Socinian controversy

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The Socinian controversy in the Church of England (sometimes called the First Socinian controversy to distinguish it from a debate around 1800 mainly affecting Protestant nonconformists; and also called the Trinitarian controversy[1]) was a theological argument on christology carried out by English theologians for around a decade from 1687. Positions that had remained largely dormant since the death in 1662 of John Biddle, an early Unitarian, were revived and discussed, in pamphlet literature (much of it anonymous).

This controversy was part of a larger debate after the Act of Toleration 1689, which excluded anti-trinitarian beliefs. By the end of the 1690s it had become clear that, for the time being, religious tolerance would not be extended: formally, the Blasphemy Act 1697 settled the matter until the early nineteenth century, religious disabilities for non-trinitarian believers continued in law, and the Act was directed against Unitarians.[2] On the other hand, the arguments had become well aired, and the Church of England was shown to be hardly united on the theology. An unintended consequence of strong attacks by theologically orthodox Anglicans, in the longer term, was a resulting greater de facto tolerance extending among English Protestants, after a halt was called to the aggressive stance in particular of William Sherlock. This tolerance, becoming a hallmark of Latitudinarian views as they changed into low church attitudes, worked its way out in controversies of the eighteenth century.

Detailed history[edit]

The Socinian argument, of which little had been heard for 25 years, was revived in 1687 by the publication of a ‘Brief History’ of the unitarians, as they from now on often designated themselves (see Stephen Nye). There followed (1689) a sheet of ‘Brief Notes’ on the Athanasian creed (see Thomas Firmin).[3]

These two publications prompted William Sherlock's Vindication (1690) of the doctrine of the Trinity. Shortly afterwards (11 August 1690) the subject was also taken up by John Wallis. The Socinians and others accused Sherlock's ‘Vindication’ of tritheism; and reputedly this work had the effect of making a Socinian of William Manning and an Arian of Thomas Emlyn. Sherlock's position was attacked also by another Anglican, Robert South, with a mixture of irony and invective.[3]

Sherlock's doctrine, as preached at Oxford by Joseph Bingham, was condemned by the Hebdomadal Council (25 November 1695), as ‘falsa, impia et hæretica’ (false, impious and heretical). Sherlock defended himself in an ‘Examination’ (1696) of the decree.[3]

On 3 February 1696 William III addressed to the hierarchy ‘Directions,’ drawn up by Thomas Tenison, prohibiting the use of ‘all new terms’ relating to the Trinity. In his ‘Present State of the Socinian Controversy’ (1698, but most of it printed 1696) Sherlock in practical terms gave up on the positions that had been impugned.[3]

Literature related to the argument was still voluminous, however, in the period up to 1704. One notable reader and student of the debate was John Locke.[4]

Timeline of publications[edit]

Year Author Publication Position Replies
1690 Arthur Bury The Naked Gospel Latitudinarian William Nicholls, An Answer to an Heretical Book, called the Naked Gospel, 1691;[5]

Thomas Long, An Answer to a Socinian Treatise called 'The Naked Gospel", 1691.[6]

1690 William Sherlock[3] A vindication of the doctrine of the holy and ever blessed Trinity, and the incarnation of the Son of God: Occasioned by the Brief notes on the creed of St. Athanasius, and the Brief history of the Unitarians, or Socinians, and containing an answer to both[7] Trinitarian Anglican Robert South (anonymous) Animadversions on Dr Sherlock's Book, entitled a Vindication of the Holy and Ever Blessed Trinity, 1693;

Remarks upon a Book Lately Published by Dr. William Sherlock, 1695.

1690 John Wallis The Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, briefly explained in a letter to a friend[8] Trinitarian Presbyterian
1691 Daniel Whitby Tractatus de vera Christi Deitate adversus Arii et Socini hæreses[9] Latitudinarian
1691 William Freke The Arrian's Vindication of Himself[10] Arian John Wallis, A Fourth Letter, Concerning the Sacred Trinity, 1691.
1693 Stephen Nye, anonymously Considerations on the Explications of the Doctrine of the Trinity, By Dr. Wallis, Dr. Sherlock, Dr. South, Dr. Cudworth, and Mr. Hooker; as also on the Account given by those that say, the Trinity is an Unconceivable and Inexplicable Mystery Sabellian[11]
1693 Edward Fowler Twenty-eight Propositions, by which the Doctrine of the Trinity is endeavoured to be explained (anonymous), and subsequent defences.[12] Latitudinarian Matthew Tindal, Reflections on the 28 Propositions, 1695.[13]
1693 Francis Fullwood[14] The Socinian Controversie Trinitarian Anglican (ex non-juror)
1693 Jonathan Edwards A Preservative Against Socinianism (appeared in parts from this year) Argued that Socinus had founded a new non-Christian religion.[15]
1694 George Bull Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicae[16] Athanasian Gilbert Clerke and Samuel Crellius, Tractatus Tres, 1695.[17]
1695 Charles Leslie The Charge of Socinianism against Dr. Tillotson Considered[18] Church of Ireland non-juror
1695 John Smith A designed End to the Socinian Controversy: or a rational and plain Discourse that no other person but the Father of Christ is God Most High Unitarian Francis Gregory, A divine antidote against a devilish poyson, or, A scriptural answer to an anti-scriptural and heretical pamphlet entituled A designed end to the Socinian controversie, written by John Smith, 1695.[19][20]
1696 John Edwards Socinianism Unmask'd, followed by The Socinian Creed, (1697) Calvinist[21] John Locke, Vindication of his Essay of the Reasonableness of Christianity;

Samuel Bold, Discourse on the true Knowledge of Christ Jesus, 1697.[22]

1702 Thomas Emlyn An Humble Inquiry into the Scripture Account of Jesus Christ (anonymous) Unitarian[23]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Burns, William E. "Sherlock, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/25381.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ William Gibson, The Church of England 1688–1832: Unity and Accord (2001), p. 15.
  3. ^ a b c d e  "Sherlock, William (1641?-1707)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  4. ^ John Marshall, John Locke: resistance, religion and responsibility (1994) p. 418. Google Books.
  5. ^  "Nicholls, William". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  6. ^  "Long, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  7. ^ Google Books
  8. ^ http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3469516
  9. ^  "Whitby, Daniel". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  10. ^ Greig, Martin. "Freke, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10158.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.). The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Freke, William". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  11. ^ McLachlan, H. J. "Nye, Stephen". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/20418.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^  "Fowler, Edward". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  13. ^  "Tindal, Matthew". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  14. ^ Goldie, Mark. "Fullwood, Francis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/67192.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  15. ^  "Edward, Jonathan". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  16. ^  "Bull, George". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  17. ^  "Clerke, Gilbert". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  18. ^ http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2329933
  19. ^ Key, Newton E. "Gregory, Francis". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/11462.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  20. ^ http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/869439
  21. ^  "Edwards, John (1637-1716)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  22. ^  "Bold, Samuel". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  23. ^  "Emlyn, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

External links[edit]

Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Sherlock, William (1641?-1707)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.