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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 147. The Theological System of Servetus.


Calvin, in his Refutatio Errorum Mich. Serveti, Opera, vol. VIII. 501–644, presents the doctrines of Servetus from his writings, in thirty-eight articles, the response of Servetus, the refutation of the response, and then a full examination of his whole system.—H. Tollin: Das Lehrsystem Michael Servet’s genetisch dargestellt. Gütersloh, 1878, 3 vols. 8°. The most complete exposition of the theological opinions of Servetus.


Calvin and Tollin represent two opposite extremes in the doctrinal and personal estimate of Servetus: Calvin is wholly polemical, and sees in the Restitutio a volume of ravings ("volumen deliriorum") and a chaos of blasphemies ("prodigiosum blasphemiarum chaos"); Tollin is wholly apologetical and eulogistic, and admires it as an anticipation of reverent, Christocentric theology; neither of them is strictly historical.


Trechsel’s account (I. 119–144) is short, but impartial.—Baur, in his "History of the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation" (Tübingen, 1843, 3 vols.) devotes, with his usual critical grasp and speculative insight, fifty pages to Servet’s views on God and Christ (I. 54–103). Dorner, in his great "History of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ" (Berlin, 1853), discusses his Christology profoundly, but rather briefly (II. 649–656). Both recognize the force of his arguments against the dyophysitism of the Chalcedonian Christology, and compare his Christology with that of Apollinaris.


Before we proceed to the heresy trial, we must give a connected statement of the opinions of Servetus as expressed in his last and most elaborate work.

To his contemporaries the Restitutio appeared to be a confused compound of Sabellian, Samosatenic, Arian, Apollinarian, and Pelagian heresies, mixed with Anabaptist errors and Neo-platonic, pantheistic speculations. The best judges—Calvin, Saisset, Trechsel, Baur, Dorner, Harnack—find the root of his system in pantheism. Tollin denies his pantheism, although he admits the pantheistic coloring of some of his expressions; he distinguishes no less than five phases in his theology before it came to its full maturity, and characterizes it as an "intensive, extensive, and protensive Panchristism, or ’Christocentricism.’ "10901090    He calls it "Christocentrik," III. Preface, xiii. "Was den Servet zum Servet machte," he says, "ist seine Lehre von Christo." Comp. II. 151-159. He assumes that Servetus composed the seven books on the "Errors of the Trinity" at different times: books I. and II. at Toulouse in 1528, while yet a student of seventeen (!); books III. and IV. at Basel in 1531; the last three books at Strassburg; and that the two Dialogues on the Trinity represent the fourth, and the "Restitution" the fifth, phrase of his theology.

Servetus was a mystic theosophist and Christopantheist. Far from being a sceptic or rationalist, he had very strong, positive convictions of the absolute truth of the Christian religion. He regarded the Bible as an infallible source of truth, and accepted the traditional canon without dispute. So far he agreed with evangelical Protestantism; but he differed from it, as well as from Romanism, in principle and aim. He claimed to stand above both parties as the restorer of primitive Christianity, which excludes the errors and combines the truths of the Catholic and Protestant creeds.

The evangelical Reformation, inspired by the teaching of St. Paul and Augustin, was primarily a practical movement, and proceeded from a deep sense of sin and grace in opposition to prevailing Pelagianism, and pointed the people directly to Christ as the sole and sufficient fountain of pardon and peace to the troubled conscience; but it retained all the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, and especially the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. It should be noticed, however, that Melanchthon, in the first edition of his Loci (1521), omitted these mysteries as objects of adoration rather than of speculation,10911091    In the editions after 1543 he discussed the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ and opposed Servetus. See Baur, III. 19 sqq., and Dorner, II. 613 sqq. and that Calvin, in the controversy with Caroli, spoke lightly of the Nicene and Athanasian terminology, which was derived from Greek philosophy rather than from the Bible.

Servetus, with the Bible as his guide, aimed at a more radical revolution than the Reformers. He started with a new doctrine of God and of Christ, and undermined the very foundations of the Catholic creed. The three most prominent negative features of his system are three denials: the denial of the orthodox dogma of the Trinity, as, set forth in the Nicene Creed; the denial of the orthodox Christology, as determined by the Oecumenical Council of Chalcedon; and the denial of infant baptism, as practised everywhere except by the Anabaptists. From these three sources he derived all the evils and corruptions of the Church. The first two denials were the basis of the theoretical revolution, the third was the basis of the practical revolution which he felt himself providentially called to effect by his anonymous book.

Those three negations in connection with what appeared to be shocking blasphemy, though not intended as such, made him an object of horror to all orthodox Christians of his age, Protestants as well as Roman Catholic, and led to his double condemnation, first at Vienne, and then at Geneva. So far he was perfectly understood by his contemporaries, especially by Calvin and Melanchthon. But the positive features, which he substituted for the Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, were not appreciated in their originality, and seemed to be simply a repetition of old and long-condemned heresies.

