Unitarianism belief in the unity of God. In a comprehensive sense it includes, with a part of Christendom, Jews, Mohammedans, Deists, and all who worship God as one. For this use, however, the accepted term is Monotheism. Within the ranks of Christendom the name Unitarian is given to those who reject the dogma of the Trinity in its varying phases of a threefold or tri-personal Deity, whether three in substance or only in name and form, and who maintain the essential unity of God as Creator and Father, and the created nature and subordinate rank of Jesus Christ. Within this range opinions about Jesus vary from those that assign him a pre-existent and super- angelic rank to an estimate purely human. While the name strictly touches this doctrine only, it is vitally related and gives character to the whole system of belief concerning human nature and need, human life and its purpose, this world and its meaning, and the future world and man's destiny.
I. History of the Belief. —
1. In the Early Church. Unitarianism has accompanied Christianity from the beginning, at least as one form of its faith. Unitarians maintain that their faith is that of the early Church as taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. They appeal to Jesus as the supreme teacher of Christianity, finding in his word and character the essence of the Gospel. They state their chief tenets in the language of the New Test. without note or comment, "To us there is but one God, the Father;" "This is life eternal to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." They hold that the doctrine of the Trinity, so startling to Jews trained in the worship of one God and expecting a Messiah of human lineage, would have required a statement more explicit than any found in the Bible record. They hold that the doctrine, at best, is an inference from texts of obscure meaning or doubtful genuineness, every one of which is separately abandoned by prominent Trinitarian scholars as not expressly teaching the doctrine; while the Roman Catholic holds it on the authority of the Church, deeming it not clearly taught in the Bible.
Unitarians consider the doctrine of the Trinity a gradual development, as Gentiles came into the Church and subjected the Gospel to the influence of Oriental speculations and Greek philosophy. The followers of Zoroaster and Plato, teaching the eternal antagonism of spirit and matter, filled the time with speculations concerning God as a superior essence creating the world by inferior divinities. In the Platonic doctrine of the Logos began the gradual deification of Jesus, consummated only by votes of successive councils of the 4th century. A succession of testimonies meanwhile show the continued existence of faith in the undivided unity of God. In the latter half of the 2nd century, Justin Martyr says, "Some there are among ourselves who admit that Jesus is Christ while holding him to be man of men." Still later, Tertullian says, "Common people think of Christ as a man." About the year 200 Tertullian was himself the first to introduce into Christian theology the word "Trinitas." The unity of God was expressly taught by a sect called the "Monarchians." Some held that God the Father himself was born and suffered in human form, and hence were called "Patripassians." Of these were Beryllus, bishop of Bostria in Arabia; Praxeas, who came from Asia Minor to Rome; Noetus, of Smyrna; and, still later, Sabellius, a presbyter in the Church about A.D. 250, the most original and profound mind among the Monarchians. The teachings of Sabellius are variously represented by friend and foe, and are not now very accurately to be known. He had followers as late as the 5th century in Mesopotamia and in Rome. Others held that Christ was in nature purely human, but exalted by his superior measure of divine wisdom and inspiration. Of these were Theodotus of Byzantium, Artemon of Rome, and Paul of Samosata. This noted teacher, bishop of Antioch from the year 260, makes prominent the human personality of Christ, teaching that "Christ was a man," "exalted to peculiar union with the divine nature by the illumination of divine wisdom." Deposed in 269, his name became. a synonym for heresy and in the next century the celebrated historian Eusebius confirms the testimony that he taught "that Christ was in nature but a common man." Speculation and controversy thus went forward until, in the beginning of the 4th century, the relation of God and Christ had become a question of substance or resemblance. In the famous theological struggle over the terms homo and homousian, whether God and Christ were of the same or only similar nature, Arius maintained that Jesus was a created being. He was opposed by the bishop Alexander, aided by Athanasius; and the controversy waxed hot and opinion was divided, until Constantine, recently come to the throne as the first Christian emperor, summoned in A.D. 325 the Council of Nice, in which the angry storm of the three hundred theologians was allayed and Arius and his doctrine condemned. The historian Eusebius naively says, "The emperor succeeded in bringing them into similarity of judgment and conformity of opinion on all controverted points." For another century controversy continued as to the Holy Spirit, the double nature of Christ, and Mary as Mother of God, all of which were gradually settled by majority votes of successive councils, culminating in the Creed long attributed to Athanasius, but now believed to have been written a hundred years after his death.
