Faustus Socinus, Racovian Catechism

From The Epic Of Unitarianism, Compiled by David Parke (23-29)

In the seventeenth century, Antitrinitarianism was in large measure channeled into a distinct doctrinal and ethical system - Socinianism, named for the Italian Antitrinitarians Laelius and Faustus Socinus. Its source was the kingdom of Poland, where it flourished for almost a century under sympathetic patrons and tolerant monarchs before being annihilated by Calvinist and Jesuit oppressions.

Socinianism exerted a powerful influence westward to Holland and England. Because of its doctrinal radicalism and revolutionary social views, the movement was deeply despised, but was heartily welcomed by those who were prepared to receive its good news.

Poland in the sixteenth century was the leading nation in eastern Europe. Several factors made it a hospitable ground for Protestant and Antitrinitarian teachings: a tradition of toleration of various rehgions - Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Mohammedan; the weakness and corruption of the Roman Church; the liberalizing influence of the Italian Renaissance on Polish culture and court life; and the enthusiasm of many young nobles for Protestant doctrines absorbed at German universities.

The preaching of Peter Gonesius in 1556 sparked an Antitrinitarian movement within the Reformed (Calvinist) church. This Antitrinitarian movement became the Minor Reformed Church of Poland in 1563 when it separated from the parent body.

The Minor church's central doctrine was in opposition to the Trinity. Beyond this there was wide disagreement on such questions as the person of Christ, the worship of the Holy Spirit, and the function and timing of baptism. Its most notable social practice was that of love and tolerance in human relationships. The members, who called themselves the Polish Brethren, took Jesus' teachings so literally that they refused to bear arms and accept civil office; and at Racow they formed a Christian community governed according to the precepts in the Sermon on the Mount.

The smallest of the four Protestant churches, the Minor church numbered about one hundred congregations in 1579, when Faustus Socinus arrived in Poland.

More than any other person, Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), an Italian, was the architect of modern Unitarianism. In his thinking he carried his predecessors' ideas-notably those of his heretical uncle, Laelius-to their logical conclusions by asserting that Jesus was more human being than God. His treatise, On Jesus Christ the Savior, had argued that Jesus saved humans not by dying for them but by setting an example for them to follow. In his leadership of the Polish churches Socinus fostered a pattern of Scriptural fidelity, liturgical simplicity, and sympathetic administration.

In his published writings, Socinianism "swept from Poland in a tide" that was to cleanse Christian thinking all across Europe until the nineteenth century.

By far the most influential Socinian work was the Racovian Catechism, so-called because it was published at Racow, the Socinian capital. Socinus wrote the first draft and commissioned his friends to finish it. It was published in i605 and widely translated and reprinted. Most catechisms are designed for the instruction of children or converts, but this catechism was, in the words of the historian Adolf Harnack, "a course of instruction for producing theologians." Essentially, it was a systematic statement of Socinian doctrine for propaganda purposes. It served well. Long after Socinus' death in 1604, after the Racow press was destroyed in 1638, and after the Socinians were forced by Jesuit oppression to flee Poland in i660, the Racovian Catechism carried the gospel of Christian freedom to the world.

Question. I Would fain learn of you what the Christian Religion is.

Answer. The Christian Religion is the way of attaining eternal life, discovered by God.

Q. But where is it discovered?

A. In the holy Scriptures, especially that of the new Covenant [i.e., New Testament].

Q. Is there then any other Holy Scripture, besides that of the New Covenant?

A. Yes.

Q. What is it?

A. The writings of the old Covenant [i.e., Old Testament]…


Q. That the sacred Scriptures are firm and certain, you have sufficiently proved, I would therefore further learn, whether they be so sufficient, as that in things necessary to eternal life we ought to rest in them only?

A. They are altogether sufficient for that, inasmuch as Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, and obedience to his Commandments, (which twain are the requisites of eternal life) are sufficiently delivered and explained in the Scripture of the very New Covenant.

Q. If it be so, then what need is there of Traditions, which the Church of Rome holdeth to be necessary unto eternal life, calling them the unwritten Scripture?

A. You rightly gather, that they are unnecessary to eternal life.

Q. What then must we think of them?

A. Not only that they were fancied and invented without just cause and necessity, but also to the great hazard of the Christian Faith.

Q. What may that hazard be?

A. Because those Traditions give men an occasion of turning aside from divine Truth to falsehood, and the imaginations of men.

Q. But they seem to assert those Traditions from the very Scripture.

A. Those testimonies which they produce out of the Scripture to assert those Traditions, do indeed demonstrate that Christ and the Apostles spake and did certain things which are not comprehended in the holy Scriptures, but no ways prove that they were delivered from hand to hand by them to be perpetually so conserved, or that those things which are consigned in the holy Scripture, are not sufficient to Religion and salvation…


Q. Inasmuch as you have said that those things have been discovered by Jesus Christ, that concern the will of God as it properly belongeth unto them, who shall obtain eternal life, I would entreat you to declare those things to me concerning Jesus Christ, which are needfull to be known.

A. I am content. First therefore you must know that those things partly concern the Essence7 partly the Office of Jesus Christ.

Q. What are the things that concern his Essence or Person?

A. Only that he is a true man by nature, as the holy Scriptures frequently testify concerning that matter, and namely, I Tim. 2.5. There is one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus. And I Cor. 15.21. Since by man came death, by man also came the Resurrection from the dead. And indeed such a one God heretofore promised by the Prophets, and such a one the Apostles Creed, acknowledged by all Christians, confesseth Jesus Christ to be.

Q. Is the Lord Jesus then a meer man?

A. By no means. For he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, and therefore is from his very conception and birth the Son of God, as we read, Luke 1.35. where the Angel thus speaketh to the Virgin Mary, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that Holy Thing Generated shall be called the Son of God. That I may omit other causes, which you shall afterwards discover in the Person of Jesus Christ, and most evidently shew, that the Lord Jesus ought by no means to be reputed a meer man.

