1902 Encyclopedia > Socinus

(1) Lelio Francesco Maria Sozini (Laelius Socinus), Italian theologian (1525-62)
2) Fausto Paolo Sozzini (Faustus Socinus), Italian theologian (1539-1604)

SOCINUS, the Latinized form of the Italian Soccini, Sozzini or Sozini.

I. LELIO FRANCESCO MARIA SOZINI (1525-1562), theological inquirer, was born at Siena on 29th 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 the ancestor of a line of patrician jurists, of whom Mariano Sozzini, senior (1397-1467), was the first and the most famous. Lelio was the sixth son of Mariano Sozzini, junior (1482-1556), by his wife Camilla Salvetti. The family name is variously spelled (usually " Soccini" by modern writers); Lelio invariably uses the form "Sozini," Latinizing it "Sozinus" ; his nephew FAUSTO (see below) writes " Sozzini" and " Socinus." Sozini was educated as a jurist under his father's eye at Bologna. According to Melanchthon, it was his desire to reach the fontes juris which led him to Biblical studies and hence to the rejection of "the idolatry of Rome." Later on he acquired some knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic (he gave to Bibliander a manuscript of the Koran) as well as Greek, but he was never a laborious student. His father supplied him with means, and on coming of age he went to Venice, the headquarters of the evangelical movement in Italy. A tradition first published by Sand in 1678, and amplified by subsequent writers, makes Sozini the leading spirit in certain alleged theological conferences at Vicenza, about 1546, which are said to have forecast the main positions of the Unitarian heresy; but the whole account, including the story of the flight of Sozini, must be rejected as mythical. At this period the standpoint of Sozini was that of evangelical Protestantism ; his mental temper presents a singular union of enthusiastic piety with a love for the subtleties of theological speculation. It was at Chiavenna in 1547 that he came under the influence of a gentle mystic, Camillo of Sicily, surnamed "Renato," wdiose teaching anticipated at many points that of the early Quakers. Pursuing his religious travels, Sozini visited Switzerland, France, England, and Holland, returning to Switzerland at the close of 1548. He had commendatory letters to the Swiss churches from Nicolas Meyer, envoy from Wittenberg to Italy; but his family name was a sufficient passport, and wherever he went his personal charm won friends. We find him in 1549-50 at Geneva and Basel (with Sebastian Miinster), but chiefly at Zurich, where he lodges with Pellican. He spends eleven months (July 1550 to June 1551) at Wittenberg, at first under Melanchthon's roof, then with Johann Forster for the improvement of his Hebrew. From Wittenberg Sozini returned to Zurich (end of 1551) after visiting Prague, Vienna, and Cracow. Political events attracted 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 at Geneva, as is often said) at the date of Servetus's execution (27th October 1553). Thence he made his way to Basel (January 1554), Geneva (April), and Zurich (May), where he took up his abode.

Calvin, as well as Melanchthon, received Sozini with open arms. Melanchthon (though a phrase in one of his letters has been strangely misinterpreted) 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 from one of Calvin's letters to Sozini (1st January 1552) has been construed as a breaking off of amicable intercourse; but, while more than once uneasy apprehensions arose in Calvin's mind, there was no breach of correspondence or of friendship. Of all the Beformers Bullinger was Sozini's closest intimate, his warmest and wisest friend. Sozini's theological difficulties turned upon the resurrection of the body, predestination, the ground of salvation (these were the points on which he corresponded with Calvin), the doctrinal basis of the original gospel (queries addressed to Bullinger), the nature of repentance (to Rudolph Gualther), the sacraments (to Johann Wolff). Not till the fate of Servetus had directed his mind to the question of the Trinity did he throw out any doubts upon this subject. At Geneva, in April 1554, he had uttered incautious remarks on the common doctrine, emphasized in a subsequent letter to Martinengo, the Italian pastor. Bullinger, warned by several correspondents (including Calvin), questioned Sozini as to his faith, and received from him an explicitly orthodox confession, afterwards reduced to writing (15th 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 Zurich. There can be little doubt that the minds of Sozini and Ochino (a thinker of the same order as Camillo, but with finer dialectic skill) acted powerfully on each other in the radical discussion of theological problems. Sozini lost his father in 1556, an event which involved him in pecuniary anxieties. To what property he was entitled does not appear; he got nothing under his father's will. Fortified with the most influential introductions (including one from Calvin), he visited in 1558 the courts of Vienna and Cracow to obtain support for his appeal to the reigning duke of Florence. His object was to realize his own estate and secure that of his family. It is a sufficiently curious circumstance that Melanchthon's letter introducing Sozini to Maximilian II. invokes the historic parallel of the emperor Constans rendering a hospitable reception to Athanasius, when he fled from Egypt to Treves. Well received out of Italy, Sozini (who does not appear to have got beyond Venice) found he could do nothing at home. The Inquisition had its eye on his family : his brother Cornelio was imprisoned at Rome ; his brothers Celso and Camillo and his nephew Fausto were " reputati Luterani" at Siena, and Camillo had taken refuge in flight. In August 1559 Sozini returned to Zurich, and we hear little more of him. His brief career ended on 14th May 1562, at his lodging in the house of Hans Wyss, silk-weaver.

