Before leaving the convent, or the convent school, where he doubtless remained for several years, Servetus must have been not only a tolerable Latin scholar, but, it may have been, also grounded in Greek and the rudiments of Hebrew. At what age Servetus left his convent teachers we are not informed; some time however, we should imagine, before definitive vows are required of the youthful aspirant to the holy office, when aptitude for the prospective vocation is made subject of particular inquiry.
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Now it may have been that he was discovered to be indifferently qualified by mental constitution to follow further the line of life intended for him—a conclusion to which we are led from all we know of the man in his works. He was pious enough and credulous enough through life; but his religion must be of the kind he thought out for himself, and his beliefs of his own fashioning, not such as could be presented to him ready shaped for acceptance. Be this as it may, when twelve or fourteen years of age, Servetus appears to have entered as a student at the University of Saragossa, then the most celebrated 8 in Spain; and if he had Peter Martyr de Angleria among the number of his teachers, as we are assured he had, 2 he was in the hands of one of the most accomplished as well as liberal-minded men of his age.
Angleria was in fact still more distinguished as a scholar, diplomatist, teacher and writer, than as a soldier. Having come to Spain in the suite of one of the Italian embassies to Ferdinand and Isabella, he joined the army of the Catholic king and queen as a volunteer, and having distinguished himself on more than one occasion in the field, he was presented to the sovereigns on the conclusion of hostilities, entered the service of Isabella, in especial, and having taken orders—an indispensable condition to acknowledgment as a teacher—he was engaged by the queen as tutor and general supervisor of the education of the host of young noblemen and gentlemen who thronged the Court.
The influence exerted by such a man in such a situation cannot be doubted; and it has been surmised that more than one of the distinguished personages who appeared in Spain, in the early part of the sixteenth century, owed not a little of all that made them notable in after life to their teacher. Angleria was in fact a 9 man in advance of his age, morally, and, we must believe, religiously also—although Spain was not always the devoted slave of Rome we have been accustomed to think her in these our days.
He had seen enough in his campaigning and its consequences to disgust him with conversions to Christianity at the point of the sword, and the wholesale deportation from their native country of a great civilised community because of their adhesion to the religion of their fathers. Having broken definitively with the idea of the Church as a calling, Servetus must now have made up his mind to follow what might fairly be spoken of as 10 the hereditary vocation of his family—Law; and the School of Toulouse being at this time the most celebrated in Europe, to Toulouse he was sent as a student of Law by his father.
Here he seems to have remained for two or three years—short while enough in which to fathom the intricacies of civil and canon law, to say nothing of other studies that must have continued to engage some share of his attention; but that the time given to the study of Law at Toulouse was not misspent, is proclaimed by the occasional scraps of legal lore we notice interspersed in his writings.
In the covenant between God and Abraham, to cite one among many instances, he observes that we have the first case on record of one of the four forms of unindentured contract, still spoken of as the form Facio ut facias. Elsewhere also, and at other times, on his trial at Geneva in particular, he is credited by his prosecutor with an adequate knowledge of the Pandects, although he says himself that he had never done more than read Justinian in the perfunctory manner usual with young men at college.
On the occasion referred to, nevertheless, we find him quoting the decisions of jurisconsults in support of his conclusions. But Law, we believe, was never the subject that engrossed the thoughts of Servetus. The natural bent of his mind, and the teaching he had received during his earlier years, led him to Theology; and it was at Toulouse, as he tells us himself, that he first made acquaintance with the Scriptures of the Old and New 11 Testaments. It is not difficult to imagine the effect which the perusal of these writings must have produced on the ardent religious temperament of Servetus.
In his earliest work he speaks of the Bible as a book come down from heaven, the source of all his philosophy and of all his science—language, however, that is to be seen as hyperbole to a great extent; for he was already imbued with scholastic philosophy, and, we must presume, with patristic theology also, before he had read a word of the Bible; and in his published works we find him at various times subordinating the teaching of the Scriptures to the conclusions of his reason. Toulouse, indeed, in the early part of the sixteenth century, was an unlikely school for religious study in any but the most rigidly orthodox fashion; and how far Michael Servetus swerved from this—to his sorrow—need not now be more particularly noticed.
It was even the boast of the Toulousans for long, that their city had not been infected with what was spoken of as the poison of Lutheranism. So strict a watch had been kept over them by their shepherds, the priests, that, whilst in neighbouring and other more distant cities of France the Reformation had many adherents, it had none—openly, at all events—in Toulouse.
It were needless to insist that training of a special kind, in addition to originality and independence of mind, was required to lead to views and conclusions such as those attained to by Servetus. He had read the Bible, however, at Toulouse; and there, too, if it were not at an earlier period, he must have met with some of the writings of Luther, of which several had been translated into Spanish soon after their publication. Neither is authority paraded, as it would have been had the book been written by a professed 13 theologian, instead of a pious naturalist; for Sabunde was a physician, one of the guild whose destiny it is to lead the van of progress.
