Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Leader Resource 3: The Racovian Catechism

The Racovian Catechism was first published in 1605 in Rakow, Poland, the center of 16th-century Polish Unitarianism, the only town in the world where Unitarians were in the religious majority. From the mid-sixteenth century, inhabitants of this area had enjoyed nearly unprecedented freedom of belief. The Catechism, largely the work of Faustus Socinus, was written both to provide instruction to those who were Unitarians, and also information for those outside the tradition. It was translated into German in 1608, and Latin, with a "dedication" (actually, more of a challenge) to James I of England, in 1609. According to Mark Harris,

The Catechism reflected a strong emphasis on following the ethical teachings of Jesus and the Ten Commandments and also commented extensively on social relations within the state. Rather than a teaching tool for children, it was a summary of church beliefs in question-and-answer format.

Unfortunately, the flourishing Unitarian community, including its publishing arm, was nearly completely destroyed in 1638. Subsequently, Catholicism was reestablished as the dominant religion in Rakow, a part of the counterreformation efforts in Eastern Europe.

Even after the devastation of Poland's Unitarian community, the Catechism continued to be printed in new translations. In 1651, a new edition in Latin was published in London, only to be followed in 1652 by a resolution of the British Parliament that required the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex to seize and burn all known copies. Later that same year, the first English translation, likely the work of John Biddle, was published.