Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sentence against Michael Servetus (Theonomy Applied)

Michael Servetus, arch heretic and criminal
On October 27, 1553, the arch-heretic and criminal Michael Servetus was justly executed for blasphemy and spreading heresy. Here we include the sentence given by a Genevan tribunal, which is preceded by commentary by Robert Willis:

NOTE: The sentence includes extremely offensive statements against God said to be made by Servetus]

An hour before noon of October 27, 1553, the 'Lieutenant Criminel,' Tissot, accompanied by other officials and a guard, entered the gaol, and ordered the prisoner to come with them, and learn the pleasure of My Lords the Councillors and Justices of Geneva.

The tribunal, in conformity with custom, now assembled before the porch of the Hotel de Ville, received the prisoner, all standing. The proper officer then proceeded to recapitulate the heads of the process against him, Michael 
Servetusof Villanova, in the Kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, in which he is charged—

First: with having, between twenty-three and twenty-four years ago, caused to be printed at Hagenau, in Germany, a book against the Holy Trinity, full of blasphemies, to the great scandal of the Churches of Germany, the book having been condemned by all their doctors, and he, the writer, forced to fly that country.

 With having, in spite of this, not only persisted in his errors 
and infected many with them, but with having lately had another book clandestinely printed at Vienne in Dauphiny, filled with the like heresies and execrable blasphemies against the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, the Baptism of Infants,  and other sacred doctrines, the foundations of the Christian religion.

Item. With having in the said book called all who believe in a Trinity, Tritheists,  and  even Atheists,  and  the Trinity itself a daemon or monster having three heads. 
Item. With having blasphemed horribly,  and  said that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God from all Eternity, but only became so from his Incarnation ; that he is not the Son of David according to the flesh, but was created of the substance of God, having received three of his constituent elements from God,  and  one only from the Virgin Mary, whereby he wickedly proposed to abolish the true  and  entire humanity of Jesus Christ. 

 With declaring the Baptism of Infants to be sorcery 
and  a diabolical invention. 

 With having uttered other blasphemies, with which the book in question is full, all alike against the Majesty of God, the Son of God, 
and  the Holy Ghost, to the ruin of many poor souls, betrayed  and  desolated by such detestable doctrines. 

 With having, full of malice, entitled the said book, though crammed with heresies against the holy evangelical doctrine, 'Christianismi Restitutio—the Restoration of Christianity,' the better to deceive 
and  seduce poor ignorant folks, poisoning them all the while they fancied they were sitting in the shadow of sound doctrine. 

 With attacking our faith by letters as well as by his book, 
and  saying to one of the ministers of this city that our holy evangelical doctrine is a religion without faith,  and indeed without God, we having a Cerberus with three heads, for our God. 

 For having perfidiously broken 
and  escaped from the prison of Vienne, where he had been confined because of the wicked  and  abominable opinions confessed in his book.

Item. For continuing obstinate in his opinions, not only against the true Christian religion, but, as an arrogant innovator  and  inventor of heresies against Popery, which led to his being burned in effigy at Vienne, along with five bales of his book. 

And in addition to all of which, being confined in the gaol of this city, he has not ceased maliciously to persist in the aforesaid wicked  and  detestable errors, attempting to maintain them, with calumnious abuse of all true Christians, faithful followers of the immaculate Christian religion, calling them Tritheists, Atheists,  and  Sorcerers, in spite of the remonstrances made to him in Germany, as said,  and  in contempt of the reprehensions  and  corrections he has received,  and  the imprisonment he has undergone as well here as elsewhere.

Now, we the Syndics 
and  Judges in criminal cases within this city, having reviewed the process carried on before us, at the instance of our Lieutenant having charge of such cases, against thee, Michael  Servetus of Villanova, in the Kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, whereby guided,  and by thy voluntary confessions made before us, many times repeated, as well as by thy books produced before us, we decree  and  determine that thou, Michael  Servetushast, for a long time, promulgated false  and  heretical doctrine,  and, rejecting all remonstrance  and  correction, hast, maliciously, perversely,  and  obstinately, continued disseminating  and  divulging, even by the printing of books, blasphemies against God the Father, the Son,  and  the Holy Ghost, in a word, against the whole foundations of the Christian religion, thereby seeking to create schism  and trouble in the Church of God, many souls, members of which may have been ruined  and  lost—horrible  and dreadful thing, scandalous  and  contaminating in thee, thou, having no shame nor horror in setting thyself up in all against the Divine Majesty  and  the Holy Trinity,  and  having further taken pains to infect,  and  given thyself up obstinately to continue infecting the world with thy heresies  and  stinking heretical poison (tez Jieresies et puante poyson hereticale)—case and crime of heresy grievous  and  detestable, deserving of severe corporal punishment.

