The Full Wiki

Unitarianism: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Part of a series on

Jesus Christ is the central figure of Christianity.

Jesus Christ
Virgin birth · Crucifixion · Resurrection · Easter · Christian views of Jesus
Church · New Covenant · Apostles · Kingdom · Gospel · Timeline · Paul · Peter
Old Testament · New Testament ·
Books · Canon · Apocrypha
Salvation · Baptism · Trinity · Father · Son · Holy Spirit · History of theology · Christology · Mariology · Apologetics · Eschatology
History and traditions
Early · Constantine · Councils · Creeds · Missions · Chrysostom · East-West Schism · Crusades · Reformation · Counter-Reformation

Jehovah's Witness · Latter Day Saint · Unitarian · Christadelphian · Oneness Pentecostal

General topics
Preaching · Prayer · Ecumenism · Relation to other religions · Christian movements · Music · Liturgy · Calendar · Symbols · Art · Criticism
P christianity.svg Christianity Portal

Unitarianism is a Nontrinitarian Christian theology which teaches belief in the single personality of God, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity (God as three persons).[1] According to its proponents, Unitarianism reflects the original God-concept of Christianity. The movement has come to be associated with other liberal Christian beliefs as well.

The term Unitarianism (with an upper case "U") customarily refers to a liberal Christian theology. The term unitarian (lower case "u") is used descriptively to refer to anyone adhering to the teaching of the single personhood of God, a wide-ranging category that also includes many conservative evangelical branches which are not the subject of this article. They generally hold similar beliefs to most other evangelical Christians, apart from their rejection of the Trinity doctrine. This version of unitarianism is more commonly called Nontrinitarianism, rather than Unitarianism. There also are some nontrinitarians who, while holding God to be a single person, perceive Jesus to be God himself, and therefore they do not really fall into the usual unitarian category, which typically rejects the idea of Jesus as Almighty God. Instead see: Sabellianism, Oneness Pentecostalism, Monarchianism, Binitarianism, and The New Church.



Unitarianism, both as a theology and as a denominational family of churches, was first defined and developed within the Protestant Reformation, although theological ancestors may be found back in the early days of Christianity.

Theological and denominational distinctions

The term "Unitarian" has been applied both to those who hold a Unitarian theological belief and to those who belong to a Unitarian church. A hundred years ago, this would not have made much of a difference, but today it is a distinction that needs to be made.

Unitarian theology is distinguishable from the belief system of modern Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships in several countries. This is because over time, some Unitarians and many Unitarian Universalists have moved away from the traditional Christian roots of Unitarianism.[2] For example, in the 1890s the American Unitarian Association began to allow non-Christian and non-theistic churches and individuals to be part of their fellowship.[3]

As a result, people who held no Unitarian belief began to be called "Unitarians," simply because they were members of churches that belonged to the American Unitarian Association. After several decades, the non-theistic members outnumbered the theological Unitarians.[4] A similar, though proportionally much smaller, phenomenon has taken place in the Unitarian churches in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries, which remain more theistically based.

The remainder of this article includes information about Unitarianism as a theology and about the development of theologically Unitarian churches in several countries around the world. For a more specific discussion of Unitarianism as it evolved into a pluralistic liberal religious movement in the United States and elsewhere in more recent times, see Unitarian Universalism, Unitarian Universalist Association, Canadian Unitarian Council, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU).


Unitarians believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the New Testament and other Early Christian writings. Adhering to strict monotheism, they maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, perhaps even a supernatural being, but not God himself. They believe Jesus did not claim to be God, nor did his teachings hint at the existence of a triune God. Unitarians believe in the moral authority, but not necessarily the divinity, of Jesus. Their theology is thus distinguishable from the trinitarian theology of most Christian denominations, which hold the idea of a triune God as a core belief.

With regard to Unitarianism proper (the liberal variety), there are common traits to be found, apart from the rejection of the Trinity doctrine. Although there is no specific authority on these convictions, the following represent the most generally accepted:[5]

  • the belief in One God and the oneness or unity of God.
  • that the life and teachings of Jesus Christ constitute the exemplar model for living one's own life.
  • that reason, rational thought, science, and philosophy coexist with faith in God.
  • that humans have the ability to exercise free will in a responsible, constructive and ethical manner with the assistance of religion.
  • the belief that human nature in its present condition is neither inherently corrupt nor depraved (see Original Sin), but capable of both good and evil, as God intended.
  • the conviction that no religion can claim an absolute monopoly on the Holy Spirit or theological truth.
  • the belief that, though the authors of the Bible were inspired by God, they were humans and therefore subject to human error.
  • the rejection of traditional doctrines that they believe malign God's character or veil the true nature and mission of Jesus Christ, such as the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the vicarious sacrifice or satisfaction theory of the Atonement.

Unitarians sum up their faith as "the religion of Jesus, not a religion about Jesus." Historically, they have encouraged unorthodox views of God, Jesus, the world and purpose of life as revealed through reason, scholarship, science, philosophy, scripture and other prophets and religions. They believe that reason and belief are complementary and that religion and science can co-exist and guide them in their understanding of nature and God. They also do not enforce belief in creeds or dogmatic formulas. Although there is flexibility in the nuances of belief or basic truths for the individual Unitarian Christian, general principles of faith have been recognized as a way to bind the group in some commonality. Adherents generally accept religious pluralism and find value in all teachings, but remain committed to their core belief in Christ's teachings. Liberal Unitarians value a secular society in which government stays out of religious affairs. Most contemporary Unitarian Christians believe that one's personal moral convictions guide one's political activities, and that a secular society is the most viable, just, and fair society.