There were Antitrinitarians before Servetus, not only in the ante-Nicene age, but also in the sixteenth century, especially among the Anabaptists—such as Hetzer, Denck, Campanus, Melchior Hoffmann, Reed, Martini, David Joris.10921092    For an account of their opinions see Trechsel, I. 13-55, and the great works of Baur and Dorner, above quoted. But he gathered their sporadic ideas into a coherent original system, and gave them a speculative foundation.10931093    Baur (l.c., III. 54) says: Die in den genannten Irrlehrern oder Schwarmgeistern, wie Luther sie treffend nannte, gleich Feuerfunken ausgestreuten und bald da bald dort an einen entzündbaren Stoff sich ansezenden Ideen erhielten erst in dem Spanier Michael Servet, welchen der Zug seines Geistes demselben Kreise zuführte, eine festere Consistenz und Haltung. Diess ist es, was Servet seine historische Bedeutung gibt. Er wurde der Mittelpunct, in welchem jene vereinzelten, noch formlosen Elemente sich zur Einheit zusammenschlossen und durch die Energie seines Geistes sich zu einer in sich zusammenhaengenden Theorie ausbildeten."


1. Christology.


Servetus begins the "Restitution," as well as his first book against the Trinity, with the doctrine of Christ. He rises from the humanity of the historical Jesus of Nazareth to his Messiahship and Divine Sonship, and from this to his divinity.10941094    "Ipse homo Iesus est ostium et via, a quo et merito exordium sumam ... Pronomine ad sensum demonstrante ipsum hominem, verberibus caesum et flagellatum, concedam haec tria simpliciter vera esse. Primo, hic est lesus Christus. Secundo, hic est filius Dei. Tertio, hic estDeus." Rest. p. 5. This is, we may say, the view of the Synoptical Gospels, as distinct from the usual orthodox method which, with the Prologue of the fourth Gospel, descends from his divinity to his humanity through the act of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. In this respect he anticipates the modern humanitarian Christology. Jesus is, according to Servetus, begotten, not of the first person of God, but of the essence of the one undivided and indivisible God. He is born, according to the flesh, of the Virgin Mary by the overshadowing cloud of the Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20, 23; Luke 1:32, 35). The whole aim of the gospel is to lead men to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (comp. John 20:31).10951095    "Semper dixi, et dico, et dicam, esse omnia scripta, ut credamus, hunc Iesum esse filium Dei." Rest. 293. But the term "Son of God" is in the Scriptures always used of the man Jesus, and never of the Logos.10961096    "Ne unus quidem dari potest in scripturis locus, in quo ponatur vox filius quae non accipiatur pro homine filio." Rest. 689. He is the one true and natural son of God, born of the substance of God; we are sons by adoption, by an act of grace. We are made sons of God by faith (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:5). He is, moreover, truly and veritably God. The whole essence of God is manifest in him; God dwells in him bodily.10971097    "Christus est Deus. Dicitur vere Deus, substantialiter Deus, cum in eo sit deitas corporaliter" (p. 14). He quotes in proof Isa. 9:6; 46:3; John 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:5-11.

To his last breath Servetus worshipped Jesus as the Son of the eternal God. But he did not admit him to be the eternal Son of God except in an ideal and pantheistic sense, in which the whole world was in the mind of God from eternity, and comprehended in the Divine Wisdom (Sophia) and the Divine Word (Logos).

He opposed the Chalcedonian dualism and aimed (like Apollinaris) at an organic unity of Christ’s person, but made him a full human personality (while Apollinaris substituted the divine Logos for the human spirit, and thus made Christ only a half man). He charges the scholastic and orthodox divines, whom he calls sophists and opponents of the truth, with making two Sons of God—one invisible and eternal, another visible and temporal. They deny, he says, that Jesus is truly man by teaching that he has two distinct natures with a communication of attributes.10981098    "Negant, hominem esse hominem et concedunt, Deum esse asinum .... Ad eundem modum concedunt fieri posse, ut Deus sit asinus, et spiritus sanctus sit mulus, sustentans mulum" (p. 15). The same profane and offensive comparisons occur in his first book, and among mediaeval schoolmen, who illustrated the relations of the Trinity by the analogy of horse, ass, and mule (in mulo equus et asinus; in spiritu pater et filius). They also raised such foolish questions as, whether God might not have become an ass or a cucumber as well as a man, and what effect the sacrament would have upon a dog or a mouse. From reverence to profanity, as from the sublime to the ridiculous, there is only one step. Christ does not consist of, or in, two natures. He had no previous personal pre-existence as a second hypostasis: his personality dates from his conception and birth. But this man Jesus is, at the same time, consubstantial with God (oJmoouvsio"). As man and wife are one in the flesh of their son, so God and man are one in Christ.10991099    "Deus et homo unum sunt in Christo, quo vir et uxor unum sunt in una filii carne .... Magnum est mysterium, quod caro illa fit Deo homusios [homousios], in unam hypostasim ei connexa. Ita Deus coaluit cum humana natura, ut illum extolleret filium sibi hominem generando ... Deus et homo unum in ipso sunt." Rest. 269. The flesh of Christ is heavenly and born of the very substance of God.11001100    "Caro ipsa Christi est coelestis de substantia Dei genita." Rest. 74; comp. 48, 50, 72, 77. By the deification of the flesh of Christ he materialized God, destroyed the real humanity of Christ, and lost himself in the maze of a pantheistic mysticism.


