John Calvin a Murderer?

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by andross, Nov 27, 2005.

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  1. andross

    andross
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    When reading reviews for Foxe's book of Martyrs, I stumbled upon a claim that John Calvin martyred Michael Servetus.

    I strongly disagree with 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism ,but this was startling. Imagine Presbyterians and others believing and/or supporting the created doctrine of a murderer.

    Can anyone someone proof or disproof this claim?
    As it stands, my research makes Calvin look much like Pontius pilate.
     
  2. KenH

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    It is a much disputed incident as to how much John Calvin was involved with the execution of Servetus.

    Regardless, that has nothing to do with the Doctrines of Grace being an accurate interpretation of Bible soteriology.

    By the way, welcome to the Baptist Board.

    A great first post sure to stir up more Calvinist/Arminian strife a few days after the Calvinism/Arminianism Debate Forum on this board was closed down. :D
     
  3. mioque

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    Calvin wrote a letter to the judges of Servetus requesting that they (I'm paraphrasing ofcourse) 'go easy on him'.
    That would speak well of him, except that the members of the Inquisition also always wrote similar letters on behalf of the heretics they turned over to the secular courts to be sentenced. People got routinely burned at the stake anyway.
    I'd say it was a traditional essentially meaningless gesture, both by Jean Calvin and those inquisitors.
     
  4. Matt Black

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    You have to put it in the context of the times: pretty much everyone was killing everyone else who didn't agree with them: the Inquisition were busy burning everyone who wasn't a Catholic, Zwingli was drowning Anabaptists in the River Linner, Anabaptists were doing nasty things in Munster, Luther was calling for the extermination of peasants and Jews (an anti-Semitic German! How novel!), and over here Catholic Mary was burning Protestants and Anglican Elizabeth was hanging Catholics and Protestant non-conformists (and the less said about their father, the better); Calvin also had a penchant for executing adulterers if you're interested.

    So, viewed in that context, old Johnny wasn't quite so bad after all.
     
  5. Eliyahu

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    During the reign of Calvin in Geneve, 58 were sentenced to death ( I believe by the Presbyterian Council controlled by Calvin)> believers say 2 of them were apparently born-again believers. One mother and her father were burnt because they refused infant baptism believing that only the born-again believer should be and can be baptized. Calvin's doctrine says that infant baptism is OK, but the actual was that anyone who opposed to it had to be killed. Some other evangelists expected that they could get some protection if they went to Geneve, then found it was not so, then expelled from there and were killed by Roman Cathoiic.
    The more information in addition to John Foxe Matyr, you can get a lot from "Pilgrim Church " by Edmund Hamer Broadbent ( a German Brethren)It covers up to 1930, the history of true church other thatn Roman church. It touched very little about Eastern churches in China, India, Armenia, etc. It almost excludes the Presbyterian, while it includes Wesleyan, of course Baptists, Wieder Taufers.
     
  6. Cross Man

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    Just make it a relative issue and all is well eh?

    The Bible says we ought not to do that. Our measure is God, not other humans.
     
  7. KenH

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    It is always dangerous to pass judgment on those of an earlier period since we don't know that we would have acted any different than they did if we had lived hundreds of years ago in their environment.
     
  8. Matt Black

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    No. I'm not relativising it; murder is murder is murder. But he was no worse than his contemporaries; that doesn't excuse it but does contextualise it.
     
  9. Ray Berrian

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    Does the Lord God in I John 3:15 make adjustments for the era of time and for various groups of people?
     
  10. mioque

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    Unless we can point to contemporaries who did act differently from those we would like to judge. William the Silent and Menno Simons both lived relatively shortly after the folks mentioned earlier in this thread and they opposed religious death penalties.
     
  11. KenH

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    Kudos to them. [​IMG]
     
  12. JohnB

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    Yeah. It's all about context and relativism.
    Was everyone else doing it? Then it's ok.

    I am sure that if Jesus, or Paul, or John had lived at the time of Calvin, they too would have been banishing, imprisoning, torturing and even putting people to death for their "incorrect" theologies and sins. Not!

    Calvin was just one of many examples of the horrors that ensue when the church is married to the state. Catholics killed protestants, and visa versa. Calvinists killed anabaptists (though never visa versa.) Calvinism was forcibly imposed on the people of Scotland, like it or not.
    Not to mention those Puritans who fled to America for "religious freedom," then proceeded to deny it to everyone they controlled here.
     
  13. mioque

    mioque
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    JohnB
    Paul had made a career out of doing just that prior to his conversion remember?

    "Calvinists killed anabaptists (though never visa versa.)"
    "
    Jan van Leiden (the anabaptist tyrant of Münster) preferred to personally behead anyone who disagreed with him. If the Theocratic branch of the Ana-Baptist movement never got around to killing Calvinists than that is purely because there weren't any available in the neighbourhood.
     
