UU Minute #19

King John Comes Around

King John Sigismund’s rule of Transylvania began in 1559 when his mother, Isabella, died. He was 19.

John, like his mother, was unusually interested in religion – both as a tool of statecraft and from a genuine interest in discerning the truth for its own sake. Born and raised Catholic, John converted to Lutheranism at age 22. At age 24, John switched to Calvinism and appointed Ferenc David as Court Preacher.

David and Giorgio Biandrata, John’s physician and trusted counsellor, now at court together, began collaborating in the development of the two ideas that would be central to Unitarianism:
  • criticizing trinitarianism, including rejecting the deity of Jesus Christ – and
  • upholding religious toleration.
King John’s fascination with religious questions led him to organize a series of theological debates. There was the 1566 Synod at Gyulafehervar, the first open or public debate of trinitarianism, with Biandrata and David defending the “anti” position. Biandrata shrewdly stipulated that the only authority for the debate could be scripture – not doctrine or dogma or philosophy. This put the trinitarian side at quite a disadvantage since the trinity idea is not in the Bible, and only appears with the 325 Council of Nicea.

While the appointed auditors ruled the debate inconclusive, the king liked what he heard from Biandrata and David, and provided them a press with which to publish Unitarian ideas to a wider audience. The next year, 1567, Biandrata and David co-authored False and True Knowledge of God, echoing Miguel Serveto’s points. Repeatedly they insisted that Christ and the Apostles held a simple and straightforward doctrine, which was corrupted by philosophical sophistry epitomized by Trinitarianism.

By the end of 1567, King John was persuaded. He, along with Biandrata and David, were now Anti-trinitarians, though there wasn’t yet a Unitarian denomination. That would come in 1568, with the Edict of Torda.

NEXT: The Edict of Torda

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