SOCINIAN LEAVEN AT WORK IN GERMANY AND FRANCE
WE HAVE NOW reached the end of the history of Socinianism as an organized movement in Poland and in the little handful of congregations that for a time survived in exile. Yet though the body of this movement perished as we have seen, its spirit still survived, and in the end became perhaps even more widely diffused than if its corporate existence had not been brought to an end, but had lived on unopposed in the land of its origin. Before we proceed, how ever, to follow what may be called the supplementary history of the movement, among the gradually disappearing remnants of the Socinians in Holland, something deserves to be recorded of the extent to which Socinian principles and beliefs permeated and influenced lands where no organized movement would have been tolerated.
Except in Poland, Socinian thought never came to any extent into active conflict with Catholicism. In other lands Catholic writers largely ignored it; and even in Poland it won comparatively few converts except by way of the Reformed Church, many of whose ablest converts from Catholicism soon passed on into the Minor Church. It was from this source, indeed, that the membership of the latter was chiefly recruited; which is no doubt a main reason for the bitter hatred and persistent opposition with which the Calvinists pursued the Socinians. Nor did Socinianism make much impression upon the Lutherans in Poland; while in Germany the Lutheran clergy were so vigilant that any converts made there either had to remain such in secret, or else found it necessary to leave the country and join the Socinians in Poland. These latter at length made a company notable for their ability, and for leader ship in thought and scholarship, witness the names of Crellius, Ostorodt, Preuss, Ruar, Schomann, Smalcius, Stegmann, Völkel and others. The Socinian movement in Poland, however, was fairly well developed be fore theologians in other lands became much concerned about it. Two or three theologians in Western Europe did, it is true, incidentally attack early writings of Gonesius and Budny,1 though their writings can have fallen into but few hands, and will soon have been forgotten.
Apart from individual personal efforts of Socinian students at the universities, or of traveling scholars, no means of widely spreading their faith abroad were open to the Socinians much before the first decade of the seventeenth century, when their recently established press at Raków began to be active in publishing writings by Socinus and his followers. These were subsidized by the Synod or by individuals of means, and as they were intended largely for propaganda and defence, every opportunity was embraced for circulating them far and wide. Socinians traveling abroad would take copies of these works with them and, though they might not be placed on sale publicly, would discreetly place them in hands where they would do most good to their cause. Thus Socinian views came to be secretly and quietly diffused in whatever universities the Polish students frequented. Though it was only at Altdorf that their influence spread so far as to become a public scandal, yet in at least a score of the German universities the seed was thus sown and converts were quietly made, or sympathy awakened, or prejudices softened. Such influences, and corresponding efforts to counteract them, were especially active in the period immediately following the publication of the Racovian Catechism, and again for thirty years about the middle of the century. Smalcius’s dedication of the German edition of the Catechism to the University of Wittenberg was equivalent to an outright challenge to reply, but as we have seen in a previous chapter, a policy of silence was at first adopted, and for more than a decade no reply was attempted by the University. Professor Franz, however, had already attacked the smaller Raków catechism and a work of Socinus; while at about the same time Professor Grawer of Jena had also come out with a work attacking writings of Socinus and Ostorodt, to both of which Smalcius promptly published refutations. 2
From this time on, controversial writings came thick and fast, and lasted with little intermission until after the middle of the eighteenth century. The Wittenberg theologians In 1613 considered the refutation of Socinianism a common task for the Saxon universities, whose professors were to meet and consult about a common work in confutation; and in 1616 it was even planned to call a large assembly of German theologians to this end. 3 The work of counteracting the rapidly increasing infection of Socinian doctrines was, however, not confined to the Saxon universities. Wittenberg, indeed, took the lead, closely followed by Jena, Leipzig, Helmstedt and Rostock; but first or last in at least a score of the German universities anti-Socinian or anti-Photinian dissertations were presented or disputations held by students under the supervision of the faculties. 4 Such exercises appear to have been the favorite means employed by young theologues to establish their reputation for orthodoxy and by their teachers to confirm them in it, and they treated the subject in every possible aspect and in the most minute detail. Apart from these polemical efforts at the universities directed against Socinianism in general or in detail, a large number of solid works were published by individual theologians, either to controvert works that issued with increasing frequency from the Raków press, hardly one of which, it would seem, was suffered to go unanswered, or to attack the Socinian system or one of its doctrines in particular. In fact, out of the eighty years following the publication of the Racovian Catechism in German, there were but fifteen in which an attack of some sort was not published in Germany. Of all these opponents, the most notable was Abraham Calovius, Lutheran dogmatic theologian, professor successively at Rostock and Wittenberg, whose Socinismus profligatus (Wittenberg, 1652) devoted over 1,100 pages to his theme, and whose other Scripta Anti-Sociniana (Ulm, 1677—’84) filled three portly folio volumes,5 of nearly 2,000 pages in all.