2. Theology.


The fundamental doctrine of Servetus was the absolute unity, simplicity, and indivisibility of the Divine being, in opposition to the tripersonality or threefold hypostasis of orthodoxy.11011101    Tollin (Thomas Aquinas, der Lehrer Servet’s, in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie," 1892) tries to show that Servetus only followed out consistently the view of Thomas Aquinas, who proved the simplicity of the divine essence from reason, but the Trinity only from the faith of the Church. In this respect he makes common cause with the Jews and Mohammedans, and approvingly quotes the Koran. He violently assails Athanasius, Hilary, Augustin, John of Damascus, Peter the Lombard, and other champions of the dogma of the Trinity.11021102    He calls Athanasius and Augustin worshippers of the beast and of images ("Athanasium imaginum cultorem cum charactere bestiae," p. 702; comp. p. 398). He probably confounded the first Council of Nicaea (325), where Athanasius was present, with the second Council of Nicaea (787), which sanctioned the worship of images. For this historical blunder Calvin takes Servetus, who set himself up as "temporum omnium censor," severely to task (Opera, VIII. 591 sq.). But he claims the ante-Nicene Fathers, especially Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, for his view. He calls all Trinitarians "tritheists" and "atheists."11031103    "Veri ergo hi sunt tritoitae [for tritheitae], et veri sunt athei, qui Deum unum non habent, nisi tripartitum et aggregativum." Rest. 30; comp. 34. They have not one absolute God, but a three-parted, collective, composite God—that is, an unthinkable, impossible God, which is no God at all. They worship three idols of the demons,—a three-headed monster, like the Cerberus of the Greek mythology.11041104    Rest. 59, 119, etc. On these expressions, which shocked the pious feelings of all Christendom, see above, § 141, p. 719. One of their gods is unbegotten, the second is begotten, the third proceeding. One died, the other two did not die. Why is not the Spirit begotten, and the Son proceeding? By distinguishing the Trinity in the abstract from the three persons separately considered, they have even four gods. The Talmud and the Koran, he thinks, are right in opposing such nonsense and blasphemy.

He examines in detail the various patristic and scholastic proof texts for the Trinity, as Gen. 18:2; Ex. 3:6; Ps. 2:7; 110:1; Isa. 7:14; John 1:1; 3:13; 8:58; 10:18; 14:10; Col. 1:15; 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:19; Heb. 1:2.

Yet, after all, he taught himself a sort of trinity, but substitutes the terms "dispositions," "dispensations," "economies," for hypostases and persons. In other words, he believed, like Sabellius, in a trinity of revelation or manifestation, but not in a trinity of essence or substance. He even avowed, during the trial at Geneva, a trinity of persons and the eternal personality of Christ; but he understood the term, person "in the original sense of a mask used by players on the stage, not in the orthodox sense of a distinct hypostasis or real personality that had its own proper life in the Divine essence from eternity, and was manifested in time in the man Jesus.11051105    In his last reply to Calvin (Opera, VIII. 536), he tells him: "Mentiris. Trinitatem ego voco, et doceo, verissimam trinitatem .... Reale discrimen tollo, non personale .... Realem in Deo distinctionem ego repudio." Calvin, in his Institutes (I. ch. XIII. § 22) gives the following account of the trinity of Servetus: "The word Trinity was so odious and even detestable to Servetus, that he asserted all Trinitarians, as he called them, to be atheists. I omit his impertinent and scurrilous language, but this was the substance of his speculations: That it is representing God as consisting of three parts, when three persons are said to subsist in his essence, and that this triad is merely imaginary, being repugnant to the divine unity. At the same time he maintained the persons to be certain external ideas, which have no real subsistence in the divine essence, but give us a figurative representation of God under this or the other form; and, that in the beginning there was no distinction in God, because the Word was once the same as the Spirit; but that after Christ appeared God of God, there emanated from him another God, even the Spirit. Though he sometimes glosses over his impertinencies with allegories, as when he says that the eternal Word of God was the Spirit of Christ with God, and the reflection of his image, and that the Spirit was a shadow of the Deity; yet he afterwards destroys the deity of both, asserting that according to the mode of dispensation there is a part of God in both the Son and the Spirit; just as the same Spirit substantially diffused in us, and even on wood and stones, is a portion of the Deity."

Servetus distinguished—with Plato, Philo, the Neo-Platonists, and several of the Greek Fathers—between an ideal, invisible, uncreated, eternal world and the real, visible, created, temporal world. In God, he says, are from eternity the ideas or forms of all things: these are called "Wisdom" or "Logos," "the Word" (John 1:1). He identifies this ideal world with "the Book of God," wherein are recorded all things that happen (Deut. 32:32; Ps. 139:16; Rev. 5:1), and with the living creatures and four whirling wheels full of eyes, in the vision of Ezekiel (1:5; 10:12). The eyes of God are living fountains in which are reflected all things, great and small, even the hairs of our head (Matt. 10:30), but particularly the elect, whose names are recorded in a special book.

The Word or Wisdom of God, he says, was the seed out of which Christ was born, and the birth of Christ is the model of all births.11061106    "Verbum ipsum Dei quod erat semen generationis Christi .... Ipsa Christi generatio sit aliorum generationum omnium specimen et prototypus .... Vere fuit in Deo substantiate semen Christi, et in eo rerum omnium seminales rationes, et exemplares formae." Rest. p. 146. The Word may be called also the soul of Christ, which comprehends the ideas of all things. In Christ was the life, and the life was the light of the world (John 1:4 sqq.). He goes here into speculations about the nature of light and of the heavenly bodies, and ventilates his Hebrew learning. He distinguishes three heavens—the two material heavens of water and air, spoken of by Moses in the account of creation,11071107    וימשׁ, the dual. "Duos coelos ad literam accipimus aërium et aqueum," p. 157. He regards the Hebrew word as a contraction of ושׁ and וימ, and equivalent to "waters " (p. 155); while it is derived from המשׁ, to be high. and a third, spiritual heaven of fire, the heaven of heavens, to which Paul was elevated (2 Cor. 12:2), in which God and Christ dwell, and which gives splendor to the angels. Christ has revealed the true heaven to us, which was unknown to the Jews.

