1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Servetus, Michael

SERVETUS, MICHAEL [Miguel Serveto] (1511-1553), physician and polemic, was born in 1511[1] at Tudela in Navarre, his father being Hernando Villanueva, a notary of good family in Aragon. His surname is given by himself as “Serveto” in his early works, “per Michaelem Serueto, alias Reues.” Later he Latinized it “Servetus”; when writing French (1553) he signs “Michel Seruetus.”[2] It is probable that he was of the same family as the Spanish ecclesiastic Marco Antonio Serveto de Reves (d. 1598), born at Villanueva de Sigena in the diocese of Huesca (Latassa, Bibl. nuevo, 1798, i. 609). At this place is the traditional mansion of the family, and in the parish church the family altar with the family arms (Christian Life, 29th Sept. 1888). Servetus at Geneva makes Villanueva his birthplace, assigning it to the adjoining diocese of Lerida. His later adopted surname, Villanovanus or de Villeneufve, was no mere pseudonym since he followed his father's example. Of his education we only know that his father sent him to study law at Toulouse, where he first became acquainted with the Bible (1528). From 1525 he had found a patron in Juan de Quintana (d. 1534), a Franciscan promoted in 1530 to be confessor to Charles V. In the train of Quintana he witnessed at Bologna. the double coronation of Charles in February 1530, visited Augsburg, and perhaps saw Luther at Coburg. The spectacle of the adoration of the pope at Bologna impressed him strongly in an anti-papal direction. He left Quintana, visited Lyons and Geneva, repaired to Oecolampadius at Basel, and pushed on to Bucer and Capito at Strassburg. Considerable attention was attracted by his first publication, De Trinitatis erroribus (1531, printed by John Setzer at Hagenau). It is crude, but original and earnest, and shows a wide range of reading very remarkable in so young a man. Melanchthon writes “Servetum multum lego.” Quintana, who describes him as di grandissimo ingegno, and gran sophista, thought the matter was Serveto's, but the execution too good to be his (H. Lammer, Monumenta Vaticana, 1861, 109). The essay was followed in 1532 by a revised presentation of his views in dialogue form. We next find him at Lyons (1535) editing scientific works for the Trechsel firm, adopting the “Villanovanus” surname, which he constantly used till the year of his death. At Lyons he found a new patron in Dr Symphorien Champier (Campegius) (1472-1539), whose profession he resolved to follow. Resorting (1536) to Paris, he studied medicine under Johann Günther, Jacques Dubois and Jean Fernel. It was in 1536, when Calvin was on a hurried and final visit to France, that in Paris he first met Servetus, and as he himself says, proposed to set him right on theological points.[3] Servetus succeeded Vesalius as assistant to Gunther, who extols his general culture, and notes his skill in dissection, and ranks him vix ulli secundus in knowledge of Galen. He graduated in arts, and claims to have graduated in medicine (of this there is no record at Paris), published six lectures on “syrups” (the most popular of his works), lectured on geometry and “astrology” (from a medical point of view) and defended by counsel a suit brought against him (March 1538) by the medical faculty on the ground of his astrological lectures. In June 1538 he writes from Louvain (enrolled there as a university student on the 14th of December 1537 as Michael Villanova) to his father (then resident at San Gil), explains his removal from Paris, early in September, in consequence of the death (8th August) of his master (el sañor mi maestro), says he is studying theology and Hebrew, and proposes to return to Paris when peace is proclaimed. After this he practised medicine for a short time at Avignon, and for a longer period at Charlieu (where he contemplated marriage, but was deterred by a physical impediment). In September 1540 he entered himself for further study in the medical school at Montpellier, possibly gaining there a medical degree.

