Servetus, Michael

, a famous Anti-trinitarian, and the great martyr of the Socinian sect, was born in 1509, at Villaneuva in Arragon, or at Tudela in Navarre, in 1511. His father, who was a notary, sent him to the university of Toulouse, to study the civil law: and there, or as some say, when in Italy, he imbibed his peculiar notions | respecting the doctrine of the Trinity. After he had been two or three years at Toulouse he resolved to remove into Germany, and propagate his opinions. He went to Basil, by way of Lyons and Geneva; and, having had some conferences at Basil with Oecolampadius, set out for Strasburg, to converse with Bucer and Capito, two celebrated reformers of that city., At his departure from Basil he left a manuscript, entitled “De Trinitatis Erroribus,” in the bands of a bookseller, who sent it afterwards to Haguenau, whither Servetus went, and had it printed in 1531. The next year, he printed likewise at Haguenau another book, with this title, “Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo:” in an advertisement to which he retracts v/hat he had written in his former book against the Trinity, not as it was false, but because it was written imperfectly and confusedly^ He then resolved to return to France, because he was poor, and did not understandthe German language; as he alleged upon his trial to the judges, when they asked him why he left Germany. He went accordingly to Basil, thence to Lyons, where he lived two or three years, and afterwards to Paris, where, having studied physic under Sylvius, Fernelius., and other professors, he took his degree of master of arts, and was admitted doctor of physic in the university. He now settled as a practitioner for two or three years in a town near Lyons, and then at Vienne in Dauphiny, for the space of ten or twelve. In the mean time, his writings against the Trinity had excited the indignation of the German divines, and spread his name throughout all Europe. In 1533, before he had left Lyons, Melancthon wrote a letter to Camerarius, in which he allowed that Servetus was evidently an acute and crafty disputant, but confused and indigested in his thoughts, and certainly wanting in point of gravity. While Servetus was at Paris, his books being dispersed in Italy, were very much approved by many who had thoughts of forsaking the church of Rome: which, in 1539, excited Melancthon to write a letter to the senate of Venice, importing, that “a book of Servetus, who had revived the error of Paulus Samosatenus, was handed about in their country, and beseeching them to take care, that the impious error of that man may be avoided, rejected, and abhorred.” Servetus was at Lyons in 1542, before he settled in Vienne; and corrected the proofs of a Latin Bible that was printing there, to which he added a preface and some marginal notes, under | the name of Villanovanus, from the town where he was born.

During this time, Calvin, who was the head of the church at Geneva, kept a constant correspondence with Servetus by letters, and as he tells us, endeavoured, for the space of sixteen years, to reclaim that physician from his errors. Beza informs us, that Calvin knew Servetus at Paris, and opposed his doctrine; and adds, that Servetus, having engaged to dispute with Calvin, dur&t not appear at the time and place appointed. Servetus wrote several letters to Calvin at Geneva from Lyons and Danphine, and consulted him about several points: he also sent him a manuscript for his opinion, which, with some of his private letters, Calvin is said to have produced against him at his trial.

Servetus, however, was inflexible in his opinions, and determined to publish a third work in favour of them. This came out in 1553, at Vienne, with this title, “Christianismi Restuutio,” &c. without his name, but being discovered to be the author, he was imprisoned at Vienne, and would certainly have been burnt alive if he had not made his escape; however, sentence was passed on him, and his effigies was carried to the place of execution, fastened to a gibbet, and afterwards burned, with five bales of his books. Servetus in the mean time was retiring to Naples, where he hoped to practise physic with the same high reputation as he had practised at Vienne; yet was so imprudent as to take his way through Geneva, where he was seized and cast into prison; and a prosecution was presently commenced against him for heresy and blasphemy. The articles of his accusation were numerous, and extracted from his various writings; some of them are decidedly on the point of his anti-trinitarianism, others are more trivial. The magistrates, however, being sensible that the trial of Servetus was a thing of the highest consequence, did not think fit to give sentence, without consulting the magistrates of the Protestant cantons of Switzerland: to whom, therefore, they sent Servetus’s book, printed at Vienne, and also the writings of Calvin, with Servetus’s answers; and at the same time desired to have the opinion of their divines about that affair. They all gave vote against him, as Beza himself relates; in consequence of which he was condemned and burnt alive, Oct. 27, 1553. His death has been made the occasion of numerous attacks on the character and memory of Calvin, who, however, has a very able advocate | in the life of Servetus by Chaufepie, translated by the Rev. James Yair, minister of the Scots church in Campvere, 1771, 8vo. Servetus’s death may more properly be referred to the spirit of the times, and may justly form a reflection on the reformers in general, who were adopting the intolerant practices of the church which they had left.

Servetus was a man of great acuteness and learning. He was not only deeply versed in what we usually call sacred and prophane literature, but also an adept in the arts and sciences. He observed upon hjs trial, that he had professed mathematics at Paris; although we do not find when, nor under what circumstances. He was so admirably skilled in his own profession, that he appears to have had some knowledge of the circulation of the blood; although very short of the clear and full discovery made by Harvey. Our learned Wotton says, " The first that I could ever find, who had a distinct idea of this matter, was Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician, who was bornt for Arianism at Geneva, near 140 years ago. Well had it been for the church of Christ, if he had wholly confined himself to his own profession His sagacity in this particular, before so much in the dark, gives us great reason to believe, that the world might then have just cause to have blessed his memory. In a book of his, entitled l Christianismi Restitutio, 7 printed in 1553, he clearly asserts, that the blood passes through the lungs, from the left to the right ventricle of the heart, and not through the partition which divides the two ventricles, as was at that time commonly believed. How he introduces it, or in which of the six discourses, into which Servetus divides his book, it is to be found, I know not, having never seen the book myself. Mr. Charles Bernard, a very learned and eminent surgeon of London, who did *ne the favour to communicate this passage to me, set down at length in the margin, which was transcribed out of Servetus, could inform me no farther, only that he had it from a learned friend of his, who had himself copied it from Servetus.' 7 The original editions of Servetus’s works are very scarce, and they have not been often reprinted, but his doctrines may be traced in various Socinian systems. 1


Chaufepie. Moshim.