1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Socinus

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SOCINUS, the latinized form of the Italian Sozini, Sozzini or Soccini, a name born by two Italian theologians.

I. Lelio Francesco Maria Sozini (1525–1562) was born at Siena on the 29th of January 1525. His family descended from Sozzo, a banker at Percena, whose second son, Mino Sozzi, settled as a notary at Siena in 1304. Mino Sozzi's grandson, Sozzino (d. 1403), was ancestor of a line of patrician jurists and canonists, Mariano Sozzini senior (1397–1467) being the first and the most famous, and traditionally regarded as the first freethinker in the family. Lelio (who spells his surname Sozini, latinizing it Sozinus) was the sixth son of Mariano Sozzini junior (1482–1556) by his wife Camilla Salvetti, and was educated as a jurist under his father's eye at Bologna. He told Melanchthon that his desire to reach the fontes juris led him to Biblical research, and hence to rejection of “the idolatry of Rome.” He gained some knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic (to Bibliander he gave a manuscript of the Korān) as well as Greek, but was never a laborious student. His father supplied him with means, and on coming of age he repaired to Venice; the headquarters of the evangelical movement in Italy. A tradition, first published by Sand in 1678, amplified by subsequent writers, makes him a leading spirit in alleged theological conferences at Vicenza, about 1546; the whole account (abounding in anachronisms, including the story of Sozini's flight) must be rejected as fabulous. At this period the standpoint of Sozini was that of evangelical reform; he exhibits a singular union of enthusiastic piety with subtle theological speculation. At Chiavenna in 1547 he came under the influence of Camillo of Sicily, a gentle mystic, surnamed Renato, whose teaching at many points resembled that of the early Quakers. Pursuing his religious travels, his family name and his personal charm ensured him a welcome in Switzerland, France, England and Holland. Returning to Switzerland at the close of 1548, with commendatory letters to the Swiss churches from Nicolas Meyer, envoy from Wittenberg to Italy, we find him (1549–1550) at Geneva, Basel (with Sebastian Münster) and Zürich (lodging with Pellican). He is next at Wittenberg (July 1550 to June 1551), first as Melanchthon's guest, then with Johann Forster for improvement of his Hebrew. From Wittenberg he returned to Zürich (end of 1551), after visiting Prague, Vienna and Cracow. Political events drew him back to Italy in June 1552; two visits to Siena (where freedom of speech was for the moment possible, owing to the shaking off of the Spanish yoke) brought him into fruitful contact with his young nephew Fausto. He was at Padua (not Geneva, as is often said) at the date of Servetus's execution (Oct. 27, 1553). Thence he made his way to Basel (January 1554), Geneva (April) and Zürich (May), where he took up his abode.

