Theology of Michael Servetus

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Liberty University

The Unique Theology of Michael Servetus

A paper submitted to Dr. Goza

In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for

the course CHHI 525

Liberty Theological seminary


Christopher W. Myers


Lynchburg, Virginia

Sunday, 14 December, 2008

Table of Contents

Introduction- 3

Servetus Against the Trinity- 4

The Orthodox Trinity- 4

The Cardinal Doctrines of the Trinity- 5

The Influences upon Servetus’ Theology- 7

Servetus’ Theology- 10

The Foundation of Servetus’ System- 10

Servetus’ Eschatology- 13

Servetus’ Christology and Pneumatology- 15

Negative Implications of Servetus’ Theology- 20

Conclusion- 23

Bibliography- 24


       Michael Servetus can be explained to be an Arian, Sabellian, Modalist, Anabaptist, Neo-Platonist, Milleniarian, Humanist, Monophysite, Pantheist, Anti-trinitarian, Unitarian, Dualist, Gnostic, and Oneness and yet all of these terms would be wrong in most respects and can only be attributed to him in parts of his overall theology.  Michael Servetus’ theology is unique, but that is because his hermeneutics is unique.  Radical interpretations will give birth to radical theologies and radical theologies will always reflect at least in part the ancient heresies of the past.  However, Michael Servetus cannot be explained merely by connecting him to past theologies.  Michael Servetus developed a system of thought that pervades his entire scheme of theological reflection.  Much of his system led him to many ancient heresies, but he found himself within those ancient errors for different reasons and on different presuppositions than his predecessors before him. 

       Therefore, Michael Servetus must be studied in light of his uniqueness.  Servetus was influenced by his native environment, his education and educators, his admired sources of wisdom, and his worldview presuppositions.  This background material must be grasped in order to delve into Servetus’ theological system, for it is these influences that affected his theology at many points.  His theological system is built on a foundation stone of his grammatical-historical hermeneutic coupled with his understanding of progressive revelation.  The way that Servetus perceived the world is in the same way that he perceives God.  Yet, the way that he perceives God is built upon his cosmic understanding of the battle between good and evil.  Servetus copes with his radical and lonely theological understanding of God and the Bible by embracing unique millenarian-chiliast eschatology.  All of this lays the foundation for Servetus’ understanding of anthropology and soteriology and therefore his Christology also.  Servetus’ pneumatology is the last consideration; however, it can easily be merged within the consequences of his theology proper and Christology; a connection that must be made in order to understand his theological system as a whole.         

Servetus Against the Trinity


       Servetus is best known for his opposition to the orthodox Trinity.  He published his De


Trinitatis Erroribus in 1531 where he openly opposes the accepted Christian view of God.[1]  Unlike Calvin, Servetus’ theology underwent many changes from his initial publication of De Trinitatis Erroribus to his last publication of Christianismi Restitutio in 1553.  Scholars such as Friedman easily trace Servetus’ theological changes, especially in his Christology.  Servetus’ basic ideas remained the same, but his Christology drifted due to his increased molestation with Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas.  In addition, Friedman also attributes such changes to Servetus’ increased interest in the Church Fathers and Judaic commentators.[2]  In reading the two works of Servetus, it is apparent that in 1531 Servetus wrote merely to disprove the Trinity; however, by 1553 Servetus desired to systematize his thought to create a coherent theology that could vanquish the current understanding of Christendom.

The Orthodox Trinity

       Someone that believes that the issue of the Trinity is just some mystical mathematical equation or the like is wholly ignorant of the matter as a whole.  The Trinity is not just about how many persons there is in God.  Rather the Trinity is a homogeneous, yet diverse concept.  The Trinity is homogeneous because it seeks to bind all Biblical premises together into a systematic whole.  And this is appropriate to any God-fearing religion that seeks to provide a coordinated understanding of God, His creation, and man’s condition and purpose within it.  Yet the Trinity is diverse because it encompasses diverse ideas woven together from self-evident truth which together comprises a system where all of its premises are plainly dependent upon another.  This means that the understanding of God as a Trinity is not something that is plainly stated in Scripture.  Instead, the Trinity has come to us as a direct result of holy men searching and meditating upon the Scriptures to understand: Christ and who he was, Christ’s work and the grace that flows from it, man’s depravity and the payment for sin, the Father of Jesus and his planning of redemption, and the Spirit of grace by which this work of Christ is effected in His people. [3]  Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is a direct result of understanding God from a soteriological vantage point; it is meditating upon Christ and how God cold have become flesh on earth, yet remained in heaven.  It is meditating upon how the incarnated God ascended to God in heaven and sent forth God to comfort and pour forth grace on his people.  It is determining if God had indeed revealed his true being to His people by the way he had revealed himself to them in their salvation through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[4]  In order to understand exactly what Servetus was placing himself up against, there is in order a small overview of the main cardinal doctrines of the Trinity.

