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Michael Servetus is one of those hidden figureheads of history who is remembered not for his name, but for the revolutionary deeds that stand in his place. Both a scientist and a freethinking theologian, Servetus is credited with the discovery of pulmonary circulation in the human body as well as the authorship of a polemical masterpiece that cost him his life. The Chrisit Michael Servetus is one of those hidden figureheads of history who is remembered not for his name, but for the revolutionary deeds that stand in his place. Both a scientist and a freethinking theologian, Servetus is credited with the discovery of pulmonary circulation in the human body as well as the authorship of a polemical masterpiece that cost him his life. The Chrisitianismi Restituto, a heretical work of biblical scholarship, written in 1553, aimed to refute the orthodox Christianity that Servetus' old colleague, John Calvin, supported. After the book spread through the ranks of Protestant hierarchy, Servetus was tried and agonizingly burned at the stake, the last known copy of the Restitutio chained to his leg. Servetus's execution is significant because it marked a turning point in the quest for freedom of expression, due largely to the development of the printing press and the proliferation of books in Renaissance Europe. Three copies of the Restitutio managed to survive the burning, despite every effort on the part of his enemies to destroy them. As a result, the book became almost a surrogate for its author, going into hiding and relying on covert distribution until it could be read freely, centuries later. Out of the Flames tracks the history of this special work, examining Servetus's life and times and the politics of the first information during the sixteenth century. Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone follow the clandestine journey of the three copies through the subsequent centuries and explore its author's legacy and influence over the thinkers that shared his spirit and genius, such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, Clarence Dorrow, and William Osler. Out of the Flames is an extraordinary story providing testament to the power of ideas, the enduring legacy of books, and the triumph of individual courage.


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Michael Servetus is one of those hidden figureheads of history who is remembered not for his name, but for the revolutionary deeds that stand in his place. Both a scientist and a freethinking theologian, Servetus is credited with the discovery of pulmonary circulation in the human body as well as the authorship of a polemical masterpiece that cost him his life. The Chrisit Michael Servetus is one of those hidden figureheads of history who is remembered not for his name, but for the revolutionary deeds that stand in his place. Both a scientist and a freethinking theologian, Servetus is credited with the discovery of pulmonary circulation in the human body as well as the authorship of a polemical masterpiece that cost him his life. The Chrisitianismi Restituto, a heretical work of biblical scholarship, written in 1553, aimed to refute the orthodox Christianity that Servetus' old colleague, John Calvin, supported. After the book spread through the ranks of Protestant hierarchy, Servetus was tried and agonizingly burned at the stake, the last known copy of the Restitutio chained to his leg. Servetus's execution is significant because it marked a turning point in the quest for freedom of expression, due largely to the development of the printing press and the proliferation of books in Renaissance Europe. Three copies of the Restitutio managed to survive the burning, despite every effort on the part of his enemies to destroy them. As a result, the book became almost a surrogate for its author, going into hiding and relying on covert distribution until it could be read freely, centuries later. Out of the Flames tracks the history of this special work, examining Servetus's life and times and the politics of the first information during the sixteenth century. Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone follow the clandestine journey of the three copies through the subsequent centuries and explore its author's legacy and influence over the thinkers that shared his spirit and genius, such as Leibniz, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, Clarence Dorrow, and William Osler. Out of the Flames is an extraordinary story providing testament to the power of ideas, the enduring legacy of books, and the triumph of individual courage.

