The "Advertisement" to The Essential Faith of the Universal Church Deduced from the Sacred Records explains that "in March 1830 the Committee of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association offered 'a premium for three tracts, to be approved by them, the object of which should be the introduction and promotion of Christian Unitarianism among the Roman Catholics, the Jews, and the Mahommedans respectively.' . . . Miss Martineau obtained the three prizes. . . . For grasp and vigor of thought, for a rich and felicitous style of expression, and for general power of argument, without the slightest mixture of asperity or unfairness, [her essays] will bear comparison with almost any writings of the same class. The author has judiciously adopted a different method of treating each subject . . . .The Essay addressed to the Catholics was first published.
The primitive Christian Church consisted exclusively of Jews who were strict monotheists
he primitive Christian Church, gathered together in Jerusalem by the command of Christ, and sanctified by the descent of the Holy Spirit, consisted exclusively of Jews. The three thousand who were baptized on that memorable occasion, the numbers which were daily added to the Church, the multitude who were converted to Christianity during the next fifteen years, were all Jews. In some cases, the process of conversion was probably gradual; but in many, we know it was sudden, being caused by the immediate and irresistible evidence of miracles. The change of conviction which it was necessary to work in converting a Jew, was of a nature which could be effected[Pg 16] speedily and completely by the display of one miraculous testimony. It was not a change in all, or any of his views of Deity and Providence. He was not required to relinquish a single article of religious belief which he had previously held under a divine sanction. The fundamental doctrine of the Jewish religion,—the strict Unity of Jehovah,—he was authorized to retain. He was confirmed in his dependence on all that the Prophets had spoken, in his conceptions of the Divine attributes, and in his trust in Divine Providence. The only question on which depended his adhering to the Old, or embracing the New Dispensation, was, whether Jesus of Nazareth was or was not the promised Messiah. As the Jews were bound by the requisitions of their own law (Deut. xviii. 19) to receive implicitly whatever should be taught in God's name by a divinely authorized prophet, their reception of the doctrines of Christianity was a sure consequence of their acknowledgement of the Messiah; and that their acknowledgement of Jesus in that character was the only thing essential to make them Christians we have consistent and abundant evidence in the whole Scripture history. In the preaching of the Apostles to the people of their own nation, we find no intimations of any needful[Pg 17] change in their conceptions of God, and of his mode of government. On the contrary, it was because the Jews were already prepared for their reception of Christianity by their belief in the Unity of God and the consistency of his moral government, that they were the most immediately and the most easily incorporated with the Christian church. For proof of this, we refer to the whole of the discourse delivered by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, and to every other discourse addressed by the Apostles to Jewish hearers.
The first Gentiles who were converted to Christianity were not worshipers of a plurality of Gods; but men who from intercourse with Jews, or from other opportunities of spiritual advancement, had attained to the belief of One God, indivisible in his nature and unrivalled in his supremacy. The same mode of teaching which sufficed for the Jews, sufficed for them also. [16-18]
The Corruption of Christian belief by Gnosticism]
According to Martineau, these "the essential doctrines . . . were held free from corruption, controversy, or even doubt, till some converts from the philosophical sect of the Gnostics introduced, within twenty years after the death of Christ, the first taint of that corruption from which the true faith has never since been freed. . . . Against this corruption of the simplicity of the faith the Apostle John protested in his First and Second Epistles, in which he followed the example of Peter, Paul, and Jude. . . . Even the philosophizing Christians of the first century, against whom the Apostles wrote, went no further than to suppose the Christ to be a superior intelligence, inhabiting a mortal form, or assuming the appearance of one: . . .It was not till Justin Martyr, himself a philosopher, wrote an apology for Christianity to a philosophical Roman emperor (A. D. 140), that any distinct mention appears to have been made of the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ" (20-21, 25). Martineau next summarizes the central beliefs that both Unitarians and Trinitarians both accept.
All that, from the study of the records of Revelation, we hold to be the primary and essential doctrines of Christianity, stand forth conspicuously in the teachings, are confirmed by the deeds, and illustrated in the lives of the Saviour and his followers. We propose to bring them forward, with their evidence, in the following order.
I. The strict Unity of God.
II. The unlimited nature of the Redemption by Christ.
III. The existence of a Future State.
From these, various subordinate principles may be derived, some of the most important of which we shall afterwards specify; and then proceed to treat of the temporary sanctions and institutions of Christianity, in distinction from its permanent principles. [26-26].
The Argument against Roman Catholicism
[Having set forth the basic beliefs of Unitarianism, Martineau makes clear where it differs from Roman Catholicism:]
Those who, like ourselves, derive their religious belief from the Bible alone, can scarcely meet on the ground of argument those who profess 'most firmly to admit and embrace apostolical and ecclesiastical traditions,' if the subject of discussion be other than the authority of such traditions. . . .
It is manifestly absurd to exhort a man to derive his faith from the Bible, if it is declared to him beforehand what he is bound at his eternal peril to believe. Yet this is in fact done, when the Book of Common Prayer is circulated as a safeguard to the Bible, and also when a Catholic is made to declare on his admission to the Church, 'I also admit the Sacred Scriptures according to the sense which the holy Mother Church has held and does hold,' &c. For purposes of faith, all use in reading the Bible is over when this declaration is made. The disciple can only, while striving to learn his duty from the sacred pages, wonder at what he finds there;—at the appeals to individual judgment; at the addresses to the intimate consciousness of every man; at the freedom allowed and encouraged among the first Christians; at the absence of all pretension to authority in matters of opinion, of all wish to prescribe, of all tendency to domineer. If he be intelligent, it will occur to him as surprising that no creed, if creeds be good things, was given by our Saviour to his Apostles before he left them, weak and divided in the faith as they at that time were. [120-21]
Martineau, Harriet. The Essential Faith of the Universal Church Deduced from the Sacred Records. Project Gutenberg EBook #33672 (September 8, 2010). Produced by Julia Miller, Josephine Paolucci and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. ("This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries.")
16 January 2012