As I have stated before, in view of Edʼs websites being mostly (if not all) attacks on Christianity, Edʼs position is most accurately described as anti-Christian.
Edward: My “attacks,” or “witty challenging articles” as I prefer to call them, are directed at the claims that some Christians make that their faith rests on specific proofs or arguments that are rationally superior to the rational questions that arise as a consequence of such claims. My articles often mention specific verses and their interpretations (especially of those who claim to have discovered Bible verses whose “teachings preceded those of modern science”), and other Biblical/Christian truth claims. It was my efforts to seek the truth that led me out of the fold, just as you, claim it has been your effort to seek the truth that led you to embrace progressive creationism, Biblical inerrancy, etc. From our own different perspectives, each of us is “anti-”something only because we are truth seekers first and foremost, or at least we can agree that we each see ourselves as truth seekers first and foremost. I can assure you that is how I think of myself, and I certainly assume that is how you think of yourself and would “most accurately” label yourself.
I also have questions concerning a wide variety of claims not just all of them specific to Christianity. But I have studied Christianity and the Bible moreso than most others during my lifetime, as well as their relation to science and history. I spent my sophomore year in high school, and my four years in college as well as nearly five years after I had graduated college, as an Evangelical Christian even being voted president of Chi Alpha, “Christʼs Ambassadors” at Mercer County College, Trenton, New Jersey (my photo is in the campus yearbook for that organization). I was tireless in my reading of Christian apologetics during that period, Lewis (all of his Christian works and nearly all of his collections of theological essays), Chesterton (30 or so works, both theology and fiction and literary criticism), Charles Williams (all of his novels and two theology works), Francis Schaeffer (all of his major apologetics works), Josh McDowellʼs Evidence That Demands a Verdict, along with reading many first-hand Christian testimony books from Sadhu Sundar Singhʼs works to Richard Wurmbrandʼs, as well as reading ICR Acts and Facts and Impacts, Gishʼs book on the fossil record in two editions, subscribing to and reading the Creation Research Society Quarterly and reading The Genesis Flood, and Wysongʼs book, Creation Evolution, and Weston-Smithʼs books and other YEC literature. I also shared Jesus with fellow students and with my professors on campus, and debated two former evangelicals and one non-Christian by mail for several years trying to both rationally argue and pray for their reentry into the fold. After leaving the fold I continued to read Evangelical Christian apologetics, like Habermasʼs debate with Antony Flew in the book, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? and I read Habermas and Mooreʼs book on the afterlife. I even wrote Habermas (professor of apologetics at Liberty University) to ask him questions concerning the story of the resurrection and we continued writing each other a few times and Habermas even submitted our dialogue to a publisher who however, declined to publish them in book form, though my final summation letter to Habermas is now on the web. I have also been involved in internet and snail mail exchanges with Evangelicals since the mid 1980s when I was still a Christian, albeit of a liberal variety, right up till today. Rev. White of Alpha Omega Ministries and I exchanged some lengthy letters, at least mine were lengthy. *smile* He preferred to send me copies of things he had previously written for me to comment on. I find that such exchanges stimulate me to read more, and interest me and draw upon everything Iʼve learned in my lifetime. Should you Stephen, “leave the fold,” you would probably also find yourself interested in discussing why you entered and left it, rather than simply walking away, because of the intellectual investment. I have also found time to continue to write music, which is something I have loved all my life. I have also happily played chess and ping pong and broken bread with Christian friends over the years, and I also work with and have a happy relationship with the Christian students and staff members with whom I work daily, and not a bad relationship with my Mother though she is quite a devout Catholic and loves hanging crucifixes above doorways, so I guess that proves Iʼm at least not a vampire, since I can handle such objects and even tack them up for her. *smile*
What Ed can, or cannot, believe is *irrelevant*,
Edward: But then why should your belief in all the books and verses in the Bible (as you presently understand and interpret them) be ANY MORE “RELEVANT” than rational questions directed at what the Bible (or Christian theology) says?
I believe it is unfortunate that “Some religions promise an eternal reward for excellence of the will (to believe) or for excellence of the heart, but none for excellence of the head or understanding.” (Arthur Schopenhauer) “I do not believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forego their use.” (Galileo) “The silly fanatic repeats to me that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the divine Being. That His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh? How, you mad demoniac, shall we judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions we have of them? Do you want us to walk otherwise than with our feet, and speak otherwise than with our mouths?” (Voltaire)
being just “the argument from personal incredulity”.
Edward: Actually, rather than trying to twist things as being my fault for not believing (my “personal incredulity” as you put it), I was hoping for a more specific response, namely just how eternal damnation/“vengeance”/“jealousy” (all traits listed of God in the Bible), and, “infinite compassion,” fit together as “easily” as you seem to have that faith that they do.
Think about it, eternal damnation, tossing people into a lake of fire whose smoke rises for all eternity, and “infinite compassion?” What definition of “compassion and infinite” are you using?
Eternal hell = infinite compassion?
It would appear that eternal hell = infinitely unforgiving justice, not infinite compassion.
So I guess after you die, the “compassion” part just falls away like the alleged trap door leading down to the fiery lake.
It further appears that we are commanded to “love our enemies,” and treat others as we would like to be treated, and love our neighbors as ourselves, but only until they die. Then to hell with them. Or perhaps even to hell with them sooner in a very real “this worldly” sense if one were to become convinced that another person was “damned already” as it says in John chapter 3, “He who does not believe is damned already.”
That reminds me, did you know that Melanchthon (great Christian theologian, Reformer, and close associate of Martin Luther) justified the use of torture on prisoners, by arguing, “Why should we treat them any better in this life than God is going to treat them in the next?”
And Luther himself signed a paper that Melanchthon drafted that demanded the death penalty for anyone in Saxony who did not agree with the Apostleʼs Creed.
Did you also know that Calvin had a small child beheaded for striking his father, had adulterers tied together and drowned in the Rhine, prosecuted people for being “witches” (they were executed too), put people in jail for dancing too gaily at their own daughterʼs wedding, had Servetus burned at the stake for arguing in favor of Unitarianism, I could go on about Calvin.
Luther as I have pointed out, wrote that Calvinʼs beliefs concerning the Eucharist would send anyone to hell who believed as Calvin did concerning the Eucharist. And Luther and Calvin were fellow Reformers! They were men who loved the Bible, were fairly intoxicated with it. By the standards of their own day and their own Biblical understanding they were “right on,” for the Bible taught Luther and Calvin that people were horrendous sinners (if you donʼt believe that, then just look at what Jesus had to suffer for sin), hence they both argued that people needed nothing less than heavy handed Christian magistrates to rule them, blasphemy laws, things to keep that “sin nature” from damning individuals, and from having God send plagues to your nation for its “sins.”
Luther also argued that loving your neighbor went only so far, because if your neighbor spoke a single word against the Godʼs word, the Bible, then to continue to love and assist that particular neighbor, even handing them a glass of water, would be tantamount to endorsing that neighborʼs blasphemous utterances. Hence, according to Luther, the “love your neighbor” command went only so far. (For direct citations from Luther and Calvin, along with some of the verses they employed from the Bible, see Leaving the Fold, chapter two.)
Another argument used was that a father had the right in the Old Testament to kill a man who was trying to kill his son. How much more right did society have to kill blasphemies and peddlers of unorthodox ideas, i.e., in order to preserve the souls of children being threatened with eternal death if they should heed such ideas?
Hmmm. Do you find such things, or at least a few of them, as “incredulous” or “incredible” as I do?
The fact is that the Bible says that God is “all-compassionate and all-wise” and yet will “cast … into a lake of fire”, *anyone* whose “name was not found written in the book of life” (Rev 20:15), i.e. who is not a Christian (Rev 3:5; 13:8; 21:27).
Edward: Arenʼt you confusing the phrase, “The fact is that the Bible says…” with the phrase, “What the Bible says is a fact?” Or to put it another way, is it relevant to simply cite verses from the Bible to someone who does not see the necessity of taking any whole book and all of its verses as totally and literally true? (It certainly is difficult to think of a direct connection between “infinite compassion,” and, “casting people into a lake of fire.”)
I read in THE CASE FOR FAITH that G.K. Chesterton wrote that “Hell is Godʼs great compliment,” though a Chesterton scholar who runs a prominent Chesterton site on the web told me he had conducted a thorough investigation yet was unable to verify the authenticity of that alleged quotation. By the way, my reply to such a saying, even if it should prove to be genuinely Chestertonian, is simply this, If eternal hell/punishment/vengeance is Godʼs “great compliment,” then what does God do when he wants to “insult” someone?
Speaking of Christian beliefs, you must know that major theologians of the past have believed in such things as“infant damnation,”as well as that the saved would“see”the damned experiencing awful punishments and rejoice at such sights for all eternity. Apparently the Bible verses and arguments that were cited in reference to those Christian beliefs are being ignored today, though for centuries Christians who believed in the inspiration of the Bible and in the Holy Spiritʼs ability to lead them into“all truth,”believed such things. Hopefully we can at least agree that“infant damnation,”along with“the sight of hellʼs torments for eternity”are incredulous Christian teachings, though Augustine, Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards did not think so. And they had a perfect book and the Holy Spirit leading them into all truth. Hmmm.
Now of course the Bible and Christianity could be false, but then what God is Ed talking about? Not the Christian God, but a figment of Edʼs own imagination.
Edward: Are you arguing that if the Bible and Christianity are false then all subsequent arguments concerning“God”are nothing more than“figments of the imagination?” By saying so, you are merely revealing that you believe the Bible and all of its books is“true”in a more profound sense than that of any other books or thoughts or spiritual experiences of others, and that there is only one genuinely Christian interpretation of the Bible, and that alone is true (regardless of centuries of Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament portion of the Bible). Well, that is your claim, and I dispute it. In fact, I think your belief in such things is more“figmentary”(to coin a phrase) than honest thoughts and common sense questions that come to mind concerning such claims.
Edward: In fact, an all-compassionate, all-wise being would know of the shortness of manʼs lifespan, what little time any of us has for study, and would likewise know of the pains and difficulties and desires and frustrations, physically and psychologically, and communicatively, that every member of our species faces each day, along with the uncertainties, the multitude of religions and denominations, and surely would not cap that all off with eternal hellfire. *smile*That is Edʼs problem. God does indeed know Edʼs heart (Gn 6:5; 8:21; Jer 17:9). And God knows that Ed choses to spend“the shortness of [his] lifespan”and“what little time [he] … has for study”on *attacking* Christianity.
