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1 European Unitarian History. 2 Earl Morse Wilbur Author of A History of Unitarianism and Our Unitarian Heritage From C.A. Howe’s For Faith and Freedom.

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Presentation on theme: "1 European Unitarian History. 2 Earl Morse Wilbur Author of A History of Unitarianism and Our Unitarian Heritage From C.A. Howe’s For Faith and Freedom."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 European Unitarian History

2 2 Earl Morse Wilbur Author of A History of Unitarianism and Our Unitarian Heritage From C.A. Howe’s For Faith and Freedom “… he went on to characterize Unitarianism not in terms of theology (for there has seldom been agreement on that score – even Wilbur’s Statement on ‘consistent adherence could be disputed), but rather in terms of a growing commitment to three basic principles: complete freedom of religious thought the unrestricted use of reason tolerance of differing views and practices

3 3 In 1516 (the year, incidentally, before the Reformation began), Erasmus of Rotterdam considered the greatest of the Humanists, published a scholarly edition of the Greek New Testament that omitted the so-called Comma Johanneum, long cited as the biblical proof text for the doctrine of the trinity. The original text of 1 John 5:8 reads: “There are three on earth that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and those three agree as one.” Erasmus discovered that at a later date there had been added the following: “There are three that bear record in Heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One.” It became evident that the doctrine had to be accepted strictly on faith or tradition. European Unitarian History Background and Historical Setting

4 4 On October 30, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. He was simply hoping to promote a debate on which he saw as abuses within the Catholic Church’s practice of granting indulgences. Not only were the practices that he attacked well-established, they were a significant source of income for the church. In the controversy that followed, Luther stood his ground, eventually challenging both the authority of the church and the supremacy of the pope. Excommunication came in Luther advocated not only ecclesiastical reform, but theological reform as well. Luther built a theology based squarely on scripture, one that affirmed the priesthood of all believers. He said that people are saved not by works, as the Church of Rome taught, but by faith alone. European Unitarian History Background and Historical Setting

5 5 In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli, who had become increasingly alienated from the Roman Catholic church, quite independently (before anyone in his locality had heard the name Luther) concluded that the Bible should be the sole source of the Christian truth. Critical development: Zwingli and Luther cam to irreconcilable differences regarding the Eucharist (Holy Communion): Luther insisted on the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, while Zwingli insisted that they were to be understood only symbolically. Zwingli lost the military support of the Lutheran princes; when in 1531 the Catholic states in Switzerland sent an army against Zurich (where Zwingli resided), Zwingli died in battle. Military power – is that why Luther was only excommunicated and not burned at the stake? European Unitarian History Background and Historical Setting

6 6 In Geneva, Switzerland a third leader of the Reformation emerged. His name was John Calvin. He had experienced God speaking to him from the Bible, calling him to mend his ways! In 1536, at the age of twenty-seven, he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the most influential theological treatise of the Reformation. He was to play a major part in attempting to nip the Unitarian heresy in the bud. Like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin based his theology exclusively on the interpretation of scripture, but it included two unique doctrines: –Innate sinfulness, even depravity of humanity and that –Election, whereby only certain people were predestined for salvation, with the rest condemned to destruction. Unlike Luther, who retained many of the organizational and liturgical practices of Catholicism. Calvin tried to place everything (doctrine, church organization, worship) on a firm biblical basis. European Unitarian History Background and Historical Setting

7 7 The Anabaptists (re-baptizers): There were those, and their numbers were large, who were seeking a religious community of free spirits, one with no set standards of belief, little formal organization, and no prescribed forms of worship; instead they were seeking firsthand religious experience through direct communion with God. It seemed that they had only one common belief, namely, that baptism should be reserved for those who as mature men and women had accepted Christ. Re-baptizing, moreover, had long been condemned by the Catholic Church as heresy punishable by death. It was among these Anabaptists that the Unitarian heresy (and incidentally, the Universalist heresy as well) first broke out in the early years of the Reformation. The Anabaptists were considered a major threat by the Catholics, Reformers, and civil authorities alike. The threat was considered so serious that the Diet of Speyer in 1529 issued a death decree against all Anabaptists. European Unitarian History Background and Historical Setting

8 8 Michael Servetus (1509 or ), a Spaniard martyred in the Reformation for his criticism of the doctrine of the trinity and his opposition to infant baptism, has often been considered an early Unitarian. Widespread aversion to Servetus' death has been taken as signaling the birth in Europe of religious tolerance. European Unitarian History Michael Servetus (1509 or )

