He killed fifty-seven people; banished seventy-six. Confiscated property of political and theological enemies; took power by public revolt and despotism; he ruled with an iron fist. Iste Gallus – that Frenchman – was the first reference to him in official books and records of Geneva, but his name was Jehan Calvin; an incredible attorney, stellar theologian, a tyrant and a murderer.
“Dieu m’a fait la grace de declarer ce qu’est bon et mauvais – God has been gracious enough to reveal unto me good and evil.” – John Calvin
Without a doubt, our detractors will accuse of us being mean-spirited and unnecessarily rough in our treatment of Calvin, but what needs to be well outlined first is the context in which this conversation takes place. While I have many very good friends who openly subscribe to the doctrine of Calvinism, it has been my personal experience that many Calvin-ists display a very disturbing sense of self-righteousness and characteristics ranging from lone defender of the Elect, truth and the very essence of the Gospel of Christ to acknowledgement of a unique and lonely existence as God’s sheep in the midst of wolves and enemies. While these are not necessarily bad characteristics, they appear to take an overly negative and proprietary tone when Calvinists take them on.
The issue becomes even more disturbing in many instances when conversations and theological disagreements stray from theology and venture into the territory of deep personal attacks, obsessive behavior, stalking and public outbursts and wishes of personal destruction for those who disagree with them. Like their Maitre, many Calvinists view themselves proudly as the one and only defenders of Truth; and as they do so, they not only bear the name of their master by proudly calling themselves Calvin-ists but follow him in action too by actively rooting for the physical and spiritual harm of those who choose to differ in doctrinal matters.
By no means is this a Calvinist-only manifestation for sin permeates all men; however this does seem to be in my opinion – and the opinions of many I have consulted – a more common characteristic of Calvinists. Indeed, it seems as if many Calvinists wish to mirror their Maitre not just in doctrine but in all other actions, just as the tyrant himself forced his doctrine on the whole of Geneva, too often under the threat of excommunication and death. Is was quite normal for Calvin to get violently sick when he encountered theological dissent, with his stomach becoming severely and nervously affected by opposition, so much so that he would not sleep and eat and would often vomit bile. Such was the way Calvin handled disagreements, often dispatching threats of eternal fire with his warning letters to detractors.
And without a doubt, this will be perceived as a personal attack by our Calvinist friends who will likely take this honest and truthful criticism of their master as criticism of Christ himself, but I am not the one carrying the name of a man such as Calvin, nor am I afraid as Calvin’s contemporaries were, because God has blessed us with life in a country where we can freely speak our minds regarding both political and theological matters, and thankfully, no Calvinistic tyrant can climb the ladder of power and like Servetus, burn me at the stake, slowly, over matters of doctrine.
May it be as it will, I pray that however this message is perceived, it is perceived as coming from my heart, and may the outcome be on the heads of those choosing to ignore history, and those who choose to hide it because they shamefully equate “doctrine” with “Gospel” and because they seemingly choose to put the name of Calvin above that of Christ, perhaps not openly, but certainly in their action.
So the purpose of this article is not to insult or cause harm to any of my brothers, but rather to evoke the power of facts and history in regards to a man they hold in high esteem, and perhaps rightly so since Calvin was an illustrious theologian, attorney and politician, having had a great effect on the Reformation and the Christian world since his own time. But if illustriousness, political power and legal skill brings a man in accord with God’s will and brings justification for evil actions, then many men, including Nero, Hitler and Lenin would have been justified before God for their evil. And indeed, evil is what Calvin has done while reigning in Geneva. Evidently, killing heretics was so insidious that it came naturally at the time of Calvin; rarely was the death penalty opposed, and it never occurred to Christians as far as we can see that suppression of thought should be viewed as immoral and un-Christian. However, justifying the many executions and killings in Geneva with a Biblical framework is inexcusable regardless of the year and social context in which they take place, especially if we are to believe the Scripture to be the timeless, unchanging and inerrant Word of God.
So since the purpose of this article is to reveal history as it was, I ask you the reader to patiently read this not-too-lengthy analysis of Calvin and his actions in Geneva. There are many things covered, many names mentioned, so your patience may be required.
In the 1500s, Luther’s Reformation swept Europe quickly and brought about not just religious change, but a thirst for political freedom and independence. Many people recognized that just as the Catholic Church has little power and sway over the individual’s freedom, neither did the noblemen and un-elected princes of Europe. In Germany, the peasants revolted against the rich landowners out of sheer poverty and desperation, and they were slaughtered by the thousands. Ironically, Luther wanted no part of the political changes that came about as a result of his actions. Regarding the peasants Luther wrote: “They should be knocked to pieces, strangled and stabbed, secretly and openly, by everybody who can do it, just as one must kill a mad dog!” 