In surveying the opinions of the early Church, it thus becomes clear that Unitarianism existed from the beginning; that the belief in the Trinity and the Deity of Christ was three or four centuries gradually forming; that during this period the range of opinions concerning Jesus was as widely varied as at the present time; that two or three hundred years after the death of Christ it was still doubtful, and settled only by the majority of a council, whose decision was secured through the influence of a newly converted emperor, whether the Christian Church should regard Jesus-as a person in the Godhead, or, as the apostle Peter declared him, a man approved by signs and wonders which God did by him. 'The Unitarian deems the whole question a corruption of the pure Gospel by philosophic speculation, and seeks, as the essence of Christianity, the practical religion taught by Jesus Christ of love to God and man. It may be added as a fact of interest, and one significant of the aid rendered to Christianity by this branch of the Church, that one of the chief lights of Arianism, the Gothic Ulfiias, born near the Lower Danube at about the time of the Council of Nice, and consecrated bishop 'at the age of thirty, devoting himself to the religious 'and social development of his people, familiar with the Latin,- Greek, and Gothic languages, rendered his name forever to be honored by his translation of the Bible into his native tongue, which at once helped to give lasting form to the Gothic language aid to perpetuate Christianity among the Gothic people. For four centuries the Goths were accompanied in their migrations by this sacred national work, portions of which still re-' main in the University Library of Upsal, in Sweden. The sect of the Nestorians, also, who may fairly be counted on the Arian side, at about the 7th century, were the first to carry Christianity to the far East, into Persia and China.
2. The Reformation reveals Unitarianism existing, and awakens it to renewed life. It accompanied Protestantism from its cradle, as it had accompanied primitive Christianity. Before Luther's death it had appeared in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, and England. In the contest with the pope and is hierarchy, the majority of Protestants, absorbed in the struggle for freedom, accepted, unchallenged, as their hereditary belief, the substance of doctrine of the Romish Church. Yet in every Protestant confession the doctrine of the Trinity is reiterated as if on. the defensive; while the testimonies of Calvin, Melancthon, and others against the Unitarian heresy reveal its strength. Among the many who, before and after the Reformation, bore witness to their faith in persecution and death, Unitarianism has its own list of confessors and martyrs. In bishop Mant's History of Ireland is a brief account of Adam Duff, who for' his denial of the Trinity was burned alive, near Dublin, in 1326. The early theological repositories make record of a priest, William Tay our, put to death as an Arian, in England in 1422. Conspicuous among the Reformers were the Unitarians Servetus and the Socini, Michael Servetus, born in Villanueva, Aragon, in 1509, the year of' Calvin's birth, while studying law at Tonlouse, heard of the contest, left his home and his profession, and sought the Reformers AEcolampadius, at Basle, Bucer and Capito, at Strasburg, and Calvin, at Paris. His bold genius pushed past them in seeking a rejuvenated Christianity. Skilled in mathematics and the Oriental languages, in law, medicine, and theology, his fearless spirit of inquiry and eager thirst for truth gave the highest interest to his religious speculations. "Your trinity," he declares, "is a product of subtlety and madness. The Gospel knows nothing of it. The old fathers are strangers to these vain distinctions. It is from the school of Greek sophists that you, Athanasius, prince of tritheists, have borrowed it." Such sentiments provoked bitter hostility. Zwingli denounced him as "that wicked and cursed Spaniard;" Calvin spoke of him as the "frantic" Servetus, who "has thrown all things into confusion." When Servetus published his Seven Books on the Errors of the Trinity, and his more noted work on the Restoration of Christianity, severely criticizing Calvin's views, his doom was sealed. On his flight from persecutors at Vienne, as he stopped at Geneva, Calvin caused his arrest and trial. The flames of Protestant persecution dismissed into eternity, through frightful agony, this brave soul that dared assert the absolute unity of God. The leading Reformers expressed no regret, but silently or openly approved it. SEE SERVETITS.
Laelius Socinus, born in Siena in 1525, of distinguished ancestry, familiar with Biblical languages, an able critic, a member of the famous Vicenza Secret Religious Society of Forty, on their dispersal fled to France, England, Poland, and at last to Zurich, where he died at the age of thirty- seven. A student rather than reformer or controversialist, he yet left behind him a deep impress of his free and original thought. His nephew, Faustus Socinus, born also in Siena in 1539, was expelled from Italy at twenty, studied at Basle, visited Poland and Transylvania, where, carrying forward his uncle's thought and work until his death in 1604, he became the more active and noted leader of Socinianism (q.v.).
Less conspicuous, but with these, may be named in Germany, Cellarius, Capito, Johann Denk, Sebastian Frank, and the scholarly Ludwig Hetzer, one of the earliest, who, for writing against the Deity of Christ, was imprisoned by the magistrates of Constance, and suffered death in 1529; also Claudius of Savoy, George Blandrata in Transylvania, Gonesius and Farnovius in Poland, Stephen Dolet, friend and disciple of Servetus, who, at the age of thirty-seven, was tried for heresy and burned alive in Paris in 1546; and John Valentine Gentilis, who preached in France and Switzerland, and suffered death at Berne in 1566, saying, as he laid his head on the block, "Many have suffered for the glory of the Son, but none have died for the glory and supremacy of the Father."
