|History of Universalism|
Compiled, Edited and Written by Reverend Wells E. Behee,
retired minister of the First Universalist Church, New Madison, Ohio
FIRST: What is Universalism?
Answer: The signature trademark of Universalism is (1) the universal, all-encompassing, compassionate love of God and (2) Jesus' command that each person be like God.
In modern language we would say, (1)"God is unconditional all-encompassing compassion of Love. Being a Perfect Father, God has the WISDOM and FORESIGHT not to punish but to discipline his children with the purpose to eternally rehabilitate every single person. (2) We believe in the spiritual leadership of Jesus.
To find the roots of our religion we must go back, at least, to the
prophets of ancient Israel. The allegorical truth of Jonah was that God was
a universal God for all people, not just the Israelites. Then later, our
Christian origins are anchored in the moral teachings of Jesus, as
exemplified in the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Early
Christianity was neither Trinitarian nor Unitarian. But it was
overwhelmingly universalist. The New Testament writer "Paul himself
preached a definite if often muted doctrine of universal salvation." In
CLEMENS aka 195, One of the great Christian Church Fathers TITUS FLAVIUS
Clemens Alexandrinus (born c.150- 220), first Christian philosopher and
president of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, advocated Universalism
on the ground of the remedial character of ALL SOULS. His pupil and
successor in the school following Clement, ORIGENES ADAMANTIUS aka Origen
(born. c.185 in Egypt, d. 253/254 at Tyre) became the next president of the
Catechetical School at Alexandria. He was generally considered the greatest
theologian and biblical scholar, scientist and mathematician of the early
Eastern Church and until Augustine was the most influential theologian of
the church. He taught that Jesus, the Son of God, is subordinate to the
Father in power and dignity. He instructed about a universalism
(apokatastasis or 'restoration of all beings'), by denying a perpetual
hell, preaching instead a progressive purging of the soul by spiritual fire
for a limited time. When the soul is purged of all sin, evil, and ignorance
it shall be rehabilitated and purified in its resurrection into heaven.
Each and every soul including the devil shall be restored and returned to a
knowledge and presence with God.
He advocated Universalism on the ground of the ever-continuing freedom of the will, the deep mental and spiritual anguish occasioned by the light and knowledge of the truth until it leads to repentance, and then the harmony of the soul with God.
JUST A FEW OF THE most notable CHURCH FATHERS who were outspoken Universalists
ST. Athanasius, born c. 296; died 2 May, 373. the protagonist
for the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea 325 A.D.
ST. Basil born abt 329 d. 379
ST. Gregory Nazianzen born 330 died 390
ST. Gregory of Nyssa born abt. 335 d.390
ST. Jerome 340-2; died at Bethlehem, 30 September, 420. A
student in the studies of Origen's universalism. Translated
the Bible into Latin.
In 553 A.D. at a local council meeting in Constantinople, later called the Fifth Ecumenical Council, called by Roman Emperor Justinian to specifically condemn universalism and some other of the doctrines falsely ascribed to Origen. The Council failed to concur with the Roman Emperor, his queen, and a groveling bishop. No doctrines resembling universal restoration were anathematized. Origen's name appears in the 11th canon of the Council, but scholars think the insertion of Origen's name to be a forgery.
Based upon the popularity of Universalism among the numbers of significant saints and in 5 of the 7 catecathical schools for teaching of Christian beliefs, it is very easy to assume that a large share of the Christians thrown to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome and outlying local arenas of the empire were without doubt universalist Christians. Our martyrs were multitudinous.
In truth, during the first 500 years of Christianity, Universalism was the predominant religious philosophy of the age. Today, we receive a revisionist history which not only defames and minimizes, but nearly eradicates universalism. The revisionists progressively took command of Christianity, reshaped it by declaring every unwanted belief as "heretic" and ran these believers out of the churches. Even to this day, this is a practice visited upon Universalism using more subtle methods with a more genteel style.
After 500 AD, the tables with the assistance of Augustine and the Roman emperor had shifted and the strident minority had taken political and religious majority to command of the more gentle philosophy of universalist Christianity. From a Hellenic (Greek) enlighten rational faith of FREEDOM and LOVE, these orthodox minorities subdued the Christian church and plunged backward into the Dark Ages brought on by Roman political and religious legalism. Thusly, UNIVERSALISM WAS ECLIPSED never formally anathematized. Furthermore, if Universalism were declared a heresy, most of the early Church Fathers, Popes, and Saints would have been denounced. Thusly, the anathematizing of Universalism is inconceivable.
847 A.D., John Scotus Erigena was invited by Charles II, later the Holy Roman Emperor, to head the court school in Paris. He was one of the most learned individuals of his time and taught that everything emanated from God and would be restored to God.
Universalism barely endured these Dark Ages (410- 980's) after sinking as low as most knowledge and learning did in Western Europe. Only a few glimpses continued through every century. Finally, in the 11th century (1000's) Universalism resurfaced in the Albigenses of Albi in Southern France and spread widely throughout Europe. Thereafter, Universalism spread widely in the beliefs of the Waldenses beginning in the 11th century in Lyon, France, the Lollards in Bohemia and Austria, and many ensuing religious groups and scholars. Through the centuries, universalism surfaced and resurfaced in differing forms.
