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Title: Unitarianism
Author: Tarrant, W.G., 1853-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Unitarianism" ***







  Some Terms explained


  i. The Unitarian Martyrs
  ii. Influences Making for 'Latitude'
  iii. The Old Nonconformists
  iv. The 'Unitarian Tracts'
  v. The Old Dissent


  i. Before the 'Great Awakening'
  ii. The Liberal Reaction




  i. The Communities
  ii. Ideas and Tendencies
  iii. Methods and Teachings



In certain quiet nooks of Old England, and, by contrast, in some of the
busiest centres of New England, landmarks of religious history are to be
found which are not to be easily understood by every passer-by. He is
familiar with the ordinary places of worship, at least as features in,
the picture of town or village. Here is the parish church where the
English episcopal order has succeeded to the Roman; yonder is the more
modern dissenting chapel, homely or ornate. But, now and then, among the
non-episcopal buildings we find what is called distinctively a 'Meeting
House,' or more briefly a 'Meeting,' which may perhaps be styled 'Old,'
'New,' or 'Great'. Its architecture usually corresponds with the
simplicity of its name. Plain almost to ugliness, yet not without some
degree of severe dignity, stand these old barn-like structures of
brick--occasionally of stone; bearing the mellowing touch of time,
surrounded by a little overshadowed graveyard, they often add a peculiar
quaintness and solemnity to the scene. Mrs. Gaskell has described one
such in her novel _Ruth_, and admirers of her art should know well that
her own grave lies beside the little sanctuary she pictured so lovingly.

Sometimes, however, the surroundings of the ancient chapel are less
attractive. It stands, it may be, in some poverty-stricken corner or
court of a town or city. Whatever picturesqueness it may have had once
has long since vanished. Unlovely decay, an air of desolation, symptoms
of neglect, present a mournful sight, and one wonders how much longer
the poor relic will remain. Many places of the kind have already been
swept away; others have been renovated, enlarged, and kept more worthy
of their use. Not all the Meeting Houses are of one kind. Independents,
Baptists, and Friends, each possess some of them. Now and again the
notice-board tells us that this is a 'Presbyterian' place of worship,
but a loyal Scot who yearns for an echo of the kirk would be greatly
surprised on finding, as he would if he entered, that the doctrine and
worship there is not Calvinistic in any shape whatever,

A similar surprise awaits the visitor to New England, it may be even a
greater. For if he should tread In the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers
and find the 'lineal descendants' of their original places of worship at
Plymouth, Salem, or Boston, he will find _Unitarians_ in possession. So
it is in many of the oldest towns founded by the American colonists of
the seventeenth century. In their centres the parish churches, 'First,'
'Second,' or otherwise, stand forth challenging everybody's attention.
There is no lack of self-assertion here, nothing at all like the
shrinking of the Old English Presbyterian into obscure alleys and
corners. Spacious, well appointed, and secure, these _Unitarian_ parish
churches, in the words of a popular Unitarian poet, 'look the whole
world in the face, and fear not any man.'

The object of the present brief sketch is to show how these landmarks
have come to be where they are, to trace the thoughts and fortunes of
Unitarians from their rise in modern times, to indicate their religious
temper and practical aims, and to exhibit the connections of the
English-speaking Unitarians with some closely approximating groups in
Europe and Asia.

Before entering upon a story which is extremely varied and
comprehensive, one or two important points must be emphasized. In the
first place the reader must bear in mind that the term 'Unitarianism' is
one of popular application. It has not been chosen and imposed as
sect-name by any sect-founder, or by any authoritative assembly. There
has never been a leader or a central council whose decisions on these
matters have been, accepted by Unitarians as final. Even when most
closely organized they have steadily resisted all attempts so to fix the
meaning of 'Unitarianism' as to exclude further growth of opinion.
Consequently there is always room for variety of opinion among them; and
every statement of their principles and teachings must be taken as a
sort of average estimated from a survey more or less extended.

Thus the significance of Unitarianism as a feature of modern religious
development cannot be grasped apart from its history as a movement of
thought. Nowhere is it more necessary than here to reflect that to know
what a thing is we must know what it has been and consider what its
future naturally involves.

Secondly, amid all the varieties of thought referred to, complicated as
they are by the eager advance of some and the clinging to survivals by
others, there are two notes to be found undeniably, if unequally,
characteristic of Unitarianism. It is both _rationalist_ and _mystical_.
If the historian seems more attentive to the former than to the latter,
this must not be taken as indicating their relative importance.
Obviously, it is easier to record controversies than to unfold the
wealth of profound conceptions. Perhaps we may fairly suggest the true
state of the case by the mere juxtaposition of such earlier names as
Socinus, Bidle, and Locke, with those of Channing, Emerson, and
Martineau; or by a reference to the earlier Unitarian hymns in contrast
with those of the later stages.


A brief explanation at the outset may help the reader to follow more
intelligently the history of Unitarianism. As is well known, the chief
issue between Trinitarians and Unitarians arises in connection with the
relation of Jesus Christ to God, questions concerning the Holy Spirit
being usually less discussed. There are consequential issues also,
bearing upon man's nature, atonement, salvation, and other subjects, but
these call for no remark here. In its full statement, as given for
instance in the 'Athanasian Creed,' the Trinitarian dogma presents the
conception of Three 'Persons' in One God--Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit--'Persons' with different: functions, but all equal and
co-eternal. The Eastern (Greek Orthodox) Church differs from the Western
(Roman Catholic) in holding that the Third Person 'proceeds' from the
Father alone; the Western adds--'and from the Son' (_filioque_). The
full dogma as given in the 'Athanasian Creed' is not thought to be
earlier than the fifth century; debates as to the 'two natures' in
Christ, and the 'two wills,' and other abstruse points involved in the
dogma, continued for centuries still. At an earlier period discussion
was carried on as to whether the Son were of the 'same substance'
(_homo-ousion_) or 'similar substance' (_homoi-ousion_) with the Father.
The latter view was held by Arius and his party at the Council of
Nicaea, A.D. 325. Athanasius held the former view, which in time, but
only after many years of controversial strife and actual warfare, became
established as orthodox. The Arians regarded the Son, as a subordinate
being, though still divine. Another variety of opinion was put forth by
Sabellius (_c._ 250 A.D.), who took the different Persons to be so many
diverse modes or manifestations of the One God. This Sabellian idea,
though officially condemned, has been often held in later times.
Socinianism, so far as regards the personality and rank of Christ,
differed from Arianism, which maintained his pre-existence, though not
eternal; the Socinian doctrine being that the man Jesus was raised by
God's approving benignity to 'divine' rank, and that he thus became a
fit object of Christian 'worship.' The Humanitarian view, finally,
presented Jesus as a 'mere man,' i.e. a being not essentially different
in his nature from the rest of humankind. Modern Unitarianism, however,
usually avoids this kind of phrase; 'all minds,' said Channing, 'are of
one family.'



The rise of any considerable body of opinion opposed to the cardinal
dogma of orthodoxy was preceded in England by a very strongly marked
effort to secure liberty of thought, and a corresponding plea for a
broadly comprehensive religious fellowship. The culmination of this
effort, is reached, for the period first, to be reviewed, in the
writings of _John Locke_ (1632-1704). This celebrated man, by his
powerful arguments for religious toleration and his defence of the
'reasonableness' of the Christian religion, exerted an influence of the
most important kind. But we must reach him by the path of his
predecessors in the same line. The principles of liberty of thought and
the broadest religious fellowship are warmly espoused by Unitarians, and
they look upon all who have advanced these principles as in spirit
related to them, however different their respective theological
conclusions may have been.

At the time of the Reformation a great deal of speculation broke forth
on points hitherto closed by the Church's authority, including the
fundamental doctrine of the Trinity. But, while this new ferment led to
departures from the received opinions in many countries, especially in
Poland and the Netherlands, the Protestant leaders maintained that upon
the great articles of the creeds they were still one with Rome, and in
fact they soon displayed an eagerness to stifle heresy. Men often fail
to see the logic of their own position, and many who claimed the right
to differ from Rome on points which Rome considered vital were unable to
grant that others had an equal right to differ from Luther, Calvin, or
an English State Church. The outrageous cruelty of Calvin towards the
Anti-trinitarian _Servetus_, whom he caused to be burned at Geneva in
1553, affords a glaring instance of this inconsistency. But a sad proof
is given that, about that time, even Anti-trinitarians themselves were
not always tolerant.

Among the countries where the orthodox dogma was most freely questioned
was Transylvania, adjacent to Hungary proper.

Here the sovereign, John Sigismund, took sides with the
Anti-trinitarians, and issued in 1568 an edict permitting four
recognized types of doctrine and worship--Romanist, Lutheran, Calvinist,
and Unitarian. The Transylvanians were at this time largely under the
influence of their Polish brethren in the faith, who still practised the
invocation of Christ. _Francis David_, a powerful religious leader in
Hungary, having arrived at a 'Humanitarian' view of Christ two centuries
before it was held by English Unitarians, opposed Christ-worship. In
1579, when a Catholic had succeeded to the throne, David was denounced
for an intolerable heretic by the Polish party, and, being imprisoned,
died the same year. This blot on the record has long been deplored, and
David is held in honour as a martyr by the Transylvanian Unitarian
Church, which still flourishes, and forms a third member in alliance
with the Unitarians of Great Britain and America. As, however, these
Transylvanian (popularly called 'Hungarian') Unitarians had until the
nineteenth century little or no connection with the English and
Americans, and have not materially affected the development of the
movement, we omit the details of their special history.

In England a number of Anti-trinitarians suffered burning in the
sixteenth century, being usually, but loosely, described as 'Arians.'
The last two in England who died by fire as heretics were men of this
class. In March, 1612, Bartholomew Legate was burned at Smithfield, and
a month later Edward Wightman had the same fate at Lichfield. So late as
1697 a youth named Pakenham was hanged at Edinburgh on the charge of
heretical blasphemy. Although these were the only executions of the kind
here in the seventeenth century, the evidence is but too clear that the
authorities conceived it to be their duty to put down this form of
opinion with the severest rigour. In a letter sent by Archbishop Neile,
of York, to Bishop Laud, in 1639, reference is made to Wightman's case,
and it is stated that another man, one Trendall, deserves the same
sentence. A few years later, Paul Best, a scholarly gentleman who had
travelled in Poland and Transylvania and there adopted Anti-trinitarian
views, was sentenced by vote of the House of Commons to be hanged for
denying the Trinity. The Ordinance drawn up in 1648 by the Puritan
authorities was incredibly vindictive against what they judged to be
heretical. Happily, Oliver Cromwell and his Independents were conscious
of considerable variety of opinion in their own ranks, and apparently
the Protector secured Best's liberation. It was certainly he who saved
another and more memorable Unitarian from the extreme penalty.

