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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 11. Protestantism and Religious Liberty.


Comp. Ph. Schaff: The Progress of Religious Freedom as shown in the History of Toleration Acts, N. York, 1889. (126 pages.)


The Reformation was a grand act of emancipation from spiritual tyranny, and a vindication of the sacred rights of conscience in matters of religious belief. Luther’s bold stand at the Diet of Worms, in the face of the pope and the emperor, is one of the sublimest events in the history of liberty, and the eloquence of his testimony rings through the centuries.4242    Froude says (Luther, p. 38): "The appearance of Luther before the Diet on this occasion, is one of the finest, perhaps it is the very finest, scene in human history." To break the force of the pope, who called himself and was believed to be, the visible vicar of God on earth, and who held in his hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven, required more moral courage than to fight a hundred battles, and it was done by an humble monk in the might of faith.

If liberty, both civil and religious, has since made progress, it is due in large measure to the inspiration of that heroic act. But the progress was slow and passed through many obstructions and reactions. "The mills of God grind slowly, but wonderfully fine."

It seems one of the strangest inconsistencies that the very men who claimed and exercised the right of protest in essentials, should have denied the same right to others, who differed from them in nonessentials. After having secured liberty from the yoke of popery, they acted on the persecuting principles in which they had been brought up. They had no idea of toleration or liberty in our modern sense. They fought for liberty in Christ, not from Christ, for liberty to preach and teach the gospel, not to oppose or pervert it. They were as intensely convinced of their views as their Roman opponents of theirs. They abhorred popery and heresy as dangerous errors which should not be tolerated in a Christian society. John Knox feared one Romish mass in Scotland more than an army of ten thousand French invaders. The Protestant divines and princes of the sixteenth century felt it to be their duty to God and to themselves to suppress and punish heresy as well as civil crimes. They confounded the law with the gospel. In many cases they acted in retaliation, and in self-defense. They were surrounded by a swarm of sects and errorists who claimed to be the legitimate children of the Reformation, exposed it to the reproach of the enemies and threatened to turn it into confusion and anarchy. The world and the church were not ripe for a universal reign of liberty, nor are they even now.

Religious persecution arises not only from bigotry and fanaticism, and the base passions of malice, hatred and uncharitableness, but also from mistaken zeal for truth and orthodoxy, from the intensity of religious conviction, and from the alliance of religion with politics or the union of church and state, whereby an offence against the one becomes an offence against the other. Persecution is found in all religions, churches and sects which had the power; while on the other hand all persecuted religions, sects, and parties are advocates of toleration and freedom, at least for themselves. Some of the best as well as the worst men have been persecutors, believing that they served the cause of God by fighting his enemies. Saul of Tarsus, and Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic saint and philosopher on the throne of the Caesars, have in ignorance persecuted Christianity, the one from zeal for the law of Moses, the other from devotion to the laws and gods of Rome. Charlemagne thought he could best promote Christianity among the heathen Saxons by chasing them through the river for wholesale baptism. St. Augustin, Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin were equally convinced of the right and duty of the civil magistrate to punish heresy. A religion or church established by law must be protected by law against its enemies. The only sure guarantee against persecution is to put all churches on an equal footing before the law, and either to support all or none.

Church history is lurid with the infernal fires of persecutions, not only of Christians by heathens and Mohammedans, but of Christians by Christians.

But there is a silver lining to every cloud, and an overruling Providence in all human wickedness. The persecutions test character, develop moral heroism, bring out the glories of martyrdom, and sow the bloody seed of religious liberty. They fail of their object when the persecuted party has the truth on its side, and ultimately result in its victory. This was the case with Christianity in the Roman empire, and to a large extent with Protestantism. They suffered the cross, and reaped the crown.

Let us now briefly survey the chief stages in the history of persecution, which is at the same time a history of religious liberty.

1. The New Testament furnishes not a single passage in favor of persecution. The teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles are against it. He came to save the world, not to destroy it. He declared that His kingdom is not of this world. He rebuked the hasty Peter for drawing the sword, though it was in defense of his Master; and he preferred to suffer and to die rather than to call the angels of God to aid against his enemies. The Apostles spread the gospel by spiritual means and condemned the use of carnal weapons.

For three hundred years the church followed their example and advocated freedom of conscience. She suffered persecution from Jews and Gentiles, but never retaliated, and made her way to triumph through the power of truth and a holy life sealed by a heroic death.4343    Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Lactantius made some of the strongest pleas in favor of religious liberty. See vol. II. 35 and 825.

2. The change began with the union of church and state under Constantine the Great, in the East, and Charles the Great, in the West. Both these emperors represent the continuation of the old Roman empire under the dominion of the sword and the cross.

The mediaeval theory of the Catholic Church assumes a close alliance of Caesar and Pope, or the civil and ecclesiastical power, in Christian countries, and the exclusiveness of the Catholic communion out of which there can be no salvation. The Athanasian Creed has no less than three damning clauses against all who dissent from the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. From this point of view every heresy, i.e., every departure from catholic orthodoxy, is a sin and a crime against society, and punishable both by the church and the state, though in different ways. "The church does not thirst for blood "4444    Ecclesia non sitit sanguinem,"a maxim held by the Catholic church even in the darkest days of persecution. When the first blood of heretics was shed by order of the Emperor Maximus who punished some Priscillianists in Spain by the sword in 388, St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Martin of Tours loudly protested against the cruelty and broke off communion with the bishops who had approved it. but excommunicates the obstinate heretic and hands him over to the civil magistrate to be dealt with according to law. And the laws of pagan Rome and Christian Rome were alike severe against every open dissent from the state religion. The Mosaic legislation against idolatry and blasphemy, which were punished by death, as a crime against the theocracy and as treason against Jehovah,4545    Ex. 22:20; Num. 25:2-8; Deut. 13:1-14; 17:2-5; Lev. 24:14-16; comp. 1 Kings 21:10, 13. The law was executed against Stephen, the protomartyr, Acts 6:11, 13; 7:58. seemed to afford divine authority for similar enactments under the Christian dispensation, in spite of the teaching and example of Christ and his Apostles. The Christian emperors after Constantine persecuted the heathen religion and heretical sects, as their heathen predecessors had persecuted the Christians as enemies of the national gods. The Justinian code, which extended its influence over the whole Continent of Europe, declares Christian heretics and schismatics, as well as Pagans and Jews, incapable of holding civil or military offices, forbids their public assemblies and ecclesiastical acts, and orders their books to be burned.