3. In Italy, before the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity encountered dissent, the advocates of which were driven from the country, or were attracted by the larger freedom farther North. Thus went forth many to Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, and Poland; among whom were the famous Socini and the celebrated preacher Bernardo Occhino. Hundreds also were put to death, among whom were James Palaeologus, burned at Rome, and Sega and Guirlanda, drowned at Venice. It was in this interest of reforming the faith that the society was formed in Vicenza, of forty persons of talents and learning, discarding the Trinity, meeting in secret, of whom, after 1546, many were imprisoned and others suffered death. From that time there has been no recognized or organized Unitarian body of any strength in Italy, although it is believed there are many who hold this faith. The advocate Magnani has for years conducted Unitarian service at Pisa. The astronomer Filopanti has lectured in Bologna, Milan, Rome, and Naples upon Channing, the distinguished American Unitarians leader, of whom further mention will be made below. Professor Ferdinando Bracciforti has translated Channing's works into Italian, and has for years conducted Unitarian service at Florence and at Reggio. Professor Sbabaro, in. the Rivisa Europa of October, 1879, argues that Channing supplies the form and spirit of the religion needed by the craving heart of thoughtful Italy. He there says, "I have made choice of Channing as the most eloquent witness and an irrefragable proof of the new evolution of Christian thought in the world, and of the reform which is in process of initiation in human religiousness; because in the story of his career, and in the fortunes of his books, in the marvel of their rapid diffusion in all corners of the civilized earth, is to be seen the most luminous and triumphant proof of the reality of that movement which is inwardly transforming European society, and bringing it, little by little, to worship under the roof of a new temple, that Church really catholic, whose frontal shall bear, without untruth, the inscription 'To the One God,' which Mazzini hailed on the facades of the Unitarian churches of Hungary."
4. In France, reporting two million Protestants, since the martyrdom of Dolet in Paris, no specific Unitarian movement has been known. But during the last fifty years, in the Reformed Church, which is mostly Trinitarian, has been a growing liberal party; among whom the Coquerels, father and son, Martin Paschoud, Fontanes, Colani, Vincent, and the present liberals Parisian pastor Auguste Dide have substantially represented Unitarianism. Their papers were formerly Le Reformateur, and Le Disciple de Jesus, and at present La Renaissance. Says Renan, in a brilliant essay on Channing in 1863, "France has rejected Protestantism. She is the most orthodox country in the world, because she is the most indifferent in religious matters."
5. In Switzerlaad, where the early Unitarian martyrs (Hetzer, at Zurich, in 1529, and Servetus, at Genesa, in 1553) paid the penalty of their lives, the spirit of purity in Church as in State has prevailed; and, with) a, separate formal organization, Unitarian sentiments, were the first, have been steadily held. The Swiss Church has been committed to no dogmatic declaration, it only "to preach purely and fully the Word of God is maintained in the Holy Scriptures." The Genevan church, in general, denies the equality of the Son with 1h1X Father, and the Godhead of the Messiah. The correspondent of the Evangelical Christendom, Feb. 1,1875, says," The. Grand Council of Basle, on the question of the Deity of Christ, on May 2, 1871, decided in the negative by a vote of sixty-three voices against forty-eight." Stienne Chastel, professor of ecclesiastical history at Geneva, is among Channing's most ardent admirers. French Switzerland has itself produced two great liberals, Samuel Vincent and Alexander Vinet, who were largely in sympathy with Unitarian thought.
6. Holland, like Switzerland and America, always hospitable to those who are exiles for conscience, has never been wanting in representatives of a free theology. Of its two and a half million Protestants, about four fifths belong to the Reformed Church; which, again, has its two parties-of Orthodox and Moderns. Since the burning of Flekwyk, a Dutch Baptist, for his denial of the Trinity in 1569, there has been continued progress. In a popular religious work by Dr. Matthes, it is a significant fact that the chapter on God has no allusion to the Trinity; but at the close occurs a foot-note in which, with the calm spirit of the historian rather than that of the controversialist, he speaks of the antiquated doctrine of the Trinity." The creed adopted at the Synod of Dort in 1618 has given place to the acceptance of the Bible as the standard of faith, together with the toleration and diversity of sentiment which are sure to follow.
