History of Unitarianism

History of Unitarianism

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. Later historical development has been diverse in different countries.

Early origins

Unitarians trace their history back to the Apostolic Age and claim for their doctrine a prevalence during the ante-Nicene period. Many believe their Christology most closely reflects that of the "original Christians." (For a discussion of the New Testament evidence, see Nontrinitarianism.)

While it is evident that higher Christologies existed in the late first and early second centuries, Jewish-Christian congregations tended to hold the view that Jesus was a great man and prophet, even the Son of God, but not God himself. (See Ebionites.)

One of the earliest controversies over the nature of Christ that involved the propagation of "unitarian" ideas broke out at Rome during the episcopate of Victor I (189–199). This was the so-called ‘Monarchian controversy,’ which originated in a revolt against the influential Logos theology of Justin Martyr and the apologists, who had spoken of Jesus as a second god. Such language was disturbing to some. Justin’s language appeared to promote ditheism. The view, however, was defended by Hippolytus of Rome, for whom it was essential to say that the Father and the Logos are two distinct ‘persons’ ("prosopa").

Some critics of Justin's theology tried to preserve the unity of God by saying that there is no difference to be discerned between the ‘Son’ and the ‘Father’ (unless ‘Son’ is a name for the physical body or humanity of Christ and ‘Father’ a name for the divine Spirit within). This sort of thinking, known as Modal Monarchianism or Sabellianism, would one day lead to a compromise doctrine that the Father and the Son are consubstantial (of the same being).

Other critics preserved the unity of God by saying that Jesus was a man, but differentiated in being indwelt by the Spirit of God to an absolute and unique degree. They thus denied that Jesus was God or a god. They became known as "adoptionists," because they suggested that Jesus was adopted by the Father to be his Son. This view was associated with Theodotus of Byzantium (the Shoemaker) and Artemon.

So even at this early stage we find evidence of proto-Arianism (Justin's view) and proto-Socinianism (the Adoptionist view), though they were, as yet, not fully formed. Both of these theologies have similarities to latter day Unitarianism.

The Monarchian controversy came to a head again in the mid-third century. In 259 the help of Dionysius of Alexandria, was invoked in a dispute among the churches in Libya between adherents of Justin's Logos-theology and some modalist Monarchians. Dionysius vehemently attacked the modalist standpoint. He affirmed that the Son and the Father were as different as a boat and a boatman and denied that they were ‘of one substance’ ("homoousios"). The Libyans appealed to Dionysius of Rome, whose rebuke to his Alexandrian namesake stressed the unity of God and condemned ‘those who divide the divine monarchy into three separate hypostases and three deities’.

Another crisis occurred over Paul of Samosata, who became bishop of Antioch in Syria in 260. Paul’s doctrine is akin to the primitive Jewish-Christian idea of the person of Christ and to the Christology of Theodotus of Byzantium (adoptionism). To many his doctrine seemed plain heresy, and a council of local bishops was held to consider his case in 268. The bishops found it easier to condemn Paul than to expel him, and he remained in full possession of the church with his enthusiastic supporters. However, the bishops appealed to the Roman emperor, who decided that the legal right to the church building should be assigned ‘to those to whom the bishops of Italy and Rome should communicate in writing’. It was the first time that an ecclesiastical dispute had to be settled by the secular power. So Paul was put out of his church.

Arius, son of Ammonius, was a popular priest appointed presbyter for the district of Baucalis in Alexandria in 313. His views of the nature of Jesus, although not original, conflicted with the views held by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Both Arius and Alexander held that Jesus was the Word (Logos) in human form; however, Arius held that the Word was a creation of God and had a beginning of existence, ["‘If,’ said he, ‘the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing.’" (Socrates Scholasticus, "Ecclesiastical History" I:5). Arius later toned down his statements in order to be restored to communion and said that Christ was begotten simply "before the ages" (Socrates Scholasticus, "Ecclesiastical History" I:26).] whereas Alexander held that the Word was co-eternal and consubstantial with God. When disagreement arose between the two men, forces were set in motion that resulted in the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