All things are one in God, in whom they consist.11081108    "Omnia sunt unum in Deo, in quo uno consistunt." Rest. 161. There is one fundamental ground or principle and head of all things, and this is Jesus Christ our Lord.11091109    "Unicum est principium, unica verbi lux, lux omniformis, et caput omnium, Iesus Christus dominus noster, principium creaturarum Dei." Rest. 162.

In the fifth book, Servetus discusses the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He identifies him with the Word, from which he differs only in the form of existence. God is, figuratively speaking, the Father of the Spirit, as he is the Father of Wisdom and the Word. The Spirit is not a third metaphysical being, but the Spirit of God himself. To receive the Holy Spirit means to receive the anointing of God. The indwelling of the Spirit in us is the indwelling of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). He who lies to the Holy Spirit lies to God (Acts 5:4). The Spirit is a modus, a form of divine existence. He is also called the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11). The human spirit is a spark of the Divine Spirit, an image of the Wisdom of God, created, yet similar. God breathes his Spirit into man in his birth, and again in regeneration.

In connection with this subject, Servetus goes into an investigation of the vital spirits in man, and gives a minute description of the lesser circulation of the blood, which, as we have seen, he first discovered.11101110    Rest. 169: "Ut vero totam animae et spiritus rationem habeas, lector, divinam hic philosophiam adjungam, quam facile intelligis, si in anatome fueris exercitatus," etc. See above, § 143, p. 724. He studied theology as a physician and surgeon, and studied medicine as a theologian.

He discusses also the procession of the Spirit, which he regards not as a metaphysical and eternal process, but as a historical manifestation, identical with the mission. Herein he differs from both the Greek and the Latin theories, but unjustly charges the Greeks (who distinguish the procession from the Father alone, and the mission from the Father and the Son) with error in denying the Filioque. The Spirit, he says, proceeds from the Father and the Son, and he proceeds from the Father through the Son, who is the proper fountain of the Spirit. But he dates this procession from the day of Pentecost. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was unknown, which he proves from John 7:39 and Acts 19:2 (but contrary to such passages as Ps. 51:13; 1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13; Isa. 11:2; 61:1; 1 Pet. 1:11). The spirit in the Old Testament was only a spirit of servitude and fear, not of adoption and love (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Christ calls us friends and brethren (John 15:15; 20:17). The Jews knew only a sanctification of the flesh and external things, not of the spirit. The anointing we receive from Christ is the anointing of the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21; 1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy Spirit becomes ours in regeneration. We are deified or made partakers of the divine nature by Christ.


3. Christopantheism.


The premises and conclusions of the speculations of Servetus are pantheistic. He adopts the conception of God as the all-embracing substance. "All is one and one is all, because all things are one in God, and God is the substance of all things."11111111    "Ultimo ex praemissis comprobatur vetus illa sententia, omnia esse unum, quia omnia sunt unum in Deo, in quo uno consistunt." Rest. 161. As the Word of God is essentially man, so the Spirit of God is essentially the spirit of man. By the power of the resurrection all the primitive elements of the body and spirit have been renewed, glorified, and immortalized, and all these are communicated to us by Christ in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is the breath from the mouth of Christ (John 20:22). As God breathes into man the soul with the air, so Christ breathes into his disciples the Holy Spirit with the air … . The deity in the stone is stone, in gold it is gold, in the wood it is wood, according to the proper ideas of things. In a more excellent way the deity in man is man, in the spirit it is spirit."11121112    "Deitas in lapide est lapis, in auro est aurum, in ligno lignum, secundum proprias ideas. Excellentiore iterum modo, deitas in homine est homo, in spiritu est spiritus: sicut adjectio hominis in Deo est Deus, et adjectio spiritus hominis in eo est spiritus sanctus." Rest. 182. "God dwells in the Spirit, and God is Spirit. God dwells in the fire, and God is fire; God dwells in the light, and God is light; God dwells in the mind, and he is the mind itself." In one of his letters to Calvin he says: "Containing the essence of the universe in himself, God is everywhere, and in everything, and in such wise that he shows himself to us as fire, as a flower, as a stone." God is always in the process of becoming.11131113    "Semper est Deus in fieri." Evil as well as good is comprised in his essence. He quotes Isa. 45:7: "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things." The evil differs from the good only in the direction.

When Calvin charged him with pantheism, Servetus restated his view in these words: "God is in all things by essence, presence, and power, and himself sustains all things."11141114    Calv. Opera, VIII. 518, art. XXXIV. Calvin admitted this, but denied the inference that the substantial Deity is in all creatures, and, as the latter confessed before the judges, even in the pavement on which they stand, and in the devils.11151115    Ibid. 550: "Sed hinc non sequitur in omnibus creaturis substantialem esse deitatem. Multo minus, quod ipse coram judicibus confessus est, pavimentum, quod pedibus calcamus, deitatis esse particeps, et in diabolis omnia deorum esse plena." In his Institutes (l. I. ch. 13, § 22), Calvin calls the promiscuous confusion of the Son of God, and the Spirit with all the creatures, "the most execrable (omnium maxime execrandum) of the opinions of Servetus. In his last reply to Calvin he tells him: "With Simon Magus you shut up God in a corner; I say, that he is all in all things; all beings are sustained in God."11161116    "Cum Simone Mago tu Deum in angulo recludis: ego eum dico esse omnia in omnibus. Entia omnia dico in Deo sustineri." In his abusive notes on Calvin’s articles, written in prison. Opera, VIII. 548.