Edward: Are you not simply denying me my own truth seeking perspective, which is that I am attempting to promulgate common sense and a rational and heartfelt honesty?
Concerning the shortness of my life and how I have spent it, I must admit that I see no reason to try and turn the tables and imply anything about how you may end up after you die, though I bet there are at least a few Christians and groups on the internet who doubt your“salvation”due to your rejection of say, a young-earth, or inability to speak in tongues, or since you reject being baptized into THEIR particular holy community of Christian faith, or since you may listen to contemporary Christian music, or due to the fact of how you wear your hair, or whether or not you accept Jesus as Savior (or accept Jesus as both Savior and LORD of your life with a lot of concomitant“biblical rules”for your life), or due to the fact that you read translations of the Bible other than the King James Version (which are“Satanic corruptions”in the eyes of some King-James-Only Christians), all of which probably constitute“signs”to one group of Christians or another that you do not exude the scent of having been“truly saved.” And since you donʼt worry about what such groups think of you and your odds of getting into their heaven, just process that information, and use it to imagine how deeply I worry about the odds you are giving me. *smile*
As for“uncertainties”, Ed could reduce them if he really wanted to, like I (and millions of Christians) have.
Edward: You wrote,“millions have…” Hmmm, Argumentum ad populum?
Please continue and tell me how to“reduce uncertainties.” You believe I could if I“really wanted to?” I am afraid that a mind once stretched by new data and new questions never snaps back completely to its original dimensions. Not completely. And itʼs not a matter of“what I want.” I will pray with you if thatʼs what you want me to do, I still pray by the way, and I can do so fervently and in all hope of receiving an answer. I can also still speak in tongues if I want to. However, none of my prayers have miraculously unstretched my present thoughts back to their evangelical Christian dimensions. I still find inerrancy a shallow position (though I tried defending it for several years in my old letter debates that I mentioned I had with two former Christian friends). I still have doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I could no more go back to where I was than you can sincerely imagine yourself going back to early views you once held concerning various“Bible-science”questions. In both our cases we continue to believe what we think we know best and have studied the most.
(You might also read the essay on “The Assymetry of Conversion” at the LEAVING CHRISTIANITY website run by Steve Locks to understand differences between the experiences and testimonies of those leaving the fold and those entering it.)
And lastly what kind of an argument are you employing by writing to tell me, “if I really wanted to?” Does that address the person, or a personʼs argument? It appears to address the person and also appears to be no argument at all. For instance, how would you react if I wrote, “If you really wanted to, you could become a fine-tuner and give up being a progressive creationist. But apparently you donʼt really want to. Thatʼs your problem.”
And as “the multitude of religions and denominations”, Ed spends all his efforts attacking Christianity, so he knows that it is only Christianity, i.e. “mere Christianity”,
“the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times”: “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. … what Baxter calls ‘mere’ Christianity.” (Lewis C.S.*, “Mere Christianity,” , Fount: London, 1997, reprint, p.vi.)
that he need concern himself with.
Edward: Apparently both you, and Lewis, and Baxter whom Lewis cites, know as little of the history of Christian dogma as“you need concern yourselves with."
For instance, it appears doubtful that the historical Jesus ever meant to found a“church.” He may have expected the final judgment relatively soon after his brief preaching career. See my article on that matter by googling,“The Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown.” After Jesus died, the history of Christian dogma grew complicated, divisive, and even bizarre, far more so than I bet Jesus would or could have ever imagined:
When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome by Richard E. Rubenstein
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman
Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels (Hardcover)
Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and Truth in the Early Church — by Bart D. Ehrman
Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Become the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman (Editor)
Paul: And if he does, he has only himself to blame, for he is omnipotent.Paul, like Ed, is simply *deluding* himself.
Edward: As you say, attack the position, not the person.
If manʼs sinful rebellion against God
Edward: I hear a sermon coming, but may I pause here to ask, exactly at what stage of progressive creation did the first ape-men become“sinners?” And what exactly was the“first sin,”I mean the exact activity. And how exactly was“sin”handed down from generation to generation, by what exact means of transmission? According to the fossil record animals have been competing for mates, territory, food, since animals began, long before man. Why exactly did God expect man to behave so differently? I mean man has so much chimp DNA in him heʼs as close to chimps (genetically speaking) as sibling species of fruit flies are to one another.
was something that God could fix by sheer exercise of His“omnipotent”power, then why would God Himself take on the form of a man, in the Person of Jesus and die in Ed and Paulʼs place, so that if they believed in Him, they would not receive their just deserts?
Edward: Do you know you just put the logical cart before the logical horse? You are assuming so much above, about the Bible and Christian theology, and then using your assumptions to“prove”that God could not have“fixed”things any other way. Jews see things differently. *smile* Even in the Gospels, notably, Matthew 6, Jesus is said to have taught large numbers of people the following soteriological lesson:“14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” yet according to modern-day orthodox Christian soteriology, it requires a will to believe far more specific things and doctrines about Jesus before God will forgive your sins.
Did you know by the way that also in Matthew, the sheep and goats are separated on judgment day on the basis of their works? Yes, their works. Did you know that Jesus was asked in the synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark & Luke) several times“How may I inherit eternal life?”and each time Jesus listed the number ONE requirement as following the commandments. Simple again. And when asked the greatest commandment he simply defined it as“Loving God and your neighbor as yourself.” Simple again. No complicated later Christian soteriology.
In fact the“Sermon on the mount”in Matthew (chapters 5-7 I believe) is all about the absolute necessity of doing unto others rather than about the necessity of believing in Jesus. That sermon ends with the statement that those who DID the acts of mercy prescribed there had“built their house on solid ground, rather than sand.” It did not say that God loved you for believing Jesus was the“lamb of God”and that your faith in believing something that specific about Jesus would ensure you a house built on solid ground. No, rather the acts of mercy were what was most important. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7). It also contains that great teaching about not judging others, lest ye be judged. And it contains the equally great teaching,
“12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.“
But if“doing unto others” “sums up the law and the prophets”then what need is there to justify the doctrine of substitutionary sacrifice and the necessity of believing in it? If I do unto others, thatʼs it. And if I forgive those who trespass against me, God will also forgive me.
As for the remaining non-synoptic Gospel out of the four, did you know that ONLY in that non-synoptic Gospel (The Gospel of John) do you find John the Baptist calling Jesus“the Lamb of God,”and only in that Gospel do you find Jesus dying as the lambs are being slaughtered, and only in that Gospel alone do you find the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus“at night”and hearing how to be“born again,”and how necessary that is, and if they donʼt believe that“God gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him will be saved,”then they are“condemned already.”(John chapter 3) Sounds to me like the Gospel authors could have gotten their act together in a tighter fashion about exactly what was necessary in order to“inherit eternal life,”but they didnʼt. Instead, the author of the last Gospel has to come up with trips at“night”and add words to the Baptistʼs mouth, and have Jesus die as the lambs were being slaughtered (the other Gospels raise questions as to whether Jesus was indeed slaughtered at that simultaneous moment with the lambs or not). Moreover, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not for“sin”at all. “Sins”were forgiven on the Jewish day of atonement, not on Passover. But I guess if you keep widening oneʼs“typological perspective”and squint and stand back far enough it all makes sense to Christian theologians and apologists, while Jewish theologians are left scratching their heads. Just visit www.jewsforjudaism.org and do a search there for“Passover lamb”and see what Jewish theologians have to say about the meaning of their own Bible.
By the way, aside from the Gospel of John you CAN find at least one statement in at least one of the synoptic Gospels about“unbelievers”being“condemned.” It is found in Mark chapter 16:15 He said to them,“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
However the above portion of Mark in which the words“unbelievers”and“condemned”appear, is not considered an“authentic”portion of the earliest known copies of the Gospel of Mark (from which it is absent). Rather, it is considered a later addition by the church, as are two other known early alternative endings to that Gospel. Notice also that those same verses also proved a source of inspiration for the founding of the snake-handling sect of Baptists, who by the way, have their own doubts as to whether you truly has“saving”faith such as they do.
The fundamental mistake Ed and Paul are making, is that they think that God has the option of just ignoring their sinful rebellion against Him.
Edward: How exactly are you defining“sinful rebellion?” Is it“sinful rebellion”to simply be asking the commonsense questions I have asked above, and is it“sinful rebellion”to doubt that the Bible is an inspired book, i.e., to doubt that it is inspired beyond any other words written down by men on earth? And is it“sinful rebellion”for me to raise questions concerning the history of Christian dogma, and to simply point out that some Christians also doubt whether he is truly“saved”or whether his heart is completely“right with God”in so far as they define such matters?
In my opinion I am not even arguing“with God”but simply with your particular notions of God and the Bible and Science, etc.
But even a human judge who just let the guilty go free, would be dismissed from office as an unjust judge. But at least a human judge *could* just let the guilty go free, because a human judge can act corruptly and unlawfully, but God *cannot* act corruptly and unlawfully.
Edward: So, are you saying that the God you believe in prides himself on his“lawfulness”above all? A law requiring eternal judgment,“vengeance,”descriptions of being thrown into fiery lakes, etc. Fine, now tell me how such things are easily reconciled with the idea of a Being that is“all-compassionate.” I know of no definition of“all-compassionate”that fits such descriptions. Eternal vengeance and being cast into lakes of fire appears to be the least likely activity to be pursued by beings who are“infinitely compassionate.” I cannot reconcile in my brain“infinite compassion”with“infinite torment,” or imagine Jews being marched into Hitlerʼs gas chambers, only to be resurrected and cast into lakes of fire for eternity. If you can easily reconcile such things in your head and heart then I am certainly incredulous. I tried to as a Christian and failed. And it now appears to me to be a case of ancient near eastern writers imaging a God in the image of their own fiery tempers and human compassion. Take the“imprecatory psalms”for instance. Lewis mentions them in THE FOUR LOVES I believe. Many theologians interpret those psalms as reflections of human anger, not as the directly inspired word of the Lord, nor as something that God honestly wants sung to Him, because those psalms are so obviously nasty. Even C. S. Lewis found them too disturbing to attribute them to a truly good God. C. S. Lewis admitted the he would sooner disbelieve in the“inspiration”of various passages in the Bible that depicted God as less than good, than he would believe that a good God by any reasonable definition of the word“good,”spoke or acted in such a manner. Lewisʼ words on this matter can be found in Beversluisʼs book in which Lewisʼ letters were published, letters written toward the end of Lewisʼ life. I cited such statements from Lewis in my own personal testimony chapter in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.