We cannot believe that the work, though often reprinted, was ever heartily approved by the heads of the Church of Rome. Its title went far to condemn it. The Prologue of Sabunde is in truth a very remarkable piece of writing, the age considered in which it flowed from the pen.
The first was given to man from the beginning, when the world was made; the second is to supplement and solve the difficulties met with in the first. The book of the Creatures lies open to all; but the book of the Scriptures can only be read aright by the clergy. The book of Nature cannot be falsified, neither can it be readily interpreted amiss, even by heretics; but the book of the Scriptures they can misconstrue and falsify at their pleasure.
Shall we wonder, therefore, that this notable prologue was looked on at an early date as highly objectionable, and is not to be found in any of the later editions of the book? His father thought so highly of it that he set his son, the immortal Essayist, to translate it into French: a task which it were needless to say he performed in a very admirable manner, though the sire did not live to see the work in type and in the hands of the public he was anxious to reach through its means.
But there is another writer whose influence on his age and the progress of free thought it is impossible to estimate too highly, and from whose teaching Servetus on his death-walk owned that he had had something. This is Erasmus.
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What Servetus had he does not say. Whatever it may have been, it was unaccompanied by the caution and cold discretion that distinguished the great scholar of Rotterdam. In the Scholia which Erasmus added to his Greek New Testament, however, we fancy we see heralds of the far bolder and more original exegetical annotations with which Servetus, under his assumed name of Villanovanus, accompanied his reprint of the Pagnini Bible, which we shall have to speak of by and by.
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It was only in the early part of the sixteenth century that the Hebrew Bible and Greek Testament began to be appealed to by the 17 learned, and made the subject of critical study in a way never thought of before. Long limited to the letter, the study was widened in its scope by Servetus, and, embracing general history, made to include a new and highly important element in its bearing on the Religious Idea. If Servetus of himself arrived at the interpretation he gives of the Psalms and Prophetical writings of Israel, he must indeed have been possessed of no ordinary share of natural sagacity informed by study, and of moral courage in addition; for it runs counter to all that had been assumed from the date of the New Testament writings almost to the present day.
The free use he makes of his historical reading in its application to David, Cyrus, and Hezekiah, may have been that which led some of his biographers to imagine that he was of Jewish descent, and to say that he had visited Africa, and had had Mahomedan as well as Jewish teachers, from whom he imbibed his notions, hostile to the common orthodox interpretation of the Prophets, and the conception of a Triune God. It is therefore of moment with us to seize and follow up every incident in his life that induced or strengthened the bent of his mind towards theological speculation; and the event which now befel, we must presume, had no slight influence in this direction.
School and college days come naturally to an end, or are cut short by one intervening incident or another; and the studies of Michael Servetus at Toulouse were interrupted by an invitation to enter his service from brother Juan Quintana, a Franciscan friar, confessor to the Emperor Charles V. In what capacity Servetus joined Quintana we are not informed; but if father confessors ever engaged private secretaries, we can hardly doubt that it must have been in the intimate relationship suggested, for which the accomplishments of the younger man so obviously qualified him.
The invitation from Quintana is interesting on many accounts, and was certainly an important element in the mental development of Servetus. Though he may have quitted Spain hurriedly, perhaps secretly—in fear of the Inquisition, as said—he could have left nothing but a good name for conduct and accomplishment behind 20 him, otherwise he would never have been recommended as a fit and proper person to act as secretary to the confessor of the great Emperor. Not forgotten by his old masters of Saragossa, the clever student was thought of by them when Quintana made known his want of a secretary, and must have been recommended to him as in every way qualified to fill a situation of the kind.
Michael Servetus, as we apprehend him, was one of those sensitive natures which, like the stainless plate of the photographer, retains at once and reflects every object presented to it; his service with Quintana, consequently, was one of the incidents that influenced the whole of his after life. Up to the time of his engagement with the confessor he had been but one among hundreds of other students, known to his teachers as a young man of superior abilities, it may be, but not an object of more particular attention to any one of them.
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In the intimate relationship implied between the elderly principal and the youthful underling matters were entirely changed; and recent inquiries 7 lead to the conclusion that the hood of the barefooted friar Juan Quintana covered the head of a man of superior powers, cherishing larger, more liberal and more tolerant views than were current in his age, more especially among the class to which he belonged. Quintana appears to have attracted the notice of 21 the Emperor so far back as the date of the Diet of Worms, during the sittings of which he had distinguished himself as a preacher and become generally known as a theologian and man of learning.
He had at the same time, however, and in like measure, fallen out of favour with his party, opposed at every point to the reform movement, in consequence of the moderation of his views. Matters at Worms had gone in no wise to the satisfaction of the Emperor, owing in no inconsiderable degree, as he must have believed, to the intolerance and mismanagement of his clerical advisers.
To give the approaching Diet of Augsburg, of which Charles was thinking far more seriously than of the pageant of Bologna when he made Quintana his confessor, a chance of proving the bond of union he desired between the two great religious parties which now divided his empire, he saw that he must rid himself of the narrow-minded and utterly irreconcilable Dominican Loaysa, whom he had had at Worms as his spiritual director.