In the Nicene Creed adopted at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, wherein the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great got involved, the issue was considered settled and the adoption of Alexander's view became the orthodox doctrine and all other views were considered heresy and officially suppressed. During the reign of the emperor Constantius II, however, the anti-Nicene party rose to prominence and exercised considerable control over the church for about a generation. New creeds were drawn up to counter the homoousian doctrine of the Nicene Creed. When Theodosius I took the imperial throne, however, the tables were turned, and at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the position that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were all the same being was agreed upon, and the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity was complete. Theodosius outlawed all Nontrinitarian forms of Christianity.

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw in many European countries 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, Hungary and, at a much later date, in England. Compare to Sabellianism.

Along with the fundamental doctrine, certain characteristics have always marked those who profess unitarianism: a large degree of tolerance, an historical study of scripture, a minimizing of essentials, and a repugnance to formulated creed.

Martin Cellarius (14991564), a friend of Luther, and Hans Denck (1500-1527) usually are considered the first literary pioneers of the movement; the anti-Trinitarian position of Ludwig Haetzer did not become public until after his execution (1529) for Anabaptism. Luther himself was opposed to the Unitarian movement, blaming the spread of Islam for the growth of Unitarianism, arguing that:citation|first=Susan|last=Ritchie|year=2004|title=The Islamic Ottoman Influence on the Development of Religious Toleration in Reformation Transylvania|volume=3|pages=59-70|url=http://www.zaytuna.org/seasonsjournal/seasons3/59-70%20Transylvania.pdf |accessdate=2008-02-04]

Michael Servetus (1511?–1553) stimulated thought in this direction and heavily influenced other reformers both by his writings and by his death at the stake. In 1531 he had published his theological treatise "De Trinitatis Erroribus" (On the Errors About the Trinity), in which he rejected the Nicene dogma of the Trinity and proposed that the Son was the union of the divine Logos with the man Jesus, miraculously born from the Virgin Mary through the intervention of God's spirit. This was generally interpreted as a denial of the Trinitarian dogma (actually Servetus had described the Trinity as a "three-headed Cerberus" and "three ghosts" which only led believers to confusion and error). Servetus expanded his ideas on the nature of God and Christ 20 years later in his major work, "Christianismi Restitutio" (The Restoration of Christianity), which caused his burning at the stake in Calvin's Geneva (and also in effigy by the Catholic Inquisition in France) in 1553 . Nowadays most Unitarians see Servetus as their pioneer and first martyr, and his thought was a remarkable influence in the beginnings of Polish and Transylvanian Anti-trinitarian churchesSee Stanislas Kot, "L'influence de Servet sur le mouvement atitrinitarien en Pologne et en Transylvanie", in B. Becker (Ed.), "Autour de Michel Servet et de Sebastien Castellion", Haarlem, 1953.] , even though his views on Jesus Christ are quite different from what Unitarians generally believe today.

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. And in Poland and Hungary definitely anti-Trinitarian religious communities first formed and were tolerated.


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 took place in 1555; the second Synod (1556) faced the theological challenges of Gregory Pauli (Grzegorz Paweł z Brzezin) and Peter Gonesius (Piotr z Goniądza), who were aware of the works of Servetus and of Italian antitrinitarians such as Mateo Gribaldi. The arrival of Blandrata in 1558 furnished the party with a temporary 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 Polish brethren and Arian were 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 the views of Fausto Sozzini, who had settled in Poland in 1579 (see Socinianism).

In 1602 James Sienynski (Jakub Sieniński) established at Raków 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 Raków was suppressed in 1638, after two boys pelted a crucifix outside the town.

When twenty years' public opinion widely considered them as Swedish collaborators during The Deluge, 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 the Netherlands (where the Remonstrants admitted them to membership on the basis of the Apostles' Creed), while others went to the German frontier. A contingent settled in Transylvania, not joining the Unitarian Church, but maintaining a distinct organization at Cluj until 1793.