30 review for Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Origins of Brexit Ideas have consequences. Some of these are detrimental to human welfare and should be resisted as a matter of principle. Others are merely conceits which are of no real consequence except for those who hold them. Suffering, even dying for, ideas of human importance might seem extreme but at least has an understandable purpose. Doing so for an abstraction suggests petulance rather than conviction. But human beings can apparently rationalise the most bizarre and self-destructi The Origins of Brexit Ideas have consequences. Some of these are detrimental to human welfare and should be resisted as a matter of principle. Others are merely conceits which are of no real consequence except for those who hold them. Suffering, even dying for, ideas of human importance might seem extreme but at least has an understandable purpose. Doing so for an abstraction suggests petulance rather than conviction. But human beings can apparently rationalise the most bizarre and self-destructive behaviour. The Holy Trinity, the idea that there are three distinct ‘personalities’ in one God, is central to Christianity. It is an idea that has only the vaguest biblical support for such a radical alteration to the Jewish monotheism from which it arises.* It is also a logical contradiction which took several hundred years of theological debate to clarify, only to have it designated a ‘mystery of faith.’ The most interesting thing about the idea of the Holy Trinity, however, is that in itself it is entirely without human consequences. Certainly it is a mark of Christian identity; and its affirmation is a kind of tribal signal exchanged among believers. But it is as abstract as the equations of quantum mechanics and considerably less useful. It has no ethical, organisational, or other practical import. It doesn’t even have any of the emotional significance of, say, the Virgin Birth or the drama of the Resurrection. It is the damp squib of Christian doctrine. It wasn’t even formally commemorated until the establishment of Trinity Sunday in the 14th century, and even then not as a first class liturgical celebration. So the Holy Trinity is among the class of ideas which includes such popular items as Platonic Forms, Cardinal Orders of Infinity, and the Higgs Boson. These are the kinds of things that get side bars in Popular Mechanics not prime time network specials. Except for a rather small number of specialists, the Trinity is either a vaguely poetic representation of an ancient divinity, or it is a term of reproach (as in the holy trinity of wine, women and song). And yet from time to time folk get exercised about it, both pursuing and suffering violence in either defence or attack of the doctrine. Why? I think that although the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is intellectually and morally meaningless, it is the symbolon, that is, the token of Christian faith in its most nakedly nationalistic form. Indeed, it is because it has no discernible content that its affirmation is the perfect test for proving the faith of an individual. A willingness to believe an absurdity for no other reason than it is required for membership in a group, a congregation, a society is a typical price of entry to all civilisations. Roman society insisted upon the divinity of the emperor; Soviet society on the supremacy of the proletariat; American society on equality before the law. It is crucial that this sort of token be not just above empirical verification but above moral debate as well. “We hold these truths to be self-evident... “ puts what follows beyond not just facts and logic but also right and wrong. It is clear that the participants in the 4th century Council of Nicaea had exactly this intention when they formulated the doctrine using language that was not just ambiguous, but that could imply the opposite of what it meant in one language (Greek) when it was translated into another (Latin). The doctrine was from its origin primarily a political not a theological statement, meant to maintain ecclesial, and therefore imperial, unity, that is to say, power. Into this finely crafted and archaic political minefield stumbles the brilliant and brilliantly naive Iberian theologian, Michael Servetus, in the midst of the Protestant Reformation. This is a period when everything about Christian doctrine appears to be up for grabs. So everything is questioned and much of it is rejected, including the legitimacy of papal authority. What Servetus doesn’t comprehend in his youthful enthusiasm, however, is that, without the previous ecclesiastical hierarchy, the only real remnant of Christian Faith is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. So he sets out to show it is wrong - unbiblical, illogical, and used to justify a self-seeking institution. Servetus was, of course, correct. Anyone with a grain of historical understanding knows he is correct. The Nicaean documents are a fudge, a hoax. But in arguing his case as if it were a matter of right and wrong, Servetus was attacking not just an institution but an entire civilisation that had depended upon an obscure political compromise, a treaty really, that he was determined to ‘out.’ He was right and aimed to get everyone else to admit it. This could not be tolerated. The desire to be right often has this effect. So he wrote a book. Not a great book. But a book which questioned the value of the civilisation which was to be reformed. This was intolerable.** Even his most radical fellow-reformers had a visceral reaction to his ‘unitarian’ conclusions and rejected him as... well as what? Nominally as a heretic; but then during the Reformation virtually everyone was a heretic of one sort or another. No, he was rejected as a traitor, a betrayer of what would ultimately be called the ‘European Project,’ or more accurately the continental version of this ideal. So John Calvin had him done in. And they’re still fighting the same battle in the same place, Strasbourg, 400 years later. Nigel Farage, I suspect, escaped by the skin of his teeth. As I said, ideas have consequences... but not necessarily the ones we expect. * The ‘components’ of the Trinity are traceable, at least poetically, to the Hebrew Scriptures. God the Father is recognised by Christians as Yahweh, at least in his more benign moods. There are many prophetic Sons of God scattered around as well, one or more of which might be a messiah, including Jesus (although the claim to divinity is a knockout). The Shekinah or Spirit of God as a manifestation of the divine presence on earth is frequently noted from the time of creation and throughout the history of Israel. The idea of Wisdom as a separate manifestation of God is also floated but Christians have tended to appropriate this as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Islam is theologically constructed with a similar poetic bricolage. **The various Anabaptist sects originating in this period also strayed unwittingly into a political no man’s land when they thought they were discussing theology. They too were relentlessly persecuted not so much for heresy as for rejecting the idea of a Christian civilisation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    1/17/12 - Just realized I forgot to rate this. I love everything I've read by the Goldstones and this is starting out as no exception. They begin with a fascinating account of Gutenberg's invention (his patron Johann Fust attempted to take all the credit for it) of movable type. He did more than just that though, inventing the ink and a new press, as well. I was struck by the fact that he presented some of his first printed books at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1640. I had the good fortune to atten 1/17/12 - Just realized I forgot to rate this. I love everything I've read by the Goldstones and this is starting out as no exception. They begin with a fascinating account of Gutenberg's invention (his patron Johann Fust attempted to take all the credit for it) of movable type. He did more than just that though, inventing the ink and a new press, as well. I was struck by the fact that he presented some of his first printed books at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1640. I had the good fortune to attend this fair several years ago and it's a librarian's wet dream. 9000 publishers (and that year attendance was down because I attended in October of 2001). I had no idea the fair had such an illustrious and long history. Anyway, the 16th century was a battle between Charles V, Francois of France and Henry VIII, and control of ideas was vital. Gutenburg threatened to upset the applecart. But the real enabler was the printer Aldus Manutius who invented the octavo, making books portable, which, in turn spread ideas (coupled with the rise of humanism) around Europe. He worked with Erasmus to produce popular translations of many classic works, another seditious behavior. Michael Servetus, a child prodigy, grew up in northern Spain, surrounded by an unusual heterodoxy, the political battles between France, England and Spain, the mixture of Muslim and Jewish cultures, and religious minorities battling for recognition. He learned Hebrew, a language usually forbidden at the time in order to prevent the Old Testament from being read in the original. (It wasn't until 1531 under Francis I in France that Hebrew was permitted to be taught openly in universities.) For a thousand years, the Catholic Church had prohibited general reading and distribution of the Bible wanting no stray interpretations to be promoted. Finally the Complutensian Polyglot Bible was approved by the Vatican in 1522. It placed the entire Bible side by side in Hebrew, Greek and Latin Vulgate. Unusually, Servetus (he had changed his name from Miguel Serveto partially because of prejudice against the Spanish) could read all of them. Additionally, he could read Arabic and so he read the Koran as well. He was seventeen years old. He decided that only a return to "classic biblical scholarship could save religion." Servetus was so horrified by the pomp and waste of Pope Clement's (he had been captured following the sack of Rome in 1527 when Charles V's troops mutinied and went nuts) coronation of Charles that he left his service and moved to Basel, then a hotbed of the Protestant Reformation under Johannes Oecolampadius (aka Hausschein or Hussgen.) Servetus had come to the conclusion, after reading the original Biblical texts, that Arius had been correct (see When Jesus Became God The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome) and that no intermediary was needed between man and God. By this time, Protestantism, like all revolutionary movements, had become reactionary and was more interested in accommodation with Rome than removing its underpinnings. Realizing he was risking Protestant wrath, Servetus fled to Strasbourg where he found a publisher for De Trinitatis Erroribus (On the Errors of the Trinity.) The book had a major flaw: "Servetus was SO smart that it never seemed to occur to him that his arguments would be more effective if he didn't imply that anyone holding an opposing view was an idiot." Despite this -- or perhaps because of it -- and heretical views being all the rage, the book sold very well but it placed Servetus squarely in the sights of the Inquisition. Servetus, much like Salman Rushdie, had underestimated the zeal of his opponents. It was Calvin who used the Inquisition to bring down Servetus. Furious with the publication of Christianisimi Restitutio and Servetus's intemperate remarks regarding some of Calvin's writings, Calvin brought down his and the Roman Church's wrath upon Michael head, resulting in, well, you'll see. The book itself, hero of the story, contained some extraordinary medical discoveries. It was Servetus who proposed the workings of the circulatory system, oxygenation of the blood, and the different functions of veins and arteries, discoveries credited to researchers much later. The intolerance and fear for ideas not one's own led not long after to the St. Bartholemew's massacre resulting in the slaughter of 3000 Protestants in Paris, a number that proportionally today might be in the tens of thousands. It's a wonder the human race survived the internecine battle between Catholics and Protestants. quote regarding the Thirty Years War which followed: In the Thirty Years' War every hatred, ambition, and fear that had been unleashed by the spread of knowledge erupted in an orgy of sustained horror. Although central Europe, mostly Germany, was the battleground, there was not a country in Europe that did not contribute combatants and victims. From 1618 to 1648, Catholic fought Calvinist, Calvinist fought Lutheran, Hapsburg fought Bourbon, nationalist fought imperialist. The wreckage was unthinkable. Cities were revisited again and again by a succession of marauding armies that killed, burned, raped, stole every bit of food in sight, then ruined the fields so that nothing further could be grown. In the Netherlands they had eaten rats and leather to survive; in Germany they ate each other. No statistic is more chilling than this: there were 21 million people living in Germany in 1618 at the start of the war; by 1648, the war's end, only 13 million were left. The plague was not so efficient.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lexi