The Cardinal Doctrines of the Trinity[5]

       The very center of all of theology is the incarnated person Jesus Christ.  Christianity must be understood according to humanity’s condition where all of humankind has fallen into a perpetual state of separation from God and all of his spiritual blessings.  Since nothing good can come out of something bad, this evil condition of humanity is passed from generation to generation, which concludes all humankind under God’s eternal wrath of damnation by virtue of their sin natures.  Man in his current estate is totally dead to God and there is nothing that a dead, rotting corpse can do to revive itself again.  Therefore, the revival of the human nature and spiritual estate is totally dependent upon God and God alone. Only by God’s Sovereign action may a person be revived and born anew to a life of spiritual blessing and satisfaction before God.  This Sovereign action of God is three-fold: the designing and determining of our redemption, the procurement of our redemption by Jesus Christ, and the unrelenting grace that awakens one to regeneration, sanctification, and glorification to complete our redemption.  Christ’s life and death and resurrection are ordained to bring many back into a loving relationship with God through faith.  However, this radical change of a human is totally dependent upon who Jesus Christ is.  If Christ had no human nature, then no atonement would be possible.  If Christ had no divine nature, then he could not manifest God, nor embody God and therefore no future redemption would be possible, amongst many other negative implications that could be stated.  Jesus Christ must embody complete humanity within himself, yet also, as the Word of God, God’s one and only Son, he must also perfectly embody the fullness of His Father who is God.  Therefore, Jesus is identified with the Father, yet separate with him.

       The Trinitarian doctrine of man is integral to its understanding of Christ.  Christ’s coming and sacrifice for sins must be understood as totally necessary and totally efficient.  Christ’s sacrifice is not supplemental; it is not what must be added to something man can give such as his free-will.  Rather, Christ’s sacrifice secures man’s will and love for God within its efficacy.  This ensures that Christ’s glory is not dependent on any rotting corpses, but it is the direct result of the design of His Father who sent him.  In order for Christ’s glory to not be dependent on the will of rotting corpses the Spirit must be God bringing the heart and will of His sheep to Himself.  Jesus ascends to His Father and the Spirit descends to work within God’s people what is pleasing in the sight of the Father.  Furthermore, Christ must be eternal in order to always be the connection and propitiation for the human to the Father, yet the Spirit must be eternal in order to always be the connection of the human to Christ and His propitiation.  Therefore, in the Biblical understanding of soteriology, there are only three distinctions: Father, Son, and Spirit.  These three act according to one will and one action and one purpose, therefore they are one and one God, yet distinct.  They are each distinct because they hold feelings and relationship one for the other, and only with every one of them is man able to become one with God, God’s sacrifice, and God’s Spirit in order to enter into that divine love of rest, which is like a blanket of asbestos from the fiery wrath of the Godhead.

       This brief survey of the cardinal teachings on the Trinity show its intimate connection to everything that Christianity is; it should never be limited to describe the numbers within the Godhead.  Therefore, the study of Servetus’ theology, although he is best known as totally rejecting the distinctions of the Father, Son, and Spirit, should not be limited to his idea of the Godhead.  Because someone’s view of God is directly the result of his understanding of man, sin, and redemption and Christ’s role in it all, the study of Servetus’ theology must also be focused in these areas in order to see the presuppositions that enable Servetus to reject the Trinity and set up his own idea of God in its place and to be willing to die for it.[6]

The Influences upon Servetus’ Theology

       Servetus was born in Spain in 1511[7] at Villanueva in Aragon in the diocese of Lerida.[8]  At age fourteen, Servetus came under the service of Juan de Quintana, a Franciscan Monk[9] and a professor at the University of Paris.[10]  Servetus was released by Quintana to study law at the University of Toulouse only to rejoin himself to Quintana’s service after his studies.  It was during this time of his life that Servetus would have learned his Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  The trial in Geneva came to show that Servetus’ Greek and Hebrew could not converse with the skill of Calvin.[11]  However, Servetus’ Latin was good, although not as polished as Calvin’s.[12]  Servetus’ Hebrew is found wanting[13] in many places in his Restitutio as is his Greek.[14] 

       During Servetus’ life-season in Spain the Iberian Peninsula was a troublesome place and this indeed affected Servetus.  The Popish Inquisition dominated and forced baptism upon Islamic Moors and Marranos[15].  At the time of the reformation, Spain was known as a seed-bed for heresy because so many rejected the doctrine of the Trinity due to its strict monotheistic Islamic and Marrano-Jewish base.[16]  Servetus shows sympathy to both groups and embraces their view of God believing that the Trinity is the only doctrine holding them back from conversion.[17]  In his Restitutio, Servetus uses the Quran in support of his idea of God.[18]  Additionally, the Restitutio shows heavy Jewish influence, especially in regard to Servetus’ use of Philo[19] and the Rabbis for commentary on interpreting the OT.[20]  Greater still is Servetus’ reliance upon the Philosophers and Hermetic Literature.[21]  Servetus in his first publication in 1531 showed no interest in the Philosophers and even wrote against them, but by 1553 his Restitutio was so infused with Platonism and Neo-Platonism and references to their works that the only conclusion for this change in Servetus’ mind is that he started reading the Philosophers and found strong evidence within them for his view of God and his system for a restored Christianity.[22]  Neo-Platonism dominates and is saturated within his Restitutio.[23]  This Neo-Platonist influence is believed to be derived from the time after Servetus left Spain for France and came under the influence of the school of French Humanistic scholars such as Symphorien Champier and his close friend Lefevre d’Etaples.[24]  Friedman describes this southern French Humanist group as distinct in their eclecticism because they blended Jewish, Neo-Platonic, Hermetic, and Patristic thought “to provide a scaffolding of support for Christian dogma and teaching.”[25]  This describes Servetus’ theology and eclecticism exactly and therefore lends strong support for a major source of influence upon Servetus’ thought.  Servetus justified his heavy use of the Philosophers because of Paul’s use of the Stoic Philosophers in Acts 17.[26] 