Among attendants on his Paris lectures was Pierre Paulrnier, since 1528 archbishop of Vienne. Paulmier now invited Servetus to Vienne as his confidential physician. He thus acted for twelve years (1541-1553), making money by his practice, and also by renewed editorial work for the Lyons publishers—work in which he constantly displayed his passion for original discovery in all departments. Outwardly he was a conforming Catholic; privately he pursued his theological speculations. It is probable that in 1541 he had been rebaptized (he maintained the duty of adult baptism at the age of thirty). Late in 1545, or very early in 1546, he opened a fatal correspondence with Calvin, forwarding the manuscript of a. much-enlarged revision of his theological tracts and expressing a wish to visit Geneva. Calvin replied (13th February 1546) in a letter now lost; in which, he says, he expressed himself “plus durement que ma coustume ne porte.” On the same day he wrote to Guillaume Farel, “si venerit, modo valeat mea autoritas, vivum exire nunquam patiar,” and to Pierre Viret in the same terms. Evidently Servetus had warning that if he went to Geneva it was at his peril. Writing to Abel Pouppin (in or about 1547) he complains that Calvin would not return his manuscript, and adds, “mihi ob eam rem moriendum esse certo scio.” The volume of theological tracts, again recast, was declined by two Basel publishers, Jean Frellon (at Calvin's instance) and Marrinus, but an edition of 1000 copies was secretly printed at Vienna by Balthasar Arnollet. Ready by the 3rd of January 1553, the bulk of the impression was privately consigned to Lyons and Frankfort for the Easter market. On 26th February, a letter, enclosing a sheet of the printed book, and revealing the secret of its authorship, was written from Geneva by Guillaume H. C. de Trye, formerly échevin of Lyons, to his cousin Antoine Arneys in that city. The letter bears no sign of dictation by Calvin (who must, however, have furnished the enclosed sheet), and de Trye's part may be explained by an old grudge of his against the Lyons booksellers. For a subsequent letter Calvin furnished (reluctantly, according to de Trye) samples of Servetus's handwriting, expressly to secure his conviction. The inquisitor-general at Lyons, Matthieu Ory (the “Doribus” of Rabelais) took up the case on 12th March; Servetus was interrogated on 16th March, arrested on 4th April, and examined on the two following days. His defence was that, in correspondence with Calvin, he had assumed the character of Servetus for purposes of discussion. At 4 a.m. on 7th April he escaped from his prison, evidently by connivance. He took the road for Spain, but turned back in fear of arrest. How he spent the next four months is not known. His own account is that he never left France; Calvin believed he was wandering in the North of Italy; the absurd suggestion that he lay hid as a conspirator in Geneva was first started by J. Spon (Hist. de Genève, 1680). On Saturday the 12th of August he rode into Louyset, a village on the French side of Geneva. Next morning, having sold his horse, he walked into Geneva, put up at “the Rose,” and asked for a boat to take him towards Zürich on his way to Naples. Finding he could not get the boat till next day (Monday) he attended afternoon service (he would probably have got into trouble if he had not done so), was recognized at church par quelques fréres, and immediately arrested. The process against him (Nicholas de la Fontaine being in the first instance the nominal prosecutor) lasted from 14th August to 26th October, when sentence “estre brusle tout vyfz” was passed, and carried out next day at Champel (Oct. 27th, 1553). Calvin would have had him beheaded. Meanwhile the civil tribunal at Vienne had ordered (17th June) that he be fined and burned alive; the sentence of the ecclesiastical tribunal at Vienne was delayed till 23rd December. Jacques Charmier, a priest in Servetus's confidence, was condemned to three years' imprisonment in Vienne. The only likeness of Servetus is a small copperplate by C. Sichem, 1607 (often reproduced); the original is not known and the authenticity is uncertain. In 1876 a statue of Servetus was erected by Don Pedro Gonsalez de Velasco in front of his Instituto Antropologico at Madrid; in 1903 an expiatory block was erected at Champel; in 1907 a statue was erected in Paris (Place de la Mairie du XIV Arrondissement); another is at Aramnese; another was prepared (1910) for erection at Vienne.