He frequently refers with approval to Plato and the NeoPlatonists (Plotin, Jamblichus, Proclus, Porphyry).11171117    He also quotes for the same purpose Philo, Plutarch, Parmenides, Hermes Trismegistus, Zoroaster, and the Jewish rabbis, Aben-Ezra and Moses Egyptius.

But his views differ from the ordinary pantheism. He substitutes for a cosmopantheism a Christopantheism. Instead of saying, The world is the great God, he says, Christ is the great God.11181118    "Mundum Zoroaster et Trismegistus dixerunt, esse magnum Deum. Nos Christum dicimus esse magnum Deum, mundi dominum, et omnipotentem .... Iesus Christus, factor mundi, fuit et est in Deo substantialiter, verius quam mundus, et per ipsum mundus secundario in Deo consistit." Rest. 213. "Unicum est principium, unica verbi lux, lux omniformis, et caput omnium, Iesus Christus dominus noster, principium creaturarum Dei." P. 162. By Christ, however, he means only the ideal Christ; for he denied the eternity of the real Christ.


4. Anthropology and Soteriology.11191119    See here the book De Regenerations superna, et de regno Antichristi, in the Restit., pp. 355 sqq.


Servetus was called a Pelagian by Calvin. This is true only with some qualifications. He denied absolute predestination and the slavery of the human will, as taught first by all the Reformers. He admitted the fall of Adam in consequence of the temptation by the devil, and he admitted also hereditary sin (which Pelagius denied), but not hereditary guilt. Hereditary sin is only a disease for which the child is not responsible. (This was also the view of Zwingli.) There is no guilt without knowledge of good and evil.11201120    "Nullum est penitus nec in coelesti, nec in terrestri justitia, crimen, sine scientia boni et mali: quanquam sine ea sint nunc infantium animae sub tenebras in infernum deductae." Rest. 387. Actual transgression is not possible before the time of age and responsibility, that is, about the twentieth year.11211121    "Circa vicesimum annum incipit vera peccatorum remissio, sicut tunc incipiunt vera, et actualia secundae mortis peccata." ... 363."Peccatum mortale non committitur ante vicesimum annum, sicut nec crimen corporali justitia capitale." 363 sq. He infers this from such passages as Ex. 30:14; 38:26; Num. 14:29; 32:11; Deut. 1:39.

The serpent has entered human flesh and taken possession of it. There is a thorn in the flesh, a law of the members antagonistic to the law of God; but this does not condemn infants, nor is it taken away in baptism (as the Catholics hold), for it dwells even in saints, and the conflict between the spirit and the serpent goes on through life.11221122    Rest. 366: "Quamvis autem universae carni intrusus nunc sit serpens, et originalem habeat etiam in carne infantum nidum: hoc tamen nec infantes illos damnat, nec tollitur per baptismum, cum sanctis etiam insit. Nec abjiciuntur carnis sordes in baptismo, nec tollitur lex membrorum, nec angelus Satanae. Perpetuo in nobis ipsis duos habemus pugnantes principes, Deum in spiritu et serpentem in carne." He calls original sin "serpentis occupatio, inhabitatio et potestas, ab ipso Adam ducens originem." But Christ offers his help to all, even to infants and their angels.11231123    Rest. 369: "Adventus Christi omnia innovavit, et omnibus opem tulit, etiam parvulis, et eorum angelis. Coelestia, terrestria, et infernalia, adventum Christi senserunt, et per eum sunt immutata."

In the fallen state man has still a free-will, reason, and conscience, which connect him with the divine grace. Man is still the image of God. Hence the punishment of murder, which is an attack upon the divine majesty in man (Gen. 9:6). Every man is enlightened by the Logos (John 1:17). We are of divine origin (Acts 17:29). The doctrine of the, slavery of the human will is a great fallacy (magna fallacia), and turns divine grace into a pure machine. It makes men idle, and neglect prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. God is free himself and gives freedom to every man, and his grace works freely in man. It is our impiety which turns the gift of freedom into slavery.11241124    Rest. 568:, "Impietas nostra facit arbitrium ex libero servum." The Reformers blaspheme God by their doctrine of total depravity and their depreciation of good works. All true philosophers and theologians teach that divinity is implanted in man, and that the soul is of the same essence with God.11251125    634 sq.: "Philosophi veri, ac etiam theologi affirmant, esse menti hominis insitam divinitatem esseque animam Deo ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem."

As to predestination, there is, strictly speaking, no before nor after in God, as he is not subject to time. But he is just and merciful to all his creatures, especially to the little flock of the elect.11261126    Rest. 321: "Concludendum est igitur, veram Dei in omnes suas creaturas esse justitiam et misericordiam: at in pusillum gregem suum, solum sibi peculiariter praedestinatum, insignem gratiae sublimitatem." Melanchthon wrote to Camerarius that Servetus "de justificatione manifeste delirat," but Tollin (III. 194) maintains that he supplements the one-sided forensic view of the Reformers. Comp. also Henry, III. 267-272. He condemns no one who does not condemn himself.