Meanwhile, early in the 4th century A.D., Arius, a Christian presbyter, initiated the famous Arian controversy which like Origen stressed that the Christ was subordinate to God. This belief , not yet unitarian as no Christological doctrine had been declared and become a heresy until 325 A.D. This doctrine never died out in Christian circles and for centuries had its secret adherents. During the Protestant Reformation, Michael Servetus took up the battle and declared: "Your Trinity is a product of subtlety and madness. The Gospel knows nothing of it. ... God is one and indivisible." For these beliefs, he was burned at the stake by order of the City Council of Geneva, Switzerland. The Unitarian movement commenced in Transylvania insisting on the oneness of God yet believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, Satan, eternal sin, fire and brimstone became a powerful influence Poland at the end of the sixteenth century under the leadership of Faustus Socinus.
*1552-- Universalism was abroad in England demonstrated by the Protestants, who drew up their Forty-two Articles of Religion, in 1552, condemned Universalism. Ten years later, when the convocation revised the doctrines of the Church, the number of articles was reduced to thirty-nine, omitting, among others, the one condemning Universalism. Since that time Universalism has not been a forbidden doctrine in the Church of England.
(1549-1600 Giordano Bruno, Italian philosopher, MONK, and pantheist, Bruno claimed to have a higher understanding of the universe. He was a monk, and due to his beliefs of his Christian Universalism, acceptance of Galileo and other heresies, he was burned at the state as a heretic.
WHAT WAS THIS UNIVERSALISM?
John Murray in the 1780s stressed REASON in religion and so stated as he preached that since God was a loving God, he reasoned that it was inconceivable that he could condemn anyone to everlasting torment, all people would eventually be saved. His advocacy of Reason was important to reject those verses in the Old and New Testament which pictured God as wrathful, a tormentor, and less than a Universal God of Love to ALL his children--Jew, Egyptian. Phoenician, Roman, Black and White, etc.-- a belief an unconditional Universal Salvation of every person.
Developing in New England, we know of several preachers as Adams Streeter
(1735-1786) and later Caleb Rich (1750-1821) who were preaching
universalism particularly in Oxford and Milford, Massachusetts. There were
other men evangelizing throughout the area into northern Connecticut. A
collection of 16 universalists, including the wealthy Winthrop Sargent who
also owned a prominent pew in the established Congregational Church of
Gloucester, Mass., met in private meetings. Pockets of Universalists
existed throughout New England and New Jersey.
The spirit of universalism permeated and wisped through the air of early America. At the same time dissenters emerging from the Methodist and Baptist traditions were preaching the doctrine of Universal Salvation. The growth of Universalism at the end of the 1700's and in the first half of the 1800's, was led by untrained and often unpaid ministers preaching anywhere they could secure an audience, outdoors, homes, and in small, rough meeting houses. By and large the congregations were converted Congregational, Baptists, and Methodists of the lower classes.
September 30, 1770-John Murray preached the first Universalist sermon in America to Thomas Potter and his family and neighbors at Murray Grove which now on 431 Rte. 9, Lanoka Harbor, NJ.
1774 after a conversion, Noah Parker became the first Universalist preacher. December 25, 1780, the first Universalist meeting house was established in Boston. The Dedication sermon was given by Murray himself.
During this time, the Universalists immediately stepped up to the plate and formed their own church buildings at their own expense, employed their own ministers and operated their own full service churches.
The Universalists were paying for their own churches at the same time as they were paying the taxes for support of the state churches.
Universalism commenced to flourish widely, especially in New England and then throughout the mid-west, finally reaching the West Coast making it the fifth largest denomination in America. Even the first chaplain of the U.S. Army was our John Murray. He was appointed by George Washington to the Rhode Island Regiments.
1775---Dr. Benjamin Rush, Universalist, signed the Declaration of Independence
1777---John Murray had been preaching in private homes in Gloucester, and some of his followers were members of First Church of Christ, Congregational. In February 1777, 16 members of that church were cited to give reasons why they had been absenting themselves from services. They were eventually suspended, and this suspension gave impetus to the gathering of the new Universalist congregation. The decision to form the Independent Church of Christ was taken January 1, 1779, and John Murray preached the first sermon in the new building at its dedication December 25, 1780.
FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN UNIVERSALIST
One of the original founders of the very first Universalist congregation in America, in Gloucester, MA, signed the membership book as "Gloster Dalton, African." "Dalton, Gloster (c. 1720-11 Apr 1813), African brought to America as slave. First African American member of a Universalist church; one of twelve founding members of Independent Church of Christ" (Universalist cong, Gloucester MA, 1779) [excerpted from A Who's Who of UUs]
In England, Universalism developed out of Methodism. Then in America, Universalism spread across the environs of several colonies among the dissenters for American freedom from nearly every religious affiliation. Methodists, Baptists, Dunkers, and others organized their own independent Universalist churches free of any existing structured church.
1780's----all Massachusetts citizens were taxed to support the Congregational church of the community where they lived. This was the first legal case of separation of church and state. the Universalists won their case.
1782--Rev Giles Chapman was a former Quaker and Continental Army Chaplain who married into a Dunker family and began preaching Universal Salvation. The first Universalist church in SC was the Freedonia Meeting Hall situated between Prosperity and Newberry (in Newberry county). And His grandson-in-law, Elijah Linch was the minister of the church in the 1830s.
1785--- there were enough congregations to form the New England
Universalist Conference under the leadership of Murray and the Western
Massachusetts preachers. About the same time a Philadelphia convention was
Other regional and state conventions followed. These conventions would eventually come together as the Universalist General Convention and finally as the Universalist Church in America.
