"What then, was the amazement of Servetus when he delved in the
sacred word to find nothing whatever about the Trinity. The expression
itself is not there – nor any mention of one substance and three persons.”
- Roland Bainton; Hunted Heretic; the Life and Death of Michael Servetus 1511-1553 Beacon Press; Boston 1953 (Being updated and reprinted 2003).
On the weekend of 27 October, 2003, the memory of Michael Servetus will be honoured in a dozen nations across the world from Hungary and Switzerland to the United States. Once the Inquisition in his native Spain would have burned him at the stake. Now, his childhood home is a national monument.
Servetus' mind explored the science and the religious wars of his time. Born in Spain in 1511, less than 20 years after the expulsion of Jews and Muslims, he became a scholar of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. He travelled to Italy and like Luther, was repelled by the worldliness of the church. He sought to reconcile the three Abrahamic faiths with his book “On the Errors of the Trinity.” He was threatened with death and fled to France where he studied medicine. In his study of anatomy, he discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood 75 years before Harvey.
He edited texts of geography and become personal physician to the Archbishop of Vienne, France.
Servetus was very much a modern individual, a scientist and theologian living in times of great change like our own. He linked Astronomy, medicine and religion as one great field of understanding. This year we have enjoyed viewing Mars closer than it has been for thousands of years. In 1538, Servetus predicted the eclipse of Mars by the moon.
Like the “Jesus Seminar” of modern Bible scholars, when he studied the scriptures in the original, he found no reference to the Trinity. He wrote to Calvin, “Instead of God, you have a Cerberus of three heads: the Trinity.
He lived in a world which killed and expelled Jews and Muslims. In the 20th Century we have witnessed the murder of six million Jews, and now war with many Muslims.
Like many students of faith today, Servetus envisioned a common spiritual reality greater than any creed. He wrote THE RESTITUTION OF CHRISTIANITY as a call to return to Christianity of the Gospels rather than the dogmas of the creeds. Discovered as the author of this heresy, he was arrested in Vienne, but escaped, only to be recognized in Geneva and condemned to death by flames. The sentence was carried out on the 27th of October 1553. As Servetus died, he said, “Jesus thou son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me.” It is recorded that Calvin’s associate, Farel, said, “If he would only say, ‘Jesus. Thou eternal Son of God,’ we could cut him free.”
The example and writings of Servetus influenced the founding of the Unitarian Churches in Poland and Transylvania. In his person Servetus linked religion and science, setting a pattern which lived on Unitarian tradition through Joseph Priestley, Linus Pauling, and today in persons such as Tim Berners-Lee.
The most recent book on Servetus is OUT OF THE FLAMES, a book written in popular style which briefly tells the story of Servetus, and then turns into a detective story tracing the history of the three surviving copies of THE RESTITUTION OF CHRISTIANITY.
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