Servetus rejected also the doctrine of forensic justification by faith alone, as injurious to sanctification. He held that man is justified by faith and good works, and appealed to the second chapter of James and the obedience of Abraham. On this point he sympathized more with the Roman theory. Justification is not a declaratory act of imputation, but an efficacious act by which man is changed and made righteous. Love is greater than faith and knowledge, because God is love. It embraces all good works which clothe, preserve, and strengthen faith and increase the reward of future glory. He who loves is better than he who believes.11271127    See the chapter De Charitate, quid fides efficiat, quid charitas, et opera, pp. 342 sqq., and the letters to Calvin, where he gives ten reasons for the utility of good works, and the letter to Poupin, where he charges the Church of Geneva that it had a gospel without good works.


5. The Sacraments.11281128    De Circumcisione vera, eum reliquis Christi et Antichristi mysteriis, in Rest. 411 sqq., and De Baptismi efficacia, 483 sqq.


Servetus admitted only two sacraments, therein agreeing with the Protestants, but held original views on both.

(a) As to the sacrament of Baptism, he taught, with the Catholic Church, baptismal regeneration, but rejected, with the Anabaptists, infant baptism.

Baptism is a saving ordinance by which we receive the remission of sins, are made Christians, and enter the kingdom of heaven as priests and kings, through the power of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the water.11291129    "Baptismo vere adest spiritus .... Per operationem spiritus habet baptismus eam efficaciam, ut vere dicamus, baptismum nos salvare, ad Tit. 3 et I. Pet. 3. Per solam enim fidem sine baptismo non complentur omnia salutis Christi mysteria. Baptismus nos salvat et lavat, sicut panis coenae corpore Christi nos cibat, interno mysterio." Rest. 497. It is the death of the old man and the birth of the new man. By baptism we put on Christ and live a new life in him.11301130    Rest. 484 sq.

But baptism must be preceded by the preaching of the gospel, the illumination of the Spirit, and repentance, which, according to the preaching of John the Baptist and of Christ, is the necessary condition of entering the kingdom of God. Therefore, Servetus infers, no one is a fit subject for baptism before he has reached manhood. By the law of Moses priests were not anointed before the thirtieth year (Num. 4:3). Joseph was thirty years old when he was raised from the prison to the throne (Gen. 41:46). According to the rabbinical tradition Adam was born or created in his thirtieth year. Christ was baptized in the Jordan when he was thirty years (Luke 3:21–23), and that is the model of all true Christian baptism.11311131    "Mysterium magnum est. Triginta annorum Christus baptismum accepit, exemplum nobis dans, ac nos ita docens, ante eam aetatem non esse quem satis aptum ad mysteria reqni coelorum" (p. 412). He was circumcised in infancy, but the carnal circumcision is the type of the spiritual circumcision of the heart, not of water baptism.11321132    "Circumcisio illa carnalis fuit typus secundae circumcisionis spiritualis, quae per Christum fit, Roma. 2. et Colossen. 2." Rest. 411. Circumcision was adapted to real infants who have not yet committed actual transgression; baptism is intended for spiritual infants—that is, for responsible persons who have a childlike spirit and begin a new life.

(b) Servetus rejected Infant Baptism as irreconcilable with these views, and as absurd. He called it a doctrine of the devil, an invention of popery, and a total subversion of Christianity.11331133    "Paedobaptismum esse dico detestandam abominationem, spiritus sancti extinctionem, ecclesiae Dei desolationem, totius professionis Christianae confusionem, innovationis, per Christum factae, abolitionem, ac totius ejus regni conculcationem." Rest. 576. Tollin (III. 136) is certainly mistaken when he asserts that Servet’s view of infant baptism was an exotic plant, foreign to his system. It is inseparable from it, and one of his fundamental doctrines. He saw in it the second root of all the corruptions of the Church, as the dogma of the Trinity was the first root

By his passionate opposition to infant baptism he gave as much offence to Catholics and Protestants as by his opposition to the dogma of the Trinity. But while on this point he went further than the most fanatical Anabaptists, he did not belong to their society, and rejected the revolutionary opinions concerning obedience to government, and holding civil and military offices.

Children are unfit to perform the office of priests which is given to us in baptism. They have no faith, they cannot repent, and cannot enter into a covenant. Moreover, they do not need the bath of regeneration for the remission of sins, as they have not yet committed actual transgression.

But children are not lost if they die without baptism. Adam’s sin is remitted to all by the merits of Christ. They are excluded from the Church on earth; they must die and go to Sheol; but Christ will raise them up on the resurrection day and save them in heaven. The Scripture does not condemn the Ismaelites or the Ninevites or other barbarians. Christ gives his blessing to unbaptized children. How could the most merciful Lord, who bore the sins of a guilty world, condemn those who have not committed an impiety?11341134    "Parvulis, non baptizatis, data est a Christo benedictio. Clementissimus ille et misericors dominus, qui impiorum peccata gratis sustulit, quomodo eos, qui impietatem non commiserunt, tam rigide damnaret?" P. 357. A noble and truly Christian sentiment, which puts to shame his orthodox opponents. Calvin, however, did not make water baptism a necessary condition of salvation, and left the way open for the doctrine of universal infant salvation by sovereign election.

