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§ 128. Calvin and Laelius Socinus.

F. Trechsel (pastor at Vechingen, near Bern): Die protest. Antitrinitarier vor Faustus Socinus nach den Quellen und Urkunden geschichtlich dargestellt. Heidelberg, 1839, 1844. The first part of this learned work, drawn in part from manuscript sources, is devoted to Michael Servetus and his predecessors; the second part to Lelio Sozini and his sympathizing contemporaries. The third section of vol. II. 137–201, with documents in the Appendix, pp. 431–459, treats of Lelio Sozini.—Henry, II. 484 sqq.; III. 440, Beilage, 128.—Dyer, 251 (very brief).

Laelius Socinus, or Lelio Sozini, of Siena (1525–1562), son of an eminent professor of law, was well educated, and carried away by the reform movement in his early youth. He voluntarily separated from the Roman Church, in 1546, at the sacrifice of home and fortune. He removed to Chiavenna in 1547, travelled in Switzerland, France, England, Germany, and Poland, leading an independent life as a student, without public office, supported by the ample means of his father. He studied Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic with Pellican and Bibliander at Zürich and with Foster at Wittenberg, that he might reach "the fountain of the divine law" in the Bible. He made Zürich his second home, and died there in the prime of early manhood, leaving his unripe doubts and crude opinions as a legacy to his more gifted and famous nephew, who gave them definite shape and form.

Laelius was learned, acute, polite, amiable, and prepossessing. He was a man of affairs, better fitted for law or diplomacy than for theology. He was constitutionally a sceptic, of the type of Thomas: an honest seeker after truth; too independent to submit blindly to authority, and yet too religious to run into infidelity. His scepticism stumbled first at the Roman Catholic, than at the Protestant orthodoxy, and gradually spread over the doctrines of the resurrection, predestination, original sin, the trinity, the atonement, and the sacraments. Yet he remained in respectful connection with the Reformers, and communed with the congregation at Zürich, although he thought that the Consensus Tigurinus attributed too much power to the sacrament. He enjoyed the confidence of Bullinger and Melanchthon, who treated him with fatherly kindness, but regarded him better fitted for a secular calling than for the service of the Church. Calvin also was favorably impressed with his talents and personal character, but displeased with his excessive "inquisitiveness."920920    "Inexplicabilis curiositas," as he called it, adding: "Utinam non simul accederet phrenetica quaedam protervia." Letter to Bullinger, Aug. 7, 1554 (Opera, XV. 208).

L. Socinus came to Geneva in 1548 or 1549, seeking instruction from the greatest divine of the age. He opened his doubts to Calvin with the modesty of a disciple. Soon afterwards he addressed to him a letter from Zürich, asking for advice on the questions, whether it was lawful for a Protestant to marry a Roman Catholic; whether popish baptism was efficacious; and how the doctrine of the resurrection of the body could be explained.

Calvin answered in an elaborate letter (June 26, 1549),921921    Ep. 1212 in Opera, VIII. 307-311. We have in all four letters of Calvin to the elder Socinus, and one from Socinus to Calvin. to the effect that marriage with Romanists was to be condemned; that popish baptism was valid and efficacious, and should be resorted to when no other can be had, since the Roman communion, though corrupt, still retained marks of the true Church as well as a scattered number of elect individuals, and since baptism was not a popish invention but a divine institution and gift of God who fulfils his promises; that the question on the mode of the resurrection, and its relation to the changing states of our mortal body, was one of curiosity rather than utility.

Before receiving this answer, Socinus wrote to Calvin again from Basel (July 25, 1549) on the same subjects, especially the resurrection, which troubled his mind very much.922922    Opera, XIII. 337 sq. To this Calvin returned another answer (December, 1549), and warned him against the dangers of his sceptical bent of mind.923923    Ep. 1323 in Opera, XIII. 484-487.

