Unitarianism (religion)

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Unitarianism (from Latin unitas "unity") denotes a theological conception stemming from the radical Reformation , which rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth , and furthermore a religious movement that historically emerged from this theological conception. While Unitarianism was initially just a Christian Reformation denomination, a part of it opened up to other religious and philosophical currents from the end of the 19th century. The Unitarian religious movement today consists of both theistic, especially Christian, communities that adhere to the non-trinitarian conception of God , as well as communities that are explicitly open to atheists and agnostics .

Despite the differences in beliefs, most Unitarian communities are represented in an international umbrella organization, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU: International Council of Unitarians and Universalists). A common feature of the various Unitarian communities is that they place " freedom of conscience and independent thinking in questions of faith" above religious dogmas.


Motto of the anti-Trinitarian Unitarians: God is one (Egy az Isten) at the Unitarian Church in Budapest

The name Unitarian is derived from the Latin unitas for unity . The term turns against the Christian-Trinitarian idea of ​​a trinity of God (Latin trinitas ) and instead emphasizes the indivisible unity of God. Among Christian Unitarians there is therefore the motto God is one , which is derived from Dtn 6,4  LUT :

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.


Unitarian denominations can be found around the world today. In Europe, Unitarians are mainly located in Romania ( Transylvania ), Hungary , Great Britain and Germany . In addition, the Dutch Radicals are members of the Unitarian-Universialist World Association. In North America , most of the Unitarians live in the northeastern United States. A first center of American Unitarianism was New England .

The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU, German: International Council of Unitarians and Universalists ) founded in 1995 has member groups in Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Oceania. The aim of the ICUU is to bring together all directions of the Unitarians and Universalists .

The world's largest Unitarian community is the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which was formed in 1961 from a union of North American Unitarians and universalists . The UUA has no binding statement of faith for its members, but is characterized by support for spiritual growth and standing up for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. As a result, in addition to theists, there are also atheists , agnostics , pantheists and deists at the UUA, as well as Christian Unitarians, humanists , Buddhists and neo-paganists .

The second largest Unitarian community is the Unitarian Church of Transylvania , which, unlike the UUA, continues to see itself as Christian because it recognizes Jesus as a teacher and prophet, but differs from many other Christian churches through its non-Trinitarian view of God and its rejection of religious dogmas.

In the German-speaking area, the largest Unitarian community is the Unitarians - religious community of free faith , which historically goes back to the free religious movement and, according to its self-image, is a free, non-Christian, pantheistic and humanistic religious community. There is also the Unitarian Free Religious Congregation in Frankfurt am Main, the Unitarian Church in Berlin and the Unitarian-Universalist Forum in Austria.


Most of the Unitarian communities represented in Germany today represent a humanistic Unitarianism that is not historically connected to the Christian Unitarianism of the Reformation period. In Germany there are, among others, the Unitarian - Religious Community of Free Faith, the Unitarian Free Religious Congregation in Frankfurt am Main, the Unitarian Church in Berlin and regional groups of the European Unitarian Universalists (including in Frankfurt am Main and Kaiserslautern ).

The Unitarian - Religious Community of Free Faith developed historically from the Free Religious Movement and the Unitarian Free Religious Community (Frankfurt am Main) from the German Catholicism of the 19th century and only adopted the term Unitarian in the 20th century.

The Unitarians - Religious Community of Free Faith were founding members of the ICUU and so far are the only German member of this world association.

Another trend in Germany is a folk-oriented unitarianism. This direction of a "species-specific religion" arose from the nationally oriented German faith movement and is not related to the anti-Trinitarian and liberal-Christian tradition of Unitarianism. Their representatives have gathered in particular in the Association of German Unitarians .


In Austria there is the Unitarian-Universalist Forum . The name refers to both unitarianism and universalism, which claims an all-out reconciliation between God and man.

Statements of Faith

The Christian Unitarians refer to the Bible as Holy Scripture in their statements of faith and underline a rationalistic interpretation. Most humanistically oriented Unitarian communities, on the other hand, emphasize that they have no dogmas and no binding scriptures. Instead, they have agreed on common basic statements that are intended to facilitate coexistence and provide religious orientation. The Reformation Christian Unitarians also wrote creeds such as the Soner Catechism (written by Ernst Soner ), the Rakau Catechism of 1604 or the Catechism of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania submitted in 1864 by the theologian József Ferencz . A catchphrase of the Christian Unitarians is God is One .

