When the dogma of the trinity was developing in the soon-to-become Christian Roman Empire, there were two outspoken leaders of two conflicted streams of Christianity. One of them was Athanasius, who was perhaps the main propagator of the dogma of partnership in heavenly matters by the human called Jesus. The other, Arius, strongly opposed such ideas. Both of them were from Alexandria in Egypt.
Athanasius prevailed, and under the auspices of Cesar Constantine the Great in 325 in Nicaea, it was declared that there are two gods in heaven. Some fifty years later in Ephesus, the third god was added, and that is how the trinity dogma was formed. Since then, many groups among the Christians opposing this dogma of trinity have been called Arian.
When Martin Luther was nailing his 95 Theses to the cathedral
perhaps he didn’t know that by this act
he began what is known in the history of the Church and mankind as The Reformation.
Neither he nor his followers, nor alternate leaders of Reformation detracted
from the basic Christian belief in the trinity. In fact, one of the reformers,
John Calvin, burned another Christian
thinker, Michael Servetus, at the stake for denouncing the trinity dogma.
Nevertheless, there were circles among Christian reformers to whom this and
other Christian dogmas and social institutions were at least without any basis
in scriptures and simply ridiculous. One such group developed in Poland. At first, the
movement of the so-called Polish Brothers separated from the Calvinist church,
but it soon grew to the one of most influential movements not only in Poland,
but in Europe. We have to remember that Poland was, at the time, at peak of its
historical development. Needless to say, it was the biggest country in Europe
at the time, and this alone was enough reason to attract intellectuals who
spread the Arian ideology throughout Europe. church of Wittenberg
A significant amount of the Polish aristocracy joined or was under the influence of the Polish Arians. The movement was not monolithic, and tolerated different streams of social and theological thought. On one side, for example, there were so called judaizantes represented by Szymon Budny, or Marcin from Olawa, my town of birth; they were observing Sabbath as the holy day instead of Sunday and observed some basic Biblical dietary laws. On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps, was Italian-born theologian Faust Socin. In the later stage of the development of the Polish Brothers movement, they were even called ‘Socinians,” especially among foreigners.
The Brothers built several printing houses and the Academy of Rakow, which attracted students from all over Europe. Many of the Polish Brothers were pacifists and refused to participate in any military conflicts of the country or even appear with a weapon in public. Polish law, however, required the members of the aristocracy to wear a sword as one of the symbols of being its member. Many Brothers chose to wear a wooden sword, which obviously said everything about their owners.
For almost one hundred years, the Polish Arians influenced the religious and political thought of Europe. But the Polish Church soon was able to influence the king to bring in a powerful anti-Reformation force – the Jesuits – and in what had been till then tolerant Poland, the war of words and pamphlets exploded. In 1638, the students of the Rakowian Academy were accused of throwing stones at a roadside cross. An out-of-control young students' prank served the influential Church to justify further persecution. Arians didn’t believe in either the human deity or its material representation hanged on the wood, in this case hung all over Poland. The Jesuits brought the issue to the Polish Parliament and king. The academy of Polish Brothers was closed, and in 1658, the group was sentenced to banishment under penalty of death. Those who converted to Catholicism were spared, but those who chose emigration were stripped of all their possessions.
Many of the Polish Brothers immigrated to Amsterdam, which then was the most tolerant city in Europe. They didn’t develop there into any significant movement, but some of them and people influenced by their ideas emigrated further to America, where they became what are known today as Unitarians.
In Poland and abroad, the recollection of the Polish Brothers diminished, and a few centuries later in a then-strong Catholic Poland, their memory was almost completely forgotten. The Polish Brothers left, however, a heritage in the form of a few volumes written by different members of the movement. Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum was a set of books which influenced religious and political thinkers in Europe and on the new continent in the 17th century.
In those writings, Polish Antitrinitarians developed ideas of freedom of religion and government arrangement unknown in Europe until then. One of the most innovative thoughts discussed in those books was the idea of separation of Church and State for the first time in the history of the continent.
"As one should not mix together matters of religion with matters of state, so one should not allow for religion and state to be in opposition to one another," and "one should not bring into conflict religion and state nor should they be mixed together," writes Samuel Przypkowski in his work “De iure Christiani magistratus et privatorum in belli pacisque negotiis,” published in approximately 1650.
One of the consequences of the separation of Church and state is the disengagement of government from persecution of heretics and other dissidents.
Marian Hillar's work on the topic of Polish Antitrinitarian influence on fundamental ideas at the roots of the American political system is probably the best written to date. In his work “From the Polish Socinians to American Constitution,” he describes the political beliefs rooted in Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum as follows:
“To be a heretic is not a political but ecclesiastical infraction. The matters concerning the church are different from matters concerning the state. Their fusion leads to disasters and wars. The function of the State is protection of all religious groups—pagans, idolaters, heretics, apostates... The State flourishes when an accord and harmony reigns among the citizens as it was recommended by Moslems and not by Christians.”