Unitarian Christians generally accept the presentation of Jesus in the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but believe that those accounts are not without error. They generally do not believe that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin or performed miracles to the extent reported in the Gospels, for example. They also are more likely than other Christians to find value in early Christian texts that did not make it into the canon of the Christian Bible.

Unitarian Christians reject the doctrine of some Christian denominations that God chooses to redeem or save only those certain individuals that accept the creeds of, or affiliate with a specific Church or religion, from a common ruin or corruption of the mass of humanity. They believe that righteous acts are necessary for redemption, not only faith.

Unitarians are not to be confused with members of the United Church of Christ, the Unity Church, the Universal Life Church, the Unification Church, the United Church of Canada, or the Uniting Church in Australia. In the United States, "Unitarian" is sometimes used as a shortened way of referring to present-day adherents of Unitarian Universalism. However, not all members of the Unitarian Universalist Association are theological Unitarians.


Unitarianism can very loosely be divided into two categories relating to the pre-existence of Christ, and then those not accepting the pre-existence of Christ divided again into churches which believe in the virgin birth and those which believe Jesus was the son of a human father, typically Joseph. All three forms maintain that God is one being and one "person"—the one Jesus called "Our Father". Jesus is the (or a) Son of God, but generally not God himself. However, they differ as to particulars.

Jesus existed as a person before his human life

The Son of God is a preexistent being, the Logos who dwelt with God in the beginning and then was born as the man Jesus. However, he is not eternal, but had a beginning of existence. This theology is commonly called Arianism, but there are many varieties of this form of Unitarianism, ranging from the belief that the Son, before he came to earth, was a divine spirit of the same nature as God to the belief that he was an angel or other lesser spirit creature of a wholly different nature from God, and Arius' views represent only one variation of this theology.

Whatever the case, in this belief system, Jesus is beneath God, but higher than humans (and has always been so). This concept could be referred to as "elevated subordinationism." It is associated with early church figures such as Payden Martyr, Lucian of Antioch, Eusebius of Caesarea, Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Asterius the Sophist, Eunomius, and Ulfilas, as well as Felix, Bishop of Urgel and others who believed that Jesus was God in his divine nature but his divinity in his human nature was through adoption. Arian ideas persist among Unitarians in Transylvania, Hungary, France, and several countries in Africa.[citation needed] Famous 19th century Arian Unitarians include Andrews Norton[6] and Dr. William Ellery Channing.[7]

19th century Unitarians often claimed Isaac Newton, but his Arian ideas predate Unitarianism.[8]

Michael Servetus did not deny the pre-existence of Christ.[9]

Since the 19th century, several Evangelical or Revivalist movements adopted an elevated subordinationist theology (best described as Nontrinitarianism or Semi-Arianism, rather than Unitarianism). Important figures include Barton W. Stone and Charles Taze Russell. Theologies among evangelical nontrinitarians are sometimes classed as Arian,[10] and sometimes Sabellian[11] (Jesus is God in the flesh, the manifestation of God, who exists as a single person). Other modern nontrinitarian churches or fellowships include the Filipino-based Iglesia ni Cristo, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Christian Churches of God (CCG).[12]

Jesus was born Son of God

The denial of pre-existence but belief in the virgin birth is sometimes distinguished as Socinianism from Fausto Sozzini.[13] The Christadelphians,[14][15] the Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith and the some of the groups which came out of the Way International[16] do not believe in the literal preexistence of Jesus, but do believe in the virgin birth.

Jesus did not exist as a person before his Human Life

This theology ranges from the belief that Jesus was a great man filled with the Holy Spirit, sometimes called Socinianism (or, in the 19th Century, Psilanthropism) to the belief that he is the incarnation of God's impersonal Logos. It is associated with early church figures like the Ebionites, Theodotus of Byzantium, Artemon, and Paul of Samosata in the early Church, Marcellus of Ancyra and his pupil Photinus in the 4th century AD, Ferenc Dávid in the Protestant Reformation.

In modern times we see the psilanthropist view manifested in Rationalist Unitarianism, which emerged from the German Rationalism and the liberal theology of the 19th century. Its proponents took a highly intellectual and humanistic approach to religion, rejecting most of the miraculous events in the Bible (including the virgin birth.) They embraced evolutionary concepts, asserted the "inherent goodness of man" and abandoned the doctrine of biblical infallibility. Rationalist Unitarianism is distinguished from Deism (with which it nevertheless shares many features) by its belief in a personal deity who directly acts on creation, while Deists see God as holding aloof from creation.

Notable Unitarians

Notable Unitarians include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker in theology and ministry, Joseph Priestley and Linus Pauling in science, Susan B. Anthony and Florence Nightingale in humanitarianism and social justice, Charles Dickens and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in literature, Frank Lloyd Wright in arts, Josiah Wedgwood in Industry and Charles William Eliot in Education. Five presidents of the United States were Unitarians: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson,John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft.


First Unitarian Meeting House, Madison, WI, designed by Unitarian Frank Lloyd Wright

There are a number of associations, congregations and publications that can be considered as actively involved in the preservation and development of the distinct tradition known as Unitarian Christianity - started by Dávid Ferenc in 1565 in the remaining Hungary (Transylvania) of John II Sigismund Zápolya (later also Unitarian).

Many American Unitarian Christians identify primarily with the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, a sub-group of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is the result of the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, and is located in the United States. In addition many Unitarian Christian groups are affiliated with the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.