       Servetus’ Theology

       Whereas the Reformers rejected Medieval Councils and Synods, but accepted the Ecumenical Councils, Servetus rejected everything after the council of Nicaea in 325AD.  Next to the Bible, Servetus held only the Ante-Nicene Patristic Fathers in great esteem, especially Irenaeus and Justin,[27] and even Tertullian,[28] seeing in them proof for his own system of beliefs.  After 325, Servetus believed that the church had become captivated to the Babylon of Rome and its demonic Trinitarian doctrines.  Now having tasted the influences that affected the Spaniard, the preparations have been set forth to delve into his theology.  First, the foundation for his system must be explored.

The Foundation of Servetus’ System 

       The foundation of Servetus’ theological system is evidenced in his Errors and Restitutio[29], but more apparently in his edition of the Pagninus Polyglot Bible, where he provided study notes to the entire Bible.[30]  Servetus’ foundation for his system lies squarely upon his hermeneutics and his view of progressive revelation. 

       Servetus adhered strictly to the philological-historical-grammatical essence of the text.  He rejected that Isaiah 7 taught a virgin birth of the Messiah despite Matthew’s use of it.[31]  He was so loyal to his hermeneutic that he would even place blame on the apostles, “But because of the poverty of divine names, the apostles could not express this matter to the Greeks other than by the word ‘theos’ although they rarely use it.”[32] 

       Servetus noticed that God was given numerous names throughout the Old Testament.  Servetus believed that the Bible was clear that each divine name was a modal manifestation of God.  Servetus viewed Revelation in the sense of God constantly changing[33] the way by which he appears and communicates to mankind.  Therefore, Servetus interprets the divine name Elohim to be a manifestation of God and His Word, while the name Jehovah is the manifestation of the Father.[34]  The Angel of the Old Testament who was called Jehovah therefore was for Servetus merely an angel that God personated and not the Son-the Word itself.[35]  So Servetus’ view of progressive revelation is that God throughout the spectrum of history has progressively revealed himself through divine modes that characterized his unimaginable and unknowable essence.  To Abraham he was known as El Shaddai and to the prophets he was known as Jehovah.  Therefore, man’s knowledge of God was always directly dependent upon God’s present role in human history.[36]  The inherent problem for Servetus was that in his scheme of divine names, it would imply that God’s name of Jesus of Nazareth only implied an equal standing with the rest of his revealed names.  To solve this problem Servetus established a dispensationalist system of thought. 

       To Servetus the two Testaments of Scripture did not represent one revelation or even two dispensations, instead Servetus saw many dispensations of God’s revelation.  First, God’s incomprehensible essence is revealed to none.  Second, God reveals himself to his creation and third, God reveals himself to a particular people.  The first through third dispensations are all encompassed in Servetus’ exposition of the Old Testament Divine names and he admits that God never totally revealed himself to mankind in these dispensations.  However, in the fourth dispensation, God totally revealed himself through Jesus.[37]  It is even possible to discern a fifth dispensation in Servetus’ thought by studying his eschatology where he believes the archangel Michael to be Christ himself under a different alias. 

       However, first some observations are in order.  First, this radical view of progressive revelation led Servetus into some problems with understanding prophecy. If God did not fully reveal himself to the Old Testament saints, then how can Isaiah be known to prophesy the fullness of God’s revelation in Isaiah 53 and the other suffering servant songs?  This led Servetus to reject Isaiah 53 as Messianic; instead he confined them to a fulfillment in the milieu by which they were written.[38]  Servetus allowed the Holy Spirit to use such historical writings to be applied to the Messiah, but Servetus denies that Isaiah or any prophet actually knew that they were prophesying of the Messiah.[39]

       This investigation into the foundation of Servetus’ theological system has revealed why Servetus could so easily understand the orthodox trinity to simply be the three-fold invocation of the divine name.  And why he denied the eternality of the Son.  Orthodox Christianity also uses a system of progressive revelation in order to fulfill a soteriological need created by a state of sin, and bases itself upon the awesome nature of Christ, however, Servetus theory on progressive revelation produced a theology of the Father without any interest in the state of sin and man’s salvation from it.[40]  From a Christian point of view, to merge Christ into the Godhead, subjecting him to the Father as a mere mode has huge and ominous soteriological consequences.  Calvin, of course, picked this up right away and reprimands Servetus, “We are left with no satisfaction for sin, no means of propitiating God, no purgation.”[41]

Servetus’ Eschatology

       A year before the publication of his De Trinitatis Erroribus Servetus was happily received by the Reformer Oecolampadius.  Upon revealing his rejection of the Trinity, Oecolampadius immediately detached himself from Servetus.  Oecloampadius made sure that Servetus received the same treatment from Bucer and Capito, the Reformers of Strasburg.[42]  This constant and ceaseless rejection of Servetus’ theology led him to try to gain a hearing by publishing his book in 1531 against the Trinity.  In addition, his theology had to accommodate for this open and constant rejection of his doctrines.  In searching the Scriptures, Servetus developed a unique Millenarian theology.