Mr. Hillar summarizes the Polish Brothers' impact on political thinkers in contemporary Europe and, by extension, on the new continent:
“We find arguments used by Przypkowski, Szlichtyng, and Crell repeated later in the works of John Locke, Pierre Bayle and even Voltaire, and their echo in writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Przypkowski's ideas were the most original and his work the most exhaustive Polish study on the mutual relations of Church and State.”
“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. Their ideas on religious freedom, toleration, their philosophical and religious arguments, coincide with those used by the Polish philosophers. Locke possessed in his library works of earlier Antitrinitarians, works of Szlichtyng, Socinus, Smalcius, Wolzogen, Wiszowaty, BFP, Racovian Catechism, Przypkowski's Dissertatio de pace ... etc. He certainly read them and was influenced by them. (  ) Grandson of Jan Crell, Samuel Crell, was Locke's friend. Locke went further presenting a detailed analysis of toleration and state church relations from a political point of view, obviously under circumstances in England. Bayle makes numerous references to Socinians and their rationality.”
“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. They were philosophers-statesmen who shared a strong conviction for absolute freedom of conscience and distrusted any kind of established ecclesiastical institution. Their conviction was that the established churches create only "ignorance and corruption", introduce "diabolic principle of persecution." The exercise of religion should be completely separated from government, toleration was not enough only absolute freedom could be acceptable. Democracy understood as the institution erecting a "wall of separation" between church and state, and protecting the liberties of minority groups
against the imposition of majority views was for them the best guarantee of religious freedom. Both were broadly educated and Thomas Jefferson had a keen interest in studying religions including the Socinians. Their writings follow Locke and quite echo the Socinian literature. () The Polish Brethren were forerunners of the later thinkers who developed ideas of the Enlightenment and humanistic modern times.”
In my research, I found yet another link connecting Jefferson, Madison and Adams to Antitrinitarians.
In his essay on the religious affiliations of Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Thom Belote writes:
“While a student at William and Mary College, he began to read the Scottish moral philosophers and other authors who had made themselves students of church history. These scholars opened the door for Jefferson's informed criticism of prevailing religious institutions and beliefs. But it was the world renowned English Unitarian minister and scientist, Joseph Priestley, who had the most profound impact on his thought.” Later, he writes that “Jefferson never joined a Unitarian church. He did attend Unitarian services while visiting with Joseph Priestley after his immigration to Pennsylvania and spoke highly of those services. He corresponded on religious matters with numerous Unitarians, among them Jared Sparks (Unitarian minister, historian and president of Harvard), Thomas Cooper, Benjamin Waterhouse and John Adams. He was perhaps most open concerning his own beliefs in his long exchange of letters with John Adams during their late years, 1812-26.”
As I stated at the beginning of this essay, there are not my innovative thoughts; I followed other researchers collecting the data for this article. What may be innovative, however, is the sequence in which I put some of the more and less known historical facts together.
Many of our contemporaries presume that the American political system is a child of the European Enlightenment, and when they think ‘Enlightenment,’ this means antireligion or antibiblical.
I hope that, with G-d's help, I was able, if not to prove, then at least to expose, that there is a solid link between Jewish scripture, and even Jewish political philosophy, and the political ideas of some of the Founding Fathers. At least we can say that various political philosophies are rooted in those Jewish scriptures.
Today, many of those who declare themselves atheists, i.e. they consider G-d as their personal enemy, regard themselves as children of the Enlightenment and humanists.
At these final lines of this essay I will take the liberty of quoting one of the fathers of Enlightenment, Voltaire himself, who writes: "What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."
And one more time, the same Voltaire: "It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? (Thank you, Mr. Voltaire.) The
? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and
creatures of the same God?" Siam
Well, if this is what makes a person a humanist, then Matys Weiser is a humanist. But the reason for my humanism lays not in writings of the fathers of the Enlightenment, or the Polish Brothers or any other group of people inspired by Jewish teachings. It is the following of the Jewish teachings which makes me a humanist.
In Mesechtas Nedarim of the Talmud Yerushalmi, there is discussion recorded between two Sages and leaders of the Jewish people. They were asked which of the the verses of the Torah is most important? “V'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha – you should love your neighbor as yourself,” answered Rabbi Akiva. But Ben Azzai pointed to a different verse of Torah,“Ze Sefer
Adam – this is the book of generations of Adam,” stating that we are all
children of the same father who was created by G-d.
Maybe the words of Voltaire were an Enlightenment for his European contemporaries and later followers. Maybe it was a chiddush, a novelty, for bnei Esaw to recognize that all people are descendants of the same father and creation of the same Creator. This wasn’t any chiddush for Jews, as we always knew it, as our children learn it in cheider, that ahavas briah – the love of creation – is what the Creator wants from us. And if sometimes “creation,” some of bnei Adam, persecuted and killed Jewish children and as a reaction to this persecution some of us developed certain distrust toward our non- Jewish or sometimes Jewish neighbors, we still learn our old Scriptures, our old Talmud, and we still have leaders who, when the time is right, remind us of our principles.
Preamble to Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
When I read these words I truly feel proud, not because I contributed to it in any way, but happy that I found the Source of it.
This is not all what I want to share on the topic and I-H further essays will follow.