The leading divines of the church gave sanction to this theory. St. Augustin, who had himself been a heretic for nine years, was at first in favor of toleration.4646    He begins his anti-Manichaean work, Adv. Epistolam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti, written in 397, with these noble Christian sentiments: "My prayer to the one true, almighty God, of whom and by whom and in whom are all things, has been and is now, that in opposing and refuting the heresy of you Manichaeans, as you may after all be heretics more from thoughtlessness than from malice, He would give me a calm and composed mind, aiming at your recovery rather than your discomfiture. For, while the Lord by his servants overthrows the kingdoms of error, his will concerning erring men, as far as they are men, is that they should be restored rather than destroyed. And in every case where, previous to the final judgment, God inflicts punishment ... we must believe that the designed effect is the recovery of men, and not their ruin; while there is a preparation for the final doom in the case of those who reject the means of recovery," And in ch. 3 he says to the Manichaeeans, remembering his own former connection with them: I can on no account treat you angrily; for I must bear with you now as formerly I had to bear with myself, and I must be as patient with you as my associates were with me, when I went madly and blindly astray in your beliefs." But during the Donatist controversy, he came to the conclusion that the correction and coërcion of heretics and schismatics was in some cases necessary and wholesome. His tract on the Correction of the Donatists was written about 417, to show that the schismatical and fanatical Donatists should be subjected to the punishment of the imperial laws. He admits that it is better that men should be led to worship God by teaching than be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but he reasons that more men are corrected by fear. He derives the proof from the Old Testament. The only passages from the New Testament which he is able to quote, would teach a compulsory salvation rather than punishment, but are really not to the point. He refers to Paul’s conversion as a case of compulsion by Christ himself, and misapplies the word of our Lord in the parable of the Supper: "Constrain them to come in."4747    De Correct. Donatist, c. 6, § 24: "The Lord himself (Luke 14:23) bids the guests in the first instance to be invited to His great supper, and afterwards to be compelled." He understands the highways and hedges of the parable to mean heresies and schisms, and the Supper of the Lord to mean the unity of the body of Christ in the sacrament of the altar and the bond of peace. He says (ch. 7, § 25) that when the imperial laws against heresy first were sent to Africa he with certain brethren opposed their execution, but afterwards justified them as a measure of catholic self-defense against the fanatical violence of the Donatists. The result was, that both Catholics and Donatists were overwhelmed in ruin by the Vandal conquerors, who were Arian heretics. Yet he professed, on the other hand, the correct principle that "no man can believe against his will."4848    "Credere non potest homo nisi volens." See his Tract. XXVI. in Joan. c. 2, where he says: "A man can come to church unwillingly, can approach the altar unwillingly, partake of the sacrament unwillingly; but he can not believe unless he is willing. If we believed with the body, men might be made to believe against their will. But believing is not a thing done with the body." I am pleased to find an approving reference to this sentence in the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII. of Nov. 1, 1885. And he expressly discouraged the infliction of the death-penalty on heretics.4949    In a letter to Proconsul Donatus (Ep. C.) he adjured him by Jesus Christ, not to repay the Donatists in kind, and says: "Corrigi eos cupimus, non necari."

Thomas Aquinas, next to Augustin, the highest authority among the canonized doctors of the Latin church, went a step further. He proved, to the satisfaction of the Middle Ages, that the rites of idolaters, Jews, and infidels ought not to be tolerated,5050    Summa Theol. Secunda Secundae, Quaest. x., Art. 11. and that heretics or corruptors of the Christian faith, being worse criminals than debasers of money, ought (after due admonition) not only to be excommunicated by the church, but also be put to death by the state.5151    Ibid. Quaest. xi., Art. 3, where he says of heretics: "Meruerunt non solum ab ecclesia per excommunicationem seperari, sed etiam per mortem a mundo excludi ... Si falsarii pecuniae vel alii malefactores statim per saeculares principes juste morti traduntur, multo magis haeretici statim ex quo de haerisi convincuntur, possunt non solum excommunicari, sed et juste occidi." He does not quote a Bible passage in favor of the death-penalty of heretics; on the contrary he mentions three passages which favor toleration of heretics, 2 Tim. 2:24; 1 Cor. 11:19; Matt. 13:29, 30, and then tries to deprive them of their force by his argument drawn from the guilt of heresy.

The persecution of heretics reached its height in the papal crusades against the Albigenses under Innocent III., one of the best of popes; in the dark deeds of the Spanish Inquisition; and in the unspeakable atrocities of the Duke of Alva against the Protestants in the Netherlands during his short reign (1567–1573).5252    Gibbon asserts that "the number of Protestants who were executed [by the Spaniards] in a single province and a single reign, far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries, and in the Roman empire?" Decline and Fall, Ch. xvi., towards the close. Grotius, to whom he refers, states that the number of Dutch martyrs exceeded 100,000; Sarpi reduces the number to 50,000. Alva himself boasted that during his six years’ rule as the agent of Philip II., he had caused 18,000 persons to be executed, but this does not include the much larger number of those who perished by siege, battle, and in prisons. At the sack of Haarlem, 300 citizens, tied two and two and back to back, were thrown into the lake, and at Zutphen 500 more, in the same manner, were drowned in the Yssel. See Motley’, Rise of the Dutch Republic, vol. II. 504: "The barbarities committed amid the sack and ruin of those blazing and starving cities are almost beyond belief; unborn infants were torn from the living bodies of their mothers; women and children were violated by the thousands; and whole populations burned and hacked to pieces by soldiers in every mode which cruelty, in its wanton ingenuity, could devise."

