Martin Luther, John Calvin and Biblical Flat Earth Passages

Calvin

Edward T. Babinski and Stephen E. Jones, Manager of the yahoo group, CreationEvolutionDesign

On The Bibleʼs Flat Earth Passages, And The Intolerance of Martin Luther and John Calvin

ED: Stephen E. Jones and I had a colorful and feisty past (though no foul language). He warned and ousted me from his yahoo group, CreationEvolutionDesign, probably more times than anyone else who has ever been a member there. Steve even added a long sig about “the Antichrist” in an email to me after one such ousting. *smile*


Steve, The Bible, And The Flat Earth

Steve questioned the story of my college education and subsequent disenchantment with the Bibleʼs creation account. He did not seem open to the idea that one could reject all forms of concordism between the Bible and science, and opt instead for the view that the creation account in the Bible presupposed the earthʼs flatness (here are some new articles I recently wrote on that very topic):


Steve And John Calvinʼs Intolerance

Steve also was not very open to what I turned up about Calvin and Luther. The barbecuing of the “heretic” Servetus with his “heretical” book tucked beneath his chains against his chest, presaged the rise of Calvinʼs party in Geneva. Calvinism at its height in Geneva led to threatening children with death (some were hung by their armpits from gallows to demonstrate that they deserved death, and one child was executed for striking his parents). Some people even committed suicide rather than face Calvin and the Consistory. It was at that time, at the height of Calvinʼs influence, that Genevans also began executing people for adultery, as well as experiencing a sudden burst of desire for witch-hunts (this burst of desire was not like previous ones in Geneva, it was not related to the plague nor greaser incidents, but arrived at a time when Calvinism had reached its peak. Calvin himself had said that all the witches in Penney ought to be exterminated). At that time one witch was even executed on the spot in her town before any legal authorities could arrive. By that time, of course, Geneva had already banished all unconverted Jews, Catholics, Anabaptists, and anyone vocally unfavorable to Calvinʼs view of predestination. Fines worth an average dayʼs pay were imposed on anyone for not attending church, and people who refused to believe as told, including the religious ones, were threatened at first with being cut off from communion, which included fears of hell Iʼm sure, while other authorities point out that being denied communion also cut one off from social intercourse with others. That was Calvinism at its height in Geneva. The city of Geneva was of course praised by some, if only because it offered the ultimate refuge for Calvinists in a world filled with equally intolerant Catholics and Lutherans (Lutherans and Calvinists were also competing at this time; Lutherans were dismayed and shocked by Calvinʼs interpretation of the Eucharist, and other beliefs in Calvinism). Though Gevena was praised by some, even greater praises from a wider variety of folks were heaped upon Amsterdam about a century later, which became a republic and had the most freedom of thought and publishing and freedom of religion and commerce than any other country in Europe for a short while, until Calvinists squelched both its freedom and prosperity at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. See “Fundamentalismʼs Grotesque Past,” chapter two of Leaving the Fold, which is referenced in a bibliography at the prestigious Meeter Center for Calvinist Studies


Steve And Martin Lutherʼs Intolerance

Martin Luther, meanwhile, signed a paper in 1536 that agreed that preachers who questioned basic Christian doctrines and continued to do so under penalty of death, ought to be executed by the state.

It remains ironic that Luther and Calvin and Catholics all hated the Anabaptists and persecuted them, mostly because Anabaptists took a radical view of religion and politics. They wanted total freedom of beliefs, and even the right to live apart from the political world if they should so choose, kind of like Amish do today. They also believed in baptizing adults, not children, which was anathema to the Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists.

At one point a troop of Anabaptists revolted and took over a city and did some horrendous things (practiced polygamy, and beheaded those who resisted the authority of their leader). The town was surrounded and the Anabaptists all executed. (It should be noted that Anabaptist beliefs were varied and practices like polygamy and revolt against civil powers were frowned upon by the majority of Anabaptists.) What was ironic about that incident is that the history of horrors and provocations to war that were later perpetrated by Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists would make the taking over of one town by a few radical Anabaptists appear tame in comparison. Indeed, Calvin, spent his declining years sending Calvinist preachers and literature “secretly” into Catholic France, and those activities eventually helped spark a lot of misunderstandings, anger, murders and executions on both Catholic and Calvinist sides. Calvin and Luther also condemned the Anabaptists for not preaching “in plain day light and in everyoneʼs sight but instead sneaking around,” and comparing such “nighttime” Anabaptist activities to “the works of Satan.” In other words the Protestants were hypocrites, because Calvin was training Calvinists in Geneva how to move about “secretly” in Catholic France, and keep the blinds shut and preach in peopleʼs homes at night when no one was looking.


