« EdellinenJatka »
Some ultra notions on toleration corrected. The writer's views on the subject
stated.-Injustice done to Calvin's name for his supposed agency in procuring the death of Servetus.—As Servetus's punishment was then approved by the churches generally, Calvin could be justly blamed, only for not having that light which had not shone upon the world at his time.-The laws of colonial Virginia and Maryland were more cruel than those under which Servetus suf. fered.-Law of Virginia passed 1659-60, cited and commented on.- A law of Maryland passed 1723, and remaining in force until 1820 quoted, and its effects explained.
REVEREND AND DEAR SIR,
Before I undertake the redemption of the pledge given in the conclusion of my last letter, I will copy a very old law, which was once rigidly enforced. “ And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.” By whom was that law enacted? But I may be told, that upon the subject of civil rights, and the policy of human laws, the world has been much enlightened within the two last centuries :-it is true, and it is equally true, that many have gazed upon the light until it “ has blinded their eyes.” The effects of that blindness is most injurious to themselves and others; for it induces them to make certain extravagant demands. When they speak of civil and religious li
berty, they mean, that every man has a right “ to work all uncleanness with greediness," and cither to apportion the respect to be paid to God and his law, or to trample upon the authority of both. In my opinion, there are very few crimes for the commission of which, human authority should take the offender's life, and blasphemy is not one of that very limited number; but I should be afraid to follow the fashion of our days, by maligning a law the counterpart of one made by God himself. My opinions upon many subjects are odd-you know that they
Let me assure you, I glory in the fact; for to use language which perhaps I ought not to copy, “my mind is my kingdom," and I must reign there or occupy no throne in this world.
You know, that for uttering horrible blasphemies, Michael Servetus was burnt; and that gross injustice on account of it has been done to the character of John Calvin, by those who have written and spoken centuries after his death. You are also aware that the whole christian world, the Protestant churches especially, approved the proceeding, and you are satisfied, as I feel persuaded, that if Calvin had made and enforced the law under which the blasphemer suffered, he ought to be blamed for nothing but not living in light which did not dawn upon
the world until many years after he had slept in death. To frame a fair issue, I am now willing to admit, that, in the language of this world, Calvin might have prevented the death of Servetus, and, that it was because of his advice the heretic suffer
ed; and shall notwithstanding this admission, endeavour to prove, that the legislation of colonial Virginia and Maryland was more cruel than the very law under which Servetus died. For this purpose I shall not travel through the whole codes of those provinces, but confine myself to a single enactment of each.
I shall not use for my present purpose any law of Virginia, designed to prevent or suppress or punish Puritanism, lest you should think me anxious to give to the persecutions of that sect too prominent a place in these letters, but will refer to a portion of a law selected from several of similar character, and aimed especially at Quakers.* As early as 1659-60, the legislature of Virginia passed a law " for the suppressing the Quakers.” With other provisions equally angry, it required that all Quakers in Virginia should be, and remain imprisoned, until they gave security to leave the colony and never to return; that for returning they should be punished as contemners of the laws and magistracy, and again be banished ; that for returning again, they should " be proceeded against as felons ;"—that means, should be put to death. As to the charitable feelings which made and enforced that and similar laws, we may form, I think, a pretty correct estimate from the following entry fairly copied from the public records of the colony. “ On the 12th day of September, 1663, John Porter,f a member of the house of Burgesses,
* See Appendix A. Act Ví.
was expelled, being loving to the Quakers, his opposition to baptism of infants, and his refus’g to take the oaths.” Now institute a comparison and answer for yourself this question: Would it be more cruel to burn a bold blasphemer, whose death was demanded by the whole christian church, or to hang a peaceable orthodox Quaker, for visiting the same country three times ? Let not Virginians speak contemptuously of Connecticut blue laws, nor reproach the memory of John Calvin with the burning of Servetus. But let us turn to Maryland and see whether she was more tolerant than her sister province.
The Protestant successors of King William “ of glorious memory,” were not less careful to preserve and sustain the rights of the established church, or less jealous of the aggressions of heresy, than he had been. Accordingly, by an act of the legislature of this province of his then majesty George I., passed in 1723, it was provided : That a person convicted " of wittingly, maliciously and advisedly, by writing or speaking, blaspheming or cursing God, or of denying our Saviour Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, or denying the Holy Trinity, or the Godhead of any of the Three Persons, or the Unity of the Godhead, or of uttering any profane words concerning the Godhead," should, for the first offence, be bored through the tongue, and fined £20; or if unable to pay the fine, be imprisoned six months; for the second offence, should be branded in the forehead with the letter B., and fined £40; or if too poor to pay it, be imprisoned twelve months; and for the third offence should “ suffer death without benefit of clergy.” That law was not repealed until 1820. Servetus suffered death in 1553; but had he lived in Maryland, and been convicted of his blasphemies, at any time between October 26th, 1723, and January 11th, 1820, nothing but natural death, or physical force, or executive clemency, or legislative interference, or Almighty power, could have saved him from severer pains than he endured, or from death itself. And the terrors of that act of assembly were not restricted to those alike guilty with Servetus. Every poor Jew or deluded Unitarian, who avowed his creed three several times, or any other person, who uttered any profane words concerning the Holy Trinity three several times, was obnoxious to the same punishments. Whether an offence charged was either of those defined by the act of - Assembly, depended entirely upon the instructions of courts, or opinions of juries. That law was not enacted in Geneva or in Rome ;-on the contrary, it emanated from a government, which, more than thirty years before that time, had established the Protestant church of England throughout its entire territory. I write not for the purpose of complaining of the act of 1723; but we ought not to be taunted with the burning of Servetus, or the intolerance of John Calvin, by the descendants of those, who were less tolerant than that great and good man, although they lived a century and a half after he had done with time.