ARTICLE II. – THE ANTITRINITARIANS AND SOCINIANS. – MICHAEL SERVETUS. – 32.Character of Servetus; his studies, travels, and false doctrine. 33.-He goes to Geneva; disputes with Calvin, who has him burned to death.

  1. Michael Servetus, the chief of the Antitrinitarians, was a Spaniard, a native of Saragossa, in Catalonia. He was a man of genius (1), but light-headed, and held such a presumptions opinion of himself, that, even before he was twenty-five years old, he thought himself the most learned man in the world. He went to Paris to study medicine, and there met some German Lutheran professors, employed by Francis I. to teach in that University, as he wished to have, at all risks, the best professors in Europe. He learned from these doctors, not only Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but at the same time imbibed their errors. He went to Dauphiny, and, as he commenced disseminating the errors he had learned (2), he was accused of Lutheranism, but cleared himself, and denounced all Lutheran doctrine. He next went to Lyons, then to Germany, and from that to Africa to learn the Alcoran of Mahomet.

(1) Jovet, Hist, delle Relig. t. 2, p. 287; Varil. t. 1, l. 8, p. 370; Nat, Alex. s. 19; Gotti, Ver. Rel. I. 2, c. 115; Van Ranst, s. 16, p. 325. (2) Varil. loc. cit.

He next went to Poland, and fixed himself there; and, puffed up with an extraordinary idea of his own learning, he disdained attaching himself to any sect, and formed a religion of his own, composed of the errors of all sects, and then, as Varillas tells us, he changed his name to Revez. With Luther, he condemned all which that Reformer condemned in the Catholic Church; he rejected the Baptism of infants, with the Anabaptists; with the Sacramentarians, he said that the Eucharist was only a figure of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But his most awful errors were those against the Most Holy Trinity, and especially against the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. With Sabellius, he denied the distinction of the three Divine Persons; with Arius, that the Word was God; with Macedonius, that the Holy Ghost was God, for he said that in God there was but One Nature and One Person, and that the Son and the Holy Ghost were only two emanations from the Divine Essence, and had a beginning only from the creation of the world. Thus, as Jovet (3) says, Arianism, which was extinct for eight hundred years, was resuscitated by Servetus in 1530. Europe, and the northern nations of it especially, being then all in confusion, overrun by so many heresies, he soon found followers. Besides the errors enumerated, the books of Servetus were filled with the errors of Apollinares, of Nestorius, and of Eutyches, as the reade can see, by consulting Noel Alexander and Gotti. Another of his opinions was, that man did not commit mortal sin till he passed the age of twenty; that by sin the soul became mortal like the body; that polygamy might be permitted; and to these he added many other blasphemies.

  1. Servetus left Germany and Poland, and was coming to Italy to disseminate his doctrine. He arrived in Geneva, where Calvin resided at the time. Calvin was at one time accused of Arianism, and to prove the contrary, wrote some treatises against Servetus. Having him now in his power, he thought it a good opportunity to give a cruel proof of his sincere abhorrence of this heresy, so he had him denounced by one of his servants to the magistrates, and imprisoned (Chap, xi, art. iii, sec. i, n. 67).

(3) Jovet, p. 288.

They then had a long disputation. Servetus asserted that the Scriptures alone were sufficient to decide Articles of Faith, without reference either to Fathers or Councils, and, in fact, that was Calvin’s own doctrine also, especially in his disputes with the Catholics. He was, therefore, very hard pressed by Servetus, who explained the texts adduced to prove the Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ, after his own fashion, especially as he him self rejecting Fathers and Councils in the explanation of that text of St. John (x, 30), ” The Father and I am one” said that all were wrong in proving by this, the unity of essence between the Father and Son, as it only proved the perfect uniformity of the will of Christ with that of his Father. When he found, therefore, that Servetus obstinately held his Antitrinitarian doctrines, he laid another plan to destroy him. He sent his propositions to the University of the Zuinglian Cantons, and, on their condemnation, he caused him to be burned alive on the 27th of October, 1553, as we have already narrated (Chap, xi, art. iii, sec. i, n. 67) (4). This cursed sect, however, did not expire with Servetus, for his writings and disciples carried it into Russia, Wallachia, Moravia, and Silesia; it was afterwards split into thirty-two divisions, and in these provinces the Antitrinitarians are more numerous than the Lutherans or Calvinists.

(4) Nat. Alex. t. 19, art. 14; Van Ranst, p. 320.