Socinus was not discouraged by the earnest rebuke, nor shaken in his veneration for Calvin. During the Bolsec troubles, when at Wittenberg, he laid before him his scruples about predestination and free-will, and appealed to the testimony of Melanchthon, whom he had informed about the harsh treatment of Bolsec. Calvin answered briefly and not without some degree of bitterness.924924    Opera, XIV. 228. The answer of Calvin in the Geneva library is without date. Bonnet, who first published it (II. 315), puts it at the end of 1551; but it probably belongs to the beginning of 1552. See Melanchthon’s letters of Feb. 1, 1552, in which he mentions Laelio’s reports about Bolsec’s treatment, quoted p. 621, note.

Socinus visited Geneva a second time in 1554, after his return from a journey to Italy, and before making Zürich his final home. He was then, apparently, still in friendly relations to Calvin and Caraccioli.925925    As may be inferred from a postscript to his letter to Bullinger, dated Geneva, April 19, 1554, in Trechsel, II. 437. Soon afterwards he opened to Calvin, in four questions, his objections to the doctrine of the vicarious atonement. Calvin went to the trouble to answer them at length, with solid arguments, June, 1555.926926    Responsio ad aliquot Laelii Socini Senensis quaestiones, printed among the Consilia theologica, in Opera, vol. X. 160-165. Comp. vol. XV. 642.

But Socinus was not satisfied. His scepticism extended further to the doctrine of the sacraments and of the Trinity. He doubted first the personality of the Holy Spirit, and then the eternal divinity of Christ. He disapproved the execution of Servetus, and advocated toleration.

Various complaints against Socinus reached Bullinger. Calvin requested him to restrain the restless curiosity of the sceptic. Vergerio, then at Tübingen, Saluz of Coire, and other ministers, sent warnings. Bullinger instituted a private inquiry in a kindly spirit, and was satisfied with a verbal and written declaration of Socinus (July 15, 1555) to the effect that he fully agreed with the Scriptures and the Apostles’ Creed, that he disapproved the doctrines of the Anabaptists and Servetus, and that he would not teach any errors, but live in quiet retirement. Bullinger protected him against further attacks.

Socinus ceased to trouble the Reformers with questions. He devoted himself to the congregation of refugees from Locarno, and secured for them Ochino as pastor, but exerted a bad influence upon him. Fortified with letters of recommendation he made another journey to Italy,—via Germany and Poland, to recover his property from the Inquisition. Calvin gave him a letter to Prince Radziwill of Poland, dated June, 1558, to further his object.927927    Ep. 2876 in Opera, XVII. 181 sq. Henry, III. Beilage, 128 sq., first published this letter of recommendation, but misdated it, June, 1553. Laelius did not start on his last journey to Italy before 1558. But Socinus was bitterly disappointed in his wishes, and returned to Zürich in August, 1559. The last few years of his short life he spent in quiet retirement. His nephew visited him several times, and revered him as a divinely illuminated man to whom he owed his most fruitful ideas.

The personal relation of Calvin and the elder Socinus is one of curious mutual attraction and repulsion, like the two systems which they represent.928928    Trechsel, II. 166, thus describes the personal relationship: "So manche Erfahrung von Calvin’s Schroffheit Lelio sowohl an sich selbst als an andern gemacht hatte, so war doch nichts im Stande, sein achtungsvolles Zutrauen zu dem ausserordentlichen Manne zu schwächen. Gerade wie ein Pol den entgegensetzten anzieht, so wurde Lelio’s negative Natur von der positiven Calvin’s unaufhörlich angezogen, so konnte der Mann des Zweifels aus einer Art von Instinkt nicht umhin, bei dem Felsenmann des Glaubens, der mit beispielloser Kühnheit und Consequenz die Tiefen der Gottheit erforschte, gleichsam seine Ergänzung zu suchen, ohne dass die totale Divergenz beider Naturen eine Uebereinstimmung des Denkens und der Ansichten jemals erwarten liess."

The younger Socinus, the real founder of the system called after him, did not come into personal contact with Calvin, and labored among the scattered Unitarians and Anabaptists in Poland.

Calvin took a deep interest in the progress of the Reformation in Poland, and wrote several letters to the king, to Prince Radziwill, and some of the Polish nobility. But when the writings of Servetus and antitrinitarian opinions spread in that kingdom, he warned the Polish brethren, in one of his last writings, against the danger of this heresy.

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