any one to suppose, that he was driven by mere error to disturb the church. He had indeed never hesitated to subscribe to the substance of the grossest superstition; but with this great liberality, he had never given much care to present himself as a worshipper of God. When he was therefore asked in prison, by the judges, from what reason he was so zealous concerning all innovations in religion? he was speechless. Nor had he any thing to say, unless that he took the liberty to be bold in sacred things, as if to trifle with God. In his trial he evinced his impiety in the most evident manner, he declared all creatures were of the personal substance of God, and that all things were full of Gods; for in this manner he did not blush deliberately to speak and write. We were wounded with indignation and asked him, miserable man!
What? If any one trampling on this pavement should say, that he trampled on your God, would you not be ashamed at so great an absurdity? He said, I do not doubt but that this bench, and whatever you see, is the substance of God. When it was objected, then the devil will be substantially God; he burst into a deriding laugh, and said, do you doubt this! This is my general principle — All things spring from the stock of God, and all nature is the substantial Spirit of God. — The volume of Ptolemy’s Geography was introduced; in the preface to which, Servetus had admonished his readers, that the scripture account of the great fruitfulness of the land of Judea, was mere boasting; as the testimony of travelers proved it to be uncultivated, barren, and destitute of every pleasant thing. He first said that this was written by another. So bold a cavil was promptly refuted, and by this means he was demonstrated to be a public imposter, reduced to this strait, he defended it as correctly written. He was asked if he was vain enough to suppose any authority was superior to Moses. He said others had written besides Moses. — It was replied, certainly, and they all agree with Moses, who was the most ancient. How great is the crime of the man who would deceive posterity by falsehood? Who was it that said, it was a land that flowed with milk and honey? And it was added, that the land was now a testimony of the righteous judgment of God, formerly threatened against the Jews, as is described in <19B733> Psalm 117:33,34.
The senate and many other distinguished persons witnessed, that when he was convicted of impiety against the Scriptures, he slyly rubbed his face and said, there was no evil in all this; and though convicted he made no acknowledgement. Intrusted by the printer of the Bible in Latin, at Lyons, with revising the proof-sheets, he cheated the printer out of 500 francs, adding his polluted notes, etc. He perverted most wickedly the <235301> 53d chapter of Isaiah, stating that the sufferings described — were the mournings for Cyrus, who had died to take away the sins of the people. — I omit that when Servetus pretended to have the suffrage of Nicholas Lyranus, (in favor of his false glosses upon Isaiah) the book was brought; and though convicted of falsehood, he did not blush. It was a common thing with him, boldly to quote from books he had never seen. Of this he gave a specimen laughable enough in Justin Martyr. He magnificently boasted, that Martyr, in his Golden Age , had not mentioned the fables of the Trinity and persons. I immediately ordered the volume to be brought, and pointed out with my finger certain places, in which that holy man had as openly asserted our faith, as if he had written at our request. But he could no more read the Greek language than a boy learning his A,B,C. Finding himself basely caught, he peevishly asked for the Latin translation to be handed him. How happens this, said I, since there is no Latin translation extant, and you cannot read Greek, that you should yet pretend yourself to have read so familiarly the works of Justin? Whence then did you obtain those testimonies which you indulge yourself in quoting so liberally? He, as he was accustomed, with a brazen front, passed quickly to another subject, without the least sign of shame. — But that wicked and hardened men may not boast of this frantic man as a martyr, on account of his obduracy, in his death there appeared such a brutal stupidity, as justifies the opinion, that he never acted at all seriously in religion. After the sentence of death was pronounced upon him, at one time he stood like a person astonished, at another he gave deep sighs, and at others he shrieked like one affrighted by apparitions; and this increased upon him till he continually cried out, in the manner of the Spaniards, mercy! mercy! When he was brought to the place of punishment, our brother and minister, Farel, with difficulty extorted from him, by earnest exhortation, his consent that the assembly should unite with him in prayer. And truly, I do not see by what principle he should consent to have those do this, concerning whom he had written with his own hand, that they were ruled by a diabolical faith; that they had no Church, no God, and that because they baptized infants, they denied Christ himself. — But Farel exhorted the people to supplicate for him, and expressly, that the Lord would have mercy on this man, and would lead him back from his execrable errors, to a right mind, that he might not perish. In the mean time, although he gave no signs of repentance, he did not even attempt, a word in the defense of his opinions. What, I ask, does this mean, that when placed under the hand of the executioner, and having obstinately refused to invoke the eternal Son of God, he did not, for he had the liberty, offer some defense at least! — I think it is quite evident, that as long as he thought he could sport himself with impunity, he conducted himself with far too much audaciousness; but when the punishment due to his crimes was inflicted, he fell into despair. — But more than enough has been said concerning the man, other things shall be placed in their order, in the descriptions of his dogmatisms, where the reader may determine whether the man himself, or the error, is indifferent and sufferable, or a vast and deep ocean of impieties, which weaken our whole faith, and indeed in a great measure entirely destroy its foundation. I do not propose to lay open the whole mass of confused mixtures, for I perceive this would be to plunge into thickets of briars and thorns, and wander in endless labyrinths. It will be most useful to pursue the same compendious course, which we followed in the examination of the cause itself, that the nature of the doctrines being noted under distinct heads, the readers may perceive what monstrous things, no less detestable than multiform, are contained in his books. How vicious and continued was the verbal dispute, and then after this, he repeated that complaint, that it was improper to conduct the trial about religion in the prison; which I answered it was true, and that I had from the beginning declared that nothing would be more grateful to me than that the points should be discussed in the house of worship, in the presence of all the people. Nor was there any reason why I should avoid the light and presence of the assembly, where the cause most worthy of approbation would be watched by candid hearers. After all this, however, HE APPEALED TO OTHER CHURCHES, Ille provocaret ad alias ecclesias. This condition was also freely agreed to by me. Upon this our senate, desirous to put an end to his prevarications, decreed that the propositions which I had selected from Servetus’ books should be copied and given to him. By the same decree of the senate, he was permitted to retract any thing which he should perceive that he had unjustly written; and if he found any thing unfairly perverted by me, he might refute it; — if he thought any of his opinions unjustly condemned, he might defend them from the word of God. And that there might be no needless delay, I transcribed every article to a word. He had as much time as he pleased to make out his answer to the propositions, while to us there was allowed no more than two days.
And besides all this, as he expected that it would make his cause more plausible, if he made the closing defense, he again requested in writing, that this might be granted him, and he obtained this privilege also. But although he well understood, that the question to be decided was de capite sue, concerning his life, and that the neighboring churches were to be consulted, on whose answer would depend the weighty previous sentence, yet how he continued to cavil, the readers will see, whom I would inform, lest there should be any suspicion, that there is not a single thing put down by me, in these propositions and replies, which was not lawfully sealed and entered on the public records.”
Tractatus Theologici Calvini, p. 522, 523.
The following extracts from letters, written by several eminent reformers, show that they concurred in opinion with Calvin on the subject of punishing heretics; and that they approved of his conduct in relation to Servetus: — BULLINGER TO CALVIN. “In all places there are good men who are of opinion, that impious and blasphemous heretics are not only to be admonished and imprisoned, but also capite esse mulctandos, to be punished with death. Be not therefore discouraged that you have undertaken this labor. The Lord will assist your holy endeavors and studies. I know that you have not a cruel disposition, nor do you approve of any cruelty. And who does not know that there are proper limits to be fixed to this subject? I do not see how it was possible to have spared Servetus, that most obstinate man, the very hydra of heresy. “ZURICH, June 12, 1554.”
