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sketch of the LIFE AND char Act ER or John c Alvin,
Taken from the Religious Monitor, with the addition of several extracts of a communication received from a learned and ingenious Correspondent.
Concluded from page 390.
CastAlio renewed his controversy in 1552; but became afterwards so conscious of his errors, and of the injuries which he had done to Calvin, that when on his death-bed, he declared that he could not die in peace if he did not receive his forgiveness. Calvin quickly removed this ground of uneasiness, and soothed his mind with the voice of friendship, and the consolations of the gospel.
We have mentioned, that so early as 1531, or 1532, Michael Servede, or Servetus, began to speculate on the doctrine of the Trinity, and undisguisedly to oppose the orthodox faith. He was a Spanish physician, but left his native country, and settled at Vienne in France, where he acquired great reputation by his professional knowledge and success. But when he applied himself to theology, the ardour of his fancy seduced him into the dangerous path of error ; and in the fulness of his zeal, he deVol. III. No. 10. G G g
termined to reveal his discoveries to the world. These he published at Vienne in 1553, in a volume, entitled, The Restitution of Christianity, in which the knowledge of God, of the Christian faith, of justification, regeneration, bafitism, and the eating of the Lord's suffier, are fierfectly restored. So unscriptural were the sentiments which it contained, that it was reprobated even by the Papists, who felt so indignant, as to condemn him to be burnt for heresy. He escaped, however, from Vienne, the place of his condemnation and subsequent imprisonment; but the magistrates and clergy executed the sentence on his effigy, and along with it, committed his writings to the flames. Intending to retire to Naples, he travelled by the way of Geneva, where he was apprehended and imprisoned. After a trial, protracted by various causes, a sentence similar to that from which he had so lately escaped, was passed on him, in consequence of which, he was burnt alive for his heretical opinions. This tragical history has opened the mouths of many, particularly among the ancient Socinians and the modern Unitarians, against Calvin, whom they accuse of being the principal agent in the whole transaction. It has been repeatedly affirmed, that to gratify a long concealed and inveterate enmity against Servetus, he denounced him to the magistracy of Vienne, as a heretic, and caused him to be apprehended immediately on his arrival at Geneva. It is not our intention to justify the conduct of Calvin in this business ; but the following remarks may have the effect at least of so far exculpating him, as to prove, that he was actuated by no private personal motive of malice or cruelty; and that his behaviour throughout can be easily justified on the principles which were at that time commonly received by the mildest, the wisest and the best of men, though to us they now justly appear equally inhuman, unreasonable, and unchristian. Bolsec, though the author of a life of Calvin, in which every charge that malice could devise, or falsehood propagate, is recorded ; and Maimbourg, celebrated for partiality and misrepresentation, never so much as insinuate, that Calvin and Servetus had a mutual hatred of each other ; but on the contrary, accuse the latter only, of insolence and pride. That the magistracy of Vienne were not instigated by Calvin to persecute Servetus, may be satisfactorily proved. In a letter to Farel and Viret,
with whom he had no secrets, he says, that if Servetus came to Geneva, he would undoubtedly lose his life. This he concluded from his knowledge of the constitution of the state, and the general opinion of the times concerning heresy. On this part of the accusation let us hear his own reasoning : “It is affirmed that I was the cause of Servetus' being apprehended at Vienne. Whence, then, this sudden and powerful intimacy with the satellites of the Pope 2 Is it credible that there should be such an intercourse between those, who are not less opposed to each other, than Christ is to Belial : Four years have elapsed since Servetus spread a similar report at Venice : whether this was the effect of hatred, or whether he had been deceived by others, I know not. I only ask, if he was betrayed by my information, how was he permitted to live quiet and unmolested, for the space of three years in the very midst of his enemies : They must allow, either that his pretended crime was a falsehood which I invented; or that this holy martyr was in greater favour with the Papists, than to be injured by any accusation of mine.” But it is farther said, that Calvin, informed that Servetus had escaped from prison at Vienne, made him be seized immediately on his arrival at Geneva. This assertion is not supported by facts : for Servetus must have left Vienne before the 17th of June, that being the day fixed for his death ; yet he was not ap* Tract. cui titul. An Christianis
judicibus hereticos punire liceat—Oper. töm. viii. p. 5. 7.