Tumult and excitement spread across the known world, and Geneva, a city state at the time, was no exception. After a few years of Catholic killing and bashing, the Catholic faith has been completely and utterly eliminated from public life in Geneva, thus on a spring Sunday in 1536, on May 21, all men, women and children of the burghers of Geneva gathered in the town square and raised their hands declaring that from this day forward they would all live exclusively “selon l’evangile et la parole de Dieu.” – By the gospel and the word of God.
This was the environment in which Calvin rose to power and notoriety, and because the Reformation was often brought to fruition through violence and destruction, the post-Reformation years were often confusing and seeped in despair for the commoners like the citizens of Geneva. The authority of the Catholic Church was missing, and the theological and political void was so strong that many local governments and states were desperate to prevent a total collapse of order and justice. And in this environment Calvin happened to visit Geneva at the age of twenty-seven. Having already written his famous Institutio, Calvin was a well-known theologian and was well-received by Farel the preacher, a man who was credited for driving the Catholics out of Geneva.
Farel talked Calvin into staying in Geneva, and on September 5, 1536, the city officially allowed “iste Gallus” – that Frenchman (Gaul) – to take on the responsibilities of a preacher of the gospel. So minor and normal was this action that the secretary taking minutes did not even bother to find out the name of Calvin; he was only known as that Frenchman.  Having been trained in the best seminaries and law schools of Europe, Calvin was one of the most educated men of his time. He was a brilliant and calculated attorney, a careful and impassionate theologian and truly put the whole of his heart into whatever work he was involved in; we are told that he would often sleep three or four hours each night, with his light burning among the Genovese homes hours before the city would wake up for its daily work.
Within three months, Calvin has created a detailed Catechism or Creed for the city of Geneva, and he submitted it to the City Council with the insistence that there could be no separation between spiritual and political matters, and that the city should immediately adopt it as law, down to the letter. Calvin and Farel’s proposed creed did not only outline matters of faith, but they were in essence State laws, and the City Council, while not educated on matters of theology, initially agreed to the demands but later recognized this as an attempt to usurp the democracy of Geneva and refused to continue their support for Calvin and Farel over many complaints from the citizens. Furthermore, because of continuous political pressure coming from Calvin’s faction, in 1538 the city retracted Calvin and Farel’s powers to excommunicate. As retaliation, at the Easter service, Calvin refused to distribute the Lord’s Supper to the entire city of Geneva, so the Council banned Calvin from the pulpit. The confrontation came to the two factions, sword in hand, facing each other in the middle of the St. Pierre Cathedral on Easter Sunday, where Calvin and his supporters forced their way against the wishes of the City Council. Bloodshed was barely averted, and eventually both Calvin and Farel were expelled from Geneva.
It was not until three years later when Calvin’s supporters gained a majority in the City Council and decided to invite Calvin back as their preacher that Calvin accepted supreme power in Geneva under some very strict conditions; he was to put forth an interpretation of the Gospel after which political, social and judicial structure would be defined. This manifested later through the creation of the Consistory, which was essentially a judicial court in which men appointed by Calvin, and Calvin himself would handle various offenses brought before them. These offenses could range from daily matters of morality such as dancing and singing, to doctrinal and theological matters which often resulted in banishment, confiscation of property and even death. It was rare that the Consistory opposed Calvin; in fact doctrinal matters were almost always deferred to Calvin and were left up to his own judgment. While Calvin was adamant to explain that Consistory decisions involved the entire group, it is now historically evident that he had a large amount of political sway over the members of the Consistory. There is in fact only one recorded instance I was able to discover in which the Consistory disagreed with Calvin over punishment, and that is in the case of a man named Troillet who refused to accept the doctrine of Predestination and refused to punish the man despite Calvin’s vociferous recommendations.
“…bete indomptable et feroce…une ordure…- wild and ferocious beast…a refuse…” – John Calvin describing mankind in Institutio.
With Calvin back in charge, Geneva was now on its way to infamy. Willingly subjecting itself to the worst kind of theocratic ruling, the citizens of Geneva were about to learn the value of freedom the hard way. The Elders in the Consistory were becoming very busy enforcing Calvin’s draconian regulations, so much so that well-established Church holidays like Christmas were banished. Incense, statues, paintings, music, the organ and even the church bells were destroyed or banished from use. In fact, the Elders of Geneva were allowed to randomly inspect all citizens at will. Grown men were tested on the memorization of prayers and women’s dresses were felt by the fingers of the Elders – if they had dangerous slits and frills, if they were too short and too long. They measured the hairdos of women to see if it was too high or too low, counted the rings on their fingers, and the pairs of shoes in their closets. They enforced dietary regulations to prevent one from indulging with too much meat, and to ensure that jams and sweets were not hidden in the kitchen; bookshelves were searched for any books not approved by the Consistory, and servants were questioned apart from the masters to ensure that truth was being told. No one was allowed to “make music” or enjoy anything that remotely resembled pleasure, and when Calvin was preaching, house visitations were made “where some slothful wretch was lying in bed instead of seeking edification from Master Calvin’s sermon.” 
