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The Rapture of the Christ: The “Pre-Ascension Ascension” of Jesus in the Theology of Faustus Socinus (1539—1604)

  • Alan W. Gomes (a1)

In this essay I examine a rather quirky and possibly novel teaching of Faustus Socinus (1539—1604): what George H. Williams calls a “pre-Ascension ascension” (hereafter PAA) of Christ into heaven. Faustus claimed that this bodily ascent into heaven took place before Christ's final visible ascension to heaven some time between his baptism and the commencement of his earthly teaching ministry. The theory states in brief that Christ, “after he was born a human, and before he began to discharge the office entrusted to him by God, his own Father, … was in heaven, and abode there for some time.” Christ took this heavenly sojourn “that he might hear from God himself and … see in his very presence what he was soon to proclaim and reveal to the world in God's own name.”1 In another place Socinus states that Jesus, “after his birth from the virgin, and before he announced the gospel, was raptured into heaven (in caelum raptus fuerit). There he learned from God himself what he was to reveal to the human race.”2

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1 “Ipsum Christum, postquam natus est homo, & antequam munus sibi à Deo Patre suo demandatum obire inciperet, in coelo, divino consilio atque opera fuisse, & aliquandiu ibi commoratum esse, ut illa ab ipso Deo audiret, & praesens apud ipsum, ut ipsa scriptura loquitur, videret, quae mundo mox annunciaturus & patefacturus ipsius Dei nomine erat” (Christ himself, after he was born a human, and before he began to discharge the office entrusted to him by God, his own Father, was in heaven by divine counsel and work. He abode there for some time, that he might hear from God himself and, as the Scripture itself states, see in his very presence what he was soon to proclaim and reveal to the world in God's own name). Faustus Socinus, Christianae religionis brevissima institutio, per interrogationes & responsiones, quam catechismum vulgo vocant [hereafter Institutio] (vol. 1 of Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant [BFP] 1, 2; Amsterdam: 1668) 1.675. (Note that the first two volumes of the BFP comprise the Opera omnia of Socinus.) Unless otherwise noted, all translations from the Latin are mine. The Latin text has accent marks and ampersands (&) because it comes from a 1668 printing of Socinus's Opera Omnia.

2 “Similiter, quζd Filius hominis in caelo fuerit antequàm eo conspicuθ ascenderit, revera & propriθ ad hominem illum Iesum Nazarenum referri & potest, & debet. Nam quζd revera homo ille, postquam natus est ex virgine, & antequam Evangelium annunciaret, in caelum raptus fuerit, ibique ab ipso Deo ea didicerit, quae humano generi patefacienda per ipsum erant, adeζ est verisimile, ut aliter feri non potuisse videatur” (Similarly, concerning the fact that the Son of Man was in heaven before his visible ascension to it: this can and ought to be referred, truly and properly, to the man Jesus of Nazareth. For that man truly, after his birth from the virgin, and before he announced the Gospel, was raptured into heaven. There he learned from God himself what he was to reveal to the human race. This has so much the appearance of truth that it seems it could not have happened otherwise). Faustus Socinus, Tractatus de Deo, Christo, & Spiritu Sancto, 1.813. He sets forth the same theory in his De Unigeniti Filii Dei existentia, inter Erasmum Iohannis, & Faustum Socinum Senensem disputatio (hereafter Adv. Erasmum Iohannis) 2.511: “Propterea enim fuit Christus homo ille in caelo [ut ego quidem nihil dubito] priusquam à mortuis resurgeret, ut rerum caelestium uberrima cognitione imbueretur, eaque certa & constantissima, quam deinde, quatenus liceret atque opus esset, cum hominibus communicaret, & cuius vi praedicandi Evangelii munus quam rectissime obiret, & alia admodum ardua, quae illi exequenda erant, fideliter omnino atque intrepide exequeretur” (Therefore, Christ was that man in heaven—as I indeed have no doubt—before he rose from the dead, that he might be instructed in the abundant, certain, and firm knowledge of heavenly matters. Later, in so far as it was permitted and necessary, he would communicate [these truths] to people. In the power of this knowledge he would rightly discharge the office of preaching the Gospel, fearlessly and faithfully accomplishing all the exceedingly difficult tasks that he was to perform).

3 George H. Williams, “The Christological Issues between Francis Dαvid and Faustus Socinus during the Disputation on the Invocation of Christ, 1578—1579,” in Antitrinitarianism in the Second Half of the 16th Century (ed. Rσbert Dαn and Antal Pirnαt; Studia Humanitatis 5; Leiden: Brill, 1982) 317.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 The dating of this work is uncertain; see below.

7 “Jam tuae sententiae … quantumvis novae & majoribus nostris fortasse inauditae, libenter acquiesco. Video enim hac ratione complura sacra testimonia admodum alioqui explicatu difficilia planissima reddi” (I now freely agree with your opinion … however novel and perhaps unheard of by most of us. For I see that in this way many sacred testimonies that are otherwise exceedingly difficult to explain are made crystal clear) (Socinus, Institutio, 1.675).

