Socinus, Faustus (Fausto Sozzini)

Socinus, Faustus (Fausto Sozzini), the real founder of the Socinian sect, was the nephew of Laelius Socinus (q.v.), and was related, through his mother, with the famous race of the Piccolomini. He was born in Sienna, Italy, Dec. 5, 1539, and was orphaned at a tender age. His early training was neglected, and his education irremediably defective. Theological questions engaged his mind while he was yet employed in the study of jurisprudence on which he had entered, and his conclusions were largely determined by the anti-Roman training he received, his uncle Laelius acting as his principal instructor. In 1562 the papers of Laelius, then recently deceased, came into the possession of Faustus, and their study confirmed the opinions held by him, so that they became convictions. He was wont to declare that, aside from the Bible, his only instructor had been his uncle Laelius.

I. Life and Labors. — The literary life of Socinus began in 1562 with the publication of a work entitled Explicatio Primoe Partis Primi Capitis Evang. Joannis — in effect a declaration of antitrinitarian principles; but twelve years of courtier life in Florence interrupted his activity in this direction. A single minor work, De S. Script. Autoritate, belongs to this period. He subsequently devoted four years (1574 to 1578) to the perfecting of his system and the propagating of his views, his residence being at Basle; and at this time he wrote two of his most important works, the De Jesu Christo Servatore and the De Statu Primi Hominis ante Lapsum. From Basle he went to Transylvania, and thence, in 1579, to avoid the plague, to Poland, where he spent the remainder of his life.

Socinus now undertook the work of unifying and organizing the scattered Unitarian elements which existed, especially among the upper classes of Polish society; but his success was not at first encouraging. Anabaptist views prevailed to a degree which prevented his own admission into the Unitarian society at Cracow during four years, because he declined rebaptism as a needless ceremony. He came, however, to be in time regarded as the recognized and principal champion of the sect. His discussions and writings secured to it prominence and reputation, and gradually produced a measure of agreement in the views of its adherents. In 1603 the Synod of Rakov, or Racovia, settled the specially controverted question of rebaptism by approving the teachings of Socinus.

But few events belong to Socinus's private life which claim notice in this place. He left Cracow in 1583 to avoid persecution by the king, Stephen Bathori, and settled in the adjoining village of Pawlikowice, where he married a lady of noble rank, the daughter of Christoph Morsztyn. At the same time he became impoverished through the loss of his Italian properties. He soon returned to Cracow. In 1588 he secured the favor of the Lithuanian Unitarians, whose synod he visited at Brzesc. The other features of his history are simply illustrative of the bigotry of his age. He was exposed to frequent persecution, now at the hands of a military mob (1594), then through the fanaticism of the students of Cracow, who were incited to their action by Romish priests (1598). They dragged him from a sick bed to the streets, beat him, sacked his house, and burned his books and writings. To avoid his foes he again left Cracow, and lived in a neighboring village, Luclawice, until he died March 3, 1604. His works were collected and published in the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, vol. 1 and 2. They also bear the title Fausti Sinensis Opera Omnia in Duos Tomos Distincta. They include expositions of Scripture; polemics against Romanists, Protestants, and Unitarians; and dogmatical writings. The more important are the Proelectiones Theologicoe and the Christianoe Religionis Brevissima Institutio per Interrog. et Respons., etc., to which may be added a Fragmentum Catechismi Prioris F. L. S. qui periit in Cracoviensi Rerum ejus Direptione.

Immediately after Socinus's death the Racovian Catechism, which had been prepared by him, but which was completed by Schmalz, Moskorzowski, and Volkel, was published in the Polish language (1605). A German edition appeared in 1608, and one in Latin, with notes and additions, in 1609. Oeder brought out a new edition in 1739, which was based on that of 1609, and which affords a good compendium of Socinian theology. It is accompanied with a refutation by the editor.

II. Followers. — Numerous congregations of Unitarians, whose members were chiefly of noble rank, had been formed in Poland by the time Socinus died, that at Rakov being the largest. They supported many schools, to which the most capable teachers were appointed, and in which the most prominent theologians delivered occasional lectures. A press connected with the establishment at Rakov promoted the dissemination of the principal writings of Socinian authors. A general synod, which met annually at Rakov, and subordinate particular synods, furnished an effective organization which contributed greatly to the progress of the Socinian cause. But the most influential factor at work in securing this result is to be found in the large number of distinguished pastors, theologians, and scholars which the community produced. The names of Valentin Schmalz, Jerome Moscorovius (Moskorzowski), Johann Crell (q.v.), and others, are recognized as those of men who in their time exercised a most powerful influence over the history of the Polish Church and State. The progress of Socinianism was, however, stopped, and its very existence assailed, by the Romish reaction under Sigismund II of Poland and his son, Vladislav IV. An insult offered to the crucifix by some pupils of the Rakov school furnished the occasion for a complaint of sacrilege, which involved the whole community of Unitarians. In violation of law, and in disregard of the facts of the case, they were condemned. The school at Racovia was destroyed, the church transferred from the possession of its Arian owners, and the clergy and teachers declared infamous and outlawed. Other schools and churches were afterwards involved in similar ruin. The decisive blows of Jesuitism against the Unitarian sect were not inflicted; however, until after the accession of John Casimir — a Jesuit and cardinal — in 1648. The Cossack wars which raged in Southern Poland ruined many congregations; and when the Swedes invaded the country, many Socinians, as well as others, joined their party. This was made the occasion for treating them as traitors to the country. The Diet of Warsaw in 1658 decreed their banishment, to take effect within three years, and this term was afterwards shortened to two years. The protests of Socinian delegates, and likewise those of Electoral Brandenburg and Sweden, were disregarded, and the edict was rigorously executed.