The horrible massacre of St. Bartholomew (Aug. 24, 1572) was sanctioned by Pope Gregory XIII., who celebrated it by public thanksgivings, and with a medal bearing his image, an avenging angel and the inscription, Ugonottorum strages.5353    See De Thou, Hist. lib. LXIII.; Gieseler, IV. 304 (Am. ed,); Wachler, Die Pariser Bluthochzeit., 2d ed., Leipzig, 1828; Henry White, Massacre of St. Bartholomew, N. Y., 1868; Henry M. Baird, History of the Rise of the Huguenots, New York, 1879; Henri Bordier, La Saint-Barthélemy et la Critique moderne, Paris, 1879; H. Baumgarten, Vor der Bartholomaeusnacht, Strassburg, 1882. The number of victims of that massacre in Paris and throughout France, is variously stated from 10,000 to 100,000; De Thou and Ranke give 20,000 as the most moderate estimate (2,000 in Paris). Roman Catholic writers defend the pope on the ground of ignorance; but he had abundant time to secure full information from his nuncio and others before the medals were struck. It is said that Philip II. of Spain, for the first time in his life, laughed aloud when he heard of the massacre.

The infamous dragonnades of Louis XIV. were a continuation of the same politico-ecclesiastical policy on a larger scale, aiming at the complete destruction of Protestantism in France, in violation of the solemn edict of his grandfather (1598, revoked 1685), and met the full approval of the Roman clergy, including Bishop Bossuet, the advocate of Gallican liberties.5454    See the French histories of Martin, Benoit, Michelet, De Félice, Ranke, Soldan, Von Polenz, and other works quoted by H. M. Baird in Schaff-Herzog II., 1037. The number of French refugees is estimated as high as 800,000; Baird reduces it to 400,000. Martin thinks, that taking all in all, "France lost the activity of more than a million of men, and of the men that produced most." Many of the descendants of the refugees whom the Elector Frederic William of Prussia so hospitably invited to Berlin, fought against France in the Napoleonic wars, and aided in the terrible retribution of 1870.

The most cruel of the many persecutions of the innocent Waldenses in the valleys of Piedmont took place in 1655, and shocked by its boundless violence the whole Protestant world, calling forth the vigorous protest of Cromwell and inspiring the famous sonnet of Milton, his foreign secretary:


"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,

Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,

When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones."


These persecutions form the darkest, we may say, the satanic chapters in church history, and are a greater crime against humanity and Christianity than all the heresies which they in vain tried to eradicate.

The Roman church has never repented of her complicity with these unchristian acts. On the contrary, she still holds the principle of persecution in connection with her doctrine that there is no salvation outside of her bosom. The papal Syllabus of 1864 expressly condemns, among the errors of modern times, the doctrine of religious toleration.5555    Among the errors condemned are these, § X., 78 and 79: "In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion shall be held as the only religion of the state, to the exclusion of all other modes of worship.""Whence it has been wisely provided by law, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own worship." The condemnation of toleration implies the approval of intolerance. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, II., 232. Janssen, while he condemns the Protestant persecutions of Catholics, approves the Catholic persecutions of Protestants in the time of the Reformation. He says: "Für die katholische Geistlichkeit, die katholischen Fürsten und Magistrate und das katholsche Volk war es ein Kampf der Sebsterhaltung, wenn sie Alles aufboten, um dem Protestantismus den Eingang in ihre Gebiete zu wehren und ihn, wenn er eingedrungen war, daraus wieder zu entfernen." -Geschichte des deutschen Volkes, III., 193. Leo XIII., a great admirer of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Encyclical of Nov. 1, 1885, "concerning the Christian constitution of states," wisely moderates, but reaffirms, in substance, the political principles of his predecessor.5656    After glorifying the Middle Ages and the hierarchical rule of the church over the state, Leo XIII. in that Encyclical proceeds to say: "No doubt the same excellent state of things would have continued, if the agreement of the two powers had continued, and greater things might rightfully have been expected, if men had obeyed the authority, the teaching office, and the counsels of the church with more fidelity and perseverance. For that is to be regarded as a perpetual law which Ivo, of Chartres, wrote to Pope Paschal II.: ’When kingship and priesthood are agreed, the world is well ruled, the church flourishes and bears fruit. But when they are at variance, not only do little things not grow, but even great things fall into miserable ruin and decay.’ " Then the pope rejects among the evil consequences of the "revolution" of the sixteenth century (meaning, of course, the Reformation) the erroneous opinion that "no religion should be publicly professed [by the state]; nor ought one to be preferred to the rest; nor ought there to be any inquiry which of many is alone true; nor ought one to be specially favored, but to each alike equal rights ought to be assigned, provided only, that the social order incurs no injury from them." This is probably aimed at Italy and France, but implies also a condemnation of the separation of church and state as it exists in the United States. Further on, the pope approvingly refers to the Encyclical Mirari Vos of Gregory XVI. (Aug. 15, 1832), which condemns the separation of church and state, and to the Syllabus of Pius IX., who "noted many false opinions and ordered them to be collected together in order that in so great a conflux of errors Catholics might have something which they might follow without stumbling." A revocation would be fatal to the Vatican dogma of papal infallibility. The practice of persecution is a question of power and expediency; and although isolated cases still occur from time to time,5757    Thus, in 1852, the Madiai family were imprisoned in Florence for holding prayer meetings and reading the Bible, and in 1853, Matamoras, Carrasco and their friends were imprisoned and condemned to the galleys at Madrid for the same offense, and were only released after a powerful protest of an international deputation of the Evangelical Alliance. No public worship except the Roman Catholic was tolerated in the city of Rome before 1870. the revival of mediaeval intolerance is an impossibility, and would be condemned by intelligent and liberal Roman Catholics as a folly and a crime.