Q. You said a little before that the Lord Jesus is a man by nature, hath he not also a divine Nature?

A. At no hand; for that is repugnant not onely to sound Reason, but also to the holy Scriptures.

Q. Shew me how it is repugnant to sound Reason.

A. First, because two substances indued with opposite properties, cannot combine into one Person, and such properties are mortality and immortality; to have beginning, and to be without beginning; to be mutable, and immutable. Again, two Natures, each whereof is apt to constitute a severall person, cannot be huddled into one Person. For instead of one, there must of necessity arise two persons, & consequently become two Christs, whom all men without controversie acknowledge to be one, and his Person one.

Q. But when they alledge that Christ is so constituted of a divine and humane Nature, as a man is of a body and soul, what answer must we make to them?

A. That in this case there is a wide difference; for they say that the two Natures in Christ are so united that Christ is both Cod and Man. Whereas the soul and body in a man are so conjoyned as that a man is neither soul nor body. For neither doth the soul nor the body severally constitute a Person. But as the divine Nature doth by it self constitute a Person, so must the humane by it self of necessity also constitute.

Q. Shew how it is also repugnant to the Scripture that Christ should have a divine Nature.

A. First, because the Scripture proposeth to us but one God by nature, whom we formerly demonstrated to be the Father of Christ. Secondly, the same Scripture witnesseth that Jesus Christ is a man by nature, as was formerly shewn. Thirdly, because whatsoever divine excellency Christ hath, the Scripture testifieth that he hath it by gift of the Father. John 3.35. John 5. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27. John 10.25. John 13.3. John 14.10. Acts 2.33. Rev. 2.26, 27. 2 Pet. 1.17. Finally, because the Scripture doth most evidently shew, that Jesus Christ doth perpetually ascribe all his Divine acts not to himself, or any Divine nature of his own, but to the Father; who seeth not that such a Divine nature as the Adversaries imagine in Christ, would have been altogether idle, and of no use?…

Q. I perceive that Christ hath not a divine nature, but is a true man, now tell me of what avail unto Salvation the knowledge hereof will be?

A. From the knowledge of this, that Christ is a true man, a sure and well grounded confirmation of our hope doth follow, which by the contrary opinion is exceedingly shaken, and almost taken away.

Q. How so?

A. Because it followeth from the adverse opinion, that Christ is not a true man, for since they deny that there is in Christ the person of a man, who seeth that they with one and the same labour deny him to be a true man, in that he cannot be a true man, who wanteth the person of a man, but if Christ had not been a true man, he could not die, and consequently not rise again from the dead, whereby our hope which resteth on the resurrection of Christ, as on a firm basis, and foundation, may be easily shaken, and well nigh thrown down, but that opinion, which acknowledgeth Christ to be a true man, who conversing in the world, was obedient to the Father, even unto death, doth assert, and clearly determine that the same died, and was by God raised from the dead, and indued with immortality, and so in a wonderful manner, supporteth, and proppeth, our hope concerning eternall life, setting before our eyes the very image of that thing, and assuring us thereby, as it were with a pledge, that we also though we be mortall and die; shall notwithstanding in due time rise from death, to come into the society of the same blessed immortality, whereof he is made par-taker if we tread in his steps…


Q. How Jesus declared unto us the Divine Will, hath been explained, I would now have it also explained how he confirmed the same?

A. There are three things of Christ that did confirme the Divine Will which he declared; first, the absolute innocency of his life, John 8.46. I John 3.5. Secondly, his great, and innumerable Miracles, John 15.24. John 21.25. Thirdly, his death, I Tim. 2.6. chap. 6.13. All these three are united in that noted place of John, I Epist. 5.8. There are three that bare record on Earth, The Spirit, the Water, and the Bloud. For by the Spirit, without question the holy Spirit is meant, by whose Vertue the Miracles of Christ were wrought, Acts 10.38. As by Water is understood the Purity of his life, and by Bloud, his Bloudy death.

Q. What was the Innocency of Christs Life, and how was the Will of God confirmed thereby?

A. The Innocency of his Life was such, that he not onely committed no sin7 neither was guil found in his mouth, nor could he be convicted of any crime, but he lived so transcendently pure, as that none, either before, or after, did equallize him, so that he came next to God himself in Holiness, and was therein very like to him. Whence it followeth, that the Doctrine delivered by him was most true.

Q. What were his Miracles, and how did they confirm the Divine Will?

A. The Miracles were so great, as none before him ever did; and so many, as that had they been set down in particular, the world would not contain the Books. And these Miracles do therefore make to the confirming of the will of God, in that it is not imaginable that God would invest any one with such power, as was truly Divine, who had not been sent by him.

Q. What was the Death of Christ, and how did it confirm the Will of God?

A. Such a death, as had all sorts of afflictions ushering it in, and was of it self most bitter and ignominious, so that the Scripture thereupon testifieth that he was made like to his brethren in all things, Heb. 2.17

The 1614 Latin edition of the Racovian Catechism was dedicated to King James I of England. Rather than being flattered or won to its teachings, he ordered it burned as a work of Satan. But this was neither the beginning nor the end of Antitrinitarianism in England. Antitrinitarian ideas had arisen spontaneously as early as the fifteenth century. They increased with the influx of several thousand Protestant refugees from the Continent in the 1530's and 1540'S. Bntish scholars and travellers conversed with Polish and Transylvanian Antitrinitarians in Holland. Beginning about 1590 Socinian books from the Racow press, many of them translated and reprinted in Holland, quietly filtered into England to be passed from hand to hand and discussed in secret.