8 See the discussion of “Arianism” below.

9 “Fateor, mihi hanc interpretationem esse novam, & à simplicitate scripturae alienam” (I confess that his interpretation is novel to me and departs from the simplicity of Scripture). Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis, 2.511.

10 “Quod haec interpretatio tibi sit nova, haud sane mirror. Sed, quod illa à simplicitate Scripturae aliena tibi videatur, equidem satis mirari non possum; cum potius nulla alia interpretatio excogitari queat, quae tam Scripturae simplicitatem sequi quam haec facit, cuiquam merito videri possit; immo cum haec interpretatio nihil aliud sit, quam ab ipsa Scripturae simplicitate nihil prorsus discedere, sed verba omnia ut proprie sonant accipere” (I am scarcely surprised that this interpretation is novel to you. But I am utterly surprised that it strikes you as departing from the simplicity of Scripture. On the contrary, anyone can see that there is no other interpretation imaginable that follows the simplicity of Scripture more than this one. Indeed, this interpretation does not depart from Scripture's simplicity in the slightest but takes all of the words at face value). Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.511. According to Williams, “Socinus acknowledges in 1595 that it [the doctrine of a PAA] is new, suggesting that he had come to clarity about it on his own.” In support, Williams footnotes the aforementioned exchange between Socinus and Johannis, although, as seen above, all that Socinus admits here for certain is that the teaching was not widely known, leaving open the question of the teaching's authorship. See George H. Williams, The Polish Brethren (2 vols.; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1980) 1:85. We should also note that the disputation itself took place in 1584, although it was not published until 1595. See Christof Sand, Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum (composed around 1670; published Amsterdam [posthumously], 1684) 72; and also Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.492. Toulmin wrongly gives a publication date of 1598; see Joshua Toulmin, Memoirs of the Life, Character, and Sentiments, and Writings of Faustus Socinus (London: J. Brown, 1777) 334.

11 Williams, Polish Brethren, 1:88.

12 “Section V: Of the Prophetic Office of Christ,” in The Racovian Catechism, with Notes and Illustrations, Translated from the Latin: To Which Is Prefixed a Sketch of the History of Unitarianism in Poland and the Adjacent Countries (trans. Thomas Rees; London: Paternoster Row, 1818; repr. Lexington: American Theological Library Association, 1962) 170—72.

13 Williams, Polish Brethren, 1:86.

14 Dαvid was a Unitarian who argued that because Christ was not God he should not be invoked in prayer nor receive religious adoration, which should be given only to God. Those who espoused this position were called “nonadorants.” Socinus debated with Dαvid at length. Williams provides a fine background and discussion of this debate (Williams, “Christological Issues”). Socinus furnishes the details of the debate in his De Iesu Christi invocatione disputatio, quam Faustus Socinus Senensis, per scripta habuit cum Francisco Davidis anno 1578, & 1579, paulo ante ipsius Francisci obitum, 2.709—766.

15 Williams, “Christological Issues,” 319.

16 Williams, Polish Brethren, 2:416 n. 28. Williams cites Christof Sand, Bibliotheca Antitrinitariorum, 67, who gives no date for the work, noting only that Socinus composed it in Italian and afterward translated it into Latin.

17 Williams, “Christological Issues,” 314, citing Listy, says that Socinus composed this treatise before 20 June 1580. However, in his earlier Polish Brethren, 1:85, he offered a date of 1583 for this work.

18 Toulmin, Memoirs of the Life, 330, 332.

19 BFP 2.371—422 (published Rakσw, 1588).

20 BFP 1.811—814. Note that through a printer's error this material is duplicated verbatim in BFP 1.281—285, following the Summa religionis Christianae.

21 BFP 2.489—528 (published Rakσw, 1595). Toulmin (334—35), and Williams (“Christological Issues,” 315—16) discuss the circumstances surrounding this debate.

22 BFP 2.529—624 (published Rakσw, 1595).

23 BFP 1.139—156 (published Rakσw, 1618). See the discussion in Williams, “Christological Issues,” 314, where he describes this collection as “evidently assembled over a number of years and published posthumously.” See especially his discussion of the background of the Explicatio variorum S. Scripturae locorum (hereafter Explicatio locorum) 318.

24 BFP 1.651—676. See Sand, 77; Williams, Polish Brethren, 1:85.

25 E.g., Faustus Socinus, Assertiones theologicae de trino & uno Deo, adversus novos Samo-satenicos, 2.423.

26 According to Socinus, the “Arians” whom he opposed held that Christ was a created divine being who existed as the son of God even before his earthly birth. Specifically, Christ existed as a divine spirit creature, possessing a created, immaterial nature that was “divine,” not human. In the incarnation this created divine son took on human body or flesh through the virgin birth. What Socinus finds especially problematic is that this view, on his reckoning, destroys Christ's true humanity. Socinus relates that the Arians were explicit in regarding only Christ's body as truly human, not his immaterial nature or soul. See Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis, 2.489.

