sentio hoc primum, amicitiam non posse esse nisi in
bonis. (...) Qui autem ponnunt summum bonum in virtute
illi quidem praeclare; sed haec virtus ipsa et gignit
et continet amicitiam; Nec amicitia potest esse ullo
pacto sine virtute". (S.T.
Cicerón - Laelius de Amicitia - S.44
SERVETUS: THE STORY OF A WANDERING AND SOLITARY SPANIARD
date is the 27th of October 1553. An uneasy and unshaven
man wearing a louse-ridden doublet limped wearily through
the streets of Geneva, escorted by a squadron of archers.
His look was that of a man who feels uneasy abandoned and
alienated. The sad procession arrived at Champel Hill. Here
the officials carried our character to a wooden stake surrounded
by bundles of firewood that was still green and placed upon
his head a crown of straw and foliage sprayed with sulphur.
They secured his body to the stake using a steel chain,
place the last of his books, “Cristianismi Restitutio”,
in his arms and tied his body up with a thick rope.
The executioner lighted the fire in his face and the prisoner
let go a shriek that terrified those present. The green
firewood used for the sacrifice ensured the torture lasted
for a long time. Some of those that had witnessed the horrendous
events threw dry firewood on the pyre in an attempt to mitigate
the suffering of the prisoner. Releasing a frightful groan,
the condemned breathed his last but not without first saying
“Dear Jesus, son of the Eternal God, have mercy on
This is how an eyewitness described the final moments of
Miguel Servetus Conesa, alias Reves, ab Aragonia Hispanum
(“Spaniard from Aragon”), born on 11th September
1511 in Villanueva de Sijena, a village in what was then
the Kingdom of Aragon and that is now located in the Monegros
of Huesca. Various centuries earlier, in 1188, Queen Sancha,
wife of Alfonso II “the Chaste”, had founded
the Monastery of Sijena on the banks of the River Alcanadre,
which was to become the centre of political and spiritual
power in the Kingdom of Aragon for more than two centuries.
young Servetus must have played in the fields that surround
the Monastery of Sijena and visited its smallholdings
on many occasions. His father, Anton Servetus, a low ranking
noble of Villanueva de Sijena, was the Notary of the nuns
of Sijena, so that it is not unlikely that the religious
atmosphere of the Monastery influenced his inquisitive
mind from an early stage.
It was his father who first taught him to read and write
and upon reaching adolescence he left Villanueva de Sijena
most probably to move to the Monastery of Montearagón,
where he would begin his studies in theology. In 1525
Servetus entered in the service of the prestigious cleric
from Aragon Juan Quintana as a page, with whom he would
stay until 1527. It was in the year 1528 that his father
sent him to the prestigious University of Toulouse to
study law. At that time Servetus was 16 or 17.
Toulouse Servetus would have his first experience of the
great European university tradition and of the intellectual
element of the Reformation. The movement of foreign students
created a favorable atmosphere for the clandestine circulation
of the works of the main reformers, which allowed Servetus
to have first-hand access to the doctrines of the Reformation.
training, travels and the first works
1529 Servetus left Toulouse to accompany Juan Quintana to
the coronation of the emperor Charles V in Bologna. The
pomp and pageantry of the celebrations and the riches accumulated
by the Curia had a huge impact on the wise Aragonese, as
he himself would explain in his Cristianismi Restitutio
some years later. In 1530 Servetus began a journey with
no return through some important cities the Protestant Reformation.
His first port of call was the Swiss city of Basel, where
he stayed in the house of the reformer Aecolampadious.
It is possible that at this stage Servetus already discussed
with Ecolampadio his critical views of the dogma of the
Trinity. In fact, after arguing with Aeolampadious, Servetus
was forced to abandon Basil hastily. In May 1531 he found
himself in Strasbourg, a city located on the current French-German
border, where he came into contact with the reformers Capitus
and Bucer. Servetus published his first book on the Tinity
in Strasburg: De Trinitatis Erroribus, Libri Septem
(1531). However, his relationship with the two reformers
were not very fluent. In 1532 returned to Basel, where his
presence will be tolerated for a while by Aecolampadious.
At the end of 1532, Servetus publishedm his second treatise
on the dogma of the Trinity: Dialogorum Trinitate.
with a Neo-Platonist conception, Servetus affirms the
existence of one God who manifests himself in different
ways, but not in three hypostasis or persons (Father,
Son and Holy Spirit) as the doctrine of the Trinity claims.
For Servetus, the doctrine of the Trinity leads to the
“triteism”, which contradicts the absolute
unity of God.
Despite questioning the official interpretation of the
dogma of the Trinity, Servetus did not hesitate to declare
himself a good Christian. For Servetus, Jesus Christ is
the natural son of God and his human body is divine because
he is the natural son of the eternal God. The Son is not
eternal because logically what has been begot by the Father
cannot be eternal. All other men are not the natural sons
of God but, precisely because of their faith in God, they
become sons of God and are capable, through Christ, of
achieving a certain union with God. For Servetus, Christ
is the indispensable intermediary needed to know God and
to be able to join him in heaven.
aspect of his thinking led him to reject the role of the
church and the papacy, as well as the Protestant churches,
as unique mediators in the salvation of mankind.
books circulated cautiously, but quickly, circulated
and soon they fell into the hands of the Spanish
Inquisitors. Persecuted by the inquisitions in Toulouse,
Castilla and Aragon, and scorned by the reformers
in Strasbourg and Basil, Servetus first moved to
Paris and later to Lyon.
is here that he became friends with the humanist
Simforien Champier, who would introduce him to the
study of medicine, geography and astrology. Under
the aegis of Champier, Servetus edited Ptolemy’s
Geography and a new version of the Bible by
the Dominican Santes Pagnini. In 1537, Servetus,
advised by Champier, moved for a second time to
Paris to study medicine. It was here that he wrote
his famous Universal Treaty on Syrups (Syroporum
Universa Ratio, 1537).
been accused by the university authorities of Paris of
practicing judicial astrology , Servetus moves to the
small town of Vienne, an ancient city located near Lyon,
where he would spend 12 years practicing medicine under
the protection of Archbishop Pierre Palmier. There his
main work was born, a singular book in the history of
Christian theology: the Christianismi Restitutio.
