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Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus (Miguel Servet) (1511 - 1533) was a remarkable man of study and scientific insights in medicine. His interests included many sciences, astronomy and metereology, geography, jurisprudence, theology and the study of the Bible, mathematics, anatomy and medicine. It has been said of him that: "Servetus was in intellectual endowments undoubtedly the peer of the greatest men of his century." and that: "He remains one of the greatest minds in human history, one who contributed to universal culture."

Michael Servetus was born in Villanueva[?] de Sijena[?], Huesca, Spain, on 29 September 1511. (Some sources give an earlier date based on Servetus own claim of 1509). At the age of 13, in 1524, his Father Antonio Servetus (alias Reves) who was a notary and lawyer sent young Michael to college at the University of Zaragoza/Lerida. Servetus had two brothers, one who became a notary like their father and another who was a Catholic priest. Servetus was very gifted in languages and studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. At the age of fifteen Michael entered the service of a Franciscan friar by the name of Juan de Quintana[?], an Erasmian, and he read the entire Bible in its original languages. He later he attended Toulouse University in 1526 where he studied law.

Michael came to believe Arianist theology, which maintains that the belief of the Trinity is not based on Bible teachings. After his education at Toulouse, 1529, he went back with Quintana, who was now Charles V confessor in the imperial retinue, and travelled through Italy to Germany. In October 1530 he visited Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel, staying there for about ten months, and supporting himself probably as a proofreader for a local printer. By that year he was already spreading Arian beliefs. In May 1531 he met Martin Bucer and Fabricius Capito[?] in Strassburg. Then two months later, in July 1531, he published De trinitatis erroribus. The next year he published De trinitate1532 and, De Iustitia regni Christi. He took on the pseudonym, Michel de Villeneuve, in order to avoid persecution by the Church because of these religious works. He studied at the Collège Calvi in Paris in 1533 and then after an interval he returned to paris to study medicine in 1536. In Paris his teachers included Sylvius, Fernel, and Guinter, who haild him with Vesalius, as his most able assistant in dissections.

After his studies in medicine he started his medical practice. He became personal physician to Archibishop Palmier[?] of Vienne, and was also physician to Guy de Maugiron[?], the liutenant governor of Dauphiné. While he practiced medicine near Lyon, for about fifteen years, he also published two other works, dealing with Ptolemy's Geography. Michael Servetus dedicated his first edition of Ptolemy and his edition of the Bible to his patron Hugues de la Porte[?], and dedicated his second edition of Ptolemy's Geography to his other patron, Archibishop Palmier[?]. While in Lyons, Symphorien Champier[?], a medical humanist, had been Michael Servetus' patron, and the pharmacological tracts which Servetus wrote there were written in defense of Champier against Leonard Fuchs[?].

While also working as a proofreader he published a couple more books which dealt with medicine and pharmacology. In 1553 he published another religious work with Arianist views entitled Christianismi restitutio, while working on this book he wrote, for the first time in print in the West 1546, about the concept of Pulmonary circulation[?], the circulation of blood through the lungs.

On 4 April 1553 he was imprisond in Vienne. "Convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic authorities.".

On 17 June 1553 he escaped from prison. Meaning to flee to Italy, Servetus stopped in at Geneva, where Calvin and his Reformers had denounced him.

On 13 August 1553 He attended a sermon by Calvin at Geneva. He was immediately recognized and arrested after the service. (The Heretics, p. 326.) At his arrest he was thrown " ... in an atrocious dungeon with no light or heat, little food, and no sanitary facilities." (John F. Fulton, Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr (Herbert Reichner, 1953), p. 35).

"As an 'obstinate heretic' he had all his property confiscated without more ado. He was badly treated in prison. It is understandable, therefore, that Servetus was rude and insulting at his confrontation with Calvin. Unfortunately for him, at this time Calvin was fighting to maintain his weakening power in Geneva. Calvin's opponents used Servetus as a pretext for attacking the Geneva Reformer's theocratic government. It became a matter of prestige -- always the sore point for any dictatorial regime -- for Calvin to assert his power in this respect. He was forced to push the condemnation of Servetus with all the means at his command." (The Heretics, p. 326.)

At his trial, Michael Servetus was condemned on two counts, for spreading and preaching anti-Trinitarianism and anti-paedobaptism. (Roland H. Bainton, Hunted Heretic The Beacon Press, 1953, p. 207.) Concerning his rejection of paedobaptism, i.e. infant baptism, Michael Servetus had said, "It is an invention of the devil, an infernal falsity for the destruction of all Christianity" (Ibid., p. 186.)

On 27 October 1553 he was burned at the stake in Geneva by John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, just outside Geneva. Calvin had mentioned this intention long before Servetus was captured, on February 13, 1546 (seven years prior to Servetus being arrested in Geneva) Calvin had written his friend, Farel: "If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight." (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House, 1950), p. 371.) And during Servetus' heresy trial, Calvin also wrote: "I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty." (Walter Nigg, The Heretics (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962), p. 328.)

When the process of the execution began, Servetus whispered with trembling voice: 'Oh God, Oh God!' The Farel screamed at him: 'Have you nothing else to say?' To this Michael Servetus replied: 'What else might I do, but speak of God!' Thereupon he was lifted onto the pyre and chained to the stake.The Calvinists put half-green wood around Michael Servetus' feet and placed on his head a wreath with sulfur on it. When the fire was set beneath him Michael Servetus let out in a cry 'Mercy, mercy!'. The fire burnt slowly due to the half-green wood. "Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me,' Michael Servetus cried out from the midst of the flames " (The Heretics, p. 327.) His agony lasted for over a half an hour under the slow roasting fire.

Calvin had thus disposed of Michael Servetus, A year later Calvin published a defense in which he penned "further insults upon his former adversary in most vindictive and intemperate language." (Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr, p. 36.)


"Servetus' ashes will cry out against him as long as the names of these two men are known in the world." (The Heretics, p. 328. )

Much of this information and further references can be found at: His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin (http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org/ashes.htm) by Dan Corner

Picture of Michael Servetus (http://www.gauu.org/images/michaelservetus.jpg)



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