AND OBJECTIVES OF THE 500th ANNIVERSARY
Michael Servetus: why mankind is
in debt with him?
Michael Servetus is, in many aspects, one
of the most notable human beings of the
European 16th Century. From a historical
standpoint, his tragic death makes him
appear as the first and most outstanding
martyr of Unitarianism. The documents
about Servetus' life are scarce, and
sometimes inconsistent. The gaps that
exist have been used to make up all sorts
of incorrect speculations about him. As
more historical evidence comes to light
these misconceptions are proved wrong.
Nonetheless, some biased stereotypes and
information still remain among the general
Michael Servetus (Villanueva de
Sijena, 1511 - Geneva 1553), Spanish
theologian and physician born in Aragon,
was executed by the government of Geneva,
at the instigation of John Calvin, because
of his religious beliefs. He was born in
Villanueva de Sijena, currently located in
Aragon, province of Huesca (Spain). He
studied law in the University of Toulouse
(France) and medicine in the University of
Paris. As of 1540, he practiced medicine
in Charlieu and later in Vienne (near
Lyon, France), where he also was the
personal doctor of the Archbishop, the
humanist Pierre Palmier. The theological
thoughts of Servetus were long time hardly
criticized by both Catholics and
Protestants. In his 1531 book, De
Trinitatis Erroribus (On the Errors of
the Trinity), he rejected the tri-theistic
personality of God. In 1532 he wrote Dialogorum de Trinitate Libri Duo (Two
Books of Dialogues on the Trinity) where
he confirmed his anti-trinitarian
Years later, during his stay in Vienne, he
wrote his main theological work:
Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration
of Christianity), printed early in 1553.
Servetus was a thorough reader of the
original sources of the Holy Scriptures.
He managed to develop a rational
interpretation of the dogma of the Holy
Trinity and a complete theological system,
which was an alternative to the Roman
Church and to the Protestant reforms. His
vision of Christianity was endowed with a
deep spiritualism and was devoid of the
ritualism and pomp of some long-standing
religious celebrations and traditions. The
practical effects of the Servetian
theology had its historical expression in
the creation of the Unitarian religion.
... the new human being in within us, hidden
in our own heart"
For Servetus, Faith is a gift and,
therefore, it cannot be imposed upon us.
It can only be sown in the human being
through preaching or through divine grace.
Therefore, we find in his theological
system something very scarce at the time,
the principle of freedom.
... no thing can be loved by coercion, nor
with those who provide it with hatred"
The reading of the Christian holy texts
also led him to reject infant baptism. He
tried to discuss some theological ideas
with the reformers of his time.
Remarkably, this included John Calvin, the
reformer of Geneva who was fighting to
establish a theocracy in this city-state.
Servetus was arrested, accused of heresy
and blasphemy against Christianity, and
burned at the stake on October, 27th 1553.
scientific contributions were also
noteworthy. He was the first in Western
Europe to describe the pulmonary (lesser)
circulation of the blood in Christianismi
Restitutio. While Servetus was a
significant theologian and scientist, he
stands out for his contribution to the
development of the inalienable right to
freedom of conscience. His attitude and
writings defended the right to interpret
the Holy Scriptures with absolute freedom.
His moral example and later death shook
the conscience of some of his
contemporaries, like Sebastian Castellio
and Matteo Gribaldi, who, with renewed
strength, advocated publicly the
acknowledgement of an individual sphere of
freedom of speech shielded from
retaliation and repression by the
established religious and political
powers. Servetus' death marked an
unstoppable turning point in the
discussion that later led to the
recognition of freedom of responsible
thought and speech as an inalienable human
right in the modern legal texts.
... I consider it a very serious mistake to
kill a man just because he may be in error
due to his interpretation of the Holy
Scriptures, when we know that even the
chosen ones can be mistaken"
Michael Servetus is
one of the most international and
universal Spaniards, but also one of the
most forgotten and unknown. Therefore, we
have an ethical duty to spread his legacy,
so that the values that inspired his life
and teachings are metabolized into our
"social body", which is more and more
devoid of the principles.
The celebration in 2011 of the 500th
Anniversary of the birth of a humanist
with the personal and intellectual allure
of Michael Servetus demands the
preparation of a multidisciplinary program
of activities in order to endow this event
with the enduring relevance that Michael
Servetus deserves. In a project of these
characteristics, local, regional and
national public administrations, the
cultural institutions directly associated
to the spreading of Servetus' works and
legacy (such as the Michael Servetus
Institute of Villanueva de Sijena), and
the official entities entrusted with the
commemoration of the anniversary of
relevant historical events in Spain (such
as the Spanish Agency for Cultural Action)
need to be involved in closely coordinated
Anniversary of this magnitude cannot be
celebrated without the real participation
of civil society that normally, tends to
not to take an interest or simply chooses
to be absent from these types of
The "Servetus Year 2011" has as its mission to
attain the following objectives:
1. To make Spanish
society aware of the importance of the
historical role played by Michael Servetus
in modern Western history. The aim is to
mitigate the enormous ignorance that still
exists of this man both in Aragon as well
as in the rest of Spain.
2. To spread the life and the
work of Michael Servetus among primary,
secondary, and university students.
3. To create an environment to
find new researchers of Michael Servetus
through specialized courses taught in the
Region of Aragon or abroad.
4. To catalyze and to spread the new
academic contributions on the life, the
works and the legacy of Michael Servetus
through lectures and a Servetus
Besides these objectives of cultural
character, the 500th Anniversary of the
birth of Michael Servetus must serve to
bolster the values that are associated
with his legacy, such as:
• The importance of freedom as a unique
• The development of the values and
dignity inherent to each individual, with
special focus on the respect of all
ideologies and beliefs.
• The affirmation of freedom of conscience
and speech as a source of individual and
collective development, as Servetus taught
us, and that today are symbols of
modernity in the European Union.
• The affirmation of tolerance and justice
in human relations, which Servetus
practiced, and the maintenance of a
positive attitude towards difference and
• The affirmation of reason, corrected by
common sense, against all forms of
*We thank Mr. Thomas Clayton for
proof-reading the above text.
posters of the 500th Anniversary,
designed by the member of the
Michael Servetus Institute, Mr.