CHAPTER THREE -- BRITISH EMPIRE
The Protestant Reformation did not go as God had wanted. Germany under Luther and Calvin failed to live up to God's standard. They continued to reject Anti-trinitarianism and they resorted to violence to force people to believe as they did. God had no choice but to look for a third and final empire to be his world champion. He chose the English speaking people of England. When England failed, God blessed America as his final champion and the place in the West the Messiah would come to from the East. Jesus' mission was to go to Rome with his chosen nation of Israel and teach the Roman Emperor, the leaders, and people to be the world wide missionaries to teach the world the truth. America became like a new Roman Empire. There are many similarities between the Roman Empire and America. It is interesting that Rome, Charlemagne and America had the eagle as their symbol. Charlemagne's palace was crowned by a bronze eagle with outstretched wings.
England grew to be a great empire because God blessed it. Satan did everything he could to slow God's effort. God had a few victories but Satan beat God in the end and God had to move to America. England made the mistake of persecuting what people would call a cult today -- the Pilgrims.
In our book 1620: the Pilgrims and the New Pilgrims we tell the famous story of the Pilgrims who were persecuted in England and eventually made their exodus to America and started Plymouth Plantation. (You can read the entire book at our website www.DivinePrinciple.com).
There were three stages in the Pilgrim's story. The first was their life in England. The second was their life in Holland. The third was their life in America. God had prepared Holland to be one of the rare places in human history where there was some degree of freedom. This bright spot attracted the Pilgrims and they escaped the persecution of the religious leaders and the King of England. God wanted the Pilgrims to accept Arianism and take it to America.
Pilgrims fail to accept Arianism in Holland
One book says, "If the Pilgrims could have remained in prosperous, easy-going Amsterdam which was the bustling center of the cloth industry ... they would have flourished materially. Practically all sects were free to teach their peculiar tenets, but the Pilgrims feared that their church might split doctrinally like that of a certain other Separatist faction. Daily contact with Anabaptists, Socinians, Arians, Jew and miscellaneous heretics and unbelievers threatened their own tight orthodoxy. Hence they decided to leave."
God wanted them to accept Arianism. That is why He had them go to Holland first. But, unfortunately, human history is one where God's central figures just can't ever get it totally right. Satan invades God's communication, like the Communists invade the airways when America tries to send radio communication to Cuba. Satan garbles God's revelations. It is always a mixture. Until the messiah comes to sort it out, there is always a lot of bathwater with the babies. The Pilgrims sadly were not tuned in enough and threw out the baby of Arianism. There were competing sects, (called cults today), but in the midst of all the false ones there was the tiny voice of unitarianism that the Pilgrims did not hear. To this day, this small voice is still drowned out by the bathwater of traditional Christian thought of its science fiction, illogical polytheism of three gods in a trinity.
The Pilgrims struggled in Leiden with low paying jobs. Bradford did better because he got some money from his estate back in England. Brewster set up a little publishing company and printed some tracts against the church of England and smuggled them into England. King James was furious at these writings and influenced the Dutch to stop Brewster. Edward Winslow, the only Pilgrim to have his portrait done, was also a printer. God wanted them to print the truth about unitarianism.
There were hundreds of Pilgrims, but they failed to go in mass to America. They should have all gone as one big powerful group as the Puritans did ten years later in 1630. Instead of 40 Pilgrims being a minority on the Mayflower there should have been 400 in many boats. The Pilgrims should have been 10 times smarter and had 10 times the people, but God's champions are always less than they should be. This is why human history is such a long history of suffering. I love the Pilgrims. They were magnificent in many ways. But we must understand that they fundamentally missed the boat when it came to the Trinity. They didn't have ears to hear. Their mistake in not bringing unitarianism and a more sensible view of the messiah has made it extremely difficult for Sun Myung Moon. Still, they are to be honored for the greatness they accomplished. They made many serious mistakes. But that is the normal course in human history. It moves very slowly.
