John Calvin (born 1509 in France) was the greatest systematic theologian of the Reformation. His best known work is the Institutes of the Christian Religion which is still the basis for ‘Reformed’ (evangelical) churches, which are very strong in many parts of the world today.
The law of a Christian state, according to Calvin, is the Bible. The task of the clergy is to interpret and teach that law, while the task of the state is to enforce it. Calvin held enormous authority over the government of Geneva and all aspects of civil as well as religious life.
In Geneva Calivin enforced attendance at weekly sermons; prohibited gambling, drunkenness, dancing, profane songs, and immodest dress; forbade all forms of the theatre. The colours of clothing, hair styles, and amounts of food permissible at the table were regulated. It was a criminal offence to speak ill of Calvin or the rest of the clergy. The press was severely censored, with writings judged to be immoral and books devoted to Catholicism or other false teaching forbidden. Punishment for first offences was usually a fine and for repetition of minor crimes, banishment. Fornication was punishable by exile, and adultery, blasphemy, and idolatry by death.
Michael Servetus, a fugitive from ecclesiastical authorities, appeared in Geneva on 13 August 1553. Servetus was a Spaniard who boldly criticised Christian dogma. In particular, he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He had been in contact with Muslims and Jews and had been impressed by their persuasive arguments.
Calvin had Servetus arrested and during the earlier stages of the trial Calvin advocated the death penalty, basing his argument mainly on the Mosaic law, which was, “He that blasphemeth the name of Jehovah, he shall surely be put to death,” Lev. 24:16 a law which Calvin considered as binding as the decalogue and applicable to heresy as well.
Calvin’s decision to kill Servetus was fully approved by ALL the leading Reformers of the time. Melanchthon, the theological head of the Lutheran Church, fully and repeatedly justified Calvin’s killing of Servetus and even held it up as a model for imitation. Nearly a year after the death of Servetus he wrote to Calvin: “I have read your book, in which you dearly refuted the horrid blasphemies of Servetus …. To you 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 regular trial, this blasphemous man.” Luther and the theologians of Wittenberg had approved of death sentences for some Anabaptists in Germany whom they considered dangerous heretics, adding that it was cruel to punish them, ‘but more cruel to allow them to damn the ministry of the Word and destroy the kingdom of the world’ and Zwingli had not objected to a death sentence against a group of six Anabaptists in Switzerland.
A modern apologist for Calvin states ‘Public opinion has undergone a great change in regard to this event, and the execution of Servetus which was fully approved by the best men in the sixteenth century is entirely out of harmony with our twentieth century ideas.’
A contemporary of Calvin wrote of the ‘best men in the sixteenth century’:
‘the Genevan authorities put half-green wood around the feet of Servetus and a wreath strewn with sulfur on his head. It took over thirty minutes to render him lifeless in such a fire, while the people of Geneva stood around to watch him suffer and slowly die.’
So when Sami says ‘the next time you hear about those Judeo-Christian values, just remember that that’s a lie, it’s really Liberal modern western values’ he couldn’t be more spot on…
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