27 “Quodsi nihilominus aliquis dicat: quare Deus ita et non aliter [i.e., than through the virgin birth] concipi eum et nasci voluerit, causae inquirendae sunt. Earum praecipue et fortassis haec una est, quod non semper fuisset Dei Filius nec ab ipsa conceptione et nativitate flius dici potuisset, si ex Iosepho natus fuisse, sed oportuisset eum exspectare ea, propter quae postea Dei flius dictus fuit; quod in Iesu Christo servatore totius mundi fuisset valde absurdum. Hinc est, quod angelus dicebat Mariae: id quod ex te nascetur vocabitur Dei flius.” (But if nevertheless someone should ask why God did not wish him to be conceived and born in another way [than through the virgin birth], the reasons ought to be sought. Chief among the reasons, and possibly the one reason, is that if he had been born of Joseph he would not always have been the Son of God, nor could he have been called the Son from his very conception and birth. Rather it would have been necessary for him to await those things on account of which he was afterwards called the Son of God. But that would have been exceedingly absurd in the case of Jesus Christ, the savior of the whole world. It is for this reason that the angel said to Mary, “What will be born of you will be called the Son of God.”) Faustus Socinus, Epitome colloquii Racoviae habiti anno 1601 (ed. Lech Szczucki and Janusz Tazbir; Biblioteka Pisarzy Reformacyjnych 5; Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1966) lines 553—560.

28 “Unde perspicuum est, graviter errare, si quisquam est, qui existimet, haud verisimile esse, vel non adeo necessarium fuisse, Christum hominem ante mortem in caelum ascendisse, ibique aliquandiu commoratum esse, ut verba ipsa indicant, in quibus Christus in caelo fuisse significatur; cum potius nihil aut verisimilius, aut magis necessarium esse potuerit ante ipsam Evangelii praedicationem” (From this it becomes clear how gravely someone errs, who thinks that it scarcely appears true, or thinks it unnecessary, that the man Christ ascended into heaven before his death and abode there for some time. The words themselves indicate this, in which Christ is shown to have been in heaven. On the contrary, nothing could appear more true or be more necessary before the very preaching of the Gospel). Socinus, Adv. Iohannis, 2.511.

29 Alan W. Gomes, “Some Observations on the Theological Method of Faustus Socinus (1539— 1604),” Westminster Theological Journal 70 (2008) 49—71.

30 For example, the first two sentences of this Summa contain in microcosm the center of gravity for Socinus's theological system: “Religio Christiana, est doctrina caelestis, docens veram viam perveniendi ad vitam aeternam. Haec autem via, nihil est aliud, quam obedire Deo, iuxta ea, quae ille nobis praecepit, per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum (Hebr. 5:9)” (The Christian religion is the heavenly doctrine, teaching the true way of attaining eternal life. Moreover, this way is nothing other than to obey God, according to those things which he commands us through our Lord Jesus Christ). Faustus Socinus, Summa Religionis Christianae, 1.281. One could adduce numerous quotes making this same point.

31 For a sample of some works, old and new, postulating a rationalistic bent in the theology of Faustus, be it pure rationalism or a hybrid of rationalism and supernaturalism, see Maurice A. Cauney, “Socinians,” An Encyclopedia of Religions (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1921); Martin I. Klauber and Glenn S. Sunshine, “Jean-Alphonse Turrettini on Biblical Accommodation: Calvinist or Socinian?” Calvin Theological Journal 25 (1990) 13; Bengt Hὃgglund, History of Theology (trans. Gene J. Lund; St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia, 1968) 322; Herbert J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951) 12; Philip Schaff and Johann A. Herzog, “Socinus (Faustus) and the Socinians,” in A Religious Encyclopedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology (ed. Philip Schaff; New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1891); William M. Clow, “Socinianism,” Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (ed. James Hastings; 13 vols.; New York: Scribner's, 1917); and Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma (ed. and trans. Neil Buchanan; 7 vols.; New York: Russell and Russell, 1958) 7:139.

32 I am indebted to Clow (“Socinianism”) for this metaphor (i.e., “sweeping the circle of his system”), although Clow himself was referring to the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ for Socinus, not to the center that I have given above. While Socinus certainly gives prominence to the death and resurrection of Christ, I disagree with Clow that these provide the Archimedean point from which he is able to leverage the rest of his system.

33 Faustus Socinus, De sacrae scripturae auctoritate libellus Fausti Socini Senensis (hereafter De auctoritate) 1.265—280.