3. The Protestant theory and practice of persecution and toleration.

(a) The Lutheran Reformers and Churches.

Luther was the most advanced among the Reformers in the ideas of toleration and liberty. He clearly saw the far-reaching effect of his own protest against Rome, and during his storm- and pressure-period, from 1517 to 1521, he was a fearless champion of liberty. He has left some of the noblest utterances against coërcion in matters of conscience, which contain almost every essential feature of the modern theory on the subject. He draws a sharp line between the temporal power which is confined to the body and worldly goods, and the spiritual government which belongs to God. He says that "no one can command or ought to command the soul, except God, who alone can show it the way to heaven;" that "the thoughts and mind of man are known only to God;" that "it is futile and impossible to command, or by force to compel any man’s belief;" that "heresy is a spiritual thing which no iron can hew down, no fire burn, no water drown;" that "belief is a free thing which cannot be enforced."5858    See his tract, written in 1523, Von weltlicher Obrigkeit, wie weit man ihr Gehorsam schuldig sei? In Walch X. 426-479, especially the second part, col. 451 sqq. "Der Seelen kann und soll niemand gebieten, er wisse denn ihr den Weg zu weisen gen Himmel. Das kann aber kein Mensch thun, sondern Gott allein. Darum in den Sachen, die der Seelen Seligkeit betreffen, soll nichts denn Gottes Wort gelehret und angenommenwerden" (453). Es ist ein frei Werk um den Glauben, dazu man niemand kann zwingen ... Zum Glauben kann und soll man niemand zwingen" (455 sq.). He justly confines the duty of obedience taught in Rom. 13:1, and 1 Pet. 2:13, to secular matters, and qualifies them by Matt. 22:21. He opposed the doctrine of the Anabaptists with every argument at his command, but disapproved the cruel persecution to which they were subjected in Protestant as well as Catholic countries. "It is not right," he said in a book against them (1528), "and I deeply regret that such wretched people should be so miserably murdered, burned, and cruelly put to death; every one should be allowed to believe what he pleases. If he believes wrongly, he will have punishment enough in the eternal fire of hell. Why should they be tortured in this life also?"5959    Von der Wiedertaufe, an zwei Pfarrherrn, written in Dec., 1527 or Jan., 1528, and addressed to two pastors in a Roman Catholic country (probably under the rule of Duke George of Saxony). See Walch XVII., 2644, and the Erl. Frankf. ed. xxvi., or of the Reformations-historische Schriften III. (2d ed. 1885), p. 283, from which I quote the whole passage: "Doch ist’s nicht recht, und ist mir wahrlich leid, dass man solche elende Lente so jämmerlich ermordet, verbrennet und greulich umbringt; man sollte, ja einen jeglichen lassen gläuben, was er wollt. Gläubet er unrecht, so hat er gnug Strafen an dem ewigen Feur in der Höllen. Warumb will man sie denn auch noch zeitlich martern, so ferne sie allein im Glauben irren, und nicht auch daneben aufruhrisch oder sonst der Oeberkeit widerstreben? Lieber Gott, wie bald ists geschehen, dass einer irre wird und dem Teufel in Strick fället! Mit der Schrift und Gottes Wort sollt man ihn wehren und widerstehen; mit Feuer wird man wenig ausrichten." If heretics were to be punished by death, the hangman would be the best (the most orthodox) theologian. "I can in no way admit," he wrote to his friend Link in 1528, "that false teachers should be put to death: it is enough that they should be banished ."6060    Briefe, de Wette III., 347 sq.: "Quod quaeris, an liceat magistratui accidere pseudoprophetas? Ego ad judiciam sanguinis tardus sum, etiam ubi meritum abundat ... Nullo modo possum admittere, falsos doctores occidi; satis est eos relegari." He gives as a reason that the law of the death penalty among the Jews and Papists was made a pretext for killing true prophets and saints.

To this extent, then, he favored punishment of heretics, but no further. He wanted them to be silenced or banished by the government. He spent his violence in words, in which he far outstripped friends and foes, and spared neither papists, nor Zwinglians, nor Anabaptists, nor even temporal princes like Henry VIII., Duke George of Saxony, and Duke Henry of Brunswick.6161    His coarse attack on Henry VIII., "by God’s disfavor (or disgrace, Ungnade) king of England," is well known. In his book, Von weltlicher Obrigkeit, which is dedicated to his own prince, Duke John, he ventures the opinion that wise and pious rulers have from the beginning of the world been rare birds, and that princes are usually the greatest fools or worst boobies on earth (sie sind gemeiniglich die grössten Narren oder die ärgsten Buben auf Erden). Walch X., 460 and 464."Es sind gar wenig Fürsten, die man nicht für Narren und Buben hält. Das macht, sie bewiesen sich auch also, und der gemeine Mann wird verständig."Ibid., 464. But his acts of intolerance are few. He refused the hand of fellowship to Zwingli, and would not have tolerated him at Wittenberg. He begged the elector, John, to prevent a certain Hans Mohr from spreading Zwinglian opinions in Coburg. He regretted the toleration of the Zwinglians in Switzerland after their defeat, which he uncharitably interpreted as a righteous judgment of God.6262    In a letter to Albrecht of Brandenburg, a. 1532, after he heard of Zwingli’s death. De Wette IV., 349-355. In the same letter he speaks of Zwingli’s salvation only problematically, as having possibly occurred in the last moment! He lays there the greatest stress on the real presence as a fundamental article of faith.

