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Continental European Protestantism


Unitarians

Doctrines As the Unitarian title implies, this church is uncompromising in its assertion of the unity of the Godhead and its denial of the Trinity. The doctrine itself goes back as far as Arius of Alexandria (died 336 CE), but its revival in the modern period owes more to the nominalism of Medieval scholasticism and its influence on Reformation thinkers, especially Socinus (1539-1604). As their defining doctrine denies the divinity of Christ, the Unitarians place themselves outside the worldwide Christian communion, event though it cannot be disputed that their ideas permeate many mainstream denominations. The unity of God is expressed symbolically as the Fatherhood of God, but this image has no ground in an agreed theology, for in this, as in all things, individual freedom of belief is fundamental. Reason, commonsense and experience are not to be coerced by creed, Bible or church government. But this is not to deny that art, music, literature instruct and inspire; likewise fellowship and worship are believed to benefit the soul. The Christian tradition has a special place in these respects, even though Unitarians are in principle eclectic. This ecumenical spirit is consistent with their belief in the universal brotherhood of humanity, consistent again with their anthropocentrism, and with their belief in an indwelling Spirit of God in each person. Individual spiritual autonomy means that salvation requires personal development and an ethical life of service, the reward for which is not only eternal life, but also a living experience of the divine here and now. As one would expect, Congregational Church government is their chosen form of organisation.

History Since Arianism had been proscribed as a heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325, only the collapse of Roman Catholic authority could enable its resurgence. Therefore, though philosophically the ground had been prepared in the nominalism of Medieval scholastics, it was the Reformation that allowed the ideas to flourish. Anti-Trinitarianism was one of the many flourishing beliefs arising from the independent study of scripture. Its most notable early proponent was Michael Servetus, the Anabaptist, who influenced many until in 1553 he was burnt to death for the heresy at the instigation of John Calvin in Geneva. But it was Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) who formulated Anti-Trinitarianism as a doctrine and founded churches around it in Transylvania and Poland, and also in Hungary where Thomas Aran's book against the Trinity had promoted the ideas since 1558.
The Catholic Counter-Reformation gradually combatted what had become known as Socinianism - driving it from Poland in the 17th century and from Hungary in the 18th century. Some, organised as the Polish Brethren, fled to safe countries, including Holland and England, bringing with them their Socinian doctrines. England already had its own advocates of Unitarianism, but open association and worship awaited the Act of Toleration of 1689. Not until 1774 did a Unitarian chapel open in England. It still remained a crime to speak openly against the Trinity until 1813. Some leaders, for example Josiah Priestley (1733-1804), thought it right to remain in the established churches, rather than found a new denomination.
The year 1825 saw the simultaneous organisation of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, and in Boston the American Unitarian Association, the latter formalising what had been a protracted disengagement of its followers from Congregationalism. American Unitarians had become progressively more liberal. Other influences than antiTrinitarianism were at work in the New World. William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) preached an arminianism that drew many from Calvinism to Unitarianism. Under the influence of German idealism and through figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Theodore Parker (1810-1860) Unitarians moved from their roots in biblical revelation to a non-scriptural rationalism. The 20th century saw further growth and liberalisation. In 1960 the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged to form the United Universalist Association.

Symbols The symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Church consists of a flame emerging from a chalice on which there is a picture of the world.

Adherents The following regions have Unitarian communities: North America ( Canada, 5000; United States, 150,413); Europe (Czech Republic, unknown; Denmark, unknown; Germany, 2000; United Kingdom, 6700; Hungary 25,000; Poland 150; Romania, 80,000; Russia, 30); Australia and New Zealand (400); Asia: (India, 9000; Pakistan, 100; Philippines, 400-1000; Sri Lanka, 500) (http://www.uua.org/icuu/)

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108, USA.