This man was _John Bidle_, a clergyman and schoolmaster of Gloucester.
His Biblical studies led him to a denial of the Trinity, which he lost
no occasion of making public. During twenty years, broken by five or six
imprisonments, he persisted in the effort to diffuse Unitarian
teachings, and even to organize services for Unitarian worship. His
writings and personal influence were so widely recognized that it became
a fashion later to speak of Unitarians as 'Bidellians.' Cromwell was
evidently troubled about him, feeling repugnance to his doctrine yet
averse to ill-treat a man of unblemished character. In 1655, ten years
after Bidle's first imprisonment, the Protector sent him to the Scilly
Islands, obviously to spare him a worse fate, and allowed him a yearly
sum for maintenance. A few months before Cromwell's death, he was
brought back to London, and on being set at liberty at once renewed his
efforts. Finally, he was caught 'conventicling' in 1662 and sent to
gaol, and in September of that year he died.


The foregoing sufficiently illustrates the position confronting those
who at that time openly avowed their departure from the Trinitarian
dogma. Those who dared and suffered were no doubt but a few of those who
really shared in the heretical view; the testimony of orthodox writers
is all in support of this surmise. Equally clear is the fact that while
the religious authorities were thus rigorous a steadily deepening
undercurrent of opinion made for 'Latitude.' How far this Latitude might
properly go was a troublesome question, but at any rate some were
willing to advocate what many must have silently desired.

Apart from the extremists in the great struggle between High Church and
Puritans there existed a group of moderate men, often of shrewd
intellect, ripe scholarship, and attractive temper, who sought in a
wider liberty of opinion an escape from the tyrannical alternatives
presented by the two opposing parties. Even in connection with these
very parties there were tendencies peculiar to themselves, which could
not fail in the end to mitigate the force of their own contentions. The
High Church was mostly 'Arminian,' i.e. on the side of the more
'reasonable' theology of that age. The Puritans were wholly committed to
the principle of democratic liberty, as then understood, and in
religious matters set the Bible in the highest place of authority. It
could not be but that these several factors should ultimately tell upon
the solution of the problem of religious liberty. But the immediate
steps toward that solution had to be taken by the advocates of Latitude.
Among them were Lord Falkland, John Hales, and William Chillingworth,
the last of whom is famous for his unflinching protest that 'the Bible,
the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants,' a saying which was as
good as a charter to those who based their so-called heresies on the
explicit words of Scripture. In the second half of that seventeenth
century the work of broadening the religious mind was carried forward by
others of equal or even greater ability; it is sufficient here to name
Jeremy Taylor among Churchmen, and Richard Baxter among Nonconformists.

There was, of course, a good deal of levity, the temper of the Gallio
who cares for none of these things. But this was not the temper of the
men to whom we refer. Their greatest difficulty, indeed, arose from
their intense interest in religious truth. They could not conceive a
State which should not control men's theology in some real way. Even
Locke did not advocate toleration for the atheist, for such a man (in
his opinion) could not make the solemn asseverations on which alone
civil life could go forward. Nor would he tolerate the Roman Catholic,
but in this case political considerations swayed the balance; the
Catholic introduced the fatal principle of allegiance to a 'foreign
prince.' Taking for granted, then, the necessity for some degree of
State supervision of religion, how could this be rendered least inimical
to the general desire for liberty?

The reply to this question brought them very close to the position taken
up by _Faustus Socinus_ long before, viz. that the 'essentials' of a
Christian faith should be recognized as few and, as far as possible,
simple. Of course, it is from his name that the term 'Socinian' is
derived, a term that has often been applied, but mistakenly, to
Unitarians generally. The repeated and often bitter accusation brought
against the advocates of Latitude that they were 'Socinians,' or at
least tainted with 'Socinianism,' renders appropriate some short account
of Socinus himself.

This man was one of the sixteenth-century Italian Reformers who were
speedily crushed or dispersed by the vigilance of the Inquisition. Those
who escaped wandered far, and some were at different times members of
the Church for 'Strangers,' or foreigners, to which Edward VI assigned
the nave of the great Augustine Church, still standing at Austin Friars
in the heart of the City of London. It is Interesting to observe here
that a Dutch liberal congregation lineally inherits the place to-day.
Careful investigation has shown that among the refugees here in the
sixteenth century were some whose opinions were unsound on the Trinity;
possibly they affected English opinion in some small degree. _Loelius
Socinus_ (1525-62), uncle of _Faustus_ (1539-1604), was for a short time
in London, but interesting thinker as he was, his nephew who never set
foot in England really exerted much more influence upon English thought.

It was, however, in Poland especially that the influence of Faustus
Socinus first became prominent. That country, then flourishing under its
own princes, early became (as we have seen) the home of an
Anti-trinitarian form of Protestantism. Socinus joined this group, and
during the latter half of the sixteenth century effected much
improvement among them, organizing their congregations, establishing
schools, promoting a Unitarian literature. The educational work thus
begun achieved great success; but in his own lifetime Socinus met with
fierce opposition and even personal violence. He died in 1604; the
Polish Unitarian Church fell under the persecution of both Catholics and
orthodox Protestants, and was finally crushed out in 1660.

Important for our present study is the fact that the literary output of
these Polish Socinians was both large and of high quality. Their
'Racovian Catechism' was translated into different languages, and early
found its way into England. James I promptly had it burned, despite the
fact that the Latin version was dedicated to himself! Other books and
pamphlets followed, and even if we abate something as due to the
exaggerating fears and suspicions of the authorities, there would seem
to have been no time as the seventeenth century went on when Socinian
literature was not widely circulated here, albeit at first in secret.

Into the details of this literature there is no need to go; it is
sufficient to observe its outstanding features. They correspond in the
main to the temper of the master mind, Socinus, a man who in the absence
of imaginative genius displayed remarkable talent as a reasoner, and a
liberal disposition considerably in advance of his times. The later
Socinian writings, preserved in eight large volumes issued by the
'Polish Brethren' (Amsterdam, 1666), exhibit in addition the results of
much diligent research and scholarship, in which the wide variety of
opinion actually held by the Fathers and later Church authorities is
proved, and the moral is drawn. In the presence of so much fluctuating
teaching upon the abstruser points of the creeds was it not desirable to
abandon the pretence of a rounded system complete in every detail? Would
it not he better to simplify the faith--in other and familiar words, to
reduce the number of 'essentials'? In order to discover these
essentials, surely the inquirer must turn to the Bible, the record of
that miraculous revelation which was given to deliver man's unassisted
reason from the perils of ignorance and doubt. At the same time, man's
reason itself was a divine gift, and the Bible should be carefully and
rationally studied in order to gather its real message. As the fruit of
such study the Socinians not only propounded an Anti-trinitarian
doctrine derived from Scripture, but in particular emphasized the
arguments against the substitutionary atonement as presented in the
popular Augustinian scheme and philosophically expounded in Anselm's
_Cur Deus Homo_. Socinus himself must be credited with whatever force
belongs to these criticisms on the usual doctrine of the death of
Christ, and it may be fairly said that most of the objections advanced
in modern works on that subject are practically identical with those of
three centuries ago.

Now there is good reason for believing that towards the end of the
seventeenth century this Socinian literature really attracted much
attention in England, and probably with considerable effect. But as a
matter of fact no English translation of any part of it was made before
John Bidle's propagandist activity in the middle of the century, and we
have the explicit testimony of Bidle himself and most of the earlier
Unitarians that they were not led into their heresy by foreign books. It
was the Bible alone that made them unorthodox.

A famous illustration of this is the case of _John Milton_ (1608-74). In
1823 a long-forgotten MS. of his was found in a State office at
Westminster, and two years later it was published under the editorship
of Dr. Sumner, afterwards Bishop of Winchester. The work is entitled _A
Treatise of Christian Doctrine_. It was a late study by the poet,
laboriously comparing texts and pondering them with a mind prepared to
receive the verdict of Scripture as final, whether in agreement with
orthodoxy or not.

The most ardent of Milton's admirers, and even the most eager Unitarian,
must find the book a trial; but the latter can at least claim the author
of _Paradise Lost_ as an Anti-trinitarian, and the former may solace
himself by noticing that here, as in all the rest, Milton's soul 'dwelt
apart.' He emphatically denies that it was the works of 'heretics, so
called,' that directed and influenced his mind on the subject. We may
notice here the interesting fact that another great mind of that age,
_Sir Isaac Newton_, has left evidence of his own defection from the
orthodox view; and his correspondent _John Locke_, whose views appear to
have been even more decided, is only less conspicuous on this point
because his general services to breadth and liberality of religious
fellowship are more brilliantly striking.

Locke's _Plea for Toleration_ is widely recognized as the deciding
influence, on the literary side, which secured the passage of the
Toleration Act in 1689. Deferring for the moment further allusion to the
position created by this Act, we must at once observe the scope of one
of Locke's works which is not so popularly known. This is his
_Reasonableness of Christianity_, which with his rejoinders to critics
makes a considerable bulk in his writings. In pursuance of the aim to
'reduce the number of essentials' and to discover that in the Christian
religion which is available for simple people--the majority of
mankind--Locke examines the historical portion of the New Testament, and
presents the result. Practically, this amounts to the verdict that it is
sufficient for the Christian to accept the Messiahship of Christ and to
submit to his rule of conduct. The orthodox critics complained that he
had omitted the epistles in his summary of doctrine; his retort is
obvious: if the gospels lead to the conclusion just stated, the epistles
cannot be allowed, however weighty, to establish a contrary one. Of
course, Locke was called a 'Socinian'; but the effect of his work
remained, and we should remark that if it looked on the one hand toward
the orthodox, on the other it looked toward the sceptics and
freethinkers who began at that time a long and not ineffectual criticism
of the miraculous claims of Christianity. Locke endeavoured to convince
such minds that Christianity was in reality not an irrational code of
doctrines, but a truly practical scheme of life. In this endeavour he
was preceded by Richard Baxter, who had written on the 'Unreasonableness
of Infidelity,' and was followed during the eighteenth century by many
who in the old Dissenting chapels were leading the way towards an overt


The reader must be reminded here of a few salient facts in the religious
history of the seventeenth century. All these undercurrents of heterodox
thought, with but few and soon repressed public manifestations of its
presence, were obscured by the massive movement in Church and State.
During the Commonwealth the episcopal system was abolished, and a
presbyterian system substituted, though with difficulty and at best
imperfectly. After the Restoration of Charles II the Act of Uniformity
re-established episcopacy in a form made of set purpose as unacceptable
to the Puritans as possible. Thereupon arose the rivalry of Conformist
and Nonconformist which has ever since existed in England. Severely
repressive measures were tried, but failed to extinguish Nonconformity;
it stood irreconcilable outside the establishment. There were distinct
varieties in its ranks. The Presbyterians, once largely dominant, were
gradually overtaken numerically by the Independents. Perhaps it is
better to say that, in the circumstances of exclusion in which both were
situated, and the impossibility of maintaining a Presbyterian order and
organization, the dividing line between these two bodies of
Nonconformists naturally faded out. There was little, if anything, to
keep them apart on the score of doctrine; and in time the Presbyterians
certainly exhibited something of the tendency to variety of opinion
which had always marked the Independents. Besides these bodies, the
Baptists and Quakers stand out amid the sects comprised in
Nonconformity. In both of these there were distinct signs of
Anti-trinitarianism from time to time; as to the former, indeed, along
with the earlier Baptist movements in England and on the Continent
(especially in the Netherlands) there had always gone a streak of heresy
alarming to the authorities. Among the Quakers, William Penn is
specially notable in connection with our subject. In 1668 he was
imprisoned for publishing _The Sandy Foundation Shaken_, in which
Sabellian views were advocated. It need hardly be pointed out that among
the still more eccentric movements, if the term be allowed, heterodoxy
as to the Trinity was easy to trace.

