The verdict read out on 27 October, 1553 against the heretic Servetus in Geneva is as follows-
Calvin attempting to persuade Servetus
Now, we the Syndics and Judges in criminal cases within this city, having reviewed the process carried on before us, at the instance of our Lieutenant having charge of such cases, against thee, Michael Servetus of Villanova, in the Kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, whereby guided, and by thy voluntary confessions made before us, many times repeated, as well as by thy books produced before us, we decree and determine that thou, Michael Servetus, hast, for a long time, promulgated false and heretical doctrine, and, rejecting all remonstrance and correction, hast, maliciously, perversely, and obstinately, continued disseminating and divulging, even by the printing of books, blasphemies against God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in a word, against the whole foundations of the Christian religion, thereby seeking to create schism and trouble in the Church of God, many souls, members of which may have been ruined and lost—horrible and dreadful thing, scandalous and contaminating in thee, thou, having no shame nor horror in setting thyself up in all against the Divine Majesty and the Holy Trinity, and having further taken pains to infect, and given thyself up obstinately to continue infecting the world with thy heresies and stinking heretical poison (tez heresies et puante poyson hereticale)—case and crime of heresy grievous and detestable, deserving of severe corporal punishment.
These and other just causes moving us, desiring to purge the Church of God of such infection, and to cut off from it so rotten a member, we, sitting as a Judicial Tribunal in the seat of our ancestors, with the entire assent of the General Council of the State, and our fellow-citizens, calling on the name of God to deliver true judgment, having the Holy Scriptures before us, and saying: In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we now pronounce our final sentence and condemn thee, Michael Servetus, to be bound and taken to Champel, and there being fastened to a stake, to be burned alive, along with thy books, printed as well as written by thy hand, until thy body be reduced to ashes. So shall thy days end, and thou be made an example to others who would do as thou hast done. And we command you, our Lieutenant, to see this our sentence carried forthwith into execution.*
And it was. And then
The terrible sentence pronounced, the pause that followed was first broken by Servetus; not to sue for mercy against the final award, from which he knew there was no appeal, but to entreat that the manner of carrying it out might be commuted for one less dreadful. ‘He feared,’ he said, ‘that through excess of suffering he might prove faithless to himself, and belie the convictions of his life. If he had erred, it was in ignorance; he was so constituted mentally and morally as to desire the glory of God, and had always striven to abide by the teachings of the Scriptures.’ The appeal to the humanity of the Judges, however, met with no response. Farel, indeed, who was present, interposed, telling him that to obtain any favour he should begin by acknowledging and showing contrition for his errors. But he gave no heed to this, and went on to say that ‘he had done nothing to deserve death; he prayed God, nevertheless, to forgive his enemies and persecutors.’ Rising from the suppliant attitude he had assumed, he exclaimed, ‘O God, save my soul; O Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have compassion upon me!’*
Interestingly, as the death march continued-
From the porch of the Hotel de Ville, where the sentence was delivered, a solemn procession was now formed for Champel, the place of execution, passing by the Rue St. Antoine, and leaving the city by the corresponding gate: the ‘Lieutenant Criminel,’ and other officers on horseback, a guard of archers surrounding the prisoner and Farel, who accompanied him on his death walk, and did not cease from efforts to wring from him an avowal of his errors. But in vain; he had no answer other than broken ejaculations and invocations on the name of God. ‘Is there no word in your mouth but the name of God?’ said Farel. ‘On whom can I now call but on God?’ said the unhappy Servetus. ‘Have you no last words for anyone—for wife or child, perhaps, if you have either?’ said the well-meaning pastor; but he met with no reply; though when admonished to do so, the doomed man made no difficulty about asking the people to join him in his prayers. This gave Farel an opportunity to say to the crowd, ‘You see what power Satan has when he has taken possession of the soul. This is a learned man, who perhaps even meant to do well; but he fell into the power of the devil, and the same thing might happen to any one of you. Though he has said that you have no God, he yet asks you to join him in his prayers!’*
Mr. Willis then writes
When he came in sight of the fatal pile, the wretched Servetus prostrated himself on the ground, and for a while was absorbed in prayer. Rising and advancing a few steps, he found himself in the hands of the executioner, by whom he was made to sit on a block, his feet just reaching the ground. His body was then bound to the stake behind him by several turns of an iron chain, whilst his neck was secured in like manner by the coils of a hempen rope. His two books—the one in manuscript sent to Calvin in confidence six or eight years before for his strictures, and a copy of the one lately printed at Vienne—were then fastened to his waist, and his head was encircled in mockery with a chaplet of straw and green twigs bestrewed with brimstone.
The deadly torch was then applied to the faggots and flashed in his face; and the brimstone catching, and the flames rising, wrung from the victim such a cry of anguish as struck terror into the surrounding crowd. After this he was bravely silent; but the wood being purposely green, although the people aided the executioner in heaping the faggots upon him, a long half-hour elapsed before he ceased to show signs of life and of suffering.
Immediately before giving up the ghost, with a last expiring effort he cried aloud; ‘Jesu, Thou Son of the eternal God, have compassion upon me!’ All was then hushed save the hissing and crackling of the green wood; and by-and-by there remained no more of what had been Michael Servetus but a charred and blackened trunk and a handful of ashes.
Grisly. But then Willis betrays his sympathies-
So died, in advance of his age, one of the gifted sons of God, the victim of religious fanaticism and personal hate*.
[N.B.- The title of this post isn’t intended to be taken seriously. I think what happened to Servetus and to the Anabaptists in Switzerland and all the folk who perished in religious persecution, at the hands of Reformed, Protestants, and Catholics, will rise up on the day of judgement and rightly accuse our theological forebears of the crassest and most unchristian behavior. And they will be right to do so. The religious persecution which has blackened the eye of the Church from every corner is despicable- and where religious persecution exists today, it is equally despicable whether it comes from Christians or Jews or Muslims].
*R. Willis- Servetus and Calvin: A study of an important epoch in the early history of the reformation (482ff).