Michael Servetus
What is the Christian way of Dealing with heresy?


Michael Servetus exchanged many letters with Calvin until he was denounced by Calvin and executed.


The turning point in Calvin's fortunes occurred when Michael Servetus, a fugitive from ecclesiastical authorities, appeared in Geneva on 13 August 1553. Servetus was a Spanish physician and Protestant theologian who boldly criticised the doctrine of the Trinity and paedobaptism (infant baptism). In July 1530 he disputed with Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel and was eventually expelled. He went to Strasbourg, where he published a pamphlet against the Trinity. Bucer publicly refuted it and asked Servetus to leave. After returning to Basel, Servetus published Two Books of Dialogues on the Trinity (Latin: Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo) which caused a sensation among Reformers and Catholics alike. The Inquisition in Spain ordered his arrest.

Calvin and Servetus were first brought into contact in 1546 through a common acquaintance, Jean Frellon of Lyon; they exchanged letters debating doctrine; Calvin used a pseudonym as Charles d' Espeville; Servetus left his unsigned. Eventually, Calvin lost patience and refused to respond; by this time Servetus had written around thirty letters to Calvin. Calvin was particularly outraged when Servetus sent him a copy of the Institutes of the Christian Religion heavily annotated with arguments pointing to errors in the book. When Servetus mentioned that he would come to Geneva, "Espeville" (Calvin) wrote a letter to Farel on 13 February 1546:

"Servetus has just sent me a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word; for if he comes here, if my authority is worth anything, I will never permit him to depart alive."

In 1553 Servetus published Christianismi Restitutio (English: The Restoration of Christianity), in which he rejected the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the concept of predestination. In the same year, Calvin's representative, Guillaume de Trie, sent letters alerting the French Inquisition to Servetus. Calling him a "Spanish-Portuguese", suspecting and accusing him[62] of his recently proved Jewish converso origin.  De Trie wrote down that "his proper name is Michael Servetus, but he currently calls himself Villeneuve, practising medicine. He stayed for some time in Lyon, and now he is living in Vienne."  When the inquisitor-general of France learned that Servetus was hiding in Vienne, according to Calvin under an assumed name, he contacted Cardinal François de Tournon, the secretary of the archbishop of Lyon, to take up the matter. Servetus was arrested and taken in for questioning. His letters to Calvin were presented as evidence of heresy, but he denied having written them, and later said he was not sure it was his handwriting. He said, after swearing before the holy gospel, that "he was Michel De Villeneuve Doctor in Medicine about 42 years old, native of Tudela of the kingdom of Navarre, a city under the obedience to the Emperor".  The following day he said: "..although he was not Servetus he assumed the person of Servet for debating with Calvin". He managed to escape from prison, and the Catholic authorities sentenced him in absentia to death by slow burning.

On his way to Italy, Servetus stopped in Geneva to visit "d'Espeville", where he was recognized and arrested. Calvin's secretary, Nicholas de la Fontaine, composed a list of accusations that was submitted before the court and took upon himself to be the accuser of Servertus. The prosecutor was Philibert Berthelier, a member of a libertine family and son of a famous Geneva patriot, and the sessions were led by Pierre Tissot, Perrin's brother-in-law. The libertines allowed the trial to drag on in an attempt to harass Calvin. The difficulty in using Servetus as a weapon against Calvin was that the heretical reputation of Servetus was widespread and most of the cities in Europe were observing and awaiting the outcome of the trial. This posed a dilemma for the libertines, so on 21 August the council decided to write to other Swiss cities for their opinions, thus mitigating their own responsibility for the final decision. While waiting for the responses, the council also asked Servetus if he preferred to be judged in Vienne or in Geneva. He begged to stay in Geneva. On 20 October the replies from Zurich, Basel, Bern, and Schaffhausen were read and the council condemned Servetus as a heretic.

When the Geneva city authorities decide that heretics like Servetus should be burned at the stake no matter what the law says, Calvin expresses his agreement:noting that if Servetus were to come, he would not assure him safe conduct: "for if he came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive."

 "Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are.  There is no question here of man's authority; it is God who speaks, and clear it is what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world.