The refugees who reached Amsterdam published the "Bibliotheca fratrum polonorum" (1665–1669), embracing the works of Hans Krell (Crellius, Jan Crell), their leading theologian, Jonas Schlichting (Szlichtyng), their chief commentator, Sozzini and 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 Biandrata at the Transylvanian court in 1563. His influence was exerted on Ferenc Dávid (1510–1579), who was successively Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and anti-Trinitarian. Some argue that the growth of anti-Trinitarian opinion Transylvania and Hungary may have partly been due to the growing Islamic influence of the expanding Ottoman Empire at the time.

In 1564 Dávid 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, Péter Juhász (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 Dávid (retaining his existing title) to transfer his episcopate from the Calvinists to the anti-Trinitarians, Kolozsvár being evacuated by all but his followers.

In 1571 John Sigismund was succeeded by Stephen Báthory, a Catholic. Under the influence of John Sommer, rector of the Kolozsvár gymnasium, David (about 1572) abandoned the worship of Christ. The attempted accommodation by Sozzini only precipitated matters; tried as an innovator, Dávid died in prison at Déva (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 later editions.

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 1848. The term "unitarius" (said to have been introduced by Melius in discussions of 1569–1571)Fact|date=November 2007 makes its first documentary appearance in a decree of the Lécfalva Diet (1600); it was not officially adopted by the Church until 1638.

Of the line of twenty-three bishops the most distinguished were György Enyedi (commonly known in English as George Enyedi) (1592–1597), whose "Explicationes" obtained European vogue, and Mihály Lombard de Szentábrahám (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 first secondary school in Transylvania was established in the late 1700's in Székelykeresztúr, and working till today, although as a state school.

The official title in Hungary is the Hungarian Unitarian Church, with a membership of about 25,000 members, whereas in Romania there is a separate church with the name of Unitarian Church of Transylvania [http://www.unitarius.com] and about 65,000 members, especially among the "Székely" population. In the past, the Unitarian bishop had a seat in the Hungarian parliament. The principal college of both churches is located at Cluj (Kolozsvár), which is also the seat of the Transylvanian consistory; there were others at Turda (Torda) and at Székelykeresztúr.

Until 1818 the continued existence of this body was unknown to English Unitarians; relations subsequently became intimate. After 1860 a succession of students finished their theological education at Manchester College, Oxford; others at the Unitarian Home Missionary College.


Between 1548 (John Assheton) and 1612 we find few anti-Trinitarians, most of whom were either executed or forced to recant. Those burned included George van Parris. (1551), Flemish surgeon; Patrick Pakingham (1555), fellmonger; Matthew Hamont (1579), ploughwright; John Lewes (1583); Peter Cole (1587), tanner; Francis Kett (1589), physician and author; Bartholomew Legate (1612), cloth-dealer, last of the Smithfield victims; and the twice-burned fanatic Edward Wightman (1612). In all these cases the anti-Trinitarian sentiments seem to have come from Holland; the last two executions followed the dedication to James I of the Latin version of the Racovian Catechism (1609).

The vogue of Socinian views, typified by 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 a capital offence, but it remained a dead letter, Cromwell intervening in the cases of Paul Best (1590–1657) and John Biddle (1616–1662).

In 1652–1654 and 1658–1662 Biddle 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, adopted the more Sabellian views of Stephen Nye (1648–1719), a clergyman. Firmin promoted a remarkable series of controversial tracts (1690–1699).

In England the Socinian controversy, initiated by Biddle, preceded the Arian controversy initiated by Samuel Clarke's "Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity" (1712), although John Knowles was an Arian lay preacher at Chester in 1650. Arian or semi-Arian views had much vogue during the 18th century, both in the Church and among dissenters.

The term "Unitarian" first emerged 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 to the unipersonality of the Divine Being. Firmin later had 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.

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) came into the hands of Congregationalists.

The free atmosphere of dissenting academies (colleges) favoured new ideas. The effect of the Salters' Hall conference (1719), called for by the views 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. Leaders in the advocacy of a purely humanitarian christology came largely from the Independents, such as Nathaniel Lardner (1684–1768), Caleb Fleming (1698–1779), Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) and Thomas Belsham (1750–1829).

