Heretics All

444 S 5th Street

Hello I'm Lee Wells and this is where I work in my other life as a Planning Technician. I mention this because like many UUs I don't advertise the fact that I am a Unitarian Universalist to many people. I have heard the standard, UUs can believe anything! comment. I have even been told some people pray for me to which I reply 'well I suppose someone has to'. Doubtless most probably don't 'get' my response, but to me if make them think about it, I think my purpose is served.

One of my co-workers even challenged me to PROVE Unitarianism was a religion (he refuses to add Universalist to our name its just too long I suppose)

IRS seal

So after a couple of minutes I came to what I thought was a fairly logical conclusion I could prove UUs were a church the same way the Internal Revenue Service did.

I know that's not very 'touchy feely' but I guess that's the way I am. I like hard facts, no contest. As we all know there isn't much use arguing with the IRS. Also the ways that the Internal Revenue Service determines whether a church is a church or not turn out to be pretty concrete.

So if you ever find yourself in a dark alley with someone who needs you to prove Unitarian Universalism is a religion as if your life depends on it, Take Heart! According to the IRS
we are a religion.


IRS bullet points for a religion

These are the bullet points for the IRS to define a religion. You can read them all if you want but the 'Distinct religious history' one got me.

Our church has some martyrs, and martyrs sort of take my breath away, the mention of someone dying for their ideals doesn't seem to me to be something a person would decide to do very easily. Our history indicates to me that we as a people are above all things concerned with truth.

Perhaps if you are asked to explain your faith this highly abbreviated history may help.

Origen portrait

The man you see pictured was named Origen,
Origen of Alexandria
, He lived from the year 184/185 till 253/254 or so. He was an early Christian theologian who wrote about 6000 works. He was one of the greatest biblical scholars of the early Church, having written commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, though few are still surviving. He interpreted scripture both literally and allegorically. Origen was largely responsible for the collection of information regarding the texts which became the New Testament. He was almost a Unitarian and a Universalist before the words were coined.

One of his followers was
The man who made the
First Council of Nicea
necessary by speaking out against the Trinity.

Map of the spread of Chirstianity

Nicea hosted 318 delegates from May 20th 325 till June 19th of the same year.

It was basically a church committee, and yes there have been church committees for over 1600 years. .The main purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements from within the Church over the nature of the Son in his relationship to the Father.

Bishop Alexander and the deacon Athanasius argued that Jesus Christ was eternal, just like the Father was.
Arius (only a priest) denied that the Son was God
in the same sense that the Father was God. According to Arius, the Son was not eternal nor of the same substance with the Father, but was a creature. [in other words the evidence based argument]

Constantine and Arius

The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250 to 318 voting delegates, all but two agreed to sign the creed and these two, along with Arius, were banished to Illyria.) As you can see from the picture, Arius was 'put down' literally.

Labeled a heretic he would die under mysterious circumstances in the year 336.

A heretic is a person who makes false claims according to religious authorities. In Christianity, the orthodox theology of the church is thought to be based on divine revelation, and heretics are viewed as perversely rejecting the guidance of the church.

The first known usage of the term in a legal context was in the year 380 by the Edict of Thessalonica of Theodosius I, which made Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire. Prior to the issuance of this edict, the Church had no state-sponsored support for any particular legal mechanism to counter what it perceived as "heresy". By this edict the state's authority and that of the Church became somewhat overlapping. One of the outcomes of this blurring of Church and state was the sharing of state powers of legal enforcement with church authorities. This reinforcement of the Church's authority gave church leaders the power to, in effect, pronounce the death sentence upon those whom the church considered heretical.

First Amendment on Building


The United States of America wrote the first amendment to the Constitution to strictly forbid government from convicting people of heresy.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The pictured building is the Newseum in Washington DC built in 2008, maybe if it had been written like that a thousand years ago, things might be different now.

Since the United States does not favor one religion over another heresy can't exist here. We can't have things like the Spanish Inquisition in the United States. Unitarians and Universalists as well have suffered from the idea of heresy a long time, some of our fore-bearers were burned at the stake for it, and without a wall between religion and the government one can get 'the divine right of kings' or absolute monarchy.

Creed of Nicaea

But let us bounce back to Nica for a couple of minutes, here's what almost everyone [except for Arius and his friends]signed there, that still almost defines Christianity today. This is the

First Nicene Creed

Some of you may remember it from being members of other churches where it is typically stated in a group reading:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not,
or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (curses) them.


seal of Spanish Iquistion
That one could die for an idea is probably why one does not see writings of a Unitarian or Universalist nature until about 1531. Also there weren't printing presses most of that time and the literate were trained by the state church. The same state churches that gave us the Crusades,(1096-1272) the various Inquisitions, (1184 to 1821) and outlawed the Knights Templar (1307).

This brings us to the
Bubonic plague
of 1346 to 1353 when all of Europe was engulfed, which was blamed on another religion. [But was actually because trade with the far east had picked up] Because people that kept cats might not get bit by the rat fleas that carry the plague, to people who didn't understand germ theory, witchcraft seemed a likely culprit.

After the Black Death wiped out between 30 and 60 percent of the population of Europe things did get better. With the invention of the printing press which happened in 1439 in Europe. Its spark lead to "The Enlightenment" of the 1500s.


Michael Servetus
Michael Servetus book


Michael Servetus published the book " On the Errors of the Trinity " in 1531. After 23 years of " running from the law " , Servetus was brought to trial and burned at the stake along with one copy of his book. His book is available as a PDF today. Didn't his accuser understand that making a martyr just makes them more popular?


On the other hand perhaps his accuser was correct. Back then, many people could not read, because the government didn't run education, religion did. Only men were allowed to read, since women were treated as property. A basic literacy rate of 25% might be estimated in larger towns.

That is probably why if you

Google Servetus

you get about 230,000 results, however his accuser
John Calvin
gets about 73,000,000 results. Yes, the Calvin who made Calvinism. The one who wrote this about his conversion:

"God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour."

Odd , to me, that " true godliness " could include burning people at the stake.

Ferenc David

In Hungary, King John Sigismund proclaimed the Edict of Torda (a city in Hungary) in 1568. This is also called the Patent of Toleration,

"Our Royal Majesty, as he had decided at the previous debates within his country about matters of religion, confirms as well at the present Diet (a Diet is a high level meeting) that every orator shall preach the gospel by his own (personal) conception, at any place if that community is willing to accept him, or if it isn't, no one should force him just because their soul is not satisfied with him; but a community can keep such a preacher whose teachings are delightful. And no one, neither superintendents nor others, may hurt a preacher by this or by the previous constitutions; no one may be blamed because of their religion. No one is allowed to threaten others with prison or divest anyone of their office because of their profession:
because faith is God's gift born from hearing and this hearing is conceived by the word of God."

Ferenc David
He did this at the request of a man called Ferenc Dávid (or Francis David) [this slide is a detail of the picture in the hallway next to the name-tag board shown above]

From the Unitarian Universalist Association website:

By 1571, Unitarianism was given legal recognition in what would turn out to be King John Sigismund's last public act. He died two months later as a result of an accident, and left no heir to the throne. Francis David the man behind the Patent of Toleration began to preach his ideas from the pulpit. A man named Biandrata, concerned for the survival of the Unitarian Church, reported Francis David's activities to the successor of King Sigismund.

David continued to preach after the Prince ordered him to stop, and Francis David was arrested and tried for the crime of "religious innovation" That is:Any change in religious practice, organization, or belief. Islam and Christianity have developed orthodox bodies of belief, custom, and practice, which are regarded as part of a sacred tradition. Religious innovation is thus seen as a departure from orthodoxy, because it is a threat to tradition. Since some religious innovation is inevitable, there is a permanent tension between belief in the unchanging nature of orthodox tradition, and the actual social change of religious organizations..

Deva Castle

Francis David's last words were:

Neither the sword of popes, nor the cross, nor the image of death — nothing will halt the march of truth. I wrote what I felt and that is what I preached with trusting spirit. I am convinced that after my destruction the teachings of false prophets will collapse.

This message was carved onto the walls of his dungeon cell. David died in the royal dungeon in the castle at Deva on November 15, 1579.

on Feburary 17, 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as we saw in the call to worship.


Again Unitarians and Universalists were forced into hiding. After eight years in the Inquisition prison in the Roman town square called the 'Field of Flowers' On Feburary 17, 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for:
Giordano Bruno

  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith
  • and speaking against it and its ministers;
  • and faith about the Trinity, divinity of Christ, and Incarnation;
  • and pertaining to Jesus as Christ;
  • and regarding the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus;
  • and about both Transubstantiation (turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) and Mass;
  • and claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity;
  • and believing in metempsychosis (the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species.) and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes;
  • and dealing in magics and divination.

