January 14, 2004

Consolation of theology

I doubt Glenn Frazier would approve (for that matter neither Servetus himself or, less importantly, yours truly, would approve), but Bernard Cottret, in his study of John Calvin, suggests that one of the reasons the Calvin and his fellow Genevans consented to burn Michael Servetus out of common Christian feeling. Servetus denied the Trinity; Calvin and the Genevans, who had their own problems with Catholicism (the Mass, veneration of Saints and so on), may have had ulterior motives in persecuting Servetus:

To become fully acceptable among Christians, it was desirable for [Calvin] in his turn to identify a heretic, a heresy, a blasphemer, an apostate. Bullinger saw at once the benefit that the whole of Protestantism could derive from the condemnation of Servetus. "God has given you an opportunity to wash us all clean from the suspicion of being heretics or favoring heresy if you show yourselves vigilant and ready to prevent this poison from spreading further." From this standpoint the burning of Servetus simply marks the respectability of the Genevan church and its entrance into the communion of saints.

There may have been other reasons as well -- Calvin had been accused of denying the trinity himself by one Pierre Caroli in 1545; by burning Servetus, he proved his orthodoxy on this point. Again, small comfort if you happened to have been Michael Servetus...

Posted by Ideofact at January 14, 2004 10:57 PM