Fausto Socinus

Steven Avery

RGA - 157-158
Antitrinitarians were generally happy to accept Erasmus’ attack on the one passage that so many of their opponents claimed as their silver bullet. An original and subtle interpretation of the passage was made by Fausto Sozzini (Faustus Socinus, 1533-1604). Sozzini was one of the most prominent of the early Antitrinitarians, and gave his name to its most characteristic form, which combined the typical Arian subordination of Jesus with the Sabellian understanding of the Spirit as a personification of the spiritual gifts of the Father rather than a separate hypostasis. In his detailed commentary on the first letter of John (first published in 1614), Sozzini deals with the comma because it is commonly included in the text, but he objects that while it is found in some quite accurate copies, it is not to be found in the very best texts. Sozzini notes that to understand properly what is going on in the entire passage, it is necessary to explain the phrase “in heaven” in verse 7, for the traditional reading of the passage seems to imply that there are two classes of witness testifying to Christ, one group in heaven and one on earth. But Sozzini argues that this interpretation, followed by most commentators until Sozzini himself, is mistaken. Rather, he suggests that the three earthly witnesses testify to the existence of the Father, Word and Holy Spirit in heaven.15 Sozzini furthermore suggests that the phrase “and these three are one” (or “in one”) in verse 8 was not originally part of the verse, but once it had entered the text, it provided the mechanism for the invention of the comma.16

15 Sozzini, 1656, 1:241 (Commentary on 1 Jn): (Latin) ... Sozzini had made much the same point in his Assertiones theologicae de trino et uno deo, 1611, 127, drawing a number of conclusions for his doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

16 Sozzini, 1656, 1:242. (Latin)


BCEME discusses Socinus and his doctrinal positions first, then into:

Sozzini examined die Johannine comma in his response ro a series of lectures directed against the Antitrinitarians ('the new Samosatians’), given at the Jesuit college at Poznan in 1583. The seventeenth thesis defended in these lectures stated that although some words used by the church to describe God, such as ‘Trinity’, are not found in the bible, the concepts they describe are nevertheless implicit in Scripture. The Trinity is symbolised by the three men who visited Abraham at Mamre (Gen 18:1—2), in the description of God (Rev 1:8) as he ‘who is and who was and who is to come, and in the Johannine comma."9 In response, Sozzini pointed out that the comma is not found in the oldest Greek or Latin codices, nor in the Syriac translation, and was even recognised as spurious by the Leuven editors of the New Testament. In any case, the unity spoken of is clearly one of witness rather than agreement.120

In his commentary on I Jn, Sozzini dealt with both philological and exegetical aspects of the comma. In order to understand the entire passage, Sozzini suggested that it was necessary to account for the phrase ‘in heaven in v. 7. While the traditional interpretation assumed that there are two groups of witnesses testifying to Christ, one group in heaven and one on earth, Sozzini suggested instead that the three earthly witnesses testify to the existence of the Father, Word and Holy Spirit in heaven.121 Furthermore, he suggested that the phrase and these three are one' (or ‘in one’) in v. 8 was not originally part of the reading, but once it had entered the text, it provided the mechanism for the invention of the comma.122 This conclusion is nor borne our by the manuscript evidence.

Sozzini’s most extended treatment of the comma is found in his refutation of a treatise on the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit written by the Jesuit Jakub Wujek in 1590 against the latter-day Antitrinitarians such as Servet, Biandrata, David and Sozzini. Sozzini noted that many of Wujek’s arguments were drawn from Bellarminos Three books on the controversies of the Christian faith (1586), and his refutations sometimes address Wujek, sometimes Bellarmino, sometimes both. Sozzini was not the only Antitrinitarian to take issue with Bellarmino. The Transylvanian Unitarian Gyorgy Enyedi (1555—1597) criticised Bellarminos defence of the comma as ‘vain and deceptive’. According to Enyedi, only the most shameless or least well-informed disputant would deny that the comma is amongst the most dubious passages of Scripture cited in support of the doctrine of the Trinity. But even if the comma were genuine, Erasmus, Calvin, Beze and others had shown that the unity of the three heavenly witnesses is one of testimony, not essence.123

In order to engage with Wujek’s theological arguments, Sozzini at first accepted his assumption that the comma was present in the text. Wujek interpreted the comma with reference to Jn 10:30; controversially, Wujek

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Steven Avery

How does the above compare to:

RGA p. 195:
As representative of this position Smith cites Fausto Sozzini, who wrote:
“It is clear that these words are forged, and were stuffed into this passage by people who desired to defend their dogma of the Trinity by whatever means possible.”110

110 Smith, 1690, 125: “Hinc egregiam triumphandi occasionem captantes doctrinæ Christianæ arrogantissimi hostes, sibi gratulantur, eo usque audaciæ provecti, ut contendant, Catholicos præter mentem Apostoli & primorum exemplarium fidem hunc locum inseruisse. Unicum, qui instar omnium erit, Faustum Socinum citabo, qui in commentariis in hæc verba ita loquitur, Satis constat illa esse adulterina, & ab hominibus, qui suum dogma de trino & uno Deo quacunque ratione defendere & propagare volebant, in hunc locum infarcta.”

(also in RGA p. 197, although in a more sensible manner.)