Handout 3: The Racovian Catechism
Excerpts from an 1818 imprint which can be viewed in its entirety online:
Rees, Thomas, 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 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1818).
From the Preface
To the Pious Reader, Health and favour from God, the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We here publish a Catechism, or Institute of the Christian Religion, drawn from the Holy Scriptures, as it is professed by our Church. It must not be thought, because in many things it departs from the standard of all other Christians, that, in sending it forth to the public, differing in their perceptions upon all matters, we intend, as it were by a herald, to proclaim hostility, or sound the trumpet for combat...
It was not without reason that Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, heavily complained of old, that after the Council of Nice (Nicea) nothing was written but CREEDS, and these indeed annually and monthly; "by which," he observes, "one after another, we are bitten until we are almost devoured... "
It is not without just cause that many pious and learned men complain at present also, that the Confessions and Catechisms which are now put forth, and published by different Christian Churches, are hardly any thing else than apples of Eris, trumpets of discord, ensigns of immortal enmities and factions among men. The reason of this is, that those Confessions and Catechisms are proposed in such a manner that the conscience is bound by them, that a yoke is imposed upon Christians to swear to the words and opinions of men; and that they are established as a Rule of Faith, from which, every one who deviates in the least is immediately assailed by the thunderbolt of an anathema, is treated as a heretic, as a most vile and mischievous person, is excluded from heaven, consigned to hell, and doomed to be tormented with infernal fires.
Far be from us this disposition, or rather this madness. Whilst we compose a Catechism, we prescribe nothing to any man: whilst we declare our own opinions, we oppress no one. Let every person enjoy the freedom of his own judgment in religion; only let it be permitted to us also to exhibit our view of divine things, without injuring and calumniating others...
Of the Authenticity of the Holy Scriptures...
But how do you prove that the Christian Religion is true?
First, from the divinity of its author, and secondly, from the nature and circumstances of the Religion itself; for these all demonstrate that it is divine, and consequently true.
Whence does it appear that Jesus Christ, the author of the Christian Religion, was divine?
From the truly divine miracles which he wrought and also from this circumstance, that after having submitted to the most cruel death, on account of the religion he had taught, God raised him again to life...
You have proved from its author that the Christian Religion is divine. I wish you now to do the same from the nature of the Religion itself.
This appears from its precepts and promises; which are of so sublime a kind, and so far surpass the inventive powers of the human mind, that they could have had no author but God himself. For its precepts inculcate a celestial holiness of life, and its promises comprehend the heavenly and everlasting happiness of man...
How do you prove from its rise that the Christian Religion is divine?
This you will readily perceive when you consider who the first founders of this Religion were; men of mean birth, held in universal contempt; aided by no power or wealth, by no worldly wisdom or authority, in converting others to their doctrine...
Of what use then is right reason, if it be of any, in those matters which relate to salvation?
It is, indeed, of great service, since without it we could neither perceive with certainty the authority of the sacred writings, understand their contents, discriminate one thing from another, nor apply them to any practical purpose. When therefore I stated that the Holy Scriptures were sufficient for our salvation, so far from excluding right reason, I certainly assumed its presence.
If then such be the state of the case, what need is there of Traditions, which, by the Church of Rome, are pronounced to be necessary to salvation, and which it denominates the unwritten word of God?
You rightly perceive, that they are not necessary to salvation.
What then is to be thought concerning them?
That some of them are not to be reckoned under the name of traditions, in the sense in which the Papists employ them, but that many of them were not only invented, without just reason, but are also productive of great injury to the Christian Faith...
Concerning those things which constitute the way of salvation.
What do you understand by the term GOD?
The supreme Lord of all things.
And whom do you denominate Supreme?
Him, who, in his own right, has dominion over all things, and is dependent upon no other being in the administration of his government.
What does this dominion comprise?
A right and supreme authority to determine whatever he may choose (and he cannot choose what is in its own nature evil and unjust) in respect to us and to
all other things, and also in respect to those matters which no other authority can reach ; such as are our thoughts, though concealed in the inmost recesses of
our hearts ; for which he can at pleasure ordain laws, and appoint rewards and punishments...
What are the things relating to the nature of God, the knowledge of which is necessary to salvation?
They are the following: first, That God is; secondly, That he is one only; thirdly. That he is eternal; and fourthly, That he is perfectly just, wise, and powerful.