9 9 When On the Errors of the Trinity appeared in 1531, Michael Servetus had barely entered his twenties. One thing had been clear to Servetus: that Jesus was a man. It had only been a generation earlier that hundreds of thousands of Jews and Moslems had been banished from Spain, or in some cases put to death, for their refusal to accept the doctrine of the Trinity and convert to Christianity. To escape the Spanish Inquisition, Michel Servetus went underground. He adopted the name Michel de Villeneuve. He studied medicine in Paris for two years starting in He left Paris in 1538 and busied himself with the practice of medicine and kept his interest in theology hidden. Servetus renewed his interest in theology. Under his pseudonym, Michael Servetus initiated correspondence with John Calvin hoping to gain an ally. The two quarreled in their correspondence. Calvin was concerned that Servetus was a threat to the whole Reformation movement! After Servetus was apprehended, Calvin handed over evidence (correspondence) to the authorities. Servetus was convicted to be burned at the stake. European Unitarian History Michael Servetus

10 10 As the fire burned around Michael Servetus, he cried out, “O Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have pity on me!” It has been pointed out that if Servetus had only shifted the position of the adjective and invoked the “eternal Son of God” he would have been saved. Why has the execution of Michael Servetus attracted such widespread attention down through the years? –First, his death was the catalyst that slowly led to the growth of religious tolerance. –Servetus’s writings led many to reconsider and revise some of the most basic doctrines of Christianity. European Unitarian History Michael Servetus Heresy is not an absolute, but a relative term. We are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views. Let us be tolerant toward one another, let no one condemn another’s belief.

11 11 Socinianism European Unitarian History

12 12 The movement began in Poland In 1556, a Lithuanian named Peter Gonesius stood before an assembly of Calvinists and Polish Brethren, another Protestant group, seeking admission to its membership. He stated his beliefs: –He declared the Trinity did not exist, and that the Word was a new invention. –He criticized the Athanasian Credo, and rejected it completely as a “human invention.” –God the Father is the sole God, and there is no other. –Christ is inferior to his Father, he is his father’s servant. –He stated that Logos was the Word, invisible, immortal, transformed at a given time into flesh in the Virgin’s womb, and he called this Word the seed of the Incarnated Son. –He denied the coexistence of Jesus Christ and God the Father within divinity. He was excluded as an Arian. Gonesius returned to Lithuania where he founded a liberal Reformed congregation in Wegrow. European Unitarian History Seeds of Socinianism

13 13 Ironically, it was in the Reformed Church that the Socinian movement had its beginnings. The Reformed Church was Calvinist. At first the new body resulting from the schism between the antitrinitarian and the orthodox Calvinists had no name, its members identifying themselves simply as “ the brethren in Poland and Lithuania who have rejected the Trinity”; later the Minor Reformed Church of Poland was adopted as its official title. Opponents of the Minor Church, whether Protestant or Catholic, referred to its members as “Arians.” In 1570, the Calvinists, Lutherans, and Bohemian Brethren, in order to present a united Protestant front, formed a federation from which they deliberately excluded the Minor Church. The Minor Church established their own town Rakow. This town was to become the strong center of the Socinian movement. European Unitarian History

14 14 Faustus Socinus passed through Poland (Rakow) on his way to Transylvania. He returned through Poland, found the religious climate congenial, and decided to settle there. The Minor Church was in a state of disarray. The appearance of a new leader in the person of Faustus Socinus was indeed timely, if not providential. Faustus Socinus almost immediately sought membership within the Minor Church. However: He openly expressed his opposition to adult baptism as a condition of membership. However, the church leaders insisted that it was required. Socinus agreed to do it only if he could state publicly that he thought it was unnecessary. Socinus was never admitted to membership in the church he was destined to lead. European Unitarian History Faustus Socinus Arrives

15 15 During this period the Catholic religious order of Jesuits established a center in Krakow from which they began mounting an ongoing assault on the Minor Church. Socinus himself was attacked and nearly killed several times. Even while constantly under attack, the Socinians managed to publish the Racovian Catechism that although completed after the death of Socinus clearly reflects Socinus’s teachings. The attacks on the Minor Church continued. Iwan Tyszkiewicz, a member of the Minor Church, was beheaded in the great marketplace of Warsaw. Prior to execution his tongue had been cut out as punishment for blasphemy; afterward, since he had been convicted of throwing a crucifix on the ground, one hand and foot were cut off; and finally, since he had been convicted of heresy, his body was burnt. Iwan Tyszkiewicz can be considered the first martyr of Unitarianism as an organized movement. European Unitarian History Persecution and Destruction

