Michael Servetus
(1511-1553)
Out of the Flames

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Out of the Flames (covers)
image source (left) < http://www.amazon.com/Out-Flames-Remarkable-Fearless-Scholar/dp/0767908376 >
image source (right) < http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767908368/ref%3Dnosim/januarymagazi-20 >

Lawrence (left) and Nancy (right) Goldstone


Lawrence (left) < http://www.lawrencegoldstone.com/bio.html >
Nancy (right) < http://www.nancygoldstone.com/bio.html >


 I chose Out of the Flames as summer reading because of its rich
detail and the authors' vivid prose. Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone evoked
the colorful and complicated era in which Servetus played an important if tragic role.
I was struck by the way the Goldstones connected the 15th century invention of the
printing press with the information revolution of the 21st century!
More effectively than other AP/AT Euro summer reads--such as
A World Lit Only by Fire, Brunelleschi's Dome, Galileo's Daughter, The Clockwork Universe--
Out of the Flames incorporated the trends, developments, and individuals of the 16th
century into a gripping tale centered on Michael Servetus: the story of rising literacy,
invention and impact of the printing press and paper, humanism v. scholasticism, the
Renaissance Papacy, the reform movement, the expansion of universities, and so on.
The Goldstones wove into their narrative the Ren/Ref figures
who played direct or peripheral roles in Servetus' life and death.

Make some notes on the following: Erasmus, Charles V, Leo X, Martin Luther, John Calvin,
Francis I, Marguerite of Navarre, Henry VIII,

Also, take note of the importance of Basel, "...a softly glowing star attracting energy..." to Servetus and the reform movement (Goldstones 63).

Michael Servetus (1511-1553)--Spanish mystic and devout Christian--challenged Catholics and Protestants on the Trinity, infant baptism, and Original Sin. A Renaissance man, he proved to be a teen-aged intellectual prodigy, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French as well as studying mathematics, geography, astronomy, and medicine. Servetus argued against the Trinity because he could not find clear reference to it in Scripture. His epic work, De Trinitatis Erroribus, attacked Sts. Jerome and Augustine, as well as a thousand years of Catholic orthodoxy. The first printing of 1000 copies sold out, virtually over night. The book was banned and Servetus anathematized.


< http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/michaeservetus.html >
We shall return to Servetus when we discuss Galen, Vesalius, Harvey in the larger context
of the Scientific Awakening, of which he was a harbinger.
Vesalius, born in 1514,
was an almost exact contemporary of Servetus.

Scholars of Christianity have noted that Servetus' views on the Trinity had precedent in the early years of its formulation, even before the 4th century Council of Nicaea. The North African theologian, Arius, claimed that Jesus Christ "the Son of God was not eternal, and was subordinate to God the Father..." ("Arius"). Arius taught that God alone is God; He created His Son; therefore, there was a time when "God the Son" did not exist. The Nicene Council (325 CE) voted this view into heresy, proclaiming instead the indissolubility of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. (See Flames, page 65 and following for the political context of Arianism, and why the Council, Emperor Constantine, and Pope Sylvester I all deemed it heretical.)

image source < http://www.libertypages.com/clark/10695.html >
If you are interested in the Arian controversy, visit < http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Arianism >

So, you may ask, what was the big deal about Trinitarianism v. Arianism (which evolved into both heresy and Unitarianism)? Biblical scholar, intellectual prodigy, and outspoken know-it-all, Michael Servetus, challenged the Nicene Creed, basing his arguments on his own reading and interpretation of scripture. As you know, for these heresies, Calvin sent him to the stake.