34 Socinus, De auctoritate, 1.273. He makes the same point in his Praelectiones theologicae, 1.538.

35 “Quod enim ad rationes attinet, haec nimis fallax via est in re, quae ex divina patefactione pendeat, qualis est Christiana religio” (Moreover, concerning [the use of] reasons [for overthrowing a NT doctrine]: This way is much too fallible in a matter which depends upon Divine revelation, such as the Christian religion) (De auctoritate, 1.267). In context, Socinus is considering specifically the hypothetical possibility of using “reasons” to overturn some doctrine of the New Testament. This Socinus rejects as an utter impossibility given the fallibility of reason in matters of faith.

36 Socinus paraphrases Christ in John 3:9—13 in his Explicatio locorum (1.146a): “Indeed, for that reason am I sent that I may teach you celestial things. Neither before was there anyone who ascended into heaven where celestial things are first acquired, besides me, I say, who when I was there whence I descended, that this which I learned there, I should undertake the office of teaching among you… . Therefore it is necessary for him who wishes to know heavenly things, without which a sure hope of eternal life is not possible to be conceived, to come to me [Jesus] and to have total faith in me. Not otherwise did Moses go out into a desert and set up a bronze serpent on a high place [for healing]” (Williams, “Christological Issues,” 318; translation his).

37 “Ego verζ censeo, & orthodoxam sententiam esse arbitror, Iesum Christum ideo servatorem nostrum esse, quia salutis aeternae viam nobis annuntiaverit, confirmaverit, & in sua ipsius persona, cum vitae exemplo, tum ex mortuis resurgendo, manifestθ ostenderit, vitamque aeternam nobis ei fidem habentibus ipse daturus fit” (But I regard and judge the orthodox position to be that Jesus Christ is our savior because he announced to us the way of eternal salvation, he confirmed it, and he clearly demonstrated it personally—both by the example of his life and by rising from the dead. And he himself will grant eternal life to us who have faith in him.) (Faustus Socinus, De Jesu Christo Servatore [hereafter De Servatore] 2.121).

38 “Demonstratur, … nos Christum imitari posse, hancque esse aeternae salutis viam: ob idque Christum iurθ Servatorem nostrum appellari” (It is demonstrated … that we can imitate Christ, and that this is the way of eternal salvation. Therefore Christ is rightly called our Savior.) (Socinus, De Servatore, 2.128).

39 Valentin Schmalz (a close associate of Socinus) and Johannes Volkel completed the Racovian Catechism. However, the Institutio of Socinus (1.651—676) is in some sense the rough draft of it and certainly provided a good bit of the thought material that found its way into the catechism. For a good discussion of the production of the Catechism see Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism (2 vols.; Boston, Mass.: Beacon, 1945) 1:409.

40 Although the Socinians wrote a great deal about Christ's work on the cross, they devoted almost all of it to undermining the orthodox doctrine of satisfaction. Their positive statements about the priestly work are much fewer and often vague by comparison, especially when placed alongside the sharp dialectic that one finds in their assault on the penal theory.

41 Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Protestant Thought Before Kant (New York: Scribner, 1924) 117.

42 Surely one might well ask how these “controlling principles” came to lose so much control that Socinus so very often departs from them!

43 Later Socinianism does show the impact of seventeenth-century Cartesianism. Interestingly, as Wilbur recounts (History, 1:530), the Socinian Johann Ludwig von Wolzogen worries that if reason replaces Scripture the inevitable result will be a falling away from the true faith. For this reason Wolzogen opposed the onslaught of Cartesian rationalism. Wolzogen's protest not withstanding, later Socinians and Remonstrants alike were to imbibe significant aspects of Cartesian thought, and by the time Andreas Wiszowaty came on the scene, the Socinian movement had moved significantly toward genuine rationalism. Spinoza and Descartes particularly influenced Wiszowaty. He outlines his program in his important Religio rationalis seu de rationis judicio, in controversiis etiam theologicis, ac religiosis, adhibendo, tractatus (Amsterdam,1685). In this work he states unequivocally that sound reason is the touchstone of truth and anything taught in Scripture that offends reason must be rejected. Wilbur (History, 1:572) says that Wiszowaty was the first Socinian to enunciate this view unambiguously. Note, however, that by Wiszowaty's time, rationalism was gaining ground among those who were not Socinians in any official sense, and by the turn of the century it became the dominant intellectual pattern in many circles; it came to affect even the orthodox communions. Note, for example, Stapfer and Wyttenbach, who were “orthodox” theologians attempting to incorporate the rationalist philosophy of Wolff. Hadorn describes Stapfer, who wrote in the mid-eighteenth century, as advocating an “orthodox rationalism of the mild Reformed type.” See Wilhelm Hadorn, “Stapfer,” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (ed. Lefferts A. Loetscher; 15 vols.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1949—1950). On the rise of rationalism in late-seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Reformed theology see Richard A. Muller, Prolegomena to Theology (vol. 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics; 4 vols.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1987) 38—39; Michael Heyd, Between Orthodoxy and Enlightenment: Jean-Robert Chouet and the Introduction of Cartesian Science in the Academy of Geneva (The Hague: Njhoff, 1982); John W. Beardslee, “Theological Development at Geneva under Francis and Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1648—1737)” (Ph.D. diss.; Yale University, 1956); and Ernst Bizer, “Die reformierte Orthodoxie und der Cartesianismus,” Zeitschrift fὁr Theologie und Kirche 55 (1958) 306—72. Concerning the rise of “natural religion” in later Socinianism, in contradistinction to the view of Faustus, see Zbigniew Ogonowski, “Faustus Socinus,” in Shapers of the Religious Traditions in Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, 1560—1600 (ed. Jill Raitt; New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981) 206—7. See also Delio Cantimori, Eretici Italiani del Cinquecento (Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1967) 359—62.