and  other just causes moving us, desiring to purge the Church of God of such infection,  and  to cut off from it so rotten a member, we, sitting as a Judicial Tribunal in the seat of our ancestors, with the entire assent of the General Council of the State,  and our fellow-citizens, calling on the name of God to deliver true judgment, having the Holy Scriptures before us,  and  saying: In the name of the Father, Son,  and  Holy Ghost, we now pronounce our final sentence  and condemn thee, Michael  Servetusto be bound  and taken to Champel,  and there being fastened to a stake, to be burned alive, along with thy books, printed as well as written by thy hand, until thy body be reduced to ashes. So shall thy days end,  and  thou be made an example to others who would do as thou hast done. And we command you, our Lieutenant, to see this our sentence carried forthwith into execution.


     [1] Robert Willis, Servetus and Calvin: a study of an important epoch in the early history of the reformation (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1877, digitized 2006), 480-483. [Note: we reject the author's personal views, which are sympathetic to Servetus]


Anonymous said...

I don't buy it. Servetus was a heretic. God judged him.

Did the apostle Paul call upon Caesar to execute the Galatian heretics? Did Jesus call down fire upon those who blasphemed the ministry of the Spirit?

Are we to execute JWs today? And Mormons (talk about blasphemers!) And Muslims (unitarian heretics)?
Do we not instead pursuade and argue and urge through the preaching of the Cross? Jesus said to Peter to put away his sword - is the Church to be rearmed now?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Jim, in my book "God is Just," I demonstrate the biblical basis for the Older Testament civil code's abiding validity, and answer several objections to it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Before I buy your book :) perhaps you could give me a line or two to make me rethink my 'tolerance' postion. Where am I going wrong?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Intolerance is inescapable; even those who claim to be tolerant are intolerant of those whom they see as intolerant.

The question then is not whether the civil government will be tolerant, but what it will be intolerant of. Every civil law is intolerant of something, as it says, "do not do this."

Either the state will be intolerant of certain sins, or it will be intolerant of certain matters of righteousness. Only the Bible's civil code gives us an objective standard to determine which sins the state should consider crimes, and how they should be punished.

The purpose of biblical civil law is not--nor has it ever been--to force someone to profess Christianity. Salvation has always been by grace, through faith (Romans 4), which is a sovereign act of God (Romans 9).

Rather, the purpose of the state has always been to restrain evil on a societal level. Forcing someone to not engage in idolatry or spread heresy on a public level is radically different than forcing someone to profess allegiance to Christ.

The Israelites were to tolerate the peaceful strangers in the land, whether or not they converted. In other words, the strangers could hold to whatever religion they wanted to, as long as they did so privately.

Harmonious with the O. T. civil laws' hear and fear factor, Romans 13 outlines the duties of civil government to terrorize evildoers. The purpose hear is surely not to "convert" others, but to, as stated, terrorize them. And they are to terrorize them by the sanctions of biblical civil law, as the text states they are to punish "evil," and evil is violation of God's law.

Those of all religions of course are to be evanglized; we are here referring to the distinctive role of the state. The fact that the state is to execute, say, convicted murderers, does not release us from evangelizing them, even if they are on death row.

We must add that those who the state are to punish according to the Bible are to only be punished *if* they are proven to have committed their alleged acts under the testimony of two or three witnesses in a court of law. God's law forbids rogue citizens from taking His law into their hands.

And so, I am to evangelize anyone, regardless of whether I am aware of any capital crimes they are engaged in.

"Did the apostle Paul call upon Caesar to execute the Galatian heretics?"
I don't know, the Bible is silent on this issue. But then, Caesar didn't have a law against those who spread heresy.

