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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 145. Correspondence of Servetus with Calvin and Poupin.


While engaged in the preparation of his last work at Vienne, Servetus opened a correspondence with Calvin through Jean Frellon, a learned publisher at Lyons and a personal friend of both.10681068    Frellon employed Servetus as an editor and translator, and was probably a Protestant, as we may, infer from his friendly relation to Calvin. But Henry (III. 129) supposes that he was a Catholic. Henry (III. 129) thinks that the correspondence began as early as 1540. He sent him a copy of his book as far as then finished, and told him that he would find in it "stupendous things never heard of before."10691069    See the letter of Calvin to Farel, quoted on p. 692. He also proposed to him three questions: 1) Is the man Jesus Christ the Son of God, and how? 2) Is the kingdom of God in man, when does man enter into it, and when is he born again? 3) Must Christian baptism presuppose faith, like the Lord’s Supper, and to what end are both sacraments instituted in the New Testament?10701070    Calvin gives the questions and answers in his Refutatio Errorum Mich. Serveti, Opera, VIII. 482-484. Servetus omits them in the Restitutio.

Calvin seems to have had no time to read the whole manuscript, but courteously answered the questions to the effect, 1) that Christ is the Son of God both according to his divine nature eternally begotten, and according to his human nature as the Wisdom of God made flesh; 2) that the kingdom of God begins in man when he is born again, but that the process of regeneration is not completed in a moment, but goes on till death;3) that faith is necessary for baptism, but not in the same personal way as in the Lord’s Supper; for according to the type of circumcision the promise was given also to the children of the faithful. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are related to each other as circumcision and the passover. He referred to his books for details, but was ready to give further explanation if desired.10711071    "Sed quia mihi videor omnibus objectis alibi satisfecisse, fusiorem explicationem inde peti melim. Si quid deest, paratus sum adjicere, si fuero admonitus." Opera, VIII. 484.

Servetus was by no means satisfied with the answer, and wrote back that Calvin made two or three Sons of God; that the Wisdom of God spoken of by Solomon was allegorical and impersonal; that regeneration took place in the moment of baptism by water and the spirit, but never in infant baptism. He denied that circumcision corresponded to baptism. He put five new theological questions to Calvin, and asked him to read the fourth chapter on baptism in the manuscript of the Restitutio which he had sent him.10721072    "Rogo te per Deum, postquam pollicitus es te paratum reliqua adjicere, si fueris admonitus, doce me primo quae est vera fides, et qualiter illa a spiritu regenerationis vivificetur. Secundo, an sine promissione possit quis justificari. Tertio, qualis sit internus homo, non ex sanguinibus genitus, sed ex Deo. Quarto, quis est homo ille qui a Christo alitur in coena, an vere, an imaginarie. Quinto, quae sit gratia adventus Christi. Annon eousque regnavit mors? annon patres omnes fuerunt antea in inferno? Demum te precor, ne graveris iterum legere quartum librum de Baptismo (in the printed Restitutio it is entitled De Regeneratione superna, et de regno Antichristi, pp. 355-576]. Nam videris eum nondum legisse. Deus misereatur nostri. Amen." Opera, VIII. 486.

To these objections Calvin sent another and more lengthy response.10731073    VIII. 487-495. He again offered further explanation, though he had no time to write whole books for him, and had discussed all these topics in his Institutes.10741074    "Quod me rogas tibi de aliis quoque capitibus respondeam, id facerem, Si possem breviter. Neque enim satis divino quid proprie desideres. Magis autem sum occupatas quam ut tibi uni vacet libros integros scribere. Deinde nihil quaeris quod non reperias in mea Institutione, si illinc petere libeat. Quanquam labori non parcerem, si mihi notus esset scopus quo tendis." P. 494.

So far there is nothing to indicate any disposition in Calvin to injure Servetus. On the contrary we must admire his patience and moderation in giving so much of his precious time to the questions of a troublesome stranger and pronounced opponent. Servetus continued to press Calvin with letters, and returned the copy of the Institutes with copious critical objections. "There is hardly a page," says Calvin, "that is not defiled by his vomit."10751075    "Quoscunque meos libros nancisci potuit, non destitit insulsis conviciis farcire, ut nullam paginam a suo vomitu puram relinqueret." P. 481. Comp. the French in the fifth footnote.

