"Socinianism," an evangelical rationalist movement, was one of the forerunners of modern Unitarianism. Three phases can be distinguished: (1) the thought of Laelius Socinus (1525–1562) and his nephew Faustus Socinus (1539–1604); (2) the thought and institutions of the Minor (Reformed) Church of Poland, especially as embodied in the Racovian Catechism (1605), which represented a fusion of Faustus's theology with that of the local anti-Trinitarian and partly Anabaptist Minor Church; and (3) the rationalist theology of the Socinianized Minor Church. This last phase was especially important after the Socinianized Minor Church was crushed in Poland in 1658 and the spirit of Socinianism became influential in the Netherlands among the Remonstrants; in the British Isles, in the seventeenth century, among certain Anglican divines and nonconformist intellectuals; and, in the eighteenth century, among the Arminian divines of New England, who were forerunners of the Unitarian congregationalists.
Socinian evangelical rationalism originated from an amalgam of the rationalist humanism of Juan de Valdés, Florentine Platonism, and Paduan Aristotelianism; in Poland it was augmented by certain Calvinist and Anabaptist ingredients. In all three phases Socinianism was characterized by (1) a rationalist interpretation of Scripture (which was nevertheless accepted as true and authoritative), with a predilection for the pre-Mosaic and the New Covenantal parts of the Bible; (2) an acceptance of Jesus as the definitive word or revelation of God but nevertheless solely a man, not divine but chosen by God to rule as king, priest, and prophet over the world and the church; (3) belief in the principle of pacific separation of church and state; (4) acceptance of the doctrine of the death of the soul with the body with, however, selective resurrection and immortality for all those who persevered "through the power of the Spirit" in observing all of Jesus' earthly commandments.
Laelius and Faustus Socinus
Laelius Socinus, born in Siena, was a well-to-do student with a wide and critical interest in theology. He established contact and became friendly with several reformers, notably Philipp Melanchthon, John Calvin, and Johann Bullinger, and also with the Rhaetian heretic Camillo Renato. Himself suspected of heresy, Laelius was obliged to prepare a Confession of Faith (in which, however, he reserved the right to further inquiry), one of the few extant documents from his hand. At his death he left his library, and perhaps some unpublished papers, to his nephew.
Faustus Socinus, born in Siena, was a student of logic and law, a member of the local academy, and an indifferent poet. He first clearly manifested his rejection of traditional Christian doctrines in a letter of 1563, in which he argued against the postulate of natural immortality. In 1570 he wrote his first major work, De Auctoritate Sacrae Scripturae, and in 1578 he issued his basic treatise on Christology and soteriology, De Jesu Christu Servatore. Because of the latter work he was invited to Transylvania to defend the legitimacy of prayer addressed to the ascended Christ against the faction in the Unitarian Reformed Church led by Francis Dávid. On the journey he was persuaded to make Poland his permanent home. There he became a major defender of the Minor Church, although he declined on principle to become a communicant member of it, refusing to submit to believers' baptism by immersion. Socinus was cocommissioned with local pastors to revise the Latin Catechesis (1574) of Racov, the communitarian settlement and spiritual center of the Minor Church, northeast of Kraków. The radical revision was published in Polish in 1605, a year after Socinus's death, as the Racovian Catechism, the first Latin edition of which (1609) was dedicated to James I of England.
The Socinianized Minor Church
The Socinianized Minor Church, centered in Racov, had an academy that at one time attracted a thousand students and a publishing house that turned out tracts and books in a score of languages; it became in fact more a school than a church. Among the faculty of the academy and the pastorate of the synod, which met annually in Racov, the most prominent were Socinus's own grandson, Andreas Wiszowaty (d. 1678), who wrote Religio Rationalis ; Stanislas Lubieniecki (d. 1675), who wrote Historia Reformationis Polonicae ; Samuel Przypkowski (d. 1670), who wrote Vita Fausti Socini ; and quite a few converts from German Protestantism who resettled in Poland and were rebaptized: Christoph Ostorodt (d. 1611); Johann Völkel, who wrote De Vera Religione (1630); Johann Crell (d. 1631), who wrote De Uno Deo Patre and a defense of Socinus against Hugo Grotius, De Satisfactione ; and Christoph Sand (d. 1680), who compiled the Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum.
Spread of Socinianism
Well before the crushing of the Minor Church in 1658, Socinians were established in the Netherlands. At Amsterdam the basic works of the movement, the eight-volume Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, edited by Wiszowaty, were printed in 1688. In England, Socinian rationality, latitudinarianism, Unitarianism, and mortalism (psychopannychism) variously appealed to Arminian prelates, Oxford rationalists (such as William Chillingworth), Cambridge Platonists (such as Benjamin Whichcote), philosophers and scientists (such as Isaac Newton and John Locke), and to the first avowed native Socinians, Paul Best, John Biddle ("the father of English Unitarianism"), and Stephen Nye, whose History of Unitarianism commonly called Socinianism set off the Trinitarian controversy in the Established church in 1687.
Bianchi, Daniela. "Some Sources for a History of English Socinianism: A Bibliography of 17th Century English Socinian Writings." Topoi 4 (1985): 91–120.
Chmaj, Ludwik. Faust Socyn. Warsaw: Ksiazka i Wiedza, 1963.
Edwards, John. Some Thoughts concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism: Socinianism Unmask'd. New York: Garland, 1984.
Kühler, W. J. Socinianisme in Nederland. Leiden, 1912.
McLachlan, H. John. Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England. London: Oxford University Press, 1951.
