Thursday, October 20, 2011

Calvin and Servetus

Lots of people know that Servetus was killed in Geneva for heresy during the days of John Calvin. Most times this issue is raised in an attempt to malign Calvin and further impugn the doctrines of Calvinism. Few people take the time to understand the historical truths surrounding the event. The issue is not often placed within the historical context. For example, the Roman Catholics wanted to condemn Servetus just as much for his heresies. Servetus had been warned not to come to Geneva. 

While we should not minimize the issue of Servetus being put to death. It is not the conspiracy that it is often made out to be. While Geneva as a whole and Calvin specifically were involved--it is not nearly as damn to Calvin's character or his theology has it is trumped up to be.

This week I found this post with 7 points of historical detail. You can find other good writings on this incident but one thing that I had not considered before was the actual pastoral care that Calvin showed. Consider the following:
4. Nearly two decades earlier, Servetus asked Calvin to leave the safety of Geneva to discuss their differences. Though Calvin was wanted by the authorities in the area in which they were to meet, he went at the risk of his own life to reconcile Servetus to the truth of the gospel. Servetus never showed. 
5. Calvin corresponded with Servetus before and during his imprisonment, imploring him to recant. One letter read, “I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.” Reflecting later, Calvin wrote, “I reminded him gently how I had risked my life more than sixteen years before to gain him for our saviour. I would faithfully do my best to reconcile him to all good servants of God. Although he had avoided the contest I had never ceased to remonstrate kindly with him in letters. In a word, I had used all humanity to the very end, until he being embittered by my good advice hurled all manner of rage and anger against me.” 
6. Calvin visited Servetus in prison and prayed with and for him. J.I. Packer stated, “Calvin, for the record, showed more pastoral concern for Servetus than anyone else connected with the episode.”

Hardly the actions of a hell-beant murder that Calvin is often maligned as.

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