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Unitarianism

Unitarianism, in general, the form of Christianity that denies the doctrine of the Trinity, believing that God exists only in one person. While there were previous antitrinitarian movements in the early Christian Church, like Arianism and Monarchianism, modern Unitarianism originated in the period of the Protestant Reformation. In Geneva, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake (1553) for his antitrinitarian views. Under Faustus Socinus a strong center of Unitarian belief developed in Poland. In Transylvania, Francis Dávid laid the foundation (c.1560) for the Unitarian Church there. In the 17th and 18th cent. Socinian ideas took root in England, especially under the influence of John Biddle, called the father of English Unitarianism. The development of a separate Unitarian body came about gradually through the efforts of such men as Joseph Priestley and Thomas Belsham. Originally a scripturally oriented movement, in the mid-19th cent. Unitarianism became a religion of reason under the leadership of James Martineau in England and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker in the United States. Reason and conscience were considered the only guides to religious truth; complete religious toleration, innate human goodness, and universal salvation were preached. Unitarianism took hold in the liberal wing of the Congregational churches of New England. At King's Chapel, Boston, in 1785, trinitarian doctrines were removed from the liturgy. In 1796, Priestley, who had fled to America to escape persecution, established a Unitarian church in Philadelphia. Liberal Congregationalists in New England gradually formed themselves into a new denomination, to which the name Unitarian was given (c.1815) by their conservative opponents. The final separation from Congregationalism was hastened by the choice of Henry Ware (1764–1845), a liberal, as Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard in 1805 and by the ordination sermon defending the liberals preached (1819) by William Ellery Channing in Baltimore. Channing's statement of Unitarian beliefs became the platform of the denomination. The American Unitarian Association was formed in 1825, and in 1865 a national conference was organized. A congregational form of government prevails in the Unitarian churches, each congregation having control of its own affairs. Neither ministers nor members are required to make profession of any particular doctrine, and no creed has been adopted by the church. The covenant in general use is simply, "In the love of truth, and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for worship of God and the service of man." In 1961 the Universalist Church of America merged with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

See J. F. Clarke, Manual of Unitarian Belief (20th ed. rev. 1924); D. W. Howe, The Unitarian Conscience (1970); S. E. Almstrom and J. S. Carey, ed., An American Reformation: A Documentary History of Unitarian Christianity (1984); D. Robinson, The Unitarians and the Universalists (1985).

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unitarians

unitarians deny the deity of Christ. They believe that only the Father should be worshipped, but their attitude to Jesus varies, reflecting their application of reasoned individual judgement to the Bible, and their reluctance to formulate creeds. Their views developed with the Reformation, notably through Michael Servetus (1511–53), the physician burned in Geneva, Bernardino Ochino (1487–1564), the friar turned Lutheran whom Cranmer invited to England in 1547, and Lelio and Fausto Sozzini. By the 17th cent. they had communities in Poland, Hungary, and England, where John Biddle's (1615–62) XII Arguments qualify him as the father of English unitarianism. They grew congregationally in the 18th cent. from presbyterian, independent, and general baptist churches, although avowed unitarianism only became legal in 1813. Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) and Theophilus Lindsey (1723–1808) were that century's outstanding unitarians; the former had been an independent and the latter an Anglican clergyman. With no co-ordinating body before the British and Foreign Unitarian Association of 1825, superseded in 1928 by the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, they none the less produced a distinctive social, political, and intellectual culture, represented by such families as the Martineaus, Chamberlains, Wicksteeds, and Holts, and such institutions as Manchester College, Oxford. In Scotland, where Thomas Aikenhead's mockery of the trinity led to Britain's last execution for blasphemy (1697), their corporate existence dates from 1776; in Ireland their strength lies with the non-subscribing presbyterians originating in the early 18th cent. and reinforced after 1829.

Clyde Binfield

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Unitarianism

Unitarianism. A religious movement connected with Christianity. Unitarians are those who reject the Trinitarian understanding of God. Although there are many antecedents, the specific point of origin for the movement is usually taken to be the work of Servetus, and of the Sozzinis (i.e. Socinianism). The first Unitarian congregation in England was formed in 1774, and in the USA in 1782, but the movement did not become fully organized until the Baltimore sermon of W. E. Channing in 1819, on ‘Unitarian Christianity’. The American Unitarian Association was founded in 1825. In 1961, the Unitarians merged with the Universalists, the joint movement becoming known as the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is characterized by an emphasis on members seeking truth out of human experience, not out of allegiance to creeds or doctrines. There is no hierarchical control, each congregation being self-governing. There are more than a thousand congregations, mainly in the USA and Canada.