The bottom line is that if God had the option of just ignoring manʼs sinful rebellion against Him, then why would He send His own Son, to die on the Cross for their sin?
Edward: Pardon me, but the real“bottom line”is that you are assuming many things, namely that“God sent”“his Son”“to die” “for sins”in order to correct“manʼs sinful rebellion.”
Ed claimed in an earlier post to have read everything that C.S. Lewis wrote, so he would be familiar with this tagline quote, which makes it clear that in sending unrepentant sinners to Hell, God is just giving them what they have all along wanted, i.e. for God to“To leave them alone”.
Edward: You cited a verse in Revelation earlier, which said God“casts”sinners into a“lake of fire.” Is that equivalent to C. S. Lewisʼ image of simply“leaving them alone?”
For that in the final analysis is what Hell is - separation from God forever, and left alone in eternity with oneʼs own self-tormenting memories of what might otherwise have been.
Edward: I fear that you take your theological threats far more seriously than I do. And I wonder if you truly believe in your heart of hearts even half of what you sometimes cite from the Bible? Seems to me that you find Lewis more quote worthy, especially on the issue of eternal damnation. *smile* By the way, Lewisʼ quotation that you cite as your tagline below, was written because at that time Lewis also was trying to justify that“eternal damnation”had the“full support of Scripture”as he says in that same book, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. But Lewis, even then, shied away from speaking in terms of a“firey lake in which people were cast.” Lewisʼ“hell”was depicted more like people wandering in an overcast polluted inner city and dwelling more on their inner psychological misdeeds for all eternity rather than on flames or other torments licking their freshly resurrected bodies.
And Lewisʼ musings on hell did not end with what he wrote in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. Lewis went on to later write THE GREAT DIVORCE, in which Lewis introduced a universalist minister character by the name of George Macdonald, based on a genuine universalist Christians minister, novelist and preacher who lived at least a generation before Lewis, and someone whom Lewis also has called“his spiritual mentor.” Lewis had the“Macdonald”character say something in THE GREAT DIVORCE about how“St. Paul spoke as though all would be saved.” And the spiritual being who is listening does not outright disagree with such a statement either, but also hints that all would be well. Lewisʼ view of hell was still apparently evolving, since he was asking questions of a universalist nature in THE GREAT DIVORCE, and felt that such questions ought to be included in his novel. In fact, by including such a question in his novel he was apparently opening up questions as to whether or not the doctrine of eternal hell did have the“full support of Scripture.” (Speaking of what“has”or“does not have”the“full support of Scripture,”the idea that literally everyone“went to sheol eternally after they died”certainly appears to have had Scriptural support throughout much of the Old Testament, as many Hebrew scholars agree.)
Since Lewis in his essays mentioned Macdonaldʼs writing so highly, I too decided to read Macdonaldʼs two novels that Lewis highly praised, and some of Macdonaldʼs sermons that Lewis later anthologized. Macdonald does have that“universalistic”affect on one. In Macdonaldʼs two major novels that Lewis loved, LILITH, and PHANTASTES, Macdonald proved himself a marvelous fantastist like Lewis, Chesterton, Williams, and Tolkein.
Part Two: Seven Points Challenge to Ed
The first point I want to make is that I am not a Lutheran or a Presbyterian and I have no personal stake (and I doubt if even a Lutheran or Presbyterian would) in whether Melanchthon, Luther or Calvin thought, said, wrote or did these things. Nevertheless, I would be interested in what evidence (if any) Ed has for them.
And even if they did what was their context? There is a fundamental misunderstanding in all these allegations, and that is that these reformers were just *theologians*. They had no power to actually do anything to anyone, except to advise on theological matters. Luther certainly did not have it anything like his own way in Germany with his strong-willed (and probably not even Christian) ruler, Philip of Hesse, and Calvinʼs sphere of direct influence was only over a city, Geneva, with only 13,000 people, and even then he had a powerful and independently minded Consistory that he had to work through. As Wendel points out, in the case of Servetus, the role of these theologians was analogous to todayʼs“technical adviser”(see tagline and below).
However, thinking that Ed just might have references to all seven on hand (which he *should* have given the gravity of the allegations) I had referred them to another list in which there are professional historians (both Catholic and Protestant), and apart from , they had never actually heard of them. For example one of these historians, whose specialization is“European Intellectual History”and the“History of Western Christianity”, said:
“The only of these episodes I have even heard about was the burning of Servetus.“
Another of these historians pointed out:
“The 16th century was a different age with different assumptions and values. For example, they actually believed in witches who acted as the minions of Satan dispensing evil in the world. Therefore they treated them as we treat terrorist today. It is inappropriate to hold people from the past to the same norms as today when their sensibilities were less educated or informed.”EB <That reminds me, did you know that  Melanchthon (great Christian theologian, Reformer, and close associate of Martin Luther) justified the use of torture on prisoners, by arguing,“Why should we treat them any better in this life than God is going to treat them in the next?”
I would be interested in what evidence (if any) Ed has for this. Even if Melanchthon did say it, what was its context? For example,“torture on prisoners”was probably already the norm in the early 16th century and Melanchthon (assuming he even said it) maybe have simply been agreeing with the status quo.
And again, even in Melanchthon did say it, he was just a *theologian*. What Ed has to show is: 1) that Melanchthon actually said it; 2) the context in which it was said; and 3) what was the result, i.e. did anyone in *government*, which after all made the laws and enforced them, took any notice of what Melanchthon said?
The same historian said:
“Iʼve never heard of incident 1, but torture was not uncommon in medieval Europe.”
But I would have thought that if“incident 1”had *actually* happened, then a historian would more likely than not have heard of it.EB: And  Luther himself signed a paper that Melanchthon drafted that demanded the death penalty for anyone in Saxony who did not agree with the Apostleʼs Creed.
Again, I would like to see Edʼs evidence for this.
Why I think it is unlikely is not that I cannot imagine Luther or Melanchthon doing it, but that I would have thought it would have been *already* the existing medieval Holy Roman Empire law (the same law that Servetus was executed for denying the Deity of Christ and the Trinity), that anyone who denied“the Apostleʼs Creed”would have been guilty of a capital crime, just as today it is a capital crime in most advanced Western countries, to commit treason.
So I cannot see why Melanchthon or Luther would have, in early 16th century Germany *needed to*“demand… the death penalty for anyone in Saxony who did not agree with the Apostleʼs Creed”!
Another historian said:
“I asked the specialist on the Reformation at my university, and he told me that numbers 1-2 sound like they are possible”
But“possible”is not *actual*. I would have thought that if“numbers 1-2”*actually* happened, then a“specialist on the Reformation at [a] … university”, would almost certainly have heard of them.
BTW, if Ed does provide any evidence, I will refer it to these historians for their comment on how reliable Edʼs sources are, and indeed to check the sources.EB: Did you also know that  Calvin had a small child beheaded for striking his father,
Again, I would like to see Edʼs evidence for this. I am aware of various Internet sites recycling this (at least one says it was“A child who struck his mother was beheaded!), but none that I can see that have an actual reference to a mainstream historical source.
Personally I think it is most improbable, apart from the fact that none of the historians I asked had even heard of it (and they surely would have - we *all* would have heard of it - and I never had), is that again Calvin was just a theologian and he had no power to have anyone executed unless it was already the existing law. And I must say I would be very surprised if even medieval Holy Roman Empire law of the 16th century prescribed the death penalty for children, for *anything*.EB: Calvin …  had adulters tied together and drowned in the Rhine,
The above historian wrote:
“I asked the specialist on the Reformation at my university, and he … pointed out that in number 4, the Rhine River does not flow through Geneva, making that one really improbable.”
This is what makes me think that this is all an Internet myth (if not an outright lying concoction by Ed or one or more of his ilk). It is interesting that a Google search on Calvin + drown* + Rhine + adulter* did not turn up even *one* reference! There were a lot of hits to Calvin + drown* + Rhine but all the ones I read were not about this.
One of the historian said:
“Incidents 2, 3, and 4 sound unlikely to me.”
Again, what exactly is Edʼs claim? Is Ed (or his source) claiming that Calvin *personally* held“tied [adulterers] together and”then *personally*“drowned [them]“in the Rhine”(or whatever) by *personally* holding their“heads under the water”?
Or is it that, under the medieval law at the time, which prescribed a range of penalties for moral breaches (as our law does even today), up to an including the death penalty for what were regarded as quite serious (including adultery) and Calvin, as the senior theologian in Geneva, had the role as“technical adviser”(see tagline) in providing theological advice to the Magistracy, which then had the role of the of actually carrying out the penalty (including execution), as per the law?
If that is the case, then Calvin no more“had adulters [sic] tied together and drowned in the Rhine”(or whatever) than a forensic scientist named Brown, giving technical evidence at a murder trial of a non-Christian, which lead to the jury finding the accused guilty, and the judge ordering his execution, which was then carried out by prison authorities, that“Brown electrocuted unbelievers”!
So again, I would like to see Edʼs evidence for this.EB<Calvin …  prosecuted people for being“witches”(they were executed too),
The same historian said:
“Incident 5 seems likely (and common throughout Europe)”
But the“specialist on the Reformation”said that:
“numbers 3-5 are probably wrong (though he hesitated a bit on number 5)”
But my question is, did *Calvin* himself *personally*“prosecute… people for being ‘witches’”? Again, Calvin was just a theologian. I can imagine him being sought for technical theological advice on what was a“witch”, and him advising what the Bible says:
Ex 22:18 (KJV) “Thou shalt not suffer a witch [Heb. kashaph, “to whisper a spell, i.e. to inchant or practise magic”, “sorcerer”, “(use … witchcraft)”] to live.”
Dt 18:10 “There shall not be found among you any one that [is] a witch,
But as these historians point out, 16th century Europeans did not need Calvinʼs advice to “prosecute… people for being ‘witches’ and having them “executed too”, so again I doubt that Calvin *personally* had anything but a peripheral role in this.
