Socinianism

A rationalist movement that grew from the thought of Lelio Sozzini (1525-62) and his nephew Fausto (1539- 1604) which became one of the forerunners of modern Unitarianism.* Lelio, a Sienese lawyer, was led by his attempt to restore primitive Christianity to denounce the “idolatry of Rome.” The opposition this provoked forced him to wander through Switzerland, France, England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Poland. He died at Zurich. Fausto, influenced by Italian humanism and his liberal uncle, also left his native land, settling in Basle. In 1578 he moved to Poland, where he spent the remainder of his life organizing a church of his persuasion. The most important of his writings is De Jesu Christu Servatore (1578).

Socinianism taught: a rationalist interpretation of Scripture with an emphasis on the early part of the OT and the NT; an acceptance of Jesus as the revelation of God but nevertheless solely a man; nonresistance; the separation of church and state; and the doctrine of the death of the soul with the body except for selective resurrection of those who persevered in obeying Jesus' commandments.

Fausto's work in Poland with the Minor (Reformed) Church led him to revise the Catechism of Racov (1574). This document, published in 1605 as the “Racovian Catechism,” became the most famous expression of Socinianism. The Minor Church, centered in a communitarian settlement at Racov, NE of Cracow, propagated its teachings through an academy (at one time having more than 1,000 students enrolled) and a printing operation that published books and pamphlets in many languages. In addition to this center there were about 300 churches in Poland, including among their leadership such men as Andreas Wiszowaty (d.1678), Socino's grandson, and Samuel Przypkowski (d.1670). These churches attracted a number of converts from German Protestantism who moved to Poland.

In 1638, responding to the Counter-Reformation, the parliament of Poland closed the school at Racov and destroyed its buildings. The publishing house was also forced out of business, and churches were suppressed. A number of ministers were banished while others left voluntarily. In 1658, when the parliament passed the death penalty for adherents to the Racovian confession, there was a mass migration of Socinians to Hungary (Transylvania), Germany (Silesia and Prussia), England, and the Netherlands.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Socinian influences in England can be traced in the opinions of Latitudinarianism* and Arians in the Church of England, in the Cambridge Platonists,* in the views of philosophers and scientists such as Isaac Newton* and John Locke,* and in the ideas of early Unitarians such as Stephen Nye-whose History of Unitarianism, Commonly Called Socinianism touched off the Trinitarian controversy in the Church of England in 1687.

E.M. Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and Its Antecedents (1945) and A History of Unitarianism: In Transylvania, England and America (1952); A.J. McLachlan, Socinianism in 17th Century England (1951); G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (1962).