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Unitarian

U·ni·tar·i·an / ˌyoōniˈte(ə)rēən/ • n. Theol. a person, esp. a Christian, who asserts the unity of God and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. ∎  a member of a church or religious body maintaining this belief and typically rejecting formal dogma in favor of a rationalist and inclusivist approach to belief. • adj. of or relating to the Unitarians. DERIVATIVES: U·ni·tar·i·an·ism / -ˌnizəm/ n.

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Unitarianism

Unitarianism Version of Christianity that denies the Trinity, accepts God as the father, and rejects the divinity of Jesus Christ. Originally considered a heresy, it flourished in Poland in the 16th century. John Biddle (1615–62) first preached Unitarianism in England in the 1640s. Unitarianism in the 20th century has been identified with liberal politics and the movement for world peace; it has taken an increasingly humanist point of view.

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Unitarians

Unitarians. Arab. al-Muwaḥḥidūn can be translated as ‘the Unitarians’, and it occurs particularly, in Islam, in Ismāʿīlī and Sūfī movements, where the unity of Being is stressed, with human (or sometimes all) appearances being manifestations of that one Being. See also Almohads in Ibn Tumart; Druzes.

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Unitarian

Unitarian a person, especially a Christian, who asserts the unity of God and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity; a member of a Church or religious body maintaining this belief and typically rejecting formal dogma in favour of a rationalist and inclusivist approach to belief.

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unitarian

unitarian one who affirms the unipersonality of the Godhead. XVII. f. modL. ūnitārius, f. L. ūnitās UNITY; see -ARIAN.

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Unitarian

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Unitarianism

Unitarianism

Unitarians in antebellum America led battles to reform society. In particular, Unitarians fought against slavery; indeed, Unitarian ministers were at the forefront of much of the most radical abolitionist activity. One leader in particular, Theodore Parker, influenced abolitionist leaders of other denominations, including the famous William Lloyd Garrison.

Unitarians believe in the unity of God and reject the Christian belief in a Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Believers stress the importance of rational thinking and of a person's direct relationship with God. Throughout American history, Unitarians have had great influence. Famous Unitarians include John and Abigail Adams, Benjamin Rush, John Quincy Adams, Lydia Child, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Julia Ward Howe, Horace Mann, Harriet Martineau, and Mary White Ovington. Unitarians have been prominently involved in a variety of reform movements, including those seeking educational reform, prison reform, the overhaul of orphanages, temperance, poor relief, abolition, and peace.

The institutional organization of Unitarianism began as three separate movements, in Poland, Transylvania, and England. In America, Unitarianism took root in the 1740s as a reaction to the emotional revivalism of the Great Awakening. Some liberal Puritans embraced the rationalist approach to Christianity that Unitarianism offered. Whereas more evangelical Christianity appealed to all classes of Congregationalists, the calmer, more benevolent God of liberal Unitarianism appealed particularly to New England elites, with Boston being the hub. Unitarians tended to be wealthier than members of other denominations, and to have higher social status and more education. This gave them significant social influence.

Around 1815, a young minister, William Ellery Channing, began sending articles and letters to liberal religious publications. In 1819, Channing delivered a sermon, "Unitarian Christianity," that soon became the Unitarian manifesto. In it, Channing declared:

Our leading principle in interpreting Scripture is this, that the Bible is a book written for men, in the language of men, and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books….With these views of the Bible, we feel it our bounden duty to exercise our reason upon it perpetually, to compare, to infer, to look beyond the letter to the spirit, to seek in the nature of the subject, and the aim of the writer, his true meaning; and, in general to make use of what is known, for explaining what is difficult, and for discovering new truths. (Channing 1875, pp. 367–368)

Channing's sermon gave liberal Christians a coherent theology, centered around belief in the unity of Christ, humankind's inferiority to God, and humanity's moral responsibility. Unitarians believed that conversion should be calm and deliberative, and they stressed the importance of character improvement, a rational and gradual process through which individuals came to understand accepted moral truths. Unitarians believed that a moral society was as important as eternal salvation. Interest in Unitarianism spread from Boston to other urban areas of New England, and as a result, many Congregationalist churches became Unitarian.

In 1825, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was established, not as a group of churches, but as a group of individuals. Many Unitarians were wary of this organization, however, fearing it might threaten religious liberty by exerting control over their churches. The AUA received minimal financial support from Unitarians and its primary activity proved to be the publication of religious tracts.

As New England society grew more industrialized, the mostly middle- and upper-class Unitarians realized they needed to minister to the poor and address the societal problems that poverty created. In 1834, nine churches formed the Benevolent Fraternity of Christian Churches. These Unitarian ministers commonly offered pastoral care to the poor, with the goal of adding them to their congregations. The ministers led campaigns for free public education, temperance, and penal reform, and created efficient social reform organizations. Unitarians coordinated with other denominations, as well as secular organizations. Male Unitarians gathered information on various social problems, allowing charities to determine the most effective method of distributing funds and dispensing charity. Women raised funds by collecting subscriptions, sewing clothing, and visiting families. Though Unitarians worked to improve the economic lot of the poor and to alleviate various social problems, their primary goal was to bring about moral improvement through a demonstration of Christian benevolence. In their view, the act of charity not only helped recipients, it also helped givers through cultivating acts of conscience.

