UU Minute #26

Fausto Sozzini: Early Years

When Lelio Sozzini died in 1562 at the age of only 37, he left behind little more than a trunk of books and manuscripts – inherited by his nephew, Fausto Sozzini, age 22.

Young Fausto had begun early to reject orthodoxy. Three years before, at age 19, he’d been denounced by the Inquisition. He’d fled to Zurich, and it was there that he received his inheritance: his uncle Lelio’s papers.

Fausto Sozzini studied his uncle’s legacy with care. From those manuscripts he discovered an insistence that reason is an authority equal to scripture. Within months of encountering his dead uncle’s works, he wrote an essay, his first published work, in which he took the antitrinitarian position that Jesus was divine by office rather than by nature. Within a year, we know from a letter he wrote, he rejected the immortality of the soul.

Still, in 1563, Fausto returned to Italy, outwardly conforming to the church, and served as a secretary in the Florentine Court for 12 years. Though he later regarded these years as wasted, during this time he wrote, “On the Authority of the Holy Scriptures” – widely influential for viewing scriptures as historical texts.

Leaving Florence in 1575, Fausto Sozzini moved to Basel and devoted himself to close study of the Bible. In 1578, at age 38, he finished “On Jesus Christ the Savior,” in which attacked the doctrine of substitutionary atonement – the idea that the sufferings of Christ are accepted by the divine justice as a substitute for the punishment due for the sins of the world. Rather, argued Fausto Sozzini, Christ is our savior because his teaching and his example show us the way of salvation, not because his death paid off our debt of sin.

NEXT: Fausto in Transylvania

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