But to be true to history, we should cover all of the actions of Calvin’s minions should there be enough paper and space allowing us to do so. Church informers would carefully watch the service to make sure that no citizen arrived or left late. They prowled the banks of Rhone to prevent late-night caressing and ransacked visitor’s luggage in inns and hotels for anything that would corrupt Geneva. Every letter that entered or left the city was opened. But perhaps the worst of the offence against freedom was that many citizens took on the unofficial role of “spy” that if a Genovese traveled to Paris or Lyons, he was just as much subject to the Elders’ enforcement as if he was still in Geneva. Truly, this sends shivers down my spine, because it rings true the Communist years spent in Romania where five out of every ten people were Communist informers and would turn in anyone and everyone would dare speak against the government.
But why stop there? Tailors were forbidden to create garments considered too extravagant by Calvin. Girls were not allowed to wear silk until they were fifteen, and women were never allowed to wear velvet clothing. Gold, silver, lace, golden hair, visible buttons, ornaments, curled hair, lace, gloves, carriages, meals with twenty or more people, parties, sweets, candied fruits, game, pastries, present giving, entering an inn, serving a meal without a prayer, printing books, sculptures, psalm-singing, naming children with non-Biblical names, and lastly, criticism of Calvin or his writings, were all strictly prohibited and severely punishable by the Consistory.
Death in Calvin’s Geneva
“Il est criminel pour mettre des hérétiques à la mort. Faire une extrémité de eux par le feu et l’épée est opposée à chaque principe de l’humanité. – It is criminal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity.” – John Calvin, Institutio 
While Calvin’s ascension to power in Geneva is both fascinating and deeply disturbing, the moral policing of Geneva is in fact not where Calvin’s enforcement power stopped. Thanks to the detailed record-keeping, we know the outcome of many of the practical aspects of Calvin’s theology and the methods of punishment, death often being not overlooked in the process. Let us take a look at just a few of the incidents listed in the minute-book:
- A man smiled while attending a baptism: three days in prison.
- A man slept during Calvin’s sermon: prison.
- Some men ate pastries for breakfast: three days on bread and water.
- Two men played skittles: prison.
- Two men played dice for a quarter-bottle of wine: prison.
- Man refused the name Abraham for his son: prison.
- Blind fiddler played a dance: expulsion.
- Man praised Castellio’s Bible translation: expulsion.
- A girl went skating; a widow threw herself on her husband’s grave: ordered to penance.
- Some youngsters stuck a bean into the cake: 24 hours bread and water.
- A citizen said “Monsieur Calvin – Mister Calvin” rather than “Maitre Calvin – Master Calvin”: prison.
- Two peasants discussing business matters coming out of church: prison.
- Man singing “riotously” in the street: expulsion.
- Two boatmen brawling: execution for both.
- Two boys behaving indelicately: burning at the stake, sentence commuted.
- Some men laughing while Calvin was preaching: three days in prison.
- Young girl insulted her mother: bread and water.
- Young boy called his mother a devil and threw a stone at her: public whipping and suspended by his arms to a gallows as a sign that he deserved death.
- Sixteen year old boy threatened to hit his mother and was condemned to death. Because of his youth, his punishment was changed to banishment after public whipping.
It seemed that with every sentence handed out, the Consistory was becoming more and more violent until death became an acceptable punishment for those who personally criticized Maitre Calvin. A man named Jacques Gruet was racked and executed for simply calling Calvin a hypocrite and for atheism. As adultery was punishable by imprisonment before Calvin’s arrival to Geneva, it was now punishable by death. A woman by the name of Anne Le Moine who supposedly committed adultery with Antoine Cossonez faced death together with her partner in crime. After both being severely tortured, they admitted to the charges of adultery and they were both executed; she was drowned in the Rhone and he was decapitated. Two other citizens of the best families in Geneva, Heinrich Philip and Jacques le Nevue were also beheaded at the orders of the Consistory for adultery.