Calvin sent a final answer to the questions of Servetus, which is lost, together with a French letter to Frellon, which is preserved.10761076    Calvin’s letter to Jean Frellon and Frellon’s letter to Servetus, both in French, found their way into the judicial archives of the archbishop of Vienne, and were first published by the Abbé d’Artigny, Paris, 1749 (in Nouveaux Mémoires d’histoire, tom. II. 70), and independently from a copy of the original, by Mosheim, Helmstadt, 1750 (in his Neue Nachrichten von Mich. Serveto, pp. 89, 90). They are reprinted in Henry, III. 132, and in Calvin’s Opera, VIII. 833 sq. This letter is dated Feb. 13, 1546, under his well-known pseudonym of Charles Despeville, and is as follows:—


"Seigneur Jehan, As your last letter was brought to me on my departure, I had no leisure to reply to the enclosure it contained. After my return I use the first moment of my leisure to comply with your desire; not indeed that I have any great hope of proving serviceable to such a man, seeing him disposed as I do. But I will try once more, if there be any means left of bringing him to reason, and this will happen when God shall have so wrought in him that he has become altogether another man. Since he has written to me in so proud a spirit, I have been led to write to him more sharply than is my wont, being minded to take him down a little in his presumption.10771077    "Je luy ay bien voulu rabbatre un petit de son orgueil, parlant àluy plus durement que ma coustume ne porte." But I could not do otherwise. For I assure you there is no lesson he needs so much to learn as humility. This must come to him through the grace of God, not otherwise. But we, too, ought to lend a helping hand. If God give such grace to him and to us that the present answer will turn to his profit, I shall have cause to rejoice. If he persists, however, in the style he has hitherto seen fit to use, you will only lose your time in soliciting me further in his behalf; for I have other affairs that concern me more nearly, and I shall make it a matter of conscience not to busy myself further, not doubting that he is a Satan who would divert me from more profitable studies. Let me beg of you, therefore, to be content with what I have already done, unless you see occasion for acting differently."


Frellon sent this letter to Villeneuve by a special messenger, together with a note in which be addresses him as his "dear brother and friend."10781078    On the envelope is written: "A mon bon frere et amy maistre Michel Villanovanus Docteur en Medicine soyt donnée ceste presente a Vienne."

On the same day Calvin wrote the famous letter to Farel already quoted. He had arrived at the settled conviction that Servetus was an incorrigible and dangerous heretic, who deserved to die.10791079    See p. 692. Bolsec speaks of a similar letter to Viret, from which he quotes this passage: "Servetus cupit huc venire, sed a me accessitus. Egoautem nunquam committam, ut fidem meam eotenus obstrictam habeat. lam enim constitutum habeo, si veniat, nunquam pati, ut salvus exeat." But no such letter has been found. Perhaps it was the same as the letter to Farel, which may have been sent first to Viret, as Farel was at that time in Metz (Henry, III. 133). Bolsec asserts also (p. 21) that Calvin informed the Cardinal de Tournon of the heresy of Servetus, but that the Cardinal laughed at the idea of one heretic accusing another. But he did nothing to induce him to come to Geneva, as he wished, and left him severely alone. . In 1548 he wrote to Viret that he would have nothing more to do with this desperately obstinate heretic, who shall force no more letters from him.10801080    "A me nihil posthac extorquebit." See Henry, II. 460; III. 134.

