2020-09-08

UU Minute #9

UU Minute #9: Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus), part 3



1553. Miguel Serveto is arrested in Vienne, but manages to escape from jail. He plans to flee to Naples, Italy. Yet he shows up in Geneva, which – as you can see – is not along the route from Vienne to Naples. Why he would make this little detour remains a mystery. The Geneva of that time was essentially a theocracy ruled by Protestant Reformer John Calvin. Serveto was recognized and arrested. The trial lasted two months. John Calvin was chief prosecutor, though usually only Calvin’s proxies were present at the trial.

Serveto defended his views on the Trinity, repudiated the charges of being a pantheist and of denying immortality, and admitted without reservation his condemnation of infant baptism. From prison, during the trial stoppages, Serveto carried out in writing a theological debate with Calvin. Serveto was convinced that Calvin’s doctrines of predestination, original sin, and total depravity reduced people to mere objects like logs and stones. Calvin was convinced that Serveto’s doctrine of human divinity reduced God to the level of human sinfulness.

The written records of the trial and of this correspondence were shared with other Swiss cities, and the deliberations of their councils were sought. The responses that came back were unanimous: Serveto was guilty of grave heresies which, if left unchecked, threatened to undermine the whole Reformation. Zurich’s reply was typical:
“We judge that one should work against him with great faith and diligence, especially as our churches have an ill repute abroad as heretics and patrons of heretics.”
To protect the image of the fledgling Protestant Reform movement, Serveto must burn.

NEXT: Serveto's Double Legacy

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