44 Williams (Polish Brethren, 2:416 n. 28) for some reason also includes John 3:6 in this list, although I suspect this to be a typographical error since John 3:6 does not appear to be relevant, nor did I observe Socinus discussing it in the context of the PAA.

45 The Alexandrian text type supports a shorter reading of this verse, which does not contain the words “who is in heaven” (o wn en tw ouranw). The Byzantine and Western text types available in Socinus's day, however, strongly attest to the longer reading. The longer reading is also in the Vulgate. Socinus, working from both the Greek text of Erasmus (based upon a Byzantine text type) and the Latin Vulgate, of course accepted the text as he found it, as did his opponents.

46 Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146; Adv. Volanum 2.380; Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.511.

47 Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis, 2.511.

48 For a brief but helpful description of the communicatio idiomatum see Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985) 72—74. To be perfectly accurate, the form of the communicatio idiomatum described above is more fully called the communicatio idiomatum in concreto, since the predication of the attributes is on the level of the person, i.e., to the concrete suppositum. This is in contrast to a communicatio idiomatum in abstracto, in which the attributes of one nature are predicated to the other nature—the natures being “abstractions,” as distinguished from the concrete suppositum who bears those natures. We should observe that Socinus was hardly the first antitrinitarian to take the cudgels against this theory. Servetus, among others, rejected it as a scholastic quibble throughout his De Trinitatis erroribus libri septem (1531) as well as in his slightly later Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo (1532). Earl Morse Wilbur has made these writings of Servetus available in an accessible English translation. See Michael Servetus, The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity: On the Errors of the Trinity (Seven Books); Dialogues on the Trinity (two books); On the Righteousness of Christ's Kingdom (four chapters) (ed. James H. Ropes and Kirsopp Lake; trans. Earl Morse Wilbur; Harvard Theological Studies 16; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1932; repr., New York: Kraus, 1969) 9, 15, 16, 18, 59, 118. So, while Socinus may not break any particular new ground in his arguments to undermine the theory, he does expend considerable energy in neutralizing it, as he must if his literal PAA theory is to stand.

49 See Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.511. See also his Responsio ad libellum Iacobi Vuieki Iesuitae, Polonice editum, de divinitate filii Dei, & Spiritus Sancti [hereafter Ad libellum Vuieki] 2.610, where he states, “Sed, ut hoc illis concede possit, oporteret saltem de ista coniunctione personali Dei, & hominis, seu divinae, & humanae naturae in Christo, aperte constare: quod illud ipsum est repisa, quod ex hoc loco probare volunt” (But, in order to grant this [the communication of attributes] to them, it is necessary at least to establish clearly that personal conjunction of God and humanity, or of the divine and human nature in Christ. But that is the very thing that they wish to prove from this passage).

50 “Quo fit, ut verborum explicatio per sermonis figures ad respondendum quidem, atque excipiendum valere possit, sed nihil omnino ad probandum” (Socinus, Adv. Volanum 2.380).

51 “Quemadmodum enim non dicitur anima stare aut federe, quia corpus stet aut fedeat; sic neque corpus cogitare aut philosophari dicitur, quia anima cogitet aut philosophetur” (For just as the soul is not said to stand or to procreate because the body stands or procreates, likewise neither is the body said to think or philosophize because the soul thinks or philosophizes) (Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146). Socinus argues similarly in his Ad libellum Vuieki 2.610.

52 For the distinction between the various forms of the communicatio idiomatum, again see Muller, Dictionary, 72—74.

53 “Si Christus in caelo erat, quando haec loquebatur in terra, igitur simul in coelo & in terra erat: non autem corpore tunc erat in coelo, cum se diceret ascensurum in coelum, igitur alia in Christo natura erat, praeter humanam illam, quae cernebatur oculis mortalium, videlicet divina, quae immense est, & coelum simul, ac terram replet” (If Christ was in heaven when he was making these statements on earth, he was therefore in heaven and on earth simultaneously. Moreover, he was not in heaven bodily at that time, since he said that he was going to ascend to heaven. Therefore, there was some other nature in Christ beyond his human nature, which was discerned by mortal eyes, i.e., the divine nature, which is immense and fills heaven and earth simultaneously) (Socinus, Ad libellum Vuieki 2.610).