MELANCTHON TO CALVIN.
“Reverend and dear brother, I have read your book, in which you have clearly refuted the horrid blasphemies of Servetus; and I give thanks to the Son of God, who was the brabenthv the awarder of your crown of victory, in this your combat. To you also the church owes gratitude at the present moment, and will owe it to the latest posterity. I perfectly assent to your opinion. I affirm also that your magistrates did right in punishing, after a regular trial, this blasphemous man. ‘October 14, 1554.”
MELANCTHON TO BULLINGER.
“Reverend and dear brother, I have read your answer to the blasphemies of Servetus; and I approve of your piety and opinions. I judge also that the Genevese senate did perfectly right, to put an end to this obstinate man, who could never cease blaspheming. And I wonder at those who disapprove of this severity.” “August 20.”
PETER MARTYR TO CALVIN.
“I would not have you be retired in this extremity. It bitterly grieves me and all good men, that against the truth and your name, they spread such foolish and false things, about the eternal election of God, and the punishment of heretics with death. — But it is well, in what they write they dare not mention his (Servetus’) name. As often as we are asked about this, both Zanchius and I defend your side of the question and the truth, in public and private, with all our strength. “STRASBURG, May 9.”
The following letter of Servetus, written while in prison, and addressed to the lords, syndics, and senators of Geneva, expresses his views on the subject of capitally punishing heretics and blasphemers for their opinion. “My greatly honored lords, I am detained under a criminal accusation, on account of John Calvin, who has falsely accused me; saying that I had written: — “First, that all souls were mortal. “Secondly, that Jesus Christ took from the Virgin Mary, only a fourth part of his body. “These are horrible, and execrable things. Among all other heresies, and all other crimes, there is none so great, as to make the soul mortal. In all others, there is some hope of salvation, but in this there is none. Whoever says it, does not believe, that there exists either God, or justice, or resurrection, or Jesus Christ, or holy Scripture, or any thing; but all at death, man and beast, are both the same thing. If I had said that, not only said but written and published it, to infect the world, I should condemn myself to death. Therefore, my lords, I demand that my false accuser be punished poena talionis, and be detained prisoner as I am, until the cause is determined by my death or his, or by some other punishment. For this I inscribe myself against him on the said poena talionis; and am contented to die, if he is not convicted as well of this as of other things, which I shall allege against him. I demand justice of you, my lords, justice, justice, justice. — Done in your prison at Geneva, this 22d of September, 1553. “MICHAEL SERVETUS, in his own behalf.”
It is a fact that Erasmus did maintain in his Epistle against some, (that is the reformers at Basil,) who falsely call themselves Evangelists, that there were certain cases in which they might lawfully be punished capitally, as blasphemers and seditious persons. Quid autem vetat, inquit, ne Princeps haereticos turbuntes publicam tranquillitatem e medio tollat? No one of the Reformers ever contended for a power in the civil magistracy more extensive than this for which Erasmus pleads. The duplicity of Erasmus should not be dignified by the term of toleration. For with all his wit and learning, and he had much of both, he was of a temporizing and various mind, who did in his way much of the work of a reformer, and still lived and died professedly a papist.
Beza wrote a tract De Haereticis a civili Magistratu puniendis. In this work is an extensive illustration of the views and opinions of the ancient fathers and early reformers of the Christian church, relative to the right and duty of the civil magistracy to punish heretics. At pages 94 and 148, the opinion of Luther is given, and his words expressly quoted, to prove that he maintained, that heretics were to be restrained and punished by the civil magistracy. In the same work it also appears, that this was the opinion of Melancthon, of Urbanus Regius, of the Saxon church, of Brentius, of Erasmus, of Bucer, of Capito, of Bullinger, of Musculus, and of the Genevese church. To these distinguished reformers, the names of almost all others might be added, to prove that Calvin’s opinion on that subject was only the opinion of all other learned and pious men of that period. It is also to be noticed, that Melancthon, Bullinger, Peter Martyr, Hemmingius, Farel, Beza, Bishop Hall and others approved expressly, and in writing, of the conduct of Calvin, and also of the final sentence of the senate of Geneva, in punishing capitally the man, who called the triune unity of God a three headed Cerberus, and a triple bodied monster.
For more than fifty years after the death of Calvin, no instance could be found of any respectable writer, who censured him respecting the execution of Servetus. On the publication of Calvin’s Epistles by Theodore Beza, in 1575, Jerome Bolsec took offense at the account which had been given of his conduct and opinions in some of those letters.
Bolsec, at that time having turned back to the papists, wrote a Life of Calvin for the sole purpose of blasting his name. But however destitute of principle, and prompted by revenge to invent the most daring falsehoods, he no where, it is asserted, accused Calvin of personal hatred towards Servetus, or cast any blame upon him for what he did in advising the prosecution against him.
Maimbourg, a Jesuit, wrote a History of Calvinism, in which with all his popish partialities and misrepresentations, he says nothing on that subject.
Dupin, another papist, in his Ecclesiastical History, does not even name Servetus in his life of Calvin, and but barely mentions him among the Socinian heretics.
Bayle, who was of no religious denomination, in his Life of Calvin, does not even name Servetus, nor cast any reproach upon that reformer in his voluminous notes. “The pious and excellent bishop Hall solemnly pronounced, that in that transaction, relative to Servetus, Calvin did well approve himself to God’s church.” — See his Christian Moderation, b. 2, sect. 14, quoted in Dr.
Miller’s Contin. of Lett. p. 327. Heylin, although strongly attached to Episcopacy, and to archbishop Laud, in his history of the Presbyterians, says much, with his usual unauthorized asperity, against Calvin; yet he never reproaches him as to the matter of Servetus, whom he only names as a Socinian.
Bishop Burnet, in his history of the Reformation of the English Church, has passed in silence the story of Servetus, and always named Calvin with respect. Without increasing this list with the names of Francis Junius, James Arminius, Davila, Strype, and a vast number of other historians and divines of different theological sentiments, it may be asked, on what principle it was, that those writers passed with approbation, or without notice, such atrocious cruelty and personal malevolence in Calvin, as Mr.
Roscoe and others within a century back, have boldly charged upon him in the affair of Servetus? Were the divines and historians at the close of the 16th, and through the 17th century, more ignorant of the facts and circumstances which attended that business, than those divines or historians who, in the 18th century, have so pointedly selected, and so invidiously impugned Calvin, as pre-eminently possessing, and furiously exercising the spirit of persecution for the sake of opinions? This it is presumed will not be asserted by any one competent to judge of that question. The Biblical Repertory again says: — We have, from the outset, conceded the cardinal fact, namely, that Calvin was instrumental in bringing Servetus to trial for heresy, and thus, if you please, to execution. But we shall ever maintain, that it is grossly unjust, without the shadow of proof, to charge this act to motives which are not charged in a multitude of similar instances. It was scarcely so much the fault of the man as of the age. At this time of day, a Protestant can scarcely picture to himself the horrid image raised in the mind of our forefathers by the name heretic. A heretic was then, as M. la Chapelle well says, “a monster of horror, an emissary of hell, an enemy of God and man; this is the notion of common people among the papists to this day. Judge, then, how they would talk of a heretic, when heretics were almost as rare in Europe as the phoenix in Egypt. Did they consult the canon or the civil law, or theological standards? Heretics were excommunicated persons, poisoners of mankind, public pests, guilty of high treason against both human and divine governments, a treason capital in the first degree.” These principles were assumed as self-evident, in parliaments, and courts of princes, by popes and republics. In the Reformation a sun had arisen on the world, but the mists and fogs of a long night still mantled the horizon.