Wherefore does he demand of us a so extreme severity, if not to show us that due honor is not paid him, so long as we set not his service above every human consideration, so that we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory."


The Calvinists have their version of story which tries to take Calvin out of the trial altogether.  Here is how it goes.  Servitus insisted that all creation form part of body of God since God alone existed in the beginning:

" The thirty-eight articles of accusation were drawn up by Calvin. Two examinations took place. At the second of these, Servetus persisted in one of his errors, namely, that all things, “even this footstool,” are the substance of God.

After further examinations, these articles, with the replies of the accused man, were sent to the churches of Zurich, Berne, Basle, and Schaffhausen, with a request for their opinion. Farel’s reply is worthy of record: “It will be a wonder if that man, suffering death, should at the time turn to the Lord, dying only one death, whereas he has deserved to die a thousand times.”


In another letter, written from Neuchatel, September 8th, 1553, Farel says: “Your desire to mitigate the rigor of punishment is the service of a friend to one who is your mortal enemy. But I beseech you so to act as that no one shall hereafter seek with impunity to publish novel doctrines, and to embroil us all as Servetus has done.”


Calvin establishes the heresy of Servetus before the Council.

All these circumstances prove that his trial was lengthy, deliberate, and careful; and quite in harmony with the requirements of the age. All the Reformers who were consulted approved of the sentence that was pronounced.

At the last stage of the trial, the discussion lasted for three days. The “lesser Council” were unanimous; and the majority of the Great Council were in favor of capital punishment, and so decided on the last day.

Sentence of death by fire was given on October 26th, to be carried into effect on the following day.

And now one man alone stands forth to plead for a mitigation of the sentence, namely, that another form of death be substituted for the stake. That one man was John Calvin. He interceded most earnestly with the judges for this, but in vain.

Both Farel, who came to Geneva for the purpose, and Calvin, prayed with the unhappy man, and expressed themselves tenderly towards him. Both of them pleaded with the Council for the substitution of a milder mode of death; but the syndics were inflexible.

The historian Paul Henry writes of this matter: “Calvin here appears in his real character; and a nearer consideration of the proceeding, examined from the point of view furnished by the age in which he lived, will completely exonerate him from all blame. His conduct was not determined by personal feeling; it was the consequence of a struggle which this great man had carried on for years against tendencies to a corruption of doctrine which threatened the church with ruin. Every age must be judged according to its prevailing laws; and Calvin cannot be fairly accused of any greater offense than that with which we may be charged for punishing certain crimes with death.”

The main facts therefore may now be summarized thus:
1. That Servetus was guilty of blasphemy, of a kind and degree which is still punishable here in England by imprisonment.
2. That his sentence was in accordance with the spirit of the age.
3. That he had been sentenced to the same punishment by the Inquisition at Vienne.
4. That the sentence was pronounced by the Councils of Geneva, Calvin having no power either to condemn or to save him.
5. That Calvin and others visited the unhappy man in his last hours, treated him with much kindness, and did all they could to have the sentence mitigated.

Three hundred and fifty years after the death of Servetus, a “monument of expiation” was erected on the spot where he suffered death at Champel, near Geneva. It bears the date of October 27th, 1903; but the unveiling ceremony was postponed until November 1st.

On one side of this monument are recorded the birth and death of Servetus.

On the front is this inscription:

«Fils respectueux et reconnaissants de Calvin, notre grand

réformateur, mais condamnant une erreur qui fut celle de son siècle et

fermement attachés à la liberté de conscience selon les vrais

principes de la Réformation et de l'Evangile, nous avons élevé ce

monument expiatoire».



“As reverent and grateful

sons of Calvin,

our great Reformer,

repudiating his mistake, which was the mistake

of his age,

and according to the true principles of the

Reformation and the Gospel

holding fast to the freedom of conscience,

we erect

this monument of reconciliation

on 27th October 1903”



Protestantism confesses its wrong by a monument of expiation as to Servetus. The proposed inscription on this monument is as follows:

“To Michael Servetus, burned for his convictions at Champel, October 27, 1553, victim of the religious intolerance of his time. The Protestants and friends of Calvin have erected this expiatory monument to repudiate all coercion in matters of faith, and to proclaim their invincible attachment to the gospel and to liberty, October 27, 1903."

