On October 27, 1553 Michael Servetus, Spaniard from Aragon, as he liked to define himself, humanist, physician, philosopher and theological reformer, born in Villanueva de Sijena, in the province of Huesca, was burned alive by the Calvinists of Geneva. They accused him of heresy, as the Spanish Inquisition had done before, and later the French Inquisition from whose jail he escaped. Servetus, a radical thinker and, consequently, dangerous, author of few books of great intellectual scope, wanted "to ‘restitute’ Christianity" to its original doctrines and practices, the ones previous to the Council of Nicaea of the year 325. At that time, according to him, neither the doctrines nor the practices had been contaminated with incomprehensible dogmas like the one of the Trinity of Persons in a single God nor with customs such as that consisting of baptizing l children lacking their own freedom and faith. In summary, Servetus proposed a thorough system of action and thought that none of the existing religious institutions could accept without resigning to their traditions and their customs, that he considered antichristian and deeply corrupt.

Regrettably, the most radical, innovating and permanent of his messages was obscured by the smoke and the ash of the bonfire in which he burned. This is the reason why we consider it urgent to refer to his main legacy, because it was never more necessary as in this turbulent beginning of this XXI century. During centuries, neither Catholics nor Protestants were allowed to proclaim the freedom of conscience as an essential and innate right to any individual. Along with the right to life it is not only the underpinning of all the other human rights, but also constitutes the inalienable condition of human dignity.

Obscured, but not forgotten. Great ideas take sometime to prevail in collective history. "it seems to me really serious (Servetus wrote when he was 20 years old, going ahead to the new times after more than a thousand years of silence) to kill a man just because in some question he is mistaken"; "[ this ] new invention [was] ignored by the Apostles and disciples of the first Church". To defend one’s own ideas, he proclaims elsewhere: "nobody must be persecuted, despite the fact that, as it is normally said, it would seem that all the order of the world is going to be overturned".

Another humanist, Sebastian Castellio interpreted the words of Servetus very well when he shouted to Calvin and all the tyrants that immortal phrase: "To kill a man to defend a doctrine is not to defend a doctrine, it is to kill a man". Fortunately, the Genevan fire lit the torch that was yielded by those few who dared, like Servetus, to defy with their intelligence and their sacrifice the routines of an immemorial injustice. And today, thanks to that germinal Servetian idea of freedom, that was gathered and developed by philosophers and progressive politicians, we enjoy our liberties in all the democratic countries.

Everyone must be, then, free to choose the footpath that according to his conscience can lead to the light. But freedom of conscience is equivalent to a much more deep layer of coexistence that mere tolerance, which always implies certain attitude of condescendence from a superior level. ‘Tolerance’, then, can lead to the coexistence of different groups, as it happened in the so-called ‘Spain of the three cultures’, but it does not necessary leads to that stage of the human relations that we described as ‘coexistence’, without which it is not possible to affirm the dignity of the difference.

Where only one truth is considered as evident, nothing is ever criticized and creativity’s sparks are not generated. Servetus teaches us that everyone needs to face his own truths and their alternative possibilities. This attitude forces us to justify one’s own ideas and to produce sincerity and excellence. Just as an authentic culture needs freedom to bloom and the fish, water to live, therefore the religious feeling of each person and the religions as institutions live and breathe better in respectful reciprocal freedom and in independence from the States.

Many crimes have been committed and they are still being committed because of the stimuli preached by some religions. All religions are ambiguous: source of consolation, hope and compassion, but also in many occasions source of intolerance, scorn and even violence. The new international situation forces to apply to radical Islamism what seemed to belong to the Catholic Church with its crusades and its Inquisition, and to Protestantism with its intransigence similar to that of Catholicism. Any religion can inspire acts of hatred when it feels exclusive. In our time, ethnic as well as religious prejudices of all type still exist, and they must be surpassed in order that we do not perish in this disintegration and violence that harasses us.

But the freedom is indivisible. Freedom of conscience, speech and decision of each person, demands its complement: it is not possible to be free internally and not in the other dimensions of human life. For that reason, we demand with Servetus that all human beings and peoples of the world must enjoy their innate right to those basic liberties, we also hereby proclaim as essential human rights: the right to equality, the right to education, the right to have a family, the right to work and housing, the right to health, the right to a non-degraded environment, the right to free enterprise coherent with an efficient welfare state, the right to free association, the right to demand of the governors the scrupulous fulfillment, both of public administrations and citizens, of the constitutions that govern the destiny of a society, and really above all else, the right to Peace, which is only possible as a result of political and social justice.

In order to guarantee these rights, implicit in the doctrine of Servetus, no political regime surpasses the democratic system, culmination of the intellectual achievements outlined in the Renaissance and perfected in the Enlightenment. But this humanist tradition has always has been contested from numerous positions, ranging from the fanaticism of religious inspiration to the most recent post-modern indifference. The dominant post-modernism represents the most-hidden operation to drain of content democracies, manifesting itself in cultural relativism, individualistic selfishness, negative criticism, social pessimism and nihilist irresponsibility.

As opposed to religious fanaticisms and to political absolutisms that deny the existence of the inalienable rights of the individual or weaken its exercise, it is necessary to fight peacefully, with words of conviction and not with destructive arms, so that these fundamental principles are accepted and put in practice by all human beings and peoples of good will. Not in the name of God or of a political ideal, that so many times have served and still serve to divide and murder, but in the name of the human beings and the nature that surrounds them, whose elements also participate in the divine essence. And therefore it will be shown that Servetus did not burn in vain. The light of his fire still illuminates us.

© Instituto de Estudios Sijenenses “Miguel Servet”/
Michael Servetus Institute
Home Page
Copyright © 2004 · institutomiguelservet.org · Legal Information · Privacy Statement
>Website Optimized for I.E.(6 or +) at 1024x768 Resolution< [ w e b m a s t e r ]