History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 136. The Servetus Literature.

I. Theological Works of Michael Servetus.


tatis erroribus

Libri Septem.

Per Michaelem Serueto, aliàs

Reues ab Aragonia



This book was printed at Hagenau in the Alsace, but without the name of the place, or of the publisher or printer. It contains 120 pages.

Dialogo | rum de Trinitate | Libri duo. | De justicia regni Chri | sti, Capitula quatuor. | Per Michaelem Serveto, | aliâs Reves, ab Aragonia | Hispanum. | Anno MDXXXII. Likewise printed at Hagenau. It concludes with the words: "Perdat Dominus omnes ecclesiae tyrannos. Amen. Finis."

These two works (bound in one volume in the copy before me) were incorporated in revised shape in the Restitutio.

Totius ecclesiae est ad sua limina

vocatio, in integrum restituta cognitione Dei, fidei Chri-

sti, instificationis nostrae, regenerationes baptismi, et coe-

nae domini manducationis. Restituto denique nobis re-

gno caelsti, Babylonis impiae captiuitate soluta, et An-

tichristo cum fuis penitus destructo.

This work was printed at Vienne in Dauphiné, at the expense of the author, who is indicated on the last page by the initial letters M. S. V.; i.e. Michael Servetus Villanovanus. It contains in 734 octavo pages: 1) Seven books on the Trinity (the ed. of 1531 revised); 2) Three books on Faith and the Righteousness of the kingdom of Christ (revised); 3) Four books on Regeneration and the kingdom of Antichrist; 4) Thirty Epistles to Calvin; 5) Sixty Signs of the reign of Antichrist; 6) Apology to Melanchthon and his colleagues on the mystery of the Trinity and ancient discipline.

One thousand (some say eight hundred) copies were printed and nearly all burnt or otherwise destroyed. Four or five were saved: namely, one sent by Servetus through Frelon to Calvin; one taken from the five bales seized at Lyons for the use of the Inquisitor Ory; a third transmitted for inspection to the Swiss Churches and Councils; a fourth sent by Calvin to Bullinger; a fifth given by Calvin to Colladon, one of the judges of Servetus, in which the objectionable passages are marked, and which was, perhaps, the same with the fourth copy. Castellio (1554) complained that he could not get a copy.

At present only two copies of the original edition are known to exist; one in the National Library of Paris (the Collation copy), the other in the Imperial Library of Vienna. Willis gives the curious history of these copies, pp. 535–541; Comp. his note on p. 196. Audin says that he used the annotated copy which bears the name of Colladon on the title-page, and the marks of the flames on the margins; how it was rescued, he does not know. It is this copy which passed into the hands of Dr. Richard Mead, a distinguished physician in London, who put a Latin note at the head of the work: "Fuit hic liber D. Colladon qui ipse nomen suum adscripsit. Ille vero simul cum Calvino inter judices sedebat qui auctorem Servetum flammis damnarunt. Ipse indicem in fine confecit. Et porro in ipso opere lineis ductis hic et illic notavit verba quibus ejus blasphemias et errores coargueret. Hoc exemplar unicum quantum scire licet flammis servatum restat: omnia enim quae reperire poterat auctoritate sua ut comburerentur curavit Calvinus." (Quoted from Audin.) This must be the copy now in Paris. Dr. Mead began to republish a handsome edition in 1723, but it was suppressed and burnt by order of Gibson, the bishop of London.

In 1790, the book rose like a phoenix from its ashes in the shape of an exact reprint, page for page, and line for line, so that it can only be distinguished from the first edition by the date of publication at the bottom of the last page in extremely small figures—1790 (not 1791, as Trechsel, Staehelin, Willis, and others, say). The reprint was made from the original copy in the Vienna Library by direction of Chr. Th. Murr, M. D. (See his Adnotationes ad Bibliothecas Hallerianas, cum variis ad scripta Michaelis Serveti pertinentibus, Erlangen, 1805, quoted by Willis.) The edition must have been small, for copies are rare. My friend, the Rev. Samuel M. Jackson, is in possession of a copy which I have used, and of which two pages, the first and the last, are given in facsimile.

A German translation of the Restitutio by Dr. Bernhard Spiess: Michael Servets Wiederherstellung des Christenthums zum ersten Mal übersetzt. Erster Bd., Wiesbaden (Limbarth), 1892 (323 pp.). The second vol. has not yet appeared. He says in the preface: "An Begeisterung für Christus und an biblischem Purismus ist Servet den meisten Theologen unserer Tage weit überlegen [?]; von eigentlichen Laesterungen ist nichts bei ihm zu entdecken." Dr. Spiess, like Dr. Tollin, is both a defender of Servetus and an admirer of Calvin. He translated the first ed. of his Institutes (1536) into German (Wiesbaden, 1887).

The geographical and medical works of Servetus will be noticed in the next sections.