How remarkable the fact of such a monument. In all the world, past or present, nothing like it can be found. Also, how historically accurate is its inscription. Servetus was “burned for his convictions;” he was a “victim of the religious intolerance of his time.” Some, indeed, there are who would make it appear that Servetus was burned for political rather than religious reasons, and so in a measure excuse Calvin, but the combined facts of history are against them. The burning of Servetus was the crime of Calvin. Protestantism must still bear the blame for the awful Genevan tragedy.


The following day he was sentenced to burning at the stake, the same sentence as in Vienne. Some scholars claim that Calvin and other ministers asked that he be beheaded instead of burnt, knowing that burning at the stake was the only legal recourse. This plea was refused and on 27 October, Servetus was burnt alive at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva.
Michael Servetus was born in Spain in 1509. He had a brilliant mind, was trained by the Dominicans, and went to the University of Saragossa. There he began studying the Bible, whose authority he accepted; but his interpretations brought him into conflict with the orthodox church.  

He discovered the Bible as a 17 year old law student at Toulouse. In that Book he found the real, historical person of Jesus, the Saviour who drew all unto himself and through him to the Father in heaven. This amazing truth, so simple and inspiring, transformed his life and moved him to take his discovery to the world.

In 1531 Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity, in which he said those who believed in the Trinity were really Tritheists (believers in three gods) or atheists. He said the gods of the Trinitarians were a 3-headed monster and a deception of the devil. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned it.
https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/michael-servetus-burned-for-heresy-11629984.html       http://uudb.org/articles/michaelservetus.html










Michael Servetus Burned for Heresy


 De Trinitatis Erroribus               Christianismi Restitutio
(On the Errors of the Trinity)           Restitution of Christianity  
1551                       1553






At the Augsburg Diet he heard the Reformers speak and in 1530 he approached them in Basel and Strassburg urging them to consider numerous problems with the current doctrine of the trinity. He was not well received.

Compelled to be heard by a wider audience he published a treatise, “Errors of the Trinity” with the intent to “set forth a truer statement of it, more consistent with Scripture, more acceptable to reason, and more helpful to piety.” He applied his training at law school with a precise writing style using many references, cross-references, quoting and alluding to at least 52 books of the Bible, six of the Apocrypha, and nearly 40 Church Fathers. Evidently this is difficult concept - Three separate persons to be One God.

"Although Christ is an elohim, yet he is one with the Father. Thus, no plurality is shown as they suppose, for he is an elohim, a kind of deity being shared by him with the Father."

He interpreted the proper meaning of Hebrew and Greek words as a biblical literalist, following lexical, grammatical, and contextual methodologies.

He insisted that “Scripture clearly interprets itself if you rightly compare one passage with another.”

p. 13. Christ is a true Son of God by nature; others are sons only by adoption.

     He is Son, and God is Father, in a higher sense than that used of men.

p. 16. God shares his full deity with Christ.

p. 17. Scripture plainly shows God and Christ as distinct beings

Harvard Theological Studies XVI The Two Treatises of Servetus On The Trinity in Seven Books
You can read this at http://www.teleiosministries.com/pdfs/Doctrines_of_Men/errors_trinity_servetus.pdf

"There are not three Gods all independent and self existing. The three co-operate with one mind and purpose so that in the truest sense of the word, they are one. Instead of being independent, they are wholly dependent on each other or interdependent. There are three separate and distinct persons that are called God in scripture. The trinity is one God, but three persons." https://ministrymaker.com/trinity-one-god-three-persons/

Likewise, the Holy Spirit is not a separate being, for that would result in a plurality of Gods. He noted the fact that the Bible frequently speaks of the Father and Son, but often fails to mention the Spirit. Servetus found that Scripture did not prove the unity of three persons, but rather harmony of mind and will between the Father and Son. The Bible he found had not one word about a Trinity, nor about essence, substance, or hypostases. These terms he saw were imported from Greek philosophy.

This is how we understand the concept of Trinity.




Melancthon and Oecolampadius both admitted that Servetus had made some good points.
Erasmus had even removed the main proof-text, 1John 5:7, from his Textus Recepticus.
Luther left the philosophical terms out of his catechisms.






