Monday, April 4, 2011

More on Unitarianism in the 19th - 20th century

The compendium book on the Trinity, entitled,  The Trinity ... An Essential for Faith in Our Time, ed. Andrew Stirling (, 2002)  Has a wide selection of articles.   One in particular stands out, "The Trinity in the 19th Century" (K. Hamilton), because it attempts to encapsulate the history of the last 2 or 3 centuries vis. both the doctrine of the Trinity, and also the progess of the Unitarian movement, and its influence on attitudes toward Holy Scripture.  Here are some choice excerpts:

"...But during the 18th century religious opinions that had been previously called Arian or Socinian took the name  of Unitarian, and Unitarian churches became part of the scene in England and in the US during the century's later years.   Unitarianism fitted in well into the desire for a reasonable Christianity, allowing more emphasis on Jesus as the unique teacher of God's commands..."

"...both Unitarians and deists, however, rejected revelation as superfluous because reason could tell us all we needed to know about the Creator and His creation.   What went by the name of revelation was pretty much the same as the dogmas 'invented by churchly authorities' (including the incomprehensible dogma of the Trinity); and trust in authority instead of reason 'inevitably led to superstition.' 

"...preacher and theologian Schleiermacher ...set aside as irrelevant the doctrines of Creation, the Resurrection, and Scripture as the primary authority for Christian belief.  Perhaps no more striking evidence can be produced to show how, when the centrality of Trinitarian doctrine is abandoned, other Christian doctrines fall like dominoes.  For belief in the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the recognition that Christianity is a revealed faith based on the authority of sacred Scripture.

"...Hegel...took the doctrine of the Trinity to be ...'merely pictorial'. 
...S. T. Coleridge and F.D. Maurice ...both began as Unitarians but became Anglicans. ... Left-wing Hegelians adopted first pantheism and then atheism.  ...
Waldo Emerson's famous address at the Harvard Divinity School in 1838 about a wholly interior deity scandalized even the Unitarians among whom he had been raised.  ...The new-Hegelian philosophers T.H. Green, F.H. Bradley, and Bernard Bosanquet profoundly influenced leading Anglican theologians. ...

"... Two developments had a devastating effect upon church people at every level - These were the Darwinian theory of evolution and the historical criticism of the Bible.   Both seemed to remove all authority from Scripture and thus to sweep Christian doctrine into the rubbish heap of outmoded beliefs. 

"...Ristchlian theology...seemed to be much closer to the NT than other theologies, ...Nevertheless, looking back today, we can see that Ritschl produced one more variation upon the 19th century theme of the authority of human consciousness.   ... He had tenuous connections with the NT but accorded well with the belief in inevitable progress prevailing in the later years of the 19th century.  Ristchl's central work reversed the order of Christ's saving work, ...making our reconciliation with God the result of our own moral efforts.  Ritschlean theology dominated the last quarter of the 19th century and the first 30 years of the 20th so thoroughly that when people spoke of "liberal Protestantism" it was really Ritschlianism they meant.   Right-wing Ritschlians accepted fully the historical [German] criticism of the Bible...
Left-wing Ritschlians wished to abridge all doctrinal statements to what they thought to be the original teachings of Jesus himself - "Not faith in Jesus but the faith of Jesus", became their watchword.  

"Adolf von Harnack ...argued that the elevation of dogma to become the defining element of Christian faith was the result of "the acute Hellenization" of Christianity. ...(the Jesus of history was real and the Christ of faith a myth)...

"Schweitzer's portrait of Jesus as a self-deluded apocalyptist was highly questionable, [but it] at least made the liberal-humanist Jesus appear to be the modern reconstruction it was. 

'...The liturgical churches were better protected by their set forms of worship from doctrinal innovations than were the churches where worship was under the direct control of the pastor, and thus showed resistance to Unitarian tendencies.  During the 19th century, the Church of Rome manifested what amounted to a siege mentality.  The cause was the French Revolution. 

"...The one area where a loophole was left for departure was that of Biblical scholarship.  Being the preserve of the clergy engaged in teaching, it no doubt was considered safely under ecclesiastical control.  But when radical biblical criticism arose in Germany in the 1840s, some Catholic scholars pursued similar paths to that of their Protestant counterparts. ... Catholic modernism erupted during the 1880s in Germany, France and England.  Modernism advocated a free handling of Scripture under the same scrutiny as any other book.  ...A leader of the modernist movement was Alfred Loisy...

"Apart from Unitarianism and some fringe sects, the English churches [up to the 1880s] remained doctrinally based, with the Trinity as the unquestioned center.  The dismissal of W. Robertson from the Free Church of Scotland in 1881, however, brought the historical criticism of the Bible into the open.  From then on, modernism was a raging issue in all the churches.   The Modern Churchmen's Union was founded in 1898 to encourage the revision of Anglican doctrine to accord with contemporary thinking. ...

"By 1925, when the United Church of Canada was formed from Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist denominations, ...the same principles would open the way to the wholesale abandonment of doctrine and the importation of alien ideologies. ... What the 19th century Christian revisionists did not do - and what has been done today - was to introduce elements from other religions and pagan practices and to include these under the umbrella-name of Christianity. 

...The fatal move by 19th century thinkers was to remove the authority in faith from the creedal basis of the Christian church to 'self-consciousness'. 

"P.T. Forsyth wrote:
"We can sanctify humanity only by the worship of the On who is in but not of it.  We can hallow society only by hallowing it within the society of the Church.  And the Church can take and keep its spiritual place as the Church of the Living God only if by its living God we mean no glorified individual, but the Truine God whois the peculiar revelation of Christ.  For the Christian God is not the Father, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Spirit.  It was such a God in such a revelation, such a self-donation of His in Son and Spirit, that created the Church;  and no other God can sustain it. "
This statement answers every attempt of 19th century thinkers to downgrade the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, to abolish it or turn it into a quasi-Christian speculation.   And it does so out of concern for the continued existence of the churches calling themselves Christian in the future. "

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