The news of his death reached his nephew at Lyons through Antonio Maria Besozzo. Fausto repaired to Zurich and got his uncle's papers, comprising very little connected writing, but a good many notes. Fausto has so often been regarded as a plagiarist from Lelio that it may be well here to state that his debt to Lelio, somewhat over-estimated by himself, was twofold. (1) He derived from him in con-versation (1552-53) the germ of his theory of salvation; (2) Lelio's paraphrase (1561) of arche [Gk.] in John i. 1 as "the beginning of the gospel" gave Fausto a hint of Biblical exegesis by help of which he constructed a new Christology. Apart from these suggestions, Fausto owed nothing to Lelio except a curiously far-fetched interpretation of John viii. 58, and the stimulating remembrance of his pure character and brilliant gifts. The two men were of totally different genius. Lelio, impulsive and inquisitive, was in quest of the spiritual ground of religious truth; 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, four parts, 1560, and (2) De Resurrectione, a fragment. Both were first printed in F. et L. Socini, item E. Soneri Tractatus, Amsterdam, 1654,16mo. To these may he added his Confession, 1555 (printed in Hottinger, Hist. Eccles. N. T., vol. ix., sec. 16, part 5, 1667), and about twenty-four letters, some still unprinted ; but the most important will be found in Illgen and Trechsel, and (the earliest) in the edition of Calvin's works by Baum, Cunitz, and Reuss. 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; but these ascriptions were not made till his nephew had identified his name with active heresy, and are not supported by internal evidence. To Lelio also Beza assigned (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 the chief source of the misconception which represents Lelio as a heresiarch. In Franc. Guinio's Defensio Cath. Doct. de S. Trin., 1590-91, is an anonymous emimeratio of motives for adhering to 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. it, 1844; but there are valuable materials in Illgen, Vita L. Socini, 1814, and especially Symbolae ad Vitam et Doctrinam L. Soc., &c, 1826. Wallace (Antitrin. Biog., 1850, ii. 63) gives the ordinary Unitarian view, relying on Bock, Da Porta, and Lubienecki; see also Bonet-Maury's Early Sources of English Unit. Christ., 1884, chap. 9. Use has been made above of unprinted sources.

II. FAUSTO PAOLO SOZZINI (1539-1604), theological writer, was born at Siena on 5th December 1539, the only son of Alessandro Sozzini, "princeps subtilitatum," by Agnese, daughter of Borghese Petrucci. He was thus descended on the one side from the long line of great lawyers, of whom Mariano the elder is traditionally said to have been the first heretic of the family, on the other from Pandolfo Petrucci, the Cromwell of Siena. His father died in 1541 at the early age of thirty-one. Fausto received no regular education; he was brought up at home with his sister Fillide. The influence of the able women of his family communicated a strong moral impress to his thought. His youth was spent in desultory reading at Scopeto, the country seat of his family. His early intellectual stimulus came from his uncle Celso, an esprit fort, though always nominally a Catholic, and the founder of the Accademia dei Sizienti (1554), of which Fausto was a member. In 1556 his grandfather's will made him independent by leaving him one-fourth of the family estates. Next year he was enrolled in the famous Accademia degli Intronati, the centre of the intellectual life of Siena. His academic name was "II Frastagliato "; he took as his badge "un mare turbato da venti," with the motto "turbant sed extollunt." About this time Panzirolo (De Claris Legg. Interpp., not published till 1637) describes him as a young man of fine talent, and bespeaks for him a legal career. But Fausto despised the law, and preferred the writing of sonnets. He was suspected of Lutheranism in 1558-59; soon after he came of age (1561) he went to Lyons, being probably employed there in mercantile business; he revisited Italy after his uncle Lelio's death; we next find him enrolled for a short time in 1562 as a member of the Italian church at Geneva; he returned to Lyons next year. The evangelical position was not radical enough for him. His Explicatio (1562) of the proem to St John's Gospel shows that already he attributed to our Lord an official instead of an essential deity; a letter of 1563 rejects the natural immortality of man (a position developed long after in his disputation with Pucci). Towards the end of 1563 he conformed again to the Catholic Church, and spent the next twelve years in Italy, partly at court. Przypkowski, regardless of chronology, places him in the service of Francesco, grand-duke of Tuscany. His unpublished letters show that he was in the service only of Isabella de' Medici, Francesco's sister. This portion of his life is obscure, and he afterwards regarded it as wasted. Till 1567 he continued to give some attention to legal studies. He found time to write (1570) his treatise De Auctoritate S. Scripturae. In 1571 he was in Rome, perhaps with his patroness. At the end of 1575 he left Italy, and after Isabella's death (strangled by her husband in 1576) declined the overtures of Francesco, who pressed him to return. Francesco was probably aware of the motives which led Sozzini to quit Italy; for there is every reason to believe the statement of Przypkowski that the grand-duke agreed to protect him in the enjoyment of the income of his property so long as he published nothing in his own name. Sozzini now fixed himself at Basel, where he gave himself to close study of the Bible, began a poetic version of the Psalms, edited posthumous dialogues of Castellio, and, in spite of his increasing deafness, became a recognized centre of theological discussion. One of these discussions was on the doctrine of salvation, with Jacques Couet. It resulted in a bulky treatise, De Jesu Christo Servatore (finished 12th July 1578), the circulation of which in manuscript appears to have commended his powers to the notice of Giorgio Biandrata (1515-1588), court physician in Transylvania, and an unscrupulous ecclesiastical wire-puller. [230-1]

