Non-Trinitarians of the Past
Non-Trinitarians of the Past will look at men and women who did not believe in the Trinity, although they did not have all the truth about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can learn from others, and perhaps how we should not be with those who differ from us.
Michael Servetus was born in Spain in 1509. He had a brilliant mind, was trained by the Dominicans, and went to the University of Saragossa. There he began studying the Bible. He believed in its authority, but came into conflict with the ‘orthodox’ church because of his interpretations.
In 1531 he published a work called ‘On Errors of the Trinity’. In this book he called those who believed in the Trinity Tritheists, even atheists. He said the gods of the Trinitarians were a three-headed monster, and a deception of the devil. Both Protestants and Catholics found his book blasphemous, and it was banned by the Emperor.
Servetus moved to France where he took the name Michel de Villeneuve. There he studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine, gaining fame as a physician due to his study of the blood. He came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood and published a book on the use of syrups in medicine. It became very popular as a study book in medical circles. In spite of his success, Servetus made enemies through his insolent and contentious tone.
In 1540, he began correspondence with John Calvin of Geneva, asking the reformer what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God, and how a man was born again. He criticised Calvin's replies and stated that those who believed in the Trinity believed in the spirit of the dragon. Servetus implied that he himself was the Michael of Revelation 12:7 and Daniel 12:1, the one who was to fight the antichrist. He stated that both John Calvin and the Pope were antichrists. Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive.
In 1553, he anonymously published ‘The Restitution of Christianity’ as an attempt to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. In that work he continued to deny the Trinity, despite the danger to himself. To deny the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ were still capital offences.
Roman Catholic authorities in Vienne discovered the author of ‘The Restitution of Christianity’, due to Calvin denouncing him to the Inquisition, and he was arrested for heresy. Escaping from their clutches, he fled toward Naples through Calvin's Geneva. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching and was recognized. He was arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy, although not a citizen and only passing through town.
Nonetheless, Servetus was tried for heresy by a Protestant city council. He called John Calvin ‘Simon Magus’, an ‘impostor’. He shocked the Genevans by his claim that everything emanated from God, including the devil, and like the Anabaptists, declared infant baptism to be a great error. Geneva unfairly refused him legal council, although he was a stranger to its law system.
The Geneva Council voted to condemn Servetus for heresy and called for his execution. The Swiss churches of Berne, Zurich, Basle, and Schaffhausen encouraged this decision. Although Calvin insisted with others that Servetus must die, he urged that in mercy he be executed by the sword, not burning. The Council rejected the suggestion, as it was quarrelling with Calvin over the city government. Calvin and reformer William Farel spent hours with Servetus trying to turn him back to the commonly accepted Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but Servetus stood fast to his principles.
On October 27, 1553, Geneva burned Michael Servetus at the stake for blasphemy and heresy. While the fire burnt away his flesh, Michael called repeatedly on Jesus the Son of God, for mercy.
Information taken from: http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/michael-servetus-burned-for-heresy-11629984.html
Michael Servetus did not believe in the Trinity, but He did not have the truth about God and His Son. After reading a large portion of his book ‘On Errors of the Trinity’, I have found the following:
He believed Christ was the Son of God from His birth to Mary. He says, “Christ is the Son of God. Many Scriptural texts, referring to His supernatural birth, prove this.” Synopsis Bk 1 p4. This means that prior to His conception, the Son was not a separate being.
Servetus says Christ was “begotten by the Word”. Ibid. “The Word which was in the beginning was simply the utterance which God gave when first creating the world. Christ was thus the voice of God become flesh, and entrusted with the function of speaking for God. It was the Word originally with God, not a second being, that became flesh. All things were made through the Word, not through a being.” Book 2. p75.
He said the Word was not Christ, but God’s spoken voice or creative power, and it was through this Word that Christ was begotten. In fact, the Word became Christ. “The Word ceased to exist when it became flesh in Christ. Christ, who had pre-existed in God, came down to earth and took flesh.” Book 4 p131. Servetus believed God shared “full deity with Christ”, but not “any imperfections of man.” Synopsis Bk 1 p4. Jesus had God’s power. “The creative power of the Word of God dwelt in Christ, through whom, as the Word, all things were made. God and the Word existed before the world not by temporal sequence, but only causally.” Bk 3. p105.106.
Continuing on the Word. “The Word was never the Son, but was a disposition of God at the beginning of the world.” Bk 3 p105. “The Word was the shadow, and Christ is the truth…. But now there is the Son, Jesus Christ, because what was in the Word exists as flesh, and the Word became flesh; that is, the Person became a being. The shadow became light…” Bk 4. p143.
On the Holy Spirit, he says, “Philosophers make the Holy Spirit to be a third being, and this leads to a plurality of Gods. Thus we become Tritoites and Atheists, though they affirm the unity of God. The Holy Spirit is not a distinct being, but an activity of God Himself.” Bk 1 p4. “God’s Spirit animates all men and things, moves all things, and fills the earth.” Bk 4. p105.
“God has manifested himself in three different Persons, or dispositions. The Holy Spirit is God’s activity in the spirit of man, acting upon his heart and mind. The Holy Spirit is to be distinguished from the Word, as its minister.” Bk 4. p131.
He says of the Trinity: “The philosophers have invented besides a third separate being, truly and really distinct from the other two, which they call the third Person, or the Holy Spirit; and thus they have contrived an imaginary Trinity, three beings in one Nature, in reality three beings, three Gods, or one threefold God, are foisted upon us under the pretence and with the names of a unity.” Bk 1. p33.34.
And so it was, that Michael Servetus became a martyr for what he believed, even with the approval of a man like John Calvin, who himself had grave errors in his doctrinal beliefs.
The Reformers all had distinctive doctrines, but it seems that unless they were ‘orthodox’ in their belief of the Trinity, they were heretics.
And so it continues today…..