"Did Jesus call down fire upon those who blasphemed the ministry of the Spirit?"
This is at least not recorded in Scripture, but we are dealing with how the state should deal with those convicted in a court of law.

And, the law of Christ did not begin in His earthly ministry, but from the beginning of the Bible, as He is God. The O.T. civil code came from Him; and even in his earthly ministry, He upheld the O. T. civil code until heaven and earth passes away (Matt. 5:17-20) (and He goes on to condemn the Pharisees' perversion of God's law by showing how they either changed God's law completely, or restricted God's law to an external manner as opposed to acknowledging God's requirement to keep the law in one's heart); and Christ specifically upheld the sanction against cursing one's father and mother (Matt. 15:4).

"Jesus said to Peter to put away his sword - is the Church to be rearmed now?"
Why did Jesus tell Peter to put away the sword? Peter was not acting as a civil ruler, but he was rebelling against the rulers, which put him at risk for being executed by the sword. Romans 13 requires civil rulers to use the sword; we are not speaking about the church being "armed."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your detailed reply Steve. Comboxes aren't big enough for the kind of dialogue this subject necessitates. You make some heplful distinctions (e.g. between the arm of the church and the state) and are challenging me to be more precise in my language and formulation of my position. Iron sharpens iron. I don't, though, think Paul had in mind what you suggest when he spoke of the restraint of evil in Rom.13. All sin is a violation of God's law. You seem to broaden out much further than I think Paul is saying. Since all sin is a violation of God's law I'm not sure how you would avoid the implication that the state would make a window into men's souls - and then go after them.

Also, the silence in Galatians is telling. As you rightly say, Caesar did not have a law against blasphemy. The NT gives no hint of the Roman state becoming 'Christian'.

I don't want to misrepresent your position, so I'll ask the question: are you implying that Muslims should not be able to build a mosque anywhere in the US (not just near Ground Zero) and the LDS building I cycle past each day in the UK should be taken down?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi Jim,
As I see Romans 13, it is general description of the state's duties, with the details elsewhere in Scripture (mostly in the O. T.). Unless we let Scripture qualify Scripture, then we are left giving the state a blank check to punish all sins. Romans 13 advocates the state killing someone (since it advocates the use of the "sword," an emblem of exectution), so who decides, God or the state?

Scripture only advocates punishing external actions (and a limited amount at that), as opposed to sins of the heart.

In light of Matthew 5:17-20 and other texts, the proper hermeneutic is that all O. T. laws are mandatory unless modified, as opposed to today's popular dispensational hermeneutic, which says that everything in the O. T. is repealed unless repeated in the N. T. (M&M versus R&R)

I have seen no nullification of the civil aspect of the moral law. In any case, I imagine you probably still have a zillion questions (as I once did); if you like, kindly email me your email address, and I'll send you a free PDF of my book. Perhaps it can make things at least more clear.

Yes, I oppose Islamic and Mormon buildings. Although since our country is currently anti-Christian anyway, I'm more concerned with evangelism until, Lord willing, we get to the point that we are a Christian nation with Christian laws. At that point, forbidding the erection of such buildings would be a means of protecting the social order from treason.

Drew said...

Even assuming, as I do, that the Trinity is indeed a biblical doctrine, I don't see how even the OT could possibly support executing this guy just for teaching against it. He was not advocating the worship of other gods, or committing any other OT capital offense.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Drew, the thing is, a non-Trinitarian god is another god. But even that aside, Servetus committed the capital offense of blasphemy.

Drew said...

Blasphemy would be intentionally degrading God. I doubt that just teaching a false doctrine about God's nature would itself qualify as blasphemy. Otherwise, we would have the government dictating every aspect of theology. It would create an absolute police state. I just do not think the OT supports the idea that misinterpreting scripture counts was a capital offense. They had enough trouble just dealing with the pagans, witches, homosexuals, etc.

Also, I highly doubt that OT Jews had much formulated doctrine about the Trinity. So it seems doubtful that OT Jews would have executed this man.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

While some might dispute your limitation of the definition of blasphemy, the sentence indicts Servetus for a terrible degrading of God.

Also, the issue is not whether the Jews, subjectively speaking, did not have a formulated doctrine of the Trinity. The issue is, objectively speaking, whether the Bible considers a non-Trinitarian god a false god.