The Trial of the 16th Century

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ISBN: 9781527107212


A faithful examination of the role of John Calvin in the execution of Michael Servetus.

The execution of Michael Servetus (1511–53) is one of the most debated events in the life of John Calvin (1509–1564). It has left an indelible stain on his reputation, and unfortunately, the retelling of the story is often dependent on the historian’s relationship to Calvinism.

Jonathan Moorhead here seeks to give a faithful narrative of the role of John Calvin in the execution of Michael Servetus. He examines the life of Servetus, with emphasis given to his education, publications, and relationship with John Calvin. Moorhead also gives attention to the role of Calvin in Servetus’ arrests, trials, and execution.

Understanding the extent of Calvin’s power in Geneva at the time of the trial is critical to understanding the events, as is the context of executing heretics throughout history, and in particular, in the 16th Century.

This book will challenge readers to think critically about the ethics of telling history, the standards of properly judging previous generations, and the benefits of this study for the building up of the Body of Christ.

  1. Servetus’ Education and Publications
  2. Servetus’ Arrest and Escape from Vienne
  3. The Authority of John Calvin
  4. Servtus’ Arrest, Trial and Execution in Geneva
  5. Final Considerations
  6. Conclusion



The Trial of the 16th Century is simply spell–binding! Once I started it, I literally could not put it down. Jonathan Moorhead writes in a fast–paced yet thorough style, bringing out key historical facts that not only help the reader grasp the vital background to the execution of Servetus in Geneva, but masterfully corrects some unfortunate erroneous suppositions about that sad event. As one who gives many Reformation tours in Geneva, I get frequent questions from visitors about John Calvin and the infamous Servetus incident. This book has become the key resource I suggest for those wanting an accurate understanding of the details surrounding that singular event in Geneva.

John Glass, Author of A Walking Guide to John Calvin’s Geneva, and founder of Calvin Tours Geneva (calvintours.com)

In convincing clarity Jonathan Moorhead takes us through all the facts of the Calvin vsServetus case and comes to a precise and balanced conclusion. This conclusion finally does justice to the role John Calvin played in this indeed sad story. Moorhead’s book confronts all those who for centuries have turned Servetus into an innocent martyr and a victim of Calvin’s cruel rule in Geneva. Here we have the whole story and the true one, and thus a different one. The book reads like a good movie, but there is no happy end and there are no winners, except for the historical truth.

Herman Selderhuis, President, Theological University Apeldoorn, The Netherlands

In some ways the acid test for Calvin’s political theology is the infamous trial of Michael Servetus. For many who have considered Calvin’s involvement in the trial and execution of Servetus, this event seriously damages the integrity of the Genevan Reformer’s thought in their eyes. As Jonathan Moorhead capably shows, though, the case is much more complex. Moorhead’s monograph is an extremely helpful study of a significant event of the French Reformation and reveals how the history of such difficult and intricate events should be written.

Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

About the Author

Jonathan Moorhead (PhD—Dallas Theological Seminary; MDiv,ThM—The Master’s Seminary) has served with The Master’s Academy International in Russia and the Czech Republic since 2008 and specializes in Church History, Theology, and Apologetics. Jonathan and his wife Sharon have five children: Nahum, Isaac, Jesse, Jonas, and Miriam.

Additional information

Weight 150 g
Dimensions 216 × 137 mm

Moorhead, Jonathan, (Author)

Publication Summary

Christian Focus (2021), 96 pages

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