Rakau Catechism

The Rakau Catechism from 1605 is still one of the most important confessional writings of Unitarianism. Initially started by Fausto Sozzini , work on the catechism was continued after his death in 1604 by Valentin Schmalz , Hieronymus Moskorzowski and Johann Völkel . The catechism claimed to base its theological positions solely on the Bible ; At the same time, however, it was emphasized that this could only be recognized through the medium of reason . The catechism thus became an expression of the religious rationalism of the Unitarians in early modern Poland. Among other things , it argues for Jesus as a person and God's Son, for free will and against original sin . The baptism of children is criticized as unbiblical, but not entirely rejected. The Lord's Supper is understood as a symbolic celebration of remembrance without the transformation ( transubstantiation ) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Three main Wilbur principles

In his two-volume work on the history of Unitarianism (1945), Earl Morse Wilbur highlighted three main principles that characterize the self-understanding of the Unitarian movement in general (quoted from Walbaum: “Religiöser Unitarismus”, p. 4):

  1. Complete spiritual freedom in religious terms instead of being bound by creeds or denominations
  2. Unrestricted use of reason in matters of religion instead of relying on outside authority or tradition from the past
  3. Extensive tolerance towards the various religious views and customs instead of insisting on uniformity in teaching, worship or the constitution

7 principles of UUA

The Charter of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) contains seven principles that are binding on all member organizations and which each member approves and promotes:

  1. Value and dignity that are innate in every human being
  2. Justice, Equality, and Compassion in Human Relationships
  3. Mutual recognition and encouragement for spiritual development within our community
  4. Free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  5. Right to freedom of conscience and democratic behavior in our community and society in general
  6. The goal of a world community with peace, freedom and justice for all
  7. Awe of the interwoven web of all existence of which we are a part

UCEC Core Principles

Similar to the UUA, the Christian-oriented Unitarian Christian Emerging Church (UCEC) has established eight principles. There, among other things, the unity of God, access to ethics and faith through Jesus Christ, love as the core of Christianity and the importance of reason and prayer are emphasized.

Basic ideas of the German Unitarians

The German Unitarians - religious community of free faith have developed and decided on their joint statements of faith in a democratic process since the 1970s. The so-called "basic ideas" (the currently valid version was adopted in 1995) include statements on religion in general, on Unitarian belief, on life, on people and on living together.


Unitarian communities are mostly organized in a decentralized manner. The largely independent Unitarian congregations are generally led by a pastor, reverend or church leader. He is usually supported by a committee of democratically elected community representatives who are responsible for organizational and financial matters. Municipalities or regional municipal associations are in turn combined in national and global umbrella organizations. Unitarian umbrella organizations are, for example, EUU, UUA and ICUU.


As early as the first century of Christianity, anti-Trinitarians , the so-called monarchians , fought for the unity of God and rejected the idea of ​​Jesus as God-man. Your representatives were u. a. Paul of Samosata , Praxeas , Noetus and Sabellius . The history of the church in the fourth century was ultimately largely determined by the Arian dispute between the anti-Trinitarian Arians and the Trinitarians . In the Middle Ages, Amalrich von Bena and David von Dinanto can be counted as anti-Trinitarians who were seen as heretics .


Early representatives of Reformation anti-Trinitarianism in Germany included the Heidelberg theologians Johannes Sylvanus and Adam Neuser . Both were viewed as heretics by the Calvinist dynasty in the Palatinate and therefore persecuted. Neuser was able to flee to Transylvania , where he joined the Unitarians there; Sylvanus, on the other hand, was executed on December 23, 1572 on the Heidelberg town hall market after a legal opinion from the Lutheran university in Wittenberg had come out in favor of the execution . There was also anti-Trinitarian positioning around the Anabaptist movement . Above all, Ludwig Hätzer and Adam Pastor should be mentioned here . Anti-Trinitarian intellectuals such as Michel Servet , Matteo Gribaldi , Lelio Sozzini , Fausto Sozzini and Petrus Gonesius contributed to the development of actual Unitarianism .