Servetus agreed with Zwingli, the Anabaptists, and the Second Scotch Confession, in rejecting the cruel Roman dogma, which excludes all unbaptized infants, even of Christian parents, from the kingdom of heaven.

(c) In the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Servetus differs from the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Zwinglian theories, and approaches, strange to say, the doctrine of his great antagonist, Calvin.11351135    De Coena Domini, Rest. 502 sqq. Tollin (III. 136): "In keiner Lehre Servet’s zeigt sich so sehr als in der Abendmahlslehre sein vermittelnder Standpunkt. Tritt er doch wieder als Schiedsrichter auf zwischen dem magisch-materialistischen Katholicismus und dem quaekerischen Spiritismus, zwischen Realismus und Idealismus, zwischen lutherischer Mystik und zwingli’scher Rationalistik." He thinks that Servetus anticipated the eucharistic doctrine of Bucer and Calvin; but Bucer laid it down in the Tetrapolitan Confession in 1530, before he knew Servetus, and Calvin in his tract De Coena in 1540. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper represent the birth and the nourishment of the new man. By the former we receive the spirit of Christ; by the latter we receive the body of Christ, but in a spiritual and mystical manner. Baptism kindles and strengthens faith; the eucharist strengthens love and unites us more and more to Christ. By neglecting this ordinance the spiritual man famishes and dies away. The heavenly man needs heavenly food, which nourishes him to life eternal (John 6:53).11361136    "Baptismus et coena Domini sunt vita et fomentum ipsius fidei: sunt vita, fomentum, et nutrimentum interni hominis, per fidem ex Deo geniti. Per praedicationem evangelii plantatur fides, quod nec sine operatione spiritus fieri potest .... Per coenam Domini, quae baptismum consequitur, nutritur, adolescit et incrementa vitae suscipit, ille in baptismo genitus novus homo. Magis et magis tunc in dies in nobis Christus formatur, et nos magis et magis in unum Christi corpus cum aliis membris aedificamur per charitatem .... Charitatis symbolum est coena .... Ita se habet coena adcharitatem, sicut baptismus ad fidem. Cana igitur et charitate neglectis, recedit a nobis Christus, arescit fides, evanescit spiritus, fame contabescit et moritur homo Christianus." Rest. 501 sq.

Servetus distinguishes three false theories on the Lord’s Supper, and calls their advocates transubstantiatores (Romanists), impanatores (Lutherans), and tropistae (Zwinglians).11371137    Transubstantiationists, Consubstantiationists, and Tropists. Tollin invents three corresponding German terms: Umsubstanzler, Einbroter, Figürler.

Against the first two theories, which agree in teaching a carnal presence and manducation of Christ’s body and blood by all communicants, he urges that spiritual food cannot be received by the mouth and stomach, but only by the spiritual organs of faith and love. He refers, like Zwingli, to the passage in John 6:63, as the key for understanding the words of institution and the mysterious discourse on eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.

He is most severe against the papal doctrine of transubstantiation or transelementation; because it turns bread into no-bread, and would make us believe that the body of Christ is eaten even by wild beasts, dogs, and mice. He calls this dogma a Satanic monstrosity and an invention of demons.11381138    He says in this connection (p. 510): "Papistica omnia dogmata esse doctrinas daemoniorum et meras illusiones, 2 Thess. 2 et 1 Tim. 4."

To the Tropists he concedes that bread and wine are symbols, but he objects to the idea of the absence of Christ in heaven. They are symbols of a really present, not of an absent Christ.11391139    "Non enim absentis rei sunt haec symbola, ut in umbris legis, sed est visibile signum rei invisibilis, et externum symbolum rei internae." Rest. 507 sq. He is the living head and vitally connected with all his members. A head cut off from the body would be a monster. To deny the real presence of Christ is to destroy his reign.11401140    "An non monstrum erit, Christum vocari caput, si suis membris non jungitur? Res mortua est corpus totum, si ab eo caput separes. Pernitiosus admodum est error, et ipsissima regni Christi destructio, negare praesentiam ejus in nobis." Rest. 508. He came to us to abide with us forever. He withdrew only his visible presence till the day of judgment, but promised to be with us invisibly, but none the less really, to the end of the world.11411141    "Non dixit, non ero vobiscum; sed, non videbitis me, et ego vobiscum sum." Rest. 609.


6. The Kingdom of Christ, and the Reign of Antichrist.11421142    De fide et justitia regni Christi. Rest, 287 sqq. Signa sexaginta Regni Christi et Antichristi et revelatio eius jam nunc praesens, 664-670. Comp. above, 146.


We have already noticed the apocalyptic fancies of Servetus. He could not find the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, so often spoken of in the Gospels (while Christ speaks only twice of the "Church"), in any visible church organization of his day. The true Church flourished in the first three centuries, but then fled into the wilderness, pursued by the dragon; there she has a place prepared by God, and will remain "a thousand two hundred and threescore prophetic days" or years (Rev. 12:6)—that is, from 325 till 1585.