Isaac Newton was an anti-Trinitarian, and possibly a Unitarian (though he may have been Sabellian). [See James Glick's biography "Isaac Newton".]

The formation of a distinct Unitarian denomination dates from the secession (1773) 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 1813. 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 secured that, so far as trusts did not specify doctrines, twenty-five years tenure legitimated existing usage.

During the 19th century, 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 of John Hamilton Thom (1808–1894).

English Unitarianism 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. For the education of its ministry it supported Manchester College at Oxford (which deduced 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. It also produced the notable Chamberlain family of politicians: Joseph Chamberlain, Austen Chamberlain, and Neville Chamberlain, and the Courtauld industrialist dynasty.

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 Christian Teacher" (1835–1844), "The Prospective Review" (1845–1854), "The National Review" (1855–1864), the "Theological Review" (1864–1879), and "The Hibbert Journal", one of the enterprises of the Hibbert Trust, founded by Robert Hibbert (1770–1849) and originally designated the Anti-Trinitarian Fund. This came into operation in 1853, awarded scholarships and fellowships, supported an annual lectureship (1878–1894), and maintained (from 1894) a chair of ecclesiastical history at Manchester College.


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.

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 united as the General Synod of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, with 38 congregations and some mission stations. Till 1889 they maintained two theological chairs in Belfast, where John Scott Porter (1801–1880) pioneered biblical criticism; they afterwards sent their students to England for their theological education, though in certain respects their views and practices remained 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 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).

United States

Unitarianism in the United States followed essentially the same development as in England, and passed through the stages of Arminianism, Arianism, 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 a backlash against 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 preached what was essentially Unitarianism. The most prominent of these men was Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), pastor of the West Church in Boston, Massachusetts 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. Other Unitarians included Ebenezer Gay (1698–1787) 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.

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, Pittsburgh, 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—the congregation founded by the Pilgrims in 1620—accepted the more liberal faith. Joseph Priestley immigrated 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, Unitarianism was gaining ground 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.

In 1800, Joseph Stevens Buckminster became minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston, where his brilliant sermons, literary activities, and academic attention to the German "New Criticism" helped shape the subsequent growth of Unitarianism in New England.

Buckminster's close associate William Ellery Channing (1780–1842) 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 First Unitarian Church of 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 chiefly operated through general culture and the 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 a non-sectarian department of the university. The Meadville Lombard Theological School was founded at Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1844 and the Starr King School for the Ministry at Berkeley, California in 1904.

The history of Unitarian thought in the United States can be roughly divided into three periods. The first, from about 1800 to about 1835, can be thought of as formative, mainly influenced by English philosophy, semi-supernatural, imperfectly rationalistic, devoted to philanthropy and practical Christianity. Dr. Channing was its distinguished exponent.

The second ("see" Transcendentalism), from about 1835 to about 1885, profoundly influenced by German idealism, was increasingly rationalistic, though its theology was largely flavoured by mysticism. As a reaction against this, the National Unitarian Conference was organized in 1865, 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 Conference later 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." In addition, the WUC claimed belief in God was not a necessary component of Unitarian belief.

This period of controversy and of vigorous theological development practically came to an end soon after 1885. Its cessation was assured by the action of the national conference at Saratoga, New York in 1894, when it was affirmed by a nearly unanimous vote that: "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 Ralph Waldo 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 what was perceived as to be the higher affirmations of Christianity. It has been marked by a general harmony and unity, by steady growth in the number of churches and by a widening fellowship with all other similarly minded movements.

This phase was shown in the organization of The International Council of Unitarian and other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers at Boston on 25 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 after 1885 the influence of Emerson became predominant, modified by the more scientific preaching of Minot J. Savage, who found his guides in Darwin and Spencer.

Beyond its own borders the body 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 then, really nominal, may be estimated at 100,000. The periodicals were "The Christian Register", weekly, Boston; "Unity", weekly, Chicago; "The Unitarian", monthly, New York; "Old and New", monthly, Des Moines; "Pacific Unitarian", San Francisco.

