We are aware of efforts to “rehabilitate” Calvin, but what we know for sure is this:
1) John Calvin was very much in charge of Geneva. It was his doctrine and his concept of law that clearly dominated. Therefore it would not be possible to even have the option of a death penalty by burning at the stake without him having been in prior agreement to having this type of penalty on the books.
2) I have seen several “modern” Calvinistic textbooks that stress that Calvin, even though he brought the initial accusations against Miguel Servet, afterwards made a written plea for clemency. They then leave it at that and it turns out that the supposed plead for clemency is to have Miguel beheaded instead of burned at the stake. It looks to me like this supposed plea could very well have been written in hindsight because I have not been able to find any mention of it in the Spanish history documents that I have read on the subject.
In some ways this is similar to the murky circumstances regarding the death of William Tyndale where he was supposedly granted “clemency” at the last minute and was therefore “strangled” before being burned at the stake. I simply stated that Tyndale was burned at the stake because this was clearly the case, even if someone tried to strangle him first.
3) The Spanish history books clearly state that Miguel Servet was burned at the stake in Geneva because John Calvin brought doctrinal charges against him regarding his views on the Trinity even though Servet made a clear case for his belief from Scripture and the word “trinity” does not occur in Scripture.
4) In fact, the situation was so bad that when Casiodoro de Reina stood up for him and told Calvin that he was making Geneva into a New Rome, Calvin’s fury knew no end and Casiodoro de Reina had to flee from Geneva to England to escape being burned at the stake by Calvin and his fanatical cohorts.
5) The statement in the “To The Reader” intro to the Jubilee Bible is definitely accurate when it says, “the government of Geneva under John Calvin burned Miguel Servet at the stake over differences on points of doctrine.”
6) Pure and simple, John Calvin had responsibility in the matter because it was his concept of the doctrine of the Trinity that he wanted defended at all costs even to the point of sentencing any detractors to the death penalty, be it by burning at the stake or with “clemency” and simply having their heads chopped off.
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