The doctrine of persecution was a papal innovation which lingered after theological errors had been dispersed. It was found in the laws of the empire, and in the fathers of the church, whose authority had scarcely not been shaken, hence, we can pity, even more than we blame, the inconsistency of the Protestants, who, escaping from persecution, became persecutors in their turn.
To every calm inquirer into the history of religious liberty, the injustice of singling out this case will appear most glaring. It is Calvin’s tenets which exasperate the minds of his calumniators; else Servetus had lain in oblivion, along with Joan Bocher and George Van Parre. The great standing charge against Calvin is one which it is hard to answer, simply because it is without any proof. It is, that the Reformer was actuated by long-cherished resentment and private hate. M. Chauffpie has the candor to admit, that even if this could be proved, it would be a question whether he did not take advantage of the rigor of laws which he believed to be just. But it cannot be proved. “It is,” as Mr. Scott observes, “unsupported, and even contrary to evidence, and is requisite to the solution of none of the phenomena of the case.”
The ease might be safely left at this point; but we will go farther, and evince by authentic records, that the instance was not singular. One might suppose from the angry zeal with which it has been blazoned as the sinister blot on the escutcheon of Calvinism, that this act of intolerance stands isolated, flaming forth with the horrors of a beacon on a hill. It is not so; all who have the smallest pretensions to historical erudition know that it is not so. There are noted examples of heretics being punished in different Protestant states. “Let persecution,” we exclaim with M.
Chauffpie, “be blamed, and let the execution of Servetus be condemned, we subscribe to the whole; but let us not make it peculiar in Calvin, to have been under the prejudices of his age.”
More than sixty years after Calvin’s death, we find the same judgment taking effect at Geneva, in the case of Nicholas Antony, who was burned for heresy, in 1632, in spite of the remonstrances of the ministers, who desired the execution to be suspended. Again, in 1652, by virtue of the same ecclesiastical code, though not on the same charge, one Chauderon was hanged for witchcraft. And we are only repeating the words of the liberal Chauffpie, Mr. Gibbon’s “best” authority, when we say: “How many vexations have the Presbyterians suffered in England under the reign of James I, Charles I, and Charles II. I find, under the reign of the first, Neal, bishop of Winchester, caused to be hanged one Wightman, a dogmatizer of that time; and that King, bishop of London, condemned one Legat to be burnt for heresy; who was executed in Smithfield. And Peter Gunter, of Prussia, a farrier by trade, was beheaded at Lubeck, in the month of October, 1687, by the consent of two Universities, because he would not own the divinity of Jesus Christ.” f86 It is surprising that certain writers of the Episcopal denomination should have the effrontery, as they have sometimes had, to charge the death of Servetus on presbytery. This event has by some of them been attributed to the “gentle sway of presbytery.” This is very weak argument, and very desperate policy, not to dwell on its dishonesty. The nobler minds among prelatists have seen that common justice and the good faith of history alike repudiate the base insinuation; that the common cause of protestantism is wounded by it; and that this sort of argument, even if it should avail to tarnish presbytery, would overwhelm prelacy with contempt. We reject it, and our cause needs it not. In the noted and prominent case of Cranmer, we scornfully reject it. The meanness of charging one good man with the sole offense, when all the age were in like condemnation, we shall condemn wherever we find it. And it is only as a specimen of impotent malice that we cite the following observation of a Mr. Le Bas, the compiler of a life of Cranmer; an observation written as if to divert attention from the case of George Van Parre, which he had just related: “Every one knows that Servetus was burned, not merely as a heretic, but as a blasphemer; . . . that the distinction might be sufficient to satisfy a man like Calvin may not be very surprising; for what is known of his vehement temper would almost justify the suspicion, that had he lived in the age of St. Dominic, he might have sat most conscientiously in the chair of the Inquisition.” As if most studiously to cut off the wretched Calvin from all benefit of the plea he had just made for the archbishop. That plea, we acknowledge as valid and judicious. But we lament the ignoble prejudice which appended a gratuitous and false insinuation, against the man whom that very archbishop delighted to honor. Melancholy, indeed, but true it is, that Cranmer was concerned, at least as much as Calvin ever was, in bringing to the stake not one blaspheming heretic, but not less than four persons, of whom two were simple women. This is recorded by such Episcopal historians as Strype, and Burner, and Fox.
He did it in his ignorance, and we may well weep over the story; but let no one who affects to weep, wipe away his tears to eject contumely upon a brother reformer, found in the same offense.
It was Cranmer, who “procured the death” such are the very words — of Joan Bocher and George Van Parre; and who when the pious Edward VI with tears hesitated to sign the death-warrants, added his own persuasions. Even Mr. Le Bas says, with regard to Joan Bocher: “That he fully acquiesced in the proceeding, can hardly be doubted, if we are to credit the story so confidently told by his ardent admirer Fox, and not contradicted by any contemporary writer; namely, that all the importunity of the council could not prevail on Edward to set his hand to the warrant — that Cranmer, upon this, was desired to persuade him — that, even then, the merciful nature of that princely boy held out long against the application — and that, when at last he yielded, he declared before God, that the guilt should rest on the head of his advisers.” f90 That the case is different in many of our popular historical works, and in the articles of biographical dictionaries, patched up from these by mere compilers, will surprise no one who recollects that, in our day, history has too often fallen into the hands of skeptics. Roscoe makes it his especial care to vilify the reformers; we may safely leave his allegations to the triumphant answer of Mr. Weatherman. Gibbon, as we need scarcely say, found it to suit the purpose of his life to degrade the memory of a leading Christian. But, be it noted, that the authority chiefly relied on in the preceding details, and from whose truly cautious statements we have not seen occasion to vary in a single instance, is Chauffpie, the continuator of Bayle’s Dictionary; whose narrative Gibbon pronounces “the best account” he had seen of the transaction.
Other writers, affected by no predilections in favor of presbytery, have had the patience to study, and the honesty to adjudicate, this perplexing case, with different results. Among these we name the late SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE; an independent thinker, a laborious reader of authorities, and a professed enemy of Calvinism. His opinion is as follows: “What ground is there, for throwing the odium of Servetus’ death upon Calvin alone? — Why, the mild Melancthon wrote to Calvin expressly to testify his concurrence in the act, and, no doubt, he spoke the sense of the German reformers; the Swiss churches advised the punishment in formal letters, and I think there are letters from the English divines, approving Calvin’s conduct!
Before a man deals out the slang of the day, about the great leaders of the Reformation, he should learn to throw himself back to the age of the Reformation, when the two parties in the church were eagerly on the watch to fasten the charge of heresy on the other.