To make out this was all Calvinʼs *personal* doing, as though the rest of Europe were all enlightened 21st century liberal humanitarians, is either historical ignorance (and therefore incompetence) or (more likely) deliberate *dishonesty*.
I would like to see Edʼs evidence for this, particularly what role *exactly* (if any) did Calvin play in ?EB: Calvin …  put people in jail for dancing too gaily at their own daughterʼs wedding,
The “specialist on the Reformation” said that:
“number 6 was probably true, since ‘promiscuous’ dancing was illegal in Geneva.”
Another historian said:
“Incident 6 sounds possible, though Iʼve never heard of it.”
But again, what *exactly* is the claim? Is it that Calvin *personally* “put people in jail for dancing too gaily at their own daughterʼs wedding”? As I posted to this other list:
“But again, e.g. “Calvin …  put people in jail” makes it sound like Calvin personally was gate crashing parties, arresting dancers, marching down to the jail, opening the cells with his own personal set of keys and locking them up.
[But] I guess: ‘One of Genevaʼs Calvinists reported a breach of the law against dancing [to Calvin who advised him to take it] to the Genevan authorities, who then, according to the law held a hearing, at which, upon the testimony of witnesses, the accused admitted the breach, whereupon he/she was imprisoned for the prescribed period, according to law’, does not quite sound dramatic enough!”EB: Calvin …  had Servetus burned at the stake for arguing in favor of Unitarianism,
One of the historians wrote:
“Actually, incident 7 is true, though not unique to Calvin. Calvin sought to have him beheaded instead, but he was overruled and Servetus received the sentence of burning which was common for heretics. He had been condemned and sought by the Catholic Church prior to his arrival in Geneva.”
That is consistent with what I wrote to this other list:
“My understanding is that even , the burning of Servetus at the stake for blasphemy, all that Calvin did was lay a charge with the Genevan Magistracy of blasphemy, based on Servetus writings (including his annotations to Calvinʼs Institutes that Servetus brazenly returned to Calvin), in which Servetus denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity. The Genevan Magistracy then, prosecuted the case and Servetus was duly executed as prescribed under Genevan law (which was the existing medieval Catholic law), the Magistracy ignoring a plea from Calvin that the execution not be by burning (see tagline).EB: I could go on about Calvin.
I am sure that Ed *could* “go on about Calvin”, especially if he is just making it up as he goes along, or is just relying on others who are just making it up as they go along!
But before Ed does “go on about Calvin”, he has a major credibility problem in these seven (7) as yet unsubstantiated serious allegations about “Melanchthon … Luther [and] Calvin”!
The Moderator has now ruled that “It is now on-topic on CED for a member to post allegations that Christian leaders like Luther, Calvin, etc, lied or otherwise acted immorally or unethically in order to attempt to discredit Christianity”:
and since Edʼs reply would be a “response” it would not be counted as one of Edʼs “last five (5) new posts on CED”:
And while he is at it, maybe Ed would like to reply to one of these historians, who wrote:
“P.S. If this atheist is looking to hang the albatross of martyrdom around the neck of religious believers, then he needs look no further than Vaclav Havel & Alexander Solzhenitsyn who might have a thing of two to say about the terror that was the atheistic Soviet Union.”
And that involved many *millions* executed and it was only in the *20th* century!
“Servetus intended to seek asylum in Naples. But in order to reach Italy he very imprudently traveled through Geneva. He had hardly arrived there when he was arrested upon Calvinʼs demand, on August 13th, 1553-76 The Genevan law prescribed that every accuser must yield himself prisoner for the duration of the proceedings he was initiating, so that he himself should suffer an appropriate penalty if the accused were judged innocent. It was therefore no very light undertaking to bring a public action of this kind. Calvin, however, had no hesitation: he charged one of his disciples to lodge the complaint of heresy and blasphemy, and to allow himself to be imprisoned as the law required. Contrary to all expectation, the Magistracy immediately 96 The Organization o the Church in Geneva took up the cudgels against Servetus: Calvinʼs pupil was released after a few days and dismissed without even the customary warning. Moreover, the first interrogations to which Servetus was subjected made a very bad impression on the judges. The Council decided to prosecute the case in its own name. … As for Calvin, he did not conceal his hope that Servetus would be put to death, but otherwise than by fire, the usual punishment for blasphemers. Servetus, by his own attitude especially in the course of his disputes with Calvin, seemed purposely to stir up the animosity of his accusers, as though for pleasure. If we can believe the official report, his behaviour was in the last degree arrogant and unmannerly. …. Everyone was already convinced of the necessity of getting rid of this heretic … The Swiss Churches showed themselves unanimous in denouncing Servetus, in congratulating the Genevans upon their zeal, and in urging the Magistracy to prevent the accused from doing further mischief. … on October 26th Servetus was condemned to punishment by fire, and burnt alive on the day after, in spite of the intervention of Calvin and some pastors who pleaded for a less barbarous method of execution. The death of Servetus, for which Calvin bears a large share of the responsibility, has given rise to an abundant literature ever since the day after his execution. Most of the historians, even of those most favourable to Calvin, have bitterly reproached him for having tarnished his renown by such unconsidered action. But this is to forget two things: first, that Servetus suffered the fate that hundreds of heretics and Anabaptists suffered at the hands of Protestant authorities of all shades of opinion, as well as of Catholic authorities; and secondly, that it is contrary to a sound conception of history to try to apply our ways of judging and our moral criteria to the past. Calvin was convinced, and all the reformers shared this conviction, that it was the duty of a Christian magistrate to put to death blasphemers who kill the soul, just as they punished murderers who kill the body. … Tolerance, in the sixteenth century, was not, and could not be, anything but a sign of religious opposition or apathy. Calvin had received the fullest support from the Magistracy throughout this painful affair. Furthermore, it was the political power which had taken over the conduct of the prosecution, in which the reformer figured as hardly more than a technical adviser.” (Wendel F., “Calvin The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought,” Mairet P., transl., , Fontana: London, 1965, p.95-98)
October 8, 2003
Ed Babinski: hey! Thanks for inviting me back, and thanks for asking me to get together references for some historic facts concerning Luther, Mel. and Cal., I have been on a 16th century reading jag since your request (must be about 50 books so far)! Youʼll be happy to know I found the references in historical sources that I do not think you will have difficulty accepting. Still typing up my reply, but it has grown to article length, though I hope to shorten the references for the sake of posting a reply here at CED. I thank you for inspiring me to conduct such a thorough research project, and for challenging me to demonstrate that I am not quite as “unreliable” a purveyor of information as you recently told the group I was. Though it does trouble me that you pre-judge my pieces on Nightingale and hospitals without first reading them. For instance I did not doubt a connection between modern hospitals and Christianity. There is certainly a connection, but also a connection between the evolution of hospitals and the growth of Western civilization in many other areas as well, not just religious areas. I also pointed out the secular nature of modern medicine and modern studies of health, disease, plumbing, and city planning, which may have prevented more diseases from occurring and/or healed more people in the past hundred and fifty years than Christianity alone did in the previous two thousand.
No need for an apology concerning your change in the demerit system. People change their minds. Or as Oscar Wilde used to say, “Converting other people is easy, converting oneʼs self is whatʼs difficult.”
I do salute you for keeping the use of invective at such an infinitesimal level in here.
About Nightingale, I did not make her sexuality a major point in my article. My major point was that both she and Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross) both happened to be Unitarian/Universalists. Do anti-Trinitarian universalists count as “mere Christians?” If so, then I might not be far from heaven myself.
I also pointed out in my article on Nightingale and on the origin of hospitals (and on the origin of “Doctors Without Borders”), the secular nature of the services that both Nightingale, and the founder of the Red Cross, espoused: Treat everybody regardless of their religion and let them see whichever reverend or rabbi or inman they wished to see, based on each personʼs own religion. Nightingale favored universal health care and treatment for all and respecting whatever religious preferences a person had when they first entered her hospital. In fact if you google the Red Cross youʼll even discover that today it is known as “the Red Cross and Red Crescent.”
And yes, the founder of the INTERNATIONAL Red Cross, Andre Dunant was a homosexual. Which reminds me … the “Chalcedon Foundation” whom you cited an article from, believes that homosexuals should be executed, which is what Rushdoony and Gentry of the Chalcedon Foundation, agree on. If that Biblical law had been carried out, hmmm, no Red Cross at all.
One Reconstructionist minister and V.P. of a large Reconstructionist group even wrote an article advocating the governmental execution of disobedient children who “curse” or “strike” their parents and are in their “middle teens” (i.e., 15) or older. I wrote him and asked him why he choose “middle teens” (15 years old) as a cut off point? I mean, Jewish people hold a Bar Mitzvah to celebrate their sonʼs “manhood” at 13 years of age today, which is early teens, not middle teens, so by that measurement, you could have children under 13 years of age executed. In fact, the ancient Hebrews killed infants as commanded by God and thereʼs a psalm that talks about the “unrighteous” being that way right out of the womb. So I asked the Rev. why he chose “middle teens” as a cut off point for the enforcement of those two commands about executing children. He admitted he didnʼt have a Biblical reason for such a choice.
As I said I am still composing my article on the Luther, Mel and Cal refs, and will then whittle down the parts dealing with the specific instances I had mentioned and send them to the group.
By the way, since you are counting how many “non-CED topic” emails people will be sending in contrast to their on-CED topic email, let me add a CED-topic to the end of this particular email:
I would like you to discuss progressive creationism in light of the the Garden of Eden story. Perhaps you believe Adam and Eve were not descended in any way from an ape-like ancestor? Or do you believe a Designer fiddled with Australopithecus genes just a tad and that Adam and Eve popped out of the womb of an Australopithecus mother, and that Adam and Eve looked like two Homo Erecti?
Also, molecular evidence now indicates (according to a recent book my boss just showed me) that there really was an“Adam and Eve,”however the molecular evidence also indicates that Eve arrived tens of thousands of years AFTER Adam. In other words every human being living today is descended from the genes of a singular pair of creatures, but the male of that pair came from a far older lineage of hominidae than the particular female whose genes we are all descended from. Again, how does a progressive creationist deal with those kinds of questions?
Edʼs Response on a Child being Beheaded
My first reply regarding Calvin and the execution of a child and adulterers.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
ED: References to back up my “slander.” The sections below are from historical works both old and new. The most recent source cited below is Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvinʼs Geneva (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995 [the same year my own work, Leaving the Fold was published]). At the end of each section appears the SOURCE. These particular quotations deal only with “the execution of a child” and “execution of adulterers” in Calvinʼs Geneva and Calvinʼs complicity.