7. Germany, that gave the world, along with Luther, some of the first Unitarian reformers, during the succeeding three and a half centuries, without any distinctly organized Unitarian movement, has, with its noted scholarship and philosophy, produced all shades of rationalism, from. extreme orthodoxy to extreme unbelief. In South Germany, governmental statistics of 1861 report 325,0000 Unitarians. Says Dr. Beard, "The Trinity subsists among the learned of Germany only in name. The patristical doctrine has been attenuated to a shadow or reduced to nothing; if brought down into scriptural form it is abandoned; if converted into three 'somewhat,' it is no longer such as the creeds declare or their advocates recognize. The doctrine once taught and held for an essential article of Christian faith is virtually repudiated and silently disowned." A translation of Channing's complete works, by Sydow and Schultze, was published in Berlin in 1850. After that, the chevalier Bunsen, in his God in History, speaks of Channing as "a grand Christian saint and man of God-nay, also a prophet of the Christian consciousness regarding the future." The Protestanten-Verein of Germany, established at Eisenach in 1865, a free Union Association, holding annual conference sessions, though not organized on a dogmatic basis and not professedly Unitarian, welcomes and cherishes fellowship and sympathy with the Unitarians of England and America.
8. In Poland the Unitarian faith early took a firm hold and spread rapidly, aided by refugees who there found a hospitable asylum. Yet it was not without persecution at the start. In 1539, in the market-place in Cracow, was burned Katharine Vogel at the age of eighty, wife of a goldsmith, and alderman, condemned for denying the Deity of Christ and affirming the divine unity. In 1552 the Bible was translated, chiefly by Unitarian scholars, into the Polish language. Hither came Faustus Socinus, around whom flocked converts from all ranks and classes of society, among them many of the nobility. These, protected from persecution by the privileges of their rank, proved especially favorable to a movement which, more than any other of the time, seemed, destructive of the traditions and prestige of the Romish Church. The prosperous commercial city of Racow, with its large printing establishment publishing many of the best books of the day, became its headquarters. Here was issued the famous Racovian Catechism, which became widely known and influential, and was afterwards signally burned in London. King Sigismund II became a convert, and during his reign this party of reformers grew strong enough to form a church of their own. For a, century it flourished, till, in 1660, prince Casimir, a cardinal and a Jesuit, coming to the throne, with unrelenting persecution burned the homes of its adherents, drove them into silence, exile, or death. So effectually did he exterminate it, and with it the spirit of liberty in the state as in religion, that it may fairly be said that Jesuit tyranny at once obliterated a church and a nation.
9. In Transylvania, Unitarianism was earliest declared by Francis David, first Unitarian pastor and bishop; and afterwards by Socinus and by Georgio Blandrata, an Italian from Piedmont, who became court physician to Sigismund. In 1540 David preached to a multitude in the open streets of Thorda, asserting the Father to be the only God. By his preaching from place to place large numbers were converted, including the king himself, and nearly the whole city of Klausenburg, and many Unitarian churches were established. While persecution was rife in the rest of Europe, Transylvania was early conspicuous for religious liberty. Four forms of Christianity the Roman Catholic, the Reformed Evangelical, the Lutheran, and the Unitarian were recognized by law with equal rights, with penalties for those only who should infringe the rights of others. Under this broad tolerance, Unitarianism, which, was, indeed, instrumental in producing it, gained a strong foothold, which, under subsequent persecution, it has never wholly lost. Unhappily, the early tolerance was of short duration. The bishop, Francis David, himself became a martyr, this faith, dying in prison in November, 1579, an event, the tercentenary anniversary of which, in 1879, was celebrated in the land of his martyrdom. The Unitarians of Transylvania are said to have at one time possessed four hundred church buildings, eleven colleges, and three universities. Through the last two centuries the iron hand of Austrian and Jesuit oppression has largely dispossessed them of churches, schools, lands, and even of civil as well as religious rights. They were robbed of their churches, which were transferred to the Jesuits. During the present century, they are regaining privileges and strength, and are reported as having a population of 60,000, now increasing, with 126 churches; a university at Klausenburg with 12
professors and 300 students; two smaller colleges at Thorda and St. Kerezstur; a newspaper, The Seedsower; and many distinguished scholars and literary men, preachers and civilians, in their ranks. Their Church government is that of Episcopacy, strongly modified by Congregationalism, their present bishop being Joseph Ferencz. A special intimacy of fellowship has recently been cherished and growing between them and the Unitarians of England and America. With their aid the translation of Channing's writings has been widely circulated among the people of Hungary of all sects. 