This article will discuss the historical events and people which surround the trial of Michael Servetus. Michael Servetus to some is a hero, a martyr, while to others he is a heretic. The trial of Servetus is frequently used by those who dislike Calvinism or Calvin to discredit him, while at the same time Calvin’s supporters often tend to downplay this event. This article will endeavor to be as unbiased as possible when dealing these historical events. Some of the sources used may have their own built in biases, but enough sources will be used from different viewpoints to hopefully mitigate these biases. Since this historical event and topic seems to be often an inflammatory one, many sources take a strong stand either for or against Calvin, and the execution of Servetus. Too many historians and authors in the past have collected just those sources that ‘prove’ their viewpoint and not interacted with disagreeing viewpoints.
(The Murder of Michael Servetus)
Article By Dan Corner
All reference sources are listed at the end of this article.
You are about to read an important part of church history from the Reformation period that has been so concealed in our day that very few people know the facts. Brace yourself for a shock.
On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside of Geneva for his doctrinal heresies!(1) Hence, the originator of the popular doctrine of "once saved, always saved" (known in certain circles as "the perseverance of the saints") violated the cry of the Reformation — "Sola Scriptura" — by murdering a doctrinal heretic without Scriptural justification. This event was something Calvin had considered long before Servetus was even captured, for Calvin wrote his friend, Farel, on February 13, 1546 (seven years prior to Servetus’ arrest) and went on record as saying:
16th Century Responses to the Anabaptists
by JOHN S. OYER
Sixteenth-century Anabaptists were ardently disliked and despised. This fact is nowhere more aptly illustrated than in the nasty nicknames given them. Indeed the name Anabaptist itself, which means “rebaptizer,” was probably designed to these people under the penalties of Roman civil law—which, in a series of imperial edicts from approximately 390 to 420 A.D., decreed death to those who rebaptized or were rebaptized. The Reformers had destroyed or disregarded canon law and judicial procedures, which had been developed over many centuries by the Roman Church. In order to draw up laws more suitable to their view of Scripture and the church, Reformers chose edicts and patterns of jurisprudence ready at hand in the Justinian Code, compiled under Roman Emperor Justinian’s orders in the 530s. On the basis of those edicts, therefore, the Reformers and princes decreed the death penalty for rebaptizers, thereby giving the name Anabaptist itself an unfavorable reputation. Indeed, second generation German Marxist Karl Kautsky has concluded that “Anabaptist” in the sixteenth century bore the emotional stigma of the term
What Anabaptists Believed— What Is a Christian
For Anabaptists, as for all other Christians in the sixteenth century, Christian faith had been revealed to men by God. God was the author of it; the mediator of it was Jesus Christ.
By Jesus’ death, which was an expression of the love and mercy of God, sin is removed and man is forgiven. Man’s own merit achieves nothing for he has none before God. Life in Christ is a gift of God’s grace. Jesus Christ is the saviour of man, and man is saved by faith in him.
But to accept him as Saviour is only the beginning of faith. Obedience to Christ the Lord is an integral part. As Hans Denck affirmed in his first public statement
by WALTER KLAASSEN
“Anabaptist” was the nickname given to a group of Christians in the sixteenth century. It simply meant one who baptizes again. A person could not be called a dirtier name in sixteenth century Christian Europe. By its enemies Anabaptism was regarded as a dangerous movement—a program for violent destruction of Europe’s religious and social institutions. Its practices were regarded as odd and anti-social; its beliefs as devil-inspired heresy. At other times and to other people Anabaptism has been an antique social curiosity, the first true fundamentalist movement, or a Christian movement— tough, resilient, and genuine because it was tied to the land and expressed in hard work and simple frugality.
James Arminius was born in Oudewater, a small town near Utrecht in Holland, in the year 1560. His parents were respectable persons of the middle rank in life, his father being an ingenious mechanic, by trade a cutler. His family name was Herman, or, according to some, Harmen. As was usual with learned men of that period, who either latinized their own names, or substituted for them such Latin names as agreed most nearly in sound or in signification with them, he selected the name of the celebrated leader of the Germans in the early part of the first century. While Arminius was yet an infant, his father died, and he, with a brother and sister, was left to the care of his widowed mother.