       Servetus’ title page of his Restitutio quotes Daniel 12:1[43] and Revelation 12:7.[44]  These two passages of Scriptures summarize Servetus’ eschatology.  Servetus envisioned God to be constantly battling evil.  Servetus believed that Christ under the divine name Michael, the great prince would rise up against the Anti-Christ to free his church from its captivity in order to set up his millennial reign.  The cosmic battle between God and the incarnated devil makes war break out in heaven.  Servetus never mentioned that Christ’s earthly sacrifice did anything to conquer and defeat Satan.[45]  The conquering and defeat of Satan is only completed by Michael’s conquering of the Anti-Christ, which Servetus believed to be the Papacy. 

       Servetus’ eschatology is infected with an aspect of dualism and Gnosticism.  Servetus’ eschatology was dualistic in that he envisioned evil to have always existed, “the Spirit of the Anti-Christ commenced together with the Spirit of Christ.”  It is uncertain whether he saw evil as eternally existing personally or as a mere force, but most scholars opt for the latter.[46]  However, this eternal evil force became mastered by Satan and embodied in the Anti-Christ; this is parallel to Servetus’ thought that Christ eternally existed as a thought of God, which became embodied in God’s fullness in celestial flesh.[47]  Servetus’ eschatology was Gnostic in the sense that soteriologically, first, Servetus believed that man’s only hope for redemption lie in the celestial flesh of Christ[48] by which man is guaranteed to acquire a nature like God in Jesus, and secondly, the efficacy of Christ’s passion is naught and real redemption awaits the victory over evil by God in Christ who is called Michael at the end times.  For Servetus, the death of Christ merely repositions man who “was once justly punished by God, he has now been justly liberated through Christ’s mercy,”[49] a mercy that Christ can only give because of his sacrifice.[50]

       Servetus believed that the Anti-Christ’s captivity would last 1260 years.[51]  Although Servetus was cautious enough never to place a precise date for Christ’s return, 1260 years from 325AD would place Christ’s return in the area of 1585.  And truly it can be shown that Servetus assuredly believed that he was one of Michael’s emissaries,[52] chosen to usher in the Messianic reign or be the first to see the resurrection.  Servetus said during his trial at Geneva, “The three ages are complete; the four horsemen have appeared; the vials of the wrath of God are about to be opened.”[53]   And so Servetus found comfort in his lonely theological estate because he believed that he was entrusted with divine truth from on high to help usher the church out of its Babylonian Captivity by the power of Michael the archangel who was coming soon, even within his generation.  Servetus was not perplexed at the almost universal rejection of his doctrines because he believed “before the fight (the war between Michael and the Anti-Christ) there will be a seduction of the world.”[54]

Servetus’ Christology and Pneumatology


       Servetus’ radical monotheism affects not only his cosmology and psychology, but most largely his Christology.[55]  Servetus maintained a radical monotheism only by heralding modalism.  Servetus’ Christology begins by explaining the becoming of the Son of God.  For Servetus, the Son of God is called “son” only because of his flesh and birth into the world.  Therefore, Servetus says of Christ, “once the Word and now the Son” and “once in the word was the person of the Son.”[56]  Servetus defined “person” not in the orthodox sense, but in the sense of a face or mask or appearance, designating a manifestation or aspect of some essence.[57]  Only by this definition does Servetus call Jesus a “person.”  And so, he terms Christ as “representative expression” and “particular representation” and “form containing the very essence of God” and “impress of God’s hypostasis” and “sculptured representation of the divine essence.”[58]

       Since Servetus rejects the Son as a separate relational person within God, he must also reject his pre-existent eternality.  The Son of God did not exist substantively until the Word became the semen that created the body of the Son in the womb of Mary.[59]  The only pre-existence of the Son that Servetus allows is by allowing the Son to exist in seed form within the Word.  Before the Son’s birth into the world, he only existed as a seed in the Word who became the substantive mode of his body and as a seed in the Spirit who became the mode of his Spirit.[60]  Servetus tries explaining how he understands the pre-existence of the Son by relating Christ’s pre-existence to the majesty of an oak tree, which in its seed contained all of its majesty in seminal form.[61] 