Here is the introduction to the above 1932 version by Harvard University

Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus (also Miguel Servet or Miguel Serveto; 29 September 1511 – 27 October 1553) was a Spanish (Aragonese) theologian, physician and humanist. His interests included many sciences: astronomy and meteorology; geography, jurisprudence, study of the Bible, mathematics, anatomy, and medicine. He is renowned in the history of several of these fields, particularly medicine and theology. He participated in the Protestant Reformation, and later developed a nontrinitarian Christology, which led to his condemnnation by Catholics and Protestants alike. He was burnt at the stake by order of the protestant Geneva governing council, which was led by Calvin, as a heretic.

“He desired forgiveness of his mistakes and ignorance and sins, though he could never be got to confess Christ as the eternal Son of God; and to the end he held true to his convictions. Arrived at the place of execution he fell upon his face and continued long in prayer, while Farel seized the opportunity to make an edifying address to the spectators. Again exhorted to say something, he cried, ‘O God, O God; what else can I speak of but God.’ Then he asked the people to pray for him.

Being led to a pile of wood made up of small sticks and bundles of green oak with the leaves still on, he was seated on a log with his feet touching the ground, his body chained to a stake, and his neck bound to it by a coarse rope; his head covered with straw or leaves sprinkled with sulphur, and his book tied to his thigh. He besought the executioner not to prolong his torture; and when the torch met his sight he uttered a terrible shriek, while the horrified people threw on more wood and he cried out, ‘0 Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me.’ After about half an hour life was extinct. He had died and made no sign.” (A HISTORY OF UNITARIANISM Volume II A History of Unitarianism Socinianism and its Antecedents by EARL MORSE WILBUR, D.D; page 180-18)

“THE BURNING OF SERVETUS settled only one of the questions raised by his appearance on the stage at Geneva. He himself was indeed now removed from the stage, and could no longer spread his ideas in person. But the burning of the man, as Calvin and other champions of the faith soon discovered, by no means put an end to his ideas; while it did bring to the front a much broader, more important and more vital question, that of religious toleration. Calvin’s critics, in centering their attention on his responsibility for this tragedy, have largely overlooked the fact that in this case he was but the conspicuous embodiment of a policy toward heretics that was at the time universally accepted in principle by Protestants no less than by Catholics. It ought therefore to cause no surprise that from the most influential leaders of the Reformation this shocking occurrence called forth an all but unanimous response of approval.

All this, however, was solely on an ex parte presentation of the case by Calvin, who had drawn the terms of the indictment of Servetus which formed the basis of the prosecution and sentence, and had taken the pains to prepare their minds for it.

This approval was given by men not one of whom had had a fair opportunity to read and judge the book on which his conviction had been founded, if indeed they had even seen it, but who nevertheless endorsed all that vas done, without apparent hesitation or further inquiry.

Bullinger not only had approved of the death of Servetus in advance, but two years later he wrote that he was persuaded that if Satan were to return from hell and preach to the world as he pleased, he would employ many of Servetus’s expressions. Years afterwards he still firmly held that the Geneva Council had done its duty in this case.

Peter Martyr Wrote in 1556, ‘I have nothing to say of the Spaniard Servetus except that he was a veritable son of the Devil, whose poisonous and detestable doctrine should everywhere be hunted down; and the magistrate that condemned him to death should not be blamed, seeing that there was no hope of his amendment, and that his blasphemies were quite intolerable.”
A HISTORY OF UNITARIANISM Volume II A History of Unitarianism Socinianism and its Antecedents by EARL MORSE WILBUR, D.D; page 186-187)

The following quotation is added to give what Servetus was teaching - monotheism and unity of Elohim.  This is how the book starts:



Any discussion of the Trinity should start with the man. That Yahshua, surnamed Christ, was not a hypostasis4 but a human being is taught both by the early Fathers and in the Scriptures, taken in their literal sense, and is indicated by the miracles that he wrought. He, and not the Word5 is also the miraculously born Son of Yahweh in fleshly form, as the Scriptures teach– not a hypostasis,
Hypostatic Union: A theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human. Hypostasis means, literally, that which lies beneath as basis or foundation. Hence it came to be used by the Greek philosophers to denote reality as distinguished from appearances (Aristotle, "Mund.", IV, 21). It occurs also in St. Paul's Epistles (2 Corinthians 9:4; 11:17; Hebrews 1:3-3:14), but not in the sense of person. Previous to the Council of Nicæa (325) hypostasis was synonymous with ousia, and even St. Augustine (De Trin., V, 8) avers that he sees no difference between them. The distinction in fact was brought about gradually in the course of the controversies to which the Christological heresies gave rise, and was definitively established by the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declared that in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person (eis en prosopon kai mian hpostasin) (Denzinger, ed. Bannwart, 148). They are not joined in a moral or accidental union (Nestorius), nor commingled (Eutyches), and nevertheless they are substantially united. For further explanation and bibliography see: INCARNATION; JESUS Christ; MONOPHYSITISM; NATURE; PERSON. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07610b.htm] but an actual Son.

He is an elohim, sharing Yahweh’s divinity in full; and the theory of a communicatio idiomatum is a confusing sophistical quibble. This does not imply two Yahwehs, but only a double use of the term elohim, as is clear from the Hebrew use of the term. Christ, being one with Yahweh his Father, equal in power, came down from heaven and assumed flesh as a man. In short, all the Scriptures speak of Christ as a man.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit as a third separate being lands us in practical tritheism ( Tritheism is the belief that there are three distinct, each powerful gods, who form a triad. ) no better than atheism, even though the unity of Yahweh is insisted on. Careful interpretation of the usual proof –texts shows that they teach not a union of three beings in one but a harmony between them. The Holy Spirit as a third person of the Godhead [( The term ‘Godhead’ is the Greek word, ‘2320 yeothvtheotes theh-ot’-ace,and is only used once in the scriptures, which is in Col. 2:9. The context of its usage has nothing to do with a Trinity. The word could be translated Godness as it is in the Word Study Greek – English New Testament by Paul R. McReynolds. A similar Greek word is theiotes, which is used in Romans 1:20. Theiotes means divinity, divine nature. )] is unknown in Scripture. It is not a separate being, but an activity of Yahweh himself. The doctrine of the Trinity can be neither established by logic nor proved from Scripture and is in fact inconceivable. There are many reasons against it. The Scriptures and the Fathers teach on Yahweh the Father and Yahshua Christ his son; but scholastic philosophy has introduced terms which are not understood and do not accord with Scripture. Yahshua taught that he himself was the Son of Yahweh. Numerous heresies have sprung from this philosophy and fruitless questions have risen out of it. Worst of all, the doctrine of the Trinity incurs the ridicule of the Mohammedans and the Jews. It arose out of Greek[metaphysical] philosophy rather than from the belief that Yahshua Christ is the Son of Yahweh; and he will be with the Church only if it keeps his teaching.


Calvin, disapproving of the Athanasian Creed, only briefly mentioned the doctrine in his Catechism. Melanchthon in his Theological Sayings of 1521 pronounced the Trinity doctrine not essential to salvation.

Athanasian Creed
(The relevant part alone)

….……..Now this is the catholic faith:

    That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,

    neither blending their persons

    nor dividing their essence.

        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,

        the person of the Son is another,

        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.

        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,

        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.


    What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.

        The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated,  the Holy Spirit is uncreated.

        The Father is immeasurable,  the Son is immeasurable, the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

        The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal.

        And yet there are not three eternal beings;  there is but one eternal being.

        So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;

        there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.


        Similarly, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty,  the Holy Spirit is almighty.

        Yet there are not three almighty beings;  there is but one almighty being.

        Thus the Father is God,  the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.

        Yet there are not three gods;  there is but one God.


        Thus the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord,  the Holy Spirit is Lord.

        Yet there are not three lords; there is but one Lord………………."



Servetus proceded to France where he took the name Michel de Villeneuve. He studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine. Gaining fame as a physician, he came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood, and published a frequently studied book on the use of syrups in medicine.

