Friday, November 2, 2012

The Betrayal

Douglas Bond fans rejoice, and Calvinists take heart--today is a post in honor of one of the greatest Reformers of that century.

You know, living in the Bible Belt of the United States has its advantages. For one, we're not looked down upon by hippie secular environmentalists when we say things like "Bible study" or "I'm a Christian." People aren't likely to challenge you. They'll either express mild interest, or they'll be "that's cool for you" and move on.

But I've grown up in Bible Belt culture, and so I think I'm a bit blind to the advantages, not having been exposed to a neighborhood of the aforementioned secularism. Often what we know best, we have the easiest time finding fault with--blind to its virtues and especially keen-eyed to its flaws. While I am grateful for the semi-Christian atmosphere, with a church every couple of blocks, I also see a growing trend of divisiveness in the church over one of the Reformation's greatest men. Basically, you can divide my portion of the Bible Belt into two groups: those who like Calvin, and those who don't.

But it goes a little farther than that. Those who like Calvin--or to be fair, Calvinism, which is a totally different thing--quote the catechisms and church documents when they can't find a verse in Scripture to support their view--and consider such documents just as authoritative, though they wouldn't admit that. Those who don't like Calvinism view Calvinists as horrifically trapped in a world where God casts the dice, and whoever gets the lucky number gets saved. (Mixed metaphor, I know, as Calvin didn't believe in luck, but that's what it all boils down to.) In the one camp, a staunch belief that God predestines everything. On the other, a horror that God should chose not to give His grace to certain unelected.

In the midst of all this warfare, I fall between the camps. I believe Calvin was a human, subject to human infallibility and mistakes just like the rest of us. I believe that his theology is not God-breathed, and therefore, not authoritative when it contradicts Scripture. But I also believe that He was a good, God-fearing and gentle man who's sole aim was to bring an understanding of Christ to the Church. And so, I listen on the fringe of such debates, agreeing with both, which would be considered neither.

Today's book review, friends and fellow bibliophiles: The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond.

The Review

"Douglas Bond introduces John Calvin to us in a gripping way, colorfully taking us back to Geneva and its times, unveiling Calvin as the principled man of action, commitment,and love that he was. The Betrayal makes for an exciting read, showing the great Reformer's heart for theology, piety, and doxology, while almost effortlessly and implicitly undoing caricatures about Calvin along the way. If you want Calvin and his times brought to life in a page-turner, this is the book for you!" Joel R.Beeke

Douglas Bond writes this book from a perspective that I don't generally approve of reading, that of the main villain. In such books where the character talking is rotten to the core, I generally pitch it. But knowing Bond and his work, and really wanting to know about Calvin, I decided to give it a try. Jean Louis Mourin has grown up in the same town as Calvin all his life. Mourin is a loser, and he knows it--his family and sweetheart died during the plague, he doesn't have much prospects, and he certainly will never be rich. He's always looked with envy on the boy Calvin, fast growing to be a man, and destined for a rich position as priest in the Roman Catholic Church. When a chance meeting throws him a position to become Calvin's servant, Jean-Louis takes the chance and worms his way into Calvin's confidence. Throughout Calvin's education and growing political turmoil, culminating in his leaving the Church and exile, Douglas Bond captures the events of the times with, I am told, stunning accuracy. Most of Calvin's lines are drawn from his Institutes and letters, and are not made up at all. Jean-Louis, as he is exposed to numerous discussions of Calvin's new and startling theology, commits to betray this  man of God to the Doctors of the Sorbonne for his ultimate execution. Ever on the watch for an opportunity, years pass, and they grow to manhood together. From Basel to Geneva, he will not let his prey escape his talons. But to Jean-Louis' surprise, a strange reticence begins to grow in him, and in the most pivotal moment of Calvin's life, he himself offers the man's only hope of rescue. A thoughtful and gripping presentation of the life of one of the greatest Reformers.

Due to martyrdoms, adulteries, and various other adult themes, this book is not recommended for young children.