The significance of this struggle of German Lutheranism against the influence of Socinianism, which was thus protracted with serious intensity for a full century and a half, and even continued for nearly a hundred years after the Socinian movement in Poland had ceased to exist, does not lie in what was advanced on either side. This never varied far from the customary arguments based upon Scripture, tradition and reason, however skillfully and forcibly presented; and the considerations urged have long since lost much of the force or interest that they once had, or have ceased to be relevant. Its importance in this history is in the witness it bears to the acute, wide-spread and long- continued fear lest the Protestant religion be fatally corrupted and undermined by this heresy. For Socinianism, so far from being regarded as the negligible vagary of an obscure foreign sect of a few scattered congregations on the fringe of western Europe, was taken very seriously, and feared as an insidious and dangerous enemy of true Christianity, against whose slightest manifestations it behooved the guardians of the faith to be constantly alert. Of the outcome of the struggle between forces so unevenly matched there could of course be no real doubt. The only means the Socinians had of spreading their faith was through the clandestine circulation of their books, which can have reached but comparatively few hands, or through the personal contacts of an occasional venturesome missionary; and any rare convert might avow himself as such only at the serious risk of his personal safety. Hence any little flame of heresy was bound to be smothered almost as soon as lighted. Nevertheless, even those that strove to confute Socinian views, or read or heard the confutations, could not escape being to some degree influenced and modified in their religious thinking, if only because long acquaintance with an enemy tends at length to make him seem less dangerous; so that if by the middle of the eighteenth century the theological atmosphere of Germany had come to be by no means so rigid as it had been at the beginning of the seventeenth, the leaven of Socinian views had no doubt made a substantial contribution to the change. The rise of Rationalism in the age of the Enlightenment, and the growth of modern biblical criticism, but illustrated tendencies in religious thought to which the Socinians, with their persistent advocacy of reason and tolerance had led the way.6
In France the influence of Socinianism was not nearly so wide or deep as it was in Germany. It was more remote from Poland, the Raków prints penetrated there but rarely and were difficult to obtain, there were no Socinian exiles in the country, and only an occasional traveler or scholar came thither. As compared with the great number of Anti-Socinian writings published in Germany, barely a dozen appeared in France or in French in the seventeenth century, though there was eventually a good deal of unconfessed Socinianism of a sort in both Calvinistic and Catholic quarters. As early as the summer of 1618 Jonas Schlichting was in Paris as traveling tutor to a young Socinian noble man, together with quite a number of others, several of whom were Socinians.7 Also immediately after the Synod of Dort in 1619 some Polish students under the charge of Ruar, fearing an outbreak of in tolerance in Holland, removed from Leiden to Paris to complete their studies, doubtless also lured by the desire to form relations with liberal- minded theologians there and to continue their relations with Remonstrant fugitives there. After staying at Blois for some time Ruar was in Paris for nearly a year, and after leaving France in 1620 he continued his interest in the religious affairs of the country, and afterwards sent desired Socinian books to Grotius in exile there.
When Grotius returned to Paris in 1632 he became the centre of a circle of Polish youth, who seem to have been largely Socinians. An drew Wiszowaty in the course of his wide travels had intimate relations not only with him but also with Gassendi, Mersenne and other distinguished men. One of the most interesting of these was Samuel Sorbičre, member of a prominent Calvinist family, who had been designed for the Protestant ministry but had left it for medicine, and finally ended a Catholic. Wiszowaty made his acquaintance, interested him in Socinian thought, and for several years corresponded with him. Ruar thought him very near the Socinian camp, and by the Calvinists he was even charged with being a Socinian. These liberal-minded Frenchmen appreciated the lack of passion with which the Socinians discussed disputed points in theology, and their decent way of treating their opponents; attracted by their tolerant principles, they did not hesitate to have cordial relations with them. But though the Socinians would have been glad to establish a center for their propaganda in Paris, on the basis of mutual toleration, they lacked an acknowledged leader, their activity was only occasional and accidental, and they faced the renascent Catholicism of the counter-reformation. Sympathy with them was therefore not sufficiently wide-spread for them to strike deep root as they were able to do in Holland, where all their propaganda was henceforth to be carried on.