The “Christianismi Restitutio” (the “Restoration of Christianity”) (1553) contains the first written description in Western Europe of the minor circulation of blood (i.e. the route of the blood from the heart to the lungs and viceversa). Those who wonder why this scientific discovery is contained in a theological book, they can find the answer in the nature of the system of thought of Servetus. As a son of the Renaissance, Servetus considered that theology, medicine, philosophy and the rest of sciences were not separated compartments, but interrelated sciences that allowed men to understand the Universe as a whole.

"The divine spirit is found in the blood and is in itself the blood or the blood spirit. It is not that the divine spirit is found mainly in the walls of the heart or in the parenchyma of the liver or brain, but in the blood, as God himself taught us in Genesis. 9; Leviathan. 7 and Deutenonomium. 12.” (Christianismi Restitutio, p. 170).



The Trial of Michel Servet, Geneva 1553

In 1540 Michael opened a correspondence with John Calvin of Geneva, asking the reformer what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God and how a man was to be born again. He criticized Calvin's replies and stated that those who believed in the Trinity believed in the spirit of the dragon, the priests and the false prophets who make war on the lamb….. Both John Calvin and the Pope were antichrists in Servetus' eyes. Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive.

In 1553 Michael anonymously published The Restitution of Christianity which he saw as an attempt to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. In that work he boldly--or rashly--continued to deny the Trinity despite the danger it brought him. Denying the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ were still capital offenses as they had been throughout the middle ages. Michael said Jesus was the Son of the eternal God but not the eternal Son of God. Contrary to the reformers, he also taught that both faith and works were necessary for salvation. He sent Calvin a portion of the work.

Roman Catholic authorities in Vienne discovered the name of the Restitution's author because Calvin collaborated in denouncing him to the Inquisition, and they arrested Michael for heresy. He escaped, however, and fled toward Naples by way of Calvin's Geneva. Vienne's authorities burned him in effigy. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching, was recognized, and arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy, although he was not a citizen and was just passing through town. He probably came to Geneva escaping from the Roman Catholic justice system where a heretic is to be burned as a tradition,  into a Protestant new form of Church -  who themselves were victims of the Roman Church-  to escape the execution only to find that Protestants followed the same rule of persecution.  Geneva was probably the first to impose these cruel punishments in the name of a Father God who is defined as "God is Love".

Doesn't it reminds of Calvins first lesson from Seneca's Clementia ?

“I of all mortals have found favor with Heaven and have been chosen to serve on earth as vicar of the gods. I am the arbiter of life and death for the nations; it rests in my hand what each man’s fortune and state shall be; by my lips Fortune proclaims what gift she would bestow on each human being; from my utterance peoples and cities gather reasons for rejoicing; without my favor and grace no part of the wide world can prosper; all those many thousands of swords which my peace restrains will be drawn at my nod; what nations shall be utterly destroyed, which ones transported, which shall receive the gift of liberty, which have it taken from them, what kings shall become slaves and whose heads shall be crowned with royal honor, what cities shall fall and which shall rise — this is my jurisdiction….."

This time not the Vicar of gods,  but the Vicar of God in action.

Michael was tried for heresy, this time by a Protestant city council. …

The Geneva Council voted to condemn Servetus for heresy and called for his execution. The Swiss churches of Berne, Zurich, Basle, and Schaffhausen encouraged this move. Although Calvin insisted with the rest that Servetus must die, he urged that in mercy Servetus be executed by the sword, not by burning, but the Council rejected the suggestion. It was quarreling with Calvin at that time over the city government.

On October 27, the day of the execution, both Farel and Calvin visited Servetus in his cell. Servetus begged for mercy and asked Calvin's forgiveness. Calvin said that he had nor become involved in the pros-ecution of Servetus because of any offenses against him personally. They then made a final attempt to get Servetus to change his mind about the Trinity, but without success. Servetus stood fast to his principles.  

"Being led to a pile of wood made up of small  sticks and bundles of green oak with the leaves still  on, he was seated on a log with his feet touching the ground, his body chained to a stake, and his  neck bound to it by a coarse  rope;  his  head  covered  with  straw  or  leaves sprinkled  with  sulphur,  and his book tied  to  his  thigh. He  besought  the  executioner  not  to  prolong his torture; and when the torch met his sight he uttered a terrible shriek, while the horrified people threw on more wood and he cried out, ‘0 Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me.’ After about half an hour life was extinct. He had died and made no sign.