More On Luther And Calvinʼs Intolerance (Stuff Steve Never Allowed Me To Show Him Since He Cut Off Our Correspondence)

Melanchthon drafted and Luther signed the following paper in 1536. Itʼs on the web in English translation:

Should Christian princes use the sword and employ physical punishment against Anabaptists? 1536 [WA 50, 9-15] Translated by Erik Anderson / Eckehart Stöve

Also go to the following website, and scroll way down till you see on the left the section titled “Martin Luther,” and click on, “Luther Favored the Death Penalty” for Anabaptists”

Dave Armstrong the author of the above blog site has written: Luther sanctioned capital punishment for doctrinal heresy most notably in his Commentary on the 82nd Psalm (vol. 13, pp. 39-72 in the 55-volume set, Lutherʼs Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan et al), written in 1530, where he advocated the following:

“If some were to teach doctrines contradicting an article of faith clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by all Christendom, such as the articles we teach children in the Creed — for example, if anyone were to teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold — such teachers should not be tolerated, but punished as blasphemers …

“By this procedure no one is compelled to believe, for he can still believe what he will; but he is forbidden to teach and to blaspheme.”

(LW, Vol. 13, 61-62)

Is this merely my interpretation of his words and thoughts? Hardly. The famous Luther biographer Roland Bainton wrote:

“In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy. The emphasis was thus shifted from incorrect belief to its public manifestation by word and deed. This was, however, no great gain for liberty, because Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostlesʼ Creed as blasphemy.

“In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated …

“Melanchthon this time argued that even the passive action of the Anabaptists in rejecting government, oaths, private property, and marriages outside the faith was itself disruptive of the civil order and therefore seditious. The Anabaptist protest against the punishment of blasphemy was itself blasphemy. The discontinuance of infant baptism would produce a heathen society and separation from the Church, and the formation of sects was an offense against God.

“Luther may not have been too happy about signing these memoranda. At any rate he appended postscripts to each. To the first he said,

‘I assent. Although it seems cruel to punish them with the sword, it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the true and in this way seek to subvert the civil order.’

“… In 1540 he is reported in his Table Talk to have returned to the position of Philip of Hesse that only seditious Anabaptists should be executed; the others should be merely banished. But Luther passed by many an opportunity to speak a word for those who with joy gave themselves as sheep for the slaughter.

“… For the understanding of Lutherʼs position one must bear in mind that Anabaptism was not in every instance socially innocuous. The year in which Luther signed the memorandum counseling death even for the peaceful Anabaptists was the year in which a group of them ceases to be peaceful … By forcible measures they took over the city of Muenster in Westphalia …

“Yet when all these attenuating considerations are adduced, one cannot forget that Melanchthonʼs memorandum justified the eradication of the peaceful, not because they were incipient and clandestine revolutionaries, but on the ground that even a peaceful renunciation of the state itself constituted sedition.”

(Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 295-296)

Moreover, Luther wrote in a 1536 pamphlet:

“That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof. For the rest, the Anabaptists hold tenets relating to infant baptism, original sin, and inspiration, which have no connection with the Word of God, and are indeed opposed to it … Secular authorities are also bound to restrain and punish avowedly false doctrine … For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized? … Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches … and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound … to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders … Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then … we conclude that … the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.”

(Martin Luther: pamphlet of 1536; in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891]; Vol. X, 222-223)


Edʼs Further Comments:

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.


Related Quotations From Various Scholars

In handing the churches over to the protection and care of the princes, Luther expressed an abject dependence upon their power. And yet the princes were also dependent upon Luther to provide a theological and moral rationale for the powers they were supposed to assume.

After developing his ideas of the “two kingdoms” as they pertain to temporal and spiritual rule, Luther had a high. estimate of his achievement, “Not since the time of the apostles,” Luther declared, “had the temporal sword and temporal government been so clearly described or so highly praised as by me.” The temporal sword was fully unsheathed as Luther urged the princes to slash and slaughter without remorse in the Peasantsʼ War that broke out in 1525. Women were raped and left to die, men were strung upon trees, children perished in the cold winter. Before it was over, as many as 100,000 were killed. Afterwards, Luther would say, “Preachers are the greatest of slayers. For they urge the authorities to execute their office strictly and punish the wicked. In the revolt I slew all the peasants; all their blood is on my head. But I pass it on to our Lord, who commanded me to speak thus.”

The Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, along with. [Christian] iconoclasts, claimed God was commanding them as well, but Luther knew better. They were vermin and flies on the dung heap, mad men and enemies of Christ. Luther claim[ed] to understand Godʼs Word apart from tradition and church authority while denying the same claim made by more radical rebels.

Luther praised the love of God that might even damn him to hell, and declared against Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will, “God himself does evil through those who are evil”. Later in life, Luther turned against the Jews for refusing to accept Christ. “Luther,” Marty writes, “felt licensed to use degrading imagery: that rabbis made Jews kiss, gobble down, guzzle, and worship the shit they were teaching, along with the Judasʼ piss of their biblical interpretations. His apocalyptic vision fired his already out-of-control imagination. He was appointing himself and his princes Godʼs avengers.”

Marty Martin has written, I believe, a very good book. For a brief summary of Lutherʼs life and work it is much superior to the popular and almost entirely adulatory Here I Stand by Roland Bainton.

Source: Richard John Neuhaus [former Lutheran now Catholic editor of First Things], “Martin Martyʼs Martin Luther,” [a review of Marty Martinʼs new book, Martin Luther of Vikingʼs Penguin Lives - Martin Marty is an influential church historian now emeritus at the University of Chicago, editor of The Christian Century, and of the multi-volume “Fundamentalism Project,” and is also a Lutheran pastor], First Things, No. 139, Jan. 2004, p 79-80.


To the great humiliation of the Protestant churches, religious intolerance and even persecution unto death were continued long after the Reformation. In Geneva, the pernicious theory was put into practice by state and church, even to the use of torture and the admission of testimony of children against their parents, and with the sanction of Calvin. Bullinger, in the second Helvetic Confession, announced the principle that heresy should be punished like murder or treason. The treatment of the Anabaptists is a great blot on the page of the Reformation, Strassburg being the only center that tolerated them. Cranmer persuaded Edward VI to burn women. Queen Elizabeth [an Anglican] saw the death penalty executed upon Puritans. The spirit of intolerance was carried across the seas, and was as strong in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the American colonies, with some exceptions, as it was in Europe. [p. 524]

Source: David S. Schaff, D.D. [Professor of Church History in the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny] The Middle Ages = Vol. V of History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 1907) [FU - BR 145 .S6 1967 v.5 ]


Protestants might have followed the lead of Castellio and Denk; but they preferred Calvin and Luther - preferred them because the doctrines of justification by faith and of predestination were more exciting than those of the Perennial Philosophy. “Waiting on God” is a bore; but what fun to argue, to score off opponents, to lose oneʼs temper and call it “righteous indignation,” and at last to pass from controversy to blows, from words to what St. Augustine so deliciously described as the “benignant asperity” of persecution and punishment.

Choosing Luther and Calvin instead of the spiritual reformers who were their contemporaries, Protestant Europe got the kind of theology it liked. But it also got, along with other unanticipated by-products, the Thirty Yearsʼ War. and the first rudiments of modern Germany. “If we wish,” Dean Inge [Anglican clergyman and Dean of St. Paulʼs] has written, “to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought upon the world. I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther. It (Lutheranism) worships a God who is neither just nor merciful. The Law of Nature, which ought to be the court of appeal against unjust authority, is identified (by Luther) with the existing order of society, to which absolute obedience is due.”

Source: Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1945), p. 249


Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666) [a jurist of strict Lutheran opinions], lived to a ripe old age and looked back on an admirable life in the course of which he read the Bible fifty-three times, took the sacrament every week, greatly intensified the methods and efficacy of inquisitional torture [see his work, Neue sachsische Kriminalpraktik], and procured the death of twenty thousand persons.

Source: Hugh Trevor-Roper, The European Witch Craze [See also Johannes Janssen (trans., A. M. Christie), History of the German People After the Close of the Middle Ages, Vol. XVI (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1910), p. 199-201]


Quite a few of the more infamous statesmen and churchmen of history were not called criminals only because they were powerful enough to define what was “crime” in their society.

