The Reverend Mark DeWolfe Sermon



Yesterday was October 27.  And I want to talk to you about something that happened on October 27 a long time ago.  Back to 1553. I want to tell you about a man, his name was Miguel ? when he was born.  But back in the sixteenth century you didn’t write in your own language if you wanted anybody to read it. Because nobody could read anybody else language. So they all wrote in Latin.  And so he wrote books and he signed it Michael Servetus because that was Latin for Miguel Servet .

Servetus was a bit of a strange man.  He was a lawyer first and then he went and became a doctor and in the mean time he started writing theology. It was very strange sort of thing to do.  He like to do a lot of different things, as you can see.  Well he was trained as a lawyer, you know lawyers are supposed to be very logical. Because he read what he was a learning Latin and Greek, he went back to the text of the Bible, because we didn’t have bibles in English or Spanish back then, only in Latin and Greek. So he went back to the Latin and Greek and he started reading. He discovered that, as near as he could figure out, the bible didn’t say what the church was telling him it had said. So he wrote a book that was called De Trinitatis Erroribus, Libri Septem  which means “On the errors of the trinity”.

Trinity was this idea that the church had that god was at the same time three and one. And now Servetus had a very logical mind and a very mathematical mind. And you can’t have three and one and have them be the same.  Right. This is what Servetus was saying. So, he went back to the bible and tried to describe what he thought the bible really said God wanted. And he published the book.

Well book sold an awful lot of copies.  It was sort of a sixteenth century bestseller, except the people bought it because they were horrified of it. In those days if you had written something that disagreed with the church the odds were very good that you would end up burnt at the stake for being a heretic. A heretic just means someone who chooses to believe something other than what the church was saying you should believe. Or having your own mind about things. They would burn you at the stake because you were in grave error. They thought if people were allowed to believe what they wanted to believe then everybody would lead each other into mistakes. And that this would cause great harm to people. And they thought the church was right.

When Servetus published his book, it was of course promptly denounced all over the place. He was at the time living in Paris teaching at a university there.  Because he was being denounced and he was threatened with being burnt he had to change his name. So, he couldn’t call himself Michael Servetus anymore.  He called himself Miguel de Villanueva or Michael Dianovna??? [5:45-5:50] because he came from a place called Dianova???

At this time he had finished studying medicine and he went to the university of ????? in Italy.  So here he was a Spaniard living under a Latin name in Italy. And he taught medicine university of ????? [6:12].

Now. We’re not the only people who remember Michael Servetus.  Because Michael Severus was the first person to figure out what’s called the pulmonary circulation of the blood. That means that when you breath the blood in your lungs picks up air and carries it to the rest of your body. He was the first person to figure that out back in the 1540’s.

Well he was having to be very quiet and this didn’t sit very well with Servetus.  He liked to talk a lot about what he believed in. He liked to discuss with people what the truth really was, and he thought he was right.  So, he published a second book. And this time he didn’t put his name on it. In fact he didn’t put any name on it, it was just the anonymous book.

Well the people who were the leaders of the church at the time, (there were 2 churches really. One was the Catholic Church and then there was the Protestant church, before the Protestant Church fractured into a lot of other churches). The Catholics found the second book and were so horrified that they burnt Servetus in effigy, which means they made a great big dummy of him.   Like a mannequin in a store or a straw man and burnt the straw man.

Well, things were getting tight for Servetus and he had to escape to Switzerland.  Now the problem for Servetus was the eastern part of Switzerland was where he could hang out and be relatively free from harm.  But the western part of Switzerland was were John Calvin was leading the protestant church and Calvin had denounce Servetus too. (Denounced is when they say bad things about someone). And said that he had to be burnt.

Servetus, for some reason that we can’t really figure out, went a long way. Instead of going across Italy and up into Switzerland, he went to the other so he had to go through Geneva, where Calvin was.  I think the reason he did that was that he was hoping to convince Calvin that he was right.   He wanted to get into a debate with Calvin and discuss it and have the truth laid out for him.  Of course, with his lawyers logic and his doctor smarts he was ????? [8:28].

Well Calvin would have nothing of it.  As soon as Servetus was in the city of Geneva Calvin had him arrested. He was tried the next day and on October 27, 1553 he was burned at the stake. In fact, they burned him in a very painful way. Instead of actually letting his body catch fire, they kept the fire below him so that he roasted alive. Pretty gross, eh?

Well Servetus died all those many years ago, on October 27 1553.  But the important thing was that there was a debate that started because up until then, if you were a heretic and they tried you and burnt you at the stake nobody ever protested before. But this time lots of people protested. Now they didn’t get out marching with signs like we do now for a protest.  But they started writing books and exchanging letters. And a lot of people who are aren’t as famous as Calvin was wrote long letters arguing that just because you burn someone doesn’t mean you ???? [9:43] their ideas. And that killing someone for what they believe doesn’t really save anyone harm at all. That we really should allow people to believe what they want to believe. Because the truth will always win out. And just because you have killed someone, just because you have burned a man, does not mean that you have won the argument. And those were the words of ????? [10:14] who was an early Italian Unitarian leader in the 1560’s. ??????[10:20ish] ideas led to starting Unitarian churches in Transylvania and then in Poland and then in Holland, and then in England and then in North America over 200 years.

This idea that people should be able to believe what they want to believe without being made fun of for it or burnt at the stake, even worse.  Or locked up in prison.  Well it took a long time before these ideas were generally accepted. It took about 250 years before people stopped being in prison for what they believe around religion. To this day people are still prison for what they believe in politics, but we’re working on that one. And so, all those many years ago on Saturday October 27 Michael Servetus was burnt. And we remember his being burnt not because it was a painful way that he died. But because it was there that our Church had its beginnings. And there the idea that people should go out and believe what they want to believe began too.

– -Rev. Mark Mosher DeWolfe

Thank you!

Kathy, Judy, Joan, Bert, Camille, Tisa, Susan, Anthony, Fiona.
Without your help, this work would not have been possible.

Brigitte Twomey