What Is Unitarianism?

What Is Unitarianism?

A look at what they believe and teach.

By DORIS BATCHELDER, Dean of Women, Atlantic Union College

UNITARIANISM.—a system of Christian thought and religious observance, deriving its name from its doctrine of the single personality of God the Father, in contrast with the Trini­tarian conception of His threefold being as Fa­ther, Son, and Holy Ghost. Frothingham, in his book Boston Unitarianism, says: "It calls itself Unitarian simply because that name sug­gests freedom and breadth and progress and elasticity and joy. Another name might do as well, perhaps be more accurately descriptive. But no other would be so impressive on the world, so honorable."


John Biddle—father and martyr of Eng­lish Unitarianism in 1615. His confession of faith

1. There is but one divine essence.

2. God in this highest sense exists in but one Person.


a. Great Awakening of 5735. 

b. First Unitarian church—King's Chapel in Boston 1785.

c. Dr. Channing's famous sermon.

1. Deals with unreason of Trinity.
2. Sets forth confusion of thought in­duced by metaphysics of Christ's double nature.
3. Charges moral paradox by alleged conflict of justice and mercy in di­vine nature.
4. Dwells upon moral enormity of a view of the atonement which only exasperates and heightens the sup­posed conflict it claims to recon­cile.
5. The true nature of salvation is set forth as a moral or spiritual condi­tion of the soul itself, and this is contrasted with the arbitrary "im­putation" of another's righteous­ness.

d. Dr. Lyman Beecher's testimony—"In 1823 all the literary men of Massa­chusetts were Unitarian. All the trus­tees and professors of Harvard were Unitarian."

III. UNITARIANISM'S TWOFOLD TRADITION. Demand for personal religious freedom.

a. Large number of Unitarian churches began with ejection of 1662.

b. Act of Uniformity ejected 2,000 clergymen.

c. Demand for clear, distinct, and coher­ent religious thought and teaching.


a. Formative-1810-1835.

Semisupernatural, imperfectly ration­alistic. Dr. Channing—the exponent.

b. Period influenced by German idealism 1835-1885.

Increasingly rationalistic. Theology flavored by mysticism. exponents—Emerson and Theodore Parker.

c. Period of rationalism—I885 and on­ward.

Recognition of universal religion, large acceptance of scientific methods and ideas, and an ethical attempt to realize higher affirmations of Chris­tianity. This period marked by har­mony and unity and widening fellow­ship with all other progressive phases of modern religion. "Unitarians no longer find the seat of their authority within the pages of the best and broadest of books, but in religious history and experience, interpreted by the reason and conscience of man­kind."


a. International Congress of Free Chris­tians and other religious liberals.

b. American Unitarian Association.

c. National Conference.

d. Twenty-five local conferences.

e. Five "Alliances."

Bodies of women organized for Chris­tian work.

f. Thirty-two organizations formed for special objects, under the names of "club," "guild," and "association."


a. Help for humanitarian work.

b. Unitarian college in Transylvania.

c. Missionary work of instruction in Japan.

d. Missionary work in Calcutta.

e. Provision for divinity school at Cam­bridge.

f. Pacific Unitarian school in Berkeley.

g. Tuckerman school in Boston.

h. Meadville Theological School in Pennsylvania.


a.   The Christian Register.

b.   Unity,

c.    Pacific Unitarianism.

VIII. WELL-KNOWN UNITARIAN LEADERS. Dr. Gannett, Dr. Putnam, Dr. Bellows, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dr. Channing, James Freeman Clarke, Edward Everett Hale, Charles W. Eliot.


a. Headquarters—American Unitarian Association—Boston.

b. Number of churches-422 with 491 ministers. C. U.S. Membership in 1927-131,912.

X. UNITARIANISM'S CHALLENGE TO US. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Rom. :16.

"For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." I Cor. 2:2.

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By DORIS BATCHELDER, Dean of Women, Atlantic Union College

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