The religious views of Servetus, marked by strong individuality, are not easily described in terms of current systems. His denial of the tripersonality of the Godhead and the eternity of the Son, along with his a nab apt ism, made his system abhorrent to Catholics and Protestants alike, in spite of his intense Biblicism, his passionate devotion to the person of Christ, and his Christocentric scheme of the universe. His earliest theological writings, in which he approximates to the views of F. Socinus, are better known than his riper work. He has been classed with Arians, but he endorses in his own way the hornoousian formula, and denounces Arius as “Christi gloriae incapacissimus.” He has had many critics, some apologists (e.g. Postel and Lincurius), few followers. The fifteen condemnatory clauses, prefacing the sentence at Geneva, set forth in detail that he was guilty of heresies, blasphemously expressed, against the foundation of the Christian religion. An instance of his injurious language was found in his use of tie term “trinitaires” to denote “ceux qui croyent en la Trinité.” No law, current in Geneva, has ever been adduced as enacting the capital sentence. Claude Rigot, the procurer-général, put it to Servetus that his legal education must have warned him of the provisions of the code of Justinian to this effect; but in 1535 all the old laws on the subject of religion had been set aside at Geneva; the only civil penalty recognized by the edicts of 1543 being banishment. The Swiss churches, while agreeing to condemn Servetus, say nothing of capital punishment in their letters of advice. The extinct law seems to have been revived for the occasion. A valuable controversy followed on the question of executing heretics, in which Beza (for), Mino Celsi (against), and several caustic anonymous writers (especially Castellio) took part.

The following is a list of his writings:-

1. De Trinitatis erroribus libri septem (Hagenau, 1531).

2. Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo (Hagenau, 1532); two reprints org 1 and 2, to pass for originals; No. 1 in Dutch version (1620), by Re nier Telle.

3. Claudii Rtolomaei Alexandrini geographical enarrationis libri octo; ex Bilibaldi Pirckheymeri translation, sed ad Graeca et prisca exemplaria a Michaele Villanovano jam primum recogniti. Adjecta insuper ab eodem scholia, &c. Lyons, Melchior and Gaspar Trechsel (1535; 2nd ed., Lyons, Hugo a Porta (1541), i.e. 1542 fol.; printed by Caspar Trechsel at Vienne); on this work Tollin ounds his high estimate of Servetus as a comparative geographer; the passage incriminated on his trial as attacking the verity of Moses is from Loren; F riese; the accounts of the language and character of modern nations show original observation.

4. In Leonardum Fuchsium apologia. Autore Michaele Villanovano (1536, reproduced by photography, 1909).

5. Syruporum universa ratio, &c. (Paris, 1537); four subsequent editions; latest, Venicé, 1548 (six lectures on digestion; syrups treated in fifth lecture).

6. Michaelis Villanovani in guendarn medicum apologetic disceptatio pro astrologia (Paris, 1538; reprinted, Berlin, 1880); the medicus is jean Tagault, who interrupted Servetus's lectures on astronomy, including meteorology.

7. Biblia Sacra ex Santis Pagnini tralatione . . recognita et scholiis illustrate, &c. (Lyons, Hugo a Porta, 1542, fol.), remarkable for its theory of prophecy, explained in the preface and illustrated in the notes.

8. D'Artign says Servetus fit les argumens to a Spanish version of the Summa of, Aquinas; this, and divers traités de grammaire from Latin into Spanish have not been identified.

9. Christianismi restitutia (1553; perfect copies in Vienna and Paris); a copy in Edinburgh University Library is complete except that the missing first sixteen pages are replaced by a transcript from the original draft, containing matter not in the print (this supplementary manuscript was reproduced by photography, 1909); a transcript of other portions of the draft is in the Bibl. Nat., Paris; partly reprinted (London, 1723), (copies in London and Paris); reprinted (page for page) from the Vienna copy (Nuremberg, Rau, 1790); German version, by B. Spiess (Wiesbaden, 1892-1895); the last section Apologia to Melanchthon, is given in the original Latin. The book is not strictly anonymous; the initials M.S.V. are given at the end; the name Seruetus on p. 199. The often-cited description of the pulmonary circulation (which occurs in the 1546 draft) begins p. 169; it has escaped even Sigmond that Servetus had an idea of the composition of water and air, the hit for his research was the dual form of the Hebrew words for blood and water, &c., Two treatises, Desiderius (ante 1542) and de tribus impostoribus (1598) have been wrongly ascribed to Servetus. Most of his few remaining letters are printed by Mosheim; his letter from Louvain was dispatched in duplicate (to evade capture), but both were seized; one is in the Record Office (U. 140), the other in the British Museum (Cotton MSS., Galba B. x.).

