1. The `Arians' of Raków
We must now go back in time somewhat. In or about 1569 a new town was founded fifty miles west of Sandomir; it got the name of Raków. Its foundress was the wife of a Polish nobleman, Jan Sieninski; he himself was a Calvinist, but she was an `Arian', an anti-trinitarian, that is. The new settlement became the refuge of all those who felt alienated from their religious communities, disgruntled Calvinists, and many members of the Minor Church in Cracow, where they were harassed and persecuted. Most of the newcomers were radicals, and anti-trinitarianism prevailed. They dreamed of restoring the primitive apostolic Church and of founding the New Jerusalem. For a period lasting until about 1630 Raków became the capital of Polish Unitarianism. There was a printing office; the books it published spread Unitarian doctrine far and wide. It was this press that published Fausto's work. In 1602 also a school was founded there.
In Raków a seminal book saw the light in 1605, the so-called `Racovian Cathechism'. Its title deserves to be given in full, since it displays the kernel of Socinian doctrine: `Cathechism of the assembly of those people who, in the Kingdom of Poland and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the other Dominions belonging to the Crown, affirm and confess that no other than the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only God of Israel, and the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of a virgin, and no other besides him, is the only begotten son of God' (the original title is in Polish).[i]
This sounds more orthodox than the Cathechism warrants. Let the reader juxtapose the words: the only God of Israel - the man Jesus of Nazareth, with the accents on `God' and `man'. The Cathechism, based on Fausto's writings, but composed by some of his followers, categorically stated that God is one, and not three. There is only one divine person, namely, the Father. In consequence, Jesus is not divine, but human. He is, however, by no means an ordinary human person, because he was conceived by the Holy Ghost and had no human father. The cathechism argues at great length that there are no scritural proofs for the doctrine that he would be the God-man. One should not think that the Holy Ghost is, by manner of speaking, smuggled in as another divine person. He is not a person, but a power located in the hearts of men.
Christ is conceived of, not as the Saviour in the orthodox sense, but as the example Christians should imitate; by doing so they will be saved. The notion of original sin is rejected, just as predestination. The only sacrament is the Lord's Supper. Baptism is only an outward act, a ceremony of introduction into the Church.[ii] The Racovian Cathechism made Raków the centre of Socinianism: there they held their annual synods and there they had their principal college.
A Latin translation of the Cathechism appeared in 1609, dedicated to King James I of England. However, this king, who prided himself on being a theologian, found it `a satanic work'; if he could lay his hands on its authors, he would severely punish them. Parliament ordered it to be burned in April 1614. "The Racovian Cathechism", writes Wilbur, "remained for a century a thorn in the side of both Lutheran and Reformed theologians"; it was constantly taken under fire.[iii]
2. Unitarianism under attack
The Socinians blissfully bathed in their success, without being aware that there was growing opposition. This opposition was spearheaded by the Jesuits, who were becoming evermore influential; they enjoyed the protection of King Sigismund III (1597-1642), a Jesuit pupil, who called himself `the Jesuit king'.[iv] All too zealous Catholicism, sensing from which direction the wind was beginning to blow, did not shrink back from using violence. Already in 1588 a Socinian meeting hall in Cracow was destroyed, but later restored. The final blow fell on May 23, 1591, Ascension Day, when rioters destroyed the Reformed Church and the meeting hall of the Unitarians. This was virtually the end of the Minor Church, because almost all its members left Cracow; many found, as related, a new home in Raków.[v] The Protestants were furious, because the perpetrators were not punished.
Poland's period of liberal toleration was nearing its end. There was however, still religious liberty; the Socinians counter-attacked. The tone of their anti-Catholic writings was often acrimonious. "They eagerly seized every opportunity to proclaim their own views and hold up to scorn the errors of their opponents."[vi] It would have been more sensible to keep a low profile. The mob retaliated by disturbing Protestant funerals and dessecrating Protestant tombs.
It did not last long before the Socinians had their first martyr; this occurred in 1611. The person in question was Jan Tyrkiewicz; he had been a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, but later joined the Socinians, so that he now had both the Catholics and the Orthodox against him. The fact that he was wealthy contributed to his downfall. He had been a public steward for a time. When his period of service was over, the mayor asked him to state on oath that he had faithfully fulfilled his task. He swore, but not on the crucifix and avoiding to mention the Trinity.