  14. johnp.

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  15. Matt Black

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    Oh, yes, the old line that "Anabaptists never killed anyone". Try telling that to the people of Munster in 1534-5...
     
  16. Eliyahu

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    Mioque:
    Jan van Leiden (the anabaptist tyrant of Münster) preferred to personally behead anyone who disagreed with him. If the Theocratic branch of the Ana-Baptist movement never got around to killing Calvinists than that is purely because there weren't any available in the neighbourhood.

    Muenster Incident should be understood as the event Satan penetrated into Anabaptists since many swarmed into there. I doubt about the faith of those guys who had 2 wives and advocated polygamy and used violence. Catholic refers to Muenster incidents as a typical case where even Baptists murder the people.
    If you read "Pilgrim Church" by E.H. Broadbent, you can understand the background.
     
  17. JohnB

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    I stand corrected regarding the "Anabaptists."

    However, my point applies to all who claim to be Christian who abuse political power to persecute and kill in the name of Jesus, be they Catholic, Calvinists, Anabaptists or otherwise.

    Christians are never to be judged according to their time, or other men, but according to the standard of Jesus and his love and holiness.
     
  18. mioque

    mioque
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    Eliyahu
    "Muenster Incident should be understood as the event Satan penetrated into Anabaptists since many swarmed into there."
    "
    You're on Satan's mailinglist? Get to read his diary? What?

    "I doubt about the faith of those guys who had 2 wives and advocated polygamy and used violence."
    "
    I'll doubt it with you.


    "Catholic refers to Muenster incidents as a typical case where even Baptists murder the people."
    "
    That would be unfair, baptists and ana-baptists are different animals. The classic example of (a faction of ) 'baptists' going around practicing 'religiously' motivated murder there is the KKK.
     
  19. Matt Black

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  20. Ransom

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    andross said:

    When reading reviews for Foxe's book of Martyrs, I stumbled upon a claim that John Calvin martyred Michael Servetus.

    Not true. Calvin had very little political power. He spent the majority of his career as the pastor of Geneva fighting city hall because they were trying to dictate to him how he ought to run the church.

    Calvin, on the other hand, believed in the separation of church and state - to a certain extent, anyway - the duty of the state was to protect the church and submit to the Word of God as taught by the church, but not to exercise temporal power over the church. Conversely, while the civil government was subject to the laws of God, the church did not wield temporal power over the state. They each had their respective spheres of influence.

    For the first two years that Calvin was in Geneva, he and the city council butted heads so often that finally they fired him and banished him. They had to beg him to come back because the moral situation in the city was so much worse with him gone. Initially, he refused but finally was persuaded to return by his friend Guillaume Farel.

    Even after that, the relationship between Calvin and the city of Geneva was hardly cordial. It wasn't until 1555 that the politics of the city were sympathetic toward him. Keep in mind also that Calvin was a Frenchman, a resident alien living in Geneva only with the permission of the council. He had no right to vote, let alone any real political power, and the council wasn't going to let some foreigner get the better of them. Therefore, Calvin's political influence extended only so far as his ability to persuade, and his authority to punish was limited to church disciplinev - typically withholding the Lord's Supper, which seems awfully trivial to us, but you can imagine the effect that denying the Eucharist would have on a city that had only recently expelled the Roman church.

    Calvin and Servetus actually had some history: while Servetus was obviously brilliant, he was apparently quite intense and possibly unbalanced. He obviously saw some of the young Calvin's brilliance, and had written several letters to Calvin attempting to "convert" him to his own point of view. At one point he asked to meet Calvin in Paris (Calvin was exiled from Paris at the time due to persecution of Protestants), but when Calvin risked his life sneaking into the city, he discovered that he had been stood up.

    Servetus had already been tried and sentenced to death in France for his heresy; he escaped and made a beeline for Geneva, where he very unwisely attended church and was recognized by Calvin. Servetus was a wanted criminal. At this point it became Calvin's civic duty to identify and have him arrested, and to act as an expert witness in theology at his trial.

    After Servetus' conviction - at which point the death penalty was a foregone conclusion, not only in Geneva but any part of Europe at the time - Calvin petitioned the city council to execute him by beheading, which was more humane than burning him at the stake. They refused - again, out of spite. Meanwhile, in his capacity as the pastor of the city, he met with Servetus in jail and pleaded with him to recant.

    In retrospect we really have to view Calvin as a man of his time. In a time when a secular society was literally unheard of, heresy was not only an ecclesiastical offense, but a civil one. It was regarded as a threat to social order on a level with treason. Servetus would have been executed in Paris by the Catholics, had he not escaped. Other Reformers, such as Farel, Martin Bucer, Philip Melanchthon, and Theodore Beza would have done the same thing. However, since Servetus decided to hide out in Geneva, it's John Calvin that gets singled out for vilification.
     
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