While these punishments may seem in line with the contemporary lifestyle and the judicial systems of the day, there was no harsher punishment than of those who publicly criticized Calvin and challenged his social and theological positions. Thus a man who challenged predestination was severely flogged and expelled and a book printer who railed at Calvin had his tongue perforated with a red-hot iron and kicked out of Geneva. A woman named Copa de Ferrara was banished from Geneva within twenty four hours “or she will lose her head.” This was because she “uttered heretical expressions against Calvin and the Consistory.” In the two years of 1558 and 1559 alone, there were four hundred and fourteen such trials regarding heresies against Calvin and the Consistory.
As in any dictatorial and tyrannical society, those running the affairs of the government often exclude themselves from the requirements, responsibilities and the laws to which the citizens are bound. In 1542 and 1545, the plague struck the city of Geneva. But under these dire circumstances in which the citizens were dying by the thousands, Calvin’s strict rules went straight out the window. The same Consistory that insisted that “under pain of punishment every sick person must within three days summon a divine to his bedside” was now nowhere to be found. Calvin himself and his minions strictly refused to see any of the sick and were careful to stay out of danger. Not one single volunteer except Sebastian Castellio who was the school’s rector offered to be at the bedside of the dying and Calvin instructed his servants to declare him “indispensable” saying that “it would not do to weaken the whole Church in order to help a part of it.”
Ironically, many Catholic priests during these very same times gladly risked and even gave their lives in order to console the dying citizens of other cities like Marseilles and Vienna. The same preachers who have been demanding the highest sacrifice from the Genovese were now carefully staying away from those truly in need; thus due to the discontent of the people, the Consistory put on quite a spectacle: “Some destitute fellows were seized and tortured until they admitted having brought plague into the town by smearing the door-latches with an ointment prepared from devil’s dung.” Calvin fully endorsed these false charges and claimed from his pulpit that the “sowers of the plague” did a very good job and that as a punishment the Devil himself dragged an atheist Genovese out of his bed and tossed him into Rhone, all in broad daylight.
No better description of Calvin’s reign in Geneva can be used than that of Audin’s who writes: “There is but one word heard or read: Death. Death to every one guilty of high treason against God; death to every one guilty of high treason against the State; death to the son that strikes or curses his father; death to the adulterer; death to heretics. During the space of twenty years, commencing from the date of Calvin’s recall, the history of Geneva is a bloody drama, in which pity, dread, terror, indignation, and tears, by turns, appear to seize upon the soul. At each step we encounter chains, thongs, a stake, pincers, melted pitch, fire, and sulphur. And throughout the whole there is blood. One imagines himself in Dante’s Hell, where sighs, groans, and lamentations continually resound.” 
But while we may all marvel at the severity of punishment in relation to the crime, nothing comes close to the killing of Michael Servetus, a Spanish doctor, a refugee from the Spanish and French inquisitions and the hunting and persecution to the death of Sebastian Castellio, a friend and pupil of Calvin.
Sebastian Castellio and the Freedom of Conscience
“If Christ himself came to Geneva, he would be crucified. For Geneva is not a place of Christian liberty. It is ruled by a new pope, but one who burns men alive, while the pope at Rome at least strangles them first.” – Sebastian Castellio in his response to Calvin’s Defense of the Christian Faith
About two hundred years after Calvin, when discussing the life and events surrounding Castellio and Calvin, Voltaire wrote: “We can measure the virulence of this tyranny by the persecution to which Castellio was exposed at Calvin’s instance – although Castellio was a far greater scholar than Calvin, whose jealousy drove him out of Geneva.” Indeed, Voltaire seems to have understood the matters at hand very well, and if there ever was a spiritual hero to hold up, especially for us Preterists, Sebastian Castellio is certainly someone to behold and admire.
Born in 1515, Castellio was educated at the University of Lyons in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Having been educated also in German and Italian, he quickly became one of the most learned men of his time, speaking a large number of languages, and having vast knowledge of theology and astronomy. Having experienced the Catholic Inquisition in Lyons and being forever changed after seeing heretics being burned alive, he adopted the ideas of the Reformation and found himself soon attracted to Strasbourg where Calvin was exiled at the time. Castellio made a very strong impression on Calvin after only one meeting; therefore after Calvin’s return to Geneva, he was offered the position of rector at the newly created school in Geneva and the position of preacher in Vandoeuvres.
All was well for Castellio and Calvin in Geneva until Castellio decided to do a full translation of the Bible into his native language, French. While an extremely noble goal, Castellio in his innocence failed to anticipate the opposition he would receive from Calvin in this simple task. Because Calvin required all books printed in Geneva to be approved by him, Castellio had to meet with Calvin in order to secure permission to print his Bible and seek his endorsement. Sadly, Calvin already endorsed a French translation done by a relative so Castellio’s Bible was inconveniently interfering with his publishing enterprise, and Calvin was quite irritated with his pupil’s endeavor. In a letter to Viret, Calvin wrote: “Just listen to Sebastian’s preposterous scheme, which makes me smile, and at the same time angers me. Three days ago he called on me, to ask permission for the publication of his translation of the New Testament.” 