       And this rejection of the eternality of the Son is why Servetus did not allow the Son of God to be called the Son of Glory until after his resurrection.[62]  Actually, Servetus’ understanding of sonship caused him to enumerate the sonship of Jesus in a least three different frames.  First, Servetus said that Christ was the Son in the sense that he pre-existed seminally in his “celestial flesh.”  The celestial flesh is the flesh of Christ that descended from heaven and pre-existed eternally with the Father in His Word.[63]  This concept of Christ’s “celestial flesh” was popular among the Anabaptist movement.  The idea originated with Melchior Hoffman (1495-1543) and became popularized through Menno Simons and the first two generation of his followers, the Mennonites.[64]  The doctrine was developed to free Christ from any taint of original sin; however, Servetus used it to show how Scriptures such as Micah 5:2 could proclaim the eternality of the Son.  Servetus could then allow his theology to stand by referring these problem texts that proclaim the Son’s eternality to just be referring to his celestial flesh.[65]  Second, Christ became the Son of God when the Word became the Son in the womb of Mary by going from incorporeal to material.  Thirdly, Christ became the Son of God “anew” upon His resurrection.[66]  This third understanding of Christ’s sonship is most disturbing because he openly admits Christ is a “new son” and the “son anew” and that he differed from his first sonship because now Christ becomes the “immortal son” and the “incorruptible son.”[67] 

       In way of summary, Servetus’ understanding of Christ’s sonship is the direct result of Servetus’ soteriology.  Servetus believed that man can only partake of the divine nature as much as Christ is God.  Therefore some may call Servetus Arian because he nearly obliterates Christ’s humanity to incorporate even the divineness of his flesh; therefore making Christ a creation of the Father by rejecting his eternality with the Father.  Additionally, Christ must be a new son after his resurrection because mankind can only obtain an incorruptible and a new sonship as Christ would have had after His death and resurrection.  So Servetus says outright, “Before His resurrection, Christ did not obtain God’s full glory and power.”[68]

       With Servetus’ view of sonship laid forth, now a discussion of his modalism is in order.  Servetus opens up his Restitutio on the very first page with his modalism, he says, “God has revealed himself to us, making Himself outwardly visible through the Word, yet internally perceptible through the spirit.”[69]  Servetus, viewing God through his foundational idea of progressive revelation, dreams of a God that has revealed himself concurrently in different modes throughout history and has climaxed these modes in the greatest mode; the mode of Christ.  The Logos was merely an economy of God, a manifestation of God that would soon transform to become the Son.[70]   The Spirit is not a distinct person in the Godhead, but instead he is the means by which God condescends to man’s soul so that he is internally perceptible to mankind.[71]  However, the Father is the principal divine mode.  Servetus says,

“The principal divine mode is unique and the basis of all the other ones.  This is the mode of the plenitude of the substance, the divine mode without measure that exists in the body and spirit of Jesus Christ alone.  The mode is twofold, and on this basis the one can even talk about two persons.  It is the mode of the appearance of God in the Word and mode of communication of God in the spirit; the bodily mode and the spiritual mode.”[72]

It is on these grounds that Servetus is attributed with Subordinationism.  He has subordinated the Son and Spirit to the Father, while also obliterating the relations between Father, Son, and Spirit; depersonalizing the Son and Spirit under the common hypostasis of the Father.  From such extreme modalism, Servetus understands the Son and Spirit as essentially a manifestation of the Father’s will, to which they are subordinated.[73]  Essentially they were the two hands of the Father.[74]  The Trinity is indeed even inescapable even for Servetus because he is forced to admit that God has revealed himself in our salvation in “three modes of manifestation,”[75] indeed a trinity.  However, Servetus believed that God has not revealed himself in salvation as he really exists, but instead God will keep revealing himself in infinite modes into the future.     

       This led him to a panentheism,[76] Schaff terms it Christopantheism.[77]  Servetus says, “There is only one entity, and this has the essences of infinite thousands and the natures of infinite thousands” and “the divine modes are ineffable in things and they have been performed from eternity in God himself.”[78] 

       Servetus truly believed in a plurality within God[79], not a plurality of persons, but a plurality of forms.  And so he speaks of “Christ’s faces” and “splendors of faces” and “forms of divinity”[80] and also a “plentitude of divinity.”[81]  However, the New Testament is so clear that Christ is superior to all things, and therefore, Servetus allows Christ to be the first substantive mode of divinity.[82]  Servetus however never allows these infinite modes to be distinct, but instead they “shine forth in His [God’s] light as numberless aspects in their infinite modes.”[83] And then furthermore, Servetus believes there are modes of God to which men do not know, he says, “these mentioned modes of divinity are those which are available to us in our present state, for after the resurrection there will be others, multiple and more subtle that we cannot know.”[84] 

        Lastly, again connecting Servetus’ Christology back to his soteriology, it is important to remember that Servetus did not believe in original sin.[85]  More than that, Servetus proclaimed an exalted view of man, he says, “Man is the end of all and the end of man is God.  God made all for man.”[86]  Also with this exalted view of man followed his exalted view of the free will of man; leading to a view even more radical than Pelagius and Arminius.[87]  So for Servetus, human salvation did not come by way of transformation from a state of absolute deadness to a state of life, rather God merely adds something to imperfection.  God adds the Spirit of Christ; Servetus says, “we are truly made gods; by participation in the deity of Christ, we are made true participants in the divine nature.”[88]  This makes the Holy Spirit the vehicle, one hand of God, which deifies men by virtue of the divine flesh and spirit of Christ.     