When the Toleration Act was passed the old Nonconformity became
'Dissent,' that being the term used in the statute itself. Dissenters
were now granted freedom of worship and preaching, but only on condition
that their ministers subscribed to the doctrinal articles of the Church
of England, including, of course, belief in the Trinity. Unitarians,
therefore, were excluded from the benefit of the Act, and the general
views of Dissenters upon the subject are clear from the fact that they
took special care to have Unitarians ruled out from the liberty now
being achieved by themselves. Locke and other liberal men evidently
regretted this limitation, but the time was not ripe, and in fact the
penal law against Unitarians was not repealed till 1813. Unluckily, too,
for the Unitarians, a sharp controversy, due to their own zeal, had
broken out at the very time that the Toleration Act was shaping, and as
this had other important results we must give some attention to it.


There are six volumes, containing under this title a large number of
pamphlets and treatises, for and against the new views, published about
this period. It is the first considerable body of Unitarian literature.
Its promoter was _Thomas Firmin_, a disciple of John Bidle, on whose
behalf he interceded with Oliver Cromwell, though himself but a youth at
the time. Firmin, a prosperous citizen of London, counted among his
friends men of the highest offices in the Church, some of whom are said
to have been affected with his type of thought. Apart from his
Unitarianism he is remarkable as an enlightened philanthropist of great
breadth of sympathy. Men of very different theological bent who were
fain to seek refuge in London from persecutions abroad were aided by
funds raised by him. We should notice also that, ardent as he was in
diffusing Unitarian teachings, he had no wish at first to set up
separate Unitarian chapels; his desire was that the national Church
should include thinkers like himself. We are thus pointed into a path
which for a time at least promised more for Unitarian developments than
anything very evident in the Dissenting community.

The situation is aptly illustrated by a little book of 184 pages which
is included in the first volume of the _Tracts_. This work is specially
noteworthy as one of the first English books to use the name
'Unitarian,' though the use is here so free and without apology or
explanation that we must suppose it had already attained a certain vogue
before 1687, the date of the book. The title is _A Brief History of the
Unitarians, called also Socinians_. Neither author nor publisher is
named, but the former is known to have been the Rev. Stephen Nye, a
clergyman, whose grandfather, Philip Nye, was noted in his day as one of
the few Independents in the Westminster Assembly. Stephen Nye's book
takes the form of four Letters, ostensibly written to an unnamed
correspondent who has asked for an account of the Unitarians, 'vulgarly
called Socinians.' The opening letter states their doctrine, after the
model of Socinus--God is One Person, not Three; the Lord Christ is the
'Messenger, Servant, and Creature of God,' also the 'Son of God, because
he was begotten on the blessed Mary by the Spirit or Power of God'; 'the
Holy Ghost or Spirit, according to them, is the Power and Inspiration of
God.' (We may notice here that Bidle, otherwise agreeing with Socinus,
regarded the Holy Spirit as a living being, chief among angels.) Nye,
writing as if an impartial observer, presents the Scripture argument in
support of the doctrine of the Unitarians, 'which,' says he, 'I have so
related as not to judge or rail of their persons, because however
learned and reasonable men (which is their character among their worst
adversaries) may be argued out of their errors, yet few will be
swaggered or chode out of them.' He traces the doctrine to the earliest
Christian times, and shows the stages of Trinitarian growth.
Incidentally he says that Arian doctrines are openly professed in
Transylvania and in some churches of the Netherlands, and adds that
'Nazarene and Arian Churches are very numerous' in Turkish, Mahometan,
and pagan dominions where liberty of conscience is allowed. He mentions
celebrated scholars who have 'certainly been either Arians or Socinians,
or great favourers of them,' such as Erasmus, Grotius, Petavius,
Episcopius, and Sandius--the last-named a learned historian who had made
a special point of collecting admissions by orthodox writers of the
invalidity of all the texts in turn usually quoted in support of the
Trinity. In the subsequent chapters Nye deals _seriatim_ with such
texts, and the book ends with a commendation from 'A Gentleman, a Person
of Excellent Learning and Worth,' to whom the publisher had sent it for

Upon such levels the discussion proceeded, the skill and adroitness of
the heretics contrasting with the obvious perplexity of the orthodox,
who soon fell to accusing one another of stumbling into erroneous
statements. Dons, deans, and even bishops joined in the fray, and some
of them, notably Dr. Sherlock, Master of the Temple, got into sad
trouble with their brethren. Finally, the clergy were forbidden to
prolong the discussion, which indeed promised little satisfaction to any
but the heretics who enjoyed the difficulties of the orthodox champions.
The traditional formularies were there, and these must suffice. In the
presence of the restrictions imposed by the Toleration Act speculation
outside the Church turned towards 'Deism'--perhaps the best modern
equivalent would be 'Natural Religion.' Speculation inside the Church
had to accommodate itself to the creeds and articles, and thus there
grew up an Arianism among the clergy which was really largely diffused
and produced some important books. One of these was Dr. Samuel Clarke's
_Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity_ (1712), a work which appears to have
helped many a clergyman to ease his conscience while reciting the
authorized Trinitarian expressions, though in substance his opinions
were no less heretical than those for which men had suffered under the

A contemporary case of such suffering was that of _Thomas Emlyn_
(1663-1711), an Irish clergyman who was sentenced at Dublin in 1703 to
imprisonment which lasted for two years. This gross treatment, excited
keen criticism at home and in the American colonies, whither our
attention must soon turn. Emlyn was the first minister to call himself a
'Unitarian,' but under the pressure of the times, and in accordance with
the spirit of Clarke and the other Arianizing clergy, he found it
expedient to declare himself a 'true Scriptural Trinitarian.'


It is estimated that about a thousand Meeting Houses were erected by
Dissenters in the twenty years following the passing of the Toleration
Act. After the death of Queen Anne others were built, but in no great
numbers. The prevailing impression of the state of religion in England
during the first half of the eighteenth century is a gloomy one.
Formalism and apparently an insincere repetition of the doctrinal
phrases imposed by the law was but too evident in the State Church.
Dissent had its bright features, but these grew dim as years went on. It
must be admitted that the odds were heavy against that party. Without
conforming no one could be appointed to public office, and the
'occasional conformity' of sharing the communion service at an
established church now and again in order to qualify was at length
forbidden by the Act of 1711. The sons of the Dissenting gentry and
manufacturers were excluded from the universities, and though a shift
was made by 'Academies' here and there, the excellence of the education
they might impart could not compensate for the deprivation of the social
advantages of Oxford and Cambridge. By an Act of 1714 schools for more
than a rudimentary education were forbidden to be taught by Dissenters.
Thus, we are not surprised to hear, considerable defection went on, and
early in the century congregations began to dwindle. As it proceeded
some became very small indeed, and many died out altogether.

The trusts upon which the Meeting Houses were founded were frequently
free from any close definitions of the doctrines supposed to be held by
the congregation. Much discussion arose in later years as to the purport
of this freedom; perhaps there was some expectation of changing opinion
in the future, but more probably the doctrinal status was taken for
granted. It must be remembered that no Dissenting preacher could legally
officiate without previously 'subscribing' to the doctrinal articles of
the Church of England or their equivalents in the Westminster Assembly's
catechisms. Thus, while the Dissenter might alter the terms of his
liturgy to a degree not allowed to the Churchman (though the latter
would in those lax days go pretty far sometimes), he was still supposed
to be 'sound' on the fundamental creeds. It would appear to be a
fortunate accident for Unitarian development in some of these old
Dissenting congregations that, either the prevalent understanding or a
hope for speedy inclusion in the national Church, or a prevision on the
part of liberal-minded men here and there, left so largely undefined the
basis of religious union among them, as congregations.

However that may be, it is certain that a degree of reluctance to
'subscribe' began to show itself, and this, we surmise, was often due to
other reasons than liberality pure and simple. That there were
broad-minded men who, while conscientiously orthodox themselves, refused
to exclude unorthodox ministers from their fellowship is shown by a
notable instance among the Baptists. Before 1700, Matthew Caffyn, one of
their body, being charged with Anti-trinitarian opinions, was still
retained in membership by vote of the General Baptist Assembly, this
being the first instance of any organization's formal acceptance of
latitude respecting the Trinity. In Ireland, deterred no doubt by the
harsh punishment of Emlyn, there was natural hesitation in avowing such
latitude; but in 1721 a division began in Ulster between those who
insisted on 'subscribing' the creed anew and those who opposed; and a
few years later the 'non-subscribers,' being excluded from the Synod,
formed a new Presbytery which in course of time became distinctly
Unitarian. The historic event for English 'non-subscription' was a
declaration made at a meeting of Dissenting ministers, Independents,
Baptists, and Presbyterians, held in 1719 at Salter's Hall, London.
Certain Exeter ministers had become unsound in doctrine, and refused to
renew their subscription to the creeds and articles, claiming to believe
'the Scripture'--a well-understood expression in those days. The
question of their exclusion was referred to London, and there again the
point of renewed 'subscription' was raised before the vote on the Exeter
case was taken. By seventy-three to sixty-nine it was decided that the
declaration of faith should be confined to 'the words of Scripture'--as
Sir Joseph Jekyll put it, 'the Bible carried it by four.' This was
widely recognized as setting open the door for liberty in matters of
religion, and the interesting fact should be recorded that Independents
and Presbyterians were found on both sides.

