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Memoirs of the life and writings of John Calvin : together with a selection of letters online

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the defence 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 defence 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 description of his
dogmatisms, where the reader may determine \\hether the
man himself, or the errour, is indifferent and sufferable, or
a vast and deep ocean of impieties, which A\^eal;en 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 plungo
into thickets of briars and thorns, and wander in endless hv
byrinths. It will be most useful to pursue the same com-
pendious course, which we followed in the examination of
the cause itself, that the nature of the doctrines being noted
mider distinct heads, the readers may perceive what mon-
strous things, no less detestable than multiform, are contain-
ed in his books. How various 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 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
6f 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, how ever, in;
APPEALED TO OTHER Churches, Illc provoccirct cul ciUas Ec-
clesias. This condition also was freely agreed to by me.
Upon this our Senate, desirous to put an end to his prevari-
cations, decreed that the propositions which I had selecte<l
from Servetus^ books should be copied and given to him.
By the same decree of the Senate, he was permitted to re-
tract any thing which he should perceive tJiat he had un-
justly Avritten ; and if he found any thing unfairly perverted
by us, he might refute it ; — if he thought any of his opi-
nions unjustly condemned, he might defend them from tire

100 LIFE OF CALVIN. 1553

woi-d of God. And that there might be no needless delay,
I transcribed every article to a word. He had as muc];i
time as he pleased to make out his answer to the proposi-
tions, while to us there was allowed no more than two days.
And besides all this, as he expected that it would meike his
cause more plausible, if he made the closing defence, he
again requested in wTiting, 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
suo, concerning his life, and that the neighbouring Churches
were to be consulted, on w hose 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 w as not law-
fully sealed and entered on the publick records."

Tractatus Theologici Calvini, p. 522, 523.

The following extracts from letters, written by several emi-
nent Reformers, show that they concurred in opinion with
Calvin on the subject of punishing hereticks ; and that they
approved of his conduct in relation to Servetus : —


" In all places there are good men who are of opinion, that
impious and blasphemous hereticks are not only to be ad-
monished and imprisoned, but also capite esse mulctandos, to
he punished with death. Be not therefore discouraged that
you have undertaken this labour. Tlie Lord will assist your
holy endeavours and studies. I know that you have not a
cruel disposition, nor do you approve of any cruelty. And

* Whether the accusations were proved, and if prpved, whether he was
gpilty of blasphemy.

1553 LIFE OF CAI.VIN. ^01

who does not Imow 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."

"*' Mjelancthon to Calvin.

" Reverend and dear brother, I have read your ]>ook, in
which you have clearly refuted the horrid blasphemies of
Servetus ; and I give thanks to the Son of God, who was
the /3ffle^fyr;j$, the awarder of your crown of victory, in this
your comudt. 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.

« Oct. 14, 1554."

" Melancthon to Bellinger.

" Reverend and dear brother, — ^ I have

read your answer to the blasphemies of Servetus ; and I ap-
prove of your piety and opinions, I judge also that the Gene-
vese Senate did perfectly right, to put an end to this obsti-
nate man, who could never cease blaspheming. And I won.-
der at those who disapprove of this severity.

« August 20th."

" Peter Martyr to Calvix.

" 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

10^ LIFE OF CALVIN. 155^

hereticks with death. — But it is well, in what they write
they dare not mention his (Scrvetus) name. As often as we
are asked about this, both Zanchius and I defend your side
of the question and the truth in pubhck and private, with
all our strength.

" SiRASBURG, May 9."

Martyr had just returned from England to Strasburg, of
whom Bishop Jewel said, that he was never to be named but
with the highest respect and honour.