Some organizations, such as the American Unitarian Conference, are independent of the UUA and are not members of the ICUU. Others, such as Bét Dávid Unitarian Association, have recently become associated with the ICUU. They tend to contain a majority membership who express specifically Unitarian Christian beliefs, rather than the religious pluralism of the UUA - nevertheless they remain liberal, open-minded and inclusive communities.

The Unitarian Christian Association (UK) and Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship (USA) maintain formal links with their national movements and the majority of their membership describe themselves as Christian. There are also numerous local British Unitarian and UUA affiliated congregations which have a Christian majority.

The Unitarian Church in Hungary and the Transylvanian Unitarian Church are affiliated with the ICUU and continue with the historical Unitarian Christian tradition established by Dávid Ferenc (aka Francis David). The Unitarian churches in Hungary and Transylvania are structured and organized along a church hierarchy that includes the election by the Synod of a national Bishop who serves as superintendent of the Church. Many Hungarian Unitarians embrace the principles of Rationalist UnitarianismThe only Unitarian high schools in the world exist in Translyvania (Romania), these have rich traditions with many notable graduates among its ranks: John Sigismund Unitarian Academy in Cluj Napoca (Kolozsvár, Klausenburg), Romania and the Berde Mózes Unitárius Gimnázium in Székelykeresztúr and they both teach Rationalist Unitarianism.

The majority of Unitarian Christian publications are sponsored by an organization and published specifically for their membership. They generally do not serve as a tool for missionary work or encouraging conversions.

Development in the 21st Century

In recent years there has been a relatively small, yet significant, growth in groups with a specifically Unitarian Christian outlook and ethos. The Congregazione Italiana Cristiana Unitariana (Italy) and Bét Dávid Unitarian Association (Norway) are two examples of this trend. There are also reports of the development of Unitarian Christian groups in African countries such as Burundi. Some of these groups are joining the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, either as Emerging Groups or as Associates, as they gain a solid organizational structure.

There is a noticeable presence of Unitarian Christians on the internet, such as the Restoration Fellowship and Unitarian Ministries. Online networks have been growing steadily for some time attracting members from across the world. Many Unitarian Christians who join these networks do not have a congregation in their locality and so rely on the internet as the main contact with their fellow believers.


When Unitarianism developed in the 1600s during the Protestant era of the evolution of Christianity, the strongholds in Transylvania, Poland, and eventually Britain and the northeastern parts of the United States were firmly in the congregational tradition in the English-speaking countries. In the Hungarian-speaking territories it adopted a governance system that combined the Synodal and Episcopal models.

For those churches under the congregational model, each church governed itself independently of a hierarchical authority. These small congregations did belong, however, to more formal associations of churches. The American Unitarian Association, formed in 1825, was one of these. Later, in 1961, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which is the largest organization of Unitarians in the US. The UUA is no longer an explicitly Christian organization and does not focus exclusively on the core teachings of Jesus Christ or Christianity.

Several Unitarian organizations still promote Christianity as their central theme including the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship (UUCF, an affiliate of the UUA), the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (GAUFCC) of the United Kingdom, and the Unitarian Christian Association (UCA, an affiliate of the GAUFCC).

In the US, the newest organization promoting a return to the theistic roots of Unitarianism is the American Unitarian Conference (AUC), formed in 2000. The AUC's stated goal is to formulate and promote classical Unitarian-based, unifying religious convictions, which balance the needs of members with a practical approach to inclusion and progressive free thought.

Interfaith dialogue and relations

The adoption of Unitarian belief almost always entails severance of identification with "Christianity" as it is formulated in the creeds of the Nicene and pre-Chalcedonian churches (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestants). Unitarianism is outside of the fellowship of these traditions. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant creeds of various stripes insist on trinitarian belief as an essential of Christianity and basic to a group's continuity of identity with the historical Christian faith.

As a tradition founded by dissenters from mainstream Christian churches, and traditionally denounced as heretics, it is difficult to see the emergence of Unitarian groups in areas dominated by existing Christian denominations.

However, occasionally, especially in Protestant history, traditionally trinitarian groups grow friendly to, or incorporate, unitarianism. Friendliness toward unitarianism has sometimes gone hand-in-hand with anti-Catholicism. In some cases non-trinitarian or unitarian belief has been adopted by some, and tolerated in Christian churches as a "non-essential". This was the case in the English Presbyterian Church, and in the Congregational Church in New England late in the 18th century. The Restoration Movement also attempted to forge a compatible relation between Trinitarians and Unitarians, as did the Seventh Day Baptists and various Adventists. The Seventh Day Baptists hold Unitarian Doctrines in their International Conference but became Trinitarians in the US. The Unitarian tendency in these last-mentioned groups came from their original theology and a total rejection of the Catholic explanation and acceptance of Trinitarianism and the Trinitarian Christian tradition of interpretation.

In some cases, this openness to unitarianism within traditionally trinitarian churches has been inspired by a very broad ecumenical motive. Modern liberal Protestant denominations are often accused by trinitarians within their ranks, and critics outside, of being indifferent to the doctrine, and therefore self-isolated from their respective trinitarian pasts and heritage. In some cases, it is charged that these trinitarian denominations are no longer Christian, because of their toleration of unitarian belief among their teachers, and in their seminaries.

At a local level, many Unitarian Christian groups - and individual Unitarian Christians - have links with congregations affiliated with the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Unity Church. Indeed, some argue they feel more at home within these denominations than Unitarian-Universalism. A small proportion of Unitarian Christians also have links with Progressive Christianity.

