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Universalists

UNIVERSALISTS

Those who believe that it is the purpose of God, through the grace revealed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, to save every member of the human race from sin. Although the doctrine is old, no organized body of believers made it the distinctive feature of their church until modern times. In the 3d century some Christian Gnostics, including Origen and St. Clement of Alexandria, held that the punishment of devils and wicked men is temporary and that eventually they will be completely restored to their original state, but this point of view was condemned by the ninth canon of the Provincial Council of Constantinople (543). The idea, revived in Reformation times, appeared in a mystical universalism developed in Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries and was brought to Pennsylvania by Dr. George de Benneville. In England, James Relly opposed Calvinistic election and championed universal salvation in his book Union. This work profoundly influenced John Murray, who immigrated to America in 1770 and preached Universalism, leading to the establishment of the Independent Church of Gloucester, MA. In Philadelphia, PA., Dr. Joseph Priestly advocated Universalism, and it took form in New England in the Winchester Profession of Belief, adopted by New England Universalists. But the most influential force in the movement (c. 17961852) was Hosea Ballou, whose Treatise on the Atonement (1805), particularly his views on Christ's subordination to the Father, placed Universalists in a position very close to that of unitarians.

At first, Universalism in America was a theological point of view that had its defenders and opponents in individual churches, but by 1840 a sense of denominational destiny had come to be felt. The General Convention of Universalists in the U.S., formed in 1833 with advisory powers only, had become by 1866 the Universalist General Convention, with unified, rational, and denominational policies. By 1890, statements of faith; pamphlets and magazines; extensive literary effort; the establishment of academies, colleges, and theological schools (Tufts University, Medford, MA, 1852; Tufts Divinity School, 1861); the formation of a strong women's organization; and the establishment of a flourishing young people's movement were testimony to growing vitality. During the 19th century, under the impact of Darwinian evolution theories, the older individual salvation theories gave way to personal self-development and social improvement theories. The Boston statement of faith (1899) upheld the Bible as containing a revelation from God and the final harmony of all souls with God, but the Washington statement of faith (1935) asserted only its faith in the authority of truth, known or to be known, and the power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively to establish the kingdom of God. The name Universalist General Convention was changed (1942) to the Universalist Church of America. In May 1961 it merged with the American Unitarian Association to form the unitarian universalist association.

Bibliography: m. a. kapp, "Historical Sketch of Universalism," An Information Manual of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America (Wellesley Hills, MA 1958). r. eddy, Universalism in America, 2 v. (Boston 188486); "History of Universalism," American Church History Series 10 (New York 1894) 251493. j. h. allen, An Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement since the Reformation (New York 1894). h.h. cheetham, Unitarianism and Universalism (Boston 1962). c. a. howe, The Larger Faith : A Short History of American Universalism (Boston 1993). e. cassara, Universalism in America : A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, 3rd rev ed (Boston 1997). a.l. bressler, The Universalist Movement in America, 17701880 (New York 2001).

[j. r. willis/eds.]

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