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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 153. Consultation of the Swiss Churches. The Defiant Attitude of Servetus.


On the 19th of September the Little Council, in accordance with a resolution adopted on the 4th, referred the case of Servetus to the magistrates and pastors of the Reformed Churches of Bern, Zürich, Schaffhausen, and Basel for their judgment.

Two days afterwards Jaquemoz Jernoz, as the official messenger, was despatched on his mission with a circular letter and the documents,—namely the theological debate between Calvin and Servetus,—a copy of the "Restitution of Christianity," and the works of Tertullian and Irenaeus, who were the chief patristic authorities quoted by both parties.

On the result of this mission the case of Servetus was made to depend. Servetus himself had expressed a wish that this course should be adopted, hoping, it seems, to gain a victory, or at least an escape from capital punishment. On the 22d of August he was willing to be banished from Geneva; but on the 22d of September he asked the Council to put Calvin on trial, and handed in a list of articles on which he should be interrogated. He thus admitted the civil jurisdiction in matters of religious opinions which he had formerly denied, and was willing to stake his life on the decision, provided that his antagonist should be exposed to the same fate.11911191    "Ie demand que mon faulx accusateur soyt puni poena talionis; et que soyt detenu prisonier comme moy, jusques àce que la cause soyt definie pour mort de luy au de moy ou aultre poine." The petition concludes: "le vous demande justice, messeigneurs, justice, justice, justice." Opera, VIII. 805. Among the four "great and infallible" reasons why Calvin should be condemned, he assigned the fact that he wished to "repress the truth of Jesus Christ, and follow the doctrines of Simon Magus, against all the doctors that ever were in the Church." He declared in his petition that Calvin, like a magician, ought to be exterminated, and his goods be confiscated and given to Servetus, in compensation for the loss he had sustained through Calvin.

To dislodge Calvin from his position," says Rilliet, "to expel him from Geneva, to satisfy a just vengeance—these were the objects toward which Servetus rushed."

But the Council took no notice of his petition.

On the 10th of October he sent another letter to the Council, imploring them, for the love of Christ, to grant him such justice as they would not refuse to a Turk, and complaining that nothing had been done for his comfort as promised, but that he was more wretched than ever. The petition had some effect. The Lord Syndic, Darlod, and the Secretary of State, Claude Roset, were directed to visit his prison and to provide some articles of dress for his relief.

On the 18th of October the messenger of the State returned with the answers from the four foreign churches. They were forthwith translated into French, and examined by the magistrates. We already know the contents.11921192    See above, pp. 708 sqq., and Calvin’s Opera, VIII. 806 sq. The churches were unanimous in condemning the theological doctrines of Servetus, and in the testimony of respect and affection for Calvin and his colleagues. Even Bern, which was not on good terms with Calvin, and had two years earlier counselled toleration in the case of Bolsec, regarded Servetus a much more dangerous heretic and advised to remove this "pest." Yet none of the Churches consulted expressly suggested the death penalty. They left the mode of punishment with the discretion of a sovereign State. Haller, the pastor of Bern, however, wrote to Bullinger of Zürich that, if Servetus had fallen into the hands of Bernese justice, he would undoubtedly have been condemned to the flames.



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