Despite the close friendship and shared heritage that exists between adherents to Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Christianity, there is an element within Unitarian Universalism that opposes specifically Unitarian Christian groups, believing them to be exclusive and intolerant of non-Christian thought. Likewise, some Unitarian Christians also believe that Unitarian Universalists are intolerant of Christian thought and tend to marginalize Christians.

The American Unitarian Conference is open to non-Christian Unitarians - being particularly popular with non-Christian theists and deists. In addition, the Bét Dávid Unitarian Association (Norway) has forged positive and mutual friendships with Jewish groups.

The Unitarian Universalist Association do not currently have any formal links with the Biblical Unitarian movements in the United States - the two communities should be regarded as separate and distinct.

See also



  1. ^ See "The Blessed Trinity," Catholic Encyclopedia,
  2. ^ See A.W. Gomes, E.C. Beisner, and R.M. Bowman, Unitarian Universalism (Zondervan, 1998), pp. 30-79
  3. ^ George Willis Cooke, Unitarianism in America (AUA, 1902), pp. 224-230
  4. ^ See the results of a recent poll on theological self-identity among UUs in the Engaging Our Theological Diversity report, pp. 70–72.
  5. ^ For the information that follows, see A.C. Henderson, What Do Unitarians Believe? (AUA, 1866), Samuel J. May, What Do Unitarians Believe? (AUA, 1867), Orville Dewey, The Unitarian Belief (AUA, 1873), J.F. Clarke, Manual of Unitarian Belief (AUA, 1885), G.H. Ellis, What Do Unitarians Believe About Jesus Christ? (AUA, 1890), J.T. Sunderland, What Do Unitarians Believe? (AUA, 1891).
  6. ^ See his book, A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians (1859)
  7. ^ See his famous sermon, "Unitarian Christianity" in The Works of W.E. Channing, D.D (1841)
  8. ^ "Among contemporary scholars, the consensus is that Newton was an Arian," says Thomas C. Pfizenmaier, "Was Isaac Newton an Arian?" Journal of the History of Ideas (1997) 68:57–80. Maurice F. Wiles, Archetypal Heresy: Arianism Through the Centuries‎ (1996) p 133 points out that modern Unitarianism emerged after Newton's death; David Nicholls, God and Government in an 'age of Reason'‎ (1995) Page 44, also emphasizs that Unitarianism ideas emerged after Newton's death.
  9. ^ Odhner C.T. Michael Servetus, His Life and Teachings‎ - Page 77 2009 "It will be seen from these extracts how completely without foundation is the assertion that Servetus denied the eternal pre-existence of Christ"
  10. ^ See, for example, Spirit and Truth Fellowship International [].
  11. ^ See, for example, United Pentecostal Church International [] and True Jesus Church [].
  12. ^ see
  13. ^ Watson. R. A Biblical and theological dictionary p999
  14. ^ Hayward, A. Did Jesus really come down from heaven? CALS
  15. ^ Perry, A. Before he was born. Willow Publications
  16. ^ Biblical Unitarians


  • Joseph Henry Allen, Our Liberal Movement in Theology (Boston, 1882)
  • Joseph Henry Allen, Sequel to our Liberal Movement (Boston, 1897)
  • Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound (Lanham, Maryland, 1998) ISBN 1-57309-309-2.
  • John White Chadwick, Old and New Unitarian Belief (Boston, 1894).
  • William Ellery Channing (1903).
  • Unitarianism: its Origin and history, a course of Sixteen Lectures (Boston, 1895).
  • George Willis Cooke, Unitarianism in America: a History of its Origin and Development (Boston, 1902).
  • Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition: A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Bloomington, Indiana 2007). ISBN 1-4259-4832-4.
  • Unitarian Year Book (Boston).
  • Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and Its Antecedents, Harvard University Press, 1945.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Andrew M. Hill, 'The Unitarian Path', Lindsey Press (London 1994) ISBN 0-85319-046-1
  • Wade E. Cox, Early Theology of the Godhead (No. 127), CCG, 1995.
  • Wade E. Cox Arianism and Semi-Arianism (No. 167) CCG, 1996.
  • Wade E. Cox, Role of the Fourth Commandment in the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (No. 170), CCG, 1996.
  • Wade E. Cox Socinianism, Arianism and Unitarianism (No. 185) CCG, 1996.
  • Charles A. Howe, 'For Faith and Freedom: A Short History of Unitarianism in Europe', Skinner House Books (Boston, 1997) ISBN 1-55896-359-6
  • Wade E. Cox, The Pre-existence of Jesus Christ (No. 243), CCG, 1998.
  • Matthew F. Smith, 'Unitarians' (short article) in Christianity: The Complete Guide, Continuum, (London 2005)ISBN 0-8264-5937-4.

Here ... Here ... In This Marked Place We Searched for Truth. The story of a remarkable Congregation: LASCAUX and the NORTH SHORE UNITARIAN CHURCH

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

UNITARIANISM, a system of Christian thought and religious observance, based, as opposed to orthodox Trinitarianism, on the unipersonality of the Godhead, i.e. that the Godhead exists in the person of the Father alone. Unitarians carry their history up to the Apostolic age, claim for their doctrine a prevalence during the ante-Nicene period, and by help of Arian communities and individual thinkers trace a continuity of their views to the present time. However this may be, it is certain that the Reformaticn of the 16th century was in every European country attended by an outbreak more or less serious of anti-Trinitarian opinion. Suppressed as a rule in individual cases, this type of doctrine ultimately became the badge of separate religious communities, in Poland (extinct), in Hungary (still flourishing), and at a much later date in England.