Calvin, like Melanchthon, received Sozini with open arms. Melanchthon (though a phrase in one of his letters has been strangely misconstrued) never regarded him with theological suspicion. To Calvin's keen glance Sozini's over-speculative tendency and the genuineness of his religious nature were equally apparent. A passage often quoted (apart from the context) in one of Calvin's letters (January 1, 1552) has been viewed as a rapture of amicable intercourse; but, while more than once uneasy apprehensions arose in Calvin's mind, there was no breach of correspondence or of kindliness. Of all the Reformers, Bullinger was Sozini's closest intimate, his warmest and wisest friend. Sozini's theological difficulties turned on the resurrection of the body, predestination, the ground of salvation (on these points he corresponded with Calvin), the doctrinal basis of the original gospel (his queries to Bullinger), the nature of repentance (to Rudolph Gualther), the sacraments (to Johann Wolff). It was the fate of Servetus that directed his mind to the problem of the Trinity. At Geneva (April 1554) he made incautious remarks on the common doctrine, emphasized in a subsequent letter to Martinengo, the Italian pastor. Bullinger, at the instance of correspondents (including Calvin), questioned Sozini as to his faith, and received from him an explicitly orthodox confession (reduced to writing on the 15th of July 1555) with a frank reservation of the right of further inquiry. A month before this Sozini had been sent with Martino Muralto to Basel, to secure Ochino as pastor of the Italian church at Zürich; and it is clear that in their subsequent intercourse the minds of Sozini and Ochino (a thinker of the same type as Camillo, with finer dialectic skill) acted powerfully on each other in the radical discussion of theological problems. In 1556 by the death of his father (who left him nothing by will), Sozini was involved in pecuniary anxieties. With influential introductions (one from Calvin) he visited in 1558 the courts of Vienna and Cracow to obtain support for an appeal to the reigning duke at Florence for the realization of his own and the family estates. Curiously enough Melanchthon's letter introducing Sozini to Maximilian II. invokes as an historic parallel the hospitable reception rendered by the emperor Constans to Athanasius, when he fled from Egypt to Trèves. Well received out of Italy, Sozini could do nothing at home, and apparently did not proceed beyond Venice. The Inquisition had its eye on the family; his brother Cornelio was imprisoned at Rome; his brothers Celso and Camillo and his nephew Fausto were “reputati Luterani,” and Camillo had fled from Siena. In August 1559 Sozini returned to Zürich, where his brief career was closed by his death on the 14th of May 1562, at his lodging in the house of Hans Wyss, silk-weaver. No authentic portrait of him exists; alleged likenesses on medals, &c, are spurious. The news of his uncle's death reached Fausto at Lyons through Antonio Maria Besozzo. Repairing to Zürich Fausto got his uncle's few papers, comprising very little connected writing but a good many notes. Fausto has so often been treated as a plagiarist from Lelio that it may be well to state that his indebtedness, somewhat over-estimated by himself, was twofold: (1) He derived from Lelio in conversation (1552-1553) the germ of his theory of salvation; (2) Lelio's paraphrase (1561) of ἀρχὴ in John i. 1 as “the beginning of the gospel” gave Fausto an exegetical hint for the construction of his Christology. Apart from these suggestions, Fausto owed nothing to Lelio, save a curiously far-fetched interpretation of John viii. 58 and the stimulus of his pure character and shining qualities. The two men were of contrasted types. Lelio, impulsive and inquisitive, was in quest of the spiritual ground of religious truths; the drier mind of Fausto sought in external authority a basis for the ethical teaching of Christianity.

Sozini's extant writings are: (1) De sacramentis dissertatio (1560), four parts, and (2) De resurrectione (a fragment); these were first printed in F. et L. Socini, item E. Soneri tractatus (Amsterdam, 1654). To these may be added his Confession (1555), printed in Hottinger, Hist. eccles. N.T. ix. 16, 5 (1667); and about twenty-four letters, not collected, but may be found dispersed, and more or less correctly given in Illgen, in Trechsel, in the Corpus reformatorum edition of Calvin's works, and in E. Burnat, L. Socin (1894); the handwriting of the originals is exceedingly crabbed. Sand adds a Rhapsodia in Esaiam prophetam, of which nothing is known. Beza suspected that Sozini had a hand in the De haereticis, an sint persequendi (1553); and to him has also been assigned the Contra libellum Calvini (1554); both are the work of Castellio, and there is no ground for attributing any part of them to Sozini. Beza also assigned to him (in 1567) an anonymous Explicatio (1562) of the proem of St John's Gospel, which was the work of Fausto; this error, adopted by Zanchi, has been a chief source of the misconception which treats Lelio as a heresiarch. In Franc Guinio's Defensio cath. doct. de S. Trin. (1590-1591) is an anonymous enumeratio of motives for professing the doctrine of the Trinity, by some ascribed to Lelio; by others, with somewhat more probability, to Fausto.