10. England, though later than the Continent in receiving the Unitarian faith, was visited by Occhino, Socinus, and other reformers. In 1548, the priest John Asheton was cited to Lambeth for Arian sentiments, and saved his life only by recanting. Under a similar charge occurred several martyrdoms. George von Parris, a devout German surgeon, for denying the Trinity was burned at Smithfield in 1551, during the brief reign of Edward VI. During the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, Hammont, Lewes, Ket, Wright, and many others met a similar fate. In the reign of James I, in 1611, the Unitarian Bartholomew Legate became the last of the Smithfield martyrs; and in 1612, at Lichfield, Edward Wightman, a Unitarian Baptist, was the last martyr who was burned for heresy in England. In the time of Cromwell, John Biddle formed in London the first English Unitarian Church, and gained the title of the father of the English Unitarians, but perished in prison for his faith. In 1640 the synods of London and York deemed it worth while to issue a special canon against Socinianism. And in 1652 the Racovian Catechism, which had been translated into English and actively circulated, was burned in London. To such strength and influence had Socinianism grown there during the century that in 1655 Dr. Owen writes of it, "The evil is at the door; there is not a city or town, scarce a village, in England wherein some of this poison is not poured forth." Before the close of the 17th century, London had houses of Unitarian worship. Milton was an Arian, as has been proved since his death. Sir Isaac Newton is now known to have written anonymously on the Unitarian side. Locke wrote a work on The Reasonableness of Christianity, which is substantially Unitarian. The scholarly Lardner, author of The Credibility of the Gospel History, one of the ablest defenses ever written, held Unitarian opinions. That these views had notably invaded the Established Church is testified by Palmer in 1705 writing that there were "troops of Unitarian and Socinian writers, and not a Dissenter among them." Rev. Thomas Emlyn preached the Unitarian faith in Dublin and London. The Act of Uniformity in 1662 expelled from the Church of England two thousand ministers, mostly Calvinistic Presbyterians. Free from dogmatic tests, many of these ministers and their followers gradually became Arminian, and ultimately Unitarian. After the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 legalizing Nonconformity, the way was opened by which the prevailing faith largely passed into Unitarianism. Half the Unitarian churches in England today are of this Presbyterian origin. Until 1813 the law made it blasphemy to speak against the Trinity; but a more tolerant public sentiment had long rendered the law a dead letter. Unitarianism as an organized movement was most distinctly initiated by Dr. Theophilus Lindsey, who in 1774 resigned his charge in the Established Church and became pastor of a Unitarian congregation in Essex Street, London. A still more important apostle was the noted Dr. Joseph Priestley. Born in 1733, educated a Calvinist, distinguished for his scholarship and scientific attainments, in 1755 he became pastor of a small Dissenting congregation in Suffolk, and a conspicuous champion of the humanitarian theology. Believing in the Bible as a divine revelation, and in the miracles as credentials of Christ's authority, while continuing to hold some tenets of Calvinism, he rejected the Trinity and vicarious atonement as unscriptural, wrote to show how these dogmas came in as later corruptions of primitive Christianity, and held that Christ himself claimed to be simply a man. His views brought upon him obloquy and persecution; and, at the hands of a mob losing his books, manuscripts, and philosophical instruments, he was virtually banished from his native land. In 1792 he removed to America, gave courses of lectures in Philadelphia, which added fresh stimulus to the rising Unitarianism, but retired for his closing years to the small neighboring village of Northumberland, where he died in 1804. In 1813 the Unitarians were first placed by law on an equality with other Dissenters. For some years sharp controversy continued as to the proprietary rights in certain Church properties held by them, but claimed by orthodox Dissenters. These claims were finally silenced in favor of the Unitarian occupants by the Dissenters Chapels Act of 1844. At the present time there are reported about 350 Unitarian churches in England, mostly Congregational in Church government, and of which one fourth have been formed within the last twenty-five years. In Northern Ireland there is a Unitarian population of about 10,000, still Presbyterians in Church government.
In Scotland there are in the larger cities and towns about ten Unitarian churches. In that country occurred the last execution for blasphemy against the Trinity in the person of a young student, Thomas Aikenhead, hanged near Edinburgh in 1696. The present Unitarian Church of Edinburgh, originally strictly Calvinistic, having adopted the principle of free inquiry, became Arian and finally humanitarian under the pastorate of Dr. Southwood Smith in 1812. In Wales about thirty-four churches of this faith are reported; and there are several strong societies at Montreal, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and other places in the British colonies in Canada, India, and Australia. The English Unitarians maintain a missionary college in Manchester, a Presbyterian college at Carnlarthen which educates Unitarian and Independent ministers, and the larger unsectarian institution of Manchester New College, removed recently to London. In their interest are conducted several weekly religious papers: The Inquirer, The Christian Life, The Unitarian Herald, and the new periodical The Modern Review. Their representative missionary society is the British arid Foreign Unitarian Association, formed in London, May 25, 1825. Among-the leading writers maybe named (besides Priestley, Lindsey, and Belsham early in the century), more recently, Revs. John James Tayler, Charles Beard, John Hamilton Thom, and James Martinean, one of the greatest living exponents of the higher philosophy of the spirit versus modern materialism. It may be truthfully added that the movement of English Unitarianism is outgrowing the legalism and literalism of a philosophy which narrowed its earlier faith, and is reaching a broader and deeper spirituality.