Servetus continued to trouble Calvin, and published in his Restitutio no less than thirty letters to him, but without dates and without replies from Calvin.10811081    Restit. pp. 577-664; reprinted in Calvin’s Opera, VIII. 645-714, from Chr. Theoph. de Murr’s ed., with marginal variations of the Paris copy. The manuscripts are not extant. They are conceived in a haughty and self-sufficient spirit. He writes to the greatest divine of the age, not as a learner, or even an equal, but as a superior. In the first of these printed letters he charges Calvin with holding absurd, confused, and contradictory opinions on the sonship of Christ, on the Logos, and on the Trinity. In the second letter he tells him: "You make three Sons of God: the human nature is a son to you, the divine nature is a son, and the whole Christ is a son … . All such tritheistic notions are a three-headed illusion of the Dragon, which easily crept in among the sophists in the present reign of Antichrist. Or have you not read of the spirit of the dragon, the spirit of the beast, the spirit of the false prophets, three spirits? Those who acknowledge the trinity of the beast are possessed by three spirits of demons. These three spirits incite war against the immaculate Lamb, Jesus Christ (Apoc. 16). False are all the invisible gods of the Trinitarians, as false as the gods of the Babylonians. Farewell."10821082    "Draconis fuit haec triceps illusio, quae in sophistas facile irrepsit, instante regno Antichristi. An non legisti ibi spiritum draconis, spiritum bestiae, et spiritum pseudoprophetae tres spiritus ? Tres sunt vere daemoniorum spiritus, a quibus occupatitenentur, qui bestiae trinitatem agnoscunt. Orbem hi tres spiritus concitant contra agnum immaculatum Iesum Christum, filium Dei, apo. 16. Falsi ergo sunt trinitariorum invisibiles dii, adeo falsi, sicut dii Babyloniorum: cum praesertim dii illi in Babylone colantur. Vale." Restit. pp. 680, 581. He begins the third letter with the oft-repeated warning (saepius te monui) not to admit that impossible—monster of three things in God. In another letter he calls him a reprobate and blasphemer (improbus et blasphemus) for calumniating good works. He charges him with ignorance of the true nature of faith, justification, regeneration, baptism, and the kingdom of heaven.

These are fair specimens of the arrogant, irritating, and even insulting tone of his letters. At last Servetus himself broke off his correspondence with Calvin, who, it seems, had long ceased to answer them, but he now addressed his colleagues. He wrote three letters to Abel Poupin, who was minister at Geneva from 1543 to 1556, when he died. The last is preserved, and was used in evidence at the trial.10831083    It was not signed, but written very legibly by his own hand, and was acknowledged as his. Henry gives a facsimile of it at the end of his third volume, from the archives of Geneva. It is reprinted in Opera, VIII. 750 sq. "Every line of this letter," as Dyer (p. 309) well says, "betrays the heated and fanatical imagination of the writer, and his hatred of Calvin and the Genevese Church." It is not dated, but must have been written in 1548 or later. Servetus charges the Reformed Christians of Geneva that they had a gospel without a God, without true faith, without good works; and that instead of the true God they worshipped a three-headed Cerberus. "Your faith in Christ," he continues, "is a mere pretence and without effect; your man is an inert trunk, and your God a fabulous monster of the enslaved will. You reject baptismal regeneration and shut the kingdom of heaven against men. Woe unto you, woe, woe!"10841084    "Evangelium vestrum est sine uno Deo, sine fide vera, sine bonis operibus. Pro uno Deo habetis tricipitem cerberum, pro fide vera habetis fatale somnium, et opera bona dicitis esse inanes picturas. Christi fides est vobis merus fucus, nihil efficiens; homo est vobis iners truncus, et Deus est vobis servi arbitrii chimaera. Regenerationem ex aqua coelestem non agnoscitis, sed velut fabulam habetis. Regnum caelorum clauditis ante homines, ut rem imaginariam a nobis excludendo. Vae vobis, vae, vae!"

He concludes this remarkable letter with the prediction that he would die for this cause and become like unto his Master.10851085    "Mihi ob eam rem moriendum esse certo scio, sed non propterea animo deficior, ut fiam discipulum similis praeceptori. Hoc doleo, quod per vos non licuit mihi emendare locos aliquot in scriptis meis, quae sunt apud Calvinum. Vale, et a me non amplius literas exspecta. Super custodiam meam stabo, contemplabor, et videbo quid sit dicturus. Nam veniet, certe veniet, et non tardabit."


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