Examining Michael Servetus – Pt1

In attempting to develop a full understanding of Modalistic Theology of the Godhead, I am constantly directed towards Michael Servetus. Unfortunately, I have not yet had to time to devote to him, however, in piecemeal fashion that is common to ‘bi-vocational Theologians’ I am attempted to answer a few of Servetus’ collected thoughts.

Errors of the Trinity –

“Not even a single word is found in the whole Scripture about the Trinity, nor about the persons, nor about the essence, nor about the substance’s unity, nor the nature of the various divine beings.” (32a)

Servetus is correct – no single word about the Trinity can be found in Scripture, however, ‘person’, although it might be argued that hupostasis in Hebrews 1.3 does not carry the same weight as the Nicene person, yet, if we read this verse we find,

ος ων απαυγασμα της δοξης και χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως αυτου φερων τε τα παντα τω ρηματι της δυναμεως αυτου δι εαυτου καθαρισμον ποιησαμενος των αμαρτιων ημων εκαθισεν εν δεξια της μεγαλωσυνης εν υψηλοις

Granted, we find here only the simple thoughts of emanation, person, and substance. Here, though they are united.

“I do not separate Christ from God more than a voice from the speaker or a beam from the sun. Christ is the voice of the speaker. He and the Father are the same thing, as the beam and the light, are the same light. There is therefore a tremendous mystery in the fact that God may be united with man and the man with God. It is a surprising wonder that God has taken for himself the body of Christ in order to make his special dwelling.” (59b)

Servetus speaks too much like the Traditions of the East and the West in their reliance upon ‘mystery’ to explain unexplainable things. I agree with him in that Christ, as the Word of God, is the inseparable emanation of God. Wisdom says,

For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. (Wis 7:26 KJVA)

What does bother me is his last words here, that God took the body of Christ for himself. Although this may be a semantics issue, Theology Proper does well to remain in a language and nuances that is known and recognized by all. It is not an adoption that God made when He took a body, but an incarnation, in that He made Himself a body which was born Christ the Lord and then named Jesus.

“One thousand times the Kingdom of Christ is called eternal, but in the consummation of the times, it will be delivered to God. This does not mean that the glory of Christ will be reduced for that reason as it is its greatest glory to have managed everything until the end and to have submitted everything to the Father as it was his will. He will deliver the Kingdom of God, as the superior general hands in to the emperor the palm of the victory; in the same manner, since all the reason to govern will terminate by that time, powers will be abolished, the authorities and the administration of the Holy Spirit will cease, since we will not need attorneys or mediators, as God will be All-in-All. And then the Trinity of dispensations will be over.” (81b-82a)

I know a Oneness Pentecostal that is a Preterist as well who subscribes to much the same language as Servetus here, that at the consummation of all things, Christ will return fully to the Father, and God will be All-in-All. Of course, for him the destruction of the Temple in 70ad was the consummation of all things.

In the “Christianismi Restitutio”, Servetus wrote:

God confers the being, essence, particularitity to everything what exists, and sustains to all the beings. Nothing can be without Him. God fills everything, even the Hell itself.” (“Christianismi Restitutio”, p. 240).

“Since it contains itself the essences of all the things, he appears in front of us like fire, stone and electricity, a rod, a flower, or any other thing. He does not perturb because a stone is seen in God. Is it a true stone? Clearly yes: God is wood in the wood, stone in the stone, since he has in himself the being of the stone, the form of the stone, the substance of the stone.” (“Christianismi Restitutio”, p. 589)

This seems to relate to pantheism; however, panetheism is Servetus’ system here, which basically states that all is in God (versus God in all). This system of belief seems to go back to Hereclitus and his doctrine of the Logos that so enveloped the early Apologists. The view of Servetus here is humanistic and unbiblical. Although God is ‘bigger than the universe’ the universe is not contained within Him.

“In the Bible there are no mentions to the Trinity, neither hypostases, nor essence, nor persons, which were made up by the Scholastics for the sake of confussion . We know God not through our proud philosophical conceptions, but through Christ who manifest himself in Him, and only through the faith in him can we know God. Christ is a visible being and not a mere hypostasis. God does not take corporal form but in Christ. Our inner man is but Christ itself. This does not mean that we are just like Christ, because nobody is just like another person. But Christ communicates his glory to us: “The glory that you you gave me, I have given it to them, so that I am in them like you are in me” . Christ is called our inner man, because he communicates his spirit to us and renews us every day. The more Christ renews our spirit by the fire of his spirit, the more it penetrates in our body, the more grows in Christ our inner man: while He materializes in us, the outer man declines.

Okay, not much to differ here. I cringe at the ‘our inner man is but Christ itself’. We can interpret this to mean that the indwelling is Christ, and that I can agree with, but if he alludes to the fact that we each are divine in someway, then I see an error.