A few words on his views concerning the toleration of the Jews who had to suffer every indignity from Christians, as if they were personally responsible for the crime of the crucifixion. Luther was at first in advance of public opinion. In 1523 he protested against the cruel treatment of the Jews, as if they were dogs, and not human beings, and counseled kindness and charity as the best means of converting them. If the apostles, he says, who were Jews, had dealt with the heathen, as we heathen Christians deal with the Jews, no heathen would ever have been converted, and I myself, if I were a Jew, would rather become anything else than a Christian.6363    See his tract entitled Dass Jesus Christus ein geborner Jude sei, in the Erl. Frkf. ed. Bd. XIX., p. 45-75. He says that if I were a Jew and suffered what the Jews had to suffer from popes, bishops and monks, "so wäre ich eher eine Sau worden denn ein Christ. Denn sie haben mit den Juden gehandelt, als wären es Hunde, und nicht Menschen" (p. 47). But in 1543 he wrote two violent books against the Jews.6464    Von den Jüden und ihren Lügen, Wittenb., 1543, and Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi, Wittenb., 1543. In the Erl. Frkf. ed. Bd. XXXII., 99-274, and 275-358. His intercourse with several Rabbis filled him with disgust and indignation against their pride, obstinacy and blasphemies. He came to the conclusion that it was useless to dispute with them and impossible to convert them. Moses could do nothing with Pharaoh by warnings, plagues and miracles, but had to let him drown in the Red Sea. The Jews would crucify their expected Messiah, if he ever should come, even worse than they crucified the Christian Messiah. They are a blind, hard, incorrigible race.6565    "Ein Jüde oder jüdisch Herz ist so stock-stein-eisen-teufel-hart, dass es mit keiner Weise zu bewegen ist ... Summa, es sind junge Teufel, zur Höllen verdammt" (l.c. p. 276). He had no hope of the future conversion of the Jews, which some justly derived from Rom. 11, but "St. Paulus meinet gar viel ein Anderes" (277). He went so far as to advise their expulsion from Christian lands, the prohibition of their books, and the burning of their synagogues and even their houses in which they blaspheme our Saviour and the Holy Virgin. In the last of his sermons, preached shortly before his death at Eisleben, where many Jews were allowed to trade, he concluded with a severe warning against the Jews as dangerous public enemies who ought not to be tolerated, but left the alternative of conversion or expulsion.6666    "Vermahnung wider die Jüden," 1546, Erl. ed. LXV., 186-188. He concludes: Wollen sich die Jüden zu uns bekehren und von ihrer Lästerung und was sie uns sonst gethan haben, aufhören, so wollen wir es ihnen gerne vergeben: wo aber nicht, so sollen wir sie auch bei uns nicht dulden noch leiden."This reminds one of the way in which Prince Bismarck in the year 1886 proposed to deal with the Poles in Posen as enemies of Prussia and Germany: to buy them out, and expel them from the land of their birth. In several other respects, both favorable and unfavorable, that great statesman may be called the political Luther of the nineteenth century.

Melanchthon, the mildest of the Reformers, went—strange to say—a step further than Luther, not during his lifetime, but eight years after his death, and expressly sanctioned the execution of Servetus for blasphemy in the following astounding letter to Calvin, dated Oct. 14, 1554: "Reverend sir and dearest brother: I have read your work in which you have lucidly refuted the horrible blasphemies of Servetus, and I thank the Son of God, who has been the arbiter (brabeuthv") of this your contest. The church, both now and in all generations, owes and will owe you a debt of gratitude. I entirely assent to your judgment. (Tuo judicio prorsus adsentior.) And I say, too, that your magistrates did right in that, after solemn trial, they put the blasphemer (hominem blasphemum) to death."6767    Corpus Reform. Opera Mel. VIII., 362. Comp. H. Tollin, Ph. Melanchthon und M. Servet. Eine Quellen-Studie. Berlin, 1876 (198 pages). Tollin wrote several monographs on Servetus in his various relations. He expressed here his deliberate conviction to which he adhered. Three years later, in a warning against the errors of Theobald Thammer, he called the execution of Servetus "a pious and memorable example to all posterity."6868    Ibid., IX., 133: "Dedit vero et Genevensis Reipubl. Magistratus ante annos quatuor punitae insanabilis blasphemiae adversus Filium Dei, sublato Serveto Arragone, pium et memorabile ad omnem posteritatem exemplum." We cannot tell what Luther might have said in this case had he lived at that time. It is good for his reputation that he was spared the trial.6969    Luther knew only the Servetus of 1531, and once refers to him in his Table-Talk, as a fanatic who mastered theology by false philosophy. See Tollin, Luther und Servet, Berlin, 1875 (61 pages).

The other Lutheran Reformers agreed essentially with the leaders. They conceded to the civil ruler the control over the religious as well as political opinions of their subjects. Martin Bucer went furthest in this direction and taught in his "Dialogues" (1535) the right and the duty of Christian magistrates to reform the church, to forbid and punish popish idolatry, and all false religions, according to the full rigor of the Mosaic law.7070    See Tollin, Butzer’s Confutatio der Libri VII. De Trinitatis Erroribus, in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1875; and Michael Servet und Martin Butzer, Berlin, 1880; Baum, Capito und Butzer (1860), pp. 489 sq., 478, and 495 sq.; also Janssen, Gesch. des deutschen Volkes, vol. III., 194.