Source: Robert Anton Wilson, The New Inquisition


Calvin came from France, the son of a clerical lawyer; his own formation was legal and canonical. Next to Erasmus he was the best-read of the reformers, and it is perhaps significant that his first work was a commentary on Senecaʼs De Clementia, markedly elitist in tone and approving of the Stoic doctrine of predestined fate; Calvin is a case to illustrate the theory that a manʼs dogmatic beliefs tend to reflect his emotional predispositions and his family background. By 1533, when he was 24, he had rejected Catholicism, and within three years he had used the works of Luther and Bucer to construct not merely a new summa of Christian dogma but an entire system and ecclesiastical government. His Institutes of the Christian Religion were continually revised until his death in 1564; but in all essentials they were complete by 1538, when he first began to apply them in Geneva. Calvin was immensely intelligent, determined and self-confident; he had, he said, “received from God more ample enlightenment than others.” But the controlling factor in his system was excommunication, on which all the male members of his family were brought up to be experts. Thus he pounced on Lutherʼs rediscovery of Augustinian predestination, and drove it to its ultimate conclusion. He began by doubling it: men were not only predestined to be saved, but to be damned. Satan and the devils acted on the command of God: “They can neither conceive any evil nor, when they have conceived it, contrive to do it, nor having contrived it lift even a little finger to execute it, save in so far as God commands them.” God forewills all the tiniest events or actions from all eternity, whether good or evil, according to his plan; some he plans to save, by grace (for all men are evil and worthy of damnation), some he plans to damn. “If we ask why God takes pity on some, and why he lets go of the others, there is no other answer but that it pleases him to do so.” “Furthermore, their perdition proceeds from Godʼs predestination in such a manner that the cause and matter of it will be found in them. Man stumbles, then, even as God ordained that he should, but he stumbles on account of his depravity.”

This terrifying doctrine of election, or damnation, was made palatable by the fact that election was proved by communion with Christ - that is, in practice, by membership of a Calvinist congregation: “Whoever finds himself in Jesus Christ and is a member of his body by faith, he is assured of his salvation.” So long as a man avoided excommunication, he was secure.

From this theological system followed the earthly organization. To keep the elect pure, and to detect and excommunicate those predestined to be damned, Calvinist society required a policing process. The elected councils of each city appointed elders, disciplinary officers who worked closely with the pastors; their duty was to enforce the moral code, “to take care of the life of everyone and. to bear report to the company which will be deputed to apply brotherly correction.” They met with the pastors in consistories, and their excommunications were passed onto the magistrates for law-enforcement. [p. 287].

By the mid sixteenth century there were three varieties of state religion in the West: papal Catholicism, state Christianity (Lutheranism), and Calvinist theocracy. Each foresaw a future, and to some extent worked for it, when its doctrines and institutions would be imposed on the whole of Christendom. Each was organically linked to the state where it existed. Each was a compulsory religion, claiming a monopoly of the Christian ministry where it held power. Once Lutherʼs teaching became established as a state religion, all other forms of Christianity had to be eliminated, at least in their open expression. By 1525, he had forbidden the mass, “that this blasphemy may be suppressed by the proper authority,” and this ban was soon extended to other forms of Protestantism: “A secular prince should see to it that his subjects are not led to strife by rival preachers whence factions and disturbances might arise, but in any one place there should be only one kind of preaching.” By 1527 he had passed to positive, rather than defensive [p. 288] intervention to ensure uniformity by organizing state ecclesiastical visitations, and in 1529 he went further still to deny “freedom of conscience”: “Even if people do not believe, they should be driven to the sermon, because of the ten commandments, in order to learn at least the outward works of obedience.” Two years later he agreed that Anabaptists and other Protestant extremists “should be done to death by the civil authority.”

Calvin, by contrast, had never asserted that consciences should be free. How could the prefect society of the elect tolerate among it those who challenged its rules? The obvious answer to critics was to expel them from the city, following excommunication. If they attempted to remonstrate they were executed. But execution, Calvin found, was also useful to inspire terror and thus bring about compliance. One of his favorite ways of triumphing over an opponent was to make him burn his own books publicly with his own hands - Valentin Gentilis saved his life by submitting to this indignity. He was particularly severe with any who rebelled against his own rule, or who used the New Learning to challenge the doctrine of the Trinity. [p. 289].

In Geneva, Theodore Beza stated, “What greater, more abominable crime could one find among men [than heresy?]. it would seem impossible to find a torture big enough to fit the enormity of such a misdeed.” Calvin wrote [in his Declaratio orthodoxae fidei]: “One should forget all mankind when His glory is in question. God does not even allow whole towns and populations to be spared, but will have the walls razed and the memory of the inhabitants destroyed and all things ruined as a sign of His utter detestation, lest the contagion spread.”