From Loaysa he knew he had no prospect of receiving those counsels of concession and compromise which, as a politician, he saw were indispensable and to which he was himself at the moment by no means disinclined. He must have another confessor of more liberal views, not utterly opposed to the reformation of the Church in all its aspects and to the whole body of the Reformers with whom, as heretics, it was condescension on the part of a Roman Catholic dignitary to communicate, and contamination, if it were not sin, to 22 sympathise.
The old director had therefore to be got rid of, for a time at least; but he must suffer no slight, be subjected to no show of mistrust, to no seeming loss of confidence; he must not even be superseded in his office, but only removed to a distance and so made innocuous. Charles therefore discovered that a representative, who must be presumed to be familiar with the most secret aspirations of his soul, would be required at Rome as the medium of communication between himself and his holiness the Pope, in connection with the important business in prospect at Augsburg.
Loaysa, accordingly—greatly to his disgust beyond question—was dispatched with all the honours to Rome, whilst Juan Quintana, summoned from the quiet of the cloister to the bustle of the Court, found himself unexpectedly with a royal and imperial penitent at his ear in the confessional, and an upper seat in the council chamber pending the discussion of affairs of state. Attached forthwith to the service of the confessor and in the suite of the Emperor, not the least observant among all who accompanied him of the pomp and pageantry displayed at the 23 coronation at Bologna, the open-eyed secretary was witness of much besides that sank into his mind, gave matter for future thought, and found free but needlessly offensive expression in his writings.
So great an event as the coronation of the Emperor was too favourable an occasion to be neglected for a stroke of business by the financiers of the Romish Church: indulgences were in the market in plenty, and at prices to suit all purchasers, immunity from the pains of purgatory being to be obtained for terms in the ratio of the money paid. How shall we imagine that so glaring an abuse could fail to touch Servetus, in the state of mind to which he must already have attained, in the same way as the proceedings of Tetzel and his coadjutors touched the common sense and conscience of Luther?
When we think of the times in which Servetus lived, his early education and subsequent surroundings, the violent hatred he seems already to have conceived against the Papacy is not a little extraordinary. We might be tempted to conclude that the free thought of Europe, of which the Reformation was the outcome and expression, had found even a more genial soil in the mind of this Spanish youth than in that of Luther himself, or any of his accredited followers.
They went little way in freeing the religion of Jesus of Nazareth from the accretions which metaphysical subtlety, superstition, and ignorance of the laws of nature and the principles of things had gathered around it in the course of ages. Their business, as they apprehended it, was to reform the Church rather than the religion of which it was presumed to be the exponent; the task that Servetus set himself in the end was to reform religion, with little thought of a Church in any 25 sense in which an institution of the kind was conceived in his day, whether by Papist or Protestant.
God in his goodness give us all to understand our errors and incline us to put them away. It would be easy enough, indeed, to judge dispassionately of everything, were we but suffered without molestation by the Churches freely to speak our minds; the older exponents of doctrine, in obedience to the recommendation of St.
Paul, giving place to younger men, and these in their turn making way for teachers of the day who had aught to impart that had been revealed to them. But our doctors now contend for nothing but power. The Lord confound all tyrants of the Church! The business of the coronation at Bologna concluded, the Emperor betook himself to Germany in view of the great Diet of Augsburg, formally inaugurated in the summer of , accompanied of course by his confessor, as the confessor was attended by his youthful secretary. And here it must have been that Servetus saw and may perchance have spoken with Melanchthon and others of the leading Reformers, among the number of whom, however, the greatest of them all did not appear.
The brave man would himself have faced the peril, but his princely protectors positively forbade the exposure. Luther was 27 therefore permitted by his friends to approach the scene of action on this occasion no nearer than Coburg. Neither at Augsburg any more than at Worms did matters proceed so entirely to the satisfaction of the Emperor as he wished, and may have anticipated. The Protestant princes, with little cohesion among themselves, showed, nevertheless, that severally they were more resolute than ever in their requirements touching religion, less obsequious too to the advances of their suzerain than he found agreeable.
They felt themselves in fact, and in so far, masters of the situation, and had mostly quitted Augsburg before the sittings of the Diet came to a close, content to leave Melanchthon and his colleagues to give final shape to the business for which the Diet had been mainly convoked, and in the great Religious Charter of the Age —the Confession of Augsburg—to establish Protestantism as an integral and recognised element, not only in the religious, but in the political system of Europe.
During his attendance on his chief at Augsburg, Servetus, though he saw and may have spoken with more than one of the distinguished Reformers, could have been an object of particular attention to none of them: his youth and subordinate position precluded the possibility of this. That he may have been disappointed at not seeing the original of the great movement which had brought together the august assembly he looked on around him, we may well believe, but we 28 find no evidence in contemporary documents that would lead us to think he had ever come into contact with Luther, as has been said.
It is greatly to be regretted that we have nothing from Servetus on the other impressions he received, during the term of his service with Quintana, beside those connected with the pomp and power of the Papacy. We do not even know precisely how long he continued with the confessor of the Emperor, nor where, nor at what moment he left him.