11. In America, the free inquiry and open field of thought from the beginning have been favorable to Unitarian views, and the movement for spiritual liberty found special stimulus in the public sentiment following the Revolution. The Pilgrims, bringing to America the parting injunction of their pastor, John Robinson, of Leyden, that there was "more light to break out from God's Word," organized the first Congregational churches in New England at Plymouth, Salem, and Boston upon covenants so broad and undogmatic that these have required no change in accepting the Unitarian faith. Without doubt, the prevailing sentiment was mainly Calvinistic at the start, yet with a measure of Arminianism intermingled that grew imperceptibly, until for the last century and a half the progress of Unitarian sentiments may be distinctly traced. Dr. Gay, of Hingham, ordained in 1717, is supposed to have been the first American preacher of Unitarianism. Before the Revolution, many lawyers, physicians, tradesmen, and farmers were Unitarians, according to the testimony of the elder president Adams, himself a Unitarian; and not the laity only, but many of the clergy, prominent among whom was Mayhew, of the West Church, Boston. In 1768 the famous Hopkins prepared a sermon especially against what he deemed the heresy of the Boston ministers. In 1783, under the lead of their young minister, Rev. James Freeman, then recently ordained, the Episcopal Church of King's Chapel in Boston expunged from its Book of Common Prayer all reference to the Trinity and the worship of Christ, and thus became the first distinctively Unitarian Church in America. Its liturgy and Church organization continue substantially the same at the present time, Priestley's coming gave fresh impulse to this faith, and the writings of Lindsey and Belsham found their way hither. In a letter to Dr. Lindsey, in London, Rev. James Freeman writes that there were "many churches in which the worship was strictly Unitarian, and some of New England's most eminent clergymen openly avowed that creed." In 1801 the oldest Puritan Church in America, the original Church of the Mayflower, established at Plymouth in 1620, by a large majority vote declared itself Unitarian; and with no change in its covenant, using the identical statement of faith drawn up by its Pilgrim founders, it today accepts the Unitarian name and fellowship. Free from restraints of dogmatic creeds and tests, the New England Congregational churches were especially hospitable to inquiry and progress. By imperceptible degrees change came. In 1805 the Unitarian Rev. Dr. Ware was made professor of divinity at Harvard University, Cambridge. This fact excited opposition and controversy. In 1815 a controversy between Dr. Channing and Dr. Worcester resulted in open rupture between the Trinitarian and Unitarian Congregationalists; In 1816 the Divinity School at Cambridge was established by Unitarians. Harvard College was in their hands, and chiefly by their influence has maintained the undenominational position which it claims today. For ten years, from 1815 to 1825, the controversy waxed hot; lines of separation were drawn, and churches and men took sides. As the churches divided the majority carried their name and property to Trinitarian or Unitarian ranks. Meanwhile the seceding minorities organized anew on one side or the other. Thus the ancient parishes, each coextensive with its town, were divided; and in many New England towns the oldest church, retaining its ancient Congregational liberty and usages, became in faith and fellowship Unitarian.
II. Organization and Present Condition. — During the eventful decade just reviewed, Rev. William Ellery Channing (born in Newport, R.I., April 7, 1780), then in the prime of manhood, with early ripeness of spiritual fruitage, became, by eloquence of tongue and pen, the conspicuous leader of the Unitarian movement. At the ordination of Jared Sparks, in 1819, as minister of the Unitarian Church in Baltimore, his discourse expounding Unitarian Christianity made a profound impression. His intense dislike and dread of sectarianism gave to his preaching an emphasis of individualism and spiritual liberty. Never permitting himself to become the devotee of a sect, to him Unitarianism owes much of its freedom from sectarian and dogmatic trammels. Less a controversialist than a devout and practical preacher, he fearlessly, yet reverently, sought the truth, brought into prominence the spiritual elements of human nature, subjected religious systems to the test of the soul's best instincts and sentiments, and made it his supreme aim to kindle the aspiration for holiness. His testimony was chiefly borne to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, to the worth of human nature and blessedness of human life, to the dignity of labor and the elevation of the working classes, to spiritual freedom and the divine mission and authority of Jesus Christ. He has come to be recognized by all sects as one of the foremost of American preachers and writers, a leading champion of religious and civil freedom, of education and philanthropy, a seeker for truth, a lover of mankind, and a devoted advocate of Christianity. In April, 1880, the centenary of his birth was celebrated in London and in several of the larger cities in America, many persons of other denominations joining, and the corner-stone was laid of a memorial church at Newport, his birthplace. SEE CHANNING.