He was then interrogated by an angry priest who slapped his face; together with his brother he was locked up. The case was referred to the king's court; Jan was now accused of having thrown a crucifix on the ground and of having publicly blasphemed the Almighty. And so on. The king's court did not pronounce a sentence, but remanded the case to Bielsk, where the accused lived. The Tribunal of this city condemned Jan to the loss of all his goods; he was heavily fined and also expelled, together with his brother.
Not all was lost yet. The brothers had friends who made them appeal once again to the king's court. It is not wholly clear what happened then. Anyhow, the attorney for the prosecution vehemently attacked the defendants. In one way or other Queen Constance became involved in the matter; the accused had the bad luck that Bielsk lay in her personal domain, so that she was the supreme authority there. She did not intend to let these blasphemers get away. She manipulated her husband; he did what she wanted and passed the death sentence. Jan would be executed in the cruellest way: his tongue would be cut off, his hands and feet also, he would be beheaded as a rebel. and finally his corpse would be burned as that a heretic. The sentence was executed on December 16, 1611, in the central market-place of Warsaw.[vii] This event signified that Unitarians, and other Protestants, could no longer count on legal protection.
3. The end of Raków
Meanwhile, Raków, that had grown to a city of twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants, was flourishing. The books the printing presses produced found their way via Danzig (Gdansk) to France, England and the Dutch Republic, where they were eagerly read. But animosity against the Racovians was growing. A neighbouring nobleman placed a crucifix just outside the border with Racovian territory. It was meant as a provocation, and as such it was successful: some Racovians were stupid enough to let themselves be provoked. In March 1638 pupils of the school accompanied by two of their teachers came along the crucifix and destroyed the corpus by throwing stones at it. The act was seen and reported to the bishop of Cracow, Jacob Zadzik.
Sensing the danger, the Racovian authorities made amends: the offending boys were punished and removed from the school. The bishop, however, was firmly resolved to have done with Raków; he referred the matter to the Diet in Warsaw, showing the members the fragments of the crucifix. The Diet sent an investigation committee of four to Raków; the two teachers fled as rapidly as they could. When the committee arrived, the Racovians realized how great the danger was. A report was sent to Warsaw, where the Senate occupied itself with the matter.
On April 29, 1638 it published a decree with this content: 1. The two teachers had to present themselves within six weeks; 2. the school would be closed and destroyed; 3. the printing office would be abolished; 4. Racovian books would be burned; 5. and the final blow: all `Arian' faithful, with their ministers, must leave Raków within four weeks. Protests against this decree by liberal minded people were of no avail. As a result of this decree the Racovians, most of whom were Socinians, spread in all directions. The city itself withered away, until it was only a township of some thousand inhabitants.[viii]
4. The Socinians persecuted
In the middle of the seventeenth century Poland went through a period of unprecented calamities. Cossacks, Tatars, and Swedes overran the country; very little of it remained in Polish hands, and the king, Jan II Kazimierz Vasa (1649-1668), fled to Silesia.[ix] But the enemies, especially the Swedes, who dessecrated Catholic churches, behaved so barbarously that a spontaneous general uprising was the result. The king secretly returned, assumed the leadership of the rebellion, and obtained resounding victories.
Jan Kazimierz was convinced that all this misery had come over Poland, because it had tolerated `the blasphemers of the deity of Christ' to live in its midst. Lying with his army before Warsaw in 1656 and on the brink of capturing the capital, he made the solemn vow that he would expel the Arians.
With Warsaw again in Polish hands, the Diet could meet in June 1658; the king was immediately reminded of his vow. There were protests, but a decree was passed to the effect that being an Arian became a capital offense. Public worship by Unitarians was forbidden. They got three years to wind up their affairs and then they must depart. Public opinion was incited against them because they were accused to have sided with the enemies of the country. The last Unitarian synods were held in 1658 and 1659, but they were sparsely attended.