It is in this work that Servetus criticizes the corruption
in the Church of the time and proposes a return to the
origins of Christianity. In the pages of this book Servetus
also develops his interpretation of the dogma of the Trinity
and his conception/idea of the divinity of Christ.
Anabaptism is another essential element of the work. For
Servetus, only adults should be baptized given that the
sacrament of baptism, to the extent that it represented
a means of salvation, is only necessary for those with
the capacity to sin; a capacity which infants lack. The
book also contains the first description in the West of
the minor circulation of the blood, a discovery for which
Servetus would obtain international recognition in the
world of medicine.
before it was printed, Servetus sent a copy of the
manuscript of his Christianismi Restitutio
to Calvin. Through a figurehead, Calvin reported
Servetus to the authorities in Vienne (France).
Tried and imprisoned, Servetus managed to escape
from the prison on 7th April 1553.
more than four months Servetus disappeared without
trace until, in the middle of August, he reappeared
in Geneva, the stronghold of the theocracy established
by John Calvin. Following the instructions of Calvin,
Servetus was detained in Geneva and once again imprisoned
in Geneva. Without any type of legal assistance,
Servetus is accused of heresy and tried in Geneva
both by the civil and religious authorities.
On 26th October 1553, the Council of Geneva, at the behest
of Calvin, sentenced Servetus to death. According to the
wording of the verdict, Miguel Servetus was sentenced to
death on the stake the next day for having denied the dogma
of the Trinity, questioned the eternity of Jesus Christ,
and rejected the baptism of infants. Having been sentenced,
the theologians in Calvin’s circle tried to convince
Servetus to withdraw his doctrines, but Servetus did not
give in and remained strong until the end. It was precisely
these last days of his life that raise this great intellectual
to the status of hero and martyr for defending his ideas.
of the death of Servetus
death of Servetus was not the first religious killing
in History, but it was the first that would awaken
the conscience of the Christian world to the injustice
that the limitation of the freedom of thought supposes.
Soon after, other humanists, led by Sebastian Castellio,
made known their indignation at the death of Servetus
publicly. Castellio, in his Contra Libelum Calvinim,
wrotes one of the most beautiful diatribes against
any attempt to silence free speech using repressive
kill a man is not to defend a doctrine: it is to
kill a man. If Calvin had killed Servetus for saying
what he believed to be true, then Calvin killed
him for telling the truth. He should have been taught,
not killed, if he was wrong. I believe that on judgment
day God will judge morals, not dogmas.
Ángel Alcalá y Marian
Hillar have studied chain of historical
events which commences with Servetus and ends
up in the establishment of the Western democracies
based on the Rule of Law. Initially, Servetus’
ideas were spread in Italy amongst Italian
students (Francesco Scantaro, Giorgio Biandrata,
Gianpaolo Alciati, Bernardino Ochino y Lelius
y Faustus Sozizni).
Italian humanists exiled then to Poland
and Transylvania where they established
an important Unitarian community, which
defended the importance to guarantee freedom
of conscience and the separation of church
and state. After their expulsion from Poland
by the Emperor Ferdinand, they settled in
Holland. From Holland their ideas were developed
in England and then in the United States
o America. Socinians’ ideals were
endorsed and extended by the main philosophers
of the Enlightenment (Locke, Voltaire and
Hume, among others), whose theories influenced
some of the fathers of the American constitutionalism
(mostly James Madison and Thomas Jefferson).Thomas
Jefferson was interested in religion studies,
especially Servetus and the Socinians and
took them into account when he drafted the
of the United States of America. This
Constitution is one of the most relevant
legal texts in the long struggle of human
beings to achieve the recognition of freedom
of conscience and speech as an inalienable
human right. The American Constitution was
also one of the first legal texts in which
the separation between church and state
was clearly established.
was, above all, a great humanist. The eternal controversy
over which of the many disciplines Servetus exercised he
had a predilection for is of little interest. It is far
more interesting to take a global view of Servetus, without
separating his theological work from that in the field of
medicine. Only in this way can the immeasurable knowledge
and personality of Servetus be truly understood in a time
that, like our own, has made specialization a sign of pseudo-modernity.
Nor was Servetus, as has been erroneously argued, a political
revolutionary; someone with the intention of disrupting
the established civil order. On the contrary, he was a devout
Christian who studied the Scriptures in detail but who observed
the religious reality that surrounded him, highlighting
the corruption that existed. He was a doctor of the rich
and poor alike and at all times respected the laws and customs
of the era in which he lived. Therefore, the heterodoxy
of Servetus lies in ideas and our consciences, not in political
rebellion, something which was alien to life and works of
Servetus has left us not only the discovery of the minor
circulation of the blood and his religious heterodoxy, but
also, and above all, his personal example. Dr. Fernando
Solsona, in his biography of Servetus (1988), summarizes
his legacy for all mankind in the following terms:
his loyalty to his convictions, for his faithfulness to
his friends (who he did not wish to name, something which
would have greatly lessened the harshness of the judges),
for the consistency of his life and his works, for the
clarity of his ideas, for the tenacity and heroics with
which he defended them, he represents a mirror and an
example for all Aragoneses".
and translated by Sergio Baches Opi