UU Minute #42

Glorious Revolution

A nation coming apart at the seams. Shared reality that held a people together despite differences -- no longer shared. Widespread distrust of the basic institutions of society. Heretofore reliable truth rejected. That was 17th-century England. The Civil War that produced the execution of King Charles the First in 1649 was as much about forms of worship as it was forms of government – as much about the polity of the church as the polity of the state.

After 11 years of Commonwealth, the monarchy was restored. Charles the Second was succeeded by James the Second, England’s last Catholic monarch. The general anxiety about his Catholicism, combined with outrage when James prosecuted seven bishops for seditious libel, destroyed his political authority.

The glorious revolution of 1688 ousted James and brought the reign of William and Mary. The Toleration Act of 1689 extended toleration to various nonconformists with the Church of England – Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents -- but not to Catholics or Unitarians. The law required rejection of transubstantiation and required acceptance of the trinity.

Still, Unitarian thought, in both Arian and Socinian variations, spread. Isaac Newton wrote that scripture support of the Doctrine of the Trinity was too corrupt to be relied upon. John Locke, in 1695, published a theological work that was essentially Socinian.

Thomas Emlyn, a popular and beloved Presbyterian minister in Dublin, was a closet Unitarian. For eleven years he served his congregation and avoided controversy until one day a congregant observed that in eleven years of preaching, he’d never made any reference to the Trinity. Emlyn acknowledged his Arian Unitarian views and offered to resign.

What happened, will be in our next thrilling episode.

NEXT: Thomas Emlyn

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