Calvin issued a blanket denial to Castellio’s request; he would only grant permission with the provision that Calvin would be the first to read the translation and have veto power to make any changes he considered necessary. This was in line with Calvin’s view of himself as inerrant and perhaps even divinely inspired. In a dramatic contrast to Calvin’s attitude, later on Castellio would humbly admit in the preface to his Bible translation that he did not fully understand the Bible, that he viewed it as a hard-to-understand book and that he could only offer his own interpretation of the text, not a certainty and inerrant commentary on it.
Castellio attempted to compromise and offered Calvin the most he could offer without offending him: he offered to read the manuscript aloud at any time that was best for Calvin and take all the advice from Calvin regarding the translation, but again, his offer was rejected without any explanation. It was after this disappointing meeting that Sebastian was appointed by the City Council unanimously on December 15, 1543 to the office of preacher. But since the appointment was done without Calvin’s approval, it was soon reversed at Calvin’s opposition. In a letter to Farel, Calvin wrote: “There are important reasons against this appointment. To the Council I merely hinted at these reasons, without expressing them openly. At the same time, to avert erroneous suspicion, I was careful to make no attack on his reputation, being desirous to protect him.”
Ambiguous words coming from Calvin, ambiguous enough that nobody on the Council could make any sense of, so much so that Castellio challenged Calvin to appear before the Council and explain what the “important reasons” again his appointment as preacher were. It turns out that these important reasons consisted of two disagreements over vague theology. Castellio declared that the Song of Solomon was insulting through the presentation of breasts who are “like two fawns that are twins of a roe” thus was not a sacred, but a profane poem; secondly he explained the descent of Jesus into hell slightly different than Calvin. Those two points of disagreement were quoted by Calvin as disqualifying Sebastian from the office of minister of the Gospel. Yet again, this confirms the absolute tyranny Calvin perpetrated upon the citizens of Geneva, considering his own interpretation of the Scripture as ultimate and inerrant truth, therefore demonizing anyone even slightly disagreeing with him.
Calvin and Castellio’s disagreements widened even more when during a public meeting, Castellio rose to his feet and proclaimed that clergy should no longer hide behind the Scripture and be held to the same standards they demand of others: “Paul was patient, but we are extremely impatient. Paul suffered injustice at the hands of others, but we persecute the innocent.”  How often have we Preterists heard this very same argument being made in our own defense, and how often have we also been attacked under the pretenses of “Paul condemned Hymenaeus therefore we also condemn you?” Castellio himself recognized the difference between Paul and Calvin and did not hesitate to point out that Calvin was not Paul, was not inerrant, and lacked the authority to make decisions and judgment calls as Paul did.
Calvin was finally fed up with him and charged Castellio with the crime of “undermining the prestige of the clergy.” Castellio’s profession was over. He asked the Council to relieve him of his duties and asked for the following dismissal letter: “That no one may form a false idea of the reasons for the departure of Sebastian Castellio, we all declare that he has voluntarily resigned his position as rector at the College, and up till now performed his duties in such a way that we regarded him worthy to become one of our preachers. If, in the end, the affair was not thus arranged, this is not because ay fault has been found in Castellio’s conduct, but merely for the reasons previously indicated.” 
After Castellio left Geneva, he lived in abject poverty, barely being able to provide even the most basic needs for himself and his family. He found himself often tutoring and proofreading for little money, and often did physical labor by digging ditches for food. Indeed, being one of the most learned and intelligent men of his time, an equal to Calvin, he was unable to find a job to match his qualifications, mostly because no one would hire someone that was on Calvin’s bad side and in order to avoid upsetting Geneva. But soon enough, Castellio would settle in Basle with a job at the local university. He would be quiet for a few years, until something atrocious upset him to no end. And nothing upset Castellio more than the heartless execution and outright murder of Michael Servetus.
The Murder of Michael Servetus
“He declares himself ready to come hither if I wish him to; but I will not pledge my faith to him; for if he did come here, I would see to it, in so far as I have authority in this city, that he should not leave it alive.” – John Calvin in a letter to Farel, seven years before the execution of Servetus.