On further note: Calling Luther and Calvin “men of their time” whenever it is shown how closely they followed the herdʼs intolerant views is merely to admit that even with the promise of the “Holy Spirit” to “lead them into all truth,” and an “inspired book” that they studied their whole lives, they remained but “men of their time.”
Moreover, Luther and Calvin were not simply “men of their time,” but outspoken leaders.
And Luther and Calvinʼs intolerance was — by their own admission — the fruit of their Bible study. They agreed for instance that the Bible portrayed Jesus as concerned with how individuals could “inherit eternal life.” Neither did Jesus deny that the laws of Moses remained in force, nor did he admit to his opponents that he had truly violated any of them. Neither did Jesusʼ command, “Give to all who ask, asking nothing in return,” constitute practical advice concerning the laws and activity of a nation. So Jesus directed his teachings at individuals, not toward the setting up of laws and the governance of a state. Meanwhile, Paul taught that all rulers (whether Christian or not) were instituted by God and “did not bear the sword in vain.” That left only the “laws of Moses” as a list of Godʼs most holy laws for governing a nation.
Luther and Calvinʼs Bible studies further compelled them to conclude that humanity lay in the depths of sin, blindness, stubbornness and ignorance. So, given a choice, Christians needed to choose and serve a godly ruler who would protect and care not just for the peopleʼs bodies but for their souls as well — a ruler who would enforce not just the laws on the second tablet of the “Laws of Moses” (governing interactions between men), but enforce the laws on the first tablet as well (governing interactions between man and God). That was also the view of Christian theologians ever since the first Roman Emperor converted to Christianity. The Emperorʼs conversion was taken as a sign that God wanted the state to protect and care for more than just the body. Indeed, examples in the Old Testament abound in which prophets from Moses onward claimed that nations were either blessed or cursed by God based on collective obedience to His holy laws, especially those concerning the extinguishing of “idolatry” and “blasphemy” in the nation as a whole.
Execution Of A Child And Adulterers In Calvinʼs Geneva
On the legislation of Geneva… he [Calvin] exercised a twofold, a direct and indirect, influence. Immediately after his return [to Geneva] he established the code of morals… The revision of the laws generally was committed to him, as well as the task of framing a code of morals… By his strenuous co-operation a collection of laws and ordinances [p. 354] was completed in the year 1543, and in the same year a new liturgy was given to the church. [p. 355]…
In the year 1555 [the year when the majority of Calvinʼs political opponents had been routed] he [Calvin] succeeded in limiting the freedom of the state, so that his opponents might not have it always in their power to summon the [greater, larger] council [of 200], which possessed so great, so almost irresistible an influence. His [Calvinʼs] name is not mentioned in the report of the proceedings, but nothing whatever was attempted at this period without his being consulted. [p. 357]…
It may appear strange that Calvin did not undertake the second revision of the laws [of Geneva]; but it seems that a certain degree of jealousy, on the part of the magistrates, prevented their entrusting him again with so important a matter, not only because he was a foreigner, but because of the religious power which he possessed. The task was therefore entrusted to Germain Colladon though he too was a stranger. But as Calvin was on very intimate terms with Colladon, who entertained the most devoted regard for him [they were not only neighbors but they were also the only two university-trained lawyers of repute in Geneva. — E.T.B.], he [Calvin] still continued to exercise an indirect influence on the legislation. If Calvin therefore considered a new law necessary, he appeared before the council and demanded it in the name of the Consistory; and this was granted whenever any of the members of the assembly were of his opinion or party. A great many remarkable documents show, that Calvin thoroughly examined not only the higher spheres of Genevese legislation, but penetrated even to its minutest peculiarities…
We recognize in Calvinʼs legislation the majesty, the earnestness [p. 358] and strictness of his mind, the qualities which God glorifies in his own holy severity as the judge of the wicked. He had the honor of God, and not merely the security of man, in view. The spirit that guided him, and the principle which lay nearest his heart, are found expressed in a letter to Somerset, the regent of England, to whom, in 1546, he tendered instructions, in the highest degree characteristic, respecting the Christian government of a kingdom. The right of punishment established by the old covenant, which everywhere threatened the stiff-necked people with death, proclaiming thereby the anger and righteousness of God, is constantly apparent in the statements of Calvin. With him, as with Moses, the spiritual members of the state were judges; both were zealous for the honor of God. As with Moses idolatry, so now was blasphemy punished with death. As the law of Moses recognizes no peculiar crime as treason against the state, which however must probably occur in the existence of a nation; so with Calvin, in the same way, it is marked as treason against God. To curse, to strike a parent, is punished in both systems with death; theft in both is punished with loss of freedom only; unchastity is treated severely in both, and the penalty of adultery is death. …
There is even reason to believe that Calvin, as soon as he obtained increased authority, endeavored to sharpen by degrees the severity of the earlier laws, which had been received by the state; that they retained their original form till about the year 1560, but were, after his death [in 1564], thoroughly imbued with his sterner principles. Several cases of punishment illustrate this statement. Edicts exist, drawn up by him [Calvin] in 1556, “Sur les paillardises, adulteres, blasphemes, juremens et despitemens de Dieu;” but the council of two hundred found them too severe, and decided (Nov. 15th) that, because they seemed too rude to some, they should be moderated and revised, and après entre presentes en general. [Audin gives a date of 1560 and a translation for the above edicts: “On the 15th of November, 1560, they [the Genevan council] decided that the new decrees, ‘regarding debauchery, adultery, blasphemy, and contempt of God,’ added to his [Calvinʼs] code, ‘seemed to some persons too severe, and ought to be revised and moderated, and afterwards be in general presented.’” — J. M. V. Audin, History of the Life, Works, and Doctrines of John Calvin, trans. Rev. John McGill, (Louisville, R. J. Webb & Brother), p. 357]
The overthrow [in 1555] of the “Libertines” [which was the name Calvin had given his major political opponents, though they called themselves “The Children of Geneva” — E.T.B.] had given power to the Consistory, and offenders could now be punished with more success than formerly. Adultery, which, before Calvinʼs return [to Geneva], was [p. 359] punished only by an imprisonment of some days, or by a trifling fine, was now punished with death. An adulteress was drowned in the Rhone. Thus two citizens of the best families (Heinrich Philip and Jacques le Nevue) were beheaded. [p. 360]…
There is great beauty in the earnestness with which the authority of parents is defended. In the year 1563, a young girl who had insulted her mother was kept confined, fed on bread and water, and obliged to express her repentance publicly in the church. A peasant boy who had called his mother a devil, and flung a stone at her, was publicly whipped, and suspended by his arms to a gallows as a sign that he deserved death, and was only spared on account of his youth. Another child in 1568, for having struck his parents was beheaded. A lad of sixteen, for having only threatened to strike his mother, was condemned to death; on account of his youth the sentence was softened, and he was only banished, after being publicly whipped, with a halter about his neck. [p. 361]…
The military ordinance before alluded to declares that… the double crime of adultery should be punished with loss of life: simple adultery was to be punished with the iron-collar; witchcraft with only nineteen daysʼ imprisonment; but the states-register names a great number of individuals who were drowned for this species of crime…
The severity of the legislation thus established is evinced in some of the minutest points of discipline… The clergy showed themselves still more earnest in this matter than the council: they refused to tolerate many amusements [p. 362] which the council accounted innocent. In the year 1576 they excommunicated some young people, who on the day of the three holy kings were found playing at a game common to the festival, and one of the simplest among them was persuaded into the belief that his head would be cut off. The council considered that such a punishment would be too severe, and made their representations to the Consistory accordingly…
In respect to attendance at church, he [Calvin] acted with such determination, that he inflicted a regular penalty of some sous on those who were guilty of negligence. He admonished the people with great earnestness on this duty, as we see from the following letter: “Invaluable is the fruit of that holy institution, by means of which we assemble together in one place, to be instructed in common in the divine doctrines of Christ… to show ourselves before God and the angels as the soldiers of Christ. This is indispensably necessary, and Satan could not expose you to a more dangerous temptation than that of inducing you, under any pretence whatever, to treat so great a benefit with contempt. … Godʼs anger is openly revealed against those whose hearts are not made partakers of his Word.”
Much has been said respecting the violence which he [Calvin] employed in compelling men to perform the services of religion. Calvin may possibly have derived this compulsory mode of acting, in matters of pastoral duty, from his great master, Augustine, who, unlike Calvin, was somewhat inconsistent with himself [p. 445] in his adoption of compulsory principles, which he partly put in force and partly rejected, in his treatment of opponents [like the Donatists — E.T.B.]. Calvin, impressed with the idea that Christians need a spiritual education, and that ministers are answerable for souls, went further in his zeal for pastoral superintendence than his great exemplar…
All… regulations for the guidance of ministers were reviewed by the Consistory. The members of this evangelical, moral tribunal afforded regular reports of that which was brought before them. Every unbecoming word, even heard in the street, was made known to the Consistory. Judgment was pronounced without respect to persons: an officer brought the offenders before the tribunal [which met weekly]. Thus both men and women of the highest [and lowest] class, the daughters of the first families [and the last families], were obliged to appear, and questions were put to them on the tenderest points of conscience. We may easily imagine with what rage and indignation those proceedings would be regarded by the old families, who… delighted… in music and dancing, in theatrical and other public amusements. Under the Catholic bishops they had enjoyed themselves… and had struggled successfully for their political liberty. But now they were obliged to submit themselves to the power of the stern reformer [who was almost always in attendance at each meeting of the Consistory, as the Registers of the Consistory proceedings attest. — E.T.B.], who demanded a lofty earnestness, … chasteness and purity, both in word and action. The Consistory admonished offenders. Very frequently such offenders would not submit themselves, but appealed to the council, which in its turn desired them to seek reconciliation with the church, and to pray the Consistory to pardon the offences that they had committed. In obedience to this injunction, they were obliged to kneel before the tribunal, to listen to its severe rebukes, and in bad cases to remain separated from communion, which was considered the most humiliating of disgraces. [p. 446]…
Calvin, notwithstanding his vehemence, always conducted himself with great dignity in the Consistory… But it also appears that Calvin sometimes used very strong language towards those before him, calling them hypocrites, and that they returned the abuse, a conduct which he did not leave unpunished. On such occasions he would rise indignantly from his seat, command attention, and require the Consistory to give the matter over to the council, that the offence might be punished as it deserved. As soon as the Consistory entertained a suspicion against any one, it referred them to the council, who ordered the accused to prison.
