Science versus religion

Socinianism from J. McRee Elrod

The Socinian movement was crushed in Poland in 1660, but many Socinians moved to the Netherlands. From here they influenced the development of the Western enlightenment that was just beginning.

Faustus Socinus and his followers held that

1) All religious authority depends on applying reason to Scripture

2) The doctrine of the Trinity is false because there is no Scriptural evidence for it

3) The ethical teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, are the main guide, not the words of Paul

4) Jesus was human, though an exceptional human; though not God, he was endowed with divine attributes of wisdom and virtue.

5) The resurrection was significant because it demonstrated the possibility of immortality

6) Jesus' death was not an atonement for our sins nor did God demand that someone suffer for our sins.

7) The following doctrines are false: original sin, predestination of the elect, the inherent depravity of human beings, and eternal damnation

8) We can have faith in the good and loving nature of God

9) Though well aware of how sinful human beings can be and often are, we can have faith in the human capacity for reason and goodness.

10) Religious thought should be free, and all creeds should be tolerated.

Protestant and Catholic leaders reacted by terming (10) "that Socinian dogma, the most dangerous of the dogmas of the Socinian sect."

There was a strong social justice commitment among the Socinians. They spoke out against the enserfment of the peasantry and were the first Christians to advocate separation of Church and state. Early on they seem to have been pacifists and opposed to participation in public and judicial office, but they gradually adopted a more moderate position advocating mutual love, support of the state's secular power, active participation in social and political life and defense of social equality.

The Socinians' defense of religious toleration and freedom of religious thought probably influenced the great British political philosopher John Locke. Locke's library included many Socinian works and his posthumously published work, The Reasonableness of Christianity, was close to the Socinian position in its emphasis on Jesus as an ethical teacher. However, Locke was probably an Arian rather than a Socinian Christian in the sense that he held Jesus to be a supernatural being dependent on but less exalted than God.

J. McRee Elrod is a retired Unitarian minister.

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