Heresy has been treated as a crime to be tried in and punished by the ordinary courts of the country, as in the cases of Servetus and Grotius.
When the trial of Servetus was in progress (1553), Calvin was anxious for Farel's presence, but he did not arrive till sentence had been passed.
He accompanied Servetus to the stake, vainly urging him to a recantation at the last moment.
Symphorien Champier (Champerius or Campegius) of Lyons (1472-1539), a contemporary of Rabelais, and the patron of Servetus, wrote with fantastic enthusiasm on the superiority of the Greek to the Arabian physicians, and possibly did something to enlist in the same cause the two far greater men just mentioned.
Rabelais not only lectured on Galen and Hippocrates, but edited some works of the latter; and Michael Servetus (1511-1553), in a little tract Syruporum universa ratio, defended the practice of Galen as compared with that of the Arabians.
Calvin consented to the death of Servetus, whose views on the Trinity he regarded as most dangerous heresy, and whose denial of the full authority of the Scriptures he dreaded as overthrowing the foundations of all religious authority.
MICHAEL SERVETUS [MIGUEL SERVETO] (151 I - I 553), physician and polemic, was born in i 5 i i 1 at Tudela in Navarre, his father being Hernando Villanueva, a notary of good family in Aragon.
Later he Latinized it " Servetus "; when writing French (1553) he signs " Michel Seruetus."
Servetus at Geneva makes Villanueva his birthplace, assigning it to the adjoining diocese of Lerida.
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.'
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.
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.
The volume of theological tracts, again recast, was declined by two Basel publishers, Jean Frellon (at Calvin's instance) and Marrinus, but an edition Beza incorrectly makes Servetus the challenger, and the date 1534.
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.
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 e 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 anabaptism, 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.
Claude Rigot, the procureur-general, 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 1 543 being banishment.
The Swiss churches, while agreeing to condemn Servetus, say nothing of capital punishment in their letters of advice.
1542 fol.; printed by Caspar Trechsel at Vienne); on this work Tollin founds his high estimate of Servetus as a comparative geographer; the passage incriminated on his trial as attacking the verity of Moses is from Lorenz Friese; the accounts of the language and character of modern nations show original observation.
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 of air; the hint for his researches was the dual form of the Hebrew words for blood, water, &c. Two treatises, Desiderius (ante 1542) and De tribus impostoribus (1598) have been wrongly ascribed to Servetus.
The literature relating to Servetus is very large; a bibliography is in A.
Other physiological speculations of Servetus are noted by G.
Sigmond, Unnoticed Theories of Servetus (1826).
The best study of Servetus as a theologian is Tollin's Lehrsystem M.
From a Unitarian point of view, Servetus is treated by R.
Porter, Servetus and Calvin (1854).
Willis, M.D., Servetus and Calvin (1877, an unsatisfactory book; cf.
Osler's Michael Servetus (1909), are useful.
This is true of the supreme crime of heresy, which in the notorious case of Servetus was only an expression of rules laid down over a thousand years earlier in the Theodosian Code.
But in Servetus, whose execution he approved, we find an isolated, feeble revolt against assumptions which both Catholics and Protestants of all shades accepted without question.
The great blot on Calvin's rule was his intolerance of other thinkers, as exemplified by his burning of Gruet (1547) and of Servetus (1553) But, on the other hand, he founded (1559) the Academy, which, originally meant as a seminary for his preachers, later greatly extended its scope, and in 1873 assumed the rank of a University.
In November 1549 he was appointed Greek professor at Lausanne, where he acted as Calvin's adjutant in various publications, including his defence of the burning of Servetus, De Haereticis a civili magistrate puniendis (1554).
Both by his writings (from 1531) and by his fate (1553) Servetus (q.v.) stimulated thought in this direction.
After many wanderings, and after having been condemned to death for heresy at Vienne, whence he was fortunate enough to make his escape, Servetus arrived in August 1553 at Geneva on his way to Naples.
[[Servetus]]), but it must be noted here that the struggle was something more than a doctrinal one.
The cause of Servetus was taken up by Calvin's Genevan foes headed by Philibert Berthelier, and became a test of the relative strength of the rival forces and of the permanence of Calvin's control.
That Calvin was actuated by personal spite and animosity against Servetus himself may be open to discussion; we have his own express declaration that, after Servetus was convicted, he used no urgency that he should be put to death, and at their last interview he told Servetus that he never had avenged private injuries, and assured him that if he would repent it would not be his fault if all the pious did not give him their hands.'
There is the fact also that Calvin used his endeavour to have the sentence which had been pronounced against Servetus mitigated, death by burning being regarded by him as an "atrocity," for which he sought to substitute death by the sword.
2 It can be justly charged against Calvin in this matter that he took the initiative in bringing on the trial of Servetus, that as his accuser he prosecuted the suit against him with undue severity, and that he approved the sentence which condemned Servetus to death.
When, however, it is remembered that the unanimous decision of the Swiss churches and of the Swiss state governments was that Servetus deserved to die; that the general voice of Christendom was in favour of this; that even such a man as Melanchthon affirmed the justice of the sentence; 3 that an eminent English divine of the next age should declare the process against him "just and honourable," 4 and that only a few voices here and there were at the time raised against it, many will be ready to accept the judgment of Coleridge, that the death of Servetus was not "Calvin's guilt especially, but the common opprobrium of all European Christendom."