Negative Implications of Servetus’ Theology

       With such a unique radical view of Christianity, the negative implications of Servetus’ theology are incalculable.  Many of the negative implications of Servetus’ theology has already been eluded to; such as: his dualism that weakens the power of God in the presence of evil,[89] his subordination of the Son and the Spirit to the Father that nullifies Christ’s uniqueness and Christ’s propitiation,[90] his glorified doctrine of man that belittles the grace of God, the gift of God,[91] and his Hoffmanite celestial flesh doctrine that rids Jesus of his humanity and abolishes the glory of the Logos.[92]  It can be further said that a major negative of Servetus’ theology is his rejection of infant baptism, which was the direct result of his glorified doctrine of man.  Servetus believed that only an individual past the age of 20 was capable of sinning.[93]  However, the concentration here will be upon the negatives implications of Servetus’ theology soteriologically.  This discussion will consist of three heads, the negative implications upon the genuineness of God’s eternal self-revelation, the eternal Love of God in his nature, and God’s eternal grace.

       First, Servetus intense modalistic dream of God renders God’s non-eternal manifestation of his three modes as an illusion of whom and how God truly exists.  The three temporary modes of God do not arise out of God’s eternal essence, but God merely acts as Father, Son, and Spirit.  If God is not eternally Father, Son, and Spirit, then he has not revealed himself for who he truly is.  Therefore, should salvation be thought of as illusory?  Is God acting out this drama of salvation just to enlighten us only partially?  Servetus’ modalism renders the books of the gospels unreliable who do not reveal the full and true personality of God.  Servetus’ theology dismisses from Christianity the ability to know God as God, eternally as he is in the innermost depths of his soul.[94] 

       Secondly, Servetus declares, “Truly before the creation there was neither movements of God within Himself nor was there any activity or passivity; there was no material generation or emanation or exhaling or breathing or production.”[95]  Not only is this a depressing view of God, but it makes God directly dependent upon his creation.  If indeed God did not even move within himself before he created the world, then how is God eternally to be understood as love? (I John 4:8, 16)  Additionally, the love of the Father for His one and only Son becomes illusory in consequence of Servetus’ theology.  One of the basics of the gospel is that God loved humanity so much that he sent His one and only Son.  The beauty of this love is lost if it is merely the Father’s love for his number one manifestation.  Servetus attempts to repair this by making it the Father’s love for the humanity of Christ, however, his celestial flesh doctrine festers the wound of his unorthodoxy.  Unhealed his theology remains when the passion of Christ is contemplated.  For how can God really have experienced the forsakenness of the cross and yet still be God in heaven; it is an impossible contemplation without a Trinitarian understanding of God.[96]   

       Furthermore on this note, Servetus’ theology of the absolute oneness of God, which deprives God of any movement without creation, is not a God that is essentially personal, and therefore he cannot love, and therefore he is not social.  This is a theology that is hostile to a social God who reveals his full self to his creatures out of an overflowing love resulting from the personal relationships eternally filled within him.  This is truly then not a God at all.[97]  

       Lastly, Friedman notes that Servetus did not hold opinions concerning grace that is substantively different than the orthodox view.[98]  However, he overlooks Servetus’ utter condemnation of the doctrine of justification by faith[99] and trades it in for a panentheism of God’s divinity in all things; even in Satan and the pavement on which man walks.[100]  This enables man to choose God and become like him through Christ; there is no hindrances, no deadness by which humanity’s will is enslaved to the desires of this world.  So what need is there for grace?  For Servetus, grace was the act of God to reveal himself in Christ.[101]  But what is Christ except an imprint of the Father by which he is only partially known?  And what is this love that the Father has for this imprint if it is not revealing who God is in his eternal existence?  And what sacrifice was it for God to sacrifice his number one mode of existence?  How could God suffer and experience the forsakenness of the cross while in heaven and not on the cross unless one adopt the Trinitarian mindset?  How is God love if he never loved until he willed creation to be?


       That God is a fountain of unconditional, unfailing, love that is so full of this love inwardly from eternity that he desires by his nature to communicate and manifest this love outwardly to his creatures is at the heart of Christianity.  That the Father has eternally loved the Son through the Holy Spirit is the heart of the gospel (John 17:5, 22-24).  Only by an infinitely full love of the Son through the Spirit could God send his Son to be propitiation to dead sinners (John 3:16) and to have determined to do so from eternity, from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5).  That Christ was truly flesh derived from earth is at the heart of understanding Christ’s suffering and forsakenness as fitting to propitiate for sinner’s sin to appease God’s holiness and justice (Hebrews 2:10, 7:26).  That mankind is utterly dead in sin and incapable of all strivings and desires towards the most infinite loving perfection in the universe is foundational to understanding the vast richness of the glory of God and his grace towards us (Ephesians 1:7; 2:7; 3:16).  That God is totally independent and free and Sovereign and self-sustaining and the source of infinite happiness is the very basis for His people to place their every need and all desires and hopes and trust upon his yoke (Isaiah 46:9-10; Matthew 11:29-30).  If you deny the eternality of the three personal ways that God is God, then you undermine the very heart and essence and foundation of Christianity according to the Bible.  Servetus undermined it.  And he died for it.[102]

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?

Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.[103]


Bainton, Roland H.  Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus 1511-1553. 

       Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953.

Boyd, Gregory A.  Oneness Pentecostals & The Trinity.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,


Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems,

       Inc., 1997.

Friedman, Jerome.  Michael Servetus: A Case Study in Total Heresy.  Geneva: Librairie Droz

       S.A., 1978.

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

Hillar, Marian and  Hoffman, Christopher A.  The Restoration of Christianity: An English

       Translation of Christianismi Restitutio, 1553 By Michael Servetus (1511-1553).  Lewiston:

       The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg,

       P&R Publishing, 2004.

Rushdoony, Rousas John.  “Calvin In Geneva: The Sociology of Justification By Faith”

       Westminster Theological Journal: Volume 15, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1952;

       Logos Research Systems 2003.

Schaff, Philip and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Oak Harbor, WA:

       Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Stickelberger, Emanuel.  Calvin: A Life.  Richmond: John Knox Press, 1954.

Tweedie, William King.  Calvin and Servetus: The Reformer’s Share in the Trial of Michael

        Servetus Historically Ascertained.  London: John Johnstone, 1846.   

Wadkins, Timothy H.  “A Recipe For Intolerance: A Study of the Reasons Behind John Calvin’s

       Approval of Punishment for Heresy.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society   

       Volume 26, The Evangelical Theological Society, 1983; Logos Research Systems 2002.


       [1] Tweedie, William King.  Calvin and Servetus: The Reformer’s Share in the Trial of Michael Servetus Historically Ascertained. ( London: John Johnstone, 1846), 64-65

       [2] Friedman, Jerome.  Michael Servetus: A Case Study in Total Heresy.  (Geneva: Librairie Droz S.A., 1978), 63

       [3]Ibid, 24

       [4] Bainton, Roland H.  Hunted Heretic: The Life and Death of Michael Servetus 1511-1553. 

       (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), 22-24

       [5]The most thorough study on the Orthodox position is Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship.  Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2004.  This section is dependent upon Letham both in his historical and biblical coverage of the issue.  Letham makes it so apparent that the Trinity developed from the church’s reflection on Christ and our salvation and not merely by finding the word Trinity in the New Testament.  Those who object to the Trinity on the grounds that its terms are not found in the New Testament are ignorant to the historic development of the dogma.

       [6]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 23-26.  Friedman really does an excellent job of connecting this issue to the soteriology and hermeneutic of Servetus.

       [7]Some sources may say 1509 (like Tweedie) because Servetus lied at his trial at Geneva to make himself the same age as Calvin.  In his trials in France, he said he was 42 and this is determined to be the truth because Servetus also stated that he was 20 when he published his first book in 1531. See Bainton, Hunted Heretic, 5.

       [8]Tweedie, Calvin and Servetus, 63.

       [9]Quintana is though to be one of the Spiritual Franciscans--who foretold the doom of the Papacy and the Restoration of Christianity in the great age of the Spirit, surely Servetus could have derived his scathing apocalypticism from the influence of Quintana. See Bainton, Hunted Heretic, 20.  

       [10]The same University that Calvin attended.  See Stickelberger, Emanuel.  Calvin: A Life.  (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1954).

       [11]Tweedie, Calvin and Servetus, 122-126

       [12] Hillar, Marian and  Hoffman, Christopher A.  The Restoration of Christianity: An English

       Translation of Christianismi Restitutio, 1553 By Michael Servetus (1511-1553).  (Lewiston:

       The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007), xxiv

       [13]Ibid. see note 131 on pg. 38, and note 77 on pg. 99, and note 135 on pg. 117-118, and note 35 on pp. 138-139, and note 52 on pp. 145-146. 

       [14]Ibid. See note 126 on pg. 115, and note 28 on pg. 183.

       [15]Christianized Jews

       [16]Bainton, Hunted Heretic, 10-11

       [17]Ibid. pg. 14

       [18] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity,49-51, even then he used the Quran to his own agenda, see note 170, 173, 174 on pg. 50, and note 178-179 on pg. 52.

       [19]Servetus’ use of Philo is numerous, he especially adopted Philo’s (and the philosophers) understanding of the Logos. Ibid. Note 20,25 on pg.181-182 and note 31 on pg. 184, and note 38 on pg. 187, and note 61 on pg.195 and note 74 on pg. 198 and note 288 on pg. 288.

       [20]For Servetus’ connection to the Jewish scholar Maimonides see Ibid. note 6 on pg. 130 and note 116 on pg. 173, and note 7 on pg 177. And also heavily influenced by David Kimichi (1160-1235) see Ibid. note 52 on pg. 87, and note 66 on pg. 94, and note 90 on pg 103.  It was Kimichi that first called the Trinity a Chimera.  This later came to be one of Servetus’ favorite slurs against the Trinity, see note 53 on pg. 87.

       [21]Ibid. note 5 on pg. 233-234

       [22]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 45, 63-66

       [23]Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, every thought from pp.183-189 is based on the Philosophers alone.  In addition see note 44 on pg. 189, and note 67 on pp.196-197, and note 73 on pg. 198, and note 107 on pg. 207, and note 118 on pg. 211, and note 128 on pg. 216, and note 133 on pg. 216, and note 176 on pg. 230, and note 35 on pg. 242, and note 87 and 90 on pg. 256, and note 6 and 8 on pg. 287.   