Calvin felt that he was especially elected to uphold the purity of doctrine… Many facts indeed tend to show that, at the first, any one who opposed the faith, or offended believers, or even ventured to take accused persons under his protection, exposed himself to great annoyances, complaints and processes. [p. 447]…
Heretical speeches against religions might even place the offenderʼs life in danger. Thus a woman, Copa of Ferrara, was sentenced in 1559 to ask mercy of God and of justice, and to be banished, with the order that she should depart within 24-hours, under pain of losing her head. This sentence was pronounced upon her because she had uttered certain heretical expressions against Calvin, and the directions of the Consistory… Some men who laughed while Calvin was preaching were put in prison for three days, and condemned to ask pardon before the Consistory. Numberless processes of this kind took place. In the two years 1558 and 1559 alone there were 414 such trials. [p. 448]
SOURCE: Paul Henry, D.D. [Protestant minister and seminary-inspector of Berlin], The Life and Times of John Calvin, The Great Reformer, Vol. I (Translated by Henry Stebbing, D.D., F.R.S., author of “The Church and Reformation” in Lardnerʼs Cyclopaedia; History of the Church of Christ From the Diet of Augusburg; Lives of the Italian Poets, etc.) (London: Whittaker and Co., 1849) [The “Translatorʼs Preface” in Vol. I states: “The present work affords ample details on the main points connected with Calvinʼs history, and with that of his age. They have been derived from sources now, in great part, for the first time made public… Dr. Henryʼs admiration of Calvin is almost unbounded. But devoted as is his veneration for the great reformer, he has been too candid to conceal either his faults or his errors. Though generally taking the part of an apologist, he never omits facts or documents; never garbles a letter, or weakens, by an imperfect abstract, a hostile argument… Twenty years, we understand, intervened between the commencement and the completion of Dr. Henryʼs work.” The “Authorʼs Preface” follows the “Translatorʼs Preface” and the translator has injected merely a paragraph where the author had originally listed the sources he consulted for his information. The sources are therefore listed in the original German publication, but not in the English translation, which contains only this paragraph: “Dr. Henry gives a detailed account of the sources of his information. The substance of this statement will be found in the notes and references. No author perhaps could ever lay claim to greater industry or honesty in the examination of original authorities than Dr. Henry.” So the original German edition of Dr. Henryʼs work must be consulted for the sources that he employed. — E.T.B.]
Calvin The Theocrat
In the year 1555, when some soldiers were on the point of starting from Geneva for the defense of their country, Calvin had these three letters, “I. H. I.,” engraved on their flags, to the end that they might understand, that above all things, they were children of the church. He had so skillfully combined the two elements, the religious and the political element, that the commune was as greatly troubled by the apparition of a heresy, as by the appearance of a standard of Savoy upon the Genevese territory. The people had to take part in every crusade set on foot, against a seditious or impious book; and whoever opened such book was punished, now by the prison, again by fines, and sometimes, if his curiosity assumed the form of revolt against the Calvinistic school, by death itself.
His [Calvinʼs] name is not inscribed at the head of the legislative code of 1543, which, however is entirely the product of his inspiration. At Strasbourg, from a prophetic anticipation of his recall [to Geneva], he had studied carefully the customs, and ancient edicts of the republic. He formed of them a collection, to which he added a great number of new edicts. … As long as Calvin lived, no one dared touch his Draconian work. To aid him in his labor, they had given him the syndic Roset, an apostate, who had become rich by [p. 353] purchasing at a trifling price, the confiscated property of Catholics, and, at a later period, the syndic la Rive, and some other councilmen, and also they exempted him Calvin from the duty of preaching on Sundays [so as to complete the code]. …
After the lapse of three centuries, a cry of reprobation burst forth from a Genevese breast, and in a writing, printed at Geneva, by a Protestant, we can read this energetic sentence: “Calvin overturned everything that was good or honorable to humanity [p. 354] in the reformation of Geneva, and established the reign of the most ferocious intolerance, of the most gross superstitions, of the most impious dogmas. He at first attained his end by cunning, then by force, menacing the council with an insurrection, and the vengeance of all the satellites by whom he was surrounded, when the magistrates wished to cause the laws to prevail over his usurped authority. Let them, then, admire him as an adroit, profound man, after the order of all those petty tyrants, who have enslaved republics in so many different countries; this must be allowed to feeble minds. Blood was necessary for that soul of mud.” [Galiffic, Notices genealogiques, t. III, p. 21.]…
At Geneva, they threw adulterous women into the Rhone; and the difference was, that in [ancient Christianized Rome] Constantinople the executioner sewed his victims in a sack, to hide them from the light. At Geneva, they threw them into the river with their eyes open [and for all to see the victim — E.T.B.].
“There was a rich burgher [in Geneva] named Henry Philip le Neveu, who, for fifteen years, kept a figure painted upon glass, which he called his familiar demon. Now, when he desired to know what his wife was doing, he approximated its ear, and the indiscreet image told him, in a whisper, something that it would have been much better for him not to have asked. The husband afterwards went to relate to any person who was willing to listen, how, at his lodgings, he had an image on glass which spoke, and a wife who would be very glad to make it keep silence. Le Neveu babbled so much that the council cause him to be arrested.” The image was silenced, and so was le Neveu: they cast one of them into the Rhone and hung the other.
Spon, that wise historian, says, very seriously: “In the year 1560, the Genevese made two examples of justice which savored of ancient [Christianized] Rome. A citizen having been condemned to the lash by the small council, for the crime of adultery, appealed from its sentence to the Two Hundred. His case was reconsidered, and the council, knowing that he had before committed the offense, and been against caught therein, condemned him to death, to the great astonishment of the criminal, who complained that they did him a wrong, to punish him with the highest degree of punishment. Some time after, for the same crime, a banker was executed who died with great repentance, blessing God that justice was so rigorously observed.” [Spon., History of Geneva, in 4 to., t. I, 305.]
There were children publicly scourged, and hung, for having called their mother she-devil and thief. When the child had not attained the age of reason, they hung him by the arm-pits, to manifest that he deserved death. [Picot, History of Geneva, in 8 vols., t. II, p. 264] [p. 355]
Calvin set to work to “brand the forehead” [a figure of speech — E.D.] of every intelligence sufficiently bold to question his mission, to discuss his theological doctrines, or to refuse his symbol of faith [communion]. Bolsec, who denied Calvinʼs predestination, was driven away from the republic; Gentilis, who rejected the Calvinistic quaternity, was condemned to take the rounds through the city [kneeling and crying repentance], with a halter on his neck; Castalion, who considered the Song of Songs [Song of Solomon] as apocryphal [was not allowed to become a minister, and had to leave town to find a better job — E.T.B.]; and Servetus, who had made sport of the Institutes, was burned alive.
Sometimes a wretch, worn out by sufferings, after having in vain cried for mercy to Colladon [a lawyer, and close friend and neighbor of Calvin] and his acolyte, the executioner, who, on the next day, were to resume their torturing, addressed himself to God, imploring Him to terminate his life; but soon he learned that God had not heard him; then he fell into despair, and requested to see Calvin. And Calvin entered the dungeon, and wrote to Bullinger: “I am able to assure you that they have acted very humanely towards the guilty; they hoist him up on the stake, and cause him to lose the earth by suspending him from the two arms.” [See chapter titled, “Servetus” in Audinʼs History of…Calvin]…
Most of the patients subjected to the torture, “on the recommendation of M. Colladon,” as we read in the registers of the city, acknowledged the real or false crimes, of which they were accused…
John Roset, under the violence of tortures, acknowledged the adultery [p. 356] of which he was accused; one of the judges experienced some remorse of conscience, and obtained a commutation of punishment. The decree ran: “John Roset has merited death with the halter; the council show him favor. He shall be scourged through the city, have his feet chained with an iron chain, and be put in prison for ten years; afterwards be perpetually banished from the city, under penalty of two hundred florins or crown fine, for which he shall give security.” [Registres de la ville.]…
Some verses were put into circulation [in Calvinʼs Geneva], in which the judges and executioner [of Geneva] were devoted to the wrath of God. The police seized them, and noted in them several infernal heresies. Three citizens, suspected of occupying themselves with the religious poetry, were cast into prison. Colladon, who had tortured them, according to his custom, concluded that they should suffer “the pain of death.” But the poets did not die; they were condemned to… cast [their own] heterodox inspirations into the flames.
Colladon… treated his prisoners as so many damned souls. If they refused to confess their crimes, he said, “The finger of Satan is here;” and he had the criminal shorn, and again subjected to the torture, persuaded that the devil was concealed in the hair of the sufferer.
Do not fear that Calvin will cry mercy, in behalf of the victim. If he descended into the lionʼs den, called the question chamber, it is not in order to say to the executioner, “Enough!” But coldly to write to Bullinger: “I should never have done, were I to refute all the idle stories which are circulated in my regard. … They say that unhappy persons have been forced to confess, under the torture, crimes, which afterwards they disavowed. There are four of them, it is true, who, at the moment of dying, changed some trifling things in their first avowals; but that torments constrained them to lie to God, this is not so.” Do you recognize here the [earlier Calvin], student of Noyon, who, by the dead body of his [newborn] child, wrote [unemotionally] to his friend, “Do come, we shall chat together?”
The whole study of the man, who calls himself minister of a God of mercy, is to invent new crimes, in order undoubtedly, to resemble the Being, whom he presents to us in his book of predestination, impelling his creatures to evil, and afterwards smiting them, in order to display his justice.
The Genevan councils themselves, the pliant instruments of Calvin, grew weary of beholding the blood flow; they dreaded lest it should cry to God; and, on the 15th of November, 1560, they decided that the new decrees, “regarding debauchery, adultery, blasphemy, and contempt of God,” added to his Draconian code, “seemed to some persons too severe, and ought to be revised and moderated, and afterwards be in general presented.” The civil power was visited by a good thought, of which it should be proud; but it dreaded to proclaim it, for fear of offending Calvin, and attributed it to “some persons,” as if it was afraid to accept the responsibility. [p. 357]
SOURCE: J. M. V. Audin [Member of the Academy and Literary Circle of Lyons, of the Tiberine Academy, and of the Academy of the Catholic Religion, of Rome], History of the Life, Works, and Doctrines of John Calvin, trans. Rev. John McGill, (Louisville, R. J. Webb & Brother, 1850)
Bible Verses Concerning The Necessity Of Executing Rebellious Children
He that strikes his father or his mother shall die the death.
