Socinus, Faustus

, nephew of the preceding, and commonly esteemed the head of the sect of Socinians, was born at Vienna in 1539. He is supposed to have studied little in his youth, and to have acquired hut a moderate share of classical learning and the civil law. He was scarcely twenty when his uncle died at Zurich, and Faustus immediately set out from Lyons, where he then happened to be, to take possession of all his papers. Lrelius had. conceived great hopes of his nephew, imparted to him the whole of his opinions; and used to say that what he had inculcated but faintly and obscurely to the world at large, would be divulged in a more strong and perspicuous manner by Faustus. But, although this was ultimately the case, Faustus did not begin to propagate his uncle’s principles immediately upon his return to Italy from Zurich; but suffered himself to be diverted, by large promises of favour and honourable employments already bestowed upon him, to the court of Francis de Medicis, grand duke of Tuscany. Here he spent twelve years, and had almost forgot his uncle’s doctrines and papers, for which some have censured him as taking upon him the character of a reformer, without due preparation of study: while his followers have endeavoured to display it as an advantage that he studied the world, rather than scholastic learning.

In 1574, he left the court of Florence, and went into Germany; whence he could never be prevailed with to return, though frequently importuned by letters and messengers from the grand duke himself. He studied divinity at Basil for three years; and now began to propagate his uncle’s principles, but with considerable alterations and additions of his own. About that time the churches of Transylvania were disturbed by the doctrine of Francis David, concerning the honours and the power of the son of God. Blandrata, a man of great authority in those churches and at court, sent for Socinus from Basil, as a man very well qualified to compose these differences, and procured him to be lodged in the same bouse with Francis David, that he might have a better opportunity of drawing him from his errors. David, however, would not be convinced, but remained obstinate and determined to propagate his errors; on which he was cast into prison by order of the^mnce, where he died soon after. This left an imputation upon Socinus, as if he had been the contriver of kis imprisonment, and the occasion of his death; which, | saysLe Clerc, if it be true (though he endeavoured to deny it), should moderate the indignation of his followers against Calvin in the case of Servetus, for nothing can be said against that reformer, which will not bear as hard upon their own patriarch.

In 1579, Socinus retired into Poland, and desired to be admitted into the communion of the Unitarians, or United Brethren; but was refused, on account of his doctrines, to which they did not assent. Afterwards, he wrote a book against James Paheologus; of which complaint was made to Stephen, then king of Poland, as containing seditious opinions; yet this seems without foundation, for Socinus was such a friend to absolute submission, that he even condemned with severity the resistance of the people of the Netherlands against the tyranny of Spain. He found it, however, expedient to leave Cracow, after he had been there four years; and to take sanctuary in the house of a Polish lord, with whom he lived some years; and married his daughter with his consent. In this retreat he wrote many books, which raised innumerable enemies against him. He lost Ins wife in 1587, at which he was inconsolable for many months; and was, about the same time, deprived, by the death of the duke of Tuscany, of a noble pension, which had been settled on him by the generosity that prince. In 1598, he returned again to Cracow, where he became so obnoxious, that the scholars of that place raised a mob of the lower order, who broke into his house, dragged him into the streets, and were with difficulty prevented from murdering him. They plundered his house, however, and burnt some manuscripts which he particularly lamented, and said he would have redeemed at price of his blood. To avoid these dangers for the future. he retired to the house of a Polish gentleman, at a village about nine miles distant from Cracow; where he spent the remainder of his life, and died in 1604-, aged sixtyfive.

His sect did not die with him; but the sentiments of the modern Socinians are widely different from those of their founder, who approached to a degree of orthodoxy nowhere now to be found among them. To enter, however, upon all the varieties of their opinions would occupy a much larger space than is consistent with the plan of this work. Yet all those varieties, and all the shapes and forms on which the modern Socinians, or Unitarians, as they affect | to be called, rest their opinions, may be traced to the main principle of Socinianism, as stated by Mosheim. Although, says that writer, the Socinians profess to believe that our divine knowledge is derived solely from the Holy Scriptures; yet they maintain in reality, that the sense of the Scripture is to be investigated and explained by the Dictates of right reason, to which, of consequence, they attribute a great influence in determining the nature, and unfolding the various doctrines of religion. When their writings are perused with attention, they will he found to attribute more to reason, in this matter, than most other Christian societies. For they frequently insinuate artfully, and sometimes declare plainly, that the sacred penmen were guilty of many errors, from a defect of memory, as well as a want of capacity; that they expressed their sentiments without perspicuity or precision, and rendered the plainest things obscure by their pompous and diffuse Asiatic style; and that it was therefore absolutely necessary to employ the lamp of human reason to cast a light upon their doctrine, and to explain it in a manner conformable to truth. It is easy to see what they had in view by maintaining propositions of this kind. They aimed at nothing less than the establishment of the following general rule, viz. that the history of the Jews, and also that of Jesus Christ, were indeed to be derived from the books of the Old and New Testament, and that it was not lawful to entertain the least doubt concerning the truth of this history, or the authenticity of these books in general; but that the particular doctrines which they contain, were, nevertheless, to be understood and explained in such a manner as to render them consonant with the dictates of reason. According to this representation of tilings, it is not the Holy Scripture, which declares clearly and expressly what we are to believe concerning the nature, counsels, and perfections of the Deity; but it is human reason, which shews us the system of religion that we ought to seek in, and deduce from, the divine oracles. This fundamental principle of Socinianism, continues Mosheim, will appear the more dangerous and pernicious, when we consider the sense in which the word reason was understood by this sect. The pompous title of right reason was given, by the Socinians, to that measure of intelligence and discernment, or, in other words, to that faculty of comprehending and judging, which we derive from nature. According to this definition, the | fundamental rule of Socinianism necessarily supposes, that no doctrine ought to be acknowledged as true in its nature, or divine in its origin, all whose pu.is are not level to the comprehension of the human understanding.; and that, whatever the Holy Scriptures teach concerning the perfec* tions of God, his counsels and decrees, and the way of salvation, must be modified, curtailed, and filed down, in such a manner, by the transforming power of an and argument, ai to answer the extent of our limited faculties. Thosr wlio adopt this singular rule, must at the same time grant that the number of religions must be nearly equ~l to that of individuals. For as there is a great variety in the talents and capacities of different persons, so what will appear dnKcolt and abstruse to one, will seem evident and clear to another; and thus the more discerning and penetrating will adopt as divine truth, what the slow and superficial will look upon as unintelligible jargon. This consequence, however, does not at all alarm the Socinians, who suffer their members to explain, in very different ways, many doctrines of the highest importance, and permit every one to follow his particular fancy in composing his theological system, provided they acknowledge in general, the truth and authenticity of the history of Christ, and adhere to the precepts which the gospel lays down for the regulation of our lives and actions. 1

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Gen. Dict.—Mosheim.—Dupin.