As early as 1531, the Spanish theologian Servet had rejected the dogma of the Trinity in his treatise De Trinitatis erroribus . After Servet's execution, his thoughts were taken up and further developed mainly by Italian intellectuals such as Matteo Gribaldi, Lelio Sozzini and Fausto Sozzini. Based on Servet's ideas, Gribaldi formulated a theology of Subordinatian tritheism , which was subsequently disseminated in Poland and Lithuania by his student Petrus Gonesius. With Gonesius there was a transfer of anti-Trinitarian positions from Italy to Eastern Europe, where Unitarian churches were able to form permanently under the protection of religiously tolerant kings. In countries like Germany or Switzerland, however, anti-Trinitarians continued to be persecuted as heretics and killed. In northern Italy, anti-Trinitarian communities were able to hold out as an underground movement for a time. Although Servet's theology differed significantly from those of the later Unitarians in Poland and Transylvania in some points, such as the pre-existence of Christ , Servet is still regarded today by most Christian and humanist Unitarians as a pioneer of the Unitarian idea.

Central and Eastern Europe

The interior of the Unitarian Church in Roua in Transylvania

Larger Unitarian churches were formed mainly in Poland-Lithuania as well as in Hungary and Transylvania . The Polish-Lithuanian Unitarians were constituted as early as 1565. They were also known as the Polish Brothers . The Polish-Lithuanian theologian Petrus Gonesius played a major role in the founding of the Polish Brothers . A not insignificant influence on the further development of the Polish Unitarians had that of Lelio Sozzini and his nephew Fausto Sozzini founded Socinianism . Unlike the Transylvanian Unitarians, the Polish Brothers were also heavily influenced by the radical Reformation Anabaptist movement. The center of the Polish Brethren and Polish Socinianism was the Polish city of Raków . With the beginning of the Counter Reformation in the middle of the 17th century, the Polish Brothers were largely expelled and were accepted in Transylvania and the Netherlands, among others. The Unitarians in Hungary and Transylvania established themselves in 1568. With the Edict of Torda they were put on an equal footing with other denominations for the first time. Giorgio Biandrata and Franz Davidis had a great influence on this .

The Unitarian Church in Transylvania still exists today. Unlike the majority of Unitarian communities, the Transylvanian Unitarians are not structured in a congregational way and therefore have a superintendent .

Great Britain

Anti-Trinitarian positions can be identified in Great Britain as early as the 16th century. The theologians John Assheton and Bartholomew Legat should be mentioned among others. In the 17th century, socianism was particularly prevalent in the literary field. For a time there was a socinian circle in London. A Unitarian church formation did not occur until the Enlightenment in 1774, when the Essex Street Chapel, the first English Unitarian church, was founded. In 1813, a Unitarian community association was also formed in Scotland.

In 1928 the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (GAUFCC) was finally founded as the umbrella organization for British Unitarians and Free Christians. This also includes the Unitarian Christian Association , founded in 1991 , which mainly represents the Christian Unitarians.

North America

Unitarian Church in Sharon, Massachusetts

Unitarianism in the United States developed essentially as it did in England. He went through the stages from early anti-Trinitarianism to rationalism and modernism . A generous recording of the results of comparative religious studies served as the basis . The main focus of American Unitarianism in the early 18th century was New England .

The development of Unitarian thinking in the USA spans three periods. The first, from 1800 to 1835, was largely influenced by English philosophy, semi-supranaturalist, not fully rationalist, committed to philanthropy and practical Christianity. Dr. Channing was their prominent representative. The second phase (1835–1885) was significantly influenced by German idealism ( see Transcendentalism ), increasingly rationalistic, although its theology showed plenty of mysticism . The third period began around 1885 as a period of rationalism , the recognition of a universal religion, and the widespread acceptance of scientific methods and ideas, as well as an ethical attempt to achieve the higher goals of Christianity.

In 1961, the American Unitarian Association merged with the Universalist Church of America to form the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA). In addition to the UAA, there are also theistically or Christianly oriented Unitarian organizations such as the American Unitarian Conference (AUC) and the Unitarian Christian Church of America (UCCA).

The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) was founded in May 1961; but until 2002, the local Unitarian churches in Canada were still cared for by the United States Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA).


Unitarernes Hus in Copenhagen

Unitarianism in the Scandinavian countries goes back largely to the Norwegian writer and preacher Kristofer Janson , who met the Unitarians while traveling in North America at the end of the 19th century. In 1895, on his initiative, the first Unitarian congregation in Norway was founded under the name Broderskabets Kirke - Unitarisk Samfund (Church of the Brotherhood - Unitarian Society) . The community only existed until 1937. In 1995 it was re-established, and in 2005 it was officially recognized as the Unitarforbundet Bét Dávid (Unitarian Association Bét Dávid) . The first Unitarian congregation in Denmark was founded in 1900 by Pastor Uffe Birkedal, who had previously resigned from the Lutheran Danish People's Church and was in contact with Kristofer Janson. Well-known Scandinavian Unitarians of the time included Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina, who also supported the construction of the Unitarernes Hus in Copenhagen, as well as Mary B. Westenholz , aunt Karen Blixens and well-known Danish women's rights activist. The community still exists today under the name Unitarisk Kirkesamfund (Unitarian Church Society) . While the Norwegian Unitarians continue to see themselves as Christian Unitarians, the Danish Unitarians are now part of the humanistic direction of Unitarianism.

The first Unitarian approaches in Sweden were made by the writers Viktor Rydberg and Klas Pontus Arnoldson . The latter founded in 1871 under the influence of the writings of the Unitarian writer Theodore Parker a liberal community called Sanningssökarna ("Truth Seeker "). However, the church that published the Sanningssökaren magazine was not recognized as a Christian church. In 1974, following contacts with Danish Unitarians, the Fria Kyrkan i Sverige was founded , which after contacts with Transylvanian Unitarians was renamed Unitariska Kyrkan i Sverige in 1999 in order to emphasize the Christian-Unitarian relationship. The church existed until 2008.


With the Reformation, anti-Trinitarian positions also spread in Germany, which, however, could not hold up against the background of increasing repression against non-conformist currents. Reference should be made, among other things, to the execution of Johannes Sylvanus . The dissident group around the Unitarian theologian Ernst Soner at the University of Altdorf in the 17th century was also smashed. Approaches by Johann Joachim Röling to build up unitarian community structures in East Frisia were also unsuccessful. In the Prussian area alone, there were occasional communities of the Polish Brothers, for example in Andreaswalde .

The free Protestant communities in Rheinhessen , which had existed since 1876, later developed into the pantheistic Unitarian - religious community of free faith . At the initiative of the pastor Rudolf Walbaum , after contacts with North American Unitarians, the nickname “German Unitarians” was added to the name “Religious Community of Free Protestants”. After the end of the Second World War, numerous new communities were formed from people who did not belong to any Christian denomination. Former members of the German Faith Movement also came to the German Unitarians. The influx of many new members from different ideological backgrounds led to conflicts and withdrawals. In 1950 the religious society took on the name "German Unitarian Religious Community". In 1954 the free Protestant "primitive communities" left. In 1987, further internal conflicts led to the split-off of the völkisch-pantheist " Bund Deutscher Unitarians , Religious Community of the European Spirit". 2015, named German Unitarian Religious Community in Unitarian - free faith religious community has to offer.

The Unitarian Free Religious Congregation (Frankfurt am Main) Kdö.R. emerged from the Free Religious Movement . In 1845 the “ German Catholic Community” was founded in Frankfurt . In 1859 this also took on the name "free religious" or "free religious" community. In that year the religious community was granted corporate rights (as a corporation under public law ), which were confirmed in Prussia in 1930 and in 1984 by the Hessian Ministry of Culture. In 1921 she shortened her name to "Free Religious Congregation". Since 1926 it called itself "Unitarian Free Religious Congregation" . In 1927 she joined forces with the German Unitarians to form the “German Unitarian Union” , which was banned in 1935. In 1948 it was renamed “Unitarian Free Religious Community”.

The Unitarian Church in Berlin (UKiB) was founded in 1948 by Pastor Hansgeorg Remus and is an independent organization.