— Exodus 21:15
He that curses his father or his mother shall die the death.
— Exodus 21:17
If any man has a son that is stubborn and disobedient, which will not hearken unto the voice of his father, nor the voice of his mother, and they have chastened him [The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”], and he would not obey them, Then shall his father and his mother take him, and bring him out unto the Elders of his city, and unto the gate of the place where he dwells, And shall say unto the Elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and disobedient, and he will not obey our admonition; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him with stones unto death: so thou shalt take away evil from among you, that all Israel may hear and fear.
— Deuteronomy 21:18-21
How Children Were Treated At The Height Of Calvinism In Geneva
In 1563, a girl named Genon Bougy, who had insulted her mother by calling her“japa,”was condemned to three days in prison on bread and water, and she had to make a public apology after worship services. In 1566, Damian Mesnier, a child from the village of Genthod, for insulting his mother by calling her“diablesse, hérège, larronne”and by throwing stones at her, was whipped in public and then hanged from the gallows with the rope passed under his arms, as a sign of the death he had deserved, but which was spared him because of his youth. Philippe Deville was beheaded in1568 for having beaten his father and step-mother. Four years later, a 16-year-old child tried to strike his mother, and was also condemned to death; but the sentence was reduced in light of his young age, and he was only banished, after being whipped in public with a rope around his neck.
SOURCE: Jean Picot [Professeur dʼhistoire dans la faculte des lettres de lʼAcademie de cette ville] Histoire de Geneve, Tome Second (Published in Geneva, i.e., A Geneve, Chez Manget et Cherbuliez, Impreimeurs-Libr. 1811) p. 264
“Girl” (?) Beheaded
A child was whipped for calling his mother a thief and a she-devil (diabless). A girl was beheaded for striking her parents, to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment.
SOURCE: Philip Schaff [Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York] Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation = Vol. VIII of History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, third edition revised, 1910) [FU - BR 145 .S6 1967 v.8 ] This particular citation is even available online at http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/history/8_ch13.htm
[Schaff does not footnote the “beheading” incident, though he does provide on that page and the next a few footnotes regarding other incidents of prohibitions and their penalties in Geneva. He also lists the sources he consulted when writing his book (sources are listed at the beginning of each section). In this case, judging by nearby footnotes and by his source list for that particular section, he most likely obtained his information from either the Registers of the Council of Geneva, or, “Amedee Roget: Lʼeglise et lʼetat a Geneve du vivant de Calvin. Etude dʼhistoire politico-ecclesiastique, published in Geneve, 1867 (pp. 92). Compare also his Histoire du people de Geneve depuis la reforme jusquʼa lʼescalade (1536-1602), 1870-1883, 7 vols.”
Picot and Schaff do not agree on the gender of the beheaded child, and my first source, Dr. Henry, only mentions that it was a “child,” not specifying its gender. Picotʼs History of Geneva provides the most complete information concerning the incident, including the childʼs name and the date of the beheading. The archives of Geneva are vast and include not only the Registers of the Council and the Registers of the Consistory, but many other records as well (that the Calvin scholar, Robert Kingdon, lists by category in Vol. 1 of his English translation of the Registers of the Consistory). Though massive, the Genevan archives could probably be searched by focusing on the year of the beheading and the childʼs name that Picot has given, and they could probably supply more information, such as the childʼs age when s/he was beheaded. — E.T.B.]
Calvinʼs Teaching On The Execution Of Rebellious Children From Calvinʼs Day To Our Own
The same year that the Libertines were overthrown (1555) and pro-Calvinists ruled Geneva, Calvin preached on the execution of rebellious children in a sermon that advocated it (in order to “remove the evil from among you” as it stated in Deuteronomy). The sermon was recorded (by a secretary in shorthand) and later published and is even available today in English on the internet at a site run by Theonomist Evangelical Christians who are some of Calvinʼs biggest modern day admirers. In his sermon Calvin cited verses from the Bible that taught that parents should both love and discipline their children, advice that you would normally hear in any sermon or read in a Parenting magazine today, with one crucial difference of course, the added Biblical necessity of having some disobedient, parent-dishonoring, rebellious children executed “to remove the evil from among you.”
Also during the1550s many editions of French Bibles were printed in Geneva that contained notes based on Calvinʼs teachings. In1560 an English translation of the Bible was published in Geneva, the famous “Geneva Bible.” Like the earlier French Bibles it featured notes that reflected the teachings of Calvin and Calvinism. Each book in the Geneva Bible was preceded by an opening “argument” — for instance the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy were preceded by “arguments” that said the laws revealed to Moses were “temporal and civil ordinances,” “necessary for a commonweal,” and to “govern” His “Church.” And a note in the Geneva Bible, concerning the command in Deuteronomy to execute rebellious children, added: “Which death was also appointed for blasphemers and idolaters: so that to disobey the parents is most horrible.”
Robert Kingdon [a modern day Calvin scholar who not only edited the Registers of the Consistory of Geneva, but also wrote a book about Adultery in Calvinʼs Geneva], noted that during the early 1560s: “We find in the surviving dossiers of Genevan criminal trials a cluster of several cases of adultery punished with the death penalty in 1560 and 1561. That was when the Calvinist Reformation was at its peak… Calvin too, was at the peak of his career, with a new and definitive edition of his masterwork, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, just off the [Genevan] press.”
In 1563, Calvinʼs Commentary on the Five Books of Moses was also published in Geneva and it reiterated what he had previously taught in his sermons in 1555 concerning the necessity of following Godʼs rules of discipline and the necessity of magistrates to obey and enforce Biblical laws, including the execution of rebellious children. It was soon after that when the harsh public disciplinary actions toward children took place. Moreover, during those same years, a string of witches were killed (not a one was banished, all executed, one right on the spot), several adulterers were executed, and a few people even committed suicide rather than face the Consistory. It was Calvinism in its most heightened state of belief and triumph.
In January of1998 the Rev. William Einwechter composed an article titled, “Stoning Disobedient Children,” that was published in Chalcedon Report. The Reverendʼs article raised some eyebrows in the world of “church and state news” since it advocated the execution of rebellious children who were “in their middle teens [15-17?] or older.” The Reverend responded to his critics in a second article. Both of his articles can be googled easily since they are posted at various websites. I emailed the Reverend, asking him why he chose the “mid-teens” as a cut off point for execution when Exodus mentions executing children twice, once for “cursing” their parents, and once for “striking” their parents, but in neither case does it specify the “age” of “executable” children. In fact in some places the Bible says God himself killed, or commanded his people to execute, infants and pregnant women. Therefore, the “age” of a child does not appear to have played a very large factor when it came to the necessity of removing “evil” from the sight of God:
Their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.
- Psalm 21:10
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born… let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
- Psalm 58:3,8
As for Israel, their glory shall fly away like a bird, and from the womb, and from the conception… Give them, O Lord: what will Thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts… they shall bear no fruit…
- Hosea 9:11-16
Every living thing on the earth was drowned [which no doubt included pregnant women and babies]… Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
- Genesis 7:23
Thus saith the LORD… Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling.
- 1 Samuel 15:3
Joshua destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD commanded.
- Joshua 10:40
The LORD delivered them before us; and we destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones.
- Deuteronomy 2:33-34
Kill every male among the little ones.
- Numbers 31:17
The wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and… Samaria shall become desolate… they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
- Hosea 13:15-16
With thee will I [the LORD] break in pieces the young man and the maid.
- Jeremiah 51:22
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
- Psalm 137:9
I added in my email to Rev. Einwechter that Calvinist Christians whose “fear of God” ran deep could cite scriptures like those above and argue for executing rebellious children of a far younger age than he suggested in his article. Apparently the Reverend did not wish to argue the question of “age” any further with me, since he never replied to the second email I sent him.
This subject also brings to mind the related question of the Bibleʼs rules for the disciplining of children:
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
- Proverbs 19:18 (The Hebrew word for “chasten” means literally “chasten with blows.”)
The blueness of a wound cleanses away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
- Proverbs 20:30 (The Hebrew word translated “stripes” means “beating.”)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beats him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from Sheol.
- Proverbs 23:13-14
As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee (with blows).
- Deuteronomy 8:5
For whom the Lord loves he chasteneth, and scourges every son whom he receives.
- Hebrews 12:6 (The Greek word translated “chasteneth,” also means “beating.”)
The Consistory Of Geneva, John Calvin, & Executions For Adultery
The Consistory of Geneva met once every week … for sessions that … cross-examined a number of local residents of Geneva who had been summoned before it [i.e., people accused of various charges]. … The registers of the Consistory make it clear that in the beginning the syndic was always in charge [as the] presiding officer. … In point of fact, however, [p. 16] John Calvin often dominated the proceedings. … The other members of the Consistory, and the members of the governing Small Council when considering appeals from the Consistory, tended to defer to Calvin. They would often explicitly solicit his opinion on a particular point. This was in good part due no doubt to his forceful personality. But it was also due to his formidable skills, the product of an unusually high powered education. Calvin was, of course, a theologian of international reputation, respected all over Europe for the cogency and persuasiveness of his interpretations of Holy Scripture, the Word of God, the sacred text from which all of his societyʼs most fundamental beliefs and values were held to have been derived. And Scripture was believed to be of relevance in resolving many of the ethical problems considered by the Consistory. …
The Consistory [p. 17] … normally concluded a case by administering “remonstrances” or “admonitions,” ritualized scoldings formulated by one of its members, most commonly by one of the ministers, often Calvin himself. If those who had been summoned before the Consistory accepted these scoldings without protest or complaint, that usually ended their case.
In cases in which the misconduct was judged to be particularly reprehensible or the people summoned seemed stubborn and unwilling to mend their ways, the Consistory could also proceed to excommunicate them, to bar them from participation in at least the next quarterly communion. This was a penalty that was much feared at the time. It was not only a source of religious anxiety that one was being kept from a ritual necessary for oneʼs eternal salvation. It was also a social penalty that kept one from participating in other community rituals and could separate a person from family, friends, and business associates. In later years, an individual who made no effort to reinstate himself before the Consistory following a sentence of excommunication could be banished from the city for a full year. Excommunication could and did drive some people completely out of Geneva.
