The Unitarians

I. Origins

A. Eastern Europe

1. Ferenc David, Transylvania (died in prison 1579)

a. Converted to Lutheranism during study at Wittenbury

2. Michael Servetus (executed at Geneva, 1553)

a. Born in Spain, immigrated to Geneva

3. Faustus Socinus (d. 1604)

a. Born in Italy, immigrated to Zurich, fled eventually to Poland

4. Church in Transylvania is the oldest Unitarian Church

5. Early beliefs

a. Doctrine of Trinity not scriptural
b. Jesus was a human whom God had resurrected (Arianism)
c. Denial of Christ’s pre-existence
d. Christian doctrine must be rational
e. Separation of church and state
f. Importance of Christian ethics

B. England

1. John Biddle (1615-1662)

a. English Socinian who studied Greek New Testament
b. Reformation brought new attention to the 4th century doctrine of the Trinity
c. sought return to “pure” apostolic Christianity
d. Trinity is non-scriptural

C. The Trinity and the Reformation

1. Although Reformers questioned "man-made" doctrine, few were willing to question the 4th century elaboration of the Trinity

2. Reformers persecuted those who did: MIchael Servetus, burned at the stake (a method used by the Inquisition) in Geneva

3. Toleration Act in England, 1689: required declaration of abjuration of Catholicism and fidelity to the Trinity

4. Thomas Aikenhead, executed in 1697 for violating the Blasphemy Act by denying the Trinity

II. The Trinity: the boundary of Christianity

A. The Trinity and the Jews

1. Jews had been expelled from England in the 13th century
2. 1656: Dutch Jew petitioned Oliver Cromwell for Jewish return to England
3. Cromwell agreed, and a small contingent of wealthy Jewish merchants from Amsterdam were allowed to settle in London

B. Laws against the Trinity also keep Jews out of society

1. Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753 allowed Jews to petition Parliament to become naturalized citizens

2. Repealed in 1754

3. To deny the Trinity, or that Christ is divine, is to deny Christianity altogether

4. To deny Christ as divine is to call for the disestablishment of the Church and to abolish the model of Christ as head of the church

C. The Blasphemy Act (1697, and re-authorized in 1792, proscribes

1. Those who deny the Trinity
2. Those who assert there are more gods than one
3. Those who deny the Christian religion is true
4. Those who deny the holy scriptures are of divine authority

III. Unitarianism and New Currents in Religion in the 18th and 19th centuries

A. Privatized Religion

1. Organized religion is obsolete

a. Religion should be cerebral spirituality for an intellectual elite
b. Integration of public and private spheres for intellectual self-fulfillment
c. Religion is mainly ethics (behavior)
d. Religion as contemplation of natural world (Deism)
e. Religon should check mob irrationalism

B. Newtonian Science and Religion

1. God works through natural laws, not miracles
2. God must be infinite and indivisible
3. God as “the great mathematician”: rational

C. Freemasonry

1. Voluntary associations
2. Christian and pagan themes
3. Candelabras, altar, throne, constitutional documents
4. Sacralization of the public sphere

IV. Influences on American Religion

A. Deists did not want to abolish religion, but the religion they envisaged was not conservative Christianity

1. Intellectual
2. Anti-liturgical and anti-priestly
3. Voluntary association
4. Emphasis on ethics and contemplation of rational deity who works through natural law and not miracles
5. Such a religion will improve the social and political spheres
6. Distrust of masses and emotionalism

B. Many of these characteristics are features of Unitarianism