The Crellius Family


From OUR UNITARIAN HERITAGE, 1925 by Earl Morse Wilbur

A fifth group of exiles established themselves under the rule of the Great Elector Frederick William in the Mark of Brandenburg, and formed churches at several places not far from Frankfurt on the Oder, having for their last settled minister Samuel Crellius, member of one of the most famous families of Socinian scholars and preachers. Yet nothing could save them from succumbing to their environment. In a generation or two their descendants were speaking only German. Their numbers grew steadily fewer. In 1718 only some twenty-five adult males remained, and in 1725 Crellius gave up his charge. After this the members were annually visited for some time by a minister from the churches in Prussia, who preached and administered the sacraments to the survivors ; but by 1758 they had completely vanished. How seriously these exiled Socinians took their religion is illustrated by the letter which two brothers Widewski, officers in the Prussian army, wrote to Crellius in 1717, asking whether, being far from any church of their own faith, they might partake of the Lord's Supper in the Reformed Church.

Crellius went from Brandenburg to England, where he formed the acquaintance of numerous liberal divines in the English church, and thence to Holland, where he died in 1747. He left two sons,Stephen and Joseph, of whom it is related that when hey were studying at a gymnasium in Berlin they were told that they might stay there no longer unless they would join the Reformed Church, since otherwise the gymnasium would get a bad reputation. They did not yield to the demand. They later emigrated to America among the first settlers of the colony of Georgia, where the former became a justice of the peace, and the latter a planter. They are the only Polish Socinians known to have come to America.   ( pp. 189-190 )


Firmin was one of the leading philanthropists of his age. He became wealthy as a manufacturer and dealer in cloth, but Bidle's devotion to them roused his interest in the poor and unfortunate. When the Socinian exiles from Poland appealed to English sympathizers for relief in their distress, it was Firmin that raised a fund for them by private subscriptions from his friends, and by collections which his influence caused to be taken up in the churches. He procured similar aid for the orthodox Protestants of Poland when their turn came to suffer in 1681, for Huguenot refugees from France in the same year, and for Protestant refugees from Ireland under the oppressions of James II a few years later. He did much for sufferers by the great plague in 1665, and by the great fire in London the following year ; established a warehouse where coal and grain were sold to the poor at cost, and set up factories where many hundreds of them when out of work might earn their living by making linen or woolen cloth ; and besides giving generously for poor relief out of his own purse, he was given very large sums by others who trusted him so fully that they never asked for an accounting. Moreover, he was a pioneer in scientific charity, for, far ahead of his time, he devised a scheme for systematic employment of the poor, and used to investigate their needs by visiting in their homes. Finally, be took an active part in the reform of prisons, in behalf of those imprisoned for debt, in the work of hospitals, and in the reform of public manners. In all these way he was the model for many a public-spirited Unitarian in later generations, who has like him been inspired to good works by the preaching and example of his minister.

It was Firmin's especial services to the cause of Unitarianism, however, that bring him into this history. Although he attended Bidle's services as long as they lasted, he never withdrew from the Church of England, and until his death in 1697 he maintained with Archbishop Tillotson and with most of the prominent clergy an intimate friendship, which was never broken despite his known difference from them in matters of belief. As a convinced Unitarian, however, he sought every means to spread Unitarian teachings. He is said to have had an important Polish Socinian work translated and published in English not long after Bidle's death, and to have assisted later on in bringing out a work by a liberal Anglican clergyman leading to the view that the English Church should be made so broad that a Socinian might join it.1 He also carried on the influence of Bidle in another way, and thus kindled a fire which has never since gone out. In 1687 he got the Rev . Stephen Nye, a clergyman holding Unitarian beliefs, to prepare A Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians. This led to controversy, and other tracts followed. These made so many converts that in 1691 Firmin, at his own expense, had these and others collected into a volume of Unitarian tracts, with Bidle's's first three tracts reprinted and standing at the head. Other tracts were collected later, many or most of them written by clergymen in the Established Church, until at length there were five volumes of them, the last two published after Firmin's death. These writings stirred up the celebrated Trinitarian Controversy in the church of England, of which we shall speak in the next chapter, and they made sure that the truth to which Bidle had borne such brave witness did not fall to the ground. Unitarian beliefs thus came to be widely held in both pulpit and pew in the Church of England, and that with little concealment ; so that for a time it was felt th at the struggle for freedom of belief in the Church was won. No one had done more to bring about this result than Thomas Firmin.   ( pp. 309-311 )


