Not wishing to appear softer on arch-heretics than Catholic Vienne (which had already burnt his effigy), the Council sentenced him to death. Calvin’s request to substitute the sword for the customary auto-da-fé was overruled. Servetus was barbarically burnt at the stake.
Calvin’s role — drafting the charges and acting as a theological witness — cannot be excused. It’s a dark blot on his career. His contemporary critic, a champion of religious toleration, Sebastian Castellio, stated a rule Calvin ought to have known and heeded: “To burn a man is not to defend a doctrine, but simply to slay a man.”
These two matters greatly overshadow, yet do not eclipse, Calvin’s achievements. Calvin accomplished what other reformers failed to achieve: a significant reformation of manners and morals, gaining for Geneva a reputation as the very model of a Protestant reformed community. This was achieved by distinguishing the roles of church and state, and placing discipline under the control of the church through a consistory made up of pastors and elected lay elders. This non-hierarchical, egalitarian structure was exported to other reformed churches from Scotland to Hungary. The consistory functioned as a kind of incubator of democratic ideas.