From Allwoerden's life of Servetus, William Roscoe, in hiff
history of the Pontificate of Leo X. vol. 4, p. 5M. Amer.
Ed. selects three Letters, said to be written by him, while in
prison, and addressed to the Lords, Syndicks and Senators of
Geneva. The third letter only is of any material importance.
In this Servetus expresses his views on the subject of capital-
ly punishing hereticks and blasphemers for their opinions.
The following is a translation of that letter, made from the
French, for insertion in this work ; —

*'My greatly honoured 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,
enhj a fourth part of his body,

" These are horrible, and execrable things. Among all
other heresies, and all other crimes, there is none so gi'eat,
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 ; ])ut all at death, man and beast, are both the same
thing. If I liad said that, not only said, but written and


piibJished it, to infect the ^vorld, / should condemn myself to
death* Therefore, my Lords, I demand that my false accu-
ser be punished pxna talionis, and be detained prisoner as I
am, until the cause is determined by my death or hi?, or by
some other punishment. For this I inscribe myself against
him on the said pana talionis ; and am contented to die, if lie
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 Ge-
neva, this 22d of September, 1553.

« MICHEL SERVETUS, in his own behalf.'^

The Ministers of the Church of Geneva had selected thir-
ty-eight propositions, =^ from the writings of Servetus, in proof
of the accusation made against him of heresy and blasphe-
my, by Nicholas de la Fontaine. The first proposition is
as follows : —

I. " Omnes qui Trinitatem statuunt in essentia Dei, esse
Tritoitas, veros Atheos ; nee Deum habere nisi tripartitum
et aggregativum. Item habere connotativum Deum, non
sibsolutum : imaginarios habere Deos, et illusiones dasmonio-
rum. Lib. 1, de Trinitate, pag. 30. Quibus respondet
quod add it pagina sequenti : Somnia ut voles, dirige oculos
ad phantasmata, et tunc videbis tuam Trinitatem non esse
intelligibilem sine tribus phantasmatibus. Tandem conclu^.
dit omnes Trinitarios esse Atheos."

In the preceding letter, Servetus mentions only two of the
thirty-eight propositions, the nineteenth and thirty-eighth.
The nineteenth respects the body of Jesus Clirist, and is as
follows : —

XIX. " Tria eleraenta esse ab utroque parente tarn ia
Christo quam in nobis. Terream vero materiam esse a sola

* For the whole ^irty-cight propositions, see Opu.scula Calvini, pp-
523, 524.

104 LIFE OF CALVIN. 1553

matre tam in Christo quam in generalibus omnibus. Undc
sequitur ilium non habuisse corpus nostro simile : id quod
perisde est ac redemptionem nostram delere. Dial. 2, de
Trinit. p. 250. Quod etiam plenius exprimit, lib. 5, de Tri-
nit. p. 194, quum dicit in nobis solum esse elementa creata ;
in Christo esse creata et increata, et sul^stantiam Spiritus Dei,
ipsi carni substantialiter communicatam.'*

The two first periods of this proposition read literally
thus : — " Three elements are from each parent, so in Christ
as in us ! But the earthly matter is from the mother alone,
so in Christ as in all universals." Here then it may be left
with Mr. Ptoscoe, or any other advocate of Servetus, to ex-
plain how much more, in fact, than one fourth part of his
body Servetus allowed the divine Redeemer to have deriv-
ed from his virgin mother.

Tlie following is the other proposition mentioned in the
above letter : —

XXXVIII. " Animam redditam esse mortalem per pec-
catum, sicut caro mortalis est ; non quod in nihilum anima
redeat, sicut nee caro. Sed mori quando cum dolore vita-
libus actionibus privatur, et inferno languem detinetur quasi
non amplius victura. Lib. 4, de Regeneratione, p. 551.
Deinde concludit regenitos aliam habere animam quam
ante ; propter substantiam innovatam, et novam Deitatem ad-
junctam. Pagina sequent'i."

This proposition shall be literally translated.
" The soul becomes mortal by sin, so as the flesh is mor-
tal ; not that the soul returns into nothing, so as neither does
the flesh. But at death, when with pain it is deprived of
vital action, it is also detained languishing in hell, as no
more to live. Book 4, on Regeneration, p. 551. From this
he concludes, that the regenerated have another soul than
that which they had before; on account of the substance
changed, and the new Godhead joined to it. p. 552.'*



Who will not now say with Servetus, That these are horri-
ble and execrable things ? And who wiU not admit, that
this man « said them, not only said, but wrote them, to in-
fect the world ?" And that therefore, according to his own
sentence upon himself, he deserved to die ? For tlie benefit of
Mr. Roscoe, the testimony of Servetus, approving and justify-

mg the punishment of hereticks with death, is now brought
distinctly under his eye.

Although Mr. Roscoe appears somewhat at variance with
himself, in the progress of his writings, and sometimes talks
like a Papist, sometimes like a Protestant, and many times like
neither, he appears nevertheless w^W pleased to strengthen Iiis
assertions by the names of Ecclesiasticks, more effectually to
wound the cause of the Reformation. He cautiously intimates
the fact, that AUwoerden ^vrote his life of Servetus, « at the
instance of the learned Mosheim." Mosheim was a Lutheran,
and the English translator of his ecclesiastical history. Dr.'
Maclaine, has repeatedly noticed the unfairness of that au-
thor, in his treatment of Calvin and the reformed Churches.
While Luther is exalted with a bold pre-eminence, Zuingli*
us, Calvin and even Melancthon are thrown quite into thQ
shade on the back ground of his history. It is also too evident
that Mosheim, in his account of Servetus and his opinions*
has glossed the harshness of his blasphemies, and Avith m
small address laboured to make him appear somewhat dignified
in his errours. But the historian that could slight and pass
over, as though nearly below notice, as Mosheim does, the learn-
ed Gaspard Peucer,# who, for openly professing the opinion
ef Calvm, was, by the rigid Lutherans, confined ten years
m prison, must be suspected of some sinister design in pro-
curmg to be written, as well as in writing himself, the histo-

* See Maclaine's note on AXosh. vol. 4, p. 49 ; and other notes In which
He warns his reader that Mosheim was a Lutheran.


106 LIFE OF CALVIN. 1553

ry of such a man as Servetus. The testimony of Mosheim
is not therefore to be admitted, without caution, in any
case which affects the Swiss reformed Churches, or their Mi-

In his history of Leo, vol. 4, at p. 117, Mr. Roscoe has in-
serted a very laborious note, in which he has given full vent
to his prejudices against the first Reformers. The reason for
dropping his remarks in a note were doubtless because the
burning of Servetus would not synchronize with the death of
Leo ; and to have throAvn it to the end of the volume would
have placed it, not so immediately under the notice of the
reader. Mr. Roscoe is a living author, distinguished by the
elegance of his writings, and as a member of Parliament from
Liverpool. Eager to grasp Calvin, Melancthon and BuUin-
ger, as the victims of publick prejudice, he has pressed him-
self into the path of the biographer of Calvin, and of course
no other apology will be offered for the subsequent remarks.

Bishop Warburton, in his notes on Pope's Essay on Criti-
cism, condemns Luther, Calvin and their followers, as igno-
rant of the principles of Christian charity ; and at the same
time commends Erasmus for his liberal sentiments. Under
the shield of that gigantick Prelate, JMr. Roscoe introduces
his ungenerous assertions, to wound the cause and the repu-
tation of the Reformers. The Bishop however, who often,
and sometimes with dignity, wandered out of the track of
common sense, is unfortunate in noticing Erasmus, as an in-
stance of any distinguished Christian tolerance. For it is a fact
that Erasmus did maintain " in his Epistles 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 capitalhj, as blasphemers and sedi-
tious persons.'*'' ^uid autem vet at, inquit, ne Princeps hcereti-

* Rees' Cyclopedia, art. Eras, and Baylf

1553 LIFE OF CALVIN. 107

cos turbantes publicam tranquillitatcm e medio tollat ?^ No
one of the Reformers ever contended for a power in the civil
Magistracy more extensive than this for Mliich Erasmus
pleads. The duplicity of Erasmus should not be dii^nified
by the term of toleration. For with all his wit and learning-,
and he had much of both, he was of a temporizing and va-
frous mind, who did in his way much of the work of a Re-
former, and still lived and died professedly a Papist.