    Seriously--I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it is FACINATING and keeps your attention--not boring at ALL (believe me, I know from bording)! This is a well-researched but dramatic and interesting telling of the life and death of Michael Servetus--and the 450 year history of his written works. The authors do an amazing job of putting his story (and his heretical ideas) in the context of religious ideological wars, the scientific and social revolutions in Europe caused by books, and the h Seriously--I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it is FACINATING and keeps your attention--not boring at ALL (believe me, I know from bording)! This is a well-researched but dramatic and interesting telling of the life and death of Michael Servetus--and the 450 year history of his written works. The authors do an amazing job of putting his story (and his heretical ideas) in the context of religious ideological wars, the scientific and social revolutions in Europe caused by books, and the historical backlashes to increasing knowledge. I learned so much about history and am now facinated to learn more, about Calvin, Luther and the other protestant reformers, and about the heretics of that period who were murdered, in vile ways, due to their beliefs. It doesn't hurt that Servetus' biggest heresy was denial of the trinity which eventually founded the Unitarian Church... Facinating read, highly recommended!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I read this for a class, but it's an excellent work of nonfiction. It follows a scholar who was burned at the stake in the 1500s for his heretical writings, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, the start of the Reformation and some of the greatest minds in the last 500 years. I enjoyed the writing so much that I plan to read several more books by this husband-and-wife writing team. "Out of the Flames" is a good companion to William Manchester's "A World Lit Only by Fire," which is also I read this for a class, but it's an excellent work of nonfiction. It follows a scholar who was burned at the stake in the 1500s for his heretical writings, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, the start of the Reformation and some of the greatest minds in the last 500 years. I enjoyed the writing so much that I plan to read several more books by this husband-and-wife writing team. "Out of the Flames" is a good companion to William Manchester's "A World Lit Only by Fire," which is also a five-star history book about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    "History is an Ocean that books help us navigate. It is the permenence of the printed word that has allowed ideas to travel from place to place, from age to age. It is easy to dismiss the sixteenth century as the distant past, but Servetus, Calvin, Luther, Erasmus, Charles, Francis and the rest were dealing with the forces of an emerging technology much as we are today." Out of the Flames is certainly a fascinating tale of one man, Michel Servetus, a Spanish Physician, whose theories about philo "History is an Ocean that books help us navigate. It is the permenence of the printed word that has allowed ideas to travel from place to place, from age to age. It is easy to dismiss the sixteenth century as the distant past, but Servetus, Calvin, Luther, Erasmus, Charles, Francis and the rest were dealing with the forces of an emerging technology much as we are today." Out of the Flames is certainly a fascinating tale of one man, Michel Servetus, a Spanish Physician, whose theories about philosophy, religion, and pulminary circulation, got him burned at the stake by John Calvin, whose book faded in and out of obscurity, only three copies remain- in Vienna, Paris, and Edinburgh, yet still managed to influence some of the greatest minds in Europe and the Americas from the moment of his death to as recently as World War Two. Read this book! If you are not a historian, it will give you a wonderful overview of about 400 years of European history, if you are a historian, it will give more depth to subjects already studied.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Can there be anything more sacrilegious that murder in the name of the Prince of Peace? Torture for the greater glory of the All Loving, All Benevolent father? Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum (“To so many evils has religion persuaded men”) – Lucretius. The sanction for it comes from Saint Augustine, who broadly interpreted Luke 14:23 (“And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled”), as justification for vio Can there be anything more sacrilegious that murder in the name of the Prince of Peace? Torture for the greater glory of the All Loving, All Benevolent father? Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum (“To so many evils has religion persuaded men”) – Lucretius. The sanction for it comes from Saint Augustine, who broadly interpreted Luke 14:23 (“And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled”), as justification for violence and murder against unbelievers and heretics. How very Christian of him. Michael Servetus was one of the most brilliant men of his age, or any age, possessed of a dangerous intelligence that looked into and through nonscriptural dogmas that had accreted to Christianity in its transition from simple faith to One True Faith with all the trappings of worldly power and deadly coercion. Both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism wanted obedience, not the questioning of their fundamental tenets. Servetus rejected the idea of the Trinity as non-biblical, and indeed it did not become part of the established faith for more than 300 years after Christ. He also rejected infant baptism, and firmly believed in free will as opposed to predestination. He began as a brilliant scholar who could have looked forward to a comfortable life as a respected theologian and teacher. He could read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic by the time he was seventeen, and began to believe that the Church could only be saved by a return to its roots and embracing respect and tolerance for others. While formulating these ideas he attended the coronation of Emperor Charles V as the secretary of the emperor’s confessor; he was dismayed by the luxury and wastefulness of Pope Clement and his entourage and soon left his position and severed ties with his old life. He moved to Basel, Switzerland, a Protestant stronghold, and began publishing his ideas. His first book was De Trinitatis Erroribus (On the Errors of the Trinity) in 1531, followed by two similarly incendiary works the following year, which put him squarely in the sights of both the Inquisition and the Protestant authorities. To avoid arrest, torture, and condemnation he changed his name and moved to France, where he worked as an editor preparing works for publication, most famously a sumptuous edition of Ptolomy’s Geography. He went to Paris in 1536, where he studied medicine, and began a rivalry with John Calvin that would last until his death at Calvin’s hands. After leaving Paris he settled in Vienne as the personal physician of the archbishop and quickly became a wealthy and much sought after doctor. Once again had found a career that would have led to a comfortable and respected life, but he could not keep his mind off religion, and in 1553 published Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity), a further attack on the idea of Trinitarianism. Like Giordano Bruno fifty years later, he thought that it was enough to be right, to be able to defend his positions in any debate. Like Bruno he was to find that to established religions orthodoxy was more important than truth, and that the keepers of that orthodoxy were willing to go to any lengths to maintain their hold on power. Servetus sent a copy of the book to Calvin in Geneva, and Calvin was willing to make common cause with his arch-enemy the Catholic church to unmask Servetus as the heretic sought by the Inquisition. Servetus was arrested but managed to escape. Intending to flee to Italy and start life anew once again, he unaccountably stopped in Geneva, where he was recognized and arrested. He spent months in a filthy cell, still believing that because he could defend his positions he would be acquitted. Calvin had other plans and was entirely willing to get blood on his hands. Calvin is a polarizing figure in history, seen by some as a brilliant theologian who codified early Protestant beliefs into a system which would spread across the world and resist the best efforts of the Counter Reformation. He is seen by others as one of history’s most repugnant figures. “Voltaire detested Calvin, perhaps more than he detested any other man in history. To him, Calvin personified all that was evil, corrupt, bullying, brutal, and narrow-minded about those who clawed their way to power in the name of God.” (p .258) Calvin got his way, and ordered all copies of Christianismi Restitutio destroyed. Servetus was burned at the stake, the execution arranged so that it would deliberately prolong his agony. The last known copy of his book was burned along with him. Somehow three copies survived, including Calvin’s own, the one one Servetus had sent him from France. No one knows how the other two survived, but eventually they were recognized by book collectors and spared. Servetus, with his view of a kinder and humbler Christianity than either the Catholics or the Protestants could tolerate, was considered one of the founders of Unitarianism. He was condemned by lesser men, more concerned with maintaining control than with finding truth, and it was an abiding tragedy that he was persecuted, hounded, imprisoned, and ultimately murdered for the crime of disagreeing with orthodoxy. “The Servetus trial stands with other, similar affairs like the Dreyfus case and the Scopes trial as a testament to courage of conscience.” (p. 322) He is mostly forgotten today, but his brilliant, wide ranging intelligence made other men start to question their churches, and ultimately to reject theocratic control over their lives. His lasting legacy is found in everyone who believes they should think for themselves.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    n 2002, I read a review in Salon of "Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World", and I was determined to read it as soon as I could. Well, there are a lot of good books out there, so I didn't get around to picking up a copy until this spring, and I finally read it this summer. It was well worth the wait. "Out of the Flames" is a page-turner that tells the story of Michael Servetus, a 16th-century Spanish physician and t n 2002, I read a review in Salon of "Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World", and I was determined to read it as soon as I could. Well, there are a lot of good books out there, so I didn't get around to picking up a copy until this spring, and I finally read it this summer. It was well worth the wait. "Out of the Flames" is a page-turner that tells the story of Michael Servetus, a 16th-century Spanish physician and theologian whose religious writings would form the foundation of Unitarianism. They would also get him branded a heretic by John Calvin and, in 1553, burned at the stake in Calvin's Geneva. Servetus' great sin was to reject the Holy Trinity--which he regarded as a man-made contrivance, unsupported by Scripture--and to insist that Jesus was not divine by birth but was made divine by the word of God. Even for the fathers of the Reformation, this was a bridge too far, making Servetus an enemy of Protestants and Catholics alike. "Out of the Flames" is divided into three parts, and the first two provide an account of the life of Servetus and his relationship to Calvin who, in his jealousy and resentment, was Salieri to Servetus' Mozart. (Though unlike Salieri, Calvin's place in history has far eclipsed that of his rival.) Authors Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone also provide a concise and compelling history of the Reformation and the origins of the publishing industry, which was crucial in spreading the ideas of religious reform throughout Europe. (for more go to [http://deadtreeblog.blogspot.com/2007...])