The division in the Church was not of Unitarian seeking. The Unitarian leaders were willing, in the large fellowship and free faith of Congregationalism, to maintain the unity of the Church unbroken. They would have borne their testimony to truth as they saw it, urging all others freely to do the same. The necessity of separation was enforced by fellowship withdrawn, controverted opinions put forward as tests, and by charges made that rendered it impossible to stay. After the break had come, it was with no desire to build a new sect or to prolong the bitterness of controversy it was to do their own part in the vineyard that the Unitarians went apart and worked in their own way. But, from the first, their attitude has never ceased to be that Church unity is to be found, not in identity of opinion, but in personal freedom and in brotherly love; and they have declared their readiness on this broad basis to join in fellowship with all who claim to hold the Christian faith and who prove their discipleship by consistent lives. In the exercise of freedom there have always been within the Unitarian fold varieties of individual opinion, while in the same freedom a few have gone into the Trinitarian household and others into a position antichristian or non-Christian. On May 24,1825, was formed in Boston "The American Unitarian Association." Its first article declares its purpose to be "to diffuse the knowledge and promote the interests of pure Christianity." It was incorporated in 1848, with the right to hold trust funds, and has at the present time about $200,000. Without ecclesiastical authority, it is purely a missionary organization, using annual contributions from the churches for publishing and distributing books and tracts, sustaining missionaries, aiding feeble churches, and planting new ones. Its operations are mainly in the home field of America. For forty years its activities were small, the missionary spirit of the denomination being checked by dread of the sectarian spirit, and the benevolent gifts of the people, taking more the direction of education and general philanthropy. But within the last fifteen years its income has greatly increased, in 1866 and 1872 exceeding $100,000, although it by no means receives all of the denominational gifts for religious missionary purposes. On April 5, 1865, a convention, consisting of the pastor and two delegates from each church or parish in the Unitarian denomination, met in the city of New York and organized a National Conference, "to the end of energizing and stimulating the denomination with which they are connected to the largest exertions in the cause of Christian faith and work." Its preamble declared that "the great opportunities and demands for Christian labor and consecration at this time increase our sense of the obligations of all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to prove their faith by self-denial, and by the devotion of their lives and possessions to the service of God and the building-up of the kingdom of his Son." it is a representative body of pastors and delegates, chosen and meeting biennially, purely advisory in character, for counsel and fellowship. Its meetings are held in September at Saratoga, open to the public, and are steadily increasing in the numbers attending, also in interest and in practical purpose and value. Since its formation, the Unitarian churches of America have given more for missionary purposes than in all their previous history. Within smaller and more convenient territorial districts have been formed also local conferences with more frequent meetings, which have been successful in fostering fellowship and co- operation, and a more devout and earnest religious life. Without other ecclesiastical authority, the government of the churches and their usages and modes of worship are purely Congregational. The rites of baptism and of the Lord's supper are recognized and observed, not as having mystic value or binding authority, but as having spiritual worth and influence. The denominational Year-book for 1890 reports 407 churches, of which 240 are in New England, chiefly in Massachusetts, and 100 mainly in the West; 510 ministers, 20 local conferences, besides a number of organizations of purely benevolent aim and purpose. Two theological schools are sustained- one at Cambridge, founded in 1816, having six professors and about twenty students, and a library of 18,500 volumes, while the large University library of 240,000 volumes is also open to its use. About $140,000 have recently been added to its endowment fund to increase its corps of professors. The Theological School at Meadville, Pa., was formed in 1844, and has four resident professors, 18,000 volumes in its library, and about thirty students. The periodicals of the denomination are the Unitarian Review, the Christian Register, now in its fifty-ninth year; The Dayspring, a Sunday school paper, all published in Boston, while several smaller organs are published elsewhere. The denomination is rich in its literature, especially in the direction of practical and devout religious sentiment. The works of Channing, now widely circulated among English- speaking people all over the world, are translated in part or entire into the Dutch and German, French, Italian, Swedish, Hungarian, Icelandic, and Russian languages. There may also be mentioned as leading Unitarian preachers and writers, Henry Ware (father and son), James Walker, Theodore Parker, Edmund H. Sears, Orville Dewey, William H. Furness, Henry W. Bellows, James Freeman Clarke, Frederick H. Hedge, and Andrew P. Peabody. Unitarian writers are also largely represented inl the walks of history and literature in America as in England. It may be added that Unitarian sentiments are held substantially by "Universalists," "Christians," "Hicksite Quakers," and "Progressive Friends."