image source < http://www.calvin.edu/meeter/educational-resources/servetus-controversy.htm >
1909 rendering of the event by Eduourd Elzingre
John Calvin, Servetus' rival and nemesis, masterminded his arrest, imprisonment, trial, and execution. The Goldstones do not care much for Calvin, to put it mildly! Huguenots were French Protestants, members of the denomination founded by Calvin in Geneva. I cruised around on the internet re origins of the term Huguenot. The "Eidguenots," as the Goldstones refer to them, evolved into the Huguenots. One source suggests they took their name from early leader, Besançon Hugues; or, a German or Flemish word for conspirator or confederate (eidgenot)--hence Huguenot (Huguenot Society of South Africa). Encyclopedia Britannica suggests the word derives from the German Eldgenosen (confederates bound together by oath.) You decide. The Goldstones do not paint a rosy picture of an ambitious Calvin (ch 5,) but they acknowledge his intellect and lawyerly logic as he defended trinitarianism and codified his theology in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (ch 6.)

image source < http://www.swrb.com/catalog/c.htm >

With reformers and Catholics hunting him down in 1533, Michael Servetus disappeared and reinvented himself in Paris and then in the commercially and intellectually vibrant city of Lyon as Michel de Villeneuve. There he turned his efforts to translating, editing, and updating Ptolemy's Geography.* Upon completion of that task, he moved on to medicine. In 1536** Servetus/Villeneuve "registered" as a medical student at the University of Paris. Medieval beliefs and practices, based on Galen, still prevailed in that bastion of conservatism. Even so, 16th century empiricism would challenge medicine--as it did physics, geography, and astronomy; autopsies, though forbidden, were essential.***

image source < http://www.medicographia.com/2011/12/a-touch-of-france-theory-and-practice-european-renaissance-medicine/ >

*The Goldstones comment, "...geography became the first scientific disciplline where empiricism overwhelmed theology" (104).
**The year Calvin published the Institutes.
***Vesalius attended University of Paris but fled the city for Padua in 1536. Incidentally, Vesalius
published his seminal work the same year that Copernicus "published" his--1543.

In Paris, Villeneuve/Servetus demonstrated the versatility of his genius (Goldstones 126) and, of course, challenged the conventional wisdom of Galen, especially in the area of human anatomy. As usual, unable to keep his mouth shut or his pen put away, he made enemies in Paris and never completed his degree; he fled just ahead of the religious police. For the next decade or so, Villeneuve/Servetus practiced medicine in Vienne, near Lyon. But, alas, he began a translation and editing of the Pagnini Bible. For all of Servetus' brain, where was his brain!?


image source < http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/books-manuscripts/bible-latin-biblia-sacra-ex-santis-pagnini-5814476-details.aspx >

Meanwhile, Calvin also fled Paris where Francis I's pursuit of reformers picked up steam. Calvin found sanctuary in Geneva and set about creating a religious and political community that conformed to his austere interpretation of scripture: original sin and human depravity (Goldstones 93). All citizens of Geneva had to pledge to adhere to his ideas (141). Failure to do so had political consequences. Depite some fits and starts, Calvin emerged in 1541 as Geneva's religious and political dictator, at least according to the Goldstones (146-149).


image source < http://www.museeprotestant.org/notice/qui-est-jean-calvin/?parc=28993 >

In 1546, Servetus and Calvin began and acrimonious exchange of letters. Calvin even sought common cause with Catholics in his deepening antipathy to Servetus/Villeneuve. Servetus did not help his own situation by publishing Christianismi Restitutio, a rebuttal to and attack on Calvin's Institutes. Servetus' book energized those in Geneva (the Libertines) who chaffed under the constraints of Calvin's religious and political dictatorship. They apparently sympathized with his more compassionate re-interpretation of Original Sin and human depravity, and in his view of Jesus Christ. Calvin retaliated by identifying Servetus as Villeneuve and revealing his location in Vienna to the French Inquisitors. Arrest and interrogation followed: Villeneuve resolutely denied being Servetus, admitting only to being the author of works on geography and medicine. To everyone's amazement, he disappeared! Why, then, did he go to Geneva?


image source < http://www.miguelservet.org/obras/christianismi.htm >

Read chapter 13 carefully as Servetus and Calvin went head-to-head on
their theological differences, which--no surprise--had become as
political as they were religious to Calvin.