" The execution of Servetus," says Mr. Roscce, " is thus
described in a manuscript historj/y cited by Allwoerden and
published in ir28." He gives the quotation in the Latin.
The translation is as follows ; — " Servetus is fastened to a
post fixed in the ground, with his feet reaching the earth ; a
wreath of straw or leaves is put upon his head and sprinkled
with sulphur ; his body is bound with iron chains to the
stake, and the neck tied with a large heavy quadrupled or
quintupled rope : The book is girt to his thigh : He asked
the executioner whether he should torture him long ? In the
mean tipie the Carnifex moved the fire in his presence, and
then round the circle. The man seeing the fire cried out so
horribly, that he greatly terrified the multitude. When he
had long languished, some of the people threw on hurdles,
he crying out with a horrible voice, Jesu, Fili Dei ateniiy
miserere mei, — Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on
me. After suffering about half an hour he expired." — This
account of the execution of Servetus, made from a manu-
script irO years after the event, is of itself suspicious. Farel,
and the other Ministers who were present at the Charapel, la-
boured, previous to his execution, to have him sliew some
signs of repentance. Servetus, according to Beza,f said, I
confess that Christ is the Son of the eternal God — Ego
Christum asterni Dei filium esse fateor. Observing the sub«

• Beza de Hxreticis a magistratu puniendis. Tract. Tlieol. p. 95.
f DeHxreticis a mag-istratu puniei\dis—in Tract, Theol, p. 115.

108 LIFE OF CALVIN, 1553

terfuge, they entreated him to acknowledge Christ, not only
to be tlie Son of the eternal God, but the eternal Son of God.
This he refused, and the Ministers of Geneva state, in their
refutation of his errours, that he obstinately refused to invoke
the eternal Son of God — sternum Dei Filium invocare pertl-
naciter renueret. It is not probable therefore, that Servetu*
invoked the mercy even of the Son of the eternal God. It
need only be added, not with the expectation of mollifying
the bigoted virulence of those, who are most liberally credu-
lous as it respects any thing that may wound religion, that it
is not to be supposed that the man invoked the mercy of
the eternal Son of God, who had, in more than a hundred places
in his printed books, boldly called the triune God a triple head-
ed Cerberus — a phantom of devils — a Geryon monster, — an il-
lusion of Satan.^

Thus far Mr. Roscoe has shielded himself under the notes
of Warburton, and the manuscript of AUwoerden. But this
Knight-errant historian of Leo X. must now be noticed in a
more mortifying attitude, as he advances to attack the first
fathers of the Reformation, by his own personal and naked as-
sertions. Forgetting every thing but " their violence," h«
follows up his favourite description of the burning of Serve-
tus with a position unbecoming a historian, Avho would secure
to himself the confidence of his readers. In his quixotick
adventure against " protestant priests," he deliberately writes
and publishes — " What Calvin did not scruple to PERFORjf,
Mklancthon and Bullinger did not hesitate to approve."
The mind tliat has the least savour of candour, that possesses
even the tolerance of Eirasmus, must revolt at this historian's

* Plus centum locis, says the statement of the Genevese Ministers, Trin*
itas simpliciter ab eo vocatur triceps Cerberus, diabolicum phantaama, Ge«
ryonis monstrum, illusio Satan3e, et quid non ? Tract. Theol. Cal. p. 549.

Geryonis monstrum. — Geryon a King of Spain divided his kingdom into
tlirec parts, and was fabled to have three bodies.— Ainsworth.

1553 LIFE OF CALVIN. 109^

intemperate " calumny against the truth of history.'' Re-
proachful aspersions, when uttered by a person of a low cha-
racter, whose word attaches to itself some special discredit,
may be permitted to pass with indifference, as carrying with
them their own refutation. But when William Roscoe, the
historian, writes that Calvin was the executioner of Servetus,
he can have no plea in bar of a full exposure, as asserting that,
for the truth of which he has neither given, nor can give any
proof. In following him through his quotations to shew,
that Melancthon and Bullinger approved of what Calvin j^cr-
formed, the burning of Servetus, he is found, with shallow
and petulant minds, picking up the very dirt of slander and
malicious irony ; and too restless to stay his pen, with " such
were the sentiments of the we/ri ^wci candid Melancthon," he
presses on to close the climax of his note, by profanely quot-
ing an expression from the scriptures, « and such the first
fruits of the reformation.'''