       [24]Friedman, Michael Servetus, Appendix A

       [25]Ibid. 19

       [26]Ibid. See note 40 on pg. 188.

       [27] Schaff, Philip and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997) Section 140, The Early Life of Servetus.

       [28]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 19

       [29]Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 175-230, Book IV on his discourse on divine names

       [30]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 27

       [31]Ibid. 32

       [32]Ibid. 28

       [33] Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), S. I, xiii, 22; Indeed Servetus did not believe in an immutable God it seemed; at least Calvin did not think so.

       [34]Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 178, see note 12

      [35] Calvin, John, Institutes, Section I, xiii, 10

       [36]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 29

       [37]Ibid. 31, especially note 27.


       [39]Ibid. 34


       [41]Ibid. note 45

       [42]Tweedie, Calvin and Servetus, 64

       [43] “At that time Michael, the great prince, shall rise.”

       [44] “And war broke out in heaven.”

       [45]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 42, note 91

       [46]Ibid. 36-37 and 53

       [47]This discussion will be continued in the Christology section of the paper.

       [48]Bainton, Hunted Heretic, 147

       [49]Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 271, especially note 140

       [50]This squarely puts Servetus’ in the Pelagian mode by rejecting a definite atonement and making it universal and non-efficacious, except by man’s reception and perseverance in it by his own power.

       [51]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 38

       [52]Bainton, Hunted Heretic, 86

       [53]Ibid. 176

       [54]Ibid 147, parentheses mine.

       [55] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 241, note 31 

      [56]Ibid. pg. 124, note 154; pp.152-153

      [57]Ibid. pg. 29, note 101; pg. 42, note 142; pg. 129, note 1; pg.153, note 72; pg. 157, note 82; pg. 193, note 57; pg. 262, note 110.

       [58]Ibid. 163

       [59]Ibid 170, note 110

       [60]Ibid. 110, note 113; also for Servetus, pre-existence is equivalent to pre-conception (pg. 267)

       [61]Ibid 207-208

       [62]Ibid. 94

       [63]Ibid 104-105, note 74

       [64]The Mennonites dropped this unorthodox view of Christ after two generations.  See Schaff, Philip and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church.

       [65] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 111, note 115 (for Servetus becoming the Son is the same as generation); the same gymnastics can be seen in John 14:10 (pg. 107) and his “re-translation” of John 1:15, 27-30 (pg. 112, note 117) and further gymnastics with I John 1 (pg 171, note 112).

       [66]Ibid. 86-87


       [68]Ibid. 279

       [69]Ibid. 1-2, note 2

       [70]Ibid. 70-71, notes 4-5

       [71]Ibid. 172; 268, note 133

       [72]Ibid. 180-181

       [73]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 63 

       [74]Ibid. 71

       [75] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 33, note 115

       [76]Not to be confused with pantheism, although he has been accused of such, see Friedman, Michael Servetus, 47-51

       [77]Schaff, Philip and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church, 147

       [78] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 180

       [79] Ibid. 192


       [81]Ibid. 213

       [82]Ibid 212


       [84]Ibid. 180

       [85] At least in the orthodox sense, Schaff says he believed in original sin, but not original guilt, a better treatment of Servetus’ view on the matter can be found in Friedman, Michael Servetus, chapter four

       [86]Cited from his Restitutio in Friedman, Michael Servetus, 54

       [87]Ibid, 58

       [88]Cited from his Restitutio in Friedman, Michael Servetus, 69

       [89]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 42, 52-53; Indeed Servetus is silent on the origin of evil almost making it eternal with God, since Servetus believed God created evil directly, quoting Isaiah 45:7 as the proof text.

       [90]Ibid. 34, 63, 68

       [91]Ibid 54, 70

       [92]Ibid. 61, 67 

        [93]Ibid. 57, Servetus tended towards a definable universalism, a subject which Friedman defines nicely, but to which this paper did not have enough space to expand upon as one of the negatives of his theology.

      [94] Boyd, Gregory A.  Oneness Pentecostals & The Trinity.  (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 178-180

       [95] Hillar and Hoffman, The Restoration of Christianity, 271-272

       [96] Boyd, Oneness, 183-188

       [97]Ibid. 189-192

       [98] Friedman, Michael Servetus, 58

       [99]See Rushdoony, Rousas John.  “Calvin In Geneva: The Sociology of Justification By Faith” Westminster Theological Journal: Volume 15, (Westminster Theological Seminary, 1952; Logos Research Systems 2003).

       [100]Goldstone, Lawrence and Nancy, Out of the Flames, (New York: Broadway Books, 2002), 183-184

      [101]Friedman, Michael Servetus, 58 cites from Servetus’ Restitutio, 633

       [102]See Wadkins, Timothy H.  “A Recipe For Intolerance: A Study of the Reasons Behind John Calvin’s Approval of Punishment for Heresy.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 26, (The Evangelical Theological Society, 1983; Logos Research Systems 2002).

       [103]Romans 11:33-36 ESV

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