Archive for the ‘two kingdoms’ Category

Foxe gets it about right in the Calvin/Servetus affair

February 14, 2011

It has long been the delight of both infidels and some professed Christians, when they wish to bring odium upon the opinions of Calvin, to refer to his agency in the death of Michael Servetus. This action is used on all occasions by those who have been unable to overthrow his opinions, as a conclusive argument against his whole system. “Calvin burnt Servetus!–Calvin burnt Servetus!” is a good proof with a certain class of reasoners, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true-that divine sovereignty is Antiscriptural,–and Christianity a cheat.

We have no wish to palliate any act of Calvin’s which is manifestly wrong. All his proceedings, in relation to the unhappy affair of Servetus, we think, cannot be defended. Still it should be remembered that the true principles of religious toleration were very little understood in the time of Calvin. All the other reformers then living approved of Calvin’s conduct. Even the gentle and amiable Melancthon expressed himself in relation to this affair, in the following manner. In a letter addressed to Bullinger, he says, “I have read your statement respecting the blasphemy of Servetus, and praise your piety and judgment; and am persuaded that the Council of Geneva has done right in putting to death this obstinate man, who would never have ceased his blasphemies. I am astonished that any one can be found to disapprove of this proceeding.” Farel expressly says, that “Servetus deserved a capital punishment.” Bucer did not hesitate to declare, that “Servetus deserved something worse than death.”

The truth is, although Calvin had some hand in the arrest and imprisonment of Servetus, he was unwilling that he should be burnt at all. “I desire,” says he, “that the severity of the punishment should be remitted.” “We endeavored to commute the kind of death, but in vain.” “By wishing to mitigate the severity of the punishment,” says Farel to Calvin, “you discharge the office of a friend towards your greatest enemy.” “That Calvin was the instigator of the magistrates that Servetus might be burned,” says Turritine, “historians neither anywhere affirm, nor does it appear from any considerations. Nay, it is certain, that he, with the college of pastors, dissuaded from that kind of punishment.”

It has been often asserted, that Calvin possessed so much influence with the magistrates of Geneva that he might have obtained the release of Servetus, had he not been desirous of his destruction. This however, is not true. So far from it, that Calvin was himself once banished from Geneva, by these very magistrates, and often opposed their arbitrary measures in vain. So little desirous was Calvin of procuring the death of Servetus that he warned him of his danger, and suffered him to remain several weeks at Geneva, before he was arrested. But his language, which was then accounted blasphemous, was the cause of his imprisonment. When in prison, Calvin visited him, and used every argument to persuade him to retract his horrible blasphemies, without reference to his peculiar sentiments. This was the extent of Calvin’s agency in this unhappy affair.

It cannot, however, be denied, that in this instance, Calvin acted contrary to the benignant spirit of the Gospel. It is better to drop a tear over the inconsistency of human nature, and to bewail those infirmities which cannot be justified. He declared he acted conscientiously, and publicly justified the act.

It was the opinion, that erroneous religious principles are punishable by the civil magistrate, that did the mischief, whether at Geneva, in Transylvania, or in Britain; and to this, rather than to Trinitarianism, or Unitarianism, it ought to be imputed.

Foxes Book of Martyrs, CHAPTER XIII

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Can it be lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that ‘he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword’?

November 15, 2009

Can it be lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that ‘he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword’? And shall the son of peace take part in battle, when it does not become him even to sue at law? Shall he apply the chain, the prison, the torture, and the punishment, when he is not [even] the avenger of his own wrongs?”

Tertullian, The Crown , chap. 11

It pains me to criticise the great Tertullian, but surely a Christian occupies two kingdoms? The sword is not an instrument of the Church but it is of the earthly State. To advance the Kingdom of God, the sword must never be used. But as a citizen of a given State, a Christian may lawfully bear and use arms in his civil duty.

Note well the context of the two Scripture passages Tertullian quotes and alludes to. They are used a) in the potential use of the sword in the defence of the person of Christ Mt.26.52, and by extension, the Church and b) in inter-Church disputes. Neither case respects earthly duties, as Christians all have, to obey the powers that be (Rom.13.1f and 1 Peter 2.13).

So whilst it is apposite to quote Justin Martyr who said,

We, who formerly murdered one another, not only refuse to make war against our enemies, but in order not to lie nor deceive our judges, meet death willingly, confessing Christ. (Apology I, 39)

We note that this pertains in the kingdom of God and not of man. The lawful, earthly sovereign may command his subjects, including Christians, to take up arms to defend his kingdom.

Thus, any ‘Holy War’, which has man brandishing a sword, is de facto Satanic. But if I defend my house by force against an intruder who would harm my family, I do so as a citizen of that country. After I have subdued him I may preach the gospel to him – if he will listen!