Mr. Roscoe is now calmly asked, for there is no unpleasant
apprehension respecting the answer he can give, in a\ hat vol-
ume, and at what page is the testimony to be found, that
proves Calvin to have been even instrumental in procuring
the burning of Servetus ? Mr. Roscoe will not, it is presum-
ed, even pretend, that Calvin was present at the place of exe-
cution, or that he saw, at any remote distance, the dismal
spectacle. The most favourable construction, which his
words will admit, is that Calvin was the means, that it was
through his influence and personal exertions, that Servetus
was tied to the stake, and suffered the punishment of burn-
ing. Is Mr. Roscoe still to be informed, that Calvin interce-
ded with the Senate, to have the sentence of burning com-
muted for some punishment less ignominious ; and that of
course he was opposed to that kind of punishment ? How
then will he make good his assertion, by any consistent con-
struction, that C^Wm performed the act of burning Servetus ?

110 LIFE OF CALVIN. 1553

The extreme prejudices of this historian are evinced, by his
stretching a note across the foot of tliree pages, and append-
ing to his work the three letters of Servetus, relating to a
fact that did not occur till more than thirty years after the
death of the profligate, indolent ami prophane Leo, whose life
he has appropriately chosen to write. Ought not iMr. Roscoe
to have examined the subject, before he ventured to throw
out, upon second hand quotations, such ungenerous aspersions
against Calvin, the other Reformers, and the Reformation
itself ?

A Review of some facts relative to the apprehension and trial
of Servetus ; with further notice of Mr, Eoscoe^s note,

IBoth in his letters, and the exposition of the errours of
Servetus, Calvin frankly confesses, that Nicholas de la Fon-
taine proceeded at his request to accuse Servetus ; — that he
dictated the articles of the charge ; — that by his influence
the civil power committed him to prison, and required him
to defend his opinions ; — and that thus some entrance was
made upon the cause. But Calvin appeals to his conduct,
in the progress of the examination, for proof, that his design
was to lead this a^vrfully wicked man to repentance, and to
stop the flood of impiety which he was pouring forth on the
world, to destroy the very foundations of morals and reli-
gion. He states that, having taken the oath of citizenship,
he was bound to advise his apprehension, as he personally
knew the fact of Servetus' heresy and blasphemy. Calvin
also knew, that the Papists had long and bitterly reproached
the Reformers, the Genevese Republick, and himself espe-
cially, with receiving and protecting those whom they call-
ed hcrcticks. To have done this in the case of Servetus,
would have given substantial grounds for their invectives
against Geneva, which they called the seat of heresy. And


how, under the existing circumstances, habits and opinions,
would Calvin and the Reformers have been reproached, had
they protected this fugitive from the inquisitorial prison of
Vienne ? Doubtless all those, who now revile thera on the
one hand, would in that case condemn them on the other, as
the protectors of a convicted blasphemer. Servetus had
wandered about Italy for some time,# after his escape from
the prison of Vienne, without finding any place where he
Hiight be secure from the rage of the Papists. It is evident
that they were in pursuit of him, from the fact, that the
Vice-bailiff of Vienne, on the 31st of August, formally de-
manded him of the Senate of Geneva as their prisoner. And
when this application was made, what did the illustrious
Senate of Geneva do ? They proposed to Servetus to make his
own election, whether he would be conducted back to Vienne,
where he had lived as a Physician, " ten or twelve years" ;
or abide the issue of his trial at Geneva. He not only deli-
berately chose the latter,f but with tears besought the Se-
nate not to send him back to Vienne. At this time he well
knew the laws of this city, — the progress of the trial, — and
that the Senate had declared the charges against him to be
proved. He also knew the manner in which Calvin had ad-
vised him to retract his errours, and his forbearance, not on-

Online LibraryElijah WatermanMemoirs of the life and writings of John Calvin : together with a selection of letters → online text (page 9 of 34)