16 16 Eventually (1658), after invasion of Poland by Russia and Sweden, many “Arians” were accused of aiding the enemies. Those “Arians” who would not renounce their faith would be put to death; however, as an act of clemency the Socinians were granted three years to settle their affairs and leave the country. Some did renounce their faith and accept baptism into the Catholic Church. The largest group of exiles ended up in Kolozsvar, where they were warming received by the Transylvanian Unitarians. The Socinian church in Kolozsvar lasted until 1792; by then assimilation into the local culture was essentially complete. “Thus,” wrote Earl Morse Wilbur, “ends the history, at once heroic and pathetic, of the Socinians in Poland. Their work was not in vain, for during the century and half of its existence their church had played a crucial part in promotion of the principles of freedom, reason and tolerance in religion, and its influence was to persist, directly and indirectly, far into the future. European Unitarian History Persecution and Destruction

17 17 European Unitarian History Unitarianism in Transylvania

18 18 That the Socinians sought haven among the Unitarians was not surprising, for links between the two groups had existed almost from the beginning: both initially had been influenced by the writings of Michael Servetus; and Faustus Socinus had come to Transylvania to mediate an internal doctrinal dispute back in Francis Dávid was born at Kolozsvar (Klausenburg), the capital of Transylvania, about 1510, and was thus a close contemporary of Calvin and Servetus. He was doubtless first educated at the school of the Franciscan monks at Kolozsvar, and later went to the cathedral school at Gyulafehervar. He was sent by a wealthy friend to the University of Wittenberg, where many Catholic students still went in spite of Luther’s heresy centering there. He may also have studied at Padua. After two or three years he returned home in 1551 an accomplished scholar and became rector of a Catholic school at Besztercze. European Unitarian History Francis David

19 19 Many of the Catholic clergy of the vicinity were then accepting the doctrines of the Reformation. Dávid joined them, gave up his priesthood, and became a Lutheran. He was, however, by nature, of an open mind, and after debating against the Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper for several years, he was at length won over to it by its chief defender, Melius, and accordingly resigned his office of bishop in He came to be regarded the leader of the Calvinists as he had formerly been that of the Lutherans. For nearly five years there were almost every month debates over the doctrine of the Trinity at synod, Diet, or public debate. During these debates, David became Unitarian. European Unitarian History Francis David

20 20 Dávid made a plea for toleration which is far in advance of his age: “There is no greater piece of folly than to try to exercise power over conscience and soul, both of which are subject only to their Creator.” This spirit found sympathy with the king, and soon afterwards, at a Diet at Torda in January, 1568, where Dávid made an eloquent plea for religious toleration, the decrees of 1557 and were renewed and strengthened. King John Sigismund decreed “that preachers shall be allowed to preach the Gospel everywhere, each according to his own understanding of it. If the community wish to accept such preaching, well and good; if not, they shall not be compelled, but shall be allowed to keep the preachers they prefer. No one shall be made to suffer on account of his religion, since faith is the gift of God.” This is the Magna Charta of religion in Transylvania, and it deserves to be remembered as a golden date in Unitarian history, for it saved the Unitarian faith from being crushed out there as it was in other lands. 4 European Unitarian History

21 21 In the generation in which it was passed, the Inquisition was doing its worst to crush Protestantism in Spain and Italy, Alva was putting Protestants to death by the thousands in the Netherlands, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew with its 20,000 or 30,000 victims in France was yet four years in the future; while deniers of the Trinity were still to be burned alive in England for more than forty years. It long stood as the most advanced step in toleration yet taken in Europe; and the king who passed this enlightened law was but twenty- eight years old. European Unitarian History

22 22 King John Sigismund died without leaving an heir. Stephen Bathory became the new ruler. The new ruler was a Roman Catholic. David met with Socinus for four months in David’s home and debated points of doctrine. David became emboldened by these discussions and preached a sermon to his congregation in which he declared that invoking Christ in prayer was no better than the Catholic practice of worshiping the Virgin Mary or the dead saints. He also stated, “Whatever the world may yet try to do, it will nevertheless become clear to the whole world that God is one.” It was to be his last sermon. Inscribed on the wall of his dungeon cell was found the following message: “Neither the sword of popes, nor the cross, nor the image of death – nothing will halt the march of truth. I wrote what I felt and that is what I preached with trusting spirit. I am convinced that after my destruction the teachings of false prophets will collapse.” The Unitarians struggled on. Finally, about 1790, during the reign of Joseph (as Emperor Joseph II) marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Transylvanian Unitarians. He and his successors were fair-minded, liberal rulers who promoted the religious freedom and toleration that the Unitarians needed after almost two centuries of oppression. European Unitarian History