Here, then, we may for the present leave the English development; it was
slow, tentative, for the most part obscure. In one direction and another
the movement of thought might be perceived, in the Church, among the
'Congregationals,' or Baptists, or Presbyterians, as the case might be.
It was only long after that much preponderance of heretical opinion was
distinctive of Presbyterian congregations. In the Academies men like
_Philip Doddridge_ (1702-51), the hymn writer, were affording room at
least for ample discussion among the students, and moderate as his own
opinions were he is credited with having made so-called 'orthodoxy' a
byword. The Independents, Caleb Fleming and _Nathaniel Lardner_
(1684-1768), led the way to 'Humanitarian' views, the latter being a
learned writer of much influence. It is said that another great hymn
writer, Isaac Watts, finally shared the Humanitarian view. On the whole,
with some notable exceptions, the Dissenting preachers seem to have been
decorously dull, and uninspiringly ethical. Without the zeal of the
'enthusiast,' whom they severely scanned from afar, and seeking in all
things to prove that Christianity was so 'reasonable' as to be identical
with 'rational philosophy,' it is little wonder that when the popular
mind began to be stirred by a religious 'Revival' they were not its
apostles, but mostly its critics. This is precisely the point where we
may fitly turn to consider the growth of Unitarianism in New England.



As in the Old Country, so in the colonies of North America, a great
evangelical revival took place towards the middle of the eighteenth
century. John Wesley the Arminian, and George Whitefield the Calvinist,
were the great apostles of this movement, and the latter especially was
very influential in America. The English revivalists were not alone,
however; among the most powerful leaders in the colonies was Jonathan
Edwards, whose name ranks very high in the records of religious
philosophy in the States. Despite preliminary obstacles this preacher of
the most stern and unflinching determinism produced a quite
extraordinary effect at last. As usually happens, his dogmas were more
easily repeated by others than his reasoning; violent excitement ran
through the colonies, and it was this that gave a decisive turn to the
liberalism which ultimately developed into a very memorable phase of
Unitarianism. The preceding steps may be briefly indicated.

A familiar epigram preserves the acid truth that the Puritan emigrants
who left England in the seventeenth century went to North America in
order to worship God in their own way, and to compel everyone else to do
the same. Religious liberty was certainly not understood by them as it
is understood to-day. The sufferings of the Baptists and Quakers, for
example, make a sad chapter of New England history. About the middle of
the century, _Roger Williams_ (1599-1683), having ventilated opinions
contrary to the general Calvinism, was driven out of Salem, where he had
ministered to a grateful church. His pleas for a real religious freedom
were in vain, and he was forced to wander from the colonial settlements
and find a precarious home among the Indians. After much privation, he
succeeded in establishing a new colony at Rhode Island, where a more
liberal atmosphere prevailed.

It does not appear that Williams had much influence in the general world
of religious thought, but two things at least were favourable to the
modification of orthodoxy. On the one hand there was inevitably a looser
system of supervision in a new country, and the pressure of penal law
could not be exerted so effectually as in England. On the other hand the
organization of worship and teaching, though intended to be strict and
complete, an intention fairly successful in practice, was actually
founded upon broad principles. Each township maintained its 'parish
church,' but this, originally of a Low Church or 'Presbyterian' type,
was usually accommodated as years went on to a Congregational model.
These churches were looked upon as centres of religious culture for the
respective communities by whose regular contributions they were
supported and endowed. The 'covenants' by which the members bound
themselves were often expressed in terms quite simple, and even
touching; the colonists were in the main faithful to the parting
injunction of the famous Pastor John Robinson, who sped the 'Pilgrim
Fathers' on their way with the assurance that the Lord had 'more light
and truth to break forth from His Holy Word.' Occasionally, it is
expressly declared by the covenanting members that theirs is an attitude
of devout expectation of religious growth.

As would naturally be expected, the conditions of the earlier
generations in the colonies were not in favour of a deeply studious
ministry; the leaders were more frequently men of shrewd and practical
piety than profound scholars. As things became more settled, and
especially after the Toleration Act had secured a more assured state of
feeling at home, the minds of men were set at liberty in a greater
degree. Locke's works were carried across the sea, and Dr. Clarke's
Arianizing writings soon followed. Apparently, the first stir of any
importance was produced by the scandal of the punishment of Thomas
Emlyn, the Irish clergyman who has been previously referred to. Emlyn's
writings received a great advertisement, and although he managed, like
Clarke, to avoid further legal difficulties by publishing a statement of
his adherence to a 'Scriptural Trinity,' his defection from the orthodox
dogma was clear enough and his arguments against that dogma remained.
Another case which was notorious in those days was that of _William
Whiston_ (1667-1752), the well-known translator of the works of
Josephus, who was dismissed from his professorship at Cambridge in 1710
for Arianism. A prolific writer and a shrewd debater, Whiston played no
small part in the general leavening of opinion.

But probably the most direct of the literary influences in this
direction came from the pen of _Dr. John Taylor_ (1694-1761), one of the
most able and learned of the Presbyterian divines. His treatises on
_Original Sin_ (1740) and the _Atonement_ (1751) dealt with subjects of
the profoundest importance in relation to the usual Trinitarian scheme
of doctrine. Preferring, for his own part, to be known by no sectarian
name but to be reckoned among 'Christians only,' Taylor was recognized
far and wide as a writer extremely 'dangerous' to the ordinary type of
belief. When the American revivalists were at their height, there were
many quiet and staid New England ministers who found in Taylor a welcome
ally against the extravagances which they witnessed and deplored. The
more logical the Calvinist was, the more vivid in depicting the horrors
of predestined damnation, the more vigorous these men became in
denouncing such a doctrine. Perhaps the growing sense of individual
liberty and personal rights had much to do with the reaction. A theory
based upon the postulate of an absolute and unconditioned sovereignty
divine did not accord with the growing democratic temper. Preachers
began to insist, and hearers to agree, that, whatever 'salvation' is, it
must be reasonable if reasonable creatures are to enjoy its benefits.
Here also, as among the English latitude-men, the conviction grew that
the essentials of a Christian belief must be few and simple and these
such as plain men could understand and discuss; and here, as among the
sober Dissenters at home, men looked askance on unintelligent outbursts
of emotion.

The process of change was not very fast, and a good many who were
sensible of change in their opinions were reluctant to accept new
doctrinal designations. Arians they might be, but they preferred to be
known as standing by a 'Scriptural Christianity.' For, whatever new
books might be written, the Bible remained their chief study and their
support in discussion. Keen, rational rather than mystical, yet deeply
interested in moral progress and human elevation, these American divines
were much of a mind with their English brethren whose path lay in the
same direction. One of the most influential preachers was _Charles
Chauncey_ (1706-87); who for sixty years was minister at the 'First
Church,' Boston. His theology was Arian and 'Universalist' (i.e. holding
the doctrine of a final universal salvation); his Anti-Calvinism came
out forcibly in his protests against the revivalist excesses. It is
recorded of him that in his youth, disgusted by noisy fanatics, he
prayed God never to make him an orator. His prayer was granted--and
still he was a power!


With the rise of the new liberalism in the American colonies no name is
more conspicuous than that of _Jonathan Mayhew_ (1721-66), whose
eloquence was of a more modern type than most of his day. He is credited
with having deeply moved many who became leaders in turn, whether as
ministers or laymen. After the interruption of normal development
inevitable during the War of Independence, things moved more rapidly.
The French Revolution evoked the warmest sympathy in the United States,
and its effect on religion there was largely to increase a sense of the
worth of man. 'Universalism,' the final restoration of all, became a
conspicuous doctrine with some. The need for practical measures to
uplift the general life here was a theme more to the mind of others. The
distinctly 'Unitarian' trend was from the first associated with this
eager attention to the higher culture. Harvard College, in the very
heart of New England, rapidly developed into a fruitful source of the
newer ideas, which were embodied in the lives of 'statesmen, merchants,
physicians, lawyers, and teachers'; and thus the community, in all its
more vigorous members, became charged with a fresh conception of life
and religion.

In the first decade of the nineteenth century we begin to trace
publications more or less distinctly Unitarian. One of these was the
_Monthly Anthology_, the pioneer among American literary magazines. One
of its two editors was the Rev. William Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo
Emerson. As the divergence of ideas grew more distinct debate began to
be fierce. The new magazine took a bold line, while many liberals were
still hesitating. In 1808 the trouble came to the surface. Harvard was
denounced by the orthodox party, in consequence of the appointment of a
liberal minister, Henry Ware, to a professorship involving pastoral care
of the students. An orthodox rival school was set up at Andover. A few
years later a pamphlet appeared giving letters alleged to have been sent
to England by Boston ministers reporting that a certain number were
Unitarians. The name was unwelcome at the time, especially because it
was associated with the 'humanitarianism' then becoming widely taught in
England. The implicated ministers, being charged with cowardly evasion,
replied with warmth; they were, in fact, mostly Arians, and thus their
views really were different from the English type. Moreover, again in
contrast with the English, they expressed strong dislike of controversy;
all they asked was to be left alone to proclaim the 'Simple
Christianity' in which they believed.

The upshot showed, however, that controversy was not to be avoided, and
during twenty years from 1815 onwards it raged more or less severely. An
epoch in this long and regrettable warfare was marked by a sermon
preached at Baltimore in 1819. The preacher was one of the most famous
men on the Unitarian roll, _William Ellery Channing_ (1780-1842).
Already eminent, he continued to hold a position unique in the religious
life of New England; his saintly character and his noble if simple
eloquence made him a leader in spite of himself. For a long time he had
maintained a mediating position--all through his life he resolutely
disclaimed sectarianism; but in 1819, after years of discussion, it was
obvious that, for good or evil, the old dogma and the new spirit lay far
apart. From that date liberals and conservatives in the old
Congregational system of New England were divided, and 'Unitarian
Christianity,' which was the subject of Channing's discourse, was a
recognized type in the land. In 1825 the American Unitarian Association
was founded. It was but a struggling society at first, not for lack of
sympathy with its principle, but because many Unitarians, like Channing,
so strongly disliked the notion of forming a new sect that they took
little interest in methods of propagandism common to most religious


By a mere coincidence the British and Foreign Unitarian Association was
founded almost on the same day in 1825 as the American Unitarian
Association. This step evidently implies a great change in Unitarian
affairs since the times of that early Dissent towards which attention
has been previously directed. We must now endeavour to trace the change
in detail.