In accordance with these views of the Lutheran Reformers the Roman Catholics in Lutheran countries were persecuted, not, indeed, by shedding their blood as the blood of Protestants was shed in Roman Catholic countries, but by the confiscation of their church property, the prohibition of their worship, and, if it seemed necessary, by exile. In the reorganization of the church in Electoral Saxony in 1528, under the direction of the Wittenberg Reformers, the popish priests were deprived of their benefices, and even obstinate laymen were forced to sell their property and to leave their country. "For," said the Elector, "although it is not our intention to bind any one to what he is to believe and hold, yet will we, for the prevention of mischievous tumult and other inconveniences, suffer neither sect nor separation in our territory."7171    "Denn wiewohl unsere Meinung nicht ist, jemand zu verbinden, was er glauben und halten soll, so wollen wir doch zur Verhütung schädlicher Aufruhre und anderer Unrichtigkeiten keine Sekten noch Trennung in unseren Landen dulden." Köstlin II., 29. What a difference between this restriction and the declaration of Frederick the Great, that in his dominions every body may be saved after his own fashion (nach seiner eigenen Façon).

The Protestant dissenters fared no better in Lutheran Saxony. The Philippists (Melanchthonians) or Crypto-Calvinists were outlawed, and all clergymen, professors and school teachers who would not subscribe the Formula of Concord, were deposed (1580). Dr. Caspar Peucer, Melanchthon’s son-in-law, professor of medicine at Wittenberg and physician to the Elector Augustus of Saxony, was imprisoned for ten years (1576–1586) for no other crime than "Philippism" (i.e. Melanchthonianism), and Nicolas Crell, the chancellor of Saxony, was, after ten years’ confinement, beheaded at Dresden for favoring Crypto-Calvinism at home and supporting the Huguenots abroad, which was construed as high treason (1601).7272    Fr. Koch, De Vita Caspar. Peuceri Marburg, 1856. Richard, Der churfürstl. sächs. Kanzler Dr. Nic. Krell. Dresden, 1859, 2 vols. Henke, Kaspar Peucer und Nik. Krell, Marburg, 1865. Calinich, Kampf und Untergang des Melathonismus in Kursachsen, Leipzig, 1866; Zwei sächsische Kanzler, Chemnitz, 1868. Since that time the name of Calvin was as much hated in Saxony as the name of the Pope and the Turk.7373    The following lines were familiar during the seventeenth century:
   "Gottes Wort und Lutheri Schrift

   Sind des Papst’s und Calvini Gift."

In other Lutheran countries, Zwinglians and Calvinists fared no better. John a Lasco, the Reformer of Poland and minister of a Protestant congregation in London, when fleeing with his followers, including many women and children, from the persecution of the bloody Mary, was not allowed a resting place at Copenhagen, or Rostock, or Lübeck, or Hamburg, because he could not accept the Lutheran doctrine of the real presence, and the poor fugitives were driven from port to port in cold winter, till at last they found a temporary home at Emden (1553).7474    Hermann Dalton (of St. Petersburg), in his Johannes a Laasco (Gotha, 1881), pp. 427-438, gives a graphic description of what he calls Laski’s "martyrdom in Denmark and North Germany." Calvin raised his indignant protest against this cruel treatment of his brethren, but in the same year Servetus was made to suffer death for heresy and blasphemy under Calvin’s eye!

In Scandinavia every religion except the Lutheran was forbidden on pain of confiscation and exile, and these laws were in force till the middle of the nineteenth century. Queen Christina lost her Swedish crown by her apostasy from Lutheranism, which her father had so heroically defended in the Thirty Years’ War.

(b) The Swiss Reformers, though republicans, were not behind the Germans in intolerance against Romanists and heretics.

Zwingli extended the hand of brotherhood to Luther, and hoped to meet even the nobler heathen in heaven, but had no mercy on the Anabaptists, who threatened to overthrow his work in Zürich. After trying in vain to convince them by successive disputations, the magistrate under his control resorted to the Cruel irony of drowning their leaders (six in all) in the Limmat near the lake of Zürich (between 1527 and 1532).7575    Bullinger, Reformationsgeschichte, I., 382. Comp. his Von der Wiedertäufer Ursprung, etc., 1560. Hagenbach, Kirchengesch., III. 350 sqq. Emil Egli, Die Züricher Wiedertäufer zur Reformatiosszeit, Zürich, 1884. Nitsche, Gesch. der Wiedertäufer in der Schweiz, Einsiedeln, 1885.

Zwingli counselled, at the risk of his own life, the forcible introduction of the Reformed religion into the territory of the Catholic Forest Cantons (1531); forgetting the warning of Christ to Peter, that they who take the sword shall perish by the sword.7676    The statue erected to his memory at Zürich, August 25th, 1885, represents him as holding the Bible in his right hand and the sword with his left. Dr. Alex. Schweizer protested (as he informed me) against the sword, and took no part in the festivities of the dedication of the monument.

Calvin has the misfortune rather than the guilt of pre-eminence for intolerance among the Reformers. He and Servetus are the best abused men of the sixteenth century; and the depreciation of the good name of the one and the exculpation of the bad name of the other have been carried far beyond the limits of historic truth and justice. Both must be judged from the standpoint of the sixteenth, not of the nineteenth, century.

The fatal encounter of the champion of orthodoxy and the champion of heresy, men of equal age, rare genius, and fervent zeal for the restoration of Christianity, but direct antipodes in doctrine, spirit and aim, forms the most thrilling tragedy in the history of the Reformation. The contrast between the two is almost as great as that between Simon Peter and Simon Magus.7777    Servetus probably imagined himself to represent the Apostle when he called Calvin "Simon Magus." He did identify himself with the archangel Michael fighting against the dragon, i.e. the Pope of Rome, Apoc. 12:7. Their contest will never lose its interest. The fires of the funeral pile which were kindled at Champel on the 27th of October, 1553, are still burning and cast their lurid sparks into the nineteenth century.

Leaving the historical details and the doctrinal aspect for another chapter,7878    Together with the extensive literature. we confine ourselves here to the bearing of the case on the question of toleration.