If both Lutheran and Calvinists (as well as Catholics) actively persecuted antinomian extremists, they also opposed and hated each other. Calvinists thought of Lutherans as virtually unreformed, i.e., as Romanists masquerading in godly garments. The Lutherans would never admit that Calvinism was a “legal” religion. They classified Calvinists as Anabaptists, and thought their denial of the real presence a scandalous breach of the Catholic faith. Some Lutherans, like Polycarp Leyser, thought Calvinist errors worse than Roman. Lutherans would not provide military assistance to protect Calvinism from Rome and its allies - one factor which limited the Reformationʼs gains. All three parties, Calvinists, Lutherans and Catholics, accused the others of having double standards - demanding tolerance when weak, persecuting when strong.

The Catholic George Eder wrote in 1579: “In districts dominated by Protestants, Catholics are never tolerated; they are publicly humiliated, driven from their homes and lands, and forced into exile with their wives and children. But as soon as a Catholic member-state of the empire proceeds in the same way. everyone gets worked up, is indignant, and the Catholic prince is accused of breaking the peace of religion.”

The Lutheran Daniel Jaconi (1615): “As long as the Calvinists are not in power. they are pleasant and patient; they accept life in common with us. But as soon as they are masters of the situation they will not tolerate a single syllable of Lutheran doctrine.”

In fact, from the start, each of the three main groupings tried to use all the apparatus of the State, where they could control it, to impose a religious monopoly. In 1555, after years of inconclusive fighting, the system was institutionalized at the Peace of Augsburg, which “froze” the religious pattern of three years earlier and in effect allowed each prince, or prince-bishop, in Germany to determine the religious practiced by his subjects. [p. 290]. It embodied the assumption that religious beliefs could not be separated from any other fundamental coloring of society: you could no more have two rival religions than you could have two rival legal codes, or two currencies or two armies. Since men could not agree, the monarch had to decide. And anyway, was not this natural, indeed God-ordained? Did not a ruler at his coronation, receive sacramental grace for this sort of purpose?. [Hence] liberty of conscience was denied to the subject, but conceded to the prince. In some cases subjects who had had Lutheranism imposed upon them by their prince, later had Calvinism imposed by his successor. Or a prince might undergo a “conversion.” Equally, the son and heir of a Lutheran might turn Catholic when he inherited his throne, and compel his subjects to turn back to Rome. In practice of course, the princes had to some extent to defer to the wishes of their leading subjects. But where did the process of consultation stop? At what point up the social ladder was a man sufficiently important to have his religious opinions taken into consideration?

One Huguenot [Calvinist] lawyer, awaiting execution [in Catholic France] in 1559, argued that any monarch who forced his subjects to live [p. 291] against the will of God must be illegitimate. But who was to define “the will of God?” Therein lay the whole argument. Calvin was consulted and ruled that resistance to persecution was permissible if led by the chief magistrate or prince of the blood. Hence the importance in France of such figures as Conde, Coligny and Navarre, who made possible a rebellion which Protestants could regard as theologically legitimate: the 2,000 Huguenot consistories in France became a civil and military organization, as well as a religious one. This new principle as made to apply elsewhere (in England and the Netherlands, where Calvinists also rebelled).

Thus the theories determining the religious division of Europe, though springing from the same root-concept - the priestly power of the prince - were increasingly divergent and conflicting. The result was a drift toward civil war within states, and international war between them.

Again, if the principle of peaceful coexistence were admitted, how far should it stretch? Lutheranism achieved a kind of international respectability [p. 292] in 1555, Calvinism became an official state religion (in Scotland) in 1562. What about the more radical [or minority] reformers? Where should the line be drawn? Varieties of Protestantism proliferated instantly and wherever state persecution was relaxed. One reformer, a Venetian lawyer, Marcantonio Varotto, rejoined the Catholic Church in disgust in 1568, explaining: “I left Moravia because during the two months I spent there I saw so many faiths and sects. all drawing up catechisms, all desiring to be ministers, all pulling in different directions, all claiming to be the true church. In one small place, Austerlitz, there are 13 or 14 different sects.” [p. 293].