Along with the fundamental doctrine, certain characteristics have always marked its professors; namely, a large degree of toleration, a minimizing of essentials, a repugnance to formulated creed, an historical study of Scripture. Martin Cellarius (1499-1564) a friend of Luther, is usually regarded as the first literary pioneer (1527) of the movement; the anti-Trinitarian position of Ludwig Haetzer was not disclosed till after his execution (5529) for anabaptism. Both by his writings (from 1531) and by his fate (1553) Servetus (q.v.) stimulated thought in this direction. The Dialogues (1563) of Bernardino Ochino, while defending the Trinity, stated objections and difficulties with a force which captivated many. In his 27th Dialogue Ochino points to Hungary as a possible home of religious liberty. It was in Poland and Hungary that religious communities, definitely anti-Trinitarian, were first formed and tolerated.

Table of contents


Scattered expressions of anti-Trinitarian opinion appear here early. At the age of 80, Catherine, wife of Melchior Vogel or Weygel, was burned at Cracow (1539) for apostasy; whether her views embraced more than deism is not clear. The first synod of the Reformed Church was held in 1555; at the second (1556), Gregory Pauli and Peter Gonesius avowed anti-Trinitarian and anabaptist views. The arrival of Blandrata in 1558 furnished the party with a leader. In 1565 the diet of Piotrkow excluded anti-Trinitarians from the existing synod; henceforward they held their own synods as the Minor Church. Known by various other names (of which Arian was the most common), at no time in its history did this body adopt for itself any designation save Christian.

Originally Arian (though excluding any worship of Christ) and anabaptist, the Minor Church was (by 1588) brought round to his own views by Fausto Sozzini, who had settled in Poland in 1579 (see SoclNus). In 1602 James Sienynski established at Rakow a college and a printing-press, from which the Racovian Catechism was issued in 1605. In 1610 a Catholic reaction began, led by Jesuits. The establishment at Rakow was suppressed in 1638, two lads having pelted a crucifix outside the town. Twenty years later the Polish Diet gave anti-Trinitarians the option of conformity or exile.

The Minor Church included many Polish magnates, but their adoption of the views of Sozzini, which precluded Christians from magisterial office, rendered them politically powerless. The execution of the decree, hastened by a year, took place in 1660. Some conformed; a large number made their way to Holland (where the Remonstrants admitted them to membership on the basis of the Apostles' Creed); others to the German frontier; a contingent settled in Tran sylvania, not joining the Unitarian Church, but maintaining a distinct organization at Kolozsvar till 1793. At Amsterdam was published (1665-1669) the Bibliotheca fratrum polonorum, embracing the works of Hans Krell, their leading theologian, of Jonas Schlichting, their chief commentator, of Sozzini and of Johann Ludwig Wolzogen; the title-page of this collection, bearing the words quos Unitarios vocant, introduced this term to Western Europe.

Transylvania and Hungary

No distinct trace of anti-Trinitarian opinion precedes the appearance of Blandrata at the Transylvanian court in 1563. His influence was exerted on Francis David (1510-1579), who was successively Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and anti-Trinitarian. In 1564 David was elected by the Calvinists as "bishop of the Hungarian churches in Transylvania," and appointed court preacher to John Sigismund, prince of Transylvania. His discussion of the Trinity began (1565) with doubts of the personality of the Holy Ghost.

His antagonist in public disputations was the Calvinist leader, Peter Juhasz (Melius); his supporter was Blandrata. John Sigismund, adopting his court-preacher's views, issued (1568) an edict of religious liberty at the Torda Diet, which allowed David (retaining his existing title) to transfer his episcopate from the Calvinists to the anti-Trinitarians, Kolozsvar being evacuated by all but his followers. In 1571, John Sigismund was succeeded by Stephen Bathory, a Catholic, and trouble began. Under the influence of John Sommer, rector of the Kolozsvar gymnasium, David (about 1572) abandoned the worship of Christ. The attempted accommodation by Sozzini only precipitated matters; tried as an innovator, David died in prison at Deva (1579).

The cultus of Christ became an established usage of the Church; it is recognized in the 1837 edition of the official hymnal, but removed in the edition of 1865. On the other hand, in 1621 a new sect arose, the Sabbatarii, with strong Judaic tendencies; though excluded from toleration they maintained an existence till 5848. The term unitarius (said to have been introduced by Melius, in discussions of 1569-1571) makes its first documentary appearance in a decree of the Lecsfalva Diet (1600); it was not officially adopted by the Church till 1638.

Of the line of twenty-three bishops the most distinguished were George Enyedi (1592-1597), whose Explicationes obtained European vogue, and Michael Lombard Szentabrahami (1737-1758), who rallied the forces of his Church, broken by persecution and deprivation of property, and gave them their existing constitution. His Summa universae theologiae secundum Unitarios (1787), Socinian with Arminian modifications, was accepted by Joseph II. as the official manifesto of doctrine, and so remains, though no subscription to it has ever been required.

The official title is the Hungarian Unitarian Church, with a membership of over 60,000, most of thefn in Transylvania, especially among the Szekler population, a few in Hungary; their bishop has a seat in the Hungarian parliament. At Kolozsvar, the seat of the consistory, is the principal college; others are at Torda and at Szekely-Keresztur. Till 1818 the continued existence of this body was unknown to English Unitarians; relations have since become intimate; since 1860 a succession of students have finished their theological education at Manchester College, Oxford; others at the Unitarian Home Missionary College.