In 1961 , the American Unitarian Association merged with the Universalist Church of America, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA).

Strictly speaking, modern-day Unitarian Universalism is not Unitarian in theology. Despite its name, this denomination does not necessarily promote either belief in One God or universal salvation. It is merely the inheritor of the Unitarian and Universalist church system in America. Though there are Unitarians within the Unitarian-Universalist Association, there is no creed or doctrine that one must affirm to join a Unitarian Universalist congregation. This makes it very different from many other faith groups. Today, the majority of Unitarian Universalists don't identify themselves as Christians.See the results of a recent poll on theological self-identity among UUs in the [http://www25.uua.org/coa/TheoDiversity/EngagingOurTheoDiversity.pdf Engaging Our Theological Diversity] report, pp. 70–72.] Jesus and the Bible are generally treated as exceptional sources of inspiration, along with the holy people and traditions around the world. Unitarian Universalists base their community on a set of Principles and Purposes rather than on a prophet or creed. Notable Unitarian Universalists include Tim Berners-Lee (founder of the world wide web), Pete Seeger, congressman Pete Stark, 2008 Presidential candidate Mike Gravel and Christopher Reeve.

Unitarians have been victims of hate crimes. For example, in 1965, UU minister James Reeb was killed in Selma, Alabama protesting police violence against civil rights advocates. In 2008, two UU's were killed and six wounded in Knoxville, Tennessee by a man who reportedly hated the liberal movement (which supports individuals regardless of sexual orientation and immigrant status).

The decline of Unitarian theology in the Unitarian churches in the United States has prompted several revival movements. Unitarian Christians within the Unitarian Universalist Association formed, in 1945, a fellowship just for Christians, who were gradually becoming a minority. Thus the [http://www.uua.org/uucf the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship] was formed. Similarly, the American Unitarian Conference (AUC) was founded in 2000. Its mission is "renewal of the historic Unitarian faith". It promotes a set of God-centered religious principles, but like Unitarian Universalism, it does not impose a creed on its members.

Unitarians in America, because of the developments with the Unitarian churches, have generally taken one of three courses of action to find communities in which to worship God. Some have stayed within the Unitarian churches, accepting the non-Christian nature of their congregation, but have found their needs met in the UU Christian Fellowship. Some Unitarians, because they felt that the mainstream UUA churches are not accepting of Christians, or that the larger Unitarian-Universalist organizations are becoming too political and liberal to be considered a religious movement or faith, have decided to affiliate with the American Unitarian Conference. Most Christian Unitarians have sought out liberal Christian churches in other denominations and have made homes there. [According to a 2002 survey published by the Barna Group (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=122), only 79% of Christians in the United States believe God is one being in three separate and equal persons—God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. According to the 2001 US Census, section 79 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/03statab/pop.pdf), 159,506,000 adults identify themselves as Christians. This would mean that, circa 2001-2002, 33,496,000 American Christians (21% of 159,506,000) were nontrinitarian, a number some ten times greater than the number of Christians in the UUA.]


Unitarianism arrived in Canada from Iceland and Britain. Some Canadian congregations had services in Icelandic into living memory. The first Unitarian service in Canada was held in 1832 by a minister from England, Rev, David Hughes, in a school owned by the Workman family, who were Unitarians from Belfast. The Montreal congregation, founded in 1842, called their first permanent minister, the Rev. John Cordner, of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster; he arrived in 1843 and served as their minister for thirty-six years. A few years later, a congregation in Toronto was founded whose first minister, William Adam, was a Scottish Baptist missionary who had served in India. Congregations formed in Ottawa and Hamilton in the late 19th century and continued westward. In 1891 the First Icelandic Unitarian Church was formed in Winnipeg. Congregations in Vancouver (1909) and Victoria (1910) followed. Individual Canadian congregations had ties to the British association until they were disrupted by World War II, when relations to Unitarians in the United States became stronger.