  8. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    "In a tragic age, [Michael] Servetus played an unusually tragic part, and the pathos of his fate appeals strongly to us ... he remained faithful unto death to what he believed was The Truth." - William Osler, 1909 Michael Servetus, born Miguel Serveto, was the kind of man -- or better, the kind of human -- that none of us will truly ever be. Most of us will never reach the level of learning or the sheer mastery of scholarship he attained. Most of us, thankfully, will never face the trials he did, "In a tragic age, [Michael] Servetus played an unusually tragic part, and the pathos of his fate appeals strongly to us ... he remained faithful unto death to what he believed was The Truth." - William Osler, 1909 Michael Servetus, born Miguel Serveto, was the kind of man -- or better, the kind of human -- that none of us will truly ever be. Most of us will never reach the level of learning or the sheer mastery of scholarship he attained. Most of us, thankfully, will never face the trials he did, or the death he suffered. Most of us will never have to show our true mettle and defend our principles in circumstances of such profound gravitas. If given the choice of holding to our beliefs in the face of the cruelest of punishments or ostracism, or relenting, most of us would wither and bow and be the Good German at the end of the day and denounce whomever and whatever to save our pathetic little skins. Servetus was a Spaniard who was born and lived in the late Middle Ages in Europe, a time when two cataclysmic events were rocking the foundations of power and social order: the invention and dissemination of the Gutenberg printing press and the books that flowed from it, and the splintering of religion with the spread of the Protestant Reformation. Not only was the corruption of the Popes and the Catholic Church being challenged and exposed, but the very theological precepts that underpinned the Church's power were under attack. Not only were mass printings of books spreading these new, so-called heretical ideas, but the very notion of books themselves presented a threat. Indeed, the Church forbade people from reading the Bible itself, the Holy Book was considered too dangerous for access to anyone but the approved ecclesiastical scholars. As far as the Church was concerned, there was good reason for this: Any scholar with enough skill and wherewithal might venture to learn too much about the origins of church doctrine, and by doing so undermine the Church's hold and authority over the proper interpretation of the word of God. Michael Servetus was the kind of man the Church feared: a man whose mastery of Hebrew, Latin and other languages meant he could compare multiple Biblical texts and other records before and after the time of the Councils of Nicaea, when the Church contrived its notion of the Holy Trinity to solve nagging problems about the nature of God as flesh, and of God and Jesus as separate entities. To justify Jesus in the story of God in a way that did not diminish God or Jesus, the Trinity became the cornerstone of Christianity. The more Servetus looked into the notion of the Trinity and thought about it, the more bullshit he thought it was. To him, the idea was a non sequitur, a contrivance no better than a slight-of-hand card trick. Servetus did not believe that Jesus was not Holy, or that he did not ascend to a unity with God; he simply did not accept the Trinity as any kind of solution. This would seem to make Servetus a vital part of the Reform movement that was challenging the Church, because Servetus, like Luther and Calvin, espoused a more direct view of the scriptures that emphasized a one-on-one relationship to God that cut out the middleman of the Church, and which encouraged reading of the Bible by all. And yet, Servetus found himself between a rock and a hard place. Ironically, the Trinity is the one thing that Protestant Reformers like John Calvin chose to leave alone and treat as sacrosanct. Protestants might have many other problems with the Church, but messing with the Trinity was simply not worth the hassle. Europe, a seething powder keg ready to explode -- a constant perpetual-motion machine of royal and Papal power-plays and marriages of convenience and little wars and purges and shifting and overlapping alliances -- didn't need a war over something so fundamental as the Trinity to upset the fragile balance of things and throw the Continent into an epochal war. But none of that mattered to Servetus. It was an age of new ideas, and he had them, and he wanted them out. In a series of sharp, intemperate, and even boastful works, Servetus showed off his scholarly chops. With each new work, he made new enemies on both sides of the divide. His Trinity attacks put the Spanish Inquisition on his trail and that was serious enough for Servetus to go into hiding. As was to happen often, his books were condemned and burned. Burned so much that almost none of them survived. Almost. Over time, Servetus established a new life and took on a new name, Michael Villeneuve, and studied in Paris, where his ideas again got him again into hot water, and, again he managed to miraculously escape from imprisonment. For years, Servetus as Villeneuve led a relatively quiet and prosperous life as a scholar under the care of clients and benefactors. But then he wrote his magnum opus, Christianismi Restitutio, and it was too much. Again he mocked the notion of the Trinity, and perhaps even more dangerously, attacked the notion of predestination and other concepts devised by the powerful theologian, John Calvin. This put Servetus in a very dangerous place. Calvin had known Servetus when both were students in Paris, and even at that early date their rivalry was under way. Servetus, a seeming genius, must have intimidated the then-ineffectual young Calvin. Fueled by jealousy, a professional rivalry was set in motion that boiled over into epic, scathing correspondences where each tore apart the works of the other. When Calvin received back a copy of one of his own works scrawled with Servetus' taunting arguments and refutations, Calvin said that his book had been "befouled with vomit." On the run again, in 1553, Servetus made a fateful move that puzzles scholars to this day. On the way to a safe haven in Italy, he chose a route that took him into Geneva, the city where Calvin had installed himself as a virtual religious and political dictator. Almost immediately, Servetus was found out, jailed and submitted to a lengthy, tortuous trial that was a mockery of justice. The trial revealed the prisoner's awesome mastery of his subject. Michael Servetus may have been the most learned Biblical scholar in history. No one could beat him in scriptural and theoretical debate. His mastery of languages meant he knew the Bible in all possible forms and translations. His philosophical grounding was peerless. His complete knowledge of medicine as it was then known and practiced, as well as his grasp of many of the other disciplines, meant that none other had the multi-disciplinary chops to contest him in wide-ranging academic debate. Servetus was the true Renaissance Man on the cusp of that oncoming age. But his knowledge and self confidence made him arrogant, and when pitted against a man of equal arrogance who was equally certain of his Biblical interpretive supremacy, the final battle in the arch-rivals' war was on, and the stakes (no pun intended) were deadly. As debators, both men were roughly equal, but Servetus' knowledge of the law was impeccable, and Calvin struggled to find legal ways to best him. Servetus, too, hoped to help himself by exploiting Calvin's main political Achilles' Heel -- his political rivals, the Libertines, who were always seeking ways to depose him. For awhile, it looked liked the Libertines would persist in their defense of Servetus, but they were hamstrung. Helping Servetus was a losing proposition for them; it made it seem they were endorsing a heretic hated by Popes, Kings, the Inquisition, and most of the People. When they expediently backed down, Servetus' fate was assured. Servetus' death is described in the very first pages of this book in wincing detail. How he came to meet this unimaginably excruciating death by slow roasting over slow-burning green wood is the story the rest of this book tells, and well as the rediscovery of that tale after centuries of dormancy. It's a Les Miserable-style tale of epic scope, not only detailing the life of Servetus, but also all of the social, religious, artistic and political currents and players involved before, during and long after the Middle Ages. The book is highly recommendable simply as a pacey, readable history of the late Middle Ages, quite apart from the story of Servetus. The book is also a love letter to books, reading, readers and heroes who -- knowingly or not -- have saved ideas from the fires and the dangers of time. Somehow, only three precious copies of Christianismi Restitutio have managed to survive. In an incredible feat of research, the Goldstones manage to trace the long and improbable journey of these copies through their many owners. As centuries passed, and Servetus' works slowly percolated into the consciousness of the Enlightenment and afterward, prominent artists and scholars, including Voltaire, began to realize Servetus' significance and to write about him. Buried within the Christianismi Restitutio is an improbable and innovative medical finding that Servetus never received credit for, literally for centuries, in which he details the workings and purpose of the circulatory system and the heart and lungs' role in it. It was a discovery officially credited decades later to British physician, William Harvey, via his own independent observation. For most of history, Servetus' contribution to history was mainly seen in the development of the Unitarian Church, which bases its theology in Servetus' views. For literally hundreds of years, Servetus' amazing life, courage and philosophical, theological and scientific studies remained unknown to the world, and -- but for dumb luck and a series of happy accidents -- were by a hairsbreadth almost lost forever. He was, as the Goldstone's point out, one of the great overlooked innovators of human history. He not only challenged the fundamental precepts of a very entrenched and vengeful religious establishment, but tapped into his vast reservoir of multidisciplinary knowledge to ascertain scientific discoveries that were just as controversial, and, of course, as time proved, correct. More than three centuries later, physician and Servetus scholar William Osler astutely observed that Servetus and his story appeals toward our hagiographic bent. There is a tendency to heroicize such men simplistically. But Servetus was a man of flaws, of ego, of unyielding temperament. But it took a long time, a very long time, for history to uncover what his own uncompromising passions nearly helped to bury. The ideas that he espoused, and the enmity he engendered were so incendiary that Michael Servetus as a concept, as a man, and as a creator of ideas -- along with those ideas -- were not merely to be temporarily silenced, but to be incinerated utterly, wiped from all human memory. And, like many such campaigns to destroy perceived enemies and ideas, all traces of Servetus were very nearly obliterated. As the Goldstone's point out, had Servetus lived just a few years earlier, he very likely would have been stamped from history. But there was one thing that made him live on. That thing, of course, was the book -- that truly holiest of things. If there's one qualm I have about the book, it's that it suffers from what a lot of popular histories do these days, and that's it's tendency to take numerous tangents into mini biography each time it introduces a new historical figure. Skimming some of this content to re-engage the main story thread can easily be done though, because the book is so well organized. This is a highly recommendable and fascinating book about the life of a maverick and his unpopular ideas, of a tragic and complex era of human history, of the legacy of that man and the ideas of his age, and of the love of ideas and books, and the strong urge to preserve memories and ideas and to save them from destruction. ([email protected] 2016)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brandee (un)Conventional Bookworms