III. Doctrinal Views. — In seeking the present form of Unitarian faith, it is needless to recount the speculations of earlier times. The tenets of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata and Arius, also of Servetus and the Socini, in their special forms sharing the crudities of contemporaneous thought, have largely passed away. They are not to be quoted as authority. They are simply in the line of historical progress, agreeing only in the single fundamental thought that God is one, and Jesus Christ a created and subordinate being. Unitarianism is characteristically not a fixed dogmatic statement, but a movement of ever-enlarging faith. It welcomes inquiry, progress, and diversity of individual thought in the unity of spiritual fellowship. With faith in the unity of God as its key-note, it asserts the unity of all truth in nature, history, experience, and the Bible, the unity of the Church as based on character, not on dogma; and the unity of spiritual life in this world and the next. Its leading principles are, first, the freedom of every individual soul to seek the highest truth and to obey it; and, second, that character is the test of Christian discipleship. Unitarians declare life, not dogma, to be the essence of Christianity. They deem Christianity to be essentially a reasonable religion, according with the truths of nature, instructing reason and appealing to it as interpreter and judge. They hold it to be a progressive religion; that its principles, like the axioms of mathematics, are eternally true, but that its germs unfold with the increasing intelligence of mankind. Right belief they deem important for right living, and they emphasize the value of righteousness as establishing the kingdom of God on earth, and as alone fitting the soul for his kingdom above. They refuse to formulate their belief in fixed creeds of ecclesiastical and exclusive authority; because these never settle open questions, but only' start fresh controversy; because they limit inquiry and hinder progress; and because they make dogma instead of character, and opinion instead of spiritual purpose, the bases and tests of fellowship. Yet, while refusing any authoritative creed statement, there is an unwritten consensus of faith in which Unitarians are substantially agreed. They believe in the one God as the Creator of the universe and Father of all souls; a Father who wills man's welfare, desiring that not even the least shall perish; the Fatherly Friend in all worlds, who does not wait for forgiveness and favor to be purchased, but freely pours forth blessing on all who will accept it; Father of the sinner as of the saint, seeking every wanderer with his pursuing love, and punishing the erring not for his pleasure, but for their profit, that they may become partakers of his holiness. Unitarians believe in man as naturally neither, saint nor sinner; that his nature is not corrupt and ruined, but undeveloped and incomplete; that he inherits tendencies to good as well as to evil, and that he is sinful only as he knowingly and willfully does wrong; that he needs regeneration, the unfolding and renewal of his spiritual nature, which he experiences through obedience to the truth, under that divine influence which is called the Holy Spirit; that, as a child of the Infinite, allied to the Supreme Goodness by ties that cannot be sundered, having in him a spark of divinity that makes his ultimate redemption an inextinguishable hope, he yet needs to be taught and inspired of God, but with the aid of the divine grace, which is his birthright privilege, he is able to climb to celestial summits. Unitarians believe in Jesus Christ, as the four evangelists describe him, as at once Son of God and Son of man. They care little for metaphysical speculation about the mystery of his nature, but emphasize his word and life as a practical help for human salvation. They hold that he is our Savior as he becomes to us the Light of the World, the Fountain of Living Water, and the Bread of Life; our Savior by illustrating the eternal principles of right, inspiring his followers to holiness, and imparting to them true life more abundantly; our Savior so far as lie leads and helps us to be large-hearted, truth seeking, pure, loving, and devout; that he came into the world to bear testimony to the truth, and was here not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and that he proved himself humanity's Lord and Leader by his divine helpfulness. Under the influence of elevated views of man's spiritual nature, affirming his innate power of apprehending religious truth, Unitarianism, in declaring the humanity of Christ, does not bring Jesus down, but lifts humanity up. It asserts that Jesus was purely human only to show that human nature itself is, in the phrase of Athanasius, Homoiousion, of the same substance with God, and that Jesus is the best expression of that divine humanity which is the birthright and promised destiny of all souls. While they are jealous of ecclesiastical authority or dictation, and perpetually refuse to limit their belief by formula, the Unitarians have, in public assembly of the American Unitarian Association, and in representative meetings of their national and local conferences, repeatedly reaffirmed their attitude of Christian discipleship, and shown that they hold themselves to be a body of believers upon the Christian foundation and within the Christian Church. They deem the mind of Christ the best index of Christianity. For the sources of Unitarian thought, therefore, they refer to Unitarian literature, more especially to the New Test., and supremely to the word and life of Jesus Christ. (R.R.S.)