prehended at Geneva till August 13th. It is thus more than probable, that he was five or six weeks, at least, at Geneva, as his safety was every moment, endangered while he remained within reach of Popish violence. He besides declined returning to Vienne, when the Council demanded him, preserring the chance of a more lenient sentence from the reformed church. But the principles of toleration were then unknown ; even the Protestants retained a portion of the persecuting spirit of Rome; and the constitution of Geneva, in particular, not only permitted, but required the punishment of heretics. So closely connected were the civil and ecclesiastical laws, that sedition and heresy were convertible terms at Gene
va. In 1536, accordingly, all who
did not submit to the discipline of the church, were subjected to civil excommunication, being deprived of their rights of citizenship. In 1558, also, Gentilis escaped death, only by a recantation of his errors.
The sentence denounced against Servetus, was not the effect of momentary heat among the people, or of personal enmity in Calvin, but the result of solemn deliberation, and of the unanimous advice of the resormed churches. In a letter to Farel, Calvin writes thus: “The messenger has returned from the Swiss-They declare with one consent, that Servetus has renewed those impious errors with which Satan formerly disturbed the church, and that he is a monster not to be endured. The people of Basil are cordial in the matter; those of Zurich are the most vehement, for they strong
ly express the atrocity of such impieties, and exhort our senate to severity ; those of Schaffhausen are of the same opinion. The letter from the ministers of Bern is confirmed by another from the senate, a circumstance which greatly encourages our council. He was condemned without hesitation or controversy. Tomorrow he will be brought to punishment. We have attempted to get the manner of his death altered, but in vain.” This letter, though written in the full confidence of friendship, contains no appearance either of enmity against Servetus, or of joy at his condemnation; but a simple statement of facts, which prove, that the right of punishing heretics with death was the common sentiment of Christians: and instead of being marked by expressions of cruelty, it rather gives a favourable view of Calvin’s mildness. In another letter, this feature is still more apparent. Convinced of the justness of the accusations brought against Servetus, he saw that the law of the state could not be suspended, yet wished the punishment annexed to his crime by the law, to be mitigated.t “The intolerance, therefore, of the age, not the cruelty of Calvin, (says Sennebier, whose apology for this reformer merits the fuller credit from their being
• Calvini Epistol. p. 72. col. 1. oper. tom. ix.- The letters from the churches of Bazil and Schaffhausen and from the ministers and senate o Bern, are in the same collection, p. 72–74.
+ Spero capitale saltem fore judicium ; pene vero atrocitaten remitti cupio, Calv. Epist. p. 70, col. 1. oper. tonn. IX,
of very different theological sentiments) dictated the sentence, October 27, that Servetus should be burnt alive. Castalio alone had the courage to write a dissertation against the punishment of heretics, which, though he was at Basil, he thought it necessary for his own safety to publish under the feigned name of Bellius. But Servetus persisted to defend his opinions in blasphemous language : the laws of the times could not be violated ; and, therefore, the endeavours of some to satisfy themselves with his banishment, and of Calvin to render his punishment less cruel, had no effect. It is certain, Calvin deplored Servetus' fate ; and the disputes in prison were managed with much greater moderation on his side, than on that of the pannel. Calvin's situation was peculiarly delicate; Roman Catholics accused him of dangerous theological errors. Their eyes were fixed upon him ; and had he remained an indifferent spectator of the process against Servetus, they would have pronounced him a favourer of his opinions. Add to this, had Servetus escaped, his gross and abusive charges against Calvin would have appeared wellfounded ; and Calvin’s adversaries would have availed themselves of that advantage, for ruining his influence.” To conclude, “if the Roman Catholics had never put any person to death for the sake of religion, Servetus had never been condemned to die in any Protestant
* Sennebier’s Hist. Liter. de Geneve, quoted and abridged by Dr. Erskine.—Sketches of Ch. Hist. Vol. II. No. xi. in which article the substance of the above vindication is to be found.