1786---This Gloucester Universalist Church was the first American church to
challenge the state tax support of churches. It won its suit in the state
court of Massachusetts.
"No sooner had the new congregation (Gloucester Universalist Church) formed than the town's theocratic authorities demanded that members continue to pay their church tax to their former congregation. The Universalists refused, and in 1782 some members' possessions were seized and sold at auction, and one member was briefly thrown in jail. The Universalists sued under the Massachusetts Bill of Rights, arguing that the church, though not favored by the town authorities, was a distinct and legitimate congregation that didn't fall under First Parish's jurisdiction. In 1786, the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled for the Universalists. It was the first victory that began the long campaign for church-state separation." This was the first test case in America that began to establish the important principle of religious freedom and began the long campaign for church-state separation."
1782---Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) stands as America's first and
foremost greatest educational reformer for women. "Perhaps no American
woman writer until Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) equaled Judith Sargent
Murray in intellectual powers, in the breadth of genres in which she wrote,
or in public recognition. "Murray became a poet, essayist, playwright, and
novelist," Within five years after membership into the Gloucester
Universalist Church (1777), she commenced writing books and plays for
women's rights advocating issues still being sought in the 1950's-2000. She
stated the cause of her liberation and activism was the egalitarian message
of Universalism by John Murray who expanded her horizons, had a profound
effect upon her self-image, and enabled her to structure and legitimize a
biblical stance on gender relations. The knowledge of her immortality
acted as a liberating force, supplying her a sense of autonomy and control
over her life. As indicated in the previous sentence, Universalism provided
hope for her sex as it espoused a liberating equality of the sexes based on
scripture. She stated that John Murray's faith encouraged her to assume an
active role in society.
She wrote and campaigned that women should have equal rights of education and recognition of women's intellectual merit, her own source of income and independence, women have no wifely obligations as all marital relations must be only by mutual consent. "She admired John Murray's defense of civil and religious liberty and in her own small way imitated his example"
1785---The first Universalist General Convention met in Oxford, Massachusetts. This association brought together many and various strands of universalism being preached throughout the region.
1St Universalist UNITARIAN
Joseph Priestly, discoverer of oxygen and Unitarian minister, became the first Unitarian Universalist when he declared in the 1796 Philadelphia Convention of Universalists that though he was a Unitarian he was a Universalist as he believed in universal salvation. This declaration of the Prophet Joseph Priestly horrified the Unitarians. Eventually it gradually led later generations to give up "hell," too.
1790---The Universalists in convention created The Articles of Faith. It was very Calvinist except for the emphasis on salvation of all souls.
UNIVERSALISM and Racism
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an avowed Universalist, was a vigorous foe of slavery and capital punishment, an advocate of better education for women and of free public schools, a pioneer in the study and treatment of mental illness, insisted that the insane had a right to be treated with respect. He published a pamphlet on the iniquity of the slave trade, and helped organize the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the first antislavery society in America, and served as its president.
Benjamin Rush was indeed a prophet to the Universalists. Certainly, the congregants were often slow to pressure for the practice of Dr. Rush's foresight. While the Quakers "Inner Light" of God in every soul gave value to men and women alike, the very nature of the ideals of Universalism enhanced the worth of every person to speed each church to some kind of social action that out stripped any other existing denomination.
1785, the first Universalist General Convention meeting in Oxford, Mass.
denounced slavery. Thusly, the Universalist Church went on record to all
America of our position on social justice for African Americans as well as
anyone in bondage.
1790, a decree led by Benjamin Rush was passed at the Philadelphia General Convention of Universalists was issued enjoining Universalists to refrain from the slave trade and to use "prudent measures" gradually to abolish slavery. The resolution read: "We believe it to be inconsistent with... the obligations to mutual and universal love... to hold any part of our fellow creatures in bondage. We therefore recommend a total refraining from the African trade, and the adoption of prudent measures for the gradual abolition of slavery of the Negroes in our country,...." This plan also included the education of the freed slaves.
A long series of churches, conferences, and conventions reaffirmed the Universalist position of social justice for Afro Americans and others held in bandage.
In 1840 -- a Universalist Anti-Slavery Convention in Lynn, Mass. passed resolutions with some fairly strong language, condemning slave holders as guilty of theft. The conventioneers wanted to reform the error of slavery by peaceable means.
In 1841 the Universalists of Maine
Then in 1843, the Universalist National Convention passed the following resolution enjoining: "... all Universalist slave-holders to consider prayerfully the nature and tendencies of the relation they sustain. We recommend... no measure of indiscriminate denunciation or proscription, but, appealing to the gospel, to humanity, and to their own consciences, we await in implicit confidence the perfect working of the principles of Divine and Universal Love."
After the Civil War, Universalists took the lead in supporting legislation to bring justice to freed slaves, including the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and many volunteered for the Freedman's Bureau.
It must be recognized that while the Universalist Church favored abolition, there were other Northern as well as the Southern Universalists who practiced slavery. It was with support of the Universalist resolutions that through the ensuing years a very large number of ministers and lay persons were very active in freely campaigning against slavery. The Liberty Clauses of each of the preceding Universalist statements of faith created a liberalism of doctrine and practice that granted freedom to speak loudly and forthrightly without reprisals in areas of the social and religious issues of the day. In the UUA's 1999 Skinner Award delivered at General Assembly, Salt Lake City, June 25, 1999, Jaco B. ten Hove stated, "The path toward racial justice, you should know, is paved with the Universalist theology."
