UU Minute #45

Theophilus Lindsey Takes the Next Antitrinitarian Step

Theophilus Lindsey, was ordained a deacon at age 23, and an Anglican priest at age 24. He served as domestic chaplain to the Duke of Somerset, then tutor to the Duke’s grandson, then Parish priest in Yorkshire, and then Dorset. At age 37, he married Hannah Elsworth, and at age 40 began serving the Church of St Anne in Catterick. Theophilus founded a Sunday school; Hannah ran a dispensary and encouraged inoculation.

So far, so good, for the Lindseys. But then antiTrinitarian ideas, which the couple might have been exposed to from books by Fausto Sozzini, or John Biddle, or Thomas Emlyn, or any number of others, began to trouble them. At age 50, Theophilus resigned as vicar of the Church of England, surrendering a comfortable living. Theophilus and Hannah moved to London with hardly more than the clothes on their back, with backing from some friends, rented a hall, and opened the first avowedly Unitarian church in England on April 17, 1774. Theophilus served that congregation for almost 20 years, until retiring at age 70.

Antitrinitarianism comes in slightly varying flavors, and, before Theophilus Lindsey, any of those flavors was apt to be called Unitarian. Arianism, named for Arius, said Christ was divine, but not equal with God. Socinianism, named for Fausto Sozzini, said Christ was not divine, but could still be worshipped. Theophilus Lindsey took antitrinitarianism the next step: Jesus was not the equal of God, not divine, and was not to be worshiped. A Unitarian, said Lindsey, held “that religious worship is to be addressed only to the One True God, the Father.” Worship of Christ is sheer idolatry. With Lindsey, Unitarianism became distinct from its forebears, Arianism and Socinianism.

NEXT: The Friendship of Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestley

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