William Bradford rejects Arianism
Bradford in his masterpiece, Of Plymouth Plantation, writes at the start of his book that Satan uses "stratagems" to confuse people to the truth. Satan sows "errors, heresies" and works on people's "pride and ambition, with other corrupt passions incident to all mortal men, yea to the saints themselves in some measure." Bradford tries his best to not let Satan influence him. Bradford hated catholicism. This was a diversion of Satan. This led to persecution of Catholics. It created a split in Christianity. Bradford and others should have focused their protest, their protestant revolution, to abolishing the concept of the trinity, instead of focusing on a hatred of the Pope.
Bradford's focus was wrong. He begins his book attacking Catholics who he says Satan makes them have "vile ceremonies, with many unprofitable canons and decrees, which have since been as snares to many poor and peaceable souls to this day." Bradford is right that there is too much ritual and mumbo jumbo in Catholicism. God is not for all the elaborate robes and ceremonies to the extent that they use them. A little is ok, but religions degenerate into ritual that stops the simplicity of God.
Bradford sadly puts down Arianism at the very beginning of his book. In doing so he took America on the wrong path. By being an orthodox Christian, America has never achieved the greatness she should have. With only a few exceptions every American president, like the majority who elect him, are slowed down with a superstitious view of Jesus.
Bradford writes, "the Arians" are "against the orthodox and true Christians." America has not been a "true" Christian nation, because it is orthodox.
God had sent missionaries from Poland to Holland to teach unitarianism, but their voice was too small.
Unitarian thought at the time of the Pilgrims in England and Holland
An encyclopedia says that there was "turmoil" in England when the Pilgrims lived there over unitarian thought: "In England, in the turmoil of the 17th century, Socinianism made an appeal to several Anglican and Nonconformist circles as a rational, irenic [peaceful] expression of Christianity. John Biddle, who gathered a few Socinian conventicles [conventicle is defined as "a secret or unauthorized meeting, esp. for religious worship, as those held by Protestant dissenters in England when they were prohibited by law] of Biddellians in 1652, is regarded as the father of English Unitarianism." After losing his belief in the Trinity, he stated his conclusions in Twelve Arguments Drawn Out of Scripture, for which he was imprisoned (1645). He was banished for publishing his Two-fold Catechism (1654). Returning in 1658, he taught and preached until again imprisoned in 1662.
As we will see John Locke was a reader of Socinian works who in 1695 wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures.
The Pilgrims rejected the followers of Faustus Socinius who lived in the 16th century and died in Poland in 1604. He was an "Italian-born lay theologian whose anti-Trinitarian teachings led to the founding of the Socinian sect and were later influential in the development of Unitarian theology." I came across a sermon of a unitarian minister, Rev. Craig C. Roshaven, published on the web that tells the story of Socinius. He writes,
This morning I want to tell you a story. A story of a man who, perhaps more than any other single person, is responsible for our faith, the religion we call Unitarian Universalism. A man who planted many of the seeds that would ultimately flower into what we now call the Enlightenment, the age of reason. A devout and pietistic man who believed in the religion of Jesus rather than the religion about Jesus. His story is not only of great intellectual moral courage, but one of great faith and faithfulness.
Faustus wrote most of his books anonymously, in order to avoid persecution. But that was scant protection, for it was hard to conceal authorship in so small a world of scholars. From the beginning, Faustus began to think and write dangerous heresies. His first book, which he wrote when he was but 23, boldly declared that Jesus was divine, but was not God.
Almost all of Europe during this time was a dangerous place for those who questioned religious dogmas. Heretics were being tortured and killed not only in Italy, but in Spain, France, England, Holland, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. [He narrowly escaped assassination in 1578 upon the publication of his book De Jesu Christo Servatore.] But there was one place that was safe. Poland and its neighbor, Translyvania.
[Socinius went to] Poland when he was 40 and remained there until his death in his 60's. While he was there, the anti-Trinitarians of Poland became unified under his intellectual leadership and would eventually become known as Socinians.
[As usual he was persecuted
there too.] Socinius was also often persecuted by
those who were enraged by his writings. Indeed, once
when he was ill, a group of students broke into his home,
burned all his manuscripts and threatened to burn him as
well unless he recanted his heretical belief that Jesus was
not God. He refused and was rescued, almost
accidentally, by a sympathetic professor. [After being
almost killed by this mob he moved to another
city.] What kind of man was he?
He was first and foremost a scholar. Although he was
not formally educated, he was fluent in Greek, Hebrew,
Latin, French, German, and Polish. One of his early
works on the Bible was so well written that it became a
standard text used widely for 200 years. He was a
gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he
distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy.
Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the
great Protestant leaders, Luther and Calvin would use vile
street language when arguing with their
opponents. Finally, what were his
beliefs? First, he and the other Socinians believed in
religious tolerance. They also believed that all
religious authority depended on applying reason to
historical evidence, the evidence in this case being the
scripture. It was because they saw no evidence in the
scripture for the doctrine of trinity they denied it. ...
They also believed that God was a loving God and that a
loving God would not infinitely punish sins. The most striking part of their
belief, though, was their belief Jesus was not God, but
human. An exceptional man to be sure, but just a
[As usual he was persecuted there too.] Socinius was also often persecuted by those who were enraged by his writings. Indeed, once when he was ill, a group of students broke into his home, burned all his manuscripts and threatened to burn him as well unless he recanted his heretical belief that Jesus was not God. He refused and was rescued, almost accidentally, by a sympathetic professor. [After being almost killed by this mob he moved to another city.]
What kind of man was he? He was first and foremost a scholar. Although he was not formally educated, he was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, and Polish. One of his early works on the Bible was so well written that it became a standard text used widely for 200 years. He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the great Protestant leaders, Luther and Calvin would use vile street language when arguing with their opponents.
Finally, what were his beliefs? First, he and the other Socinians believed in religious tolerance. They also believed that all religious authority depended on applying reason to historical evidence, the evidence in this case being the scripture. It was because they saw no evidence in the scripture for the doctrine of trinity they denied it. ... They also believed that God was a loving God and that a loving God would not infinitely punish sins.
The most striking part of their belief, though, was their belief Jesus was not God, but human. An exceptional man to be sure, but just a man.
The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia writes that the Socinians "posed a serious threat to Roman Catholic dominance in the area. At the synod of Brez in 1588 Socinius argued against all the chief Christian dogmas. In 1590 he was denounced by the Inquisition and became destitute. Faustus Socinius died in obscurity 14 years later."
"Although there were only 300 Socinian churches in the 17th century Poland at the height of the movement, their influence would be felt throughout Europe. Socinius's books were widely distributed and read."
An encyclopedia writes that in Poland they "founded a successful university and a famous printing operation that turned out many Socinian books and pamphlets. ... In 1638, however, the Polish Diet closed the academy and the press ... and in 1658 the Diet gave the Socinians the choice of either conformity to Roman Catholic doctrine or forced exile or death. A mass migration of Socinians ensued, chiefly to Translyvania, the Netherlands, Germany, and England" where "Socinian ideas influenced John Biddle, the father of English Unitarianism."
In Our Unitarian Heritage, Earl Wilbur writes that missionaries went from Poland to other countries to teach. They were always persecuted. When Holland opened up some religious freedom two ministers from Poland, Ostorod and Wojdowski, went there and "while visiting the University of Leiden in 1578 sought to make converts among the students there by conversations and by circulating books which they had brought with them. ... They also made the acquaintance of the young Arminius, who was later to lead a movement against Calvinism and pave the way for Methodism; and although they did not make an Antitrinitarian of him, yet it is hard not to believe that they did plant liberal seeds in his mind, and persuade him to accept some of the principles of Socinianism."
He goes on to say, "The authorities had these two under suspicion almost from the day of their arrival, and seizing their books submitted them to the Leiden theologians, who pronounced their teaching little better than Mohammedanism. A trial was had, and after various delays it was ordered that the books be publicly burnt, and that their owners leave the country within ten days. After that it was several years before Socinianism again made any stir in Holland."
This is the usual pattern. Even in America when the year 2000 is near there are those who want to ban the Unification Church from the country. Rev. Moon is banned from Germany and Japan.
Of course it is impossible to stop something by simply banning it and Socinians kept coming to Holland and England. And the orthodox church in Holland "induced the States General to pass decrees against Socinianism in 1628, though as the magistrates in the larger towns were much disposed to be tolerant, little came of them."
When the Arminians were persecuted the Socinians in Poland were sympathetic. They sent a man who had been a student of Episopius and now living in Poland to travel to Holland and give Episcopius a message of friendship. Wilbur writes in his book The History of Unitarianism that this former student "made the long journey from Poland on purpose to offer the exiles any help in their power to give. If they were disposed to remove to Poland, he assured them of a hearty welcome and of all needed assistance. So generous an offer could not be declined outright, and was carefully considered; but Episopius replied the following evening, with thanks for the offer, that their present necessities were provided for, and that they felt they could serve their people better by remaining near them than by removing to a distant land."
Of course Episcopius should have become an anti-Trinitarian and joined forces. Maybe then they would have had enough power to influence the Pilgrims to change their minds. Who knows? God is trying to work where ever he can to advance people's understanding of freedom, reason and tolerance.
Another important figure in the history of religious tolerance was Sebastian Castellio who was upset at Servetus being burned as a heretic and wrote an influential book that was translated and circulated around Europe. He was an Italian liberal humanist who advocated religious toleration in De haereticis or Concerning Heretics (1554). This book caused a wave of protest over the cruel death of Servetus.
Wilbur writes that his books had great impact in Holland and elsewhere. He says that Castellio advanced "the fundamental principles of freedom, reason and tolerance that have evolved in its history and been ever increasingly realized as the necessary conditions of the fullest development of religious thought and life. ... Sebastian Castellio deserves more ample recognition than he has as yet received from more than a very few. In this respect he is entitled to be considered, even more than Servetus, as the real founder of liberal Christianity; for the first and most essential of its three controlling principles named above is that of generous tolerance of differing views. This is, at bottom, the outgrowth of an entirely new conception of religion as centered not in dogma but in life and character; and it is of the very essence of this conception of religion to regard freedom and reason not as incidental, but as fundamental conditions of a thoroughly wholesome existence of religion. At a time of extreme dogmatism, Castellio was the first in Protestant history to emphasize and place on firm and enduring foundations this principle of tolerance. It is therefore but just to honor him as one of the prime founders of liberal Protestantism."
Pilgrims mistakenly fight Arminians
Bradford and the rest of the Pilgrims also made a huge mistake in not seeing that God was also trying to reform Christianity and make it more logical and humane with the teachings of Arminius. Jacobus Arminius was a minister in Leiden of the Dutch Reformed Church and then became a professor of theology in the University of Leiden who opposed the Calvinist teaching of predestination. The university there was the chief training center for ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church. He had a mild temperament, but was forced into the controversy against his own choice. He gave up the ridiculous idea of predestination because it obviously didn't make any sense, but since that was the ruling ideology, he was attacked. His followers were condemned, persecuted and some were expelled from the country. His ideas were later accepted by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church in America. The Methodists have a magazine to this day called The Arminian Magazine.
After he died in 1609 the theologian Simon Episcopius took up the fight as his successor at Leiden. There was great controversy over this issue the whole ten years the Pilgrims were at Leiden. The Pilgrims were Calvinists and missed that God was behind the Ariminians in the Arminian/Calvinist debate. As happens throughout history, force is usually used against those who upset the status quo with non-traditional views.
Bradford writes of this passionate debate that raged in Holland while he lived there. He goes into detail to write how the Pilgrims fought against this new heresy. He writes in his book Plymouth Plantation, "In these times also were the great troubles raised by the Arminians, who, as they greatly molested the whole state, so this city in particular in which was the chief university; so as there were daily and hot disputes in the schools thereabout."
Bradford says that there were two professors who were riling everyone up -- Episcopius and Polyander. He writes that the Pilgrims's minister, John Robinson, debated them, "which made Episcopius (the Arminian professor) to put forth his best strength and set forth sundry theses which by public dispute he would defend against all men."
Then Bradford tells the story of how Robinson publicly debated Polyander: "Now Polyander, the other professor, and the chief preacher of the city, desired Mr. Robinson to dispute against him; but he was loath, being a stranger. Yet the other did importune him..."
Robinson decided to do it. Bradford writes, "when the day came, the Lord did so help him to defend the truth and foil the adversary, as he put him to an apparent nonplus in this great and public audience. And the like he did a second and third time upon such like occasions. The which as it caused many to praise God that the truth had so famous victory, so it procured him much honor and respect from those learned men and others which loved the truth."
Well, we don't know if Robinson was that great or not. Bradford is a biased witness to the debate. Bradford's book is the first classic written in America and it sadly begins with Bradford completely off the track of God's will. These spiritual ancestors of America had many faults, but we have to see that God takes two steps forward and one back. In time the truth comes out, but it is messy until it is understood by all. In 1619, a year before the Pilgrims left for America, the orthodox church in Holland held a council and got the government to ban the Arminians. In The History of Unitarianism we read, "Their ministers were removed from their pulpits and from any office they might hold under the State. ... About 200 ministers were concerned, and 80 of them were put into wagons and sent into exile across the border. Public proclamations forbade those that remained in the country to hold any meetings, even in secret."
17th Century England
One of the greatest writers in the English language is John Milton. God was working in the 1600s to get Antitrinitarianism across to the people in England. God had hoped that Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, would be his champion. He wrote a work called Treatise on Christian Doctrine that was anti-Trinitarian, but he did not have it published in his lifetime.
There was a major debate over the trinity in England between 1687-1700 which became known as the "Unitarian controversy" and the "Trinitarian controversy."
In The Christian Doctrine Milton writes that to believe in God as one, not three, is "much more clearly deductible from the Holy Scriptures than the commonly received opinion." He says no one "should take offense at my freedom" to say "what I think more worthy of belief than the creed in general acceptation. I only entreat that my readers will ponder and examine my statements in a spirit which desires to discover nothing but the truth, and with a mind free from prejudice. For without intending to oppose the authority of Scripture, which I consider inviolently sacred, I only take upon myself to refute human interpretations as often as the occasion requires."
He wrote that "it is impossible to find a single text in all Scripture to prove the eternal generation of the Son." Jesus, he says, "was begotten" and therefore exists "within the limits of time." One book says of Milton, "Thus he finds no scriptural warrant for the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, insists on taking literally the reiteration that God is numerically one, and denies that one can be three." Milton was careful in writing Paradise Lost to not let his Arian views be known. He did not publish On Christian Doctrine and it was discovered years after his death. He fought for freedom of religion and that was revolutionary for his day. He probably didnt want go all the way and bash the Trinity. He lived during the Thirty Years War in Europe, and he probably didnt want to see any of theviolence people used so quickly on differences of religious views come to him and his family.
Agreeable to Reason
He lists many quotes from the Bible that says God is one such as "there is no God else besides me" and "I am God, and there is none else." Then he writes that all the many verses in the Bible show that "no spirit, no person, no being besides him is God. ... What an be plainer, what more distinct, what more suitable to general comprehension and the ordinary forms of speech for the purpose of impressing on the people of God that there was numerically one God and one Spirit, in the common acceptation of numerical unity?" He says the Trinity is against reason and to see God as one is "in truth fitting and highly agreeable to reason" and that "even the lowest of people" could understand that the Bible speaks in "so plain a manner" without "ambiguous or obscure expressions" about God being three beings. A belief in the trinity leads "worshipers into error." He says the Israelites were right in emphasizing there is one God: "the Israelites ... understood .. that God was numerically one God." He says that belief was corrupted by theologians in schools "who, through their confidence in their own sagacity ... impugned the doctrine .. of the unity of God" and introduced the illogical view of the "plurality" of God.
One book said of his Paradise Regained, "He could draw upon many sources for his theology, even, the antitrinitarian reformers such as the Spaniard, Servetus, whom Calvin sent to the stake for heresy."
Milton was a champion for free speech
God spoke through John Milton who besides writing the classic Paradise Lost published in 1644 an inflential political tract tited Areopagitica, a speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing to the Parliament of England. It is an "eloquent defense of the freedom of the press from governmental restriction and censoship. It was written in response to the Press Licensing Order of 1643 which decreed that all journalistic writing would have to be approved by the government for publication." The Presbyterian majority wanted to suppress viewpoints of their religious and political opponents. His plea was for unlicensed printing. He became famous for being a spokesman for liberty. The State should be an umpire, not a player.
It begins with a strong apologia for the printed page: "Books are not absolutely dead thingsbut do contain a potency of life ... They do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy andextraction of that living intellect that bred them... We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books" He says that the "common people" of England should be trusted more than government censors and not looked down on: "if we dare not trust them with an English pamphlet, what do we but censure them for a giddy, vicious, and ungrounded people?"
He believed all mankind can handle hearing opposing views and will ultimately recognize truth. "Let truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worst in a free and open encounter .... For who knows not that truth is strong next to the Almighty; she needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings, to make her victorious ... Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps."
In his essay "Of Education" he wrote that the "end ... of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright." He hoped schools would teach correctly and school children could blossom into "the highest perfection."
He wrote a sequel to Paradise Lost called Paradise Regained. In it Jesus wins victory over Satan and establisheds his kingdom not with force, but through "winning words" of persuasion: "more humane, more heavenly first by winning words to conquer willing hearts and make persuasion do the work of fear."
Isaac Newton is one of the greatest scientists in history. God used him to advance an understanding of science. His book Principia is considered by many to be one of greatest, if not, the greatest scientific book ever written. He was a very cautious man and failed to reveal insights he found in religion.
Newton studied carefully the debates between Arius and Athanasius. One biographer said he found Athanasius "repugnant ... It was during a hiding with the hermit monks in the Egyptian desert that Athanasius wrote Discourses Against the Arians, the most compelling exposition of his Christianity ... The more deeply Newton delved, the more clear-cut the evidence became to him: The New Testament had been corrupted." Newton wrote down his thoughts attacking orthodox Trinitarianism, the virgin birth and other things he considered illegitimate intrusions into primitive Christianity, the only revealed religion. He was a good friend of John Locke and showed him his writings. He asked Locke to help him publish it anonymously but later panicked and didn't. In the end he sought to avoid controversy at all costs." One book says, "exposure as an Arian would almost certainly result in his professional ruin and perpetual banishment from the circle of his peers." Wouldn't this be the case for a follower of Sun Myung Moon today?
Isaac Newton was an Antitrinitarian. One book says, "Heresy in the form of dissenting opinions about the Trinity was almost as old as the Christian religion itself. Try as it might, the Church had never succeeded in stamping out this noxious weed [It is really a beautiful flower]; by Newtons day it had cropped up once more and soon became the most nettling problem by orthodox theologians."
The pattern of God's champions in the last 2000 years has been either they wouldn't proclaim the truth or if they did, they were unable to convert the ruling religious and political leaders or create a grass roots movement that would grow to overcome society's orthodox views.
18th century England
In the 18th century God inspired Samuel Clarke to write and publish his unitarian book in 1712. One book said that this was a time "the doctrine of the Trinity had become one of the most debated theological issues of the Church." The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity was published in the midst of this discussion." Clarke's point was that the Bible itself never says God is a trinity.
He called for Christians to return to a simple Christianity and re-evaluate the Nicene Creed which was not simple. A popular term used by Unitarians of that century was "primitive." They didn't mean any negative connotation to the word. They liked the words "Reason" (which they often capitalized) and "rational", "reasonable" and "practical." Clarke wrote that the traditional view of the trinity had brought "confusion" of "simple truth .. to the great disappointment of Christianity, puzzled the plain and practical Doctrine of Scripture, with endless speculative Disputes."
"In England, the beginnings of Unitarianism are associated with John Biddle, who was often persecuted and imprisoned for his Unitarian beliefs. He died in prison in 1662."
"In the year of Biddle's death, Parliament outlawed all non-Episcopal worship and clergy in the Act of Uniformity (1662) which remained in force until the Toleration Act of 1689. As always, however, oppressions spawned unrest, and Antitrinitarianism spread rapidly. Biddle's tracts were widely circulated in England and Holland."
"Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, was a major figure in eighteenth-century English Unitarianism. Both a Unitarian minister and a scientist, he voiced radical theological and political views and sympathized with the aims of the American and the French revolutions."
Under his leadership "English Unitarianism after 1774 mushroomed in numbers, chapels, and confidence. As minister of the New Meeting chapel in Birmington, Priestley preached Unitarianism, pamphleteered, and worked tirelessly for liberal and unpopular causes including the French Revolution, all the while carrying on his scientific experiments."
ABSURDITY SUPPORTED BY POWER
"His main contribution to English Unitarianism was a comprehensive argument, both historical and philosophical, for liberal Christianity drawn from Scripture and early Christian writings, interpreted by reason, and rigorously applied to the religious and political problems of his day. 'Absurdity supported by power,' he wrote, 'will never be able to stand its ground against the efforts of reason.'"
"Of all of Priestley's religious works, probably the most influential was his History of the Corruptions of Christianity in two volumes, in which he sought to show that true Christianity, embodied in the beliefs of the primitive church, was Unitarian, and that all departures from that faith were corruptions. The Corruptions infuriated the orthodox and delighted the liberals in both England and America. It was publicly burned in Holland."
He wrote "that the universal parent of mankind commissioned Jesus Christ, to invite men to the practice of virtue." The doctrine itself is so plain, that both "the learned" and the "unlearned" would "respect it." Unfortunately it has suffered "monstrous corruptions and abuses" that have "crept into the system." The church today is "subversive" to Jesus.
He was the "arch-heretic of the 18th century. He saw himself as the only proponent of true Christianity with his persecutors representing traditional heresy."
Priestly begins his book : "The unity of god is a doctrine on which the greatest stress is laid in the whole system of revelation." He says the Jews were expecting a man, not God, to come as the messiah: "none of their prophets gave them an idea of any other than a man like themselves ... nor do they expect to this day." And "the apostles" of Jesus saw him as "a man like themselves." This is on the first page and it infuriated people.
One book says: "inflamed by exasperated leaders of the Established Church, a Birmingham mob chose Bastille Day, July 14, 1791, to attack and burn down Priestley's home, laboratory, library and Unitarian chapel. And they ravaged all the Unitarian chapels in Birmingham. ... Priestley made a hairbreadth escape, fleeing to London, where he immediately wrote and dispatched a sermon to be read to his congregation on the following Sunday, using as his text: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'"
"Discouraged by the prevailing political and ecclesiastical climate, and beckoned by an invitation from his friend Thomas Jefferson, he sailed, in 1794, to the United States. ... He went to Philadelphia when that city was still the capital of the United States. He founded "the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, the first permanently established church in the United States to take the Unitarian name."
Thomas Jefferson was President and attended his church. Benjamin Franklin and other leaders also attended.