UNIVERSALISTS in Penal Reform
In an age when questions of penal reform were unthinkable, Benjamin Rush was involved.
In 1787 Rush wrote An Enquiry into the Effects of Public Punishments upon Criminals, and upon Society. He contributed to the 1789 replacement of public punishments with solitary confinement and hard labor out of public view. He more forcefully, however, attacked capital punishment in his 1788 work "An Enquiry into the Justice and Policy of Punishing Murder by Death," which was published in the American Museum. In 1798 the article was republished in Rush's Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical in which Rush added that capital punishment had been abolished in the state of Pennsylvania for all crimes except first degree murder.
Thomas Whittemore was an opponent and forcefully campaigned in opposition to capital punishment.
1803---Universalism was distinctly trinitarian in belief. In reviewing sermons, the Trinitarianism appears to be of little significance. This doctrine was a modified trinity as expressed in its Winchester Confession of Faith of that year.
1st unitarian UNIVERSALIST
Hosea Ballou, 1771-1852, American clergyman, profoundly commanding of Biblical text and scholarship, foremost among expositors of Universalism in the United States, b. Cheshire co., N.H. From 1818 until his death he was pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston. One of the founders of "The Universalist Magazine" (1819). He was its editor until 1828; from 1830 he edited the "Universalist Expositor." His works include "Notes on the Parables" (1804). As early as 1795, Ballou rejected the Trinity as unreasonable and commenced preaching Universalism on a unitarian basis. In his brilliantly scholarly "A Treatise on the Atonement" (1805), he changed and developed Universalism bringing to it a distinctly unitarian theological position but maintained the Universalist spiritual bearings. As the forerunner to his Unitarian protege William Ellery Channing. Ballou "anticipated the full-grown expression of Channing's thought on all principle Lines"12a expressed in Channing's great Baltimore sermon which theologically followed Ballou; but Channing who believed in Salvation by Character held out for some form of punishment or retribution for sin. In reference to the crucifixion, Ballou wrote, "The literal death of the man, Christ Jesus, is figurative, . . . the literal body of Jesus represented the whole letter of the law . . . The death of Jesus' body represented the death and destruction of the letter, when the spirit came forth, bursting the veil thereof, which is represented by resurrection of Jesus from the dead."
During the ensuing years, theological developments ebbed and flowed in the Universalist and Unitarian movements in response to each religious and social change. Individual luminaries can be cited from each church congruent with the historian's bias. The pronouncements of our seers indicate the probability that the church body maybe speedily inching along to approach the implications of the faith. But seldom does the body even of our liberal churches keep pace with our prophets. At no time did either Universalism or even the Unitarians sweep forward in unison individually, as a single church body or as separate church units. No minister or layman ever represented the body of either church. The nearest representations of general agreement are found in the official votes of the church bodies such as the approval of statements of faith, elections, known widespread practices, etc.
WOMEN CONTINUE LEADERSHIP PARTICIPATION
1811--- Maria Cook (1779-1835) preached at a Universalist denominational assembly in New York. Maria Cook is a person every one of us should know, for she preached universal love and salvation at the beginning of the 19th century, one of our earliest, founding Universalists. But as the American democratic experience was not ready to accept women in this role, she was criticized. Rather than change her message or her calling, she identified the criticism as the oppression that it was. She was labeled as angry and declared insane. Effectively silenced, she died in retirement at the age of 56. She was a martyr to speaking the truth with power.
WOMEN IN THE UNIVERSALIST CHURCH
It was logical and reasonable that women played a significant role in the Universalist church from its earliest days beginning with Judith Sargent Murray. During the earliest 1800's, women's role was very tenuous. However, because of Maria Cook's power and attraction of large audiences, she, oppressed by many Universalists, was the best paid Universalist evangelist of her day. Her oppression assisted in the expanding role of women in our Universalist church, possibly whacking a crude trail for the acceptance of Olympia Brown, who paved the trail for later women.
Judith Sargent Murray and Maria Cook were contemporaries. In 1811 at age 32 when Maria Cook began preaching, Judith Sargent Murray was age 60. It is possible that Judith Sargent Murray's great expanse of readers in America, England, France, etc. and possible literary and/or physical relationship within the denomination stirred Maria Cook to overstep a woman's accepted place in society to commence preaching. Furthermore, Thomas Whittemore, a friend and associate of John Murray, criticized Maria Cook for assuming the role of a preacher. He condescended to attend a service and commented on her power and effectiveness. "Our Universalist theology and populist flavor made us good places for women to exercise leadership."* And certainly Maria Cook benefited the women's role to become easier in our church.
Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) world renown writer & wife of John Murray, Universalist minister
Maria Cook (1779-1835) preacher of Universalism
Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins (1824 or 1825-1874) was a leader in the women's rights movement, a Universalist minister, and later homeopathic physician. It has been "claimed" that she was the first woman to be granted ministerial fellowship in the United States, and perhaps the first to be ordained with full denominational authority. The effectiveness of her preaching helped to foster acceptance of women ministers within the denomination.
Alice Cary (1820-1871) and Phoebe Cary (1824-1871) writers and poets
Clara Barton (1821-1912). nurse, founder of the American. Red Cross. "Angel of the Battlefield,".