Not long after this time an interesting correspondence arose between Martin Ruar, of whose career at Danzig an account was given in a previous chapter, and the celebrated Minorite scholar in Paris, Mann Mersenne, friend of Pascal and Descartes. Though primarily a mathematician and physicist, he had a deep interest in religious matters, and felt seriously concerned at the rapid spread of scepticism, deism and atheism in the country. He had already read some works of Socinus and Crellius, and these had so much interested him that he was eager to learn whether other Socinian writings might not help him in his struggle with the growing French infidelity. Having heard of Ruar’s reputation as a highly educated and influential Socinian, he opened correspondence with him, asking him to send him some Socinian books.8The correspondence soon passed on to a wider range of questions in theology, the Reformation doctrines, the main doctrines of the Catholic Church, the fundamental differences between the churches, and the evils of sectarian divisions. They amicably discussed the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and the Trinity, which Mersenne was pained that Ruar could not endure; but he praised the mildness of the Socinians in controversy, and wished that they would join in the com bat with libertinism, in which cause he was glad to employ their arguments against atheism. 9
The earliest evidence in print of the influence of Socinian thought in France appears in 1647, when an anonymous writing of Jonas Schlichting attacking the doctrine of the Trinity 10 was answered paragraph by paragraph by a French Catholic priest, the Rev. Joseph de Voisin.11 To another Catholic writer in East Prussia this answer seemed so weak and inadequate that he came out with a swaggering improvement on it, 12 which was anonymously answered in turn by a Dutch scholar, whose work long remained in manuscript, and was not published until a half-century 1ater. 13 This work indicates that Socinianism was beginning to be regarded as a danger to the Catholic faith in France.
In another quarter an insidious danger to religious faith was discerned and opposed. It was in the new intellectual movement that was asserting itself in France. The works of Descartes, father of modern philosophy, were winning wide acceptance in France among both Catholics and Calvinists, to many of whom they offered a welcome relief from out-moded Scholasticism and the dogmatism of the Jesuits. Progressive spirits were reassured to discover that they might rest their religion on solid grounds of reason instead of on the questionable foundation of mere faith. The influence of the new philosophy was manifest both in liberal Catholic quarters, as among the Jansenists of Port Royal, and among Calvinists, especially at their theological college at Saumur on the Loire. It is interesting, however, to note that one of the first to scent danger in this movement was a leading Socinian, Johann Ludwig von Wolzogen.14 When men prominent in the Church, like the Jansemsts and even Bossuet, seemed blind to it, he foresaw that if reason were to replace Scripture as the source of religious truth, the way would be wide open to infidelity, and religion would have but an arbitrary and shifting basis. He therefore wrote and published some trenchant criticisms on the Cartesian philosophy in its religious implications. 15 Descartes had already died, and there was no one to reply for him; but his thought had spread too far for much attention to be paid to the criticisms of a Socinian theologian unknown in the West. Wolzogen had spoken too late; and the increasing emphasis, in the later history of Socinianism, upon the claims of reason as compared with Scripture, tended to justify his apprehensions.
A clearer trace of infection with Socinian thought is seen in 1670 in a book on the reunion of Christendom, by a professor of theology in the Calvinist college at Saumur. 16 The author had for several years been interested in the cause of the Remonstrants in Holland, and had eagerly read Socinian books. Applying Cartesian principles to religion, he proposed in his work a union of all Christians on the fewest possible articles of faith, and those only such as are the most plainly set forth in Scripture. The guardians of the faith were quick to see that this would be to neglect as non-essential many of the distinctly orthodox doctrines, and thus to open the door wide to Arminians and Socinians. The Synod at Saumur therefore condemned the author and his book, and when he still persisted deposed him from his chair and from the ministry, and excommunicated him from the church the same year. 17 The movement thus started, with its inclusive spirit of toleration, spread, however, especially after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 exposed the Huguenots to renewed persecution, and made religious toleration more than ever a matter of vital interest; while its most active and able opponent was the Calvinist pastor and professor, Pierre Jurieu, a man of great learning and uncommon vigor in polemics, which made him the strongest controversialist of his time.