At his trial he said " Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it." He was a Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model: while supporting its heliocentrism, he also correctly proposed that the Sun was just another star moving in space, and claimed as well that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.

Biddle Lecture


The world that John Biddle was born into on the fourteenth of January 1615, had burned Giordano Bruno 15 years earlier (as we saw in the Call to Worship), but Biddle would leave it changed. " The father of English Unitarianism " had concluded the Trinity was not supported by the Bible, and set about publishing his own views on the nature of God. John Biddle was in and out of prison till 1655 when he was exiled to the Scilly Isles. Yes, he was only exiled for his views - -not burned at the stake. Although he was pardoned in 1658 John Biddle was again put in prison where he became ill and died. Samuel Clarke, Rector of St James' Piccadilly, came under severe censure when his book, The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, appeared in 1712 in which he argued that supreme honour should be given only to God, the Father.

John Locke
Logo for General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
John Locke, who lived from 29 August 1632 to 28 October 1704, would become Arian later in life. But to my mind, his Letters Concerning Toleration (1689 to 1692) in the aftermath of the European wars of religion, formulated a classic reasoning for religious tolerance. Three arguments are central: (1) Earthly judges, the state in particular, and human beings generally, cannot dependably evaluate the truth-claims of competing religious standpoints; (2) Even if they could, enforcing a single "true religion" would not have the desired effect, because belief cannot be compelled by violence; (3) Coercing religious uniformity would lead to more social disorder than allowing diversity.

He was not banished for his beliefs, of course they were not made law either, not in England.

The Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 granted toleration for Unitarian worship. In 1825 three groups amalgamated into the British and Foreign Unitarian Association. A century later, this joined with the Sunday School Association to become the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, which remains today the umbrella organization for British Unitarianism.

This European religious history was a forerunner to round out our Unitarian Universalist heritage, and now I turn to the United States to finish.

Freedom Moves West book
1n 1830, First Unitarian Church in Louisville was founded as an outpost to the West. In 1865, fresh from the horrors of the Civil War, a rationalistic minority of people formed the

Free Religious Association,

"to encourage the scientific study of theology and to increase fellowship in the spirit." 21 years later the
Western Unitarian Conference
accepted the same position, after much painful discussion and based its "fellowship on no dogmatic tests, but affirmed a desire "to establish truth, righteousness and love in the world." In addition, the Western Unitarian Conference claimed belief in God was not a necessary component of Unitarian belief. The conservatives among the conference resigned and formed

the Western Unitarian Association.

Missionary work in the West was badly crippled.

Eight years later, the national conference at Saratoga, New York in 1894, a compromise was reached. They affirmed by a nearly unanimous vote that: "These churches accept the religion of Jesus, holding, in accordance with his teaching, that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to man. The conference recognizes the fact that its constituency is Congregational in tradition and polity. Therefore it declares that nothing in this constitution is to be construed as an authoritative test; and we cordially invite to our working fellowship any who, while differing from us in belief, are in general sympathy with our spirit and our practical aims."

Principles and Purposes

This is the compromise that is with us to this day though muted. Our Principles and Purposes still tell a tale of compromise and tolerance for everyone's beliefs.

We have our Principles which we emphasize but we still have our Purposes and hopefully we always will.

Kids seven principles
We have our children's version of the Principles for ease of use and to state our cause in easy to remember short sentences, and it is easy to forget the long path it took to get to where we are today.

Perhaps remembering can get us to that place where

The life of the denomination has been healthy, and its progress in strength, though not rapid, has been steady. Many new churches have been planted in the far West and in the South, as well as on the eastern seaboard; an important missionary enterprise in Japan was undertaken in 1889, and more efficient organization of forces has been steadily won.

Logo UUA 2014
The forming of the

Young People’s Religious Union

in 1896 was the beginning of a movement of great and increasing importance; and in 1919 the

Laymen’s League

took its place beside the

Woman’s Alliance

and brought undreamed of vigor into the life of the churches. The organization of the

International Congress of Free Christians and Other Religious Liberals

in 1900, and of the

National Federation of Religious Liberals

in 1908, have brought the denomination into active sympathy with kindred movements in other lands and other churches.

Our Unitarian Heritage
Earl Morse Wilbur 1925

In closing on the hundredth anniversary of the conception of the

American Unitarian Association

I leave another time gap to be filled by another. So what is the point of all this? I'm sure you have heard it at least 100 times, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, or if you don't know where you have been, you don't know where you are going, or my favorite -- Tradition is hallowed, revered, and sanctified -and prevents you from doing something better. —