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§ 146. "The Restitution of Christianity."


During his sojourn at Vienne, Servetus prepared his chief theological work under the title, "The Restitution of Christianity." He must have finished the greater part of it in manuscript as early as 1546, seven years before its publication in print; for in that year, as we have seen, he sent a copy to Calvin, which he tried to get back to make some corrections, but Calvin had sent it to Viret at Lausanne, where it was detained. It was afterwards used at the trial and ordered by the Council of Geneva to be burnt at the stake, together with the printed volume.10861086    He declared at the trial in Geneva, Aug. 17, 1553, that he sent a copy to Calvin about six years before, in order to get his judgment ("il y a environ six ans, pour en avoir son jugement"). Opera, VIII. 734. Calvin informed Farel, Feb. 13, 1646, that Servetus had sent him a large volume of ravings, which must be the Restitutio.
   Baron F. de Schickler, President of the "Société de l’Histoire du Protestantism français," informs me (June 3, 1892) that the library of this society (52 rue des Saint Pères, Paris) possesses a manuscript copy of the Restitutio, which was made with great accuracy, as he thinks, in 1613, from a copy, that existed at that time in the library of Cassel. But it seems that it was transcribed from a printed copy, for on the first page of the MS. is written: Hic liber erat in octavo (ut loquuntur) impressus, et paginas continebat 734 [the number of the printed pages]. Pertinebat ad Mauricii illustratissimi Hessiae principis ac Dom. bibliothecam quae Casellis est, urbe illius reaionis metropoli et principis sede."

The proud title indicates the pretentious and radical character of the book. It was chosen, probably, with reference to Calvin’s, Institution of the Christian Religion." In opposition to the great Reformer he claimed to be a Restorer. The Hebrew motto on the title-page was taken from Dan. 12:1: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince;" the Greek motto from Rev. 12:7: "And there was war in heaven," which is followed by the words, "Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred, and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world."

The identity of the Christian name of the author with the name of the archangel is significant. Servetus fancied that the great battle with Antichrist was near at hand or had already begun, and that he was one of Michael’s warriors, if not Michael himself.10871087    In the first Dialogue on the Trinity between Peter and Michael. Peter says: "En adest, Servetus est, quem ego quaerebam." Restit. p. 199. This is a direct assertion of his authorship which he concealed on the title-page, and only intimated on the last page by the initials "M. S. V."

His "Restitution of Christianity" was a manifesto of war. The woman in the twelfth chapter of Revelation he understood to be the true Church; her child, whom God saves, is the Christian faith; the great red dragon with seven heads and horns is the pope of Rome, the Antichrist predicted by Daniel, Paul, and John. At the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, which divided the one God into three parts, the dragon began to drive the true Church into the wilderness, and retained his power for twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days or years; but now his reign is approaching to a close.

He was fully conscious of a divine mission to overthrow the tyranny of the papal and Protestant Antichrist, and to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. "The task we have undertaken," he says in the preface, "is sublime in majesty, easy in perspicuity, and certain in demonstration; for it is no less than to make God known in his substantial manifestation by the Word and his divine communication by the Spirit, both comprised in Christ alone, through whom alone do we plainly discern how the deity of the Word and the Spirit may be apprehended in man … . We shall now see God, unseen before, with his face revealed, and behold him shining in ourselves, if we open the door and enter in. It is high time to open this door and this way of the light, without which no one can read the sacred Scriptures, or know God, or become a Christian." Then he gives a brief summary of topics, and closes the preface with this prayer:—


"O Christ Jesus, Son of God, who hast been given to us from heaven, who in thyself makest the Deity visibly manifest, open thyself to thy servant that so great a manifestation may be truly understood. Grant unto me now, who entreats thee, thy good Spirit, and the efficacious word; direct my mind and my pen that I may declare the glory of thy divinity and give expression to the true faith concerning thee. The cause is thine, and it is by a certain divine impulse that I am led to treat of thy glory from the Father, and the glory of thy Spirit. I once began to treat of it, and now I am constrained to do so again; for the time is, in truth, completed, as I shall now show to all the pious, from the certainty of the thing itself and from the manifest signs of the times. Thou hast taught us that a lamp must not be hidden. Woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel. It concerns the common cause of all Christians, to which we are all bound."


He forwarded the manuscript to a publisher in Basel, Marrinus, who declined it in a letter, dated April 9, 1552, because it could not be safely published in that city at that time. He then made an arrangement with Balthasar Arnoullet, bookseller and publisher at Vienne, and Guillaume Guéroult, his brother-in-law and manager of his printing establishment, who had run away from Geneva for bad conduct. He assured them that there were no errors in the book, and that, on the contrary, it was directed against the doctrines of Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and other heretics. He agreed to withhold his and their names and the name of the place of publication from the title-page. He assumed the whole of the expense of publication, and paid them in advance the sum of one hundred gold dollars. No one in France knew at that time that his real name was Servetus, and that he was the author of the work, "On the Errors of the Trinity."

The "Restitution" was secretly printed in a small house, away from the known establishment, within three or four months, and finished on the third of January, 1553. He corrected the proofs himself, but there are several typographical errors in it. The whole impression of one thousand copies was made up into bales of one hundred copies each; five bales were sent as white paper to Pierre Martin, type-founder of Lyons, to be forwarded by sea to Genoa and Venice; another lot to Jacob Bestet, bookseller at Chatillon; and a third to Frankfort. Calvin obtained one or more copies, probably from his friend Frellon of Lyons.10881088    These facts came out at the trial of Vienne. On the few remaining copies of the original edition of the Restitutio see above, § 136, p. 682.

The first part of the "Restitution" is a revised and enlarged edition of the seven books "On the Errors of the Trinity." The seven books are condensed into five; and these are followed by two dialogues on the Trinity between Michael and Peter, which take the place of the sixth and seventh books of the older work. The other part of the "Restitution," which covers nearly two-thirds of the volume (pp. 287–734), is new, and embraces three books on Faith and the Righteousness of the Kingdom of Christ (287–354), four books on Regeneration and the Reign of Antichrist (355–576), thirty letters to Calvin (577–664), Sixty Signs of Antichrist (664–670), and the Apology to Melanchthon on the Mystery of the Trinity and on Ancient Discipline (671–734). Calvin and Melanchthon are the two surviving Reformers whom he confronts as the representatives of orthodox Protestantism.10891089    Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Capito, Luther, and Bucer had died (in this order) before 1552.



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