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A Short History of Unitarian Universalism

Some Dictionary Definitions

a.) one who believes that the deity is one, or that God is One as opposed to the Trinitarian theological position that "God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

b.) a member of a denomination who stresses individual freedom, tolerance, and the use of reason in religion.

 

Unitarian is a name of a religious movement which over four centuries ago debated the issue of the Trinity, (the doctrine that God is of three manifestations, one of which is Jesus possessing two natures, human and divine.) The early Unitarians argued that the Trinitarian formula depicting God as one-in-three was not only non-Biblical but idolatrous. Thus, the name Unitarian became associated with a theological position about God and Christ. Because the belief that God Is One was the unfavored viewpoint, by the time of the Council of Nicea in the year 325, Unitarians became heretics. (See Council of Nicea in a history on the early Christian Church.) Numerous outspoken Unitarians were tried by ecclesiastical councils. Some Unitarians were imprisoned for life. Others were sent to their deaths.

One such Unitarian, a Christian and a Unitarian was Michael Servetes, 1511-1553, who published a book entitled The Errors of The Trinity. Servetes was a scientist and theologian. Today, he is credited with the discovery of the circulatory system of the human body. Protestant church reformer John Calvin and others hunted Servetes for his heresy. (Heresy, comes from a Greek root word meaning, a choosing. In other words, a heretic believes what she or he chooses to believe.) Choosing matters of faith on the basic of reason and personal discernment, was often more than unacceptable. Heresy was a punishable crime. Michael Servetes was captured in Geneva, Switzerland in the year 1533 and given a heresy trial. Calvin's court ordered the death sentence. It is said that up to the last moments of his execution, Servetes was given the opportunity to recant his belief. He would not. Just as he was tied to a stake and bound with his books at his feet, Servetes was given another chance to recant. Again, he did not. He was one of Unitarianism's first heretics. Just before he died, Servetes prayed these words: "O Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me and all humanity." He was urged to change his prayer to, "O Eternal Jesus, Son of God, have pity on me," however, he did not. The people surrounding the burning stake threw on more . "After about half an hour life was extinct." (See Early Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism, Vol. I, pp. 179-181.)

After the death of Michael Servetes, a minority of church reformers began to protest religious persecution. Conscience should be free, they argued, since faith was a gift of God.

For over four centuries, the themes of individual freedom, tolerance, the use of freedom in religion have left their impression upon our religious movement.

What does Unitarian Universalist Mean?

The Universalist Church of America, founded in 1770 and the American Unitarian Association merged from two into one religious association in 1961.

Historically speaking, Universalists believed in the eventual union of all souls with God. Thus, Universalists did not believe in hell simply because, as they read their scriptures, especially the Gospels, God was a loving God and would not condemn anyone to Hell. Through the scriptures, Universalists argued that Jesus' death on the cross was not a partial gift (a partial atonement) and thus his death in no way was conditional.

(Also see our local church history under the main link, About Us, for the story of the Unitarian Universalists in the Baton Rouge area.)