Besides, if ever a poor fanatic thrust himself into the fire, it was Michael Servetus. He was a rabid enthusiast, and did every thing he could in the way of insult and ribaldry to provoke the feeling of the Christian church. He called the Trinity triceps monstrum et Cerberum quendam tripartitum, and so on.” f93 This is sensible and just; and what might be expected from a philosopher and a scholar. For such a one, no declamation without proof, will be sufficient. But the careless, the prejudiced, and the wicked, and especially those who hate the doctrine of special grace, and Calvin as its triumphant modern defender, will still avoid a laborious investigation, and repeat in willful ignorance the refuted slanders of their predecessors. This rooted enmity to the theological system called Calvinism, is the true source of the unjust invective against the Reformer’s conduct in this affair. If not, why are the similar and even worse offenses of other great men, altogether omitted, or, if not omitted, mentioned with every phrase of extenuation? It is Calvinism, it is the doctrine of Paul and of Augustin which has caused this peculiar exacerbation of zeal. And, after all, many seem to be ignorant of the history of this hateful scheme of opinions. It is acknowledged by Mr. John Scott, himself an Episcopalian, in the work already named, that Luther, Melancthon, and Zwingle, (at an earlier period of their lives, at least) held the doctrines of election and predestination, which have subsequently been denominated Calvinistic. “Nor did those high doctrines,” says he, “originate with these persons. They held them in common with eminent writers who had preceded them, and were members of the Roman Catholic church; and they would, I apprehend, have been able to support some of their boldest positions by the authority of St.
Augustine himself. Why, then, is all the odium of these obnoxious doctrines to be accumulated upon the devoted head of Calvin, who had never been heard in public life, even at the latest period referred to?” f94 It is our confident expectation, that in proportion to the increase of biblical study, and the culture of mental philosophy among good men, there will be a return to these very doctrines; and that the works of Calvin (as we already see in Germany) will rise again in the estimation of the church; and that his character will be pondered, as one of the noblest models of the theologian, the expositor, and the reformer. When this day shall come, the calumnies of his foes will find their due level. And though no man will ever vindicate his opinion or his practice, in this instance, any more than the exploded whimseys of the astrologer or the alchymist, pious Christians will accord to him the praise of bishop Andrews, that “he was an illustrious person, and never to be mentioned without a preface of the highest honor.” Meanwhile, let the enemies of the reformer’s memory ponder the testimony of Arminius himself. In a letter, only two days before his death, he says: “After the holy Scriptures, I exhort the students to read the Commentaries of Calvin: . . . for I tell them he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture; and that his Commentaries ought to be held in greater estimation than all that is delivered to us in the writings of the ancient Christian fathers: so that, in a certain eminent spirit of prophecy, I give the pre-eminence to him beyond most others, indeed, beyond them all.” f95 In closing this article, we are happy to be able to say that two elaborate memoirs of Calvin may soon be expected. One is understood to be preparing by Mr. Henry, pastor of a church in Berlin; and great pains have been taken to gain information from unpublished manuscripts and other documents existing at Geneva. The other biography is that which was left by the late lamented Dr. M’Crie, and which will be made ready for the press by one of his sons. From the biographer of Knox and Melvill, every thing which the case admits may be expected. — Bib. Rep. vol. 8, pp. 89, 90.
One of the most interesting circumstances attending the Reformation, was the striking uniformity of doctrinal sentiment among the reformers. This uniformity is evident from an inspection of their respective Confessions of Faith, and of the writings of their most distinguished divines. Their general uniformity of opinion on the subject of church government and ecclesiastical discipline, was scarcely less remarkable. Uniformity on the latter point, however, was not entire. In England, from motives of policy, a form of government was introduced, more nearly allied to that from which they had separated, than that adopted by the rest of the reformers.
But even in England, the Episcopal mode was not maintained on such grounds as would unchurch those who differed from them in theory and practice on the subject of church government. This abundantly appears from the fact, that the leaders of the reformation in England, fraternized with the reformers on the continent, owned them as a church, applied to them for counsel and assistance, and asked their cooperation in furthering the common cause in which they were engaged. These marks of approbation and brotherly affection, were received by none more frequently than by John Calvin; as may be gathered from the interesting and full correspondence between him and Cranmer, the duke of Somerset, and the rest of the English reformers.
It is worthy of notice, that during the time of archbishop Land, a sudden, though not unaccountable change took place in the minds of many of the clergy, as to the meaning of several of their doctrinal articles. Prior to the time of Laud, they were almost uniformly received in a Calvinistic sense.
During that period, also, the name and writings of Calvin had great weight in the English church; but since the time of Laud, an anti-Calvinistic sense has not only been put upon those articles, but contended for by many as the only admissible sense in which they can be honestly adopted. With this change, as we might naturally expect, their respect and veneration for the name and opinions of Calvin, have given place to strong disapprobation, if not contempt. This feeling has led many writers in the Episcopal church, to say many hard things of Calvin, and to endeavor to cast obloquy upon the name and memory of the man to whom their own church is indebted for much of its purity, and Protestant character. To say the least, it is gross ingratitude, thus to treat the memory of so great a benefactor. But while some of the writers alluded to, are actuated by hatred, and influenced by rancorous feelings, engendered and embittered by the spirit of controversy, it is doubtless true, that others of them are utterly ignorant of the doctrinal sentiments of those luminaries of the English church, whom, from education, they are accustomed to venerate, and of the high estimation in which they held Calvin and his writings. It may, therefore, be a service to such, if they are willing “to come to the light,” and allow justice to the memory of Calvin, to glance at the history of theological opinion, as it existed among the English reformers and their successors, down to the time of Land. But the limits of a note will not permit us to extend the inquiry so far as we could wish; we shall, therefore, confine our remarks to the period immediately succeeding the Reformation.
Although many who subscribe the articles of the English church cannot adopt the doctrinal sentiments of Calvin, it is nevertheless true, that Calvin approved of those articles as doctrinally correct. This point has been fully established by the Editors of the London Christian Observer.
See their volumes for the years 1803, 1804, 1820. As to the censure which Calvin passed upon the liturgy of the English church, “In Anglicana Liturgia multas video tolerabiles ineptias,” it should be observed that the design and extent of this censure appear to have been misunderstood by several writers, who have supposed the doctrines expressed or implied in the liturgy to be its object, whereas nothing can be more evident than the contrary. It belongs exclusively to the rites and ceremonies of the English Church. This might be collected from the words themselves. It was not the disposition of that reformer to tolerate doctrinal errors, or to treat them as trifling or frivolous things; but in matters of form he was less rigid. “In things of an indifferent nature,” he says, “I am easy and flexible, yet I do not always think it expedient to comply with the morose temper of those men, who will give up nothing to which they have been accustomed. In the English liturgy, such as you describe it, I see that there were many tolerable fooleries: multas video fuisse tolerabiles ineptias.” The letter from which this passage is extracted, is addressed to certain English Protestants at Frankfort, who had been driven from their country by the bigotry of queen Mary. In this letter Calvin censures them for suffering dissensions about forms and ceremonies to prevent their union in one body. His expostulation seems to have produced a good effect, for in a second letter, dated about five months later, he congratulates them upon their reconciliation. The points about which they had differed, he again mentions as useless and frivolous ceremonies, frivolis et inutilibus ceremoniis, and particularly specifies the use of tapers, crosses, and other superstitions of that kind.
