On This Day In History: Michael Servetus Burned At The Stake ‘Atop A Pyre Of His Own Books’ – On Oct 27, 1553

On October 27, 1553, Michael Servetus (also known as Michel de Villeneuve) was arrested in Geneva and burnt at the stake as a heretic.

On this day, Michael Servetus was murdered for blasphemy and heresy.

This historical incident led to an immediate controversy among reformers whether it is right for a reformation church to execute heretics.

Most said it was not.

Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and Renaissance humanist, versed in many sciences: mathematics, astronomy and meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine and pharmacology, as well as jurisprudence, translation, poetry and the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages.

He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation.

However, his interpretations of the Bible made him problems.

In 1531 Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity, in which he said those who believed in the Trinity were really Tritheists (believers in three gods) or atheists.

He said the gods of the Trinitarians were a 3-headed monster and a deception of the devil.

Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned it.

Condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike, he was arrested in Geneva.

He was denounced as a heretic by Guillaume de Trie, a rich merchant who had taken refuge in Geneva, and who was a good friend of John Calvin, an influential French theologian.

To Calvin, Servetus’ latest book was an attack on his personally held theories regarding Christian belief, theories that he put forth as “established Christian doctrine”. Calvin sent a copy of his own book as his reply.

After Servetus promptly returned it with critical observations. Calvin wrote to him:

“I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.”

On 27 October, Servetus was burnt alive—atop a pyre of his own books—at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva. by order of the city’s Protestant governing council.

Historians record his last words as:

“Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me.”

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