Socinianism Forerunner to Modern Pantheism
by Albert E. JohnsonTweet
The Encyclopedia Britannica (Macro Edition) says the word "Pantheism" first appeared in 1705 in a book by a noted Irish Deist, John Toland entitled "Socinianism Gladly Told." Obviously he must have viewed the reference favorably but why?
The same source and most dictionaries say the word "Socinian" comes from the work of two Italian theologians in mid-16th Century named Laelius, and nephew Fausus Socinus, who had concluded that the natural world and God were one and the same; that God was not some imaginary authority the Bible suggests who acts upon all human affairs for moral guidance.
We can suppose, as present-day pantheists do, that these two members of the Catholic clergy realized that the agency they had been thought to be God is actually the natural world in its entirety for without it nothing else on planet Earth can exist, not even ideas.
It is only logical to suspect that any biological organism is not something man could have created, so it must be God who is said in Genesis 1 by whoever wrote that chapter that: "In the beginning God created the Universe" and all that there is on planet Earth. Or would the universe even have existed?
Where the Bible becomes confusing is where it anthropomorphizes God as a thinking human being, ignoring altogether that natural creation is an ongoing, developing process of evolution of all species. Awareness of the fallacy of anthropomorphism since the Age of Enlightenment is a cause of great concern among all theologians today.
I am a new member of the Universal Pantheist Society but have been a pantheist since realizing that "But for God, Creator and Sustainer of all that can exist, none of which man can create, not even himself, planet Earth would be as barren as its moon." Yet man is a creator too, but with a fundamental difference. All of his creations, whether material or abstract, are rationally "supernatural" -- expanding its traditional meaning to include anything that is never found to exist naturally, but rather is superimposed upon the natural and subordinate thereto, which is to say, "subordinate to God."
The public relations importance of this distinction is that any religion not grounded in the natural will be seen as only that which is supernatural or man-made. Thus it can be established that a pantheistic meaning of the word God is more credible and more inclusive than any other interpretation of this word that is only of human imagination! Our knowledge of God comes from what can be observed of the natural world.
To return to the story of the two theologians, young Faustus Socinus, knowing such heretical thinking would not be tolerated in his own country, took his new philosophy elsewhere in Europe and ultimately in 1579 discovered a large Christian sect in Poland of some 300 congregations that respected what Jesus stood for but not the Trinitarian view of him of the Catholic Church.
They viewed him "divine by office" but not biologically; that the natural world and God were the same. And who can quarrel with that rational view? Faustus was immediately welcome in that environment and the sect adopted the name of "socinianism" for carrying on its educational program from a university in Rakow, Poland, which published the works of authors on this heretical religious view.
Socinianism was very successful until 1658 when the Catholic Church prevailed upon the Polish Diet to legislate against all Socinians by giving them the option to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Heresy was punishable by torture and executions and such threats as confronted the Socinians were not to be taken lightly.
Most are said to have gone into Yugoslavia, German and the Netherlands and ultimately into the British Isles where it evolved into Deism and Unitarianism. A textbook on Unitarianism in United States refers to John Priestley in Boston who had come from England in colonial times as reminding his congregation of their "Socinian roots."
Scholars of pantheism may have additional information to share with the Society on this history of how the word pantheism came into being, not forgetting that the idea of Mother Earth was once paramount at the time when only Goddesses, like Gaia in the Neolithic and Cretan periods of history, were worshipped. For the Native American Indian the Bison was symbolic of what they called the Great Spirit.
Also important are the seasons of the Druids of England of which Stonehenge was an observation post, and the sources of many other ancient cultures where the natural world is recognized as that which gives life and sustains it everywhere, and is always the object of reverence.
More on this rich history of pantheistic reality on planet Earth is welcome for what could become an anthropological work someday by the Society of great significance to posterity.SUGGESTED READING I recommend a book on the Goddess period in Neolithic times by anthropologist Riane Eiser entitled The Chalice and the Blade (Harper and Row, 1968). Albert E. Johnson, a new member of the Society, is a retired investigative reporter of questionable business practices who seeks to join many other pantheists in the furtherance of our understanding of human presence on planet Earth. "Socinianism: A Forerunner to Modern Pantheism reprinted from Pantheist Vision Spring Equinox, 1997, Vol, 18, No. 1
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- The French Deists: J. J. Rousseau
- Romanticism, Rousseau, and Primitivism
- Rousseau: An Interesting Madman
- Rousseau and the Revolt Against Reason
- Information on John Locke (Unitarian)
- John Locke on reason and faith.