The ceremonies prescribed in the first liturgy of Edward VI viz: the mixing of water with the wine in the eucharist, the crossing in the consecration of the elements, the exorcism practiced at baptism, the anointing and threefold immersion of the infant, and extreme unction administered to the sick, must have appeared to Calvin frivolous, and deserving of the name of fooleries.
It cannot now be determined, with certainty, which of the liturgies of Edward was intended, the only description being liturgia qualem describitis, the liturgy as you describe it; and the ceremonies of tapers and crosses seeming rather to refer to the first than the second liturgy.
However, as the date of the letter is posterior by about four years to the second liturgy, that may possibly have been the object of Calvin’s censure, on account of some ceremonies still retained; for, even after the review and reformation of the liturgy, many things remained which offended the admirers of the naked simplicity of Presbyterian worship; such as the cross in baptism, the bowing at the name of Jesus, the kneeling at the Lord’s Supper, the observation of fasts and festivals, and the use of the surplice. The last of these upon another occasion, this reformer mentions in the following terms, the use of the linen vest together with many fooleries, lineae vestis usum cum multis ineptiis.
Whether we understand the words of Calvin as relating to the first liturgy or the second, in either case it is evident, that the object of his censure is not the doctrines of the church, but some of her ceremonies, which he thought frivolous. For their present simplicity she is in part indebted to his remonstrances in the reign of Edward. This assertion rests upon the best authority, the confession of a learned and ingenious adversary, Heylin, who, in his History of Presbyterianism, b. 5. chapter 6, says, “the first liturgy was discontinued, and the second superinduced upon it, to give satisfaction unto Calvin’s cavils, the curiosities of some and the mistakes of others of his friends and followers.”
The only part of the first liturgy to which Calvin objected, on account of doctrinal error, is the passage in the communion service, at the end of the prayer for the whole state of Christ’s church, “We commend to thy mercy, O Lord, all other thy servants which are departed from us with the sign of faith, and now rest in the sleep of peace; grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace.” Prayer for the departed was judged by him to be unscriptural. Hence, in his letter to the duke of Somerset, he objected to this passage, and such was the deference paid to his authority, that in the second liturgy of Edward, the last clause of his prayer for the whole state of Christ’s church was altered to its present form. The other points which he specified in that letter are the chrism and extreme unction, both of which were evidently ceremonial, the former being invented as a type of the Holy Ghost in baptism, the latter being a rite introduced in imitation of the practice of the apostles, and which ought to have ceased, together with the gift of miraculous powers.
On the whole, there appears to be no ground for the assertion, that Calvin could say nothing better of the liturgy than multas video tolerabiles ineptias. These words have been proved to relate merely to certain forms and ceremonies which he censured as useless and frivolous; at the same time approving cordially the doctrine of the liturgy, with the single exception of one passage in the communion service, which in compliance with his wishes, was corrected.
It is also well known, that Calvin’s two most intimate friends and followers, Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer, who were invited to England by Cranmer, for the furtherance of the reformation, approved the doctrines of the Liturgy.
Bucer revised the Liturgy of the English church in 1550, at the request of Cranmer. The first step towards a reformation of the service of the church in England was under Henry VIII in 1536. Alexander Aless, a Scotchman, who resided sometime in Germany, had imbibed the Lutheran sentiments.
He was at this time with Cranmer at Lambeth. Lord Cromwell introduced him to the Convocation, and desired him to give his opinion about the Sacraments. He maintained that Christ instituted only two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In this Convocation, they agreed to five articles of faith, and five concerning the ceremonies of the church. These were printed and published with the sanctuary of Henry.
On the accession of Edward VI in 1547, the Liturgy of the church was new modeled from the several popish missals or mass-books, as of Sarum, Bangor, York, Hereford, and Lincoln. Thus reformed, it was published and sanctioned by Edward, in November, 1548. In 1550, the common prayerbook was brought to another revision. Bucer was now professor at Cambridge; and at Cranmer’s request, Alexander Mess at this time translated the Liturgy of 1548 into Latin, for the use of Bucer. In the works of Bucer, the translation of Mess is published with the censures of Bucer, which are numerous, and which Burner says were afterwards mostly adopted. Bucer finished his corrections January 5, 1551, and died February 28.
The capitation to these is as follows: “The Corrections of Martin Bucer upon the Liturgy, or the order of the Church and the Ministry in the Kingdom of England; written at the request of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.” Opera Buceri, p. 456.
Dr. Heylin, in laboring with much petulance to fix an odium upon Calvin, has highly complimented him, by relating some things which others of his church are anxious to deny. He says, “That Calvin having taken order with Martin Bucer, on his first coming into England, to give him some account of the English Liturgy; he had no sooner satisfied himself in the sight thereof, but he makes presently his exceptions and demurs upon it” — and “presently writes back to Bucer, whom he requires to be instant with the Lord Protector, that all such rites as savored of superstition might be taken away.” “He had his agents in the court, the city, the universities, the country, and the convocation.” “Let it suffice, that by the eagerness of their solicitations, more than for any thing which could be faulted in the book itself, it was brought under a review, (1550,) and thereby altered to a further distance than it had before, from the rituals of the church of Rome.” Heylin Hist. Presb. p. 11 and 12.
Peter Martyr and John Alasco were of the number commissioned to revise and embody a system of ecclesiastical laws for the English church in 1552.
Burnet, Vol. 2, Anno 1552. In 1551, the articles of faith in the English church were prepared. Bucer was for beginning with the doctrines before the ceremonies, but Cranmer judged it expedient to delay these till the Liturgy should be settled. In what method they proceeded in compiling the articles, Burner says, is not certain. He supposes that Cranmer and Ridley first framed them, and that they were then sent to others to propose amendments. The doctrines of faith were comprised in forty-two articles, and published with the Liturgy in 1552, and established by the king. They were again revised and reduced with some alterations to the present number, thirty-nine, in the reign of queen Elizabeth, in 1562. Burnet, Vol. 2, p. 158, and Collection, p. 190.
Calvin’s offer of assistance, as some have called it, who would represent him as officious in the matter, appears from one of his letters to Cranmer, to have been at the request and instigation of the archbishop, who constantly kept up a friendly communication with him on all points connected with the Reformation. Strype, in his Life of Cranmer, says, on page 407, that “he (Cranmer)sent his letters to Bullinger, Calvin, and Melancthon, disclosing his pious design to them, (viz. respecting a book of articles,) and requiring their counsel and furtherance.” And on page 409, commences a chapter, giving an account of Calvin’s correspondence with the archbishop on the subject; from which it appears, that though Calvin blamed Cranmer for not having made more progress in the Reformation, yet Cranmer, notwithstanding, “kept up a great esteem and value for him.” p. 411.