54 Note that in the actual text of Socinus on which I base my summary of his argument he always refers simply to the communicatio idiomatum and does not specify the further description in abstracto or in concreto. I have employed these added details in my own discussion to make clear the logic of his argument. I have provided the verbatim and complete passage in Socinus here under consideration in the following note.

55 The above summary is what I take to be the logic of Socinus's argument and entails a number of amplifications from the rather terse and telegraphic way in which he sets forth the discussion. The actual passage in question, on which the above interpretation is based, runs as follows: Sed adversarii figuratum sermonem in ipso nomine filii hominis esse contendunt; de quo per idiomatum communicationem dici volunt id, quod Dei cum eo in eadem persona coniuncti est proprium. Sed, ut hoc illis concede possit, oporteret saltem de ista coniunctione personali Dei, & hominis, seu divinae, & humanae naturae in Christo, aperte constare: quod illud ipsum est repisa, quod ex hoc loco probare volunt. Praeterea, quemadmodum in homine, qui ex animo, & corpore constat, quae propria corporis sunt, animae tribui separatim non possunt, nec contra; sic, si Christus, ut adversarii volunt, constat ex Deo & homine, sive ex divina, & humana natura, non possunt quae sunt Dei seu divinae naturae propria, separatim homini seu humanae naturae tribui: nec contra. Nec idiomatum communicatio aliud praetera efficere potest quam ut quae unius tantum sunt naturae, ipsi supposito tribuantur; quemadmodum, quae propria sunt animae tantum, aut corporis tantum, ipsi homini merito tribui possunt. Sed quid est, quod adversarii dicunt, Christum non potuisse dicere, quod tunc corpore esset in coelo, cum, se diceret ascensurum in coelum? Nam quomodo, obsecro, probant, Christum tunc dixisse, se ascensurum in coelum: Dicent (neque enim video, unde id alioqui colligere audeant) ex illis verbis, Nemo ascendit in coelum. Atqui verbum ascendit, ut ex Graeco patet, non est praesentis temporis, ut figurate ad futurum tempus accommodari aut possit, aut etiam debeat, sed praeteriti; adeo ut necesse sit (nisi Ubiquitarii esse velimus) fateri, vel totum Christi sermonem figuratum esse, & istum ascensum & descensum atque existentiam in coelo metaphorice & allegorice accipi debere, vel Christum revera, postquam homo natus fuit, antequam verba ista diceret, ascendisse in coelum: ex quo etiam merito dicere potuerit, se hominem ibi fuisse (iam enim dictum est pro qui est, iure posse reponi qui erat) & sic nihil prorsus ad Christi immensitatem probandam haec ipsius verba pertinere possunt. (But the adversaries contend that the figure is in the expression “Son of Man.” They speak of it in this way through the communication of attributes, because it is the property of God conjoined with him in the same person. But, in order to grant this to them, it is necessary at least to establish clearly that personal conjunction of God and humanity [hominis], or of the divine and human nature in Christ. But that is the very thing that they wish to prove from this passage. Besides, just as in the case of a human being, who consists of soul and body, the properties of the body cannot be attributed separately to the soul, nor vice versa. Thus, if Christ [as the adversaries wish] consists of both God and humanity [homine], or of a divine and a human nature, the properties of God or of the divine nature cannot be attributed separately to the human nature, nor vice versa. Nor can the communication of attributes bring about anything else than that the properties [lit., “things”] that belong only to one nature should be attributed to the suppositum, just as the characteristics [lit., “things”] that are properties of the soul alone, or of the body alone, can rightly be attributed to the human being. But what is this that the adversaries declare: that Christ could not say, at that time, that his body was in heaven, since he said that he was going to ascend to heaven? For how, I ask, can they prove that at that time Christ said he was going to ascend into heaven? They will say it based on the following words [for I fail to see from where else they would otherwise dare infer it]: ‘No one is ascending [ascendit] into heaven.' But the word ascendit, as the Greek makes plain, is not present tense, which, understood figuratively, would allow for or even demand a reference to the future. Rather, it is past tense. Thus, unless we wish to be Ubiquitarians, it is necessary to admit either that the entire saying of Christ is figurative—and that the ascent, descent, and existence in heaven ought to be taken metaphorically and allegorically—or that Christ truly, after he was born a human but before he spoke these words, ascended into heaven. In line with this Christ rightly would have been able to say that he was there as a human [for as was already stated, the words ‘who is' can rightly be replaced with ‘who was']. Thus, Christ's words are altogether useless for proving his immensity) (Socinus, Ad libellum Vuieki, 2.610).