Impartial history must condemn alike the intolerance of the victor and the error of the victim, but honor in both the strength of conviction. Calvin should have contented himself with banishing his fugitive rival from the territory of Geneva, or allowing him quietly to proceed on his contemplated journey to Italy, where he might have resumed his practice of medicine in which he excelled. But he sacrificed his future reputation to a mistaken sense of duty to the truth and the cause of the Reformation in Switzerland and his beloved France, where his followers were denounced and persecuted as heretics. He is responsible, on his own frank confession, for the arrest and trial of Servetus, and he fully assented to his condemnation and death "for heresy and blasphemy," except that he counselled the magistrate, though in vain, to mitigate the legal penalty by substituting the sword for the fire.7979    Servetus appeared on a Sunday morning, August 13th, 1553, in one of the churches at Geneva and was recognized by one of the worshippers, who at once informed Calvin of the fact, whereupon he was thrown into prison. "Nec sane dissimulo," says Calvin (Opera, vol. VIII., col. 461, ed. Baum, Reuss, etc.), "mea opera consilioque jure in carcerem fuisse conjectum." Beza, in his Vita Calv., reports the fact as providential that Servetus, "a quodam agnitus, Calvino Magistratum admonente," was arrested. Servetus had previously applied for a safe-conduct from Vienne to Geneva, but Calvin refused it, and wrote to Farel, February 13th, 1546: "Si venerit, modo valeat mea auctoritas, vivum exire numquam patiar." During the process, he expressed the hope, in a letter to Farel (August 2nd, 1553), that Servetus might be condemned to death, but that the sentence be executed in a milder form (Opera xiv., col. 590): "Spero capitale saltem fore judicium, poenae vero atrocitatem [ignem] remitti cupio." In the same letter he gives a sketch of the system of Servetus as teaching a pantheistic diffusion of the deity in wood, stone, and even in devils.

But the punishment was in accordance with the mediaeval laws and wellnigh universal sentiment of Catholic and Protestant Christendom; it was unconditionally counselled by four Swiss magistrates which had been consulted before the execution (Zurich, Berne, Basel, and Schaffhausen), and was expressly approved by all the surviving reformers: Bullinger, Farel, Beza, Peter Martyr, and (as we have already seen) even by the mild and gentle Melanchthon. And strange to say, Servetus himself held, in part at least, the theory under which he suffered: for he admitted that incorrigible obstinacy and malice deserved death,8080    "Hoc crimen," he says in the 27th of his letters to Calvin (Opera VIII., 708), "est morte simpliciter dignum." Calvin refers to this admission of Servetus (VIII., 462) and charges him with inconsistency. referring to the case of Ananias and Sapphira; while schism and heresy should be punished only by excommunication and exile.

Nor should we overlook the peculiar aggravation of the case. We may now put a more favorable construction on Servetus’ mystic and pantheistic or panchristic Unitarianism than his contemporaries, who seemed to have misunderstood him, friends as well as foes; but he was certainly a furious fanatic and radical heretic, and in the opinion of all the churches of his age a reckless blasphemer, aiming at the destruction of historic Christianity. He was thus judged from his first book (1531),8181    De Trinitatis Erroribus Libri Sept. Per michaelem Serveto, aliàs Reves ab Aragonia Hispanum. Anno M. D. XXXI. No place of publication is given in the copy before me, but it was printed at Hagenau in the Alsace, as appears from the trial at Geneva. The book excited the greatest indignation in Oecolampadius and Bucer. Luther called it an awfully wicked book (ein gräulich bös Buch). Bucer thought the author ought to be torn to pieces. as well as his last (1553),8282    Christianismi Restitutio ... MDLIII., secretly printed at Vienne in France, with his initials on the last page, M. S. V. (i e.: Villanovanus). and escaped earlier death only by concealment, practicing medicine under a fictitious name and the protection of a Catholic archbishop. He had abused all trinitarian Christians, as tritheists and atheists; he had denounced the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity, as a dream of St. Augustin, a fiction of popery, an invention of the devil, and a three-headed Cerberus.8383    Such blasphemy of the Trinity appeared to be blasphemy of the Deity itself. Hence Beza calls Servetus "ille sacrae Triadis, id est omnis verae Deitatis hostis, adeoque monstrum ex omnibus quantumvis rancidis et portentosis haeresibus conflatum."Calv. Vita, ad a. 1553. He charges his book with being "full of blasphemies." Servetus called Jesus "the Son of the eternal God," but obstinately refused to call him "the eternal Son of God," in other words, to admit his eternal divinity. He had attacked with equal fury infant-baptism, as a detestable abomination, a killing of the Holy Spirit, an abolition of regeneration, and overthrow of the entire kingdom of Christ, and pronounced a woe on all baptizers of infancy who close the kingdom of heaven against mankind. He had been previously condemned to the stake by the Roman Catholic tribunal of the inquisition, after a regular trial, in the archiepiscopal city of Vienne in France, partly on the ground of his letters to Calvin procured from Geneva, and burned in effigy with his last book after his escape. He then rushed blindly into the hands of Calvin, whom he denounced, during the trial, as a liar, a hypocrite, and a Simon Magus, with a view, apparently, to overthrow his power, in league with his enemies, the party of the Libertines, which had then the majority in the council of Geneva.8484    "The year 1553," says Beza in Calvini Vita, ad a. 1553, "by the impatience and malice of the factious [the Libertines] was a year so full of trouble that not only the church, but the republic of Geneva, came within a hair’s breadth of ruin ... All power had fallen into their hands, that nothing seemed to hinder them from attaining the ends for which they had so long been striving." Then he mentions the trial of Servetus as the other danger, which was aggravated by the first.