II. Calvinistic Sources.

Calvin: Defensio orthodoxae fidei de sacra trinitate contra prodigiosos errores Michaelis Serveti Hispani, ubi ostenditur haereticos jure gladii coercendos esse, etc., written in 1554, in Opera, VIII. (Brunsw., 1870), 453–644. The same volume contains thirty letters of Servetus to Calvin, 645–720, and the Actes du procès de Mich. Servet., 721–872. See also the correspondence of Calvin from the year 1553 in vol. XIV. 68 sqq. (The Defensio is in the Amsterdam ed., vol. IX. 510–567.) Calvin refers to Servetus after his death several times in the last ed. of the Institutes (I. III. § 10, 22; II. IX. § 3, 10; IV. XVI. 29, 81), in his Responsio ad Balduini Convitia (1562), Opera, IX. 575, and in his Commentary on John 1:1 (written in 1554): "Servetus, superbissimus ex gente Hispanica nebulo."

Beza gives a brief account in his Calvini Vita, ad a. 1553 and 1554, where he says that "Servetus was justly punished at Geneva, not as a sectary, but as a monster made up of nothing but impiety and horrid blasphemies, with which, by his speeches and writings, for the space of thirty years, he had infected both heaven and earth." He thinks that Servetus uttered a satanic prediction on the title-page of his book: "Great war took place in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting with [not against] the dragon." He also wrote an elaborate defence of the death-penalty for heresy in his tract De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis, adversus Martini Bellii [pseudonym] farraginem et novorum academicorum sectam. Geneva (Oliva Rob. Stephani), 1554; second ed. 1592; French translation, 1560. See Heppe’s Beza, p. 38 sq.

III. Anti-Calvinistic.

Bolsec, in his Histoire de la vie ... de Jean Calvin (1577), chs. III. and IV., discusses the trial of Servetus in a spirit hostile alike to Calvin and Servetus. He represents the Roman Catholic view. He calls Servetus "a very arrogant and insolent man," and a "monstrous heretic," who deserved to be exterminated. "Desireroy," he says, p. 25, "que tous semblables fussent exterminez: et l’église de nostre Seigneur fut bien purgée de telle vermine." His more tolerant editor, L. F. Chastel, protests against this wish by an appeal to Luke 9:55.

IV. Documentary Sources.

The Acts of the process of Servetus at Vienne were published by the Abbé D’artigny, Paris, 1749 (Tom. II. des Nouveaux Memoires).—The Acts of the process at Geneva, first published by J. H. Albert Rilliet: Relation du procés criminel intenté a Genève en 1553 contre Michel Servet, rédigée d’après les documents originaux. Genève, 1844. Reprinted in Opera, vol. VIII.—English translation, with notes and additions, by W. K. Tweedie: Calvin and Servetus. Edinburgh, 1846. German translation by Brunnemann (see below).

V. Modern Works.

*L. Mosheim, the famous Lutheran Church historian (1694–1755), made the first impartial investigation of the Servetus controversy, and marks a reaction of judgment in favor of Servetus, in two monographs, Geschichte des berühmten Spanischen Arztes Michael Serveto, Helmstaedt, 1748, 4° (second vol. of his Ketzergeschichte); and Neue Nachrichten von Serveto, 1750. He had first intrusted his materials to a pupil, Henr. Ab. Allwoerden, who published a Historia Michaelis Serveti, Helmstadii, 1727 (238 pp., with a fine portrait of Servetus and the scene of his execution) but as this book was severely criticised by Armand de la Chapelle, the pastor of the French congregation at the Hague, Mosheim wrote his first work chiefly from copies of the acts of the trial of Servetus at Geneva (which are verified by the publication of the original documents in 1844), and his second work from the trial at Vienne, which were furnished to him by a French ecclesiastic. Comp. Henry, III. 102 sq.; Dyer, 540 sq.

In the nineteenth century Servetus has been thoroughly discussed by the biographers of Calvin: Henry (vol. III. 107 sqq., abridged in Stebbing’s transl., vol. II.); Audin (chs. XL. and XLI.); Dyer (chs. IX. and X., pp. 296–367); Staehelin (I. 422 sqq.; II. 309 sqq.); and by Amédée Roget, in his Histoire du peuple de Genève (vol. IV., 1877, which gives the history of 1553–1555). Henry, Staehelin, and Roget vindicate Calvin, but dissent from his intolerance; Dyer aims to be impartial; Audin, like Bolsec, condemns both Calvin and Servetus.

*F. Trechsel: Michael Servet und seine Vorgaenger, Heidelberg, 1839 (the first part of his Die protest. Antitrinitarier). He draws chiefly from Servetus’s works and from the proceedings of the trial in the archives of Bern, which agree with those of Geneva, published afterwards by Rilliet. His work is learned and impartial, but with great respect for Calvin. Comp. his valuable article in the first ed. of Herzog, vol. XIV. 286–301.

*W. K. Tweedie: Calvin and Servetus, London, 1846.