It will be remembered that tendencies to Anti-trinitarian thought--using
that term to cover all the varieties of heretical opinion on the
subject--were manifested both within the established Church and without.
As regards the latter phase, the evidence is clear that, whatever the
doctrinal 'subscription' was worth which Dissenting preachers had to
make, there was a decided lapse from the orthodox standard on the part
of a considerable number. This lapse, however, was for the most part
left obscure while the pulpits resounded with 'plain, moral discourses.'
Now and again, one bolder than the rest ventured to discuss controverted
points of doctrine. Such a man was _Joseph Priestley_ (1733-1804), whose
career is interesting as an illustration of the growth of opinion, and
especially important in regard to the denominational advance of
Unitarianism. He began life as a Calvinistic Independent, and became
Arminian, Arian, and Humanitarian in turn. His devotion to science is
well known, and he ranks with Lavoisier as an original discoverer of
oxygen. He was an indefatigable student, a voluminous writer, a ready
controversialist; and though his speaking was marred by imperfect
utterance he attained to considerable influence in public address. No
Unitarian leader hitherto has displayed more activity, and few, if any,
have possessed greater controversial ability than he. His opinions,
indeed, were in some respects peculiar to himself; he called himself a
Socinian, but it was with a difference, and no Unitarian to-day would
endorse some of his main positions. But his work for the cause was
invaluable, and his personal character is held in the highest esteem.
Originally he would have preferred that the Unitarians should remain as
a 'liberal leaven' in the churches; eventually he became the chief
organizer of Unitarian worship and propaganda.

The first 'Unitarian Church,' however, was due to a clergyman,
_Theophilus Lindsey_ (1723-1808). After long and arduous efforts to
secure relaxation from the doctrinal subscription imposed on the clergy,
Lindsey resigned his living at Catterick, in 1773, facing poverty and
hardship with a courage that elicited warm commendations, though few
were found to imitate the example. In spite of the terrors of the law,
now becoming a dead letter, he opened a Unitarian chapel in Essex
Street, London, in 1774. The service was on the episcopal model, but
with a liturgy adapted to 'the worship of the Father only.' This feature
has been claimed to be the distinctive characteristic of modern
Unitarianism. It will be remembered that Socinus inculcated a sort of
subordinate worship of Christ, and the Arians of course held to the same
practice, Humanitarianism, the view that Jesus Christ was truly a man
and in no sense a deity, obviously made it impossible to offer him the
adoration due to God alone. This view had been slowly spreading since
the days of Lardner; Priestley, Lindsey, and the active men of the party
generally shared it. There were exceptions still, however. _Dr. Richard
Price_ (1723-91), a London Presbyterian divine of great eminence,
remembered as one of the founders of actuarial science, held by his
Arianism to the last; this did not prevent him from lending a hand in
the organization of the Unitarian forces, but there was for a time some
difficulty on the subject. The more ardent professors of the new
doctrine of 'the sole worship of the Father' were for excluding the
Arians from fellowship, and one of the societies then formed actually
adhered to a rather offensive formula on the subject till about 1830.

A considerable number of liberal Churchmen of the laity, including some
of rank, supported Lindsey's movement. An indication of changing moods
is given in the fact that in 1770 an Act was passed permitting the
Dissenting ministers to preach provided that they made a declaration of
belief in the Scriptures as containing the revealed will of God. This
was considered by many a welcome relief from the requirement of the
Toleration Act that the minister must subscribe to the doctrinal
articles of the established Church, and it was certainly a much less
definite test. Priestley, for his part, however, regretted the change;
the old subscription was in reality ceasing to be enforced, and he was
afraid lest persecuting vigilance would set in again. As a matter of
fact, the Act of 1779, long obsolete, has never been repealed, but very
few people are aware of its existence. Priestley's many controversies
tended to excite a good deal of interest, some of it more than
unfriendly, in the new movement. In 1791, when a party of Unitarians
dined at Birmingham in celebration of the French Revolution, serious
riots broke out, and Priestley, who was then minister of the New Meeting
there, was made a principal victim though he was not one of the diners.
His house and library were burned, and he barely escaped the violence of
the mob. Other residences were also destroyed, and the Old and New
Meetings were burnt down. Ultimately, in 1794, Priestley sought asylum
in America from the ill-will that pursued him even in London. Bishop
Horsley, one of his sturdiest opponents in controversy, said, 'the
patriarch of the sect is fled.'

It was earlier in the same year that the first organized Unitarian
propaganda took shape in a _Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian
Knowledge_. District unions were soon formed, and in 1806 a Unitarian
Fund was raised by means of which the first itinerant missionary of the
body, _Richard Wright_ (1764-1836), was sent literally from end to end
of Great Britain. In 1813, Unitarians were set free from legal penalties
by the repeal, so far as they were concerned, of the exceptive clauses
of the Toleration Act, this relief coming twenty years after Charles
James Fox had tried to secure it for them. The member who was successful
was Mr. William Smith, who sat for Norwich, and whose granddaughter was
Florence Nightingale. In 1819 an Association was founded to protect and
extend the Civil Rights of Unitarians. It was by combining the three
societies--the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the Fund, and
Civil Rights Society, that the British and Foreign Unitarian Association
was formed, as has been said, in 1825.

In order to understand fairly the scope and spirit of that earlier
Unitarian period, thus at last organized in full legal recognition,
though still suffering from the prejudice inevitably created by more
than a century of legal condemnation, a few salient points should be
kept in view. First, the heterogeneous elements in the 'body,' if it
could be called such, were a source of weakness in regard to united
action. Instead of belonging, as their American brethren did, to one
ecclesiastical group, and that the dominant one, the English Unitarians
included Dissenters of different tendencies and traditions, with a few
recruits from the State Church. The 'Presbyterian' congregations, as
they were not very strictly called, were the backbone of the 'body';
many of these, however, were very weak, and in the course of a few
decades some were destined to follow those which had died out in the
eighteenth century. Converts not infrequently lent new force in the
pulpit, but at the risk of substituting an eager missionary spirit for
the usual staid decorum of the old families. In these the ideals of
breadth, simplicity, and moral excellence were stronger than the desire,
natural in a convert, to win the world to one's opinion.

Again, it must be borne in mind that then, as generally, there were men
whose thoughts ran ahead of those of the majority. Priestley, for
example, while adhering to the idea that the Christian revelation had
been guaranteed by miracles, had abandoned belief in the Virgin birth as
early as 1784, and went so far as to maintain that Jesus was not
impeccable and had certainly entertained erroneous ideas about
demoniacal possession. Probably there were very few who had arrived at
these conclusions even thirty years later; some Unitarians repudiated
them at a much later period. The miraculous element, however, was
formerly accepted by all. So was the authority of Scripture, though here
again men like Priestley were ahead of the rest in bringing to the study
of the Bible the principles of historical criticism. _Thomas Belsham_
(1750-1829), a typical Unitarian scholar and divine at this period, was
one of several who carried forward the science of Biblical
interpretation, and by the use of a vigorous and fearless intellect
anticipated views of Genesis and the Pentateuch which did not find
general acceptance till much later.

It is customary for Unitarians themselves to-day to look back on these
years of early zeal and controversy with but a qualified sympathy, so
much was still cherished in the body as a whole that is no longer
tenable, and again so much that was undreamed then is indispensable to
modern thought. One of the greatest of Unitarians, Dr. Martineau, whose
important share in the development of their ideas and life must be
considered farther on, referred in a discourse of about forty years ago
to three distinct stages in Unitarian theology. First, he pointed to the
significance of the struggle for the principle of 'Unity in the Divine
causation,' as against a doctrine which, as Unitarians maintain,
endeavours in vain by words to prevent a triplicity of 'Persons' from
sliding into a group of three Divine Beings. This struggle marks in
great part the whole track by which the reader has come thus far in the
present story. The second stage, according to Dr. Martineau, is that in
which the Conscience of Man is emphasized, in virtue of the belief in a
real responsibility and an actual power to choose the right or the
wrong. This 'Religion of Conscience' he sees especially illustrated in
the principles enunciated and the work accomplished by Channing; perhaps
it would be fair to say that many who had preceded the American leader
were imbued with a measure of his wisdom when they insisted, as we have
seen, on the adaptability of the pure Gospel message to the needs and
understanding of men everywhere, and declared that its aim was 'to make
men good and keep them so.' The third stage, which Dr. Martineau
considered to be fully begun at the time of his sermon (1869), is that
of the 'Religion of the Spirit,' in which the ideas of the Divine
Sovereignty and the Human Duty are rounded into vital beauty and
completeness by the idea of the actual relation of Man to God as a Son
to a Father.

We have referred in advance to this compendious view in order to show
whither the sequel is to lead us, but before this all-important
development can be traced there remains one more piece of external
history to be supplied. Happily it may be dealt with summarily.


The bitterness of theological discussion which troubled the earlier
decades of the nineteenth century received new provocation in the shape
of litigation about property. Both in England and America the right of
Unitarianism was challenged to hold those Meeting Houses and Parish
Churches respectively, to which allusion was made in our opening pages.
In New England the chief matter of contention was settled as early as
1818. In the Old Country the struggle was much more protracted, and was
only brought to an end by special legislation in 1844.

The American dispute may be briefly stated. In consequence of the
growing and unconcealed departure of the liberal Congregationalists from
the doctrinal standards of the past there arose a feeling among the
conservatives that the former group should go out of fellowship, but the
communal conditions of the parish made this out of the question. All the
citizens had a right to share in the provision for religion which was
made at the general cost. An acute difficulty, however, presented itself
in regard to the choice of minister. Should he be of the orthodox or the
heterodox type? The appointment being for life made an election most
critical. An incident of this kind occurred at Dedham, Mass., and coming
into the courts led to a decision in favour of the liberals, i.e. of the
'Unitarianizers.' The case was argued in this way: A majority of members
on the register being in favour of one type, are they at liberty to
choose as they will? Or have the citizens at large, being contributories
to the maintenance funds, a right to vote? It was decided by the courts
that the popular right was valid as against the wishes of any inner and
covenanted group of worshippers. This meant, in substance, that orthodox
voters were outvoted by heterodox voters who had not enrolled themselves
by a religious pledge. The chagrin of the defeated conservatives was
naturally great, and harsh language ensued. The upshot was unaffected,
of course, and time alone has had to soften the angry feelings which for
a long time kept the two wings of New England Congregationalism hostile,
to the regret of good men on each side. In recent years very friendly
relationships have been happily set up, while the Unitarians remain
undisputed heirs of the old Parish Churches. It should be carefully
noted, however, that in 1833 the communal support of religion was
abolished, and all religious bodies in the United States have been
dependent since then upon private resources.