Considering all these circumstances Calvin’s conduct is not only explained, but even justified in part. He acted in harmony with the public law and orthodox sentiment of his age, and should therefore not be condemned more than his contemporaries, who would have done the same in his position.8585    H. Tollin, a Reformed clergyman of Magdeburg, the most enthusiastic and voluminous advocate of Servetus and his system, admits this, saying (Charakterbild M. Servet’s, Berlin, 1876, p. 6): "Nicht Calvin ist schuldig der That, sondern der Protestantismus seiner Zeit." Another apologist, Dardier (in Lichtenberger’s "Encyclopédie " XI. 581), says the same: C’est la Réforme tout entière qui est coupable."The famous Christian philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, went further. In one of his last utterances, in his Table-Talk, sub Jan. 3, 1834 (to which a friend directed my attention), he expressed his views as follows: " I have known books written on tolerance, the proper title of which would be—intolerant or intolerable books on tolerance. Should not a man who writes a book expressly to inculcate tolerance learn to treat with respect, or at least with indulgence, articles of faith which tens of thousands ten times told of his fellow-subjects or his fellow-creatures believe with all their souls, and upon the truth of which they rest their tranquillity in this world, and their hopes of salvation in the next,—those articles being at least maintainable against his arguments, and most certainly innocent in themselves?—Is it fitting to run Jesus Christ in a silly parallel with Socrates—the Being whom thousand millions of intellectual creatures, of whom I am an humble unit, take to be their Redeemer, with an Athenian philosopher, of whom we should know nothing except through his glorification in Plato and Xenophon?—And then to hitch Latimer and Servetus together! To be sure, there was a stake and a fire in each case, but where the rest of the resemblance is I cannot see. What ground is there for throwing the odium of Servetus’s death upon Calvin alone?—Why, the mild Melanchthon wrote to Calvin, expressly to testify his concurrence in the act, and no doubt he spoke the sense of the German Reformers; the Swiss churches advised the punishment in formal letters, and I rather think there are letters from the English divines, approving Calvin’s conduct!—Before a man deals out the slang of the day about the great leaders of the Reformation, he should learn to throw himself back to the age of the Reformation, when the two great parties in the church were eagerly on the watch to fasten a charge of heresy on the other. Besides, if ever a poor fanatic thrust himself into the fire, it was Michael Servetus. He was a rabid enthusiast, and did everything he could in the way of insult and ribaldry to provoke the feeling of the Christian church. He called the Trinitytriceps monstrum et Cerberum quemdam tri-partitum, and so on!’

But all the humane sentiments are shocked again by the atrocity, of the execution; while sympathy is roused for the unfortunate sufferer who died true to his conviction, reconciled to his enemies, and with the repeated prayer in the midst of the flames: "Jesus, thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me!"

The enemies of Calvin raised, in anonymous and pseudonymous pamphlets, a loud protest against the new tribunal of popery and inquisition in Geneva, which had boasted to be an asylum of all the persecuted. The execution of Servetus was condemned by his anti-trinitarian sympathizers, especially the Italian refugees in Switzerland, and also by some orthodox Christians in Basel and elsewhere, who feared that it would afford a powerful argument to the Romanists for their persecution of Protestants.

Calvin felt it necessary, therefore, to come out with a public defense of the death-penalty for heresy, in the spring of 1554.8686    Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra trinitate contra prodigiosos errores Michaelis Serveti Hispani ubi ostenditur haereticos jure gladii örcendos esse. In Calvin’s Opera, ed. Reuss, etc., vol. VIII. 483-644. Bullinger urged him to the task in a letter of December 12th, 1553 (Opera, XIV. 698): "Vide, me Calvine, ut diligenter et, pie omnibus piis describas Servetum cum suo exitu, ut omnes abhorreant a bestia." He appealed to the Mosaic law against idolatry and blasphemy, to the expulsion of the profane traffickers from the temple-court (Matt. 21:12), and he tries to refute the arguments for toleration which were derived from the wise counsel of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), the parable of the tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:29), and Christ’s rebuke of Peter for drawing the sword (Matt. 26:52). The last argument he disposes of by making a distinction between private vengeance and public punishment.

Beza also defended, with his usual ability, in a special treatise, the punishment of heretics, chiefly as a measure of self-defense of the state which had a right to give laws and a duty to protect religion. He derived the doctrine of toleration from scepticism and infidelity and called it a diabolical dogma.8787    De haeriticis a civili magistratu puniendis, adversus Martini Bellii (an unknown person) farraginem et novorum academicorum sectam. Geneva (Oliva Rob. Stephani), 1554; second ed. 1592; French translation by Nic. Colladon, 1560. See Heppe’s Beza, p. 38 sq.

The burning of the body of Servetus did not destroy his soul. His blood was the fruitful seed of the doctrine of toleration and the Unitarian heresy, which assumed an organized form in the Socinian sect, and afterward spread in many orthodox churches, including Geneva.

Fortunately the tragedy of 1553 was the last spectacle of burning a heretic in Switzerland, though several years later the Anti-trinitarian, Valentine Gentile, was beheaded in Berne (1566).

(c) In France the Reformed church, being in the minority, was violently and systematically persecuted by the civil rulers in league with the Roman church, and it is well for her that she never had a chance to retaliate. She is emphatically a church of martyrs.

(d) The Reformed church in Holland, after passing through terrible trials and persecutions under Spanish rule, showed its intolerance toward the Protestant Arminians who were defeated by the Synod of Dort (1619). Their pastors and teachers were deposed and banished. The Arminian controversy was, however, mixed up with politics; the Calvinists were the national and popular party under the military lead of Prince Maurice; while the political leaders of Arminianism, John Van Olden Barneveldt and Hugo Grotius, were suspected of disloyalty for concluding a truce with Spain (1609), and condemned, the one to death, the other to perpetual banishment. With a change of administration the Arminians were allowed to return (1625), and disseminated, with a liberal theology, principles of religious toleration.



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