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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2010

Introduction

Summary

On the fertile banks of the river Czarna, in the south of the Polish Commonwealth, lay the town of Rakow. In the early seventeenth century it was a peaceful, idyllic town, filled with craftsmen and workshops and dominated by its flourishing Academy. Its atmosphere of learning and of harmony made such an impression on one visitor that he felt himself ‘transported into another world’. For, as he recalled, all its inhabitants were ‘calm and modest in behaviour, so that you might think them angels, although they were spirited in debate and expert in language’. Yet Rakow was the centre of Socinianism, a theological position perceived as so dangerous that it could only have been raked out of hell by men intent on blaspheming against God. It was denounced in lurid terms, by Protestants and Catholics alike, and outlawed in almost every country in Europe. From Rakow, the Socinians produced a series of religious and political works which spread across Europe, capturing the attention of scholars, clerics and educated laymen. Few religious groups inspired such extreme reactions, or found such careful readers. The people of this quiet, well-ordered Polish town had a lasting impact in Europe and this book will explore the English reaction to their potent theology.

It was widely agreed that the Socinians posed a serious challenge to European religion and society – and yet the nature of the challenge they presented has never been fully explored or explained.