Between 1548 '(John Assheton) and 1612 we have a thin line of anti-Trinitarians, either executed or saved by recantation. Those burned were George van Parris (1551), Flemish surgeon; Patrick Pakingham (1555), fellmonger; Matthew Hamont (1579), ploughwright; John Lewes (1583);(1583); Peter Cole (1587), tanner; Francis Kett (5589), physician and author; Bartholomew Legate (5652), cloth-dealer, last of the Smithfield victims; and the twice-burned fanatic Edward Wightman (1612). In all these cases the virus seems to have come from Holland; the last two executions followed the rash dedication to James I. of the Latin version of the Racovian Catechism (1609).

The vogue of Socinian views, which for a time affected men like Falkland and Chillingworth, led to the abortive fourth canon of 1640 against Socinian books. The ordinance of 1648 made denial of the Trinity capital, but it was a dead letter, Cromwell intervening in the cases of Paul Best (1590-1657) and John Biddle (1616-1662). In 1650 John Knowles was an Arian lay-preacher at Chester. In1652-1654and1658-1662Biddle held a Socinian conventicle in London; in addition to his own writings he reprinted (1651) and translated (1652) the Racovian Catechism, and the Life of Socinus (1653). His disciple Thomas Firmin (1632-1697), mercer and philanthropist, and friend of Tillotson, was weaned to Sabellian views by Stephen Nye (1648-1719), a clergyman. Firmin promoted a remarkable series of controversial tracts (1690-1699).

The term "Unitarian" first emerges in 1682, and appears in the title of the Brief History (1687). It was construed in a broad sense to cover all who, with whatever differences, held the unipersonalityof the Divine Being. Firmin had later a project of Unitarian societies "within the Church"; the first preacher to describe himself as Unitarian was Thomas Emlyn (1663-1741) who gathered a London congregation in 1705.

This was contrary to the Toleration Act of 1689, which excluded all who should preach or write against the Trinity. It is noteworthy that in England the Socinian controversy, initiated by Biddle, preceded the Arian controversy initiated by Samuel Clarke's Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712). Arian or semi-Arian views had much vogue during the 18th century, both in the Church and in dissent.

The free atmosphere of dissenting academies (colleges) favoured new ideas. The effect of the Salters' Hall conference (1719), called for by the alleged heresy of James. Peirce (1673-1726) of Exeter, was to leave dissenting congregations to determine their own orthodoxy; the General Baptists had already (1700) condoned defections from the common doctrine. In 1689 Presbyterians and Independents had coalesced, agreeing to drop both names and to support a common fund.

The union in the London fund was ruptured in 1693; in course of time differences in the administration of the two funds led to the attaching of the Presbyterian name to theological liberals, though many of the older Unitarian chapels were Independent foundations, and at least half of the Presbyterian chapels (of 1690-1710) are now in the hands of Congregationalists. Leaders in the advocacy of a purely humanitarian christology came largely from the Independents, e.g. Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768), Caleb Fleming (1698-1779), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Thomas Belsham (1750-1829).

The formation of a distinct Unitarian denomination dates from the secession (1 773) of Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808) from the Anglican Church, on the failure of the Feathers petition to parliament (1772) for relief from subscription. Lindsey's secession had been preceded in Ireland by that of William Robertson, D. D. (1705-1783), who has been called "the father of Unitarian nonconformity." It was followed by other clerical secessions, mostly of men who left the ministry, and Lindsey's hope of a Unitarian movement from the Anglican Church was disappointed.

By degrees his type of theology superseded Arianism in a considerable number of dissenting congregations. The Toleration Act was amended (1779) by substituting belief in Scripture for belief in the Anglican (doctrinal) articles; in 1813 the penal acts against deniers of the Trinity were repealed. In 1825 the British and Foreign Unitarian Association was formed as an amalgamation of three older societies, for literature (1791), mission work (1806) and civil rights (1818). Attacks were made on properties held by Unitarians, but created prior to 181 3.

The Wolverhampton Chapel case began in 1817, the more important Hewley Fund case in 1830; both were decided against the Unitarians in 1842. Appeal to parliament resulted in the Dissenters' Chapels Act (1844), which secures that, so far as trusts do not specify doctrines, twenty-five years tenure legitimates existing usage.

The drier Priestley-Belsham type of Unitarianism, bound up with a determinist philosophy, was gradually modified by the influence of Channing (see below), whose works were reprinted in numerous editions and owed a wide circulation to the efforts of Robert Spears (1825-1899). Another American influence, potent in reducing the rigid though limited supernaturalism of Belsham and his successors, was that of Theodore Parker (1810-1860). At home the teaching of James Martineau (1805-1900), resisted at first, was at length powerfully felt, seconded as it was by the influence of John James Tayler (1797-1869) and John Hamilton Thom (1808-1894).

The body has produced some remarkable scholars, e.g. John Kenrick (1788-1877), James Yates (1789-1871), Samuel Sharpe (1799-1881), but few very popular preachers, though George Harris (1794-1859) is an exception. Its year-book specifies 406 congregations in England and Wales. For the education of its ministry it supports Manchester College at Oxford (which deduces its ancestry from the academy of Richard Frankland, begun 1670), the Unitarian Home Missionary College (founded in Manchester in 1854 by John Relly Beard, D.D., and William Gaskell), and the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen.

English Unitarian periodical literature begins with Priestley's Theological Repository (1769-1788), and includes the Monthly Repository (1806-1838), The Christian Reformer (1834-1863), the Prospective Review (1845-1854), the National Review (1855-1864), the Theological Review (1864-1879), and now the Hibbert Journal, one of the enterprises of the Ilibbert Trust, founded by Robert Hibbert (1770-1849) and originally designated the Anti-Trinitarian Fund.