Emile Saisset: Michael Servet, I. Doctrine philosophique et religieuse de M. S.; II. Le procès et la mort de M. S. In the "Revue des deux Mondes" for 1848, and in his "Mélanges d’histoire," 1859, pp. 117–227. Saisset was the first to assign Servetus his proper place among scientists and pantheists. He calls him "le théologien philosophe panthéiste précurseur inattendu de Malebranche et de Spinoza, de Schleiermacher et de Strauss."

J. S. Porter (Unitarian): Servetus and Calvin, 1854.

Karl Brunnemann: M. Serv., eine aktenmaessige Darstellung des 1553 in Genf gegen ihn geführten Kriminal-processes, Berlin), 1865. (From Rilliet.)

*Henri Tollin (Lic. Theol., Dr. Med., and minister of the French Reformed Church at Magdeburg): I. Charakterbild Michael Servets. Berlin, 1876, 48 pp. 8° (transl. into French by Mme. Picheral-Dardier, Paris, 1879); II. Das Lehrsystem Michael Servets, genetisch dargestellt, Gütersloh, 1876–1878, 3 vols. (besides many smaller tracts; see below).

*R. Willis (M. D.): Servetus and Calvin. London, 1877 (641 pp.), with a fine portrait of Servetus and an ugly one of Calvin. More favorable to the former.

Marcelino Menendez Pelayo (R. Cath.): Historia de las Heterodoxos Espanjoles. Madrid, 1877. Tom. II. 249–313.

Don Pedro Gonzales De Velasco: Miguel Serveto. Madrid, 1880 (23 pp.). He has placed a statue of Serveto in the portico of the Instituto antropologico at Madrid.

Prof. Dr. A. v. d. Linde: Michael Servet, een Brandoffer der Gereformeerde Inquisitie. Groningen, 1891 (326 pp.). Hostile to Calvin, as the title indicates, and severe also against Tollin, but valuable for the literary references, distributed among the chapters.

(Articles in Encyclop., by Charles Dardier, in Lichtenberger’s "Encycl. des Sciences religieuses," vol. XI., pp. 570–582 (Paris, 1881); in Larousse’s "Grand Dictionnaire universel," vol. XIV. 621–623; Alex. Gordon, in "Encycl. Brit." XXI. 684–686; by Bernh. Riggenbach, in Herzog2, XIV. 153–161.)

The theology of Servetus is analyzed and criticised by Heberle: M. Servets Trinitaetslehre und Christologie in the "Tübinger Zeitschrift" for 1840; Baur: Die christl. Lehre v. d. Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes (Tübingen, 1843), III. 54–103; Dorner: Lehre v. d. Person Christi (Berlin, 1853), II. 613, 629, 649–660; Punjer: De M. Serveti doctrina, Jena, 1876.

The tragedy of Servetus has been dramatized by Max Ring (Die Genfer, 1850), José Echegaray (1880), and Albert Hamann (1881).

Servetus has been more thoroughly discussed and defended in recent times than any man connected with the Reformation.

The greatest Servetus scholar and vindicator is Dr. Tollin, pastor of a Huguenot Church in Germany, who calls himself "a Calvinist by birth and a decided friend of toleration by nature." He was led to the study of Servetus by his interest in Calvin, and has written a Serveto-centric library of about forty books and tracts, bearing upon every aspect of Servetus: his Theology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Eschatology, Diabology, Antichristology, his relations to the Reformers (Luther, Bucer, Melanchthon), and to Thomas Aquinas, and also his medical and geographical writings. He has kindly furnished me with a complete list, and I will mention the most important below in their proper places.

Dr. Tollin assumes that Servetus was radically misunderstood by all his opponents—Catholic, Calvinistic, and Lutheran, and even by his Socinian and other Unitarian sympathizers. He thinks that even Calvin misunderstood him, though he understood him better than his other contemporaries. He makes Servetus a real hero, the peer of Calvin in genius, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, the founder of comparative geography (the forerunner of Ritter), and the pioneer of modern Christology, which, instead of beginning with the pre-existent Logos, rises from the contemplation of the man Jesus to the recognition of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, then as the Son of God, and last as God. But he has overdone the subject, and put some of his own ideas into the brain of Servetus, who, like Calvin, must be studied and judged in the light of the sixteenth, and not of the nineteenth, century.

Next to Tollin, Professor Harnack, Neander’s successor in Berlin, has formed a most favorable idea of Servetus. Without entering into an analysis of his views, he thinks that in him "the best of all that came to maturity in the sixteenth century was united, if we except the evangelical Reformation," and thus characterizes him: "Servede ist gleich bedeutend als empirischer Forscher, als kritischer Denker, als speculativer Philosoph und als christlicher Reformer im besten Sinn des Worts. Es ist eine Paradoxie der Geschichte, dass Spanien—das Land, welches von den Ideen der neuen Zeit im 16 Jahrhundert am wenigsten berührt gewesen ist—diesen einzigen Mann hervorgebracht hat." (Dogmengeschichte, Bd. III. 661.)

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