Universalism found its way to Canada during the 1800s, for the most part, though not entirely, brought by settlers from the United States. The Universalist concepts of universal salvation, a loving and forgiving God, and the brother/sisterhood of all people, were welcomed by those for whom the partialist view or predestination were no longer acceptable. Universalist congregations formed, with the exception of the congregation in Halifax, mostly in rural towns and villages in lower Quebec and the Maritimes, and in southern Ontario. Universalism in Canada followed a corresponding decline as in the United States, and today the three remaining congregations at Olinda in Ontario, North Hatley in Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia have since the 1960s been part of the Canadian Unitarian Council.

The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) was formed in advance (1960) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in the United States, but the two functioned in close association until money exchange and other complications led to greater independence, with the CUC assuming the direct delivery of services to Canadian congregations formerly extended by the UUA in Boston, Massachusetts. The two organizations continue collaboration in the credentialling of ministers, and in youth/young adult programs and services.

The Unitarian Service Committee, established during World War II as an overseas emergency relief agency, began under the capable direction of Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova and initially supported largely by Unitarians, now continues as a separate agency, drawing support throughout Canada for its humanitarian work in many parts of the world.

The first ordination of a Canadian Unitarian minister after the organizational separation of the CUC and the UUA was held at the First Unitarian Church of Victoria, British Columbia, in 2002. Rev. Brian Kiely, who was to give the ordination sermon, was told (partly in jest) he must define Canadian Unitarianism, as Rev. Channing had at that New England ordination sermon of 1819. The simile Rev. Kiely chose was that Canadian Unitarianism is like a doughnut, the richness is in the circle of fellowship, not a creedal centre.


There are currently four separate groups of Unitarians in Germany:

:*The "Unitarische Freie Religionsgemeinde" (Unitarian Free Religious Community, then called German Catholics) was founded in 1845 in Frankfurt am Main. [ [http://www.unitarier.net/ Willkommen bei www.unitarier.net ] ]

:*The "Religionsgemeinschaft Freier Protestanten" ("Religious Community of Free Protestants") was formed in 1876 in Germany's Rheinhessen region. in 1911 their newspaper took on the subtitle "deutsch-unitarische Blätter" ("German Unitarian Gazette") as leader Rudolf Walbaum wanted to connect to American Unitarians. In 1950 the Free Protestants changed their name to "Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft" ("German Unitarian Religious Community"). It is the only Unitarian group in Germany to belong to the ICUU

:*The "Unitarische Kirche in Berlin" (Unitarian Church in Berlin) was founded by Hansgeorg Remus in 1948. [ [http://www.unitarische-kirche-berlin.de Unitarische Kirche ] ]

:*The [http://www.uufrankfurt.de Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Frankfurt] is an international, English-speaking liberal religious community serving the Rhein-Main area. It is part of the European Unitarian Universalists.


In 1900 "Det fri Kirkesamfund" (literally, The Free Congregation) was founded by a group of liberal Christians in Copenhagen. Since 1908, the church is outside the Folkekirke (the Danish Lutheran state church). In Aarhus, another Unitarian congregation was founded at this time by the Norwegian Unitarian pastor and writer Kristofer Janson (18411917); it has since closed.Often labeled and considered as a "pioneer" or "precursor" [See e.g. Ágúst H. Bjarnason, "Magnus Eiriksson, the first Icelandic Unitarian" (Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, May 21, 1923), handwritten manuscript, transcribed and edited by St. M. Jonasson, see: http://members.shaw.ca/icelandic-unitarians/My_Homepage_Files/Download/; Stephen H. Fritchman, "Men of Liberty. Ten Unitarian Pioneers", Boston 1944 [reprint: Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing 2007)] , pp. 163-180; Thorvald Kierkegaard, "Magnus Eiriksson og Mary B. Westenholz. To Forkæmpere for Unitarismen i Danmark", Copenhagen 1958, pp. 3-9. See also Eiríkssons articles in the Swedish periodical "Sanningssökaren", which was published by the Unitarian association "Sanningenssökarna", e.g."Förnuftstro och kyrkolära. Bref från a gammal sanningsökare," in "Sanningssökaren" (1877), pp. 41-47.] (in a spiritual manner) to the Unitarian movement in Denmark was the Icelandic theologian Magnús Eiríksson (1806-1881), who lived in Copenhagen from 1831 until his death in 1881.