The reign of Antichrist, with its corruptions and abominations, began with three contemporaneous events: the first Oecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), which split the one Godhead into three idols; the union of Church and State under Constantine, when the king became a monk; and the establishment of the papacy under Sylvester, when the bishop became a king.11431143    "Quamvis post Christum mox coepit Antichristi mysterium: vere tamen emicuit et stabilitum est regnum tempore Sylvestri et Constantini. Quo tempore est mox oecumenico concilio a nobis ereptus filius Dei, fugata ecclesia, et abominationes omnes legibus decretae. Hinc transierunt tempus et tempora et dimidium temporis, anni mille ducenti sexaginta." Rest. 666. From the same period he dates the general practice of infant baptism with its destructive consequences. Since that time the true Christians were everywhere persecuted and not allowed to assemble. They were scattered as sheep in the wilderness.

Servetus fully agreed with the Reformers in opposition to the papacy as an antichristian power, but went much further, and had no better opinion of the Protestant churches. He called the Roman Church "the most beastly of beasts and the most impudent of harlots."11441144    Rest. 462 sq.: "O bestiam bestiarum sceleratissimam, meretricum impudentissimam .... Papa est Deus, in papatu est trinitas, draconis bestiae et pseudoprophetae. Trinitatem papisticam faciunt tres realiter distincti spiritus, qui Ioanni dicuntur tres immundi spiritus ranarum, multis rationibus. Quia sunt de abyssi aquis immundis, sicut ranae," etc. Comp. his exposition of prophetic passages, pp. 393 sqq. and 666 sqq.

He finds no less than sixty signs or marks of the reign of Antichrist in the eschatological discourses of Christ, in Daniel 7 and 12), in Paul (2 Thess. 2:3, 4; 1 Tim. 4:1), and especially in the Apocalypse (Rev. 13–18).

But this reign is now drawing to a close. The battle of Michael with Antichrist has already begun in heaven and on earth, and the author of the "Restitution" has sounded the trumpet of war, which will end in the victory of Christ and the true Church. Servetus might have lived to see the millennium (in 1585), but he expected to fall in the battle, and to share in the first resurrection.

He concludes his eschatological chapter on the reign of Antichrist with these words: "Whosoever truly believes that the pope is Antichrist, will also truly believe that the papistical trinity, paedobaptism, and the other sacraments of popery are doctrines of the daemons. O Christ Jesus, thou Son of God, most merciful deliverer, who so often didst deliver thy people from distresses, deliver us poor sinners from this Babylonian captivity of Antichrist, from his hypocrisy, his tyranny, and his idolatry. Amen."11451145    "Libera nos miseros ab hac Babylonica Antichristi captivitate, ab hypocrisi ejus, tyrannide, et idololatria. Amen." Rest. 670.


7. Eschatology.


Servetus was charged by Calvin and the Council of Geneva with denying the immortality of the soul. This was a heresy punishable by death. Etienne Dolet was executed on the place Maubert at Paris, Aug. 2, 1546, for this denial.11461146    He had translated the words of Plato: Σῦ γὰρ οὐκ ἔση: "Après la mort tu no seras plus rien du tout," instead of "Car tu no seras plus," as the Sorbonne wanted. Tollin, III. 288, mentions this fact and refers to Reg. fac. Theol. Paris. MM. 248 in the Paris state archives. But Servetus denied the charge. He taught that the soul was mortal, that it deserved to die on account of sin, but that Christ communicates to it new life by grace.11471147    "Christus reparator animas nostras reddidit immortales, et vitalem eorum spiritum incorruptibilem." Rest. 551. He distinguished between the soul and the spirit, according to the Platonic trichotomy. After the death of the body, the soul is a mere shadow. Christ has brought immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:21–25). This seems to be the doctrine of conditional immortality of believers. But he held that all the souls of the departed go to the gloomy abode of Sheol to undergo a certain purification before judgment. This is the baptism of blood and fire, as distinct from the baptism of water and spirit (1 Cor. 3:11–15). The good and the bad are separated in death. Those who die without being regenerated by Christ have no hope. The righteous progress in sanctification. They pray for us (for which he gives six reasons, and quotes Zach. 1:12, 13; Luke 15:10; 16:27, 28; 1 Cor. 13:18); but we ought not to pray for them, for they do not need our prayers, and there is no Scripture precept on the subject.11481148    Rest. 718.

The reign of the pope or Antichrist will be followed by the millennial reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20:4–7). Then will take place the first resurrection.

Servetus was a chiliast, but not in the carnal Jewish sense. He blames Melanchthon for deriding, with the papal crowd, all those as chiliasts who believe in the glorious reign of Christ on earth, according to the book of Revelation and the teaching of the school of St. John.11491149    "Quamquam tu cum vulgo papistico seniores illos omnes, et apostolicos viros, ut chiliastas rideas." Rest. 719.

The general resurrection and judgment follow after the millennium. Men will be raised in the flower of manhood, the thirtieth year—the year of baptismal regeneration, the year in which Christ was baptized and entered upon his public ministry.11501150    "Dies baptismi assimilatur diei resurrectionis." Rest. 413. "Then wilt thou," so he addresses Philip Melanchthon, who, next to Calvin, was his greatest enemy, "with all thy senses, see, feel, taste, and hear God himself. If thou dost not believe this, thou dost not believe in a resurrection of the flesh and a bodily transformation of thy organs."11511151    "Deum ipsum tu beatus corporeis his omnibus tuis sensibus videbis, tanges, gustabis, olfacies et audies. Si hoc non credis, non credis carnis resurrectionem et corporeum tuorum organorum futuram glorificationem." Rest. 718.

After the general judgment, Christ will surrender his mediatorial reign with its glories to the Father, and God will be all in all (Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:24–28).



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