- Servetus, Michael
- ( 151 1-1553 )Spanish physician and theologian who was executed for his beliefsJohn Calvin's consent to the persecution and execution of Michael Servetus for advocating heretical opinions has emerged as the major blot on his otherwise distinguished career. Servetus, a brilliant Spanish intellectual and physician, was born at vil-lanueva de Sijena, Spain, and later studied law at Toulouse in France. He appears to have developed an interest in theology as a student; as early as 1530 he expressed his disbelief in the Trinity to Protestant reformer Johann Oecolampadius and publicized it in his book Concerning the Errors of the Trinity (1531). Facing disapproval, he moved to Lyon and then to Paris.Servetus had begun his theological reflections by noting that Muslims and Jews considered the Trinity as an attack on the unity of God. He concluded that God was one, that Christ was not divine, and that the Holy Spirit was the name of God's power. He also concluded that the church should be reorganized as a community of those who believe, that infant baptism should be replaced with believer's baptism, and that in the Eucharist believers could partake of divinity and participate in God. Such beliefs were heretical to Catholics and most Protestants, including Calvin.While in Paris, Servetus studied medicine, and appears to have discovered the circulation of the blood long before its public discovery by William Harvey in the next century. He left Paris in 1538, following conflicts over his lecturing on astrology.Servetus moved back to Lyon and then in 1544 was offered a position as the personal physician to the archbishop of vienna. During these years, he operated under pseudonyms, though he kept up a confidential correspondence with Calvin. As early as 1546, he sent Calvin the manuscript of his book Restitution of Christianity, only published in 1553. it was the discovery of his authorship of this later book that led to his arrest in vienna. However, he escaped and moved toward Italy. On his way, he stopped in Geneva, where he was recognized and arrested.Servetus was subjected to a lengthy trial in which all his heretical opinions were aired. The court noted that his opinions not only attacked Christian orthodoxy, but also provided support for Muslims and Jews. He was condemned and burned at the stake in Geneva on October 27, 1553. Though not directly involved in the proceeding, Calvin is held responsible for Servetus's death, considering his unchallenged power at that time in Geneva.Servetus did not raise up a community of believers nor participate in one, but he has in more recent years been seen as a precursor to the Unitarian beliefs of Socianism.Further reading:■ Roland H. Bainton, Hunted Heretics (Boston, Beacon Press, 1953)■ Michael Servetus, Two Treatises on the Trinity, ed. by Earl Morse Wilbur (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1932)■ Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism: Socini-anism and Its Antecedents (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945)■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.