In 1830, Harvard Divinity School appointed Unitarian Henry Ware Jr. to a newly created professorship of "pulpit eloquence and pastoral care" (Rose 1981, pp. 31–32). He was to revitalize the classical curriculum of Greek and Latin, biblical criticism, and didactic theology with exercises in extemporaneous preaching. Ware introduced informal discussions of current topics to promote philanthropy and social responsibility among the young men. Students collected information on the reformation of criminals, the success of missions, the conditions of sailors, and, importantly, slavery. Ministers were thus trained not only to promote religion but also to engage in disciplined social reform. Ware belonged to a number of reform societies and served as a model and an inspiration for a generation of young ministerial students.

Theodore Parker, the Unitarian minister with the greatest influence on the abolition movement, was born in 1810 in Lexington, Massachusetts. An impressive scholar, he mastered twenty languages while studying at Harvard Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1836. Parker left the Congregationalist Church to become a Unitarian in the early 1840s. By the 1850s Parker was an immensely popular minister, preaching to two thousand in the Boston Music Hall and thousands more on his lecture tours. Other influential reformers attended and were influenced by Parker's fiery sermons and radical ideas. His followers were sometimes called Parkites or Parkerites and included William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Louisa May Alcott.

Parker's radical abolitionist views led to resistance from more mainstream Unitarians; other Unitarian ministers criticized him and refused to exchange pulpits with him. Undeterred, Parker continued to argue for the ending of slavery, and to champion temperance and educational reform. His sermons included statistics and analysis of social classes, along with Biblical commentary. He advocated the integration of Boston schools and churches and served as a minister to fugitive slaves.

After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Parker strenuously criticized Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster for voting for it. Parker hid one of the fugitives in his congregation, Ellen Craft, in his house until he could arrange for her to get to Canada. In 1854, a fugitive slave from Virginia, Anthony Burns, was captured in Boston. Parker led protests to prevent Burns from being forcibly returned to slavery. After one of these protests turned violent and resulted in the death of a jailer, a grand jury indicted Parker for obstructing a federal marshal. The charges, however, were subsequently dismissed.

William Lloyd Garrison

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was born in 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. When he was a young boy, his father abandoned the family, forcing him to work small jobs to help his mother support the family. This left him with a lifelong sympathy for the poor and a passionate urge to fight social injustice. Garrison was apprenticed as a printer, then worked for a newspaper as both a writer and an editor. He became strongly opposed to slavery by his mid-twenties, and briefly joined the American Colonization Society, which was engaged in transporting freed blacks to a newly established "homeland" in Liberia. In 1828 Garrison met the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, who asked him to edit his Baltimore newspaper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation. Under Lundy's influence, he became convinced that the issue of slavery could only be resolved through the immediate emancipation of all slaves.

In 1830, after spending forty-nine days in jail for libeling a slave trader, Garrison moved to Boston and started his own publication, The Liberator. It was in this newspaper that he issued his famous declaration: "I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retrench a single inch—and I will be heard" (Garrison 1831, p. 1). For thirty-four years The Liberator served as the principal organ of radical abolitionism. Garrison believed that slavery was a sin, slaveholders were sinners, and Northerners shared in the guilt by not ending slavery. Through what they often called "moral suasion," he sought to convince both Southerners and Northerners of the righteousness of the abolitionist cause.

After the Thirteenth Amendment passed in 1865, ending slavery, Garrison ceased publication of The Liberator. He spent the remainder of his life campaigning for other causes, including women's suffrage and temperance.

MINOA UFFELMAN

BIB LIOGRAPH Y

Garrison, William Lloyd. The Liberator. January 1, 1831, p. 1.

Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Stewart, James Brewer. William Lloyd Garrison and the Challenge of Emancipation. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1992.

Thomas, John L. The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.

Parker also raised money for John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, hoping that the slave insurrection would inspire others throughout the South. Parker's participation became known when Virginian authorities seized correspondence following Brown's arrest. The aborted insurrection convinced many Southerners that Northerners, even ministers, were willing to use any means to end slavery, regardless of how much blood was spilt. This further confirmed to them that only by withdrawing from the Union could they preserve a way of life based on slavery.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Channing, William Ellery. The Works of William E. Channing. New and rearranged ed. Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1875.

Rose, Anne C. Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830–1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

Stange, Douglas C. Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, 1831–1860. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1977.

Wilbur, Earl Morse. A History of Unitarianism: In Transylvania, England, and America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1952.

Minoa Uffelman

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