There are very few inequities in the world that equal that of the early Reformed church spilling the blood of tens of thousands of heretics and sinners, and if one of these individuals should be identified above the others – should we be forced to choose – Miguel Servetus is perhaps the most striking of them all. Servetus was a Spanish man having one important thing in common with Calvin: he was also on the run from the Inquisition. While his education certainly did not match that of Calvin and Castellio, Servetus was also a very educated man in the historical context of the Reformation. In what Stefan Zweig describes a “Don Quixotic” style, Servetus was a man to challenge all things established; Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were certainly not revolutionary enough for him. So Don Quixotic was Servetus in his approach to theology that at the ripe age of twenty, he proudly declared that the Council of Nicea made the wrong decision regarding the doctrine of Trinity; and so zealous was Servetus about his ideas that he traveled to Strasbourg and Basle to meet with several of the leaders of the Reformation, like Martin Bucer, Capito and Johannes Oecolampadius to convince them that the Reformation needs to get its doctrine on Trinity “right.”
Of course, Servetus in his innocence greatly miscalculated. The Reformed preachers were furious with him. Bucer denounced Servetus from his pulpit as “a child of the devil.” Zwingli wrote about the “criminal Spaniard, whose false and evil doctrine would, if it could, sweep away our whole Christian religion” and Oecolampadius kicked him out calling him a “blasphemer and a man possessed.” But while this would discourage and rightly warn any person from further pursuing this line of action, Servetus became even more motivated to spread his ideas.
When he was twenty two years old, he published his first book De Trinitatis erroribus libri septera declaring both Protestants and Catholics mistaken in their doctrine; as a result, calls for his death on both sides became louder and louder. Bucer wrote that he deserved “to have the guts torn out of his living body” and the Catholic Inquisition actively started to hunt him down. Eventually, Servetus ended up assuming aliases under which he taught medicine (in Paris) and eventually became the personal doctor of the Archbishop of Vienne, taking on the name Michel de Villeneuve.
Having a hard time keeping himself from espousing “heresies,” Servetus found a way to contact Calvin in Geneva. The two of them started to exchange a large number of letters, Servetus being always on the offensive, trying to convince Calvin of the error of Trinity. While at first Calvin patiently pointed out the theological errors, he grew more and more annoyed and angry with Servetus’ insistence and correspondence. The last straw was then Servetus sent Calvin a copy of Institutio with corrections written in the margins. In a letter to Farel, Calvin describes his contempt for Servetus: “Servetus seizes my books and defiles them with abusive remarks much as a dog bites a stone and gnaws it… I care as little for this fellow’s words as I care for the hee-haw of a donkey.” 
Rather than realizing the deadly danger he was in, Servetus continued to send Calvin letters, culminating with a copy of his not-yet-printed manuscript Christianismi Restitutio (Restoration of Christianity or The Payback of Christianity) a play on words off Calvin’s book Institutio. Finally, this seems to have been the time when Calvin decided that Servetus will die, and this is when he wrote to Farel that if Servetus even comes to Geneva, he will not walk out alive.
The next several years were marked by silence from both Calvin and Servetus, until Geneva’s spies in Vienne discovered the true identity of the Archbishop’s doctor. As I learned of Calvin’s next course of action, I was blown away by the outright attempt to assassinate Servetus. Since Servetus was out of Calvin’s reach, Calvin decided to throw his opponent to the jaws of the Inquisition. At his request, one of Calvin’s subjects in Geneva wrote a letter to his fanatic Catholic cousin in Lyons. On February 26, 1553 the letter dispatched to Antoine Arneys reveals the true name of the Archbishop of Vienna’s doctor, even including fragments from his newly published books. This was a calculated move, and rightly so, Calvin counted on Antoine to immediately take the letter to the Catholic authorities, which is what happened exactly. But perhaps to Calvin’s disappointment, Servetus had friends in high places; by the time the inquisitors made it to Vienna, his printing press, copies of his books and any incriminating documents were all gone, and the Archbishop vowed for his own doctor, that he was a man to be trusted.
This enraged Calvin even more. He directed his Genovese friend to write yet another letter to his Catholic cousin, this time showing surprise at the fact that the first was turned over to the authorities, but also including incriminating letters from Servetus to Calvin, written in his own handwriting. Ironically, Calvin even lied later when denying that he had anything to do with the letters sent out to the Inquisitors. But as Zweig rightly asks, how did a citizen of Geneva get his hands on Calvin’s personal letters, and at last, why did this man, named Trie write: “I was so importunate as to declare that if Monsieur Calvin would not help me, the reproach of bringing an unwarrantable charge would attach to me, unless he handed over to me the confirmatory material I enclose.” 
Trie’s own letter proves Calvin to be not just a liar, but a man bent on the physical destruction of his theological detractors. How I tremble thinking of the cold-blooded, calculated steps taken by Calvin to ensure the death of Servetus; but disappointment was again to come soon to Geneva. After Servetus was arrested based on his letters to Calvin, good fortune smiled on him again – he soon escaped from prison and for whatever reason he found necessary, in August 1553 he entered Geneva and got a room at “The Rose.” And if coming to Geneva was not bad enough, he immediately went to St. Pierre’s Sunday morning service where Calvin immediately recognized him and had him arrested after the service.