    So I read another rather interesting book lately...another that I would have never chosen on my own but it was recommended by a co-worker and he hasn't steered me wrong yet. =) It was non-fiction - basically about a book that was almost lost to us forever. But it was about SOOOO much more. It takes place during the reformation and I have to tell you that it's made me want to do so much more reading on this period of time. I mean, I knew about Pope Leo and I knew about the Medici family but I had So I read another rather interesting book lately...another that I would have never chosen on my own but it was recommended by a co-worker and he hasn't steered me wrong yet. =) It was non-fiction - basically about a book that was almost lost to us forever. But it was about SOOOO much more. It takes place during the reformation and I have to tell you that it's made me want to do so much more reading on this period of time. I mean, I knew about Pope Leo and I knew about the Medici family but I had NO idea that Pope Leo was of the Medici family! And I found it so interesting to learn that Martin Luther went to the monastery because he "wasn't the brightest bulb in the box". But I digress... The book is really about two men and a book...Michael Servetus and John Calvin. (yes, that John Calvin) Michael Servetus was a genius and at 13, his father sent him to university at Zaragossa. There Michael came to the attention of Juan de Quintana who latched on to Michael, and made him his personal secretary. When Quintana left Zaragossa for Toulouse, he took Michael with him. This put Michael in a unique position where he mixed with powerful people. While working for Quintana, Michael was able to attend the coronation of Charles V. This made Michael question some of the things his Catholic church was teaching and doing. So he learned Greek and Hebrew so he could read the original bible and see where the Catholic church could make changes and thereby serve the people more correctly. He wrote a book entitled On the Errors of the Trinity, which, of course, since it took issue with a little something the Catholic church called the trinity, the church and the Inquisition felt was heretical. So at 19, Michael Servetus was condemned to death. He ran...to Switzerland and then to France. He changed his name and enjoyed the freedom of humanism which was flourishing at Paris University. He studied and wrote and argued...with among other men, John Calvin. Now John Calvin had his own ideas about religion and wanted to show Michael the errors of his ways. And Michael, naturally, was convinced of his rightness (which, by the way, I was convinced of as well) so he was having none of it. John, seeing the "success" of Michael and his book, thought he'd write his own book and thereby gain the popularity and power that he craved. Calvin's book was NOT a bestseller and Calvin, who was apparently a gigantic narcissist, decided it was Michael's fault in some way and so would spend the rest of his life hunting Michael down in order to have his life and ideas destroyed. At some point, Servetus ended up back at the University of Paris and studied medicine this time. He later goes to Vienne and practices as a country doctor there. He also works on a book, Christianismi Restitutio, and corresponds with John Calvin, both of which would bring about his downfall. In the end, Calvin succeeded in his mission to destroy Servetus. He had Servetus burned at the stake along with all the copies of his book he could find. And he ordered that all Servetus' books be collected and destroyed. However, 3 copies miraculously survived...along with John Calvin's personal copy. As a side story, Michael Servetus, while studying medicine at Paris University, actually discovered how the circulatory system worked...years before Vesalius, who is credited for the discovery. And if this book was never discovered, we'd never have known all the genius of Michael Servetus. There is so much more to this story...the history of how the printing of books affected the reformation. How much of society that was under the control of the church. And how the church used the Inquisition to try to keep people under their rule while they themselves did things in such excess as to actually disgust those faithful who so loved the church and were so disgusted by the abuse they witnessed the church indulge in. Not to mention the history of how medicine was changed with the discovery of how the circulatory system functioned. And also the beginnings of modern medicine here in America. Oh, and also the history of a little branch of the christian church known as the Unitarian Church. I'm just barely scratching the surface in this review. This book was so informative and inflammatory (but in a good way) for me. And it also created more questions for me. Oh, I will have to read more books! So I hope you'll check out this book sometime.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Derelict Buddha