Our inner man consists of the divine element of Christ, and the human element of our nature, in such a way that we are properly called participants of the divine nature and it is said that our life is hidden in Christ. Oh incomparable glory! will not be in us the Kingdom of God, if Christ who is in Heaven is in us, doing to us what He is? Our inner man is really celestial. He has come from Heaven, from God’s substance, from the the flesh’s will, from God itself. Our inner man is God, as Christ is God.

This must need more investigation. Does Servetus call each of us, our spirit, God, or a part of God. If he does, can we blame the Unitarian Universalists for claiming Servetus as their first martyr? If we rather choose to interpret the ‘inner man’ as the Indwelling, then we understand Servetus to say that the Spirit that indwells is Christ and since Christ is God, the Spirit is then God. (Romans 8.9)

Our inner man is God, as Christ is God and the Holy Spirit is God. As anticipating this truth Salmist said: “I said it, you are Gods”. And as one God makes many gods, therefore only one Christ makes many gods.” (“Christianismi Restitutio”, pp. 557-59).

We can offer no excuse for Servetus here, as we hoped that the ‘inner man’ was the Indwelling Spirit. Servetus plainly declares three – Christ who is God, Holy Spirit who is God – while singling out the ‘inner man’ as a fourth. Does his panetheism confuse him?

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0 Replies to “Examining Michael Servetus – Pt1”

  1. Michael Servetus was mentally able, even shows some brilliance in other areas, i.e. medicine and his description of pulmonary circulation. But as a theologian he quite simply seemed to desire to find a way to develop a nontrinitarian Christology. This seemed to be his reason to challenge Calvin early on. Calvin being one of the then best Protestant and Reformed theologians. But quite simply Servetus failed in this effort. If we look closely it was not just Calvin that rejected his theology, but the whole region in reality. Even the Roman Church. So we must look at the historical record, which was and still is Trinitarian in the majority.

    Now there are several different so-called Churches, and as we can see all of them are nontrinitarian, that are claiming him in some way today. But the worst is the very liberal Unitarians.

    The question to my mind is, can anything that Servetus offers really be of good value theologically? And is not, and has not modalism really missed the mark badly as to the doctrine of God? These are not personal questions, but historical and theological.

    Finally let me end this little piece with a quote from Tertullian:
    “Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.”

    Fr. Robert

    PS Joel, this is mainly for anyone else out there perhaps who might be reading? We both know where “we” are at. But dialogue we are seeking…

  2. Joel,
    Just a personal note here, though we do not agree on the doctrine of the Trinity, as you are Modalist and I Trinitarian. I have learned that your belief that Christ is God in the flesh (incarnation), thus Savior and Lord..and no doubt you believe in the vicarious Atonement. And getting to know your passion and love for truth – the Word of God, and history, I would call you Christian Brother. Though of course we still disagree on this very important matter in the doctrine of God. But, I just want to go on blog record making this statement. Now that does not mean you must with me? That is your own conscience and matter for truth. I just want this out there for blog land!

    Fr. Robert

    PS I will no doubt get flak for this, but salvation is Christ as Lord, God and Savior! I feel the Trinity is centered here too, but it is obviously something that many Christians, even so-called Trinitarians, just give lip service to. At least theologically. Yes indeed salvation is more than just ‘fire insurance’, but love for God In Christ. It demands our discipleship fully!

  3. Indeed we are brothers, Fr. Robert, and I appreciate your matter of record. I believe that we have common ground, Fr. Robert, and it is my hope to build upon it. Yes, we have a distinct difference on the Godhead, but there is not need to stop there and let that be a roadblock. I would have rather have friends that disagree with me, than enemies that agree.

    It is not just Trinitarians that give lip service to God and redemption, but ‘oneness’ believers as well. Far too many people seem to think that the Christian life beings and ends at Redemption. I have not had time to finish Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, but his words are of great wisdom to anyone who calls themself a disciple of Christ.

  4. Joel, some of my worst problems are with those that say, words of agreement, but their actions are far different! Thanks for your brotherhood mate. No roadblocks here! We will always have our convictions, but the “Incarnation” means the whole man. I learned so much from the Jewish people! Yet, they for the most part struggled with reason verses their tradition. Even proper tradition without the presence of the Spirit can be so void! (I speak of Christians here).

    I think after a fresh read about the life of Tertullian, he left the broad Church, for the more spiritual reality of the Montanists. Though he finally felt the need to even press his own way as Church. One can see perhaps how he felt with so many that would say amen to the Word and words, but then lead lives so different. It is much like our own day. But the weakness of the flesh is real, even in the regenerate. Tertullian was much like St. Paul I think, all the way or nothing! And our time with our Postmodernism, is much more like that of both. All Christendom is full of contradictions! The stuff of man never changes.

    I have read Bonhoeffer’s Cost.. simply a disciples book for sure! He put alot of life into his 39 years! I used to be an active member of the Bonhoeffer Society, but sadly many there too, have exchanged the reality for the shell. You should see the German Church now, it is a liberal mess! But that cannot change the truth of both Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s witness, and the reality of Discipleship! Yes indeed wisdom there!


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