See also


  • Andrew M. Hill: Unitarians. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie  34, 2002, pp. 332–339.
  • Earl Morse Wilbur: A History of Unitarianism - Socinianism and its Antecedents. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1947 (English).
  • Earl Morse Wilbur: A History of Unitarianism - In Transylvania, England, and America. Beacon Press, Boston 1977, ISBN 0-8070-1386-2 (English).
  • George Chryssides: The Elements of Unitarianism. Element Books Limited, Shaftesbury / Dorset 1998, ISBN 1-86204-247-0 .
  • Hans-Dietrich Kahl: From the early history of the Unitarianism - lines of development from the 16th to the 18th century. In: unitarian hefte , issue 8. Verlag Deutsche Unitarian, Kassel / Ravensburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-922483-38-0 .
  • Mihály Balázs, Gizella Kezer? (Ed.): György Enyedi and Central European Unitarianism in the 16-17th Centuries. In: Studia humanitatis. Volume 11, Balassi, Budapest 2000, ISBN 963-506-352-0 (English).
  • Wolfgang Deppert : Religion and Tolerance. The German Unitarians in the public debate - a statement. In: unitarian hefte , issue 5. German Unitarians, Munich 1992, ISBN 978-3-922483-36-6 .
  • Wolfgang Deppert, Werner Erdt, Aart de Groot (eds.): The influence of the Unitarians on the European-American intellectual history . Lectures at the first German scientific conference on Unitarianism research from 13-14 June 1985 in Hamburg. In: Unitarismusforschung , Volume 1, Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISSN  0930-4118 , ISBN 3-631-41859-0 .
  • German Unitarian Religious Community (Ed.): What do you think? The German Unitarians - a free religious community. German Unitarians, Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-922483-07-0 .
  • Kathryn Gleadle: The Early Feminists. Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movements, 1831-51. Macmillan, Basingstoke 1995, ISBN 0-333-63382-2 .
  • Conrad Wright: The Unitarian Controversy. Essays on American Unitarian History. Skinner, Boston 1994, ISBN 1-55896-284-0 (English).
  • Friedrich Schrader : Robert College, in Nord und Süd, November 1919, pp. 165-169 (describes the role of the Unitarians and their good relationship with local dervish orders in Constantinople when Robert College was founded in 1860).
  • József Ferencz: Small Unitarian Mirror - Brief epitome of the history, dogmas, church constitution and ceremonies of the Unitarian Church. Published by Carl Gerold's Sohn, Vienna 1879.

Web links

Commons : Unitarianism  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. In the Anglo-Saxon- speaking world, these two meanings of the word are sometimes case-sensitive, with unitarianism denoting the theological conception and unitarianism the resulting religious movement, compare the article Unitarianism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , accessed October 29, 2018 .
  2. ^ Preamble to the ICUU Association Statute : ICUU Constitution - 2010 . Retrieved on October 29, 2018 (the first of the five common bases of the member groups is called "Liberty of conscience and individual thought in matters of faith").
  3. ^ A Life-Centered Movement ( Memento from August 23, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) - an article by the ICUU about the Unitarian Church of Transylvania
  4. Eberhard Achterberg formulated as a Unitarian in his essay the size and limits of a religious humanism z. B. the following categorical imperative of religious humanism: "Always act in such a way that you are aware of your responsibility for your fellow men in everything you do". Cf. Eberhard Achterberg: The strength that sustains us - search for meaning in a threatened world. Verlag Deutsche Unitarian, Munich 1985, pp. 177-188.
  5. ^ Wolfgang Seibert: German Unitarian religious community. 1989, p. 17 ff.
  6. ^ Unitarian-Universalist Forum. Retrieved March 11, 2017 .
  7. ^ József Ferencz: Unitarian Catechism. (pdf)
  8. ^ Stefan Fleischmann: Szymon Budny . Böhlau, Cologne 2006, ISBN 3-412-04306-0 , p. 17 .
  9. Martin Schmeisser (ed.): Socinian confessional writings: The Rakow catechism of Valentin Schmalz (1608) and the so-called Soner catechism . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-05-005200-7 , p. 105 ff .
  10. Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Article 2 ( Memento of August 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (accessed August 21, 2014)
  11. ^ Herder's Conversations Lexicon. Freiburg im Breisgau 1857, Volume 5, p. 557 (accessed on August 21, 2014).
  12. ^ Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, accessed December 27, 2013 .
  13. ^ Unitarian Christian Church of America. Unitarian Christian Church of America, accessed February 26, 2017 .
  14. ^ Canadian Unitarian Council. Canadian Unitarian Council, accessed December 27, 2013 .
  15. Om Unitarforbundet. Unitarforbundet, accessed December 31, 2013 .
  16. History - Danmark. (No longer available online.) Unitarisk Kirkesamfund, archived from the original on March 4, 2016 ; accessed on December 31, 2013 .
  17. ^ Mark W. Harris: Historical Dictionary of Unitarian Universalism . Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD 2004, ISBN 0-8108-4869-4 , pp. 532-533 .