    What is it to think for yourself in the face of violent opposition? Well researched and well written...!!! This delectable and wicked historical narrative places the reader firmly into the late Medieval period and the Reformation, a time when the most subversive thing you could do was to read the Bible and interpret it for yourself, when only the clergy or self-appointed prophets were allowed to do so. What does it mean to think for yourself? Do we have freedom of conscience? In what are our cho What is it to think for yourself in the face of violent opposition? Well researched and well written...!!! This delectable and wicked historical narrative places the reader firmly into the late Medieval period and the Reformation, a time when the most subversive thing you could do was to read the Bible and interpret it for yourself, when only the clergy or self-appointed prophets were allowed to do so. What does it mean to think for yourself? Do we have freedom of conscience? In what are our choices grounded? Do we follow a spiritual path because we are trained and coerced into it, or because we have thought it through, debated its possibilities and because we actively live its precepts? The influential men (and a few women) of this history did not conceive their own thoughts blindly or in a vacuum. They were well-read and well informed individuals whom sought to influence the future through educated discourse... except when their egos were too greatly challenged (at least in Calvin's case). The content of this book is academic, yet written in easily accessible language and with an engrossing yet disturbing narrative. Here we learn of religious and cultural history in 17th century Europe. We learn of Michael Servetus, John Calvin, powerful teachers, enlightened women and the struggle for freedom of belief and conscience. We learn of the power and passion of ideas, particularly those that become transmitted through the written word, as books are on the verge of becoming ubiquitous. We learn that the human ego affects the way religion is taught and followed. We learn that, in retrospect, this was a dynamic age to live and a dangerous time to think for yourself, at least where God was concerned. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand the Medieval period, the Reformation, freedom of conscience and the power of original thought.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Quite the fascinating perspective on life -- and death -- in the time of the early availability of printing, John Calvin, and the Inquisition. On one hand, the author does a superb job painting a picture of the forces at work at the time as well as key individuals and institutions. On the other hand, the story is of suppression of free thought in the most brutal manner possible, which certainly colored my reaction. Nevertheless, a worthwhile book to peruse for anyone interested in the forces tha Quite the fascinating perspective on life -- and death -- in the time of the early availability of printing, John Calvin, and the Inquisition. On one hand, the author does a superb job painting a picture of the forces at work at the time as well as key individuals and institutions. On the other hand, the story is of suppression of free thought in the most brutal manner possible, which certainly colored my reaction. Nevertheless, a worthwhile book to peruse for anyone interested in the forces that can impact intellectual history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    Simply put, Out of the Flames: etc. is the finest book that I have read during my long and bedraggled life. This judgement is particularly unusual considering the fact that I generally avoid non-fiction. In point of fact, I cannot remember the last non-fiction book that I have completed. Out of the Flames examines the impact of the printed word on western civilization, particularly the words written by Michael Servetus (one of several names that he employed). In so doing, the relationship between Simply put, Out of the Flames: etc. is the finest book that I have read during my long and bedraggled life. This judgement is particularly unusual considering the fact that I generally avoid non-fiction. In point of fact, I cannot remember the last non-fiction book that I have completed. Out of the Flames examines the impact of the printed word on western civilization, particularly the words written by Michael Servetus (one of several names that he employed). In so doing, the relationship between Servetus and John Calvin (also one of several names that he employed) was described in great detail. In so doing, the Goldstones weave together biographical threads of many individuals who impacted the various thought streams that took the Christian church, and thus, most of European society into the multitude of directions in which it flowed. I found particularly interesting the portions dealing with Francois I, to some extent because he was a very interesting character but also because I live in Cognac, France, where he was born and have spent time exploring his ancestral home here. His sister, Marguerite of Navarre, was covered to a lesser extent but that was also fascinating since we once considered buying a home that she once occupied. I had, for some time, believed that John Calvin (born as Jean Chauvin) was a truly wretched character for the damage that he brought to people through his religious views and preposterous ego. That opinion was confirmed and extended - he was clearly one of the most evil men in Western history. The Goldstones writing was so conversational in nature that I frequently found myself responding. They wrote with great wit, with exceptional clarity and, most importantly, in a manner that was extremely simple to understand. The various stories in the book were, for the most part, exceptionally interesting, and often quite suspenseful, even though you knew what would ultimately happen. I feel that I gained an insight into the reasons that many Christians are such psychological messes - I know that is a very arrogant thing to say but just look at today's politics which reflect the mess, to a very large degree. I heartily recommend Out of the Flames to those who enjoy challenging themselves and their view of the world, at least the Western part of it and, of course, to anyone who would like a deeper understanding of Western history. The End

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clark Hays

    "History is a sea that books help us navigate” That was a great “sticker” of a line from Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World (I also particularly liked their use of “outmonked”), but after reading the book, I am tempted to add that books are also the rivers from which the sea of history emanates. I say that because so much of this particular story hangs on the way knowledge is disseminated through, and built upon "History is a sea that books help us navigate” That was a great “sticker” of a line from Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World (I also particularly liked their use of “outmonked”), but after reading the book, I am tempted to add that books are also the rivers from which the sea of history emanates. I say that because so much of this particular story hangs on the way knowledge is disseminated through, and built upon, books and how the evolution of printing fundamentally changed everything from religion to politics, from philosophy to science, from art to medicine. It starts with a death, however. Michael Severus, a religious and medical scholar dared question the holy trinity and, for that heresy, was burned at the stake. The rise and fall of Severus covers depressingly familiar territory: the Catholic Church sought to squelch his thinking. Charitably speaking, it was to protect the souls of poor saps stupid enough to fall for his heretical, blasphemous teachings and thus be doomed to hell. A less charitable interpretation involves a corrupt church (the authors gleefully illustrate the greed, sex and hypocrisy of the day) struggling to preserve their ability to accumulate wealth and power as society slowly, steadily marched toward more liberal, progressive ways of thinking. To be fair, however, it was Calvin the Reformer, a man who ostensibly stood against the excesses of Rome, who ultimately doomed Severus to the very forces he professed to abhor. Personal shortcomings and petty jealousy are in no way limited to the Church. If that was extent of the book — an able biography of a notable person forgotten in history, buttressed by speculation around motivations from key players — it would have been worth the time, but the husband and wife writing team untangle several important threads to really make the book stand out: the evolution of religious and philosophic thought, the history of Europe as seen through a who’s who great thinkers, the history of medicine, the (thankfully) obsessive book collectors of years gone by (something, sadly, eBooks will likely kill forever) and, as mentioned, the evolution — the revolution — of printing and publishing. The explosive leap forward created by the disruptive technology of the printing press — even then, neatly constrained by economic forces — I found the most interesting, changing the world as new theories were brought forth and old theories torn down and all because the production of books was no longer limited by laborious, hand copying and the purchase of books no longer only in the domain of the most rich and powerful. It is a tragic story of one man’s death, but a glorious ode to the power of books.