Having spent some quality time this summer reading about Michael Servetus, a "Ren Man" if ever there was one, you will perhaps be interested to know how the major AP/AT European History textbooks present him. See Bibliography below.

Chambers tells a dramatically truncated version
of the story: "...Michael Servetus was invited to Geneva and then
executed for heresy" (459)
.

Hunt does not mention Servetus.

Kagan (your 2nd semester text) devotes a brief paragraph to the
Anti-Trinitarians, "These were exponents of a common sense, rational,
and ethical religion. Prominent among them were the Spaniard
Michael Servetus..." (368). Servetus, like the Italian Socianists,
spoke out against original sin and predestination, as well as for
religious toleration. The Kagan text provides the additional information
that Servetus had been previously condemned by the Inquisition, and
that Calvin's role in his trial and execution served to damage his own
reputation. (370) Kagan quotes a contemporary of Calvin and Servetus,
"'To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man'" (391).

No mention of Servetus in Kishlansky.

McKay devotes one paragraph to Servetus,
summarizing his ideas and career, succinctly: he questioned
the Trinity and infant baptism, which Calvin and his Geneva followers
defined as "a threat to all society. Servetus was burned at the stake" (469).

Merriman gives Servetus a mention in the context of Calvin's
determination to discipline him. Outraged by Servetus' denial of
the Trinity, Calvin said at his trial, "'May little chickens dig out his
eyes a hundred thousand times" (119-120)
.

Palmer commented, "...when...Servetus, who denied the Trinity...[and]
sought asylum in Geneva, Calvin pronounced him a heretic and had him
burned at the stake" (84).

Perry gets the date wrong for Servetus' execution and lumps the
event together with excesses of the Counter Reformation, e.g.
the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno (343).

Spielvogel, provides no mention of Servetus.

See the websites indicated below for online reviews of Out of the Flames--
Read one of them
and be prepared to comment during Renaissance seminar.
< http://www.salon.com/2002/11/12/goldstone/ >
< http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7679-0836-8 >
< http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=0767908368 >

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Arius." Wikipedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius >

Blake, Jon and David Clark. "Are Mormons Arians?" Mormon Metaphysics. Oneline available.
< http://www.libertypages.com/clark/10695.html >

Chambers, Mortimer, et al. The Western Experience, 8th ed. Boston, et al.: McGraw Hill, 2003.

Goldstone, Lawrence and Nancy. Out of the Flames. New York: Broadway Books, 2002.

Hughes, Peter. "Michael Servetus." Unitarian Universalist Historical Society. Online available.
< http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/michaeservetus.html >

The Huguenot Society of South Africa. "Who were the Huguenots?" Online available.
< http://www.geocities.com/hugenoteblad/hist-hug.htm >

Hunt, Lynn, et al. The Challenge of the West. Lexington and Toronto:
D. C. Heath and Co., 1995.

Kishlansky, Mark, et al. Civilization in the West, 2nd ed. New York, et al.: HarperCollins
College Publishers, 1995.

McKay, John, et al. A History of Western Society, 6th ed. Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999.

Mizzi, Paul. "Arius and the deity of Christ." Truth for Today. Online available.
< http://www.tecmalta.org/tft340.htm >

Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe. New York and London:
W. W. Norton and Co., 1996.

The National Huguenot Society. "Who Were the Huguenots." Online available.
< http://huguenot.netnation.com/general/huguenot.htm >

Palmer, R.R., et al. A History of the Modern World, 9th ed. Boston, et al.: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Perry, Marvin, et al. Western Civilization, 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 2000.

Schuessler, Jennifer. "The Earliest Roots of the Paperback." The New York Times: Weekend Arts.
27 February 2015.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, 4th ed. Belmont, et al.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 1999.