The Revelation Elijah Waterman, the author of a valuable Life of Calvin, f97 in a letter addressed to William S. Johnson, LL. D., and inserted as all appendix to his translation of Calvin’s Catechism, has satisfactorily shown that the Catechism commonly called Dr. Alexander Nowell’s which was sanctioned in the convocation of Bishops and Clergy, in 1562, and published in 1570 “as a standing summary of the doctrines of the English church,” is in substance the Catechism of Calvin enlarged. The following extract from that letter, gives a concise account of the three Catechisms of the English church, the only ones that have ever been sanctioned in convocations of the Bishops and Clergy.
1. THE CATECHISM OF EDWARD VI.
The reformation commenced in the English church, in 1547, and Cranmer set forth the Homilies, 12 in number. In 1548, the Liturgy was compiled, by the care of archbishop Cranmer, Somerset, Ridley, and Peter Martyr, and passed the house of Lords, January 15th, 1549. This first liturgy contained no Catechism of doctrinal instruction. In 1548, Calvin, in his letter to Somerset, the Protector, recommends, That a summary of doctrines and a Catechism for the use of children be published. “It becomes you,” he says, “to be fully persuaded, that the Church of God, cannot be built up without a Catechism.” The Protector himself translated this letter from the original French, and it was published in 1550. The same year, the Articles of Faith were “set about,” and completed in 1552. “As for the Catechism,” Dr. Burnet says, “it was printed with a preface in the king’s name, bearing date the 24th of May, 1553, about seven weeks before his death: In which he sets forth that it was drawn by a pious and learned man, supposed to be bishop Poynet, and was given to be revised by some bishops and learned men.” Rector Strype, in his Annals, vol. 2. p. 368, is quite confident that king Edward’s Catechism was written by Alexander Newell. But his proof is not of much weight; as it is more probable that Newell followed Poynet in compiling his, in 1561. And this will better account for the “verbatim” resemblance between some of the questions and answers in those two works.
2. THE CATECHISM COMMONLY CALLED DR. NOWELL’S.
In Strype’s life of archbishop Parker, fol. p. 301, we have an account of Nowell’s Catechism. It was proposed, 1561, to be in Latin for the use of schools, that youth might be instructed in sound principles of religion, especially those of the gentry, and such as were designed for divinity. In 1562, Newell laid one before the synod, of which he was prolocutor. In the upper house, it was committed to four bishops, and after being corrected by them, it passed the review of both houses, and had their full approbation. Newell then sent the Catechism to secretary Cecil, who returned it after about a year, with certain notes of some learned men upon it, which Newell adopted. “So carefully,” says the rector of Leyton, “and exactly was it reviewed and corrected, to make it a STANDING SUMMARY, OF THE DOCTRINES OF THIS CHURCH.” As Cecil, to whom it was first dedicated, did not direct its publication, it rested in Nowell’s hands, five or six years, till archbishop Parker obtained the secretary’s consent that it might be published, and if he pleased it might be dedicated to the bishops.
Accordingly, “It was printed by Reynold Wolf, the 16th of the calends of July (that is the 16th of June) 1570, and was dedicated unto the bishops because it was offered them seven years before in convocation, and allowed by them all, as above said.” “This Catechism,” adds the diligent and impartial Strype, “was printed again in the year 1572, and in Greek and Latin 1573, and so from time to time had many impressions, and was used a long time in all schools, even to our days,” (that is, of Charles II) “and pity it is, it is now so disused.” 3. THE SHORTER CATECHISM.
On the same page, viz. 301, Strype says, “There wanted now nothing, but a shorter Catechism, for the use of the younger sort of scholars: which the dean, (Nowell,) in his epistle to the bishops, promised to draw up, contracting this larger one. And thus fine church was furnished by the archbishop’s furtherance and care, with this good and useful work.”
Numerous writers in the Episcopal church in England, and among them some of the dignitaries of the church, have labored to prove that the English reformers were hostile towards Calvin, and that their Confession of Faith and Catechisms, were opposed to his theological works and opinions. That no such opposition existed, says Waterman in his letter to Mr. Johnson, but that an entire harmony prevailed between those venerable reformers, and that pre-eminent minister of Christ, is beyond question evinced from the Catechism itself, which runs parallel with his, and scarcely varies from it, except in a more diffusive illustration of the doctrinal points. It is an incontrovertible fact, that at that very time, and for about fifty years after, to the arch-prelacy of William Laud, the Institutes of Calvin were publicly read and studied in both Universities, by every student in divinity. And the Pope, in his Bull, excommunicating and deposing the queen, in 1569, alleges against her this offensive charge, “that she received herself and enjoined upon her subjects, the impious sacraments and institutes according to Calvin.” Every historical fact that has fallen under my observation, enforces upon my mind the conviction, that the doctrinal system of Calvin, in 1562, and in 1570, was cordially received by the bishops of the English church. In proof of this, not to rest on the circumstance, that archbishop Parker presented to the University of Cambridge the Institutes, Commentaries, and other writings of Calvin, I may adduce the following paragraph of the 17th Article of Faith, as being very closely copied from Calvin’s Institutes: “Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture; and in our doings, that will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.” — For this fact and the references, I am indebted to the Christian Observer, from which very candid and evangelical work, I beg leave to give the following statement: That Dr. Randolph, bishop of Oxford, a few years before, republished “The whole of king Edward’s Catechism, the declaration of doctrines in Jewell’s Apology, and the Catechism commonly called Dr.
Nowell’s, in a collection of tracts for the use of students in divinity.” The learned editors of the Observer then say, that they shall republish these “three works, which will most clearly define THE SENSE OF THE CHURCH, IN ALL MATTERS NECESSARY TO SALVATION; and by which sense we wish our own sentiments to be inferred.” It will, I apprehend, be conceded, without the least restriction, that bishop Jewell was the most learned and influential divine among the dignitaries of his day; and that his writings were the standard of orthodoxy in the English church. He was the scholar and companion of Peter Martyr. In his exile he drank long and deep, at the theological fountains of Switzerland, Germany, and Geneva; and Lawrence Humphrey, in his life of this great man, states as all instance of his uncommon powers of memory, “That he knew Calvin’s Institutes as well as he knew his own fingers; quas, tanquam digitos suos probe noverat;” f104a and, that he very much recommended that work to his friends. Bishop Jewell himself gives the most decided testimony of his very high estimation of Calvin, in his defense of his\par APOLOGY, against the papist Harding, who called him a disciple of Calvin.
Jewell does not deny the charge, but says, “Touching Mr. Calvin, it is a great wrong untruly to report so great a father, and so worthy an ornament of the church of God. If you had ever known the order of the church of Geneva, and had seen four thousand people or more, receiving the holy mysteries together at one communion, ye would not, without your great shame and want of modesty, thus untruly have published to the world, that by Mr. Calvin’s doctrine the sacraments of Christ are superfluous.” f105 To bring the evidence on this part of the subject to a close, I will quote from Humphrey’s Life of Jewell, what I consider as conclusive testimony, to prove the agreement on the essential doctrines of the gospel, among all the reformed and Protestant churches. For the sake of brevity, I will omit the Latin and give it in a translation. — “In 1562, was published the Apology of the English church, which was approved by the consent and authority of the queen, published by the counsel of all the bishops and other clergy, as it was also composed and written by the author, as the public confession of the catholic and Christian faith of the ENGLISH CHURCH, in which is taught our agreement with the GERMAN,HELVETIC, FRENCH, SCOTCH,GENEVESE, and other pure churches.” f108 Now, that which consummates this argument, is the fact, that Jewell’s Apology, the Thirty-nine Articles, and Nowell’s Catechism, were all passed and sanctioned by the same venerable convocation, in 1562. They were all designed alike to support one cause, and to establish and perpetuate the same doctrines; and of course they must be in agreement among themselves. Bishop Jewell’s Apology was designed as the defensive armor of the church, against the calumnies of the papists; the Articles, to preserve her internal union in doctrines and worship; and the Catechism, to imbue the minds of youths, with pure principles, which was by no means the least important concern of the reformers.
