Michael Servetus on April 7, 1553, escaped a prison where he was on trial by the inquisition. "…at four o'clock in the morning, he dressed himself, threw a night-gown over his clothes, and put a velvet cap upon his head, and, pretending a call of nature, he secured from the unsuspecting jailer the key to the garden. He leaped from the roof of the outhouse and made his escape through the court and over the bridge across the Rhone."1
So who was he? One dictionary simply lists him as "Spanish Miguel Serveto Spanish theologian and physician."2 Another dictionary adds a bit more: "He was burnt at the stake by order of Calvin for denying the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ."3
Servetus was born in the Aragon region (Spain) of a pious Roman Catholic family on September 29, 1511. Although he studied law at the University of Tolouse, he was more interested in biblical languages, theology, and philosophy. For a time he served as secretary to Charles V's confessor, but then left to travel in northern Europe, where he visited Lyons, Geneva, Basel, and Strassburg.4
He published, in 1537, a learned treatise on Syrups and their use in medicine. It is his most popular book, and passed through four editions in ten years. He discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood or the passage of the blood from the right to the left chamber of the heart through the lungs by the pulmonary artery and vein. … Servetus lectured in the University on geography and astrology, and gained much applause….5
So was he a heretic? The printing press had just been developed, enabling him to get a copy of the Bible to read. In his first book he wrote "that the Bible was the source of all his philosophy and science, and to be read a thousand times. He called it a gift of God descended from heaven."1 Wesley wrote:
That Michael Servetus was "one of the wildest Antitrinitarians that ever appeared" is by no means clear. I doubt of it, on the authority of Calvin himself, who certainly was not prejudiced in his favor. For if Calvin does not misquote his words, he was no Antitrinitarian at all. Calvin himself gives a quotation from one of his letters, in which he expressly declares, "I do believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. But I dare not use the word Trinity or Person." I dare, and I think them very good words. But I should think it very hard to be burned alive for not using them; especially with a slow fire, made of moist, green wood!6
Calvin seems obsessed to prove Servetus a heritic. He mentions him 39 times in his Institutes of Christian Religion and 29 times in his Commentaries. If it were not for John Calvin's vile hatred of Servetus, we might only know of Servetus as an important doctor and scientist. He was captured visiting and worshipping at Calvin's church!
"He remained about a month, and then intended to leave for Zuerich. He asked his host to hire a boat to convey him over the lake some distance eastward. But before his departure he attended church, on Sunday, the 13th of August. He was recognized and arrested by an officer of the police in the name of the Council. Calvin was responsible for this arrest, as he frankly and repeatedly acknowledged. It was a fatal mistake. Servetus was a stranger and had committed no offence in Geneva."7
Of his martyrdom on October 27, 1553, one writer said, "Prove the sad assertion, poor Servetus! When a Romish inquisition had forced thee to fly to Geneva, what reception didst thou meet with in that reformed city? Alas! the Papists had burned thee in effigy; the Protestants burned thee in reality, and Moloch triumphed to see the two opposite parties agree in offering him the human sacrifice."8
Above is an example of what the execution of Servetus has done to Calvin's work. The internet page (http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org/calvin.htm) that had this also had verses about murderers not going to heaven. This is a classic example of why man is incapable of leadership and power. Only those from heaven can rule appropriately, and then only after learning the importance of the holy and pure life.
Footnotes & Sources
Drawings from Peter Hughes "Michael Servetus" Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography (2001). web: www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/michaelservetus.html
1P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, electronic ed. (Garland TX: Galaxie Software, 2000, c1916-23). Vol. 8 Modern Christianity: The Swiss Reformation: History of the Reformation: Third Book: The Reformation in French Switzerland or the Calvinistic Movement: Chapter 16 Servetus: His Life. Opinions, Trial, and Execution. Section 147, The Theological System of Servetus: paragraph 7, Eschatology.
2I. Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.: Merriam-Webster, 1996, c1993).
3Collins English Dictionary, electronic ed. (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2000).
4J.D. Douglas, Who's Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997, c1992).
5P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, electronic ed. (Garland TX: Galaxie Software, 2000, c1916-23).
6J. Wesley, The Works of John Wesley: Addresses, Essays, and Letters, electronic ed. (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 2000). Some remarks on "A defense of the preface to the Edinburgh edition of Aspasio Vindicated" #6.
7P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
8J.W. Fletcher, The Works of Reverend John Fletcher: Volume 3, electronic ed., Logos Library System;Works of Rev. John Fletcher (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1999). An appeal to Matter of Fact and Common Sense: Part 3, 24th argument.