This came into operation in 1853, awards scholarships and fellowships, supported (1878-1894) an annual lectureship, and has maintained (from 1894) a chair of ecclesiastical history at Manchester College. The general activities of the body are conducted partly by its association (Essex Street, Strand), partly by its (triennial) National Conference, established 1882. It has two weekly papers, the Inquirer and the Christian Life. Scotland. - Much has been made of the execution (1697) at Edinburgh of the student Thomas Aikenhead, convicted of blaspheming the Trinity.

The works of John Taylor, D.D. (1694-1761) on original sin and atonement had much influence in the east of Scotland, as we learn from Robert Burns; and such men as William Dalrymple, D.D. (1723-1814) and William M`Gill, D.D. (1732-1807), along with other "moderates," were under suspicion of similar heresies. Overt Unitarianism has never had much vogue in Scotland. The only congregation of old foundation is at Edinburgh, founded in 1776 by a secession from one of the "fellowship societies" formed by James Fraser, of Brea (1639-1699).

The mission enterprises of Richard Wright (1764-1836) and George Harris (1794-1859) produced results of no great permanence. There are now seven congregations. The Scottish Unitarian Association was founded in 1813, mainly by Thomas Southwood Smith, M.D., the sanitary reformer. The McQuaker Trust was founded (1889) for propagandist purposes.


Controversy respecting the Trinity was excited in Ireland by the prosecution at Dublin (1703) of Thomas Emlyn (see above), resulting in fine and imprisonment, for rejecting the deity of Christ. In 1705 the Belfast Society was founded for theological discussion by Presbyterian ministers in the north, with the result of creating a body of opinion adverse to subscription to the Westminster standards. Toleration of dissent, withheld in Ireland till 1719, was then granted without the requirement of any doctrinal subscription.

Next year a movement against subscription was begun in the General Synod of Ulster, culminating (1725) in the placing of the advocates of non-subscription, headed by John Abernethy, D.D., of Antrim, into a presbytery by themselves. This Antrim presbytery was excluded (1726) from jurisdiction, though not from communion. During the next hundred years its members exercised great influence on their brethren of the synod; but the counterinfluence of the mission of the Scottish Seceders (from 1742) produced a reaction.

The Antrim Presbytery gradually became Arian; the same type of theology affected more or less the Southern Association, known since 1806 as the Synod of Munster. From 1783 ten of the fourteen presbyteries in the General Synod had made subscription optional; the synod's code of 1824 left "soundness in the faith" to be ascertained by subscription or by examination. Against this compromise Henry Cooke, D.D. (1788-1868), directed all his powers, and was ultimately (1829) successful in defeating his Arian opponent, Henry Montgomery, LL.D. (1788-1865).

Montgomery led a secession which formed (1830) the Remonstrant Synod, comprising three presbyteries. In 1910 the Antrim Presbytery, Remonstrant Synod and Synod of Munster were united as the General Synod of the non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. They have 38 congregations and some mission stations. Till 1889 they maintained two theological chairs in Belfast, where John Scott Porter (1801-1880) was a pioneer in biblical criticism; they now send their students to England for their theological education, though in certain respects their views and practices are more conservative than those of their English brethren.

Irish Unitarian periodical literature began in 1832 with the Bible Christian, followed by the Irish Unitarian Magazine, the Christian Unitarian, the Disciple and now the Non-subscribing Presbyterian. See generally R. Wallace's Antitrinitarian Biog. (1850); G. BonetMaury's Early Sources of Eng. Unit. Christianity, trans. E. P. Hall (1884); A. Gordon's Heads of Eng. Unit. Hist. (1895). (A. Go.*) United States. - Unitarianism in the United States followed essentially the same development as in England, and passed through the stages of Arminianism, Arianism, anti-tritheism, to rationalism and a modernism based on a large-minded acceptance of the results of the comparative study of all religions.

In the early 18th century Arminianism presented itself in New England, and sporadically elsewhere; this tendency was largely accelerated by the reaction from the excesses of the "Great Awakening" under Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Before the War of Independence Arianism showed itself in individual instances, and French influences were widespread in the direction of deism, though they were not organized into any definite utterance by religious bodies.

As early as the middle of the 18th century Harvard College represented the most advanced thought of the time, and a score or more of clergymen in New England were preaching what was essentially Unitarianism. The most prominent of these men was Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766), pastor of the West Church in Boston from 1747 to 1766. He preached the strict unity of God, the subordinate nature of Christ, and salvation by character. Charles Chauncy (1705-1787), pastor of the First Church from 1727 until his death, the chief opponent of Edwards in the great revival, was both a Unitarian and a Universalist. Ebenezer Gay (1696-1787) of Hingham, Samuel West (1730-1807) of New Bedford, Thomas Barnard (1748-1814) of Newbury, John Prince (1751-1836) and William Bentley (1758-1819) of Salem, Aaron Bancroft (1755-1836) of Worcester, and several others, were Unitarians.

The first official acceptance of the Unitarian faith on the part of a congregation was by King's Chapel in Boston, which settled James Freeman (1759-1853) in 1782, and revised the Prayer Book into a mild Unitarian liturgy, in 1785. The Rev. William Hazlitt (father of the essayist and critic), visiting the United States in 1783-1785, published the fact that there were Unitarians in Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, Pittsburg, Hallowell, on Cape Cod and elsewhere. Unitarian congregations were organized at Portland and Saco in 1792 by Thomas Oxnard; in 1800 the First Church in Plymouth accepted the more liberal faith. Joseph Priestley came to the United States in 1794, and organized a Unitarian Church at Northumberland, Pennsylvania, the same year, and one at Philadelphia in 1796. His writings had a considerable influence.

