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We must make the same allowance for our Reformers in England at this period, who were actuated by the same blind zeal against the Antitrinitarians, and behaved with no less barbarity towards such as had the misfortune to fall in
“One Joan Bocher,” says Bishop Burnet, “called Joan of Kent, denied that Christ took flesh of the substance of his mother;” and she most probably also rejected a Trinity of persons, and the Divinity of Christ. For the Bishop immediately before
and therefore denied that he was the eternal Son of God. So that when he was going to receive the just punishment of his blasphemy, (to be burnt alive at a stake, reader !) he refused to give him the title of eternal Son of God, though Paul here proclaims aloud, that before any creation, i. e. from eternity, for time began with creation, he not only was, but was born.” But our Dr. Hammond, though otherwise far from favouring the sentiments of Servetus, would in Beza's account have deserved to be burned alive for blasphemy as far as this text of Scripture is conce
ncerned, for he could see no such doctrive in it as of Christ's eternity. “The word TTPWTOTÓXOS, says he, besides the ordinary notion of first-born, which cannot so well here refer to Christ's eternal generation, because of that which is added to it, the first-born of every creature, which only gives him a prece. dence before all other creatures, and doth not attribute eternity to him, is used sometimes for lord, or person in power,” &c. Hammond in loc.
P.S. I have been told that Beza, in the later edition of his N. T. softened or struck out these exceptionable passages concerning Servetus: which looks well.
inentions those as connected with the denial of “ Christ taking flesh of the Virgin ;” and they were the sentiments of those called Anabaptists, of which there were many at that time in England as well as upon the continent.
“ She was (says the Bishop) out of measure vain and conceited of her notions, and rejected all the instruction that was offered her with scorn: so she was condemned as an obstinate heretic, and delivered to the secular arm. But it was very hard to persuade the king ( Edward VI.) to sign the warrant for her execution; he thought it was an instance of the same spirit of cruelty for which the Reformers condemned the Papists. It was hard to condemn one to be burnt for some wild opinions, especially when they seemed to flow from a disturbed brain. But Cranmer persuaded him, that he being God's lieutenant, was bound in the first place to punish those offences committed against God. He also alleged the laws of Moses for punishing blasphemers; and he thought errors that struck immediately against the Apostles' Creed ought to be capitally punished. These things did rather silence than satisfy the young king. He signed the warrant with tears in his eyes, and said to Cranmer, that since he resigned up himself in that matter to his judgment, if he sinned in it, it should lie at his door. This struck the Archbishop; and both he and Ridley took her into their houses, and tried what reason,
joined with gentleness, could do. But she was still more and more insolent; so at last she was burnt, and ended her life very indecently, breaking out often into jeers and reproaches, and was looked on as a person fitter for Bedlam than a stake.” *
“ Some time after that a Dutchman, George Van Parre, was also condemned and burned for denying the Divinity of Christ, and saying, that the Father only was God.
“ He had led a very exemplary life both for
* Burnet's Abridgment of H. R. Vol. II. pp. 81, 82. I have given the Bishop's account at length of this valuable woman, as I thought I had injured her by niy summary of it in the former editions. · Her behaviour before her judges is not to be defended. But what will not oppression drive us to ? And surely her error claimed indulgence, as most probably she fell into it and would not quit it, through fear of thinking too degradingly of Christ. Strype mentions some aspersions thrown by Parson the Jesuit upon her character, which he disbelieves, as well he might what was supported only by the word of such an indiscriminate slanderer of Protestants. But at the same time he tells us from him, in which he may be credited, that “ She was a great disperser of Tindall's New Testament translated by him into English, and printed at Colen, and was a great reader of Scripture herself. Which book also she dispersed in the court, and so became known to certain women of quality, and was more particularly acquainted with Mrs. Anne Ascue. She used, for the more secresy, to tie the books with strings under her apparel, and so pass
with them into the court.” Strype's Eccl. Memor. Vol. II.
fasting, devotion, and a good conversation ; and suffered with extraordinary composedness of mind. These things cast a great blemish on the Reformers. It was said, they only condemned cruelty, when it was exercised on themselves, but were ready to practise it when they had power. The Papists made great use of this afterwards in Queen Mary's time; and what Cranmer and Ridley then suffered, was thought a just retaliation on them, from that wise Providence that dispenses all things justly to all men.” *
This shocking cruelty of the English † and foreign Reformers towards those who, in the use of their own understandings, and from searching into the Scriptures, maintained that the Father only was God and to be worshiped, seems to have prevented their forming themselves into churches and societies, and terrified them into silence, if it did not for a time check all inquiry into such dangerous points: for there is a degree of persecution which human nature cannot withstand.
* Burnet's A bridgment of the History of the Reformation, Vol. II. pp. 79–82.
† These persecutions, in which Bishop Ridley is said to have borne a principal part, should not have been omitted in the life of that Bishop, published by Glocester Ridley, LL. B. 1763. Persecutors, and murderers of conscientious men, on whatever pretence, Heathen, Papal, or Protestant, should be held up to just infamy on that account, however worthy in other respects, and sinning through blind passion and ignorance, as did these eminent persons Cranmer and Ridley. But such intolerance towards their brethren and fellow-protestants, was less excusable in men who themselves, against opinions sanctified by the authority of ages, and in contradiction to the established religion of their respective countries, had asserted and made use of their own right of private judgment in interpreting the Scriptures. If they might take such a latitude and liberty in what appeared wrong and grievous to them in the Popish establishment, why take upon themselves to abridge others of the same liberty and privilege with respect to their new Protestant establishment; and erect themselves into so many Popes, instead of him at Rome, whose yoke they had so lately thrown off?
Methinks I hear these Reformers say, (and some, though I hope few, would now join with them,) that the blasphemous opinions against the Trinity which these men propagated, were to be stopped at any rate, and by the severest punishment, as an insult upon God, (as Calvin exhorted Servetus after he was condemned, to pray to God to forgive him, for having attempted to pluck three hypostases out of his substance): so sacred did they esteem their doctrine of the Trinity, which they knew not how to express but in such unscriptural, unintelligible jargon. *
Yet did they themselves less blaspheme or
* Benson's Account of Calvin's Treatment of Servetus,