For the life of L. Sozini the best guide is Trechsel, Die prot. antitrin. vor F. Socin, vol. ii. (1844); but there are valuable materials in Illgen, Vita L. Socini (1814), and especially Symbolae ad vitam et doctrinam L. Soc., &c. (1826). R. Wallace, Antitrin. biog. (1850), gives the ordinary Unitarian view, relying on Bock, Da Porta and Lubieniecki. See also Theological Review (July 1879), and Bonet-Maury's Early Sources of Eng. Unit. Christ. (trans. E. P. Hall, 1884). Use has been made above of unprinted sources.

II. Fausto Paolo Sozzini (1530-1604) was born at Siena on the 5th of December 1539, the only son of Alessandro Sozzini, “princeps subtilitatum,” by Agnese, daughter of Borghese Petrucci, a descendant of Pandolfo Petrucci, the Cromwell of Siena. Unlike his uncle Lelio, Fausto spells his surname Sozzini, latinizing it Socinus. His father died in 1541, in his thirty-second year. Fausto had no regular education, being brought up at home with his sister Fillide, and spent his youth in desultory reading at Scopeto, the family country-seat. To the able women of his family he owed the strong moral impress which marked him through life; his early intellectual stimulus came from his uncle Celso, a nominal Catholic, but an esprit fort, founder of the short-lived Accademia dei Sizienti (1554), of which young Fausto was a member. In 1556 his grandfather's will, leaving him one-fourth of the family estates, made him independent. Next year he entered the Accademia degli intronati, the centre of intellectual life in Siena, taking the academic name “Il Frastagliato,” his badge Un mare turbato da venti, his motto Turbant sed extollunt. About this time Panzirolo (De claris legg. interpp., first published 1637) describes him as a young man of fine talent, with promise of a legal career; but he despised the law, preferring to write sonnets. In 1558-1559 the suspicion of Lutheranism fell on him in common with his uncles Celso and Camillo. Coming of age (1561) he went to Lyons, probably engaging in mercantile business; he revisited Italy after his uncle Lelio's death; we find him in 1562 on the roll of the Italian church at Geneva; there is no trace of any relations with Calvin; to Lyons he returned next year. The evangelical position was not radical enough for him. In his Explicatio (1562) of the proem to St John's Gospel he already attributes to our Lord an official, not an essential, deity; a letter of 1563 rejects the natural immortality of man (a position subsequently developed in his disputation with Pucci). Towards the end of 1563 he returned to Italy, conforming to the Catholic Church, and for twelve years, as his unpublished letters show, was in the service, of Isabella de Medici, daughter of the grand-duke Cosimo of Tuscany (not, as Przypkowski says, in the service of the grand-duke). This portion of his life he regarded as wasted; till 1567 he gave some attention to legal duties, and at the instance of “a great personage” wrote (1570) his treatise De auctoritate s. scripturae. In 1571 he was in Rome, probably with his patroness. He left Italy at the end of 1575, and after Isabella's death (strangled by her husband in 1576) he declined the overtures of her brother Francesco, now grand-duke, who pressed him to return. Francesco was doubtless aware of the motive which led Sozzini to quit Italy; there is every reason to believe Przypkowski's statement that the grand-duke agreed to secure to him the income of his property so long as he published nothing in his own name. Sozzini now fixed himself at Basel, gave himself to close study of the Bible, began translating the Psalms into Italian verse, and, in spite of increasing deafness, became a centre of theological debates. His discussion with Jacques Couet on the doctrine of salvation issued in a treatise De Jesu Christo servatore (finished July 12, 1578), the circulation of which in manuscript commended him to the notice of Giorgio Blandrata (q.v.), court physician in Poland and Transylvania, and ecclesiastical wire puller in the interests of heterodoxy.