Olympia Brown (1835-1926) first denominationally sanctioned ordained woman, June 25, 1863
Miss M. Josephine La(m/p)ham-1867 Fellowshipped by the Ohio Winchester Assoc. This is the first instance so far discovered of a woman being given ecclesiastical privileges by the Universalist Church of Ohio
Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford (1829-1921) Universalist minister, writer, poet and lecturer. Ordained in 1868, she was the third woman ordained in the U.S. and the first in Massachusetts.
Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (1820-1905) women suffragist, wife of Universalist minister
Caroline Augusta White Soule (1824-1903) minister
Clara Barton (1821-1912) Founder of the American Red Cross From this time forth, the list of women in the Universalist church increasingly expanded.
1800-1861 Thomas Whittemore, Universalist minister, was a champion of
education for all: "We go for a universal education of the people-the poor
and the rich-the farmer and the mechanic and the seaman, as well as the
lawyer, the physician and the clergyman. Let all the people be educated.
The universal diffusion of knowledge, is the only safeguard of our
From Whittemore's a book "The Plain Guide to Universalism" 1840,explains the goodness of the universe, the loving parental guidance of the Almighty for all of humanity, and the promise of salvation for all. It is not known which passages particularly attracted Jordan, but Whittemore makes it clear that Universalism was not a religion for the bigoted, but for those who could accept that God's love is extended equally to all-the powerless and the powerful, the oppressed and their oppressors.
"Whittemore was one of the founders of the New England General Reform Association of the denomination, and was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, an advocate of temperance, and in the Universalist tradition an opponent of slavery. Although not ranked among the abolitionists, he was particularly condemnatory of the slave trade and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850."17
1803-1890 Adin Ballou cousin of Hosea Ballou
This Universalist minister tried to create a community that lived out the belief in God's love for all people. For Universalism, as it has evolved over the past three centuries, is a doctrine that says that true community is made up of people who come from many different walks of life, all with something to offer. Historically the Universalists were among the first to try to create communities where all people were welcome.
One such community was the radical experiment called Hopedale. In the mid-1800s, America was a place where the ideals of freedom and liberty were often talked about more than lived. For instance, women could not vote, people in the South still owned slaves, and many waves of immigrants coming from Ireland and other parts of Europe were generally despised by the resident population.
Into this milieu came the radical Universalist Adin Ballou. Ballou became a Universalist in 1823 and he was, in his day, an important social critic. Ballou was convinced that Universalism was a doctrine that needed to be lived as well as believed, and so he imagined a community where Universalist ideals would be put into practice. His dream of such a community was inspiring to others and in 1841 the community of Hopedale was formed outside Boston.
Hopedale was not a church, but it was a religious community where people lived together following the principles of what Ballou called "practical Christianity."
A MISPLACED UNIVERSALIST AMONG THE UNITARIAN MINISTERS
Theodore Parker b. Aug. 24, 1810, Lexington, Mass., U.S. d. May 10, 1860, theologian, pastor, scholar, and social reformer who was active in the antislavery movement.
Theologically, he greatly departed from Channing and repudiated much traditional Christian dogma, putting in its place an intuitive knowledge of God derived from man's universal experience of nature.
By 1837, age 27 Parker had lost most of his family--his parents and seven of nine siblings--mostly to tuberculosis; his mother had died of the disease when he was 12. In the face of these disasters, Parker developed a strong faith in the immortality of the soul and in a God who would allow no lasting harm to come to any of His children (universalism).
Theodore Parker, b. Lexington, Mass. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1836 and was ordained to be the pastor (1837-46) of the Spring Street Unitarian Church, West Roxbury, Mass.
Unlike William Ellery Channing, Parker grasped the universals of life and religion believing God established the natural laws and the regularity of nature. Miracles would be in violation of these God-created natural laws. Parker made a radical renunciation of the necessity of the person of Jesus to the Christian faith He was one of the transcendentalists, contributed to the Dial, and edited (1847-50) the Massachusetts Quarterly Review. He was a prophet in antislavery and other reform activities. He once preached with a gun on the pulpit so as to protect an ex slave. Parker also secretly assisted Calvinist minister John Brown who attempted to arm slaves by raiding the arsenal at Harper's Ferry. The liberalism that Parker presented in Boston in 1841 and amplified in his scholarly 1841 sermon "The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity" and a year later "Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion" (1842) was then so radical that by 1843 Rev. Theodore Parker became "The Pariah" of Boston Unitarian ministers.
Theodore Parker praised Universalism for having "wrought a revolution in the thoughts and minds of men more mighty than any which has been accomplished . . . by all the politicians in the nation" (pp. 19, 51) The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880.
From an overview of his sermons, it is easy to recognize in many respects that he was a misplaced Universalist.. To the best of this writer's knowledge, Theodore Parker has long been ignored among Universalists. But the modernity of his principles and theology are well worth re-examination for contemporary reading to ground and support us for the continued enhancement of our Universalism.
As one would expect, since each Universalist congregation grew and built
each of its own church buildings free of any governmental relationships and
at the same time paying taxes to support the state church, Ballou along
with the Universalist church called for church-state separation.
From the very beginning, Universalists including John Murray had the audacity to use reason to deny the clearly stated Biblical statements of the existence of Hell. They excluded chapters and verses of unacceptable passages about "Hell" and other passages that make God anything less than a loving parent. The guiding principals of Universalism were that the Bible and faith be subjected to rational thinking. They admittedly did not accept some parts of the Bible.