From the 1520s religious war was endemic in the West until 1648 [end of the Thirty Yearsʼ War], with one brief respite in the first two decades of the seventeenth century. These wars, civil or international - usually both - were without redeeming features and were destructive of Christian faith itself, as well as human life and material civilization. They came too, after a period when mankind had rediscovered the riches of the ancient world and was advancing rapidly in knowledge and techniques. The effect of religious conflict was not to halt this process completely but to retard and deform it. Reason was devalued. Dark and horrible forces were unleashed or resuscitated. The hopeful dawn Erasmus noted broadened into a tempestuous day where sensible and civilized men had to shout to make their voices [p. 305] heard about the winds of violence, cruelty and superstition. [p. 306].

The first big spate of witch-hunting was in the second half of the fifteenth century; then there was a period of relative calm, during which some governments took action against hunting. Charles Vʼs imperial constitution of 1532 ordered punishments only for witches who did actual harm; merely being a witch was not enough to invoke the law. Erasmus and other Renaissance scholars were highly skeptical, and a new mood appeared to be setting in which would destroy the superstitious base on which the hunt had been created. This more enlightened attitude was rapidly reverses when religious war broke out and the persecution of heretics was intensified. Moreover, both Catholics and Reformers tended to hunt witches, as they hunted Anabaptists, to demonstrate their doctrinal purity and fervor. With the exception of Zwingli, the German Reformers accepted the mythology of witchcraft. Luther thought that witches should be burnt for making a pact with the Devil even if they harmed no one, and he had four of them roasted at Wittenburg. The Protestants relied on Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” As Calvin said: “The Bible teaches us that there are witches and that they must be slain. this law of God is a universal law.” The Calvinists [p. 309], in fact, were much fiercer against witches than the Lutherans. On the whole, Anglican Protestants were not keen witch-hunters, and during the whole period 1542-1736 many fewer than 1,000 were executed (by hanging) in England, against 4,400 in Calvinist Scotland during the ninety years beginning in 1590. The worst year in England was 1645, when the Calvinist Presbyterians were in power. Where English Calvinists could, they propagated witch-hunting. Bishop Jewell, who had lived in exile in Geneva, brought the craze with him on his return in 1559; and in the 1590s, the Calvinist William Perkins lectured on the subject at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a Puritan institution where some of the Founding Fathers of New England were educated. Wherever Calvinism became strong, witches were systematically hunted. Equally, on the other side of the religious barriers, it was the followers of Loyola, the puritanical Catholic, who popularized the witch-hunt. This in itself is interesting, for the Jesuits were not necessarily intolerant. [p. 310].

There seems to have been a fairly steady correlation between the intensity of the Protestant-Catholic struggle and the number of witches accused and burned. Just as there had been a lull in the early sixteenth century, ended by the Lutheran Reformation and its violent consequences, so there was another lull just before the outbreak of the Thirty Yearsʼ War in 1618. Then, with the Catholic reconquest of Bohemia and parts of Germany, the witch-trials multiplied. This last great phase of witch-hunting was the product of Catholic-Protestant rivalry, since hunters on both sides often identified witchcraft with opposing beliefs; on the other hand, they drew on each otherʼs theoretical writings and practical experiences. [p. 311].

A vigorous and eloquent attack on the whole system of compulsion [to believe in a particular Christian denomination] was composed by Sebastian Castellio (1509-63). In his De Haereticis an sint persequendi? he stated, “I have carefully examined what a heretic means, and I cannot make it mean more than this; a heretic is a man with whom you disagree.” Calvin and Beza attempted to get Castellio dismissed from Basle University, and their followers never ceased to hound him. [Actually, Calvin and Beza tried to get Castellio tried for heresy and executed. - E.T.B.] [p. 318]. Beza, on behalf of the Geneva Calvinists, denounced toleration in 1570 as “a purely diabolical doctrine.” [p. 319].

Source: Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Atheneum, 1977)


Calvinʼs doctrine of persecution was the coolly reasoned product of a theology that combined Godʼs sovereignty, manʼs littleness, Biblical literalism, and Hebraic ethics. When Godʼs glory must be upheld at any cost, it is not for a mere “worm of the earth” to raise an obstacle. When many an example of the slaughter of Godʼs enemies can be cited from an inerrant Bible, Godʼs follower feels obligated to act as Godʼs lieutenant to stamp out unbelief. The doctrine of persecution was an outgrowth too, of a factor that lay in the temperament of Calvin and his Puritan successors. This was the combination of an overwhelming sense of duty with the almost complete inability to see anotherʼs point of view. Godʼs will must be done; God had revealed his will to me. [p. 113]

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).

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