Inspired by the writings of Theodore Parker the Swedish writer Klas Pontus Arnoldson founded in Gothenburg in 1871 the Unitarian association "Sanningssökarna" (“The Truth Seekers”) – later also found in Stockholm. This association also published the periodical "Sanningssökaren" (“The Truth Seeker”). Two other Unitarian associations were founded in 1882 (one of them in Stockholm). In 1888 Unitarians asked the Swedish King for permission to establish yet another Unitarian association in Gothenburg but was turned down because Unitarianism was not regarded as a Christian religion. Later many Unitarians turned to theosophy. In 1974 members of The Religion and Culture Association in Malmö founded The Free Church of Sweden and Rev. Ragnar Emilsen would be its pastor (ordained 1987 to Unitarian minister for Sweden and Finland and later the first to become Unitarian bishop of Scandinavia, he died February 2008). In 1999 the church changed its name to [http://sverige.unitarforbundet.org The Unitarian Church in Sweden] .


In 1892 and 1893 the Norwegian Unitarian ministers Hans Tambs Lyche and Kristofer Janson returned from America and at once started independently of each other to introduce Unitarianism. In 1894 Tambs Lyche failed to organize a Unitarian Church in Oslo (then Kristiania) but managed to publish Norway’s first Unitarian periodical (Free Words). In January 1895 Kristofer Janson founded The Church of Brotherhood in Oslo which was to be the first Unitarian church – where he stayed as the congregation’s pastor only for 3 years. In 1904 Herman Haugerud was to return to Norway from America and to become the last Unitarian pastor to The Unitarian Society (which The Church of Brotherhood now was renamed). Pastor Haugerud died in 1937 and the Unitarian church ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Between 1986 and 2003 different Unitarian groups were active in Oslo. In 2004 these merged into The Unitarian Association which registered as religious society according to Norwegian law on April 20 2005 under the name The Unitarian Association (The Norwegian Unitarian Church). Later “Bét Dávid” has been added to the name: The Bét Dávid Unitarian Association (The Norwegian Unitarian Church). [http://unitarforbundet.org/] The church is akin to both Transylvanian Unitarianism and Judaism, hence the name "bét" referring to the Hebrew word for "house" and "Dávid" which is the name of the first Transylvanian Unitarian bishop Dávid Ferenc (1510-1579). In 2006 this church was associated with the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). Since 2007 there is also a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship [http://unitar.no] independent of The Norwegian Unitarian Church. This fellowship is located in the Oslo area.


Although the pioneer and first martyr of European Unitarianism was a Spaniard,
Michael Servetus, the Spanish Inquisition and the religious hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church over both the State and the Spanish society, blocked for centuries any possibility of developing a Unitarian Church in Spain.

This situation began to change in the 19th century. A liberal Spanish writer and former priest, José María Blanco-White, became a Unitarian during his exile in England and remained so until the end of his life (1841). At the end of the century, a group of liberal Spanish intellectuals and reformers, the Krausistas (who received this name for being followers of German idealist philosopher Karl Krause), were admirers of American Unitarian leaders William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker, and wished that natural religion and religious rationalism were more present in Spain, although they did not create any liberal church to push that process forward.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) put an end to any expectations of change and liberal developments in Spain for several decades. After the death of dictator Francisco Franco and the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, religious freedom was finally established in Spain (although still with many restrictions in actual practice). In 2000, the Sociedad Unitaria Universalista de España (SUUE) was founded in Barcelona, and in 2001 it became a member of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). In "2005" it changed its name to the Unitarian Universalist "Religious" Society of Spain in order to achieve legal status as a religious organization under the Spanish law on Religious Freedom, but the application was also rejected.


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