A huge controversy during the Protestant Reformation was in regards to the execution of Michael Servetus by the Geneva City Council. While many took exception to Servetus' execution, others took up the pen to defend it, including Theodore Beza, John Calvin's successor in Geneva and one of the great theologians of all time.
Beza's "Concerning the Punishment of Heretics by the Civil Magistrate" was an answer to the outcry against the execution of Servetus during the Reformation. But this work has ongoing relevance, even for today.
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Unfortunately, it was written in Latin, and no English translation appears to be available. However, Adam Jonathan Brink is currently working on a translation of this great contribution to Christ's kingdom in English.
Brink has previously translated another important kingdom work from Latin to English: Johannes Piscator's "Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses." In this tour de force of Reformed political ethics, Piscator discusses the relevance of the Judicial Laws of Moses for Christian magistrates. This series of arguments originally appeared as an Appendix to his commentary on Exodus, and was recommended by George Gillespie (Scottish delegate to the Westminster Assembly) as helping to resolve scruples regarding the Judicial Laws of Moses.
Translating the lengthy "Concerning the Punishment of Heretics by the Civil Magistrate" is no small feat, and as one can imagine, this can especially be time consuming when one needs to provide for his family. However, the translation project can, Lord willing, be expedited with contributions.
A total contribution of $7,500 can free Brink up to finish the project completely within a short period of time. However, every little bit can help bring the project closer to completion.
If you are interested in assisting with the project, you can send your donation to this address:
Theodore Beza Translation Society Charitable Trust
Theodore Beza Translation Society Charitable Trust
PO Box 4
Mt. Solon, Virginia
Some excerpts from what Brink has translated so far (see more excerpts at the Theodore Beza Translation Project page on Facebook)
"For when, as we have now often witnessed, and again give testimony, not unbelievers, nor those simply erring, nor every sort of errors, but only those among the seditious who are of unmistakable impiety, and are duly and soberly refuted from the word of God, are yet to be punished by capital punishment, when the magnitude of their blasphemy or danger requires it."
"'While heretics have no part in the kingdom of God, God cannot condone that the magistrate kill them, so that we do not make him in some way the minister of damnation. But to take life only belongs to the Lord. Therefore the magistrate ought not to murder heretics, nor usurp God's place.'
"[REFUTATION] Truly I answer in few words, if this reasoning did not prevail in ancient days under Moses, there is no reason we should suppose that it should prevail in our day, since Christ takes nothing away from the legitimate power of the magistrate."
"I say, then, Divine laws (or that civil law, being purely Divine) were at the first delivered to the Fathers of old by unambiguous utterances and oracles, and afterward by the labors of trusty men, at God's command, these laws being transcribed on both tables of the Covenant, by which rule the only Lawgiver will judge our whole world. Hence I assert that absolutely no other laws are to be imposed on the souls of men, nor can anyone add anything whatsoever to those, nor subtract from them (except so far as they are either political, or ceremonial, namely, to the extent that they were prescribed uniquely for that nation, and suitable to that time) without sacrilege and profane audacity."
Beza's refutation of the notion that magistrates should not be armed against heretics, since the majority of princes have abused their power historically:
"This argument has some color of reason, particularly among those who shudder to mention the butchery practiced by the Papists. But I invite such to carefully consider the entire matter with me. For if this line of reasoning prevails, it is certainly strange that the glorious and infinite wisdom of God ordained such a vigorous and severe law (Deuteronomy 13) in the case of such as are blasphemers and those who seduce others from the true worship of God, this danger was either not forseen or it was scorned."
Beza on the curse against blasphemers and false prophets in Deuteronomy 13, and the parable of the wheat and the tares:
"Besides this, if by these words of the Master of the household we should conclude that “It should be prohibited for heretics to receive capital punishment by the Magistrate,” likewise by the added reason, “lest the wheat should be rooted up along with the tares,” that is, lest with the evil the good are likewise plucked up, whether such are either good now, or at length will be good in the future. This I demand, If this danger had always existed of plucking up the good with the evil, to what purpose, then, did the Lord formerly establish such a severe law for blasphemers and seditious false prophets, that even entire cities, with even their good men included, were to be devoted to destruction, to such an extent that even their cattle were anathematized along with the city?"