Transylvania had for a short time (1559-71) enjoyed religious liberty under an antitrinitarian prince, John Sigismund. But the existing ruler, Christopher Báthori, favoured the Jesuits, and it was an object with Biandrata to limit the "Judaic" tendencies of the antitrinitarian bishop, Francis Dávid (1510-1579), with whom he had previously acted. By the alleged discovery of a stain upon Biandrata's morals of the gravest sort his influence with David was destroyed. Now Sozzini's scheme of doctrine encouraged the use of seemingly orthodox language in an heretical sense. Christ was to be called God, and invoked with divine honours, though without any inherent title to such homage, but as "un Dio subalterno, al quale in un dato tempo il Dio supremo cedette il governo del mondo " (Cantil). It occurred to Biandrata that, if Sozzini could convert the eloquent Dávid to this view, all would be well. Accordingly in November 1578 Sozzini reached Kolozsvár (Klausenburg), and did his best, during a visit of four months and a half under Dávid's roof, to teach him the doctrine of the invocation of Christ. Though Sozzini did not (as Biandrata desired) urge the absolute necessity of this invocation, the result was a public explosion on Dávid's part against the cultus of Christ in any shape or form. His trial followed, on a charge of innovation. Sozzini hurried off to Poland before it began. He cannot be accused of a guilty complicity with "what he calls the rage of Biandrata, for he was no party to the incarceration of Dávid at Déva, where the old man miserably perished in prison. But he was willing that Dávid should be prohibited from preaching pending the decision of the controversy by a general synod; and his references to the case show that (as in the later instances of Jacobo Paleólogo, Christian Franken, and Martin Seidel) theological aversions, though they never made him uncivil, froze up his kindness and blinded his perceptions of character. Biandrata ultimately conformed to the Catholic Church; yet as late as 1584 Sozzini, always constant to the leanings of friendship, sought his patronage for his treatise De Jesu Christi Natura, in reply to the Calvinist Andrew Wolan. The remainder (1579-1604) of Sozzini's life was spent in Poland. Excluded at first by his views on baptism from the Minor or Anti-trinitarian Church (anabaptist in its constitution), he acquired by degrees a predominant influence in its synods. He converted the Arians from their avowal of our Saviour's pre-existence and their refusal to honour Him by invocation; he repressed the semi-Judaizers whom he could not convince. Through correspondence with his friends in official places he ruled also the policy of the Antitrinitarian 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 giving birth to a daughter, Agnese, afterwards the wife of Stanislau Wiszowaty. In 1587 the grand-duke Francesco died, and to this event Sozzini's biographers attribute the loss of his Italian property. But he was on good terms with Francesco's successor, and might have continued to receive his rents had not family disputes arisen respecting the interpretation of his grandfather's will. The holy office at Siena disinherited him in October 1590; but he was allowed a pension, which does not seem to have been paid. The failure of supplies from Italy dissolved the compact under which his works were to remain anonymous. He began to publish under 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 4th March 1604. A limestone block, with illegible inscriptions, marks his grave. [230-2]

