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Unitarianism definition Catholic Encyclopedia


In its general sense the name designates all disbelievers in the Trinity, whether Christian or non-Christian; in its present specific use it is applied to that organized form of Christianity which lays emphasis on the unity of the personality of God. The term seems to have originated about 1570...It supplanted the various designations of anti-Trinitarians, Arians, Racovians, and Socinians. In England the name first appears in 1682. It became frequent in the United States from 1815, although it was received unfavorably by some anti-Trinitarians...

The explanation of this opposition is to be found in the reluctance of the parties concerned to lay stress on any doctrinal affirmation. Historical associations account for the name Presbyterians, frequently applied to Unitarians in the British Isles, and Unitarian Congregationalists, used in the United States. No definite standard of belief is recognized in the denomination and no doctrinal tests are laid down as a condition of fellowship. The co-operation of all persons desirous of advancing the interests of "pure" (i.e. undogmatic, practical) Christianity is welcomed in the Unitarian body.

In granting this co-operation each member enjoys complete freedom in his individual religious opinions, and no set of doctrinal propositions could be framed on which all Unitarians would agree. The bond of union between them consists more in their anti-dogmatic tendency than in uniformity of belief. The authority of the Bible is in some degree retained; but its contents are either admitted or repudiated according as they find favor before the supreme, and in this case, exacting tribunal of individual reason. Jesus Christ is considered subordinate to the Father and, although the epithet Divine is in a loose sense not infrequently applied to Him, He is in the estimation of many an extraordinarily endowed and powerful but still a human religious leader.

He is a teacher to be followed, not a God to be worshipped. His Passion and Death are an inspiration and an example to His disciples, not an effective and vicarious atonement for the sins of men. He is the great exemplar which we ought to copy in order to perfect our union with God gradually. This teaching concerning the mission of Jesus Christ is but the logical complement of the Unitarian denial of the Fall of Man and with similar consistency leads to the suppression of the sacraments.

Two of these (baptism and Eucharist) are indeed retained, but their grace-conferring power is denied and their reception declared unnecessary. Baptism is administered to children (rarely to adults) more for sentimental reasons and purposes for edification than from the persuasion of the spiritual results produced in the soul of the recipient. The Eucharist, far from being considered as sacrificial, is looked upon as a merely memorial service. The fond hope of universal salvation is entertained by the majority of the denomination.

In short, present-day Unitarianism is hardly more than natural religion, and exhibits in some of its members a pronounced tendency towards Pantheistic speculation... See Pantheism

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