- Socinianism was an anti-Trinitarian movement that emerged during the 16th-century Reformation. Its name derived from the two Italian reformers who helped define it, Lelius Socinius (1526-62) and his nephew, Faustus Socinius (1539-1604), both natives of Sienna.The movement began as a secret society in Venice that came to reject the doctrine of the Trinity, the almost universal Christian belief that the one God is expressed in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Among the members was Lelius Socinius, a Catholic priest and acquaintance of other major reformers such as Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin, and Philip Melancthon. When the society's views became known in the early 1550s, most of its members fled to Poland. Lelius settled in Zurich, though he stayed in contact with a circle of non-Trinitarians in Krakow. The Polish group suffered some divisions following Lelius's death in 1562, but was able to issue a catechism in 1574.Giorgio Biandrata (1515-90), one of the leaders of the Venetian group, moved to Transylvania (then under Turkish Ottoman control). He became court physician to King John Sigismund, who in 1564 led the Transylvanian diet to adopt Calvinism as the state religion. Biandrata won over the leader of the Reformed (Calvinist) Church, Francis David, to his non-Trinitarian position. David thus became head of a Unitarian church centered in Transylvania, but he was soon imprisoned for his unique views. Unlike the Socinians, David no longer believed that Christ should be worshipped; in addition, his followers worshipped on the Sabbath rather than Sunday.Meanwhile, Faustus Socinius was able to unite the Polish Unitarians. He was subsequently invited to Transylvania to try to moderate David's views. Socinius held that Christ, while not God, was the Promised Man, the Mediator of creation and thus the Mediator of regeneration. David refused to accept Socinius's view and died in prison.The new center of Socinianism flourished at Racow, Poland. Faustus's revised catechism was published in Polish the year after his death (1605), and then in Latin four years later. Even as the Counter-Reformation gained strength in Poland, the Socinians established schools, held synods, and printed their own literature.As Socinian literature found its way across Europe, in 1638 the Catholic authorities decided to suppress the movement, and on this issue Protestants agreed. Not only did the Socinians deny Christ's divinity, they also denied the real presence in the sacraments, original sin, hell, and infant baptism. They taught that the Holy spirit was an operation of God, the power of sanctification. One by one, Poland and other European governments moved to suppress the movement.Socinianism was stamped out in Catholic countries by the Counter-Reformation. Protestants in England and Holland, where socinians briefly emerged, were hardly kinder, though in England socinian thought survived long enough to inspire what would become British Unitari-anism in the next centuryFurther reading:■ Marian Hillar, "From the Polish Socinians to the American Constitution," A Journal from the Radical Reformation. A Testimony to Biblical Unitarianism 3, 2 (1994): 22-57. Available online. URL:http://www.socinian.org/polish_socinians.html■ Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism, vol. 1: Socianianism and Its Antecedents (Boston: Beacon Press, 1945)■ George H. Williams, The Polish Brethren: Documentation of the History and Thought of Unitarianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and in the Diaspora, 1601-1685 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.