A few Socinians also came [to England] in person. Adam Franck was discovered by Archbishop Land in 1639 when, doubtless as a Socinian missionary, he was trying to make converts among the students at Cambridge. Wiszowaty came to England as a traveling missionary early in life, and met several distinguished men. At least four members of the Distinguished Socinian family Crellius visited England, of whom Paul studied at Cambridge, while Samuel in repeated visits formed an intimate friendship with the Earl of Shaftesbury, and with Archbishop Tillotson, who publicly spoke in high appreciation of the Socinians, and was unfairly charged with being one himself. Several Unitarians also came from Transylvania, while Paul Best, who had traveled from England thither and to Poland, had debated with the Unitarians in Transylvania and been converted to their views, had studied Unitarian theology in Germany for some years, and had finally returned to England full of missionary spirit, was condemned to death by Parliament in 1645 for denying the Trinity, though the sentence was never executed and he was released after being two or three years in prison.   ( p. 297 )

  [ to "Bidle" ]

In 1651/2 a Latin edition of the Racovian Catechism was published in London, and when it was brought to the attention of Parliament the next month its teachings were declared to be "blasphemous, erroneous, and scandalous," and all copies that could he found were seized and burnt.1 Yet the following year an English translation was brought out.2 At about the same time Bidle reprinted his earlier tracts and published an English translation of a life of Socinus and of two little Socinian tracts. These, however, were soon quite overshadowed by a new work of his own, A Twofold Catechism3 (1654), the second part being a brief Catechism for children. Bidle was by now well acquainted with the works of Socinus, but although he took many questions and answers from the Racovian Catechism, he was not wholly satisfied with it. In this book, therefore, he aimed to restore the pure teaching of Christianity by giving answers entirely in the very words of Scripture, whose divine authority he accepted. This little book covered not only the doctrine of the Trinity as his first tracts had done, but all the doctrines of Christianity, and it made much bolder attacks upon the orthodox doctrines than he had made before, and by sharp contrasts it showed how clearly they contradicted the words of the Scripture.   ( pp. 304-305 )

1. This is sometimes confused with the burning of the first Latin edition in 1614. See page 296.

2. This translation is sometimes attributed to Bidle, but this is doubtful. It purported to have been printed in Holland.

3. Two years after Bidle's death this work was translated into Latin for circulation on the Continent by Nathaniel Stackey,a lad of fifteen who had been a member of his congregation and was warmly attached to him. The boy died at sixteen, and the next year his mother undertook charge of the education of two of the children of Christopher Crellius, a distinguished Polish Socinian in exile. This indicates close relations between Bidle's followers and the Socinians on the continent. It was the two sons of one of these children that emigrated to America.

Boston : Beacon Press 1925.


1836 J. GILBERT Chr. Atonem. ii. 35 Crellius, the most subtle and elaborate of all the *anti-satisfactionists

[ exaration ] 2. The action of tracing (characters) upon stone, or writing. Also concr. a writing; a composition; rare in mod. use.

1716 M. DAVIES Athen. Brit. II. 389 The Whimsical Exarations of Socinus, Crellius, etc.

1681-6 J. SCOTT Chr. Life (1747) III. 635 To expose the great Immodesty of Crellius, who..will needs persuade the World, that by the Word in the Chaldee Paraphrase is no where meant a Person


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