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Later examples include Lewis Hetzer (decapitated February 4, 1529), Michael
Servetus (burned at the stake October 27, 1553, using green branches still in leaf to
produce an agonizingly slow, smoldering fire), * Francis Davidis (died in prison in 1579),
Faustus Socinus (died in 1604), John Biddle (who suffered banishment to Sicily and
multiple imprisonments, the last of which hastened his death). Biddle, who considered
the terminology employed by Trinitarians “fitter for conjurers than Christians,” established a breastwork of arguments against the assault of Trinitarian theology of such
effectiveness that, at least on one occasion, debate opponents arranged his arrest in order
to avoid facing him in public forum.  He left a legacy of free­thinkers affirming divine
unity—not to mention some of the leading intellectuals of the day—including Sir Isaac
Newton, John Locke and John Milton. Biddle’s days in banishment also gave rise to one of the most touching comments on religious persecution, penned by a sympathetic
correspondent of The Gospel Advocate:
The conclave met, the judge was set,  Man mounted on God’s throne;
And they did judge a matter there,
That rests with Him alone;
A brother’s faith they made a crime,
And crushed thought’s native right sublime.”
During his lifetime, Parliament attempted to kill (literally, that is) Biddle’s
movement by establishing the death penalty to those who denied the Trinity (May 2,
1648). The year of his death, Parliament passed the second Act of Uniformity, and
outlawed all non­Episcopal worship and clergy. 49 Under this act, 2,257 priests were
ejected from the clergy and over 8,000 people died in prison out of refusal to accept the
There is at least one case where, in the selective wisdom of the church, the
population of an entire country was condemned:


Early in the year, the most sublime sentence of death was
promulgated which has ever been pronounced since the creation of the
world. The Roman tyrant wished that his enemies’ heads were all upon a single neck, that he might strike them off at a blow; the inquisition assisted
Philip to place the heads of all his Netherlands subjects upon a single neck
for the same fell purpose. Upon the 16 th February 1568, a sentence of the
Holy Office condemned all the inhabitants of the Netherlands to death as
heretics. From this universal doom only a few persons, especially named,
were excepted. A proclamation of the King, dated ten days later,
confirmed this decree of the Inquisition, and ordered it to be carried into
instant execution, without regard to age, sex, or condition. This is
probably the most concise death­warrant that was ever framed. Three
millions of people, men, women, and children, were sentenced to the
scaffold in three lines; and, as it was well known that these were not
harmless thunders, like some bulls of the Vatican, but serious and practical
measures, which were to be enforced, the horror which they produced may
be easily imagined. It was hardly the purpose of government to compel the
absolute completion of the wholesale plan in all its length and breadth, yet
in the horrible times upon which they had fallen, the Netherlanders might
be excused for believing that no measure was too monstrous to be
fulfilled.  At any rate, it was certain that when all were condemned, any
might at a moment’s warning be carried to the scaffold, and this was
precisely the course adopted by the authorities. Under this universal
decree the industry of the Blood­Council might now seem superfluous.  Why should not these mock prosecutions be dispensed with against
individuals, now that a common sentence had swallowed the whole population in one vast grave? Yet it may be supposed that if the exertions
of the commissioners and councilors served no other purpose, they at least
furnished the government with valuable evidence as to the relative wealth
and other circumstances of the individual victims. The leading thought of
the government being, that persecution, judiciously managed, might
fructify into a golden harvest, it was still desirable to persevere in the
cause in which already such bloody progress had been made.


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