23 23 Unitarianism in England European Unitarian History

24 24 On April 17, 1774, the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England gathered for worship for the first time. There had been outbreaks of Arian, Socinian, and Unitarian thought in England, but no organized, lasting movement had resulted until Theophilus Lindsey, with the help of his wife Hannah and a few friends, rented an auction hall on Essex Street in London, fitted it as a chapel, and opened its for worship. Although that first service had only been advertised by word of mouth, some 200 people were in attendance, most of them dissatisfied members of the Anglican Church. Among those present was Benjamin Franklin, then in London to exert his influence on behalf of the American colonies. Lindsey, who had just left the Anglican ministry, led the service using an unconventional liturgy and without wearing the customary clerical vestment. His sermon dealt with harmonious spirit in religion, and he pledged to avoid controversial subjects in his sermons, a pledge that he would later find hard to honor. European Unitarian History First Unitarian Church in England Theophilus Lindsey

25 25 Earl Morse Wilbur has commented, the “independent study of the Bible must be regarded as the most fundamental of all the influences that combined in shaping the Unitarian movement.” And it must be remembered that Socinianism throughout its history and Unitarianism (as well as Universalism) until relatively recent times were essentially Bible-based religions. Thus in England, John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English in the late fourteenth century had sown the seeds for the growth of liberal, heretical thought. European Unitarian History Bible Translated into English

26 26 In 1648, the Presbyterians, as one group of Puritans was called, had secured passage of “An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament for punishing Blasphemies and Heresies.” Popularly known as the “Draconian Ordinance,” it provided that “all persons by willingly by preaching, teaching, printing, or writing, maintain and publish that the Father is not God, the Son is not God, or that the Holy Ghost is not God, or that they three are not the one eternal God, or that Christ is not God equal with the Father [besides seven other named heresies], shall be judged guilty of felony; and in case the party upon his trial shall not adjure his said error he shall sutter the pains of death, without benefit of clergy.” European Unitarian History Draconian Ordinance

27 27 “Draconian Ordinance” was never enforced. In 1647, John Biddle, a young schoolmaster, had published a tract entitled XII Arguments drawn out of the Scripture in which he carefully refuted on logical grounds the traditional doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He was first put in jail, then he was placed under house arrest for the next three years while attempts were made to dissuade him from his heretical views. Biddle was to spend the rest of his life in and out of prison as the political power in the country continued to shift. Biddle died at age 47 – two days after being released from one of his stints in prison. European Unitarian History John Biddle, The Father of English Unitarians

28 28 The Act of Uniformity placed even greater restrictions on non- conformists. It required every clergyman to give unqualified assent to the entire contents of the Book of Common Prayer. The real beginning of the Churches which developed later into what is generally known as Unitarian or free Christian took place in 1662, two thousand ministers refused to accept the Act of Uniformity. With the death of Charles II the religious climate shifted again. In 1689, Parliament passed the Act of Toleration, making it again lawful for nonconformists, other than Catholics and deniers of the Trinity, to hold public worship. (Unitarians were not given full freedom under the law until 1813.) A few months later, Stephen Nye, with the help of two of Biddle’s disciples, Thomas Firmin and Henry Hedworth, published anonymously A Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians. It marked the first time that the “Unitarian” had appeared in print in England, some 90 years after it first had appeared in Transylvania. European Unitarian History Act of Uniformity

29 29 Joseph Priestley stands as on of the outstanding embodiments of the Enlightenment, that cultural movement blending philosophy, science, and reason which in England, as in America, provided the substrate for the emergence of liberal religious thought. Scientist, discovered oxygen. Minister and writer – he wrote Corruptions of Christianity and History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ In 1791, his house and laboratory was burned down by a mob in opposition to Priestley’s ministry. Priestley and his family came to America in 1794 European Unitarian History Joseph Priestley

30 30 European Unitarian History Thomas Belsham gave the growing Unitarian movement strong leadership through the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The Unitarian movement was strengthened during this period by the addition of both congregations and individual leaders from the General Baptists, so-called because they believed that Christ died for all believers, not just for the elect. They were spiritual descendants of the Anabaptists. James Martineau, considered by many as the most important figure in nineteenth-century British Unitarianism. Martineau, significantly influenced by the writings of Americans William Ellery Channing and Theordore Parker, was among those who became convinced that the Bible was inadequate as a theological base. He came close to the views of the American Transcendentalists. Post Priestley and Lindsey English Unitarianism James Martineau


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