But in the end, Miguel Serveto, (Michael Servetus, Michel de Villeneuve), was burned alive atop a pyre of his own books on the edge of Geneva, on October 27, 1553, crying out, “Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me.”

Calvin wrote about Servetus,
‘One should not be content with simply killing such people,
but should burn them cruelly.’”
(FBIS, “The Calvinism Debate”)









Stanford Rives

"Yet, there was another one charged with blasphemy who was equally innocent, although unlike our Lord, he was not divine This was Miguel Servetus. And like our Lord, Servetus was punished with death. This time the dispute appeared to be nothing more significant than a quibble over words. The defendant Servetus believed Jesus’ divinity was because Our Lord was the etemal Word. The chief witness and defacto prosecutor (Calvin) believed Jesus was divine because He was the eternal Son and etemal Word. Calvin, the head pastor of Geneva, insisted this ‘heresy’ of Servetus was also blasphemy, and that Servetus must be killed. Yet. the law of Geneva, which had been revised by Calvin after the Protestant Revolution of I 535 in Geneva, provided that expulsion was the maximum penalty for blasphemers.  There was otherwise no crime in the civil code of Geneva for mere

heresy. As a result, there also was no death penalty for heresy recognized in Geneva’s Civil Code


Calvin was blocked. Yet, by persistence. and vague allusions to other ancient codes of‘ sixth century Rome never enacted at Geneva, which even then did not provide for a death penalty in Servetus‘ case, Calvin convinced the laymen-court known as the Pen‘! (‘email to order Servetus’ execution. Hence, Calvin had a man killed on the accusation of‘ blasphemy who, like Jesus, was not guilty of blasphemy, and whose death, as a result, was no less a murder than the killing of Jesus.


In Calvin’s first edition of the Institutes (1536), Calvin wrote: ll is crimiual to put heretics lo death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity.” Indeed, just before he died, Calvin taught in his commentary on Ezekiel 18:34 that anyone like himself who had been regenerated can be unrepentant murderer and still can expect etemal life, contrary to what Apostle John taught.”


Calvin knew Servetus since college days in I534. ln approximately that year, they mutually planned a public debate which was cancelled. They corresponded numerous times until their correspondence ceased in 1543. Then in 1546, Calvin put in writing to Farel that Calvin would not let Servetus leave Geneva alive if Sewetus should set Foot in it.“ Calvin repeated such an intent in writing during the

Servetus trial of I553.”


How was this desire to kill someone over differences of opinion justified in Calvin’s thinking as of I546? This is difficult to explain because it was in this time period that Calvin adamantly insisted heretics were not to be killed, and instead must be corrected only by doctrine. Thus, how did Calvin rationalize his desire to kill Setvetus in this period of time when he espoused tolerance toward heretics‘?"

Three years prior to Calvin's death he wrote in 1561:  "Such monsters [i.e. Anabaptists] should be exterminated as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard"



This is how the New Advent Catholic Encylopedia describe the events of Servitus




"I am more deeply scandalized", wrote Gibbon "at the single execution of Servetus than at the hecatombs which have blazed in the autos-da-fé of Spain and Portugal". He ascribes the enmity of Calvin to personal malice and perhaps envy.


The facts of the case are pretty well ascertained. Born in 1511, perhaps at Tudela, Michael Served y Reves studied at Toulouse and was present in Bologna at the coronation of Charles V. He travelled in Germany and brought out in 1531 at Hagenau his treatise "De Trinitatis Erroribus", a strong Unitarian work which made much commotion among the more orthodox Reformers. He met Calvin and disputed with him at Paris in 1534, became corrector of the press at Lyons; gave attention to medicine, discovered the lesser circulation of the blood,  and entered into a fatal correspondence with the dictator of Geneva touching a new volume "Christianismi Restitutio," which he intended to publish. In 1546 the exchange of letters ceased. The Reformer called Servetus arrogant (he had dared to criticize the "Institutes" in marginal glosses), and uttered the significant menace, "If he comes here and I have any authority, I will never let him leave the place alive." The "Restitutio" appeared in 1553. Calvin at once had its author delated to the Dominican inquisitor Ory at Lyons, sending on to him the man's letters of 1545-46 and these glosses. Hereupon the Spaniards was imprisoned at Vienne, but he escaped by friendly connivance, and was burnt there only in effigy. Some extraordinary fascination drew him to Geneva, from which he intended to pass the Alps. He arrived on 13 August, 1553. The next day Calvin, who had remarked him at the sermon, got his critic arrested, the preacher's own secretary coming forward to accuse him.