Already before the banishment decree became operative in June 1661, Socinians were departing. A long waggon train left Poland, directing itself to Transsylvania, which was Hungarian then, but the Socinians were set upon by imperial soldiers, who robbed them of everything they had, even of the clothes they wore. Others fled to East Prussia, then under Brandenburg rule, and deeper into Germany and even to France. This was the end of Unitarianism in Poland, its cradle.[x]
5. Socinianism in the Dutch Rpublic
a. Early Unitarians
We have now to make our way back to England, from where we started. However, going there we must pass through the Dutch Republic, where Socinianism, or Unitarianism, also became a not negligible presence. We shall see that there were connections between East European and Dutch Socinians, but Unitarianism was also a product of Dutch soil. It was contemporaneous with the Dutch Reformation; already in 1530 a Frisian, Wybrant Jansz van Hartwerd, was burned at the stake for denying the godhead of Jesus. An Anabaptist pastor, who died in 1552 and who was a Unitarian, had many followers. Another one was Cornelis Daems, a Flemish lawyer, a friend of Socinus; he lived in Gouda and saw his heretical, that is, Socinian, books confiscated, but they were restituted to him.[xi]
b. Polish Unitarian missionaries
Towards 1600 the first Unitarian missionaries began to arrive in the Republic, later followed by exiles. In the beginning of August two Polish missionaries, Christopher Osterodt and Andrew Wojdowski, arrived by ship in Amsterdam harbour; they were immediately suspect and had to deliver the books they had with them to the city council; the contents were found to be blasphemous. The incriminated books made quite a journey: they were sent to the city council of Leiden, who laid them before the theological faculty of the university, and thence they went to the States General in The Hague. Since one of the books was Socinus' De Jesu Christo servatore, the faculty's judgment was a foregone conclusion: the books were heretical, `not far from the religion of the Turks', especially because of the denial of Jesus' godhead.
Wanting to have their books returned to them, the two Poles travelled to The Hague, only to hear that the books would be publicly burned, and in their presence at that. They were, however, not burned, because one of the deputies had taken them home in order to read them. Osterodt's son returned to Poland, but Wojdowksi remained. He made contact with some leading Mennonites, but he received a decree by the States General, ordering him to depart within ten days, which he did.[xii]
The authorities were understandably keen on heresy, for it was a time of great unrest in the Dutch Reformed Church.[xiii] The strictly orthodox Calvinists were confronted by a more liberal wing, led by Arminius. His worst sin was that he rejected the dogma of predestination. Armimius died in 1609, but he had sundry followers, who were called `Arminians' and later `Remonstrants'. As leader of his party he was succeeded by Dr.Conrad Vorstius (1569-1622), who became professor of theology in Leiden in 1611. The opposition did everything in its power to prove that he was a Socinian. He had to admit that he, when he studied in Heidelberg, had read Socinian books indeed, but he added that they contained errors.
His problems became considerably worse, when Socinus' book De auctoritate Sanctae Scripturae was reprinted in Friesland. Vorstius had nothing to do with this, but it was laid at his door. Even the would-be theologian King James I of England was mobilized to combat it; he had the book publicly burned and desired of the States General that they dismiss Vorstius. The deputies did not want to be told by a foreign ruler what they had to do, but when James threatened to break off diplomatic relations, they gave in, and Vorstius had to go.
He lived quietly in Gouda for seven years, until 1619, but when the Synod of Dordt definitely expelled the Arminians from the Reformed Church, the fate of the alleged Socinians was also sealed. At the request of the Synod the States General banished him, but he held out three years in hiding. He died on September 29, 1622, in Tönning in Germany.[xiv] Henceforth, the Arminians or Remonstrants lived under the constant suspicion of being secretly or openly Socinians.
c. Remonstrants and Socinians
In 1614 a teacher in Amsterdam, Reinier Telle, or Regnerus Vitellius with his latinized name, translated Socinus' book De Jesu Christo servatore, but abandoned his plan to publish it at the instigation of Simon Episcopius (1583-1643), a Remonstrant theologian, who feared that it would do great damage to the Arminian cause. Nevertheless it was published, after Telle's death, in 1620. On the ground of the decrees of the Synod of Dordt eighty Arminian ministers were transported across the border to Germany. Their plight became known in Poland, where it was supposed that Remonstrants were Socinians. An offer was made to them to emigrate to Poland, where they would be heartily welcome, but Episcopius, the leader of the exiles, refused; his reason was that acceptance of this offer might be taken to mean that they were Socinians indeed. During the 1630's most of them returned to the Republic.[xv] The Poles remained concerned with the situation; they even hoped that a union between the Polish Brethern and the Remonstrant Church might be effectuated.