Calvin and his fellow ministers … had to fight for the right [to excommunicate]. For more than a decade there was rising opposition within the Genevan community to the use [p. 18] of excommunication by the Consistory. … Consistorial excommunication was strenuously defended by Calvin and his fellow ministers. … They were supported politically by the rapidly growing number of [pro-Calvinist] refugees [from France]. These newcomers entered the Genevan political arena in increasing numbers by seeking and gaining membership in the select company of the “bourgeoisie,” often on payment of very substantial amounts of money. This entitled them to vote in the annual elections and to hold offices in much of the government of Geneva. [p. 19] … The complete and smashing victory of Calvinʼs lay friends [in 1555] had the effect of giving him nearly complete control of the church within the city of Geneva. Among other things, that meant that the Consistoryʼs right to excommunicate was fully recognized, without any effective challenge.
[The armies of the city of Bern protected Genevaʼs independence against Catholic prince-bishops who might try to reconquer it.] [p. 20] Yet Bern found Genevaʼs consistorial excommunication, and the preaching of predestination, to be subversive of the Zwinglian version of Protestantism that it favored. … Bern grew so irritated with advocacy of these corollaries of Calvinisn within its own territories, that in 1558 it summarily dismissed most of the faculty of the Lausanne Academy and many of the pastors ministering to French-speaking communities under its control.
As long as Calvin lived, however, and for several decades thereafter, these pressures from Genevaʼs ousted “Libertines” and from Bern were resisted. It became established policy that the Consistory of Geneva could and would excommunicate those sinners it judged deserving of this punishment.
In yet other cases, the Consistory could go beyond remonstrances and excommunication to decide that the misconduct for which a person had been summoned before it apparently involved a crime, a violation of laws then on the books of Geneva, that merited some form of secular punishment. The Consistory would refer cases of this sort to the Small Council for further action. … Among the acts deemed to be a crime meriting secular punishment was adultery. [p. 21]…
The bridges over the river Rhone that divided the city into two parts were sometimes used for executions. … The method of execution varied according to the crime. … Drowning was used for the punishment of a notorious female adulterer. … There is some reason to believe … that in many communities of the period an execution also served as a gruesome form of public entertainment. [p. 30] …
[Whether or not executions (and letʼs not forget public beatings, and people held in restraints outside churches so they could be jeered at) served as a form of “entertainment” is a moot point. They probably did serve, however, as severe object lessons to anyone watching who thought about resisting the city council or the new religion of Calvinism.
The city of Geneva was indeed void of anything in the way of modern public entertainment except reading the Bible or attending sermons several times a week. Things prohibited in Geneva included:
1) Viewing unapproved plays (all plays eventually were forbidden),
2) Reading unapproved literature (Bible reading was de rigueur, the Consistory sometimes commanded people brought before them to buy one and read it, and Geneva became a center for Bible publishing, in several languages, and in many editions, in Calvinʼs day),
4) Singing secular songs,
5) Instrumental music,
6) Singing in harmony (which was not even permitted in church).
In contrast with the above, there was a game that Calvin and the ministers agreed was perfectly O.K. The game consisted of shoving keys across a table to see how far they could be pushed without them falling off the tableʼs edge, a game that Calvin was known to indulge in. Freud would probably have observed the similarity between pushing things close to the edge and Calvinʼs attempts to push the Genevans. — E.T.B.]
…An inevitable consequence of [Genevan] service society was that it denied to almost everyone the sort of privacy that people of the twentieth century take for granted. This denial of privacy was aggravated by the extreme crowding of almost every house in Geneva, a crowding even greater than in most cities of the time… The flood of religious refugees [from France]… made crowding even worse… This lack of privacy would necessarily include oneʼs social and sexual life. [p. 96]…
There was substantial support… in Geneva for the use of the death penalty against people convicted of adultery. That support came in part from ministers such as John Calvin, who kept reminding the local population of the biblical condemnation of adultery and of the Old Testament prescription of death by stoning for anyone found guilty of this crime.… Genevan municipal ordinances, however, made no provision for the death penalty in cases of adultery… Only in a law adopted in 1566, two years after Calvinʼs death, do we find explicit evidence of a provision for a death penalty for adultery… An examination of Genevan criminal records reveals that the death penalty was in fact inflicted in adultery cases for a number of years before the adoption of this law. We have here a case in which divine law as revealed in the Bible, reinforced by Roman law [p. 117] … after a period of hesitation, was allowed to override local ordinances in guiding actual court decisions. … We find in the surviving dossiers of Genevan criminal trials a cluster of several cases of adultery punished with the death penalty in 1560 and 1561. This was a time when the Calvinist Reformation was at its peak, not only in Geneva… Within Geneva itself, Calvin too, was at the peak of his career, with a new and definitive edition of his masterwork, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, just off the [Genevan] press. [p. 118]…
Theodore Beza, who was to become Calvinʼs successor… and Calvin … held a power that was now without any effective local challenge. It may be that it was the enthusiasm and optimism of these climactic years that led the Genevan community to take this last fateful step, to begin using the death penalty in order to complete the work of moral reformation, to wipe out all traces of the pollution introduced into their community by this abominable crime, to escape for good the threat of divine retribution hovering over any community lax enough to tolerate such vice. If this crackdown on adultery was an expression of a triumphalist hope in impending victory for the Reformed cause, however, we cannot hold Calvin himself responsible. [p. 119] [We canʼt? Does the author also not hold Calvin “responsible” for preaching so long and hard to the Genevans concerning the God-given necessity of executing adulterers during all those years previous? — E.T.B.]…
The convictions and punishments for adultery in these cases were the work of secular authorities, perhaps inspired by religious zeal. [p. 140] [“Perhaps?!” This appears to be a denial of the obvious. Calvinʼs religious zeal was contagious and the author admits that Calvin had no real opposition to his views after 1555, all of his major political and theological opponents having been banished or executed by that time. The author himself admits on a latter page, p. 179, “In Geneva the death penalty [for adultery] was quietly dropped in later centuries as the exaltation created by religious fervor faded away.” Thus, the authorʼs former phrase, “perhaps inspired by religious zeal,” is replaced with a certainty. — E.T.B.]…
We know that in Calvinʼs native France, the Parlement de Paris, the kingdomʼs greatest court, occasionally applied the death penalty for adultery, beginning only a few years after it was first levied in Geneva. [So Calvinʼs Geneva was ahead of the curve. — E.T.B.] Perhaps the vicious competition between Catholics and Protestants in France, which erupted into religious war in these very same years, spilled over into attempts to prove that they were both equally stern in obeying the order of the God of the Old Testament to punish adultery with the greatest severity. But in Basel, where the law explicitly provided for the death by drowning of a chronic adulterer, the penalty was never applied. Even in [Catholic] Rome [during Calvinʼs day] there was no use of the death penalty for adultery, although the possibility was seriously considered. During a drive against prostitution in 1570, Pope Pius V thought of issuing an order that all the many married prostitutes in the city be put to death for adultery. He was finally persuaded, however, to use milder penalties. In Geneva the death penalty was quietly dropped in later centuries as the exaltation created by religious fervor faded away. [p. 179]…
SOURCE: Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvinʼs Geneva (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995)
Calvin & Adultery
It is clear that Calvin did not approve of the mildness [of the laws of Geneva regarding adultery]. In his sermon on Deuteronomy 22:13-24 [Opera xxviii, 41 f.] which enjoins the stoning of those taken in adultery , he holds up to ridicule and scorn the idea of merely putting adulterers in prison for a few days, “as if one had carried off a glass of wine to say, ‘Taste which is the better.’” When a person is accused of robbery he is tried and hung. But when one steals the bed of another, which is the worst kind of robbery, he merely gets put in [p. 130] jail where he has as much freedom as one would have in a public tavern, while everybody comes to pay court to him and pity the poor prisoner! Adulterers might better not be punished at all, Calvin says, than by such procedure. “It is to expose justice to scorn and mock God and all his commandments.” [Opera xxviii, 52] In the same sermon Calvin strongly suggests, though he apparently hesitates to say flatly, that adultery ought to be punished by death. He delivers a fierce invective against the adulteress:
“She injures her husband, exposes him to shame, despoils also the name of her family, despoils her unborn children, despoils those whom she has already borne in lawful wedlock. When a woman is thus in the hands of the devil, what remedy is there except that all this be exterminated?” [Opera xxviii, 51]
Then he adds with reference to the stoning commanded in Deuteronomy 22:21:
“And so it must be, in such a great extremity when the punishment is so severe, that the Lord wishes this to serve as an example to us, that those who have lived in such scandal in their lives may teach us by their death to keep ourselves chaste.” [Opera xxviii, 52]
Later, after saying that this is a worst offense than robbery which is punishable by death, he exclaims: “Do you not see that it is an insufferable crime, and one which ought to be punished to the limit?” [Opera xxviii, 53] A literal reading of this injunction to punish “jusquʼau bout” can scarcely mean anything else than the death penalty… [p. 131]
Calvin was well aware of what Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery. But he staunchly refused to admit that this meant that any mercy was to be shown. What Jesus meant, he says, is merely that he did not wish to be the judge in the case, as he refused to divide an inheritance between two brothers. Jesus did not come “to abolish the law of God, his Father, annihilate all order, and make his church into a pig-sty.” We are enjoined to live in chastity to the end of the world, and when marriages are thus maintained we may expect the blessing of the Lord to prosper us. [Opera xxviii, 53] [Todayʼs conservative Christians add that the story of the “woman taken in adultery” does not appear in the earliest Gospel manuscripts, only in later ones, and hence is a later addition. — E.T.B.]
If the Puritan was stern to the point of unfeeling cruelty in his denunciation of the sin of unchastity, it is not surprising. [p. 132]…
SOURCE: Georgia Harkness, John Calvin: The Man And His Ethics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1931) [The authorʼs research was made possible through the generosity of the Sterling Foundation of Yale University. Roland H. Bainton of the Dept. of Church History of Yale Divinity School (author of the adulatory biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand) assisted in directing Harknessʼ research and criticizing the manuscript with added criticisms by religion professors from other universities.]