In England the orthodox opponents of Unitarianism tried to oust the
heterodox congregations of the old Meeting Houses. A suit for possession
of endowment funds which was finally decided against the Unitarians of
Wolverhampton began in 1817; and a strongly organized attack followed in
1825. A rich fund for ministerial support, Lady Hewley's Charity, was,
after actions carried to the highest court, declared not to be
applicable to the assistance of Unitarians. This decision, in 1842,
looked like the beginning of the end for the tenure of the Meeting
Houses themselves, the Wolverhampton case being now decided on the lines
of the Hewley judgment. But an Act of Parliament--the _Dissenters'
Chapels Act_--passed in 1844 (owing in some part to the powerful support
of Mr. W.E. Gladstone), secured the congregations in undisturbed
possession. The principle of this law applies to all places of worship
held upon 'Open,' i.e. non-doctrinal Trusts; where the congregation can
show that the present usage agrees substantially with that of the past
twenty-five years, it is not to be ejected. At the time of this
litigation the term 'English Presbyterian' came much into vogue among
Unitarians, and for some time there was a marked abatement of
propagandist zeal.



Having now followed the fortunes of the Unitarians up to the point where
they obtained a recognized position among religious organizations, we
need not enter into the minute details of their denominational history.
Less than seventy years have elapsed since the passing of the
Dissenters' Chapels Act, and less than a century since the judgment in
the Dedham case. The congregational increase, though substantial, has
not been great; Unitarians claim rather to have influenced the advance
of thought in other denominations than to have created one more sect. At
present their numerical strength may be estimated from the following

In the British Isles and colonial centres there are nearly four hundred
places of worship, and a similar number of ministers; in many cases the
congregations are small, and the list of ministers includes some that
are retired and others who are regarded as 'lay-workers' only. There are
about five hundred ministers and congregations in the United States. Two
or three colleges in England and a similar number in America train
students for the ministry, but many join the ranks from other
denominations. Women are eligible as ministers, but actual instances are
rare. Local unions exist to a fairly adequate extent. In England and
America National Conferences meet at intervals; the Unitarian
Associations continuously publish literature, send out lecturers, and
promote new congregations. There are several periodicals. The most
noteworthy in England is the _Hibbert Journal_, which follows in the
line of other reviews of high standard in past years, and which
specially illustrates the spirit animating a large and influential
section of the body. It is promoted for free and open intercourse
between serious thinkers of all schools of theological and social
philosophy, and is reported to have a circulation quite beyond that of
any similar publication. The 'Hibbert Lectures,' connected with the
trust founded in 1847 for the diffusion of 'Christianity in its simplest
and most intelligible form,' further exemplify the broad interpretation
of this duty. Scholars of different churches have contributed to the
series of volumes well known to religious students. The principle
followed in general is stated in the oft-quoted phrase--'Free Learning
and Free Teaching in Theology.'

It is needful, perhaps, to guard against the inference that the
Unitarian movement is only, or in the main, an intellectual one. Since
1833, in consequence of a visit by _Dr. Joseph Tuckerman_, from Boston,
'Domestic Missions' were founded, to promote the religious improvement
of the neglected poor, and to-day this kind of work still goes on with
much social benefit in our larger cities. Similar benevolence has marked
the American side. Many congregations, too, are composed largely of
working-people, and in recent years a Van Mission has carried the
Unitarian message into the country villages, mining districts, and other
populous parts. These aspects of their activity are apt to be obscured
owing to a pardonable disposition of Unitarianism to point to the 'great
names' associated with their churches. In the American list, for
example, we find Emerson, Longfellow, O.W. Holmes, Bryant,
Hawthorne--Whittier and Lowell had close affinities; Bancroft, Motley,
Prescott, Parkman; Margaret Fuller, Louisa Alcott; and statesmen,
jurists, merchants, and scientists too numerous to set down here.
Obviously, the English side cannot rival such a brilliant roll; the
_élite_ of society has not been here, as in New England, on the side of
the newer theology. Yet English Unitarianism has its eminent mimes also,
alike in literature, science, politics, philanthropy, and scholarship of
various kinds; and the body is credited with a civic strength out of
proportion to the number of its avowed adherents, while its
philanthropies have been of the same broad and enlightened kind as those
which enrich the American record.


More important to the general public is the question of ideas which now
prevail among Unitarians. Our preceding sketch has shown some of the
results of the freedom claimed by them in one generation after another.
We have now to see in what respects the nineteenth century effected a
further change.

In the first third of the century there can be no doubt that Unitarians
adhered tenaciously, but with discrimination, to the idea of the final
authority of the Bible. In this respect they were like Protestants
generally, and though they nevertheless brought 'reason' to bear on
their reading of the Scriptures, other Protestants did the same, if to a
less degree. Both in the United States and in England this attitude was
still common up till nearly the middle of the century, and instances
could easily be found later still. The miraculous element was thus
retained, though as we have seen as early as in Priestley's case there
was a tendency to eliminate some part of the supernatural. That a
thoroughgoing belief could be stated in good round terms is evident from
the following sentence taken from a book issued by _Dr. Orville Dewey_
(1794-1882), one of the most eloquent pulpit orators of his day. The
book is entitled _Unitarian Belief_, its date is 1839. Referring to the
Bible the author says, 'Enough is it for us, that the matter is divine,
the doctrines true, the history authentic, the miracles real, the
promises glorious, the threatenings fearful.' There is good ground for
taking this as a fair example of the ideas prevalent among American
Unitarians at that time. Perhaps the statement was made the more
emphatic in view of some remarks recently uttered by two young men whose
influence, along with more general tendencies, proved fatal to the old

One of these young men was _James Martineau_ (1805-1900), who at the age
of thirty-one was already known as a writer and preacher far above the
average. He was then resident in Liverpool, where he wrote a remarkable
little book with the title _The Rationale of Religious Inquiry_ (1886).
More than fifty years later he published an even more remarkable book,
_The Seat of Authority in Religion_. There is, indeed, half a century of
development between the two books, yet the germinal thought of the
second may be detected in the first. The point at issue is where the
ultimate appeal should lie in matters of religion. With the keen eye for
the weaknesses of his fellow-worshippers which always characterized him,
Martineau said, 'The Unitarian takes with him [to the study of the
Bible] the persuasion that nothing can be scriptural which is not
rational and universal.' This fixed opinion, which he ranks along with
the foregone conclusions of other types of theologian, was just that
which we have observed in the general course of liberals from Locke
onwards. Though in a note Martineau concedes that his words may somewhat
strongly accentuate the common opinion, he represents Unitarians as
virtually saying, 'If we could find the doctrines of the Trinity and the
Atonement, and everlasting torments in the Scriptures, we should believe
them; we reject them, not because we deem them unreasonable, but because
we perceive them to be unscriptural. For my own part, I confess myself
unable to adopt this language'--not, he says, but that he does think
them actually 'unscriptural.' 'But I am prepared to maintain, that if
they were in the Bible, they would still be incredible.... Reason is the
ultimate appeal, the supreme tribunal, to which the test of even
Scripture must be brought.' It abates nothing from the force of these
declarations that then, and for some time afterwards, Martineau himself
accepted the miracles. The 'old school' perceived the sharp edge of such
a weapon, and its wielder was during many years regarded as a
'dangerous' innovator.

The other young writer to whom reference has been made was _Ralph Waldo
Emerson_ (1803-82), son and grandson of ministers of the liberal
Congregational type in New England and himself for a short time minister
of the Second Church, Boston. Preferring the freedom of the lecturing
platform, Emerson had already withdrawn from the ministry, but in 1838
he gave an 'Address to the Senior Class' in the Divinity School,
Harvard, which proved a second landmark in the history of American
Unitarianism. Nineteen years before, Channing had decisively pointed out
that Unitarianism and orthodoxy are two distinct theologies. In the
Divinity School Address, Emerson maintained that the idea of
'supernaturalism' is rendered obsolete by a recognition of the reality
of things. Bringing a gift of pungent prose to the service of a poetic
imagination, Emerson startled the decorously dignified authorities of
the New England pulpit; he 'saved us,' says Lowell, 'from the body of
this death.' He pointed from the record of miracles past to an
ever-present miracle. To the illumination of 'reason,' which Unitarians
had followed so loyally--within the proviso of a special revelation--he
brought the light of a mystic intuition. Some of his elders judged it to
be 'false fire' perilously akin to the 'enthusiasm' which their
predecessors had so often condemned. In daring simplicity he urged that
there had been 'noxious exaggeration about the _person_ of Jesus.' 'The
soul knows no persons.' The divine is always latent in the human.
Revelation is not ended--as if God were dead!

The shock to the old-fashioned minds was immense. Long and far-sounding
debate followed, though Emerson, with provoking self-possession,
declined to argue. He simply 'announced.' This oracular attitude
certainly affected some of the younger men greatly, but fortunately for
the success of the new gospel one of these younger men translated the
oracular into a more popular and reasoned form. Three years after
Emerson's Address, _Theodore Parker_ (1810-60) completed the Unitarian
trilogy by a sermon on _The Transient and the Permanent in Theology_. It
may be said to have done for Emerson's message the kind of service
rendered by Huxley to Darwin's. Parker at once became a marked man; most
Unitarian pulpits were closed against him, but a large hall accommodated
the vast crowds that came to hear him. It is doubtful if such numerous
congregations ever listened to a Unitarian before or since. He continued
an arduous work for some fifteen years, but it wore him out before his
time. He was an erudite scholar and a prolific writer. Discarding the
claims of Christianity to be the only 'divine revelation,' he based his
clear and always optimistic theism on the broad facts of human
experience. Ardently interested in social and political questions, he
poured satire without stint on the religious defenders of slavery, and
himself dared all risks along with the foremost abolitionists. Such a
man could not but count for much; and though his radical views in
theology greatly disturbed for many years the conservatives in the
body--for Unitarianism itself had by this time a well-defined
conservative type--they could not fail to permeate the minds of the

Of Emerson's own life-work this is hardly the place to speak at large,
but in connection with the development of that 'Religion of the Spirit'
in which Dr. Martineau sees the culmination of the theological progress
of Unitarianism, Emerson's share must be allowed to be a large one. When
Dean Stanley visited America he is said to have reported that he had
heard sermons from many pulpits, but 'Emerson was the one preacher in
them all.' It is certain that at one time the style, if not also the
thought, of Emerson was extensively copied by the preachers, not always
to the gain of solidity. A degree of jauntiness appears in the worse
specimens of these imitations, and Lord Morley's criticism that Emerson
himself was too oblivious of the dark side of human suffering and guilt
would doubtless apply to much of the Unitarian eloquence at one time
inspired by his witching voice.