Clearly, the Universalists were concerned with the rehabilitation of the
soul in its transition from this sinful earth into the purity of Heaven
where all persons shall spend eternity with God.
Universalism is a spiritually oriented religion. These early preachers command of Biblical text and scholarship gave them an outstanding strength in communicating with people whose earlier faith development was mostly or entirely Biblically based. Universalism's principle of a loving fatherhood of God for ALL His children led to a religiously oriented social activism. The Biblical message of the universal dignity and worth of every person was the seed bed for Judith Sargent Murray and the women to follow her to expand their horizons and mature toward the fullness of the name Universalism.
UNIVERSALIST INTEREST IN WORLD RELIGIONS
Universalists began teaching their children stories from religions around the world
1827-The Olive Branch published in 1827 and 1828 by the New York Universalist Book Society, contains a Hindu story (page 21) an article comparing the Golden Rule of Jesus and Confucius (page 29)and a poem entitled "Zoroaster's Religion (p. 224).
1841---In The Eastern Rose-Bud, published 1841 to 1843 as a children's magazine by Universalists in Portland ME, there is a picture of "A Hindoo Temple (9 May 1841, p.163, information about the ancient Egyptians (Sept. 1841, page 6,) and a story of Sultan and a Dervish (June 1842, p. 123).
Printed in "The New Massachusetts Universalist Convention Newsletter No. 14, Winter 2004
1834-Massachusetts Tax money ceased for state support to Congregational and
"The Universalist minister, journalist and Massachusetts legislator Thomas Whittemore led a successful fight to amend the state constitution, ending the system of government establishment and support of churches and thus doing away with one of the last and most repugnant vestiges of the Puritan theocracy. In doing so, Whittemore, had to contend with Unitarians in the legislature and in the general population, who, having taken over many Puritan churches, now benefited from state support."
1ST ATHEIST AMONG THE UNIVERSALISTS
1838-- Abner Kneeland, a Universalist minister a century ahead of his time, was tried and jailed for heresy. He taught that the Scriptures contained valuable lessons, but they came out of human experience and not by divine revelation. This was heresy even to the Unitarians and Universalists of his day, but certainly not to us today. (quoted from a sermon presented September 17, 2000 by Mr. Joe Snyders, First Parish Unitarian Universalist, Bridgewater, Mass.)
1839--Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (1820-1905) Livermore, a prominent New England Universalist, went to Virginia and, after experiencing the slavery system firsthand, became "a pronounced abolitionist, accepting from no one any apology for slavery." By the mid 1800s, a belief in the kinship of all people was called "one of the distinguishing excellencies of Universalism.'" from The Gospel of Universalism by Tom Owen-Towle.]
In 1845 (20 years before the Civil War)-- 304 of 344 Universalist ministers signed a Protest Against American Slavery.
June 14,1847--- "The Universalists are more human than we; they declare the Fatherhood of God and stick at the consequences. Everlasting Happiness to all men. I think they are the most human sect in the land." --- from a letter written by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker to the Rev. Samuel J. May of Lexington, June 14, 1847:
First Woman Minister??
(1)Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins (1824 or 1825-1874) Lydia Ann Jenkins was granted a letter of fellowship in 1858 and ordained, with her husband, in 1860 by the Ontario Assn of Universalists, in Geneva, NY. was a leader in the women's rights movement, a Universalist minister who spoke widely, and later a homeopathic physician. It has been claimed that she was the first woman to be granted ministerial fellowship in the United States perhaps the first to be ordained with full denominational authority. But records have been lost.
She had been granted fellowship and possibly ordained 1858--1860
article written by Charles Howe, Universalist Historian
(2)June 25, 1863---Olympia Brown (1835-1926) is acclaimed the first ordained woman minister with full denominational authority.
Foregoing statement written by Laurie Carter Noble
There was an essential spirituality for the equality of men and women in the two religions of Universalism and Quakers. The Universalist stressed the equal relationship of men and women in the fatherhood of God who would condemn none of his children to an eternal hell. These Universalist beliefs gave a universal dignity and worth to every person irrespective of gender or religion. The Quakers were also universal in believing that every man and woman had direct communication with God "that within" or the "Inner Light" regardless of what they believe. This common spirituality spurred the women of each church, Universalist and Quaker, to be originators of the women rights activism.
With Judith Sargent Murray, Maria Clark, Olympia Brown and a multitude of other Universalist women, the early struggle for women's rights began. Then as Unitarianism gradually edged into that common spirituality born in Universalism and the Quakers, Unitarian women began to take up the campaign for women's rights. Women of these three denominations courageously excelled on the nationwide scene.
"Universalists were among the first to be in the fighting for mental health clinics and prison reform, for women's right and temperance, and against the death penalty." (quoted from a sermon by Martha H. Peak Preached at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation November 12, 2000)
EMPHASIS OF UNIVERSALISTS
1852---Tufts College, at Medford, Massachusetts;
1852---incorporated as Illinois Liberal Institute at Galesburg, Illinois, opened 1855.
1855---Illinois Liberal Institute changed name to Lombard College
1856---St Lawrence University, at Canton, New York
1872---Buchtel College at Akron, Ohio
Three theological schools connected with the first three colleges just named and founded respectively:
1869---Tufts Divinity School
1881---Lombard Theological School
I 858---St. Lawrence Theological School
1831---Clinton Liberal Institute, opened at Oneida, N.Y. and removed to Fort Plain, N.Y.
