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Unitarianism

belief, name, league, theological, god, jesus, unitarian, christianity and faith

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UNITARIANISM. The So far as is known the name Unitarian originated in Hungary. It was used there at first as the title of an association of religious believers of various sorts in the year 1568 or thereabouts. Peter Bod, the Transylvanian historian, who was too bitterly prejudiced against the doctrines constituting Unitarianism to make his state ments concerning it always trustworthy, re lates that in 1557 the Diet of Thorda in Tran sylvania passed an edict (ratified in 1563) granting universal freedom of worship. At about the same time the various religious bodies within the country formed a league of toleration pledging themselves not to persecute one another. The members of this league were popularly called United)) or °Unitarians') So at first the title carried no sort of theoldgical significance whatever. Embracing as it did all kinds of Christian believers, it indicated simply a fraternal relationship. This league, or union of fraternity and tolerance, did not long endure. Dissensions arising from more or less sharp differences of belief resulted in the withdrawal of those who held that belief in the dogma of the Trinity was fundamental to Christian faith and not to believe it an almost unpardonable sin. This withdrawal emphasized the Trini tarianism of those who withdrew and the lack of it in those who remained loyal to the league. These latter were the non-trinitarians, perhaps anti-trinitarians, believing in God as One in stead of °God in Three They were called Unitarians, however, 'not because of this belief, but because they still remained members of the league of °The United') or °Unitarians?) It was natural and unavoidable that the title should come at last to mark the distinguishing faith of those persons who remained loyal to the league. While °no confirmation of this can be found from Unitarian sources)) Bod's explanation is probably not far wrong. Un less something of this sort had happened it is more than likely that the belief that "God is One° would have at that time been called by the distinctly theological term "Arianism.° What is certain, however, is that the name Unitarian appears in the decree of the Transyl vania Diet at Leczfalva, 25 Oct. 1600. Thirty eight years later the name was ratified by Transylvania Unitarians as the official desig nation of their churches. It may well be as sumed, in the absence of contrary testimony, that this name was chosen as the official desig nation instead of the purely theological term Arian because of the meaning it had when used as the name of the league of fraternity and tolerance. Although since then it has come to have a distinctly theological significance, and is to-day generally used to distinguish those persons and churches within Christianity who stand for simple monotheism from those who hold the Trinitarian formula, yet this early non theological meaning of the name does best ex press the meaning which most Unitarians to-day give it.

Unitarianism, that is the faith of those in Transylvania who in 1600 accepted the name as the official designation of their churches, and of those who since and in other countries have adopted the name or had it applied to them, may be said to be a belief that "God is One.° The most conspicuous point of departure from Trinitarianism, the point usually emphasized, is the refusal to regard Jesus as 'very God of very God° and the assertion that he was distinctly and unqualifiedly a human being. This belief in some form and of vary ing degree "has accompanied Christianity from the beginning, at least as one of its forms.° Tertullian (circa 200), the first to introduce the term Trinitas into Christianity, is authority for the statement that in his day "the common people think of Christ as a man.° It is usually conceded that even though it might not be cor rect to speak of Christianity during the first two or three centuries as being substantially Unitarian, it at least was not Trinitarian. It was this generally held belief that Christ was a man that Arius was trying to save in his conflict with Athanasius. It was this cham pionship of Arius, of the human side of Jesus, that for centuries gave the name Arianism to any belief in the humanity of Jesus. But as the Arians expressed their belief in the great theological controversy that was had at Nicea (325), the difference between them and the Trinitarians was not very marked. The latter Insisted that Jesus Christ was "of one sub stance° with the Father, the Arians refusing to go further than to concede that the Son was of like substance° with the Father. Although the decision at Nicea was against the Arian view, faith in the simple humanity of Jesus persisted all through the centuries, and those who held this view were usually subjected to bitter persecution. Differing interpretations of the Trinity were the cause of frequent disturb ances within the Church from the time of Anus but it is not until the upheaval occasioned by the Reformation of the 16th century that really serious anti-trinitarian opinion and propa ganda are met with. So rapidly did these opinions gather force and win considerable following that the "reformers" no less than the Roman Church found it necessary to take meas ures against them. According to the temper and civilization of the times such measures were not marked by gentleness or humanity. Anti-Trinitarian opinions were, however, nour ished rather than suppressed bypersecution.

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