That Calvinistic sentiments were held by the clergy during the reign of Edward VI there can be no doubt. Mosheim says, “that after the death of Henry (VIII) the universities, the schools, and the churches, became the oracles of Calvinism; and that when it was proposed, in Edward the Sixth’s reign, to give a fixed and stable turn to the doctrine and discipline of the church, Geneva was acknowledged as a sister church, and the theological system there established by Calvin was adopted, and rendered the public rule of faith in England.” That the doctrines of the church of England were deemed, by many of the reformers themselves, to be not at variance with Calvin’s Institutes might easily be shown. A remarkable testimony to this effect will be found in Fox’s detail of the examination of the martyr Philpot, the first Protestant archdeacon of Winchester, in the reign of Edward VI. “Which of you all,” said he to his popish judges, “is able to answer Calvin’s Institutions, who is minister of Geneva?” “I am sure you blaspheme that godly man and that godly church, where he is minister, as it is your church’s condition, when you cannot answer men by learning, to oppress them with blasphemies and false reports: for in the matter of predestination he (Calvin) is in no other opinion than all the doctors of the church be, agreeing with the Scriptures.” On another examination, he said, “I allow the church of Geneva and the doctrine of the same; for it is una, catholica, et apostolica, and doth follow the doctrine which the apostles did preach: and the doctrine taught and preached in king Edward’s days was also according to the same.” (Fox, Volume 3, see Philpot’s Examinations.)
Bradford wrote a treatise on the doctrine of election, proving its truth from the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. This work was approved by Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, as appears from the following extract from Strype’s Life of Cranmer, p. 350: “One thing there now fell out which caused some disturbance among the prisoners. Many of them that were under restraint for the profession of the gospel were such as held free-will, tending to the derogation of God’s grace, and refused the doctrines of absolute predestination and original sin.” — “Divers of them were in the King’s Bench, where Bradford and many other gospellers were.” — “Bradford was apprehensive that they might now do great harm in the church, and therefore wrote a letter to Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, the three chief heads of the reformed (though oppressed) church in England, to take some cognizance of this matter, and to consult with them in remedying it. And with him joined bishop Ferrar, Rowland Taylor, and John Philpot. Upon this occasion, Ridley wrote a treatise of God’s election and predestination. And Bradford wrote another upon the same subject, and sent it to those three fathers, in Oxford, for their approbation: and THEIR’ S BEING OBTAINED, the rest of the eminent ministers in and about London were ready to sign it also.” The notes to the Bible, to which archbishop Parker wrote a preface, are highly Calvinistic. These notes, as we are informed by Strype, in his Life of Archbishop Parker, p. 400, were drawn up by the bishops, but chiefly by the archbishops. As a specimen of these notes, we insert that on Ezekiel 18:23. “Have I any desire that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God?” The note is as follows: “He speaketh this to commend God’s mercy to poor sinners, who rather is ready to pardon than to punish, as his long suffering declareth. Albeit God in his eternal counsel appointed the death and damnation of the reprobate, yet the end of his counsel was not their death only, but chiefly his own glory.” In the same volume was inserted, under the same authority, viz. that of the bishops and archbishops of the church of England, the well known Calvinistic Catechism, entitled, “Certain Questions and Answers touching the doctrine of Predestination, the use of God’s Word and Sacraments.” In this Catechism, not only the doctrine of election, but that of reprobation also, is plainly and explicitly affirmed and defended.
The divines deputed by king James, to attend the synod of Dort, were bishops Hall, Davenant, and Ward, who were all eminent and decided Calvinists. King James himself, held the same theological opinions, and strongly disapproved of Arminius and his sentiments. That the divines above named, were Calvinists, is evident from the fact, that they individually and collectively subscribed to all the acts of that synod, in condemnation of the Arminians. King James, in his declaration against Vorstius, calls Arminius, “that enemy of God;” “who was the first in our age that infected Leyden with heresy.” And, speaking of “seditious and heretical preachers,” he adds, “our principal meaning was of Arminius, who though himself were lately dead, yet had he left too many of his disciples behind him.” “It was our hard hap not to hear of this Arminius before he was dead, and that all the reformed churches of Germany had with open mouth complained of him.” King James’ Works, (p. 350, 354, 355.) In a meditation upon the Lord’s prayer, king James says, “the first article of the apostles’ creed teaches us, that God is Almighty, however Vorstius and the Arminians think to rob him of his eternal decree and secret will, making many things to be done in this world whether he will or not.” (Works, 581.) It is remarkable, that the synod of Dort was expressly assembled at the persuasion of king James: and even Dr. Heylin admits that the king “had labored to condemn those, viz. (the Arminian) opinions at the synod of Dort.” — Life of Laud, p. 120.
The archbishops Whitgift, Hutton, and Parker, were all Calvinists, and approved of the Lambeth articles. The predestinarian controversy, which led to the composition of those articles, began at Cambridge in the year 1595; certain individuals of name in the university having about that period publicly denied some of the doctrines usually denominated Calvinistic. For the purpose of allaying the ferment thus excited, the heads of colleges deputed Dr. Whitaker and Dr. Tyndal to wait upon the archbishop at Lambeth, there to confer upon the subject with his Grace, and other learned and eminent men. At this conference the Lambeth Articles were drawn up and approved; and a copy of them was soon after sent to Cambridge by the archbishop, with a letter and private directions to teach the doctrine contained in them, in that university.
The reader will find, (in Fuller’s Church History, book 9. p. 229,) in the account of the Lambeth Articles, the following sentence: — “Now also began some opinions about predestination, free-will, perseverance, etc., much to trouble both the schools and pulpit; whereupon archbishop Whitgift, out of his Christian care to propagate the truth, and suppress the opposite errors, caused a solemn meeting of many grave and learned divines at Lambeth; where (besides the archbishop,) Richard Bancroft, bishop of London, Richard Vaughan, bishop elect of Bangor, Humphrey Tyndal, Dean of Ely, Dr. Whitaker, queen’s professor in Cambridge, and others, were assembled. These, after a serious debate and mature deliberation, resolved at last on the now following Articles.” “1. God from eternity hath predestinated certain men unto life: certain men he hath reprobated unto death. “2. The moving or efficient cause of predestination unto life, is not the foresight of faith, or of perseverance, or of good works, or of any thing that is in the persons predestinated, but only the good-will and pleasure of God. “3. There is a predetermined and certain number of the predestinate, which can neither be augmented nor diminished. “4. They who are not predestinated to salvation, shall necessarily be damned for their sins. “5. A true, living, and justifying faith, and the Spirit of God justifying, is not extinguished, faileth not, vanisheth not away in the elect, either finally or totally. “6. A man truly faithful, that is, such a one as is endued with justifying faith, is certain, with the full assurance of faith, of the remission of his sins and his everlasting salvation by Christ. “7. Saving grace is not given, is not communicated, is not granted to all men, by which they may be saved if they will. “8. No man can come unto Christ unless it be given unto him, and unless the Father draw him: all men are not drown by the Father, that they may come to the Son. “9. It is not in the will or power of every one to be saved.”