Transylvania had for a short time (1559-1571) enjoyed full religious liberty under an anti-Trinitarian prince, John Sigismund. The existing ruler, Christopher Bathori, favoured the Jesuits; it was now Blandrata's object to limit the “Judaic” tendencies of the eloquent anti-Trinitarian bishop, Francis Dávid (1510-1579), with whom he had previously co-operated. A charge of the gravest sort against Blandrata's morals had destroyed his influence with Dávid. Hence he called in Sozzini to reason with Dávid, who had renounced the worship of Christ. In Sozzini's scheme of doctrine, terms in themselves orthodox were employed in a heretical sense. Thus Christ was God, though in nature purely human, namely as un Dio subalterno, al quale in un dato tempo il Dio supremo cedette il governo del mondo (Cantù). In matter of worship Sozzini distinguished between adoratio Christi, the homage of the heart, imperative on all Christians, and invocatio Christi, the direct address of prayer, which was simply permissive (Blandrata would have made it imperative); though in Sozzini's view, prayer, to whomsoever addressed, was received by Christ as mediator, for transmission to the father. In November 1578 Sozzini reached Kolozsvár (Klausenburg) from Poland, and did his best, during a visit of four months and a half under Dávid's roof, to argue him into this modified doctrine of invocation. The upshot was that Dávid from the pulpit exerted all his powers in denouncing all cultus of Christ. His civil trial followed, on a charge of innovation. Sozzini hurried back to Poland before it began. He cannot be accused of complicity with what he calls the rage of Blandrata; he was no party to Dávid's incarceration at Déva, where the old man miserably perished in less than three months. He was willing that Dávid should be prohibited from preaching pending the decision of a general synod; and his references to the case show that (as in the later instances of Jacobo Paleology, Christian Franken and Martin Seidel) theological aversions, though they never made him uncivil, froze up his native kindness and blinded his perceptions of character. Blandrata ultimately conformed to the Catholic Church; hence Sozzini's laudatory dedication to him (1584) of his De Jesu Christi natura, in reply to the Calvinist Andrew Wolan, though printed in his works, was not used. The remainder (1579-1604) of Sozzini's life was spent in Poland. Excluded at first by his views on baptism (which he regarded as applicable only to Gentile converts) from the Minor or anti-Trinitarian ChuTch (largely anabaptist), he acquired by degrees a predominant influence in its synods. He converted the Arians from their avowal of our Lord's pre-existence, and from their rejection of the invocatio Christi; he repressed the semi-Judaizers whom he failed to convince. Through correspondence with friends he directed also the policy of the anti-Trinitarian Church of Transylvania. Forced to leave Cracow in 1583, he found a home with a Polish noble, Christopher Morsztyn, whose daughter Elizabeth he married (1586). She died in the following year, a few months after the birth of a daughter, Agnese (1587-1654), afterwards the wife of Stanislas Wiszowaty, and the progenitress of numerous descendants. In 1587 the grand-duke Francesco died; to this event Sozzini's biographers attribute the loss of his Italian property, but his unpublished letters show that he was on good terms with the new grand-duke, Ferdinando. Family disputes had arisen respecting the interpretation of his grandfather's will; in October 1590 the holy office at Siena disinherited him, allowing him a pension, apparently never paid. Failure of supplies from Italy dissolved the compact under which his writings were to remain anonymous, and he began to publish in his own name. The consequence was that in 1598 a mob expelled him from Cracow, wrecking his house, and grossly ill-using his person. Friends gave him a ready welcome at Luslawice, 30 miles east from Cracow; and here, having long been troubled with colic and the stone, he died on the 4th of March 1604. A limestone block with illegible inscriptions marks his grave.[1] His engraved portrait is prefixed to his works (the original is not extant); an oil-painting, formerly at Siena, cannot be considered authentic.