This, however, is but one side of the American message in the nineteenth
century; evidence abounds that a 'Christocentric' type of teaching, with
adhesion to much of old material of the Gospels, held its own till a
generation ago, and its peculiar accent is not without echoes to-day. On
the whole it is probable that, as at the beginning of the century, the
'liberals' in New England Congregationalism were somewhat shocked at
some of the daring views of the Priestleyan Unitarians in England, so
even towards its close the general position of thought was more
conservative there than was the rule here. Certainly, also, there was a
deep, tender tone manifested even where opinion was most radical among
the American Unitarians, and of this no better proof can be cited than
the large number of hymns of a high order both of thought and expression
which have been written among them. They serve to show that a frank
acceptance of the evolutionary philosophy by no means necessarily
entails the decay of devout personal piety or the loss of beautiful
ideals. Among the American hymnists the following are specially eminent,
and their productions are often to be found in 'orthodox' collections:
_Samuel Longfellow_ (brother to H.W.L.), _Samuel Johnson_, _W.C.
Gannett_, _J.W. Chadwick_, and _F.L. Hosmer_.

On the English side other sweet singers have appeared: 'Nearer, my God,
to Thee,' by _Sarah Flower Adams_, is a world-renowned hymn; and if the
names of Channing, Emerson, and Parker cannot be equally matched here in
their several spheres, there has been no lack of able and scholarly
representatives, and one name at least is of universal reputation. That
name, of course, is _Martineau_. The effective changes from the old
Unitarianism to the modern type are best displayed in the story of his
long life and the monumental books which bear his name. Reference has
been made to his early brilliance; its promise was amply fulfilled in
the course of a career more than usually prolonged. The note of original
thought sounded in the _Rationale_ (see p. 63[*]) was to be heard again
and again in other and more permanent utterances, and not seldom to the
perplexity and dismay of many of his Unitarian brethren. Alike in
religious philosophy, in attitude to the Scriptures, and in matters of
church organization, he found himself from time to time at variance with
most of those close around him. His philosophical and critical influence
was in large measure victorious; in regard to organization the results
were less satisfactory to himself. It will be instructive to observe his

[*: third paragraph of Modern Unitarianism: II. Ideas and Tendencies.]

As regards philosophy, it is necessary to remember the influence of
Priestley and Belsham. These Unitarian leaders, following Hartley's
psychology, stood for a _determinism_ which was complete. God was the
Great Cause of all; not the 'First Cause' of the deistic conception,
operative only at the beginning of the chain of events and now remote
from man and the world, but present and immediate, exhibiting his divine
purposes in all the beings created by him. Christianity, in the view of
this school, was the means by which God had been pleased to make known
the grand consummation of this life in a perfected life to come; Jesus,
the Messiah, was the chosen revealer of the divine will, and his
resurrection was the supreme and necessary guarantee that his message
was true. Martineau, like the rest of his generation, was brought up in
this necessarianism; but its tendency, as he reviewed and tested it, was
to do violence to certain irrepressible factors of the spiritual life.
It is only fair to say, there was even in this Priestleyan school room
for a mystical mood; but on the whole it appeared dry and intellectual,
lacking the warm and operative forces of a deeper devotion.

It is interesting to find that Martineau himself confessed that the
freshening touch upon his own inner life came in a closer contact with
evangelical piety. His mind was to the end of his many years readily
responsive to congenial impulses, let them come whence they would, and
no small part of his service to Unitarianism consists in the broader
sympathies which he generated in its circles. To Channing, also, he
expressed gratitude for helping to wake in him a new sense of the
meaning of life and religion. It was Channing's characteristic to insist
on the significance of personality. The worth, the depth, and also the
rights of the Human made so vivid an appeal to his mind as to react on
his conceptions of the Divine. Within, a few years after the _Rationale_
was published, Martineau is found making an obvious change of base. He
has realized that the externally communicated religion of the old
school, however sublime in its proportions, fails to meet the needs or,
indeed, to fit the facts of the inner life. Man's personality rises, in
his thought, into touch with God's; the revelation from without can only
be recognized as such by the aid of a revelation within; a real
activity, a genuine moral choice, and a resulting character, the marks
of a truly living Soul, these are indispensable to an adequate view of
the religious life. But all this involves two significant positions,
each far asunder from those hitherto put forth--there must be Freedom,
at least in the moral world; and the Divine assurances of moral values
and of loving aid to win them are no longer confined to an outer record.
Such a record may yield invaluable service as a heightener and
interpreter of individual experience; to the last we find Martineau
attaching a profound and quite special significance to the revelation in
Jesus of the life of sonship to God, and retaining tenaciously the
Christian attitude in preference to one of simple theism. But his system
is based on the internal; all the rest, the Church, the Bible, Nature,
however august and charged with meaning, is supplementary to that.

In the American field, under the influence of Emerson and the German
philosophy, what is called 'Transcendentalism' flourished midway in the
century, and there as well as in England its extravagances were
deplored. Martineau himself, while approaching so nearly to the egoistic
centre, was safeguarded from all such vagaries by an all-pervading sense
of duty. In his volumes of sermon the _Endeavours after the Christian
Life_, and _Hours of Thought on Sacred Things_, which remain among the
choicest of their kind in our language, his austerity of moral tone is
only relieved by an elevation of poetic mysticism till then unknown in
Unitarian literature. It was, indeed, his conviction that the body would
not write poetry for a generation or two, so dry and prosaic did he find
it; but at that very time his own efforts in hymnody on one side and on
the other his lyric prose, almost too richly ornate for general wear,
were touching new springs of feeling. By and by, he issued in
conjunction with others a set of liturgical services, which did much to
lend dignity to congregational worship. And what gave unique influence
to his ideas was his intimate connection from 1840 to 1885 with
'Manchester College,' London, one of the successors to the old
'Academies' (now after its several migrations handsomely housed at
Oxford). At this college, as professor of mental and moral philosophy
and for many years as Principal, he made a deep and lasting impression
on the minds of most of the leading scholars and preachers. His great
works. _Types of Ethical Theory_ and _A Study of Religion_, gathered up
the harvest of long study and exposition in these subjects, and are the
most important of their kind given by Unitarians to the world.

In accordance with what has been indicated, the later attitude of
Martineau, and naturally of his pupils--though the principle of free and
independent judgment is and always has been insisted upon--has been
radical in respect to Biblical, and especially to New Testament,
studies. An influence in this department more direct than his own was
formerly found in the writings and lectures of _John James Tayler_
(1797-1869), his predecessor as Principal. This ripe and fearless
scholar brought home to Unitarians the wealth of continental literature
on the subject. The 'old school' stood aghast as the tide of 'German
criticism' overflowed the old landmarks of thought; and when Tayler
himself issued a work strongly adverse to the apostolic authorship of
the Fourth Gospel distress was extreme. In these matters, however, the
tide proved irresistible, and the next generation of preachers and
students were among the most ardent translators and popularizers of the
new views of Jewish and Christian origins. The 'free' character of the
pulpits has made the way easier than in most other denominations for the
incoming of modern thought in this and other directions.

The influence of natural science upon the trend of Unitarian opinion has
hardly been second to that of Biblical criticism. Some names in the list
of prominent Unitarians are celebrated in this connection--_Louis
Agassiz_ (1807-73), for example, on the American side, _Sir Charles
Lyell_ (1797-1875) and _Dr. W.B. Carpenter_ (1813-85) on the English
side. A son of the last named, _Dr. J. Estlin Carpenter_, a man of wide
and varied scholarship, is now Principal of Manchester College. A field
in which he is specially expert is that of comparative religion, and
here also is a source of many considerations that have transformed
Unitarianism into one of the most liberal types of thought in the modern
religious world.

It is not to be inferred, however, that the 'radical' tendencies, while
predominant, have everywhere prevailed among Unitarians. The
'conservative' side continued in the third quarter of the nineteenth
century to yield important signs of its existence and fruitfulness, and
its vitality is far from exhausted still. The miraculous element has
even here been reduced to a minimum, but it has left a tinge on the
picture of Jesus which fills the imagination and kindles the reverent
affection of many. Among the more gifted representatives of this school
we may name the Americans _Dr. H.W. Furness_ (1802-96) and _Dr. J.
Freeman Clarke_ (1810-88), and the English _John Hamilton Thom_
(1808-94). Thom's sermons are ranked among the highest for spirituality
and penetration; they certainly had profound effect in stimulating the
wise and generous philanthropy of _William Rathbone_ and _Sir Henry
Tate_. A celebrated representative of this side of Unitarianism is _Dr.
James Drummond_, still living, the author of several works of European
repute among New Testament scholars, one being a defence of the
Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel. He succeeded Martineau as
Principal of Manchester College. His volume. _Studies of Christian
Doctrine_, is the most important statement of the Unitarian view
published in recent years.

As time went on, it fell to Martineau and other leading Unitarians to
take up a defensive attitude against the extreme forces of negation. In
particular, he came to be recognized as a champion of theism against
materialist evolution. Four volumes of 'Essays' contain some of his
acutest writings on the subject. An address presented to him on his
eighty-third birthday celebrated his eminence in this and other ways; it
bore the signatures of six hundred and fifty of the most brilliant of
his contemporaries, at their head being Tennyson and Browning.

All this strenuous progress, however, was for Martineau dogged by a
shadow of peculiar disappointment. In youth he was as ardent a
'Unitarian' as any; but, about the time of the Dissenters' Chapels Act
(1844), he and Tayler and some others felt increasing dissatisfaction
with the tendency of the more active Unitarians to degenerate into a
sect. As we have seen, the same divergence of feeling arose in America,
and Channing always strove to keep Unitarianism there from succumbing to
denominationalism. The ardour of those especially who had newly espoused
the Unitarian view and found it precious to themselves may be easily
understood, and they might be forgiven some impatience with the apparent
apathy of those who had no great desire to multiply proselytes. Some of
these eager spirits strove to rescue the body from what they evidently
regarded as a paralysing indefiniteness. From time to time it was argued
that Unitarianism must be 'defined' authoritatively; then, and then
only, might a triumphant progress be secured. Mixed with such notions
was apparently a desire to keep the imprudent and 'advanced' men from
going 'too far.' In one form or other this opposition has persisted till
the present; but its acrimony has sensibly lessened as, on the one hand,
the 'denominational' workers have more fully accepted the principle of
unfettered inquiry, and on the other, the lessons of experience have
shown that, however eager the Unitarians may be for the widest possible
religious fellowship, they are, in fact, steadily left to themselves by
most of the other religious bodies, especially in this country.
Martineau himself about forty years ago tried to form, along with
Tayler, a 'Free Christian Union' which should ignore dogmatic
considerations; but Tayler died, and so little encouragement was met
with outside the Unitarian circle that the thing dropped after two
years. Nearly twenty years later, at the Triennial Conference (held in
1888 at Leeds), a remarkable address was given by the now venerable
'leader' (whom, as he mournfully said, no one would follow), in favour
of setting up again an English Presbyterian system which should swallow
up all the many designations and varieties of association hitherto
prevailing among Unitarians. The proposal was considered impracticable,
and the dream of a 'Catholicity' which should embrace all who espoused
the free religious position, whatever their doctrines, seemed farther
than ever from fulfilment. In later years the idea has, however,
continued to be mooted, and some Unitarians hope still to see the
development of a 'Free Catholicism' in which the traditional distinction
between Unitarian and Trinitarian will be lost.

