Trinity I: Roll call

Another adapted bit of writing to UUMA-CHAT, this time on the historic presence of Trinitarians within Universalism:

As early as 1830, you can read embarrassment that there are or might be Trinitarians in the Universalist ministerial college, presumably by those who don’t want any. Thomas Whittemore, as an appendix to his Modern History of Universalism (1830) footnotes a personal and unscientific survey he took of his colleagues on the question, and quotes the letters he received. They can be summed up, “Oh, I think there used to be a Trinitarian over there, but we’ve seem to have misplaced him.”

Since American Universalist has multiple origins, and since there is evidence of Trinitarian Universalist liturgy in common usage, it seems there has never been a time when such a position hasn’t had at least a few proponents. (Can anyone guess when the last Universalist denominationally-printed prayerbook with explicit Trinitarian references came out? 1941, with a special reprint in 1943. Hardly the depths of antiquity.)

A minority, sure. But perhaps one driven into rhetorical isolation for polemic goals.

The goal? First friendship and then consolidation with the Unitarians, of course, which was a hot-and-cold issue until it was consummated four decades back. Ann Lee Bressler (Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880, which I’m glad to see is used at Meadville/Lombard) has a few nice pages about what happens to Universalist history when necessarily viewed through an Unitarian-irenic lens.

This helps explain why everyone gets so tied up about Hosea Ballou being “the first unitarian” — but how many of us can identify, with some detail, the workings of Ballou’s universalist theology at any significant juncture of his career? He was, after all, a Universalist, and not a second-string (or worse) Unitarian, despite those who remember him so.

1 comment

  1. At Meadville/Lombard I did a research paper about the Trinitarian Universalists. They seemed to die out as a significant branch among the Universalists in the 1870s, with some Universalists decrying the condemnation of Trinitarian theology among them. What struck me most was that the condemnation of Trinitarian Christology was so unnecessary. It only limited the numbers of Universalists by making those Trinitarians who had Universalist beliefs look elsewhere.

    Working on this subject caused me to ask a few inconvenient questions. Does taking a stand on liberal social positions needlessly limit our numbers? In what other ways do Unitarian Universalists act to limit our religious movement’s numbers?

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