The Trial of the 16th Century: Calvin & Servetus – Jonathan Moorhead

Jonathan Moorhead, The Trial of the 16th Century: Calvin & Servetus (Geanies House, Fern, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2021), 99 pp.

Church history has its heroes and villains. Tragically, some heroes are unfairly caricatured as villains. One such man is John Calvin. While he has been accused of being mean-spirited, bigoted, and narrow-minded, nothing could be further from the truth. Even in the days after he was exiled from Geneva, he refused to grow bitter. He resisted the urge to feel sorry for himself. He rejected the urge to retaliate. Rather, he pursued a posture of humility. He encouraged his friend, William Farel, to tread upon this God-centered path: “Let us humble ourselves, therefore, unless we wish to strive with God when He would humble us”1 Calvin not only commended this path to others; he was constrained to walk this path himself. By God’s grace, he maintained the posture of humility for the remainder of his earthly days.

Some refuse to acknowledge that Calvin was not only a godly man; he was a top-notch exegete and theologian. His works continue to be reprinted over 450 years after his death. Instead of celebrating Calvin, some choose to point the finger of blame for his role in the execution of the heretic, Servetus. Jonathan Moorhead clears up any misconception about this tragic event in church history in his book, The Trial of the 16th Century: Calvin & Servetus.

The great strength of Moorhead’s work is his clear-headed approach to church history and especially his view on Calvin’s role (or lack thereof) in Servetus’s execution. The author sets the stage by highlighting the heresies that were aggressively promoted by Servetus. He tracks Servetus’s steps that eventually led to his demise in Geneva. But he also gives readers an inside look at who is ultimately responsible for the death of the Spanish false teacher.

  1. Letters of John Calvin, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2018), xiii.

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