Center for Philosophy and Socinian Studies
The Socinians were members of the specific radical Reformation international religious group that was formed originally in Poland and in Transylvania in the XVIth century and went beyond the limited scope of the reform initiated by Luther or Calvin. At the roots of their religious doctrines was the Antitrinitarianism developed by Michael Servetus (1511-1553) and transplanted by Italian Humanists, as well as the social ideas borrowed initially from the Anabaptists and Moravian Brethren. About the middle of the XVIth century a variety of Antitrinitarian sects emerged. They called themselves Christians or Brethren, hence Polish Brethren, also Minor Reformed Church. Their opponents labeled them after the old heresies as Sabellians, Samosatinians, Ebionites, Unitarians, and finally Arians. They were also known abroad as Socinians, after the Italian Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) (Fausto Sozzini, nephew of Lelio Sozzini) who at the end of the XVIth century became a prominent figure in the Raków Unitarian congregation for systematizing the doctrines of the Polish Brethren. Although the spirit of religious liberty was one of the elements of the Socinian doctrine, the persecution and coercion they met as a result of the Counter Reformation led them to formulate the most advanced ideas in the realm of human freedom and church-state relations.
The intellectual ferment Socinian ideas produced in all of Europe determined the future philosophical trends and led directly to the development of Enlightenment. The precursor ideas of the Polish Brethren on religious freedom were later expanded, perfected and popularized by John Locke (1632-1704) in England and Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) in France and Holland, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) in Holland. The ideas of John Locke were transplanted directly to the American continent by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who implemented them for the first time in the American legislation.
The Polish Brethren were forerunners of the later thinkers who developed the ideas of the Enlightenment and introduced modern humanistic ideals. Their achievements are the highest in Europe of their times and originated all modern trends in political, social and moral sciences, in biblical and religious studies, and in concepts of the absolute freedom of intellectual inquiry, liberty of conscience and complete nonantagonistic separation of church and state. They put to practice the highest ethical ideals.