Volume 36, 1998
Philosophy of Religion
The Philosophical Legacy of the 16th and 17th Century Socinians
The doctrines of the Socinians represent a rational reaction to a medieval theology based on submission to the Church’s authority. Though they retained Scripture as something supra rationem, the Socinians analyzed it rationally and believed that nothing should be accepted contra rationem. Their social and political thought underwent a significant evolutionary process from a very utopian pacifistic trend condemning participation in war and holding public and judicial office to a moderate and realistic stance based on mutual love, support of the secular power of the state, active participation in social and political life, and the defense of social equality. They spoke out against the enserfment of peasants, and were the first Christians to postulate the separation of Church and state. The spirit of absolute religious freedom expressed in their practice and writings, ‘determined, more or less immediately, all the subsequent revolutions in favor of religious liberty.’(1) The precursor ideas of the Socinians on religious freedom later were expanded, perfected, and popularized by Locke and Pierre Bayle. Locke’s ideas were transplanted to America by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who implemented them in American legislation. The rationality of the Socinians set the trend for the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment and determined the future development of many modern intellectual endeavors.