56 “Si agnoscendus est [i.e., a trope], nihil impedit, quominus iste ascensus in coelum, & iste descensus de coelo, & denique istud, Esse in coelo, figurate accipiatur, non minus quam adversarii velint, nomen illud Filius hominis figurate accipi debere & inde duas in Christo naturas colligi”(If [a trope] should be acknowledged, nothing stands in the way of taking as figurative the ascent into heaven, the descent from heaven, and [the words] “is in heaven,” any more than for the adversaries, who wish the name “Son of Man” to be taken figuratively, and from which [figurative understanding] they infer the two natures in Christ) (Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146).

57 Ibid. Socinus makes this same point in Tractatus de Deo (1.813), in which he says that if one takes the present tense figuratively, the reference is to “the penetration (as it were) into the knowledge of divine things” (“penetrationem [ut ita loquar] ad rerum divinarum cognitionem sint interpretati”). He again advances the same line of argument in Ad libellum Vuieki (2.610).

58 “Non videmus inquam, cur non potius haec interpretatio amplectenda sit, in qua nihil vel dicitur, vel pro concesso sumitur, quod verissimum esse non constet, quam ista vestra, in quo coniunctio illa duarum naturam in Christo aut pro iam posita habetur, aut expresse affirmatur; de qua & olim, & hodie non modo dubitatum, sed etiam tam acriter pugnatum est” (We fail to see, I say, why this interpretation ought not rather be embraced, in which nothing is either stated or taken for granted that is not [already] well known to be absolutely true. In your interpretation [on the other hand] that conjunction of the two natures in Christ is either already taken as a given or expressly affirmed—about which, in times past as well as today, it was not only in doubt, but was even so bitterly contested) (Socinus, Adv. Volanum 2.380).

59 I presume Williams means “literal” in the sense of “true” or “actual,” since Socinus's whole point is that this option involves a trope, in contrast to the literal approach he suggests in his discussion immediately following.

60 Williams, “Christological Issues,” 319. As Williams points out, the Explicatio comprised explanations of various difficult biblical texts; Socinus wrote these explanations at different times throughout his career.

61 “Quod si tamen quispiam ita pertinax esse velit, ut nullum tropum, quamvis elegantissimum, eumque facillimum, ac praeterea ipsi loco accommodatissimum, seu potius necessarium, quails profecto iste est, in rebus istis admittere velit, nihil aliud restat, nisi ut flium hominis, sive hominem illum, & vere & proprie, iam tum & de coelo descendisse, & in coelo fuisse dicimus” (Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146).

62 “Quod nos sane, non modo libenter concedimus, sed etiam plane contendimus, nec ullo modo dubitandum esse dicimus” (ibid.).

63 Ibid.

64 And so for the treatises already cited in which support for the figurative interpretation appears: Ad Volanum (1580), Tractatus de Deo (1583—1584), Adv. Erasmum Iohannis (1584), and Ad libellum Vuieki (1595). What makes the discussion in the Explicatio more difficult to interpret, however, is that after seeming to drop the figurative interpretation in favor of the literal one, which he “freely contends, without a doubt” to be true, he concludes the discussion with an argument that appears to favor taking the entire passage as a trope. It is this latter feature that distinguishes the argument in the Explicatio from the way in which he structures it elsewhere.

65 “Si velis, inquam, hoc scire, considerandum tibi esse arbitror, Christi verba aut cum aliquo, aut cum nullo topo accipienda esse. Si cum aliquo; nemo non videt, quam apte Christus, ut homo, in caelo fuisse dici possit, antequam, videntibus discipulis, cum suo corpore eo ascenderit; cum perpetuo in caelo mente sua versaretur, calestiaque omnia ita cognita haberet, ut ea tanquam praesentia semper inspiceret: idque ratione quadam plane singulari, & praeter ac supra omnem aliorum divinorum hominum sortem. Sin autem, ut mihi quidem videtur, nullo cum tropo sunt Christi verba accipienda; necesse est fateri, ipsum, ut hominem, aut certe, postquam fuit homo, fuisse in caelo ante ascensionem illam suam Apostolis conspicuam. Quam sententiam ego vehementer probo, hancque verborum Christi interpretationem libentissime sequor atque amplector” (Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.511 [emphasis mine]).

66 For example, Servetus had already suggested taking as figurative the “ascent” mentioned in both Johannine texts. See Servetus, Two Treatises, 26—27; 71—73.

67 “Ut legatur non qui est, set qui erat in caelo” (Socinus, Institutio, 1.674). Socinus makes this identical point in his Explicatio locorum (1.146) and in his Ad libellum Vuieki (2.610).