Calvin drew up forty articles of charge under three heads, concerning the nature of God, infant baptism, and the attack which Servetus had ventured on his own teaching. The council hesitated before taking a deadly decision, but the dictator, reinforced by Farel, drove them on. In prison the culprit suffered much and loudly complained. The Bernese and other Swiss voted for some indefinite penalty. But to Calvin his power in Geneva seemed lost, while the stigma of heresy; as he insisted, would cling to all Protestants if this innovator were not put to death. "Let the world see" Bullinger counselled him, "that Geneva wills the glory of Christ."



Calvin himself discusses the subject of discipline in the twelfth chapter of the fourth book of his Institutes.  

"No society," he says at the outset, "no house can be preserved in proper condition without discipline. The Church ought to be the most orderly society of all. As the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the Church, so discipline forms the nerves and ligaments which connect the members and keep each in its proper place. It serves as a bridle to curb and restrain the refractory who resist the doctrine of Christ; or as a spur to stimulate the inactive; and sometimes as a father’s rod to chastise, in mercy and with the gentleness of the spirit of Christ, those who have grievously fallen away. It is the only remedy against a dreadful desolation in the Church."


He distinguished between the discipline of the people and the discipline of the clergy.

The discipline of members has three degrees:
private admonition;
a second admonition in the presence of witnesses or before the Church; and,
in case of persistent disobedience, exclusion from the Lord’s Table.
This is in accordance with the rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15–17)
This is the scriptural stand.
 "The severity of the Church must be tempered by a spirit of gentleness. For there is constant need of the greatest caution, according to the injunction of Paul concerning a person who may have been censured, ’lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow’ (2 Cor. 2:7); for thus a remedy would become a poison."
This will avoid the problem of deciding who is right in the case of doctrines and faith.

Was John Calvin's action in Geneva scriptural and in accordance with his own teaching; and in the Spirit of Father, Son or Holy Spirit?







"Heretics" who were burned or executed in
Protestant Countries


When heresy is used today with reference to Christianity, it denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.


"They that approve a private opinion, call it opinion; but they that dislike it, heresy:
and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion."
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Leviathan


The oath taken by Roman Catholic bishops at their consecration includes the following undertaking "with all my power I will persecute and make war upon heretics".


Each sect regarded itself as representing the one true Church. All the rest were schismatics and heretics.  Any wonder they crucified Jesus !


    Robert Barnes ( 1540), Smithfield, London, England

    Thomas Gerrard (1540), Smithfield, England

    Anne Askew (1546), Smithfield, England

    John Lascelles  (1546), Smithfield, England

    John Adams (1546), Smithfield, England

    Joan Bocher (1550), Smithfield, England

    George van Parris (1551), Smithfield, England

    Matthew Hamont (1579), Norwich, England

    Francis Kett (1589), Norwich, England

    Bartholomew Legate (1575–1612), Smithfield, England

    Edward Wightman (1566–1612), relapsed heretic, Lichfield, England

    Stephen Cotton (1558),[1] Brentford, England

    Michael Servetus (1511–1553), Geneva, Switzerland


Eventually Reformation learned its lesson that persecution of one sect by another which differs in theology  does not bring any particular advantage.  It was found to be self defeating.  This freedom of choice - the ultimate freewill of man gave rise to the Capitalistic Spirit which permeated the Christian world eventually. This was the fundamental freedom of Man in which Man was created.  That is the only way of having "sons' instead of machines and robots. God wanted sons, he had lot of robots ready.  Hence Adam was specifically created "in his own image" with ability to make mistakes and make choices and be transformed into the likeness of His Son.





Catholics saw Marin Luther as an instrument of the Devil

Here the Devil is shown playing him like bagpipes (1535)