Proudly and wishfully writing to a friend before the trial and before any evidence was brought to light Calvin said “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.”  But if the spectacle involving Servetus could even be called a trial, Calvin refused Servetus even the most basic human requirements. Servetus was chained into a dark room at the mercy of devouring fleas and was left to sleep in his own filth without any change of clothing. Treated worse than a petty criminal, he petitioned the City Council for better conditions: “Fleas are devouring me; my shoes are torn to pieces; I have nothing clean to wear…I beg of you, for the love of Christ, not to refuse me what you would give to a Turk or a criminal. Nothing has been done for to fulfill your orders that I should be kept clean. I am in more pitiful condition than ever. It is abominably cruel I should be given no chance of attending to my bodily needs.” 
It is apparent that even when the City Council tried to intervene and better the condition in which Servetus was imprisoned, someone intervened and ensured that the orders of the Council were ignored. What possible cruel conscience would allow for such horrible punishment and imprisonment of a man over matters of theology?
Furthermore, the conditions in which Servetus was imprisoned also affected his temperament, so much so that during the trial, he would let his temper get the best of him rather than deal with the questions at hand, although many of the questions were related to his private affairs, such as his sexual life and had little to do with the charges of heresy.
Eventually, on October 27, 1553, at eleven in the morning, Servetus was brought out of his prison cell and was taken to Champel, “there to be burned alive, together with the manuscript of his book.” Falling of his knees, Servetus begged the City Council to execute him instead by the sword, admitting that under the agony of the fire he “may repudiate the convictions of a lifetime.” This last request was refused, and purposefully, the pieces of wood setup for burning were chosen to be half-green rather than dry, so they would burn slower and cause more agony. The manuscript of his book which he mailed to Calvin seven years earlier was tied around his neck, and a crown of leaves soaked in sulfur was placed on his head.
After the executioner lit the fire, Servetus screamed “Jesus, Son of everlasting God, have pity on me!” Farel, who accompanied him every step, mockingly noted that should Servetus have called on “Jesus, the Eternal Son” he would have been saved, but the wording of his last cry proved his theological error and eternal damnation.
It is without a doubt that the execution of Servetus was one of the darkest moments in the history of Christianity. I have read every excuse on Calvin’s behalf, from blaming the City Council alone, to blaming Servetus himself for his own death; not once did Calvin take responsibility for arresting and killing a man who committed no crime in Geneva, and history itself shows that most likely, the killing of Servetus was a premeditated and cold-blooded affair.
And this is where Sebastian Castellio becomes enraged at Calvin’s outrageous and murderous actions. Responding to Calvin’s vain attempts to defend his actions and shift blame to the City Council, Castellio started writing under the name Martinus Bellius. In his Manifesto on Behalf of Toleration, Castellio appealed to a host of Church Fathers, and contemporary theologians. Rather than using masterful words to convince the audience, Castellio used opinions of theologians regarding tolerance. From St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Chrysostom to Luther, Franck and Erasmus all opinions quoted were against death and torture of heretics. Calvin’s own words from Institutio were quoted: “It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind.” 
Castellio masterfully demonstrated how the word “heretic” is subjective to each group of people; to the Catholics, a Protestant was a heretic, and to Protestants, a Catholic was a heretic. He plainly concludes: “When I reflect on what a heretic really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views.” If there is a man to admire for his cunning logic and theological common sense in the 1500s, Castellio meets and surpasses my expectations. Demonstrating that peaceful living can only take place when we control our intolerance of other opinions, Castellio put forth the very first thesis for a world in which various theological, political and social opinions can peacefully coexist.
Often Calvin is credited by some Calvinists with the very invention of democracy and freedom. Far be it from me to believe such a claim. If anything, we have seen that Calvin was a tyrant and a dictator. Rather Castellio and even Servetus should be the ones credited with the ideas of religious tolerance and freedom; and if anything, we can observe from the behavior and outright hatred coming from Calvin’s followers that Calvin-ism encourages anything but love and tolerance of those who believe and think differently.
Dedicated and with endless energy, Castellio continued his quest to demonstrate Calvin’s guilt in regards to Servetus. He set forth to write Contra libellum Calvini. Being well acquainted with Calvin, he took a line of reasoning from which Calvin could not escape. Using Geneva’s own minutes as evidence, he showed that the only charge of which Servetus was guilty was that “the Spaniard interpreted the Bible independently and arbitrarily, leading him to other conclusions than those of Calvin’s ecclesiastical doctrine.”