city. Let us remember, that Calvin, and all the magistrates of Geneva, in the year 1553, were born and bred up in the church of Rome. This is the best apology that can be made for them.”f After this period, Calvin's life was comparatively quiet and peaceful. The disputes concerning discipline were sometimes indeed revived, and the senate for a season took the power of excommunication into their own hands, but tranquillity was soon again restored. The number of strangers gradually increased in Geneva, and the English who took refuge there, from the persecution of Queen Mary, were allowed to found a church, with their own liturgy and ecclesiastical goverment, as the Italians had done in 1551 : but when Elizabeth ascended the throne, and revived the Protestant religion, they thanked the magistrates for their protection, and returned to their own country. In 1556 Calvin was seized with a quartan ague, which gave a shock to his constitution, already debilitated and worn out "with his incessant labours, anxiety, and study, from the effects of which he never wholly recovered: but the flame of life was not yet extinguished, its ardour again revived, and he lived to publish his commentary on Isaiah, and the last edition of his Institutions in French and Latin ; and to prepare for the press his annotations on the five books of Moses, containing his ingenious harmony of the law. After several years of declining health, during
which he remitted none of those labours which bodily strength allowed him to continue, on the 6th of February, 1564, he preached his last sermon. For ten years together he had abstained from animal food at dinner, as the only certain preventive of violent headachs, to which he had long been subject. When his ague left him, he was seized with the gout in his right limb ; then with the cholic, and last of all with the stone. Yet, under this complication of disorders, he never uttered a word expressive of murmuring or impatience ; only lifting up his eyes to heaven, he used to say, “ How long Lord,” an expression to which he was accustomed, when he heard of any calamities, befalling the church of Christ. On the 27th of March, he was carried in his chair to the senate, when he presented to them a new rector for the academy ; he then uncovered his head, and thanked them for all the kindness they had shown him, particularly in his sickness : “For I feel (said he) this is the last time that I shall come into this place.” On the 2d of April, being Easter-day, he was carried to the church, and received the sacrament from the hands of Beza, his colleague, both in the ministry and the academy. He made his will on the 25th, in which he declared his firm adherence to the doctrine of salvation by the cross of Christ, as the only foundation of all his hopes of pardon and eternal life. “Alas ! (says he) my study and my zeal (if worthy of that name) have been so languid and remiss, that I confess innumerable things have been wanting in me to the
faithful discharge of my duty; and unless the unmeasurable bounty of God had been present, all my study would have been vain and transient ; for which causes I witness and declare, that I hope for no other security of my salvation than this, that seeing God is the Father of mercy, he may shew himself such a lather to me, who acknowledge myself a miserable sinner.” He wished to meet with the senators once more in public ; but on account of his state of health, they rather waited on him. He then addressed them in words of gratitude, admonition, and consolation : “Whether your affairs be prosperous or adverse, let this be always before your eyes, that God alone can establish kingdoms and cities, and that he requires mortals to worship him in that character. I exhort the aged not to envy the young, who may have received from the Lord more splendid talents than themselves; and the young I warn against vanity and pride, beseeching them to be modest in their behaviour.” Afterwards, he set before them the great danger of error in doctrine, as leading to corruptions in practice ; and concluded with a solemn prayer for every blessing that might promote their individual happiness, and the best interests of the commonwealth. They departed in tears, as from a last interview with their common father. On the 28th, he spoke to the ministers of Geneva, of the grace which he had received to be faithful in his trust; encouraged them to stand fast in the same grace, and bade them farewel, with many tears and servent prayers to