68 Socinus, Institutio 1.675.

69 “Potius interrogandum est, quomodo Christus illa verba, ubi erat prius, de seipso secundum illam divinam naturam, quam isti sunt commenti, dicere potuerit, ut quidem iidem isti volunt. Ea enim indicant eum, de quo dicta sunt, tunc temporis ibi, id est, in coelo, non fuisse, & consequenter, si istorum interpretatio admittatur, Christum cum haec dixit, secundum suam divinam naturam non fuisse in coelo. Quod ex ipsorummet sententia absurdissimum est” (It rather ought to be asked how Christ would have been able to utter the words “where he was before” about himself with reference to his divine nature, which they have falsely contrived [for him], as indeed these same individuals would have it. For these words indicate that he, about whom they were spoken, was not there, i.e., in heaven, at that time. Consequently, if their interpretation is allowed, the words indicate that Christ, when said these things, was not in heaven according to his divine nature. But in terms of their own view, this conclusion is utterly absurd) (Socinus, Institutio 1.675).

70 “Ex quo fit, ut quidquid de decensu Christi de coelo, de exitu ipsius à patre, de antecedente eiusdem visibilem ascensum in coelum, ipsius ibidem commoratione, in Sacris Literis legitur, quod tantopere contra nos adversarii urgere solent, id nihil plane sit. Immo efficitur, ut adversarii nostri, qui nos, tanquam interpretationibus nostris à Litera ipsa longe recedentes, accusare solebant, à nobis merito, hoc eodem nomine, accusentur; quippe, qui, quod scriptura, vel illi filio hominis, vel simpliciter, supposito illi, ut vocant, quod Iesus Christus est, aperte tribuit, divinae cuidam à se somniatae naturae, sive essentiae tribuere non vereantur” (From which it is the case that whatever one reads in Holy Scripture about the descent of Christ from heaven, or about his going forth from the Father, or about his abiding in heaven preceding his visible ascent there—which things our adversaries are so often accustomed to urging against us—plainly accomplishes nothing [to harm our position]. On the contrary: it turns out that our adversaries, who are used to accusing us of departing far from the literal meaning of Scripture [à Litera ipsa longe], are rightly charged by us of that very thing. Indeed, these are the ones who do not fear to attribute to some divine nature or essence [that they have dreamed up] what Scripture clearly attributes either to the Son of Man, or simply to the “suppositum” [as they say], which is Jesus Christ) (Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146).

71 Socinus, Institutio, 1.674—675.

72 Ibid., 1.675.

73 “Nam, si Christus, antequam homo natus est, non solum fuit, sed etiam verus Deus semper ex patris substantia extitit, quid opus erat, eum postea in coelum rapi, sive ut Dei arcana contemplaretur, sive quamcumque aliam ob causam?” (For if Christ, before he was born a man, not only existed but even always existed as true God from the substance of the Father, what need was there for him to be raptured into heaven afterward, whether to contemplate the arcana of God, or for any other reason?) (Socinus, Adv. Volanum 2.380).

74 Ibid.

75 Williams (“Christological Issues,” 315—16) states that Socinus cited both the case of Moses and of Paul in his De unigeniti filii Dei existentia, i.e., his dispute with Erasmus Johannis. However, I did not observe any reference to Moses in this work, although he does cite the case of Paul in Argument Seven of the dispute (Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.510—511).

76 Williams, Polish Brethren, 1:85.

77 “Manufacta opera omnia, quae ad ipsum divinam cultum pertinerent, cuius materiae cuiusve formae esse deberent, ipsi Mosi à Deo praescriberetur” (God prescribed to Moses himself all the manufactured artifacts pertaining to the divine worship, both as to their form and material) (Socinus, Institutio 1.675).

78 “Nam ut Mosis Christum, sic montis Sinai coelum antitypum esse, apertissimum est” (For it is quite clear that just as Christ is the antitype of Moses, even so heaven is the antitype of Mount Sinai) (Socinus, Institutio 1.675).

79 Socinus, Institutio 1.675.

80 Socinus, Adv. Volanum 2.380. See also the discussion in Williams, Polish Brethren, 1:85.

81 Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146.

82 Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.511. Williams discusses this passage (“Christological Issues,” 315).

83 Socinus, Adv. Erasmum Iohannis 2.510.

84 Socinus, Adv. Volanum 2.380.

85 An older but helpful book in this regard is Alexander B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1955).

86 For example, De Jesu Christo Servatore.

87 “Immo efficitur, ut adversarii nostri, qui nos, tanquam interpretationibus nostris à Litera ipsa longe recedentes, accusare solebant, à nobis merito, hoc eodem nomine, accusentur; quippe, qui, quod scriptura, vel illi filio hominis, vel simpliciter, supposito illi, ut vocant, quod Iesus Christus est, aperte tribuit, divinae cuidam à se somniatae naturae, sive essentiae tribuere non vereantur” (On the contrary: it turns out that our adversaries, who are used to accusing us of departing far from the literal meaning of Scripture [à Litera ipsa longe], are rightly charged by us of that very thing. Indeed, these are the ones who do not fear to attribute to some divine nature or essence [that they have dreamed up] what Scripture clearly attributes either to the Son of Man, or simply to the “suppositum” [as they say], which is Jesus Christ) (Socinus, Explicatio locorum 1.146).

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Harvard Theological Review
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