Meanwhile, as has been said, the extension of Unitarian worship and the
diffusion of literature goes on with a fair amount of success. In
America, thanks largely to the sagacious toil of a remarkable organizer,
_Dr. H.W. Bellows_ (1814-82), the Unitarian Association has proved a
strong and effective instrument for this purpose, and the British
Association, whose headquarters are now in the building where Lindsey
opened the first Unitarian Church in 1774, has also thriven considerably
in recent years. It is said that the rate of growth in the number of
congregations in the United Kingdom has been about 33 per cent during
the past half-century; in America the rate is somewhat higher.


It will not be surprising to the reader to learn that a religious body
having such a past and being so variously recruited to-day is far from
stereotyped in method. At the same time there is practical agreement on
the main lines of doctrine.

In worship different forms are used. Many churches have liturgies,
adopted at discretion and usually supplemented by free prayer. In others
the free service alone is preferred. Lessons are chiefly taken from the
Bible, but selections are sometimes read from other devotional
literature. Several hymnals have wide acceptance; a few are peculiar to
single congregations. The large majority of sermons are read, though
extempore address is now less infrequent than formerly. 'Sacraments' are
not considered indispensable, but the Lord's Supper is retained in many
cases and is regarded as a memorial. The baptism (or 'dedication') of
infants is also practised.

Ministerial ordination is not considered as imparting supernatural
gifts, but as a solemnity marking the entrance of the accredited person
into full recognition and office. The congregation makes its own choice
of a minister, though in case of its dependence upon outside financial
assistance the advice of the managers of the Fund may be offered. The
support of the churches and Sunday-schools, etc., is generally by
voluntary contributions; endowments exist in some instances. Church
membership is usually granted without insistence upon any religious
declaration. New buildings are invariably associated with the 'open
trust' principle, the way being thus left open for such changes in
worship and opinion as may hereafter seem right. Some churches decline
to be known as 'Unitarian,' and where that name is adopted it is usual
to find with it the explanation that this does not pledge or limit
future development or bar the widest religious sympathy in the present.

Reference has been made to Sunday-schools. In this field Unitarians have
always been pioneers, and their aims have usually been to promote
culture without sectarian zeal. Many large schools continue, as in the
past, to form centres of education of the widest type, not only to
children but adults. Much interest is taken in social amelioration; some
observers have asserted that this interest is more vivid in many
quarters than any in matters theological or philosophical.

Statements of the teachings usually accepted in the churches are
numerous. One here quoted will fairly represent the general type. It was
drawn up by _Richard Acland Armstrong_ (1843-1905), an eager social
reformer, a powerful preacher and author, and memorable especially as a
popularizer of Martineau's religious philosophy. Of course, from what
has been already said, such a statement is not regarded as an
authoritative creed, but simply takes its place as one out of many
summaries for popular diffusion.

'Unitarian Christianity teaches that God is our Father, full of love for
all of us. It learns from Jesus that the Father listens to our prayers
and watches over us with even more tender care than over the lilies of
the field and the birds of the air.

'It learns from Jesus too, that however important it may be to have
correct views concerning religious matters, it is much more important to
love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our
neighbour as ourselves. For he says that these are the first two
commandments, and that there is no other whatever that is greater than

'It learns from Jesus, also, that the way to enter the kingdom of Heaven
is, not merely to hold a correct theology or to receive any outward
sacraments, but to "be converted and become as little
children"--simple-hearted, loving, pure.

'Unitarian Christianity teaches that God our Father claims us all as
children, and that when Jesus speaks of himself as God's Son, he means
us all to remember that we are God's children too, though unhappily we
have stained our sonship and daughterhood with many unworthy thoughts
and deeds.

'Unitarian Christianity loves the Parable of the Prodigal Son, because
it shows so clearly and so beautifully the love and forgiveness of God,
and with what tender pity he looks on us when we have sinned.

'Unitarian Christianity believes that God speaks to his children now as
truly as he did to the Prophets of old and to Jesus Christ, comforting,
strengthening, enlightening them. Conscience itself is his holy voice.

'Unitarian Christianity sees in Jesus Christ a supremely beautiful life
and character, a marvellous inspiration for us all, an ideal after which
we may strive; and it loves to think of him as our Elder Brother, of the
same nature as ourselves.

'Unitarian Christianity does not believe that God will plunge any of his
children into everlasting woe. Such a thought of God is a contradiction
of his Fatherhood. He is leading us all, by different ways, towards the
pure and holy life for which he brought us into being.'

Along with this may be taken the declaration adopted, as a result of
somewhat protracted discussions, at the National Conference of
Unitarians in America, 1894; it would probably be accepted in all
similar assemblies.

'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; and we invite to our fellowship any who, while differing
from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and our
practical aims.'


The broadly sympathetic spirit which has been observed at work in the
foregoing story has led to interesting relationships between Unitarians
and some other religious bodies. The Universalists, who are strongest in
the United States, are cordially fraternal with them; and a large
proportion of the 'Christians'--a non-dogmatic body--are equally close
in sympathy. The Hicksite Friends, named after Elias Hicks, who early in
the nineteenth century avowed Anti-trinitarian views, and some other
religious bodies less conspicuous are more or less directly included in
the Unitarian forces, though not organically in union. With the French
Liberal Protestants there has been warm co-operation for many years, and
the same is true of Dutch, German, and Swiss reformers. Since the visit
of Rammohun Roy, the Indian reformer, in 1833, the English in particular
have developed kindly relations with the Indian theist movement, and
students from India and Japan are regularly educated at Oxford for the
ministry of free religion in their own countries. It is in this way,
more than by the ordinary types of missionary activity, that Unitarians
have hitherto attempted to influence the non-Christian races.

During recent years there have been held international congresses
promoted by the Unitarians of Great Britain, America, and Transylvania,
and attended by representatives of the various sections just named as
well as by others from the orthodox churches, including Anglican and
Romanist, who venture to brave the authorities thus far. Proposals have
already been made for a world-wide union of Religious Liberals, in view
of the remarkable success of these great congresses; but the
circumstances of the different groups, especially in Germany and
Holland, seem to forbid expectation of such a development within any
near period. On the whole, Unitarians appear to be encouraged by the
signs of the times, and to do their share of religious culture and
benevolent work while cultivating the friendship of 'Modernists' of all
kinds, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, and Hindoo.


1536-1612. Many trials and executions for denying the Trinity; notably
_Servetus_ (1553); four East Anglians, 1579-89; Legate and Wightman,

1568. Francis David founds the Unitarian Church in Hungary.

1578-1604. Faustus Socinus active in Poland.

1595. The Racovian Catechism. Other Socinian works follow.

1640. Canon against Socinian books in England.

1644-62. John Bidle's career.

1646 and onward. Anti-trinitarians among Baptists, Independents,
Friends, etc. Books against 'Socinianism.'

1662. Act of Uniformity--ejection of Nonconformists.

1674. Milton d., leaving his _Treatise of Christian Doctrine_ in MS.;
discovered 1823 and published.

1687. Stephen Nye's _Brief History of the Unitarians_, etc.

1689. Toleration Act--Unitarians excluded.

1689-97. The 'Unitarian Controversy.' Being suppressed, 'Arianism'
developed among clergy, 'Deism' among other writers.

1690. Presbyterian Academy (now College, Carmarthen) founded.

1695. Locke's _Reasonableness of Christianity_.

1700. General Baptist Assembly accept Anti-trinitarian membership.

1703. Thomas Emlyn imprisoned for denying the Trinity.

1719. 'Non-subscription' vote at Salter's Hall, London.

1740+. Arianism diffused; Humanitarianism incipient.

1742. The 'Great Awakening' revival in New England, followed by a
Liberal reaction.

1755-1804. Joseph Priestley's career.

1774. Theophilus Lindsey's Unitarian Chapel, London.

1786. Manchester Academy (now College, Oxford) founded.

1790+. Unitarian propaganda active in England.

1808. Controversy in New England Congregationalism.

1813. Toleration Act extended to Unitarians.

1817. Proceedings begun against Unitarians in respect of inherited
Chapels, etc.

1818. The 'Dedham Case,' Massachusetts.

1819. Dr. Channing's 'Baltimore Sermon.'

1825. Founding of Associations in Great Britain and U.S.A.

1836. Martineau's _Rationale_.

1838. Emerson's _Divinity School Address_.

1842. Theodore Parker's _Discourse_.

1844. Dissenters' Chapels Act.

1847. Hibbert Trust founded.

1854. Unitarian Home Missionary Board (now College, Manchester) founded.

1882. National Triennial Conferences begun.

1890. Martineau's _Seat of Authority_.

1900. International Congresses founded.


R. WALLACE. _Anti-trinitarian Biography_, 3 vols., Lond., 1850.

A. GORDON. _Heads of English Unitarian History_, 1 vol., Lond., 1895.

J.H. ALLEN. _Unitarianism since the Reformation_, 1 vol., New York,

J.J. TAYLER. _Retrospect of the Religious Life of England_, 1 vol.,
Lond. (3rd Ed.), 1876.

W.G. TARRANT. _Story and Significance of the Unitarian Movement_, 1
vol., Lond., 1910. (Gives more detailed references.)

For statistics and special characteristics of the various Liberal
Religious bodies in general accord with Unitarians see the following
records of the International Congresses:--

_Liberal Religious Thought at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century._
Ed. by W. COPELAND BOWIE, Lond., 1901.

_Religion and Liberty._ Ed. by P.H. HUGENHOLTZ, jun., Leyden, 1904.

_Actes du III'me Congrès International du Christianisme Libéral et
Progressif._ Ed. by E. MONTET, Geneva, 1906.

_Freedom and Fellowship in Religion._ Ed. by C.W. WENDTE, Boston, 1907.

_Fifth International Congress of Free Christianity and Religious
Progress._ Ed. by WENDTE and DAVIS, Berlin (and London), 1911.

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