Determined at all hazards to keep the Reformed churches free of all looseness in doctrine, and at the same time smarting under increasing persecutions from the Catholics, Jurieu sought to convince the Catholic Church itself of fostering heresy in its own bosom. On the authority of a work by Bishop Huet of Avranches,18 he charged that Catholic France was full of deists and free-thinkers, and that infidelity was spreading, especially at court and among the intellectuals. In a little book on the French clergy,19 he declared (as though it were the admission of a Catholic) that the most dangerous enemies of the Catholic religion were the large numbers of those who, while professing the strongest attachment to it, do not accept its doctrines or respect its worship. Some of them call in question the main truths of Christianity, and are in fact Socinians, and this is the religion not only of young priests, but of some serious associations (meaning the Jansenists), who make a great show of their austere morals and their loyalty, yet doubt even the Trinity and the incarnation. Among these are to be numbered those Protestant pastors who to avoid threatening persecution lately joined the Catholic Church out of policy, subscribing to its doctrines as mere symbols of the Christian religion, while in fact disbelieving them. Jurieu’s charges, though it was admitted that there was a limited basis for them, naturally aroused much resentment among the Catholics. They were, however, overdrawn, and were duly answered and rebutted. Feeling against Jurieu was so strong that he found it best to withdraw to Rotterdam, where he became pastor of the French Protestant refugees (Huguenots) who had fled from France after the re vocation of the Edict of Nantes.20 Here he was now attacked from another quarter. It was being said that many of the French Protestant pastors sympathized with the views of the Remonstrants in Holland who had revolted from the high Calvinism of the Reformed Church, and consequently approved their tolerant attitude toward Socinianism. A French pastor who had been successively Catholic in France and Reformed in Holland, and had recently been dismissed by the latter as Socinian, now published at Amsterdam an anonymous work aimed at Jurieu, to prove that members of the Reformed Church were bound in all reason and Christian charity to extend to all other Christians, including Socinians and Quakers, the same toleration that they claimed for themselves; 21 and in a supplementary work he sought to show that there was only a verbal difference between the currently accepted interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity and Socinianism, and hence no valid objection to the toleration of the latter. 22
The discussion thus now shifted ground from the secret heresies in the Catholic Church in France to the subject of toleration in general in the Protestant churches in Holland, where the Remonstrants were urging complete freedom to preach, print, teach, and interpret Scripture and the Catechism, as also among the churches of the French Protestant refugees, in which a large number, while professing opposition to Socinian doctrines, yet openly favored toleration of Socinianism. Jurieu, knowing full well that the source of all this was Socinianism itself, now came out with a new book, 23 written in hot indignation at those who under the pretence of charity wished utterly to overthrow the Christian faith. He condemned toleration as a ‘Socinian doctrine, the most dangerous of all those of that sect, since it was on the way to ruin Christianity and place all religions on the same plane24 He sharply criticized the Socinian doctrines as stated by Socinus, Crellius and Völkel, likened Socinians to Moslems and pagans, attacked the Remonstrant theologian Episcopius, calling Arminianism the precursor of Socinianism, which was not Christian at all, but a species of atheism. Those that tolerated it out of charity were great enemies of the faith. Not satisfied with printed attacks, he got the Synod of Amsterdam in the same year to pass decrees condemning a policy that ‘under the misleading names of charity and tolerance tends to insinuate into unsophisticated minds the poison of Socinianism.’25 As over 4,000 Protestant refugees and more than fifty pastors had taken refuge at Amsterdam after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and as they were here exposed to currents of the Socinian influence then rife among their Remonstrant neighbors, the question of how much toleration should be allowed became an urgent one, and discussion of it was active. Isaac Jaquelot in an anonymous book26 undertook to refute Jurieu, whose position he thought extreme, and urged tolerance of Socinianism, though he was not a Socinian himself. Pastor Gedeon Huet also wrote in defence of true toleration,27 but his work was condemned by the Synod. Jacques Philipot, another refugee pastor at Amsterdam, continued the strife, 28 answering Jaquelot, and cautioning against the con sequences of too wide a toleration. Thus one writing led to another until at length the debate lost its edge, and died out with the death of the fiercest disputants.
The centre of the discussion now returned from that of Protestant tolerance of Socinianism, and ended where it had begun, among the Catholics. De Verse at length brought his wanderings full-circle by returning to Rome and doing what he could to counteract the evil of his earlier writings by publishing a refutation of them, in which he answered Socinian objections to the Catholic doctrines. 29 A few years later the Abbe Louis de Cordemoy published, at Bossuet’s request, a volume of solid controversy against the Socinians, based on the doctrine of the first Christian centuries, and holding that of all sects none was more dangerous than that of the Socinians. He followed it by another defending belief in eternal punishment, also directed against the Socinians.30 Both these books are evidence that the leaven of Socinianism was still working in Catholic circles in France.
Only two other works deserve attention in this connection: one by the Huguenot pastor Philippe Mesnard, called forth by Le Clerc’s recent French translation of the New Testament, moderately written, and showing that tolerance had gained ground; 31 and the other the ablest and most thorough doctrinal polemic that the French Protestants produced against Socinianism, written by a refugee pastor from La Rochelle. 32 After this comparatively brief and narrowly limited struggle against the quiet spread of Socinian doctrines and principles on French soil or among exiled French congregations, the disturbance quieted down. If some of the priests in the Catholic Church still privately held Socinian opinions but were not aggressive about it, they were not disturbed so long as they conformed to the usual outward observances; and if among the Huguenot congregations there were those that were drawn more to Socinus than to Calvin, the tolerant spirit had now grown so strong in Holland that there was no danger of civil persecution, and little of church discipline. The further course of our story will therefore be concerned with the gradual and quiet absorption of the Socinian thought and spirit among the native Dutch churches.
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