Authorities.—The literature relating to Servetus is very large; a bibliography is in A. v. d. Linde, Michael Servet (1891, ; the following are among the important pieces. Calvin's Defensio orthodoxae fidei (1554) (in French, Déclaration four maintenir, &c., 1554), is the source o prevalent misconceptions as to Servetus's opinions, and attitude on his trial. De la Roche's Historical Account in Mem. of Lit. (1711-1712) (in French, Biblioth. Ang. Amsterdam, 1717) was followed by An Impartial History, &c., 1724 (said to be by Sir Benjamin or Nathaniel Hodges). Allwoerden's Historia, &c. (1728) (materials furnished by Mosheim) is superseded by Mosheim's Anderweitiger Versuch (1748, with appendix, Neue Nachrichten, &c., 1750), reproducing the records of the Vienne examination (since iost) first printed by D'Artigny, Nouveaux Mémoires d'hist., &c., vol. ii. (1749). Chaufepié's valuable article, Nouv. Dict. historique, iv. (1 56), fol. (in English, by Rev. James Yair, 1771) makes no use of Miosheim's later researches. Trechsel's Die Prot. Antitrinitaires vor F. Socin, bk. 1. (1839), uses all available material up to date. The investigations of H. Tollin, M.D. (forty separate articles in various journals, 1874 to 1885) have thrown much light, mixed with some conjecture. The records of the Geneva trial, first published by De la Roche, reproduced in Rilliet's Relation &c., (1844), and elsewhere, are best given in vol. viii. (1870) of the Corpus reformatorum edition of Calvin's works; Roget's Hist. du peuple de Genève, vol. iv. (1877), has a good account of both trials. The passage on the pulmonary circulation, first noticed by W, Wotton, Reflections upon Anc. and Mod. Learning (1692, has given rise to a literature of its own; see, especially, Tollin's Die Entdeckung des Blutkreislaufs, &c. (1876); Huxley, in Fortnightly Rev. (February 1878); Tollin's Kritische Bemerkungen uber Harvey und seine Vorganger (1882). Other physiological speculations of Servetus are noted by G. Sigmond, Unnoticed Theories of Servetus (1826). The best stud of Servetus as a theologian is Tollin's Lehrsystem M. Servets (3 vols., 1876-1878); Pünyer's De M. Serveti doctrina (1876), is useful. From a Unitarian point of view, Servetus is treated by R. Wright, Apology (1807); W. H. Drummond, D.D. (1848); R. Wallace, Antitrin. Biog. (1850); J. S. Porter, Servetus and Calvin (1854). E. Saisset, Rev. des deux Mondes (1848), treats Servetus as a pantheist; he is followed by Menendez Pelayo, Los Heterodoxos españoles (1880, vol. ii.), and by R. Willis, M.D., Servetus and Calvin (1877 an unsatisfactory book; cf. A. Gordon, Theol. Rev., April and July 1878). Of Servetus's personal character the best vindication is ollin's Characterbild M. Servets (1876, in French, with additions by Dardier, Portrait Caractere, 1879). His story has been dramatized by Max Ring, Die Genfer (1850), by José Echegaray, La Muerte en los Labios (1880), by Albert Hamann, Servet (1881), and by Prof. Shields, The Reformer of Geneva (1897). Recent pamphlets by Spanish and French writers are numerous; some of the illustrations in Dr W. Osler's Michael Servetus (1909), are useful.  (A. Go.*) 

  1. This date rests on his own testimony (both at Vienna and Geneva) and that of Calvin. An isolated passage of the Geneva testimony may be cited in favour of 1509.
  2. The form Servet first appears in a letter of Oecolampadius to the senate of Basel (1531) and is never used by himself. Mosheim's “Servede” is an imaginary form.
  3. Beza incorrectly makes Servetus the challenger, and the date 1534.