  14. 4 out of 5

    JOSEPH OLIVER

    I found this book particularly interesting. I knew nothing about Servetus before reading it but feel I have had a very good, wide-ranging introduction to the man. The book title may be a little misleading in some respects though because it actually doesn't deal in any great depth with the contents of the book itself. It covers when and why it was written and the circumstances of the time but it barely covers the contents so you would not be any the wiser on Servetus' academic views on the Trinit I found this book particularly interesting. I knew nothing about Servetus before reading it but feel I have had a very good, wide-ranging introduction to the man. The book title may be a little misleading in some respects though because it actually doesn't deal in any great depth with the contents of the book itself. It covers when and why it was written and the circumstances of the time but it barely covers the contents so you would not be any the wiser on Servetus' academic views on the Trinity from reading this. You would need to get another book if your interest were theological. This book is focused on the actual journey the book took - or rather the three original books which survive and that in itself is an interesting story. The book concentrates on the wider platform in which Servetus found himself and there is a host of characters involved in the plot with a lot of short biographies dotted throughout the book - some famous, others less so. Calvin features quite centrally too for obvious reasons and doesn't come out of it too well, but then he did his best to have Servetus executed at all costs in effect quite happy to do the Inquisition's work for them if it would rid him of an enemy. Even if you are not particularly interested in the theological debate the book still makes interesting reading as it avoids alienating readers with obtuse abstract debates. It is written in a lively clear style too. Well worth a read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    This is my favorite kind of book: an easy read, a slice of history, the story of a person I don't know well, and an intriguing search for possibly the rarest book in the world. The story of Servetus is probably one I should know but I didn't. More importantly, I knew bits and pieces of John Calvin's life and many of the other players of this story but this book traces a different side I don't often get to read about. In the end, the tragic tale of Servetus serves as a warning to all who would th This is my favorite kind of book: an easy read, a slice of history, the story of a person I don't know well, and an intriguing search for possibly the rarest book in the world. The story of Servetus is probably one I should know but I didn't. More importantly, I knew bits and pieces of John Calvin's life and many of the other players of this story but this book traces a different side I don't often get to read about. In the end, the tragic tale of Servetus serves as a warning to all who would threaten those who don't think like the majority or who are made uncomfortable by those who challenge deeply held beliefs. At the same time, the story doesn't stop with him. The story goes on to track people associated with his book in various ways, even if they only were interested in the book and never obtained a copy. How they related to the book is sometimes obscure but always fascinating for me. As a result, the book covers nearly 400 years of history but is a really easy read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sam! at the bookstore

    Rating: 5 stars *late review* This was such a fantastic novel! I am a history nerd to the highest degree, and this book was perfect for me. The authors did a great job of combining a) Michael Servetus's personal story with b) the history of the time surrounding Servetus and c) the impact that his work had on the future. Every single fact was accompanied by in-depth explanations and great research. Just thinking about how much work the authors had to do to complete this book blows my mind. The Refo Rating: 5 stars *late review* This was such a fantastic novel! I am a history nerd to the highest degree, and this book was perfect for me. The authors did a great job of combining a) Michael Servetus's personal story with b) the history of the time surrounding Servetus and c) the impact that his work had on the future. Every single fact was accompanied by in-depth explanations and great research. Just thinking about how much work the authors had to do to complete this book blows my mind. The Reformation was such an interesting part of European history, and one that I hadn't learned much about until reading this novel, which made it even more fascinating. The history behind the creation of books and how that impacted the world in such a profound way was especially interesting to me - because I'm both a book nerd and a history nerd. I was engaged in the story the entire time. I would definitely go back and reread this book, and I would also love to read more from Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. I highly recommend this book to history nerds like me!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I really, really, really liked this book. It's about Michael Servetus, the who founded the movement that would become the Unitarians. Basically, he wrote a book, which Calvin found heretical, he was burned for it, his books were burned for it, but Calvin kept his copy, and that is one of the something like four copies that exist today. The book spoke out about the non-biblical origin of the trinity, that it was wrong to baptize babies and other things that didn't jive with the established dogma I really, really, really liked this book. It's about Michael Servetus, the who founded the movement that would become the Unitarians. Basically, he wrote a book, which Calvin found heretical, he was burned for it, his books were burned for it, but Calvin kept his copy, and that is one of the something like four copies that exist today. The book spoke out about the non-biblical origin of the trinity, that it was wrong to baptize babies and other things that didn't jive with the established dogma of the day. He also mapped out how blood circulates. It's been a while since I read it, but I think about it every once in a while.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Denise Louise

    An excellent book about Michael Servetus, who was burned as a heretic, at the hands of John Calvin of all people, and then traces the paths of the last three remaining copies of the book that led to his condemnation. It's really a Who's Who of 400 years of history just before, during and after the Reformation and Enlightenment eras. The influence of Servetus is even traced to the U.S., thru Unitarianism, which is rooted in Servetus' book and promotes radical ideas against the concept of the Trin An excellent book about Michael Servetus, who was burned as a heretic, at the hands of John Calvin of all people, and then traces the paths of the last three remaining copies of the book that led to his condemnation. It's really a Who's Who of 400 years of history just before, during and after the Reformation and Enlightenment eras. The influence of Servetus is even traced to the U.S., thru Unitarianism, which is rooted in Servetus' book and promotes radical ideas against the concept of the Trinity. (It's amazing what small differences of theology could get a person burned at the stake in 1553). A very good book for those interested in history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    This is a fascinating book about an obscure but significant person whose story was snuffed out by the power of censorship. I loved the way the authors researched an extremely rare book and traced the ideas of the author into publication and eventual destruction. I particularly love their description of the new invention of the printed word, and the disruption this invention caused in the society of the time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah Ray

    This is one of those books that make you feel like you are getting the BIG picture. It pulls so many things together: the history of printing and the book,the march of religious orthodoxy and its critics, medicine, geography, wars and rumors of wars throughout the centuries in Europe... I could not put it down. It kept me up way past any reasonable bedtime, and then kept me awake thinking about it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I enjoyed this book so much I'm ready to start reading it again on Monday. It packs a incredible, sweeping history into a single volume, providing an engaging story and a wonderful sense of the personalities involved in almost 500 years of antitrinitarian thought, conversation, debate, and commitment. Inspiring!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This book was fascinating, I had so much fun reading it. I really learned quite a bit, and I appreciate this part of history more now than I ever did. I would love to see the actual manuscript this book was written about, there are only 3 left now. Next goal: find where they are and hope one is in London.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    This book is well written and very readable taking the reader down the less trodden paths of history, namely, the obscurer parts of the reformation, book collecting and a short history of the unitarian movement. Read this if you want something a little different.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lucy McCoskey

    this is the story of Michael Servetus, burned at the stake by John Calvin for heresy as he didn't believe in the Trinity. he believed that Christ was A son of God, not the son of God this is fascinating history, especially for Unitarians, engagingly told

  25. 5 out of 5

    William Blair

    Absolutely wonderful book from the Goldstone husband-and-wife team. Review coming later.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    The story of Michael Servetus really is remarkable and these authors told it very well. I hadn't even known that this man existed, yet his story is absolutely absorbing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    The story of Michael Servetus, the Spanish priest who rejected the idea of a Trinity and perished because of it. Fascinating read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne S

    Fascinating Very well done. I was often citing newly discovered facts to my friends and coworkers. Excellent read for the layman.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter Bradley

    Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/review/R17Y500... Michael Servetus was a 16th century polymath. He was born in Spain in 1511, demonstrated a gift for learning in his childhood, given a first-rate education, and was part of the entourage at Charles V's coronation in 1530. At 20, Servetus went AWOl from the court of Charles V and professed Protestantism. Servetus's Protestantism was a Protestantism with a difference in that he was - or may have - been influenced Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/review/R17Y500... Michael Servetus was a 16th century polymath. He was born in Spain in 1511, demonstrated a gift for learning in his childhood, given a first-rate education, and was part of the entourage at Charles V's coronation in 1530. At 20, Servetus went AWOl from the court of Charles V and professed Protestantism. Servetus's Protestantism was a Protestantism with a difference in that he was - or may have - been influenced by the vestigial Jewish and Muslim influences of his native lands - certainly, he had read both the Old Testament and the Koran in their original languages - which inspired him to advocate an anti-trinitarian theology. He was in short a Unitarian, albeit he was referred to, on occasions, as an "Arian." The authors explain the position expressed by the twenty-year-old Servetus in his first work, The Error of the Trinity, as follows: "About viewing the Holy Spirit as “a separate being,” Servetus wrote that it was “practical tritheism, no better than atheism.” He added that the doctrine of the Trinity itself was “inconceivable, worst of all [it] incurs the ridicule of the Mohammedans and the Jews.” Finally, he observed, “I know not what madness it is in men that does not see that in the Scriptures every sort of unity of God is always referred to as the Father.” We are told by the authors that Servetus could find nothing in the Bible that supported a Trinitarian position, and that Servetus joined a long line of Reformers who pinned the original sin of Christianity on the Council of Nicea. The authors speculate that Servetus forced the hands of the Reformers by making the Trinity a controversy over a doctrine that they might otherwise have abandoned if allowed to develop over time: "In fact, the Trinity had already been causing problems for the reformers, independent of anything Servetus had written. Luther left it out of his catechisms, and others had tried to avoid the subject entirely. Nonetheless, they were hesitant about eliminating the Trinitarian doctrine entirely and casting such an obvious insult at the Catholic Church. Servetus, it has been argued, by the directness of his attack, brought the issue prematurely into the open and forced the reform movement to decide whether it would support the Trinity or not. Without Servetus’s book, the Protestant churches might well have later rejected the Nicene Creed and adopted Servetus’s view of the Trinity as three dispositions of God." Perhaps, although it seems unlikely. With the publication of his book, Servetus wore out his welcome in Basil and left for Paris under the assumed name of Michael Villeneuve. He crossed paths with another headstrong Reformer in Paris, namely, John Calvin. Servetus had a career as an editor, as part of which he edited an new edition of Ptolemy's Geography. Servetus went back to school to study medicine and spent a couple of decades practicing medicine, antagonizing John Calvin, in Geneva, and writing and publishing a new book of Unitarian theology. With the publication of his new book, Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity), the jig was up and the full force of French orthodoxy descended upon Servetus, instigated, according to the authors, by John Calvin, who dreamed of nothing more special than seeing Servetus executed. Calvin got his chance when, for reasons mysterious, Servetus fled his hometown of Lyon for Italy by heading the opposite direction, traveling to Geneva, and popping into the church where Calvin was preaching. Servetus was spotted, identified, arrested, tried, and finally burned at the stake with his book. For the authors, Calvin is the villain of this book. If the reader has any doubt, consider the author's description of Calvin: "He came in, this mere twig of a man, thin, bent over, almost cadaverous, with the long Frankish nose, the wisp of a beard, and the smoldering stare that itself was enough to break most men. He walked slowly to a place at the front of the room, trailed by his ministers." Servetus, of course, is a prince of a man and beloved by all for his warmth, humanity and generosity. With that, I have to say that I am in a quandary about how I should rate this book. It has some virtues and some vices. My biggest problem is the lack of footnotes. There is a bibliography at the end, but there is no way to connect any particular claim with any particular source. This frustrates fact-checking or further research. This flaw is compounded by other problems. One problem is the obvious hagiography and bias of the authors. The authors are telling Servetus' story in the mold of Arthur Dickson White's "Warfare Thesis" with religion being constantly depicted as superstitious and regressive and always aiming at suppressing science lest religion loses its control over the minds of the population. Thus, we get silly statements like: "He even altered the mode of papal dress by wearing long hunting boots, making it a good deal more difficult for the devout to kiss his toe." Seriously? I am dying to see the source of that claim. This one is simply wrong: "Despite the council’s edict, designated as the Nicene Creed, it remained difficult for the Church, even on pain of heresy, to convince the faithful to embrace the new doctrine, which many found incomprehensible." In fact, it was generally the Eastern theologians who went along with Arianism, but it was the laity whose worship presupposed that Jesus was God who refused to accept Arianism and could not comprehend how Arianism. (An excellent source on this is [[ASIN:B003UV8ZZ8 When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome]].) This one misconstrues the sociology of the Middle Ages: "Prohibiting access to the Bible had for more than a thousand years been the primary instrument of Church control. Only a select few were allowed to read the Scriptures and determine their meaning." By "select few," the authors presumably mean "everyone who could read." After all, the church set up schools to teach literacy, only a "select few" could attend, and those "select few" became the clergy. The world before printing and the wealth that we take for granted was not our world. In other words, this book is filled with tendentious misrepresentations, exaggerations and half-truths, which is hardly surprising inasmuch as one of the books identified in the bibliography actually is Andrew Dickson White's tendentious, anti-clerical work, written in 1905, Dickson, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It is really surprising to see that book cited as serious support for a supposed work of scholarship. It is like looking in the footnotes and finding a citation to a Jack Chick tract. On which point, another source for the authors was "De Rosa, Peter, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy (New York, 1988; Crown)." This text is less a work of scholarship than it is a polemical piece written by a putative Catholic who opposes the Church's position on abortion. Certainly, there are more objective and more recent texts than this one, which has a title that speaks to its appeal to a nasty kind of anti-Catholicism. Another strange thing was the age of the sources. There may have been sources more recent than the mid-90s, but I noticed that the only history of the papacy - other than scandal-mongering De Rosa book - was written in the 1950s. So, caveat emptor. There is a lot here to be suspicious of. Another thing that was weird is the way that the authors managed to fit the biography of a theologian into the "War on Science" theme. They do this by noting that in an offhand passage of Christianismi Restitutio, Servetus speculated that blood was exchanged through the ventricles, thereby anticipating William Harvey by 75 years. On this basis, the authors pronounce Servetus as a man of science who would have revolutionized science but for evil religion hunting him down. Of course, religion didn't hunt him down; he went in the direction of religion after tweaking religion's nose for decades. Also, although it is fascinating to see another instance of the strange dynamic of scientific anticipation, whereby discoveries are made independently at almost the same time, we have no basis for knowing how Servetus knew this. Was he prepared to do the hard work of demonstrating his theory, as Harvey did? Was it a lucky guess? What was the context of this observation? We have no idea, as neat and as fascinating as the author's claims are. Moreover, this discovery had absolutely nothing to do with Servetus' fate. So this is a slender reed on which to base a "Warfare on Science" thesis. On the other hand, when the authors moved away from their hobbyhorse of bashing religion tout court, I got the feeling that they were more trustworthy. I liked their description of the dynamics of publishing, the history of Unitarianism, and the career of Erasmus. I particularly liked the last part of the text which involves the incredible story of the survival of the last three copies of the Christianismi Restitutio, including Calvin's copy. So, it is mixed bag. Read it and enjoy it, but don't buy into the slant and spin.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Doris

    Ostensibly the story of Michael Servetus, who denied the Trinity as being non-Scriptural and was burned for heresy as a result, this also covers the early development of the movable type printing press, infighting among Protestants in the early days of the Reformation, a cursory history of medical education, and a history of rare book collecting. I found it fascinating.

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