With respect to the principles contained in these Articles, we are assured by Whitgift that they were generally recognized: — ”I know them,” says he, “to be sound doctrines, and uniformly professed in this church of England, and agreeable to the Articles of Religion established by authority: and therefore I thought it meet that Baret should in more humble sort confess his ignorance and error; and that none should be suffered to teach any contrary doctrine to the foresaid propositions agreed upon.” So just are the observations of bishop Horsley, “Any one may hold all the theological opinions of Calvin, hard and extravagant as some of them may seem, and yet be a sound member of the church of England and Ireland”…“Her discipline has been submitted to, it has in former times been most ably and zealously defended, by the highest supralapsarian Calvinists. Such was the great Usher; such was Whitgift; such were many more burning and shining lights of our church in her early days, when she shook off the papal tyranny, long since gone to the resting place of the spirits of the just.”
Indeed, it must be considered as a little extraordinary, that any person acquainted with the history of those times, should mistake the real nature of the question between the Established church and the Puritanical party: it was not a question of doctrine, but of discipline.
Archbishops Grindall, Bancroft, and Abbott were also strict Calvinists.
The doctrinal sentiments of Thomas Fuller, the church historian, are expressed in a brief compass in his Church History, lib. 9. p. 232. He cordially approved of the Lambeth Articles, and considers them as witnesses of “the general and received doctrines of England in that age about the forenamed controversies.” Hutton, archbishop of York, mentions the Puritans of his time, who were Calvinistic, as agreeing with the English church in doctrine, though they differed as to ceremonies and accidents. And those of king Charles’ time, so far resembled them as generally to approve of such articles as are strictly doctrinal. And the sense which they affixed to the articles was Calvinistic, according the notions which had usually prevailed till Charles’ days, both in and out of the establishment. Baxter furnishes many proofs of this fact, so far as it respects Presbyterians. Life of Baxter, pp. 213-223, etc.
At what period, then, did the members of the church of England generally change their opinions on the subject of doctrinal Calvinism? It is intimated by Mosheim, that the change took place soon after the Synod of Dort: and this change he informs us, which was entirely in favor of Arminianism, was principally effected by the counsels and influence of William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury. “As the church of England had not yet abandoned the Calvinistical doctrines of predestination and grace, he (James) also adhered to them for some time, and gave his theological representatives in the Synod of Dordrecht, an order to join in the condemnation of the sentiments of Arminius, in relation to these deep and intricate points. Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, a man of remarkable gravity, and of eminent zeal both for civil and religious liberty, whose lenity towards their ancestors, the Puritans still celebrate in the highest strains, used his utmost endeavors to confirm the king in the principles of Calvinism, to which he himself was thoroughly attached. But scarcely had the British divines returned from Dordrecht, and given an account of the laws that had been enacted, and the doctrines that had been established by that famous assembly, than the king and the greatest part of the Episcopal clergy discovered, in the strongest terms, their dislike of the proceedings, and judged the sentiments of Arminius, relating to the divine decrees preferable to those of Geneva and of Calvin. This sudden change in the theological opinions of the court and clergy was certainly owing to a variety of reasons,” etc. Here, then, we have Laud described as the first anti-Calvinistic archbishop; and the time distinctly marked when the change of sentiment took place generally in the church of England.
From this period, the Institutes of Calvin, which had till then been so highly appreciated both in England and on the continent, began to be less valued, less read, and less known. Bayle states, from Schultingius, “that as soon as this work of Calvin was published at Strasburg, about the year 1545, Bernard Cincius, bishop of Aquila, carried a copy of it to cardinal Marcellus Cervin, legate of the pope at the court of the emperor; and that these two able men judged it to be a more dangerous book than all the other writings of the Lutherans.” Schultingius was a papist, and canon of Cologne. He undertook to confute the Institutes of Calvin. “This work was considered,” he says, “as the principal fortress of the Protestants.”
He proceeds to give all account of the numerous editions through which it had passed; besides its abridgments and translations into different languages. He says, that in England they almost gave Calvin’s Institutes the preference to the Bible; that the bishops ordered all the ministers ut pene ad verbum has ediscant, — that they should learn them almost to a word; — and ut tum Anglice exactissime versi, in singulis Ecclesiis a parochis legendi appendantur, — that being most exactly turned into English, they should be kept in all the churches for public use ; — that they were also studied in both the Universities; — that in Scotland the young students in divinity began by reading these Institutes; — that at Heidelburg, Geneva, Herborne, and in all the Calvinistical Universities, these Institutes were publicly taught by the professors; — that in Holland, ministers, civilians, and the common people studied this work with great diligence, even the coachman and the sailor nocturna verset manu, versetque diurna; — that esteeming it as a pearl of great price, they had it bound and gilt in the most elegant manner. This work, Schultingius asserts, was appealed to as a standard, on all theological questions. Such is the account given of the authority of Calvin’s Institutes by a professed papist, who lifted up his mighty arm to destroy this principal fortress of the Protestants, in four large folio volumes, published at Cologne, in the year 1602. f111 The animosity enkindled by the Arminian controversy, supported by the half papist and persecuting archbishop Laud, changed the state of things in respect to the authority of Calvin’s Institutes in England. Francis Cheynell, in his Sermon to the Commons, March 25, 1646, p. 42, says: “The old statutes did recommend Calvin’s Institutions to tutors, as a fit book to be expounded to their scholars. But that good statute was omitted in the book of new statutes; because there are so many precious truths in Calvin’s Institutions contrary to the piety of those times in which the new statutes were enacted. We begin to see with one eye, and hope that we shall in due time recover the other.”
From the time of Laud, then, we may date that opposition which has so long prevailed in England against Calvin and his writings; and which has led to many of those unchristian and disingenuous misrepresentations which were designed to blast the one, and suppress the influence of the other. The unhallowed aspersions, which have been circulated by the dominant class of Arminians in that country re specting Calvin, have been with some persons in this, of bigoted and feverish minds, a sufficient argument for reproaching him, and all those who are denominated from his name, with cherishing an intolerant spirit in matters of religion.
The inquisitorial mania of archbishop Laud, still so far prevails among the dignitaries of the English church, as to render it somewhat indispensable, on public occasions, for the preacher who would prove his orthodoxy, and secure his popularity, to speak directly or indirectly of “the impious dogmas of Calvin.”
The Revelation and pious John Newton, of the church of England, who was a Calvinist, thus writes to a friend, under date November 17, 1775: “My divinity is unfashionable enough at present, but it was not so always; you will find few books written from the era of the Reformation, till a little before Laud’s time, that set forth any other. There were few pulpits till after the restoration, from which any other was heard. A lamentable change has indeed since taken place; but God has not left himself without witnesses.”
If the reader wishes to pursue this inquiry farther, he may consult Toplady’s History of Calvinism in the church of England.