Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm a Servetian

I've always had some envy of Quakers who have a strong sense of who their founder was - George Fox - and all Quakers know that and still talk about Fox. Unitarians have less of a sense of a founder, and this gives us less of a sense of identity.

Recently though I've started to read more about Michael Servetus. And I've started to really warm to the idea that he is our founder, and should be viewed as such. True, he didn't start a community, but then, neither did Jesus. True he wasn't perfect, but then, neither was Jesus.

I've recently gained more insights into Servetus that I didn't appreciate before. He was an ethnic minority as a dark-skinned Spanniad in France. He was a healer as he worked as a doctor. He read the Qur'an, and possibly read Arabic, and had a very positive approach to Jews and Muslims. He suffered a death for what he believed in, much like Jesus and Al Hallaj.

But mostly I love his mysticism, his sense of God within, that I'm beginning to think is the very essence of Unitarianism. This is the great mystical strand of Unitarianism that we've lost too much. It's just as important as the rational side.

I think we're very impoversished when British Unitarians only trace ourselves back to Priestley and Lindsey, and Americans only trace themselves back to Channing. I think we're a global family with many branches that starts with Michael Servetus.

Right now I feel like being Unitarian means following Servetus.


Anonymous Bart said...

Wouldn't you trace it all the way back to King Sigismund since he first codified freedom of religion when Unitarianism was brought before him?

5:53 pm  
Anonymous Tony S said...

would Servetus, Priestley, Channing et al recognise modern Unitarian-Universalism as the faith community they sought to develop?

a typical UU contradiction - rejecting Christ, yet championing Servetus

12:00 pm  
Blogger Jaume said...

Great to know about your interest in Servetus, Stephen. I am also a Servetian Unitarian, and I think that the main elements of historical Unitarianism (not just rejection of the Trinity, also freedom of speech in churches, radical criticism of received dogmas, search for the pure religious experience untainted by human manipulation, that we need to pay attention to the wisdom found in religious traditions other than our own, that we all are sons and daughters of God and God is in everything and in everyone...), everything that is truly Unitarian can be found in seminal form in Servetus's thought.

I recommend that you visit the website of the Michael Servetus Institute (of which I am a member), which preserves his legacy: (click the English version of it)

11:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

did Servetus proclaim himself Hanif?

9:50 pm  
Anonymous Surfing the web as an ex-JW can be fun said...

I'm a former JW who sees good things in Servetus - I definitely share similarish beliefs about the Lord.

but what seems funny is how after tearing up most of their history and identity, your church still claims Servetus as their patron saint. why is this?

7:02 pm  
Blogger Jaume said...

Anonymous, Servetus said that the Muslims, unlike the Trinitarian Christians, had got it right about God and Jesus, and extensively quoted the Qur'an to support that view. See Peter Hughes's article on the issue published last year in the Journal of UU History. That was an extremely odd and dangerous thing to do in 16th-century Europe, and it was one of the strongest arguments that the Geneva officials used against him. If you want to call it hanif...

2:43 pm  
Blogger Stephen said...

Bart: Servetus definitely came before Sigismund, and had an influence on him, I think via Bladratta (spelling?)

Tony S: You make a good point, but personally I'm not rejecting Christ at all.

Jaume: yes to everything you said. Does the Servetus Institute have any plans to translate the major works of Servetus into English (or Spanish, French, Hungarian) in print or online? I'd love to get into his own writings.

4:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So basically what jamue is saying is "SERVETUS AGREES WITH ME". Which is fitting the 'Servetian' label to YOUR belief system and not vice versa. But as tony said most UUs reject Christ which Servetus NEVER did.

8:45 pm  
Blogger Jaume said...

Prince Sigismund was never a theologian, he was a politician (and a rather weak one, BTW). The Unitarian Reformation in Transylvania has its origins in Servetus via Blandrata, who influenced Ferenc (Francis) Dávid, the court's preacher and Calvinist superintendent. Servetus's influence in Dávid's work has been shown by Stanislas Kot, Mihály Balázs, and others.

On books: the complete works of Servetus are being edited these days with funds from the autonomous Government of Aragon, in a bilingual Latin/Spanish edition. You can see the books in the shop of the website I quoted above.

As for English, the first two theological books were translated by E.M. Wilbur in the 30s', and now there is at least one translation in progress of the Restitutio in the USA. It will probably be published in several volumes and not just one, to facilitate the process. I cannot give further details for the moment...

10:09 pm  
Blogger Jaume said...

Did you get the dark-skinned Servetus from "Out of the Flames"? This is not an accurate book. AFAIK there are no reliable pictures or physical descriptions of Servetus. All early pictures were drawn years after his death. Besides, being a Spaniard does not mean that you are dark-skinned. He was born in the northernmost area of Aragon, and his father's family came from a hamlet in the Pyrenees, therefore he must have been rather pale-skinned for Spanish standards.

10:18 pm  
Anonymous tony s said...


Thanks for answering the questions raised.

It really is great to see a Unitarian-Universalist blogger that can address issues directly without having to fall back on the usual monologues about tolerance etc.

Keep up the good work,


11:09 am  

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