UU Minute #18

Ferenc David and the Unitarian Mind

Ferenc David was born in Transylvania, in 1520. He was raised Catholic – went away to the University of Wittenberg to study Catholic theology. Wittenberg, you’ll remember, is where the Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door there. David returned home in 1551, at age 31, having been exposed to Lutheran ideas, but still a Catholic: rector of a Catholic school, then a Catholic parish priest.

Lutheranism grew in Transylvania, and, along with it, hostility toward Catholics. A number of Catholic clergy switched over, and Ferenc David joined them. He became a Lutheran minister and then Lutheran bishop. David gained a great reputation as a brilliant debater upholding Lutheranism against the Calvinists.

And then something happened that’s rather revealing about what we might call the Unitarian Mind. Psychologists will tell you that for most people, the exercise of arguing for a position increases their unbending commitment to that position. But for Ferenc David, fiercely debating against the Calvinists actually increased his sympathy for their position. At age 39, Ferenc David switched over to Calvinism.

David and Giorgio Biandrata met in 1564, and later that year, David was appointed King John Sigismund’s court preacher, and also bishop of the Calvinist church in Transylvania. David and Biandrata were thus able to have many conversations about further reform of doctrines, including abandoning Trinitarianism. David and Biandrata became the founding figures of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania.

David’s capacity to listen to those he disagreed with, to empathize with his opponents, and to be open to being persuaded by them – to continue to grow and change throughout life -- has been a key aspect of the Unitarian Mind from its beginnings.

NEXT: King John Comes Around

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