Sozzini, Fausto Pavolo

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SOZZINI, FAUSTO PAVOLO (15391604), was an antitrinitarian theologian, known in Latin as Faustus Socinus. Sozzini was born in Siena on December 5, 1539. When his uncles fell under suspicion of heresy, and the Inquisition threatened the Sozzini family, Sozzini left Italy on April 21, 1561, for Lyons, France. After the death of his uncle Lelio Sozzini on May 14, 1562, Fausto acquired Lelio's manuscripts, which decisively turned his interests from literary studies to religious studies, specifically to doctrinal reform. His Explicatio primae partis primi capitis Ioannis (Explanation of the First Part of the First Chapter of John's Gospel), written in 1562 during his stay in Zurich and Basel, developed more fully Lelio's view of Christ as the person who revealed God's new creation by his teachings and his life.

Sozzini returned to Italy in 1563, where he served at the court of Cosimo I, duke of Florence (later grand duke of Tuscany). In 1574, after Cosimo's death, he returned to Switzerland and spent the following three years in Basel studying scripture and theology. In his greatest work, De Jesu Christo Servatore (On Jesus Christ, the Savior), completed in 1578, he attacked the doctrine that God requires satisfaction for human sins, argued that Christ is savior by his teachings and exemplary life, and emphasized the importance of faith, as trust in God and in Christ, as essential for salvation. In his response to Francesco Pucci (a widely traveled Italian humanist from Florence) in 1578, De statu primi hominis ante lapsum (On the State of the First Man before the Fall), Sozzini argued that humanity is mortal by nature; immortality is a gift of God. He next traveled to Kolozsvár, Transylvania, to attempt to dissuade the Hungarian theologian Dávid Ferenc (Francis Dávid) from his opposition to prayer to Christ (a view known as nonadorantismthat is, a denial that either religious worship or prayers for aid should be addressed to Christ). When Dávid refused to change his stance, Sozzini went on to Cracow, Poland, in 1579.

Although he was not admitted as a full member of the Minor Reformed Church of Poland (the Polish Brethren) because he did not regard adult baptism as essential for church membership, Sozzini became the outstanding theologian of that church, uniting its various groups. He wrote numerous works defending the church against attacks on its antitrinitarian theological views and its pacifist social and political views. In De Sacrae Scripturae auctoritate (On the Authority of Holy Scripture), which was published under a pseudonym in 1580, Sozzini used rational and historical arguments to refute the skeptical views of those who doubted the divine authority of the Bible.

In 1586, Sozzini married Elzbieta Morsztyn, who died within a year. The Inquisition cut off his income from Italy, and university students tried to kill him as a heretic. In 1589 he moved from Cracow to Luclawice. His colloquies with his followers in 1601 and 1602 at Raków presented his mature views. Sozzini died at Luclawice on March 3, 1604.

Sozzini viewed Christ as unique, a man who is divine, not by nature, but by virtue of his office, for God instructed Christ, resurrected him, and gave him all power over the church in heaven and on earth. He opposed the nonadorantism of Dávid and others, insisting on prayer to Christ for guidance and for aid. He regarded scripture as God's revelation and denied that God can be known through a natural theology. He held that humankind is mortal by nature and that only the righteous will be resurrected. At death, sinners suffer eternal extinction.

Sozzini's theological analyses and arguments elicited intense controversies, which resulted in significant changes in the thought of some Protestant theologians, particularly on the doctrine of the atonement. The Polish Brethren modified and continued his biblical, rational theology in their famous Racovian Catechism.


Works by Sozzini

Alodia Kawecka-Gryczowa has provided detailed information on the original publications of Sozzini's works in Ariańskie oficyny wydawnicze Rodeckiego i Sternac-kiego: Dzieje i bibliografia / Les imprimeurs des antitrinitaires polonais Rodecki et Sternacki: Histoire et bibliographie (Cracow, 1974), pp. 177187, 290323. The principal comments on each work are in Polish and in French. Sozzini's works have been collected and reprinted as Socini opera, volumes 1 and 2 of Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant (Amsterdam, 1656). Ludwik Chmaj has added detailed notes to his Polish translation of Sozzini's correspondence, Listy, 2 vols. (Warsaw, 1959). Letters discovered since that date have been published in various scholarly journals.

Works about Sozzini

The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia, 1962), by George H. Williams, gives an authoritative account of the historical contexts and main themes of Sozzini's work. The most complete study available, Ludwik Chmaj's Faust Socyn, 15391604 (Warsaw, 1963), is in Polish with one-page summaries in Russian and English. George H. Williams has illuminated many issues in Sozzini's theology in "The Christological Issues between Francis Dávid and Faustus Socinus during the Disputation on the Invocation of Christ, 15781579," in Antitrinitarianism in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century, edited by Róbert Dán and Antal Pirnát (Leiden, 1982), pp. 287321.

John C. Godbey (1987)