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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
 
 
By
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*
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
!!! Introduction
       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]
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