Thus from 1725 to 1825 a more tolerant and rational belief was developing in New England, and to some extent elsewhere. The first distinctive manifestation of the change was the inauguration of Henry Ware (1764-1845) as professor of divinity at Harvard College, in 1805. In the same year appeared Unitarian books by John Sherman (1772-1828) and Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), and another in 1810 by Noah Worcester (1758-1837). At the opening of the 19th century, with one exception, all the churches of Boston were occupied by Unitarian preachers, and various periodicals and organizations expressed their opinions. Churches were established in New York, Baltimore, Washington, Charleston and elsewhere during this period.

William Ellery Channing was settled over the Federal Street Congregational Church, Boston, 1803; and in a few years he became the leader of the Unitarian movement. At first mystical rather than rationalistic in his theology, he took part with the "Catholic Christians," as they called themselves, who aimed at bringing Christianity into harmony with the progressive spirit of the time. His essays on The System of Exclusion and Denunciation in Religion (1815), and Objections to Unitarian Christianity Considered (1819), made him a defender of Unitarianism.

His sermon on "Unitarian Christianity," preached at Baltimore in 1819, at the ordination of Jared Sparks, and that at New York in 1821, on "Unitarian Christianity most favourable to Piety," made him its interpreter. The result was a growing division in the Congregational churches, which was emphasized in 1825 by the formation of the American Unitarian Association at Boston. It was organized "to diffuse the knowledge and promote the interests of pure Christianity"; and it published tracts and books, supported poor churches, sent out missionaries into every part of the country, and established new churches in nearly all the states.

Essentially non-sectarian, with little missionary zeal, the Unitarian movement has grown slowly; and its influence has been chiefly exercised through general culture and the better literature of the country. Many of its clergymen have been trained in other denominations; but the Harvard Divinity School was distinctly Unitarian from its formation, in 1816, to 1870, when it became an unsectarian department of the university. The Meadville (Pa.) Theological School was founded in 1844; and the Unitarian Theological School at Berkeley, California, in 1904.

Unitarian thought in the United States has passed through three periods. The first, from 1800 to 1835, was formative, mainly influenced by English philosophy, semi-supernatural, imperfectly rationalistic, devoted to philanthropy and practical Christianity. Dr Channing was its distinguished exponent. The second, from 1835 to 1885, profoundly influenced by German idealism, was increasingly rationalistic, though its theology was largely flavoured by mysticism. In 1865 the National Unitarian Conference was organized, and adopted a distinctly Christian platform„ affirming that its members were "disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ."

The more rationalistic minority thereupon formed the Free Religious Association, "to encourage the scientific study of theology and to increase fellowship in the spirit." The Western Unitarian Association accepted the same position, and based its "fellowship on no dogmatic tests," but affirmed a desire "to establish truth, righteousness and love in the world." This period of controversy, and of vigorous theological development, practically came to an end soon after 1885; and its cessation was assured by the action of the national conference at Saratoga in 1894, when it was affirmed by a nearly unanimous vote: "These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding, in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man.

The conference recognizes the fact that its constituency is Congregational in tradition and polity. Therefore it declares that nothing in this constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and our practical aims." The leaders of this period were Emerson, with his idealism, and Theodore Parker, with his acceptance of Christianity as absolute religion.

The third period, beginning about 1885, has been one of rationalism, recognition of universal religion, large acceptance of the scientific method and ideas and an ethical attempt to realize the higher affirmations of Christianity. It has been marked by harmony and unity to a degree perhaps found in no other religious body, by steady growth in the number of churches and by a widening fellowship with all other progressive phases of modern religion.

This last phase has been shown in the organization of "The International Council of Unitarian and other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers," at Boston on the 25th of May 1900, "to open communication with those in all lands who are striving to unite pure religion and perfect liberty, and to increase fellowship and co-operation among them." This council has held biennial sessions in London, Amsterdam, Geneva and Boston. During the period since 1885 the influence of Emerson has become predominant, modified by the more scientific preaching of Minot J. Savage, who has found his guides in Darwin and Spencer.

Beyond its own borders the body has obtained recognition through the public work of such men as Henry Whitney Bellows and Edward Everett Hale, the remarkable influence of James Freeman Clarke and the popular power of Robert Collyer. The number of Unitarian churches in the United States in 1909 was 461, with 541 ministers. The church membership, really nominal, may be estimated at 100,000. The periodicals are The Christian Register, weekly, Boston; Unity, weekly, Chicago; The Unitarian, monthly, New York; Old and New, monthly, Des Moines; Pacific Unitarian, San Francisco.

See Joseph Henry Allen, Our Liberal Movement in Theology (Boston, 1882), and Sequel to our Liberal Movement (Boston, 1897); John White Chadwick, Old and New Unitarian Belief (Boston, 1894), and specially William Ellery Channing (1903); Unitarianism: its Origin and History, a course of Sixteen Lectures (Boston, 1895) George Willis Cooke, Unitarianism in America: a History of its Origin and Development (Boston, 1902); and Unitarian Year Book (Boston). (G. W. C.*)

<< Uniontown

United Brethren In Christ >>


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





Unitarian +‎ -ism




Unitarianism (uncountable)

  1. The religious belief that God is a single Person.

Proper noun




  1. Short for Unitarian Universalism.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address