1834---Westbrook Seminary, Deering, Maine
1848---Green Mountain Perkins Academy, South Woodstock, Vermont
1853---Goddard Seminary, Barre, Vermont
1865---Dean Academy, Franklin, Massachusetts
1872---Mitchell Seminary, Mitchellville, Tennessee
A publishing house at Boston with a branch in Chicago is one of
the denomination's chief agencies for the spread of the knowledge of what
it holds to be the truth.
1866---The Universalist Church of America was incorporated. It still retained the modified Trinitarian position.
The less endowed Universalists being largely rural and small town people led liberal religion in theological reforms.
In 1890 the Universalists established a mission in Japan--sending three missionaries to establish schools and a church. This action had long-term consequences. In the past, Universalism had seen its role in terms of countering the distortions, the "partialism," of Christianity as taught by the other denominations. In Japan they dealt with people who had never been Christian. This challenged Universalists to think more carefully about their relationship to Christianity.
In 1893, the Universalists were major participants in the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago. The Rev. Augusta Chapin organized the women's section of the parliament, and a number of prominent Universalists addressed the gathering. Confronted by a vast number of religious alternatives, the Universalists were challenged to see themselves as part of a much broader universe beyond the Christian community. [ quoted from Revs. Beverly and David Bumbaugh in a sermon "The New Universalism" a sermon November 2, 1997]
FIRST BLACK MINISTER-Joseph Jordan
June 29, 1887-- in Norfolk, Virginia, Joseph Jordan formally organized a Universalist inter racial mission school upon the request of the Black community.
1888-The Universalist General Convention, which issued Jordan a formal license to preach for one year, a normal step toward ordination. March 31, 1889- Upon unanimous recommendation, Joseph Jordan was ordained as into the Universalist ministry at a ceremony in the Church of the Messiah, Philadelphia PA. The Universalist denomination had welcomed its first African American minister.
The school received outstanding moral and financial support for 70+ years from the Universalist denomination and local churches.
1897 The Universalists opened the first settlement house in Minneapolis.
Social justice issues for peoples of all races continued to be important wherever Universalists traveled and settled.
From the heritage of Universalism, The Reverend Universalist Clarence R. Skinner became THE GREAT ORIGINATOR of not only modern Universalism but Unitarianism as well.
1918 in Atlanta Georgia, the formation of the Liberal Christian Church of
the Universalists and Unitarians late forties which fell apart over the
issue of Integration. A quote from that time says "Everyone still knew
who was a Univeralist and who was a Unitarian."
Upon our rebirth in January, 1954 it was written into the church constitutions that anyone who signed the role would become a member of the church regardless of race, creed, social standing or ...
There was one attempt to put in an amendment to keep out undesirables but it received no support. It was then and only then that the Unitarian and Universalists seemed to merge totally.
About 1935-45---Clinton Lee Scott, a powerhouse of Universalist strength,
wrote two small books "Parish Parables" and "Religion Can Make Sense."
These greatly enhanced our Universalist thinking of that day. They were
simply expressed but spiritually uplifting. These books guided Universalism
from its religious fundamental principles into a direction of a new
religion of humanistic liberalism.
In the 1949s---Fulfilling many of the innovations advocated by Clarence R. Skinner, the Massachusetts Universalist Convention created the Charles Street Meeting House and charged Kenneth Patten to establish a liberal church to create new forms of liturgy fitting to a religion for a one world. The congregation studied the religions of the world and created symbolic flags and art objects of each religion to ornament the sanctuary as a reminder of their universality. Although considerable debate in Universalism occurred, even more developed in Unitarianism. Eventually but steadily, the Unitarians moved along with Universalism toward a more universal faith.
In 1942 and again in 1944, the Universalist Church of America sought admission to the Federal Council of Churches. On both occasions it was rejected on theological grounds: the Council decided Universalists were insufficiently Christian since they did not condition membership upon an affirmation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
1943-General Convention of the Universalist Church of America-The General Superintendent of the Universalist Church, The Reverend Robert Cummins, spoke, saying that the Universalist Church of America cannot be limited either to Protestantism or to Christianity without denying its own name. "Ours is a world fellowship, not just a Christian sect, for so long as Universalism is Universalism and not partialism, the fellowship bearing its name must succeed in making it unmistakably clear that all are welcome: theist and humanist, unitarian and trinitarian, colored and color-less. A circumscribed Universalism is unthinkable." [quoted from Revs. Beverly and David Bumbaugh in a sermon "The New Universalism" a sermon November 2, 1997]
About 1948--- The Rev. Brainard Gibbons at the Rochester Universalist Church NY National Convention delivered the keynote address with the theme that the Universalist Church is no longer a Christian Church, and that our message is like new wine which cannot be put into the old bottles or the wine will spoil. Hence, the title of his address was "New Wine in Old Bottles." This sermon distressed Universalists and Unitarians alike. There was much debate followed by denunciations of the sermon within each denomination. But the Universalists, later, elected Brainard Gibbons to be President of the Universalist Church of America and Unitarianism steadily stretched to catch up.