Sozzini's works, edited by his grandson Andrew Wiszowaty and the learned printer F. Kuyper, are contained in two closely printed folios (Amsterdam, 1668). They rank as the first two volumes of the Bibliotheca fratrum polonorum, though the works of Crell and Schlichting were the first of the series to be printed. They include all Sozzini's extant theological writings, except his essay on predestination (in which he denies that God foresees the actions of free agents) prefixed to Castellio's Dialogi IV. (1578, reprinted 1613) and his revision of a school manual Instrumentum doctrinarum aristotelicum (1586). His pseudonyms, easily interpreted, were Felix Turpio Urbevetanus, Prosper Dysidaeus, Gratianus Prosper and Gratianus Turpio Gerapolensis ( = Senensis). Some of his early verse is in Ferentilli's Scielta di stanze di diversi autori toscani (1579, 1594); other specimens are given in Cantù and in the Athenaeum (Aug. 11, 1877); more are preserved at Siena. Sozzini considered that his ablest work was his Contra atheos, which perished in the riot at Cracow (1598). Later he began, but left incomplete, more than one work designed to exhibit his system as a whole. His reputation as a thinker must rest upon (1) his De auctoritate s. scripturae (1570) and (2) his De Jesu Christo servatore (1578). The former was first published (Seville, 1588) by Lopez, a Jesuit, who claimed it as his own, but prefixed a preface maintaining (contrary to a fundamental position of Sozzini) that man by nature has a knowledge of God. A French version (1592) was approved by the ministers of Basel; the English translation by Edward Coombe (1731) was undertaken in consequence of the commendation in a charge (1728) by Bishop Smalbroke, who observes that Grotius had borrowed from it in his De veritate Christ. rel. In small compass it anticipates the historical argument of the “credibility” writers; in trying it by modern tests, it should be remembered that Sozzini, regarding it (1581) as not adequately meeting the cardinal difficulties attending the proof of the Christian religion, began to reconstruct its positions in his Lectiones sacrae (unfinished). His treatise on the Saviour renders a real service to theology, placing orthodoxy and heresy in new relations of fundamental antagonism, and narrowing the conflict to the main personal benefit of religion. Of the person of Christ in this treatise he says nothing; its one topic is the work of Christ, which in his view operates upon man alone; the theological sagacity of Sozzini may be measured by the persistency with which this idea tends to recur. Though his name has been attached to a school of opinion, he disclaimed the rôle of a heresiarch, and declined to give his unreserved adhesion to any one sect. His confidence in the conclusions of his own mind has earned him the repute of a dogmatist; but it was his constant aim to reduce and simplify the fundamentals of Christianity. Not without some ground does the memorial tablet at Siena (inscription by Brigidi, 1879) characterize him as vindicator of human reason against the supernatural. Of his non-theological doctrines the most important is his assertion of the unlawfulness, not only of war, but of the taking of human life in any circumstances. Hence the comparative mildness of his proposals for dealing with religious and anti-religious offenders, though it cannot be said that he had grasped the complete theory of toleration. Hence, too, his contention that magisterial office is unlawful for a Christian.

Authorities.—For the biography of Sozzini the best materials are his letters; a collection is in his works; others are given by Cantù; more are preserved at Siena and Florence; his correspondence is open and frank, never sparing his weak points. The earliest life (prefixed to his works) is by S. Przypkowski (1636); in English, by J. Bidle (1653). This is the foundation of the article by Bayle, the Memoirs by J. Toulmin (1777), and the article by R. Wallace (Antitrin. Biog., 1850). Cantù's sketch in Gli Eretici d'Italia (1866) gives a genealogy of the Sozzini (needing revision). The best defence of Sozzini in his relations with Dávid is by James Yates (Christ. Pioneer, Feb. 1834); a less favourable view is taken by Dávid's Hungarian biographer Elek Jakab (Dávid F. Emléke, 1879). Of his system—best known through the Racovian Catechism (1605, planned by Sozzini and carried out by others, principally Valentine Schmalz); in English, by T. Rees (1818)—there is a special study by O. Fock, Der Socinianismus (1847). See also The Sozzini and their School, by A. Gordon (Theol. Rev., 1879; cf. Christian Life, Aug. 25, 1883). Use has been made above of unpublished papers in the archives of Florence, with others in the archives, communal library and collection of Padre Toti at Siena.

(A. Go.*)

  1. No trace is discoverable on the stone of the alleged epitaph:—
    Tota ruit Babylon; destruxit tecta Lutherus,
    Calvinus muros, sed fundamenta Socinus.”