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William Ellery Channing. This statue of Channing (1780-1842), one of the founders of American
Unitarianism, stands in Newport, Rhode Island. [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]

Unitarianism is "the form of Christianity that denies the doctrine of the Trinity, believing that God exists only in one person. While there were previous antitrinitarian movements in the early Christian Church, like Arianism and Monarchianism, modern Unitarianism originated in the period of the Protestant Reformation" (Columbia Encyclopedia). And the Oxford English Dictionary defines a Unitarian as one "who affirms the unipersonality of the Godhead, especially as opposed to an orthodox Trinitarian; spec. a member or adherent of a Christian religious body or sect holding this doctrine."

According to Britannica Online, English Unitarianism begins with

John Biddle (1615-62), an English Socinian, whose knowledge of the Greek text of the New Testament convinced him that the doctrine of the Trinity was not of scriptural origin, published his Unitarian convictions in Twelve Arguments Drawn out of Scripture . . . (1647) . . . The first English Unitarian congregation, Essex Street Chapel, was founded in London in 1774 by Theophilus Lindsey, who previously had been an Anglican clergyman. The scientist and dissenting minister Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) influenced Unitarian ministers by his scriptural rationalism, materialist determinism, and emphasis on a humanitarian Christology. The scholar and theologian Thomas Belsham supported Priestley's emphasis on a humanitarian Christology and opposition to Arian views. The British and Foreign Unitarian Association was founded in 1825.

Although Unitarianism began as a "a scripturally oriented movement," by the mid-nineteeth century "the leadership of James Martineau in England and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker in the United States" transformed it into a religion of reason (Columbia Encyclopedia).

Related Material


"English Unitarianism." The Encyclopedia Britannica On-Line [http://www.britannica.com].

"Unitarian." Oxford English Diction On-Line.

"Unitarianism." The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000.

Wilbur, Earl Morse. A History of Unitarianism, 2 vol. 1945.

Bolam, C. Gordon, et al. The English Presbyterians, from Elizabethan Puritanism to Modern Unitarianism. 1968.

Created 1999; last modified 27 July 2014; image added 17 October 2009