Wilbur, Earl M. A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and Its Antecedents. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945.
Yolton, John W., ed. Philosophy, Religion and Science in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. New York: University of Rochester Press, 1990.
George Hunston Williams (1967)
Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)
An antitrinitarian movement on the margins of Protestantism. Three phases of thought are distinguished: (1) that of two members of a Sienese family of juris-consults, Laelius and Faustus Socinus (Sozzini); (2) that of the Socinianized Minor (Reformed) Church of Poland from 1579 to 1605; and (3) evangelical rationalism, especially after the suppression of the Minor Church in Poland in 1658.
Socinianism originated in Italy as an amalgam of Valdesian Erasmianism, Florentine Platonism, Paduan Aristotelianism, and Protestant Biblicism. In Poland it was augmented and altered by specifically Calvinist and Anabaptist ingredients. Diffused in Germany, Holland, and Great Britain, it showed affinities with 17th-century philosophy. In all three phases Socinianism was characterized by a rationalistic scriptural literalism (with a predilection for the New Testament) and by an acceptance of Jesus as the definitive revelation of God (interpres divinae voluntatis ), but solely as a man, born of the Virgin, resurrected from the dead, in confirmation of his exemplary obedience, and deputed to rule as King, Priest, and Prophet over the world and the church. Socinianism espoused toleration for all. Mutually disciplined members looked forward, after the death of the soul with the body (mortalist heresy), to the final resurrection of the soul of the righteous only and of their investment with spiritual bodies to enjoy the immortality that was the reward of all who had persevered in observing all of Jesus' commandments "through the power of the Spirit."
Laelius and Faustus Socinus. Laelius Socinus, born in Siena in 1525, was a student and seeker, who established close contacts with P. Melanchthon, J. Calvin, and H. Bullinger, and also with the Rhaetian radical Camillo Renato. Suspected of heresy by Bullinger, Laelius was obliged to prepare an (ambiguous) Confession of Faith, one of the few extant documents from his hand. At death in 1562 in Zurich he left his library and papers to his nephew Faustus.
Faustus Socinus, born in Siena in 1539, became a student of logic and law, and a member of the local academy and of the court in Florence; he first clearly manifested his rejection of Catholicism in a letter of 1563, arguing against the unconditional immortality of the soul. A major work followed on hermeneutics, De auctoritate sacrae scripturae (1570). His treatise on Christology and soteriology, De Jesu Christo servatore (1578), clarified his view that the ascended Christ, though not divine by nature, was divine by office and might therefore be properly addressed in prayer. At this time a faction under Franz dÁvid in the Unitarian Reformed Church in Transylvania had moved to the more extreme position of disallowing such prayer. The more moderate faction under Giorgio blandrata invited Socinius to their side. On his journey thither he was persuaded to make Poland his permanent home.
The Socinianized Minor Church (1579–1658). In this second phase of development, the theology of Faustus was fused with that of the antecedent antitrinitarian and partly anabaptist Minor (Reformed) Church. Raków, the communitarian settlement and spiritual center northeast of Cracow, developed a gymnasium bonarum artium at one time attracting 1,000 students, and a publishing house turning out tracts and books in a score of languages. Faustus defended the Minor Church on the issues of war and political authority, although he declined on principle to become a communicant member because he refused to submit to the practice of believers' baptism (anabaptism) by immersion. Socinus was nevertheless co-commissioned to revise the Catechesis (1574) of Raków, published in Polish as the Racovian Catechism in 1605, a year after Socinus's death in Luclawice (German and Latin editions, 1609). Among the faculty of the academy and the pastorate of the synod that met annually in Raków the most prominent were Faustus's own grandson, Andreas Wiszowaty (d. 1678), Stanislas lubien iecki, who wrote Historia Reformationis Polonicae, and converts from German Protestantism such as Christoph Ostorodt (d. 1611) and Johann Crell (d. 1631). The academy and press at Raków were suppressed in 1638; and in 1658 the Warsaw Sejm threatened Socinians with death if they would not become Catholic within three years.
Evangelical Rationalism. Socinians were established in the Netherlands and Germany well before the extinction of the Minor Church in Poland. Ernst Soner (d.1612) made the University of Altdorf a center of diffusion. At Amsterdam the basic works of the movement were printed in 1688, as the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum in eight volumes. Christoph Sand (d. 1680) compiled the Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum. In England Socinian rationality, latitudinarianism, and mortalism variously appealed to Arminian prelates, to Oxford rationalists, to Cambridge Platonists, to scientist-theologians (such as Isaac Newton), and to the first avowed native Socinians: John biddle ("the father of English Unitarianism") and Stephen Nye, whose History of Unitarianism commonly called Socinianism set off the Trinitarian Controversy in the Established Church of England in 1687.
Bibliography: l. cristiani, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 14.2:2326–34. b. stasiewski, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 9:928–931. e. m. wilbur, A History of Unitarianism 2 v. (Cambridge, MA 1945–52). d. cantimori, Eretici Italiani del '500 (Florence 1939), German Italienische Haeretiker der Spätrenaissance (Basel 1948). l. chmaj, Faust Socyn (Warsaw 1963). s. kot, Socinianism in Poland, tr. e. m. wilbur (Boston 1957). w. j. kÜhler, Socinianisme in Nederland (Leiden 1912). h. j. mclach lan, Socinianism in 17th Century England (New York 1951). j. tedeschi, ed., Italian Reformation Studies (Florence 1965), esp. for genealogy of Sozzini family.
[g. h. williams]