At the last, they will discover me. I am as certain of the fact as I am horrified at it. No one is as intimate with their stratagems as I, Jean-Louis Mourin. Even now, they draw ever closer. Pressed to the wall in a benighted alleyway, they are never far from me now. In the corner of my eye, I have seen them lurking. Sounds in the night trouble my rest, if rest it may be termed. Startled to wakefulness, with my eyes I desperately scour the darkness. It may be merely a rat prowling in the street rubbish, a man staggering home after being too long at the wine bottle, or a woman of the night shuffling to her place after her harlotries. It matters not. At the slightest sound, with racing pulse, I clutch the bedclothes to my quivering chin and strain my ears, certain that in those night sounds I hear them approaching... ~The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond

The Michael Servetus Controversy

One of the greatest controversies surrounding Calvin is that of the Michael Servetus controversy. Did Calvin, indeed, sentence this man to death, and take fiendish delight in the horror of his punishment?

For a basic overview of the controversy, many thanks to my brother for providing the following article:

Michael Servetus was a very well known scholar who denied the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and many other essential Christian doctrines-in other words, he was an outright heretic. In 1531, he wrote a book arguing against the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1532, his books landed him in pretty deep trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, which was obviously Roman Catholic. Servetus then moved to France and changed his last name to protect himself from the Spanish Inquisition.

When Calvin was a young believer, he tried to meet with Servetus to lead him back to Christianity. Servetus never showed up, and Calvin didn't hear from him for awhile. In 1546-1548, Calvin received letters which he knew to be from Servetus, although the last name was different. Although Calvin could have turned him in to the Roman Catholics for trial, he refused to do so.

In 1553, a letter to Calvin from Servetus was shown to the French Catholic Inquisition by Guillaume de Trie-not Calvin. Servetus was brought to trial before the French Catholic Inquisition on the charge of heresy and condemned to death. He escaped to Geneva and tried to secretly have Calvin arrested for charges of heresy in order to remove him as an opponent. The motion Servetus filed would actually have given him Calvin's home and property had Calvin been executed.

The Catholics were not alone in wanting Servetus tried as an outlaw. All the governments of Europe, both Catholic and Protestant, considered Servetus an outlaw for writing heretical works that even Catholics and Protestants both agreed weren't even Christianity-in other words, both the Catholics and Protestants could agree on what Servetus was wrong in.

While in Geneva, Servetus was caught and brought to trial before the Council of Geneva. Whether Calvin turned him in to the council is unclear; what we do know is that Calvin was not a citizen of Geneva until three years after the execution of Servetus; Calvin was in no position to have Servetus arrested even if he so desired it. Whether Calvin reported Servetus or whether someone else did is really the core of the debate.

In any event, Servetus was sentenced to trial and execution as a heretic and outlaw by burning. Calvin and the other ministers endeavored to have the sentence changed from burning to that of being killed by the sword. Up until Servetus' death, Calvin visited him daily in order to present the gospel to Servetus, but Servetus refused to change his mind. If you read Calvin's writings of his visits with the condemned Servetus, you can see a man who tried until the end to show Servetus the error of his ways.

So, with the history behind my answer, this is what I believe: do I believe Calvin (as some claim) had Servetus executed out of pride? Absolutely not. Calvin had the opportunity to report Servetus years before to the Catholics; however, he chose not to. Therefore, why would he turn him in later when Servetus was in Geneva? It doesn't make sense.
What brings the most question in my own mind, however, is the fact that numerous biblical scholars throughout history have endorsed and learned from Calvin with no mention of him eagerly turning Servetus in. I rely on and respect the opinions of careful and God-fearing men, who would not hesitate to rebuke where rebuke was necessary. And in all my readings, I had never heard of the Servetus controversy until a few months ago.  Even if Calvin turned Servetus in, it was the state that held trial and determined execution, not the church. Also, Servetus was a known outlaw; Calvin would not have done wrong to turn him in to the authorities, according to the law of his times. It is sad that the state's methods of execution were so brutal and inhumane, but capitol punishment for heresy was lawful at the time--and indeed, it was lawful in Scripture as well.
A pastor's view:
1. Michael Servetus taught many unorthodox heresies: astrology, pantheism, Neo-Platonism, Semi-Pelagianism, rejected the Trinity, rejected the Deity of Christ.

2. Servetus was convicted by the Inquisition in France for his heresies, but he escaped before sentencing.

3. Calvin warned him not to come to Geneva because he was would not be welcomed by the Church or the government.

4. Servetus ignored the warnings of Geneva and arrived basically as an attempted revolution of the State.

5. The Geneva City Council believed that blatant heresy was punishable by death.

6. Servetus was arrested and given a fair trial that lasted two months. Servetus claimed that Calvin was a heretic and should be banished from Geneva and his property given to Servetus.

