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Servetus, Michael


Anti-Trinitarian theologian, physician; b. Villanueva, Spain, probably 1511; d. Geneva, October 27, 1553. Servetus was born of a pious family; he studied law

at Toulouse. He early developed radical theological ideas that stemmed from a concern for the conversion of Moors and Jews, which had been made difficult by the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Servetus decided that parts of that doctrine were erroneous, particularly the dogma of the eternality of the Son. He developed this argument in books, published in 1531 and 1532, which were sharply criticized by orthodox theologians. Their attacks led him to adopt a disguise and begin a second career as a physician and student of science. In this role he was among the first to describe the pulmonary transit of the blood; he also worked on geography and astrology. Servetus returned to the study of theology, however, not only repeating his earlier attacks on the definition of the Trinity, but also rejecting infant Baptism and advancing an extreme view of the immanence of Christ. Publication of these views in 1552 led to his arrest and condemnation as a heretic by an inquisitorial court in Vienne, France. He escaped but was arrested and condemned again, at John Calvin's insistence, by a secular Protestant court in Geneva. He was then burned. His execution provoked an extended controversy over the toleration of religious dissent.

Bibliography: r. h. bainton, Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus (Boston 1953). e. m. wilbur, A History of Unitarianism, 2 v. (Cambridge, Mass. 194552); Bibliography of the Pioneers of the Socinian-Unitarian Movement (Rome 1950). b. becker, ed., Autour de Michel Servet et de Sébastien Castellion:

Recueil (Haarlem 1953). g. h. williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia 1962). h. bornkamm, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3rd ed. Tübingen 195765)3 5:1714.

[r. m. kingdon]

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