Castellio writes: “Calvin, however, taking for granted his own infallibility, regards his views as right and the views of anyone who may differ from his as wrong…who appointed Calvin judge concerning what is true and what is untrue? Of course, Calvin tells us that every writer who does not say aye to his aye, and no to his no, is an evilly disposed person. He therefore demands that those who differ from him shall be prevented, not only from writing, but also from speaking, the implications being that he alone is entitled to expound what he regards as right.” 
Sadly, because of Calvin’s power and Geneva’s influence, Castellio’s magnificent book was never published for another fifty years; there seems to be no English translation of the work. I will see to it that through my effort, or that of a translator, Castellio’s Contra libellum Calvini will soon become available in English, so that others may benefit from the work of this obscure but most excellent theologian. Being one of the first to espouse freedom of the conscience, toleration, mercy and understanding among believers, Castellio is often ignored in Christian circles dominated by Calvin’s theology; perhaps this is due to the fact that generally speaking, with a few exceptions, Calvin’s way of handling discord appeals well to certain individuals who mostly label themselves as Calvinists. This is true especially within Preterism, where Calvinist Preterists seem to be utterly unable to tolerate anything different or at odds with their own theological notions; furthermore they go above and beyond simple disagreement, actively rooting for the physical and spiritual destruction of their opponents.
Just as Calvin allowed only one opinion in Geneva, his opinion, such are those carrying his name still today. They hate, scorn, mock, destroy, kick, scream and attack anyone and everyone who chooses to think independently from them, be it on small theological matters, or drastic differences such as Trinity, Universalism and Predestination. Should we all be back in the 1500s Geneva, without a doubt they would be standing at Calvin’s side, warming their hands by our burning bodies; ironically, they do all this while actively professing Preterism, something Calvin would consider an outrageous heresy worthy of the most abominable torturous death in his Geneva. While it is not surprising, it is ironic and sad that of all critics, Preterists would take the unilateral attitude of Calvin and be so ready to condemn others over their differences. It is in accordance to history and the freedom of conscience first professed by Castellio and Servetus that I also profess my right to heresy.
I dedicate my work and research for this article to Miguel Servetus, Sebastian Castellio, Socrates, Galileo, Jesus and all the other “heretics” who lost their lives in their quests to reveal and unfold Truth before the world.
 Martin Luther, Against the Thievish and Murderous Hordes of Peasants, 1524
 The Geneva Council kept detailed minutes of all their meetings. They can all be found in the city archives and on various Internet websites.
 Calvin and Farel’s Creed was to be read at St. Pierre’s Cathedral every Sunday “until the people understood it.” As Calvin wrote, “We easily succeeded in obtaining that the citizens should be summoned by tens, and swear to adopt the confession, which was done with much satisfaction.” Those who refused to adopt the confession lost their citizenship rights.
 Complaints from the citizens of Geneva intensified when Farel refused to use unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper, and refused to observe Christmas, New Year, Annunciation and Ascension. The city of Berne was consulted on this matter and ruled against Farel.
 The Troillet case in 1552 came about after strong public reaction to the banishment of Jerome Bolsec, who also spoke against predestination. The negative public reaction motivated the Consistory to refuse punishment when predestination was publicly criticized – William Gilbert, Renaissance and Reformation, Lawrence, KS: Carrie, 1998, Ch. 14.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 57.
 This phrase appeared only in the first edition of Institutio and was later erased by Calvin in subsequent editions.
 Phillip Schaaf, History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII, Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
 Robert N. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1995, pp. 123.
 Paul Henry, D.D., The Life and Times of John Calvin, The Great Reformer, Vol. I, pp. 360.
 Ibid. pp. 448.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 70.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 71.
 Vincent Audin, Life of Calvin, ch. XXXVI. 354, Am. ed.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 89.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 79.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 82.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 86.
 When Castellio asked to be dismissed as a preacher in Vandoeuvres over his differences with Calvin, he asked for a letter from the City Council to prevent Calvin from manufacturing charges later on. The letter can be found today in the Basle Library.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 104.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 102.
 The entire paragraph in question from Calvin’s letter to Farel is: “Servetus wrote to me lately, and besides his letter sent me a great volume full of his ravings, maintaining with incredible presumption in the letter that I shall there find things stupendous and unheard of till now. He declares himself ready to come hither if I wish him to; but I will not pledge my faith to him; for if he did come here, I would see to it, in so far as I have authority in this city, that he should not leave it alive.”
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 112.
 Walter Nigg, The Heretics, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962, pp. 328.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 124.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 152.
 Stefan Zweig, The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin, Boston, The Beacon Press, 1951, pp. 175.