7. Many on the City Council were Libertines who did not like Calvin, but he was called as a witness.

8. The City Council, including the Libertines, found Servetus guilty and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.

9. Calvin strongly encouraged the City Council to use a more painless execution by decapitation, but they refused Calvin’s pleas.

10. On October 27, 1553, Servetus was burnt at Champel with the approval of all Reformers and Catholics.

11. John Calvin did not convict Servetus or execute him.

12. Servetus would have been convicted even if Calvin had not been called as a witness.

13. Servetus was the only heretic executed for blasphemy in Geneva under Reformed auspices.

14. Compared to the Roman Catholic Inquisition, the City Council of Geneva practiced enormous restraint and fairness.
~Pastor Jason Robertson, Murietta Valley Church, CA
For an excellent discussion on Servetus, click here. For another interesting article on the controversy, click here.
While I do not claim extensive knowledge on this issue, I hold to the belief that all that is wrong will be revealed. It's been 500 years since John Calvin, and we still have no conclusive evidence that he vengefully desired Servetus' death. He was involved, yes, as far as testifying, but at this time I see no evidence for action on his part that would discredit his sincerity and work for the cause of Christ.
Can you name the five points of Calvinism? Most of us would agree with some, though not all of us are five-point Calvinists:
Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints
Thus concludes Reformation Week on My Lady Bibliophile. Though I am sorry to end it, I am much looking forward to next week, when we will begin discussing "The Ins and Outs of Advertising Discernment" and the Elsie Dinsmore controversies.
Lady Bibliophile


  1. Dear Lady B,
    Interesting post! I've been wondering about Servetus ever since we started discussing it. ;)
    This was a very good week! I really enjoyed it!

    1. You must have gotten Servetus overload on this post. ;) I was really on a roll. :)
      I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      Love and cuddles,

  2. That sounds like a good book--I keep meaning to dig into some Douglas Bond books eventually but never have. (Shall I show you the size of my current to-read list, or don't you have a week?)

    Good discussion of Servetus. I'm surprised you've only recently heard of him: when I've mentioned the name of John Calvin the first thing people hostile to Calvinism usually say is "Servetus!" While making this face: >:-(

    Those who like Calvin--or to be fair, Calvinism, which is a totally different thing--quote the catechisms and church documents when they can't find a verse in Scripture to support their view--and consider such documents just as authoritative, though they wouldn't admit that.

    Oi! I really, really hope you're joking with that crack. All the Calvinists I know--and I know plenty--are not Calvinists because we think Calvin or his folks were inspired, but because we consider "Calvinism" a useful--if somewhat divisive--label for the doctrines of grace which we are convinced of from Scripture.

    1. Ha! I think if I took a week, I would die a happy death of book overload. Since the beginning of the year I've added 40 books/authors to my booklist, which has doubled my reading goals--and those are all new, not to mention the fact that I desperately need to re-read some. It's probably been six years since I last cracked Mansfield Park. (But what's a bibliophile to do?) I wrote a list of books I'd like to read before the end of the year. It came to 20, which is terribly over-ambitious, as I have a deadline on something else to meet by then. And the list for 2013 is growing exponentially.
      I must have heard of Servetus before, probably through The Betrayal, but I didn't know he was such a widespread controversy. When anti-Calvinists rely on capitol letters to get their Servetus points across, it makes me raise my eyebrows. Coupled with the fact that they point to a letter supposedly by Calvin, which I have heard can only be found in Voltaire's writing. Bad... It really raises my hackles when people talk about Calvin unfavorably in regards to Servetus. (Really, I should practice calming down. ;)

      Actually, that reference to the Calvinism wasn't a crack, but I was referring to Calvinists where I live. Not to lump all of them under one, as we know plenty of Calvinists in Illinois who are much more friendly and Sola Scriptura. But when we've talked with Calvinists in our area about things we disagree on and say "Show us from Scripture", they'll think a moment and say "Well, this catechism says..." But I know that many Calvinists don't do it that way. We live in a rather unique area for the Christian Reformed/Calvinist creed, as we have Calvin College, which is where practically every pastor goes to get ordained. So people do much wrong in the name of Calvin over here. I think he'd weep over it, he really would. Calvin is mentioned more than Christ, and that's not what he wanted at all.


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