From 1946 through 1954 a group of younger ministers organized, as "The Humiliati," sought to renew the denomination by encouraging a "universalist Universalism. Their purpose along with a growing fellowship of friends was to take the mystique out of the sayings of Jesus when he said, "I am the light of the world," "I am the resurrection and the life," "I am the Son of God," or "I am the Son of Man." They proposed that all the biblical "I am's" was Jesus speaking universally as well as individually of each and every person. Critics suggested that there was nothing humble about these recent graduates of Crane Theological School. Nevertheless, out of their discussions and concern emerged a new symbol for Universalism--a cross off-center in a circle, intended to demonstrate that while Universalism had emerged from the Christian tradition, Christianity was no longer central to the Universalist gospel. Those who took offense at this graphic representation of the New Universalism were given another cause for alarm when one of the Humiliati refused to be ordained to the Christian ministry and insisted instead on being ordained to the Universalist ministry. [quoted from Revs. Beverly and David Bumbaugh in a sermon "The New Universalism" a sermon November 2, 1997]. These Universalist ministers wore black suits with the Roman collar. Even though the Humiliati soon lapsed, their message remained to make a significant mark for debate, argumentation, and change within Universalism and then Unitarianism. These Humiliati UNIVERSALIST ministers brought a new perspective to the teachings of Jesus.
In 1949, the New Universalism was incarnated in institutionalized form,
when the Massachusetts State Convention, established anew congregation in
Boston--Charles Street Meeting House--and Rev. Kenneth L. Patton was hired
to be its minister. Patton, who had been minister of the Unitarian Society
in Madison, Wisconsin, and noted for his preaching and writing, was charged
with breaking new ground and offering a clear alternative to the
tradition-bound Unitarian churches in the city. He went to work, creating a
church in the round, decorated with symbols and art from the world's great
religions and cultures, all centered around a mural of the great nebula in
Andromeda. Instead of an altar, Patton installed a shelf of books--
scriptures from around the world.
Patton wrote and published poems, readings, hymns all reflective of a naturalistic mysticism celebrating the human experience in its natural setting. He sang of salvation in this world; he called for justice in this world; he rejoiced in the rhythm of the seasons; and he celebrated life and death.
Meeting House Press, established by Patton, made the work and the experience of the experimental congregation available to the larger movement. It must be admitted that he had little patience with more conservative and traditional forms, and his lack of tact not only won him few friends among those who disagreed with him but sometimes exasperated his supporters. For a while, Charles Street Meeting House became the focus of the struggle between the conservative and liberal wings of the Universalist denomination. But the die was cast. Kenneth Patton's liturgical vision shaped the thinking and the worshiping of Unitarians and Universalists alike, providing them a common language and common experiences which prepared the road to merger. Without a doubt, Kenneth Patton's was one of the most important influences upon Unitarian and Universalist thought in the twentieth century. It was Patton who taught a stumble footed humanism to dance and a monotone rationalism to sing. After him, Unitarian Universalism would never again be the same. [quoted from Revs. Beverly and David Bumbaugh in a sermon "The New Universalism" a sermon November 2, 1997]
1953-organization of the Council of Liberal Churches by the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association to cooperate in the many common concerns, activities and positions of the two.
1961---Confederation of the Universalist and Unitarian churches
"The Unitarians and the Universalists confederated because the
Universalists needed an organization and the Unitarians needed the
Universalist wealth and a religion."
(adapted from the sermon "Universalism for Such a Time As This" Rev. David E. Bumbaugh at the Unitarian Church in Summit NJ USA, September 26, 1993)
1962 and years following---the denomination (Unitarian Universalist) at General Assembly enacted the Seven Principles of our church. 5 of these 7 principles are a rephrasing of the 1935 Universalist Affirmation of Faith which effectively made Universalism the cornerstone of our modern UU faith.
During these years of the 1935 to the confederation in 1960, Universalism and Unitarianism greatly changed and increased in liberalism. Universalism grew toward a broadening of inclusiveness of all religions and people toward fulfilling its name "Universal. The universality and spirituality of these affiliate associations reaffirms the renewal and the continuation of time honored Universalist themes.
Universalism became more liberal because it was broadening or enlarging
itself to become more universal
(1) The influence of Clarence R. Skinner
(2) in the 1935 Avowal of faith,
(3) the Griswold Williams "Covenant,"
(4) The sermon of Brainard Gibbons "New Wine in Old Bottles" and the denomination later acclaimed him by electing President of the Universalist Church of America.
(5) Ken Patton's acclaiming the universality of religion by incorporating the study of world religions into the church service.
(6) the Humiliati universalizing the statements of Jesus. Every single person is the "Light of the World," "the Way, the Truth, the Light." "the Son/Daughter of God," etc.
Thusly, we find that from the time of Joseph Priestly, Hosea Ballou, and William Ellery Channing that there developed a congeniality of fellowship and beliefs amid the flurry of a long series of controversy. After years of discussion, in fits and jerks, slowly in some regions, churches, and individuals that Unitarianism while keeping its identity has graduated toward Universalist beliefs and Universalism while keeping its identity has graduated toward Unitarianism. As a result, a Council of Liberal Churches was formed in the 1940's for the two separate churches to consolidate overlapping services, programs, and publishing houses. In spite of the fact that Unitarians are reluctant to recognize Universalist contributions, institutional consolidation of the two faiths was completed in 1961. The progress of religious merger is still in process. It is our hope the day will come when Universalists will be equally recognized in our own denomination with the Unitarians. Merger will then be fulfilled. That seed of Universalism seen by Judith Sargent Murray will have not only be germinated but will become the blooming rose of our faith.
Mural of All Religions