In Germany, Socinianism had established itself in the University of Altorf through the influence of Prof. Ernst Soner (died 1612); but when its existence was discovered the authorities of Nuremberg effected its overthrow. Polish exiles settled in Silesia, and held synods in 1661 and 1663; but their efforts to gain proselytes led to unfavorable action on the part of the State, and to their eventual removal in 1666. Certain departments of Brandenburg contained numerous Socinian congregations and communities during the last decades of the 16th century. Everywhere, however, they were merely tolerated. Often they were persecuted. The repeated efforts to extirpate them were so far successful that in 1838 only two Socinians were found in Prussia, both of them old men.

In the Netherlands, antitrinitarianism was at first connected with the Anabaptist movement. An Antitrinitarian, Herman van Vleckwyck, was burned at the stake at Bruges in 1569. Amsterdam and Leyden each contained a band of Socinians at the close of the 16th century, whose expulsion was attempted by the States-General, though not with entire success. The sect continued to grow, even in the face of the active efforts of the orthodox synods to bring about its extirpation. The influx of Polish coreligionists, who were banished from their native country, greatly strengthened its numbers. Constant repression of its worship and interference with its tenets eventually produced the intended effect, however; the Socinian party gradually melted away, and its members were absorbed by the Remonstrants, the more liberal Anabaptists, and the Collegiants.

Antitrinitarian ideas found reception in England as early as the reign of Henry VIII, and furnished numerous martyrs. So late as the time of James I three Antitrinitarians were burned at the stake. The Polish Socinians forwarded a copy of their Catechism to the latter monarch, which was not favorably received, but proved the first of an uninterrupted series of Socinian writings which circulated from that time. John Biddle (q.v.) became the prominent advocate of a modified Socinianism, and the rise of deism secured to it a widespread existence, even though it was excluded from the Acts of Toleration, and was under the ban of stringent laws; and it became a tendency among the clergy of the Established Church. Lindsey and Priestley eventually brought about a breach with the Church. The old repressive laws were finally repealed in 1813. For the present status of Unitarianism in England, recourse must be had to the census tables of 1851, the census of 1861 not giving information respecting the creed of the inhabitants. In 1851 Great Britain contained 239 Unitarian churches, which afforded 68, 554 sittngs, and attracted 37,156 attendants — nearly all of them being in England.

Unitarianism was planted in North America in the middle of the 18th century, and obtained its first American church in November, 1787, when James Freeman (q.v.) was ordained pastor over the King's Chapel congregation in Boston. The movement spread in secret, care being taken by its supporters to avoid alarming the orthodox part of the population; so that when the state of affairs was finally understood, nearly every Congregational Church in Boston had become Unitarian, and many churches in other parts of New England had adopted Unitarian views. A controversy growing out of the publication in 1815 of a pamphlet entitled American Unitarianism led to the withdrawal of Unitarians from the orthodox, and their separate organization. Channing (q.v.) became the foremost representative of the new sect. The American Unitarian Association, founded in 1825, became its center, and the Christian Examiner its leading periodical. It has now fewer than 300 churches, about 350 ministers, a membership estimated at about 30,000, two theological schools, and a number of benevolent and other societies. The Socinian view has many supporters, besides, in the Christian churches (q.v.) and among the Universalists.

See Fock, Der Socinianismus nach seiner Stellung in d. Gesammtentwicklung des christl. Geistes, n. seinem hist. Verlauf u. n. seinem Lehrbegriff (Kiel, 1847); Hurst, Hist. of Rationalism, ch. 23; Gieseler, Ch. Hist. 4, 358-365; Baumgarten-Crusius, Compend. 1, 334; Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, etc. (Amst. 1626, 6 vols. fol.); Lindsey, Historical View of Unitarianism from the Reformation (Lond. 1783); Belsham, Memoir of Lindsey (1812); Reez, Racovian Catechism, with historical introduction (Lond. 1818, etc.). SEE SOCINIANISM.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.