Michael Servetus

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Servetus, Michael (Miguel Serveto) (1511–1553)

A Spanish physician and Unitarian theologian, Servetus was the first to publish an account in the West about the function of pulmonary (minor) circulation. In the Muslim world, scholars claim Muslim physicians were the first.

In 1531, his On the Errors of the Trinity was published, and he became the most famous of the sixteenth-century anti-Trinitarians, hated by Catholics and Protestants alike. Luther called the book horribly wicked. Servetus sent a copy of his Christianismi Restitutio to Calvin, who denounced him to the Catholic authorities at Lyons, where Servetus was imprisoned but escaped. Melanchthon in 1539 warned the Venetian Senate against allowing the book to be sold.

Servetus himself was said to have been an astrologer (at a time when Martin Luther on Biblical grounds rejected astrology and the Copernican astronomy alike, holding devoutly to a belief in witchcraft). His retort:

  • Your Trinity is the product of subtlety and madness. The Gospel knows nothing of it. God is one and indivisible.

During his 1553 trial for heresy in Geneva, he was asked by by the Protestant leader John Calvin if the Devil was part of God. Servetus laughed and said, "Can you doubt it?"

Declared a heretic, Servetus refused to recant and was caught heading for Italy via Geneva. There he was burned alive, in what has been described as “a slow fire,” along with some of his allegedly odious writings, to the delight of Protestants and Catholics alike.

The Servetus International Society, a private association of individuals, has an online website.

The official institution that preserves the memory, works, and the birth house of Servetus is the Michael Servetus Institute of Aragon.

A Biographical Sketch

Peter Hughes, in the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography, has written a concise online biography of Servetus, with bibliographical and other references.

(See entry for Otto Karmin).

{BDF; CE; CL; ER; EU, Paul H. Beattie; HNS2; JM; JMR; JMRH; RE; TRI; TYD; U, UU}

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