Many believers all over Europe were fed up with theological controversies; what they wanted was harmony and tolerance, which, they thought, would be possible on the basis of a confession that contained only the essentials. One of these idealists was a Polish Socinian, Samuel Przypkowski, who had lived in London for some time. In 1628 he published in Amsterdam a little book with the title De pace et concordia ecclesiae (reprinted in 1633). There was only one thing necessary for salvation, he argued, namely, loving God and fellow Christians; all the other mysteries of the Christian faith were not essential for salvation. In all probability the dogma of the Trinity was not among these essentials. The book appeared anonymously; it is revealing that the authorship was ascribed to Episcopius.[xvi]
d. Socinianism combated
The stream of books, issued by the Raków press, also reached the Republic; many read them and became convinced. Becoming nervous, the Reformed Synod addressed the States General in 1639, explaining how pernicious the Socinian heresy was and asking them to take action. The States responded by having Socinian books seized and burned. Then they found they had done enough; many deputees loathed the intolerance of the Reformed ministers, being in favour of religious liberty. The printing and publishing of Socinian books continued; groups of Socinians assembled in private houses for reading the Bible, singing hymns and exhorting each other to lead a truly Christian live.[xvii] Holland, Friesland and Groningen became strongholds of Socinianism. Provincial Estates passed decrees against them, but they were rarely enforced.
However, in 1651 the National Synod of the Reformed Church petitioned the States General in such powerful terms that they were forced to come into action. They asked the advice of the theological faculty of Leiden, which placed itself squarely behind the Synod, arguing that Socinianism was a calamity for the Christian faith. The result was that the States General in 1653 issued a very severe decree: the import and selling of Socinian books was forbidden, and Socinian meetings were prohibited, all under heavy penalties. Yet, soon the deputies lost their interest and concerned themselves with other issues, so that the Socinians raised their heads again.[xviii] Socinian books were published, sold and read as before.
Yet, the orthodoxy did not remain idle. Books and pamphlets kept the Socinians under constant fire. A professor of Utrecht, Johannes Hoornbeek (1617-1666) published a powerful refutation of Socinianism, Socinianismus refutatus, in three bulky volumes (1650-1664). He stated that there was an agreement between Mennonites, whom he called `Anabaptists', and Socinians. He expressed this in an epigram: Anabaptista indoctus Socinianus, Socinianus doctus Anabaptista, an Anabaptist is an illiterate Socinian, a Socinian, however, is a learned Anabaptist. Seventeenth-century theologians loved publishing lengthy works. Samuel Maresius (des Marets), a French Huguenot, who was professor in Groningen, published his Hydra Socinianismi expugnata equally in three volumes (1651-1660). The tone of the polemics was not always courteous.
It was, however, Abraham Heidanus (van der Heyden, 1597-1678), professor of theology in Leiden, who laid his finger on the sore spot. In his book De origine erroris, Diatribe de Socianismo (1675) he argued that, with regard to orthodoxy, the principal failure of Socianism was giving reason precedence over Scripture.[xix] Wilbur gives us the reasons why the orthodox Reformed clergy, halfheartedly supported by the politicians, were so rabiately against Socinianism. "Any relaxing of the strictest standards of Protestantism was at once under suspicion as perhaps the first step back towards Rome. Hence the opposition to the Remonstrants with their tolerant spirit in matters of doctrine. Hence yet more the opposition to Socinianism."[xx] It must be added that Socinianism scored a considerable success among Dutch Mennnonites.
e. No Socinian Church
It will be evident that Socinianism, or Unitarianism, was an important element in Dutch Protestantism. We shall never know how many adherents it really had, but we may be certain that they were numerous. Yet, no Unitarian Church was founded. Socinianism was an intellectual movement, not an organization or an institution. It was perhaps this lack of coherence which made that, during the eighteenth century, we are hearing less and less of it. It remained mainly restricted to the Dutch Republic and to England, but we find it also in Germany and in France.
Biographisches-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon. XIII, 1998.
WILBUR, Earl Morse, A History of Unitarianism. Socianianism nd its Antecedents. Harvard University Press. I 1946, II 1952.
[i].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 408, with note 1.
[ii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 412-414.
[iii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 411.
[iv].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 433.
[v].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 443.
[vi].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 442.
[vii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 444-447.
[viii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 451-455.
[ix].. See for this also Vol.XXV, Ch.II, Part V, §§ 3-4.
[x].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 468-482.
[xi].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 536/537.
[xii].. Wilbur, History of UJnitarianism 537/538.
[xiii].. See for this Vol.XXIV, Ch.II, Part IV, §§ 11-29.
[xiv].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 540-543; also Erich Wennecker s.v. `Vorstius, Conrad', Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon XIII, 1998.
[xv].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 544-546.
[xvi].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 550/551.
[xvii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 553/554.
[xviii].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 555.
[xix].. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism 556.
[xx].. Wilbur, History of Socinianism 559.