Sozzini's works, as edited by his grandson Andrew Wiszowaty and the learned printer F. Kuyper, are contained in two closely printed folios, Amsterdam, 1668. They are usually reckoned the first two volumes of the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, but in fact the works of Crell and Schlichting preceded them in the series. They include all Sozzini's extant theological writings, except his essay On Predestination (in which ho 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 Dysidams, Gratianus Prosper, and Gratianus Turpio Gorapolensis ( = Senensis). Some of his early poetry will be found in Ferentilli's Scielta di Stanze di Diversi Autori Toscani, 1579 (reprinted 1594); other specimens are given in Cantu, and in the Athenaeum, 11th August 1877. Sozzini himself considered that his Contra Atheos, which perished in the riot at Cracow, was his ablest work. In later life he began, but left incomplete, more than one work intended to exhibit his system as a whole. His reputation as a thinker must rest on (1) his De Auctoritate S. Scripturae, and (2) his De Jesu Christo Servatore. The former was first published at Seville (1588) by Lopez, a Jesuit, who claimed it as his own, but prefixed a preface in which, contrary to a fundamental position of Sozzini, he maintains that man by nature has a knowledge of God. A French version (1592) was approved by the ministers of Basel; and the English translation (1731) by Edward Coombe was undertaken in consequence of the commendation of the work in a charge (1728) by Bishop Srnalbroke, who observes that Grotius had laid it under contribution in his De Veritate Christ. Rel. In a small compass it anticipates the whole argument of the "credibility" writers; but in trying it by modern tests it should be remembered that Sozzini regarded it (in 1581) as not adequately meeting the cardinal difficulties attending the proof of the Christian religion, and subsequently began to reconstruct its argument in his unfinished Lectiones Sacrae. His treatise on salvation constitutes his main service to theology, placing orthodoxy and heresy in new relations of fundamental antagonism, and narrowing the conflict to the central interest of religion. Of the person of Christ in this treatise he says nothing; he deals exclusively with the work of Christ, which in his view operates upon man alone; and it is by the persistency with which this idea tends to recur that we must estimate the theological sagacity of Sozzini. Though his name has been attached to a school of opinion (Socinianism), he disclaimed the role of a heresiarch, and declined to give his unreserved adhesion to any one sect. The confidence with wdiich he relied upon the conclusions of his own mind has gained him the repute of a dogmatist ; but it was his constant aim to reduce and simplify the fundamentals of Christianity, and it is not without ground that the memorial tablet at Siena (inscription by Brigidi, 1879) characterizes him as a 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 offenders ; but it cannot be said that he had grasped the full idea of toleration. Hence too his contention that magisterial office is unlawful for a Christian.

For the biography of Sozzini the best materials are his letters. There is a collection in his works; others are given by Cantu; some are unpublished. In his correspondence he delineates himself freely, not sparing his weak points of character or of attainment. The earliest life, prefixed (with engraved portrait) to the works, is by Przypkowski (1636), translated into English by Bidle (1653). This is the foundation of the article by Bayle, the Memoirs by Toulmin (1777), and the Life by Wallace (Antitrin. Biog., 1850, ii. 306). The sketch by Cantú in Gli Eretici d'Italia, 1866, vol. ii., gives a genealogy of the Sozzini (needing some correction). The best defence of Sozzini in his relations with Dávid is by James Yates, in Christ. Pioneer, February 1834; a less favourable view is taken by the Hungarian biographer of Dávid (Jakab, Dávid F. Emléke, 1879). Of his system, most generally known through the Racovian Catechism, 1605 (planned by Sozzini, but chiefly carried out by others, principally Schmalz; translated by Rees, 1818), there is a special study by Fock, Der Socianismus, 1847. See also "The Sozzini and their School," in Theol. Rev., 1879 (corrected in Christ. Life, 25th August 1883). Use has been made above of unpublished papers in the archives at Florence, with others in the archives, communal library, and collection of Padre Toti at Siena. (A. GO.)


230-1 Biandrata was Sozzini's evil genius. Born of an old family in Piedmont and educated in France, Biandrata had attached himself to the left wing of Protestantism, and had moved here and there among the upper circles of the Reformed, depending for professional advancement on a special knowledge of the diseases of women. Driven eastwards a second time in 1558 (after fomenting antitrinitarian heresy in the Italian church of Geneva), he had for twenty years been the confidential adviser of ladies of the reigning house, first in Poland and then in Transylvania. In both countries he was a dexterous meddler in church affairs; his policy was the establishment of a kind of broad church, with a confession nakedly Scriptural in its terms, and a resolute suppression of all compromising extremes.

230-2 No trace is discoverable on the stone of the alleged epitaph—
"Tota ruit Babylon: destruxit tecta Lutherus,
Calvinus lnuros, sed fundamenta Socinus."

The above article was written by: Rev. Alex Gordon, M.A.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries