UU Minute #77

Likeness to God

William Ellery Channing’s 1819 manifesto, “Unitarian Christianity” embraced the name “Unitarian” for the liberal congregationalists, and laid out principles that remain key to who we are. Channing was the intellectual, moral, and spiritual leader of Unitarianism for 23 more years, until his death at age 62. Ralph Waldo Emerson himself referred to Channing as “our bishop.”

Channing rejected Trinitarianism – the point for which we Unitarians get our name. He also, like Unitarian forebears Fausto Sozzini and Joseph Priestly, rejected substitutionary atonement.

In an 1828 sermon, “Likeness to God,” Channing essentially addressed the question: “Who made whom in whose image?” Channing’s answer was one many of us today would still affirm. He said:
“The divine attributes are first developed in ourselves, and thence transferred to our Creator. The idea of God, sublime and awful as it is, is the idea of our own spiritual nature, purified and enlarged to infinity. In ourselves are the elements of the Divinity.”
Channing went on to say that humans had transcendent moral reason as part of our “higher or spiritual nature that has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind.”

Inscribed on the back of the William Ellery Channing statue that stands in Boston’s Public Garden is a further passage from this same sermon:
“I do and I must reverence human nature. I bless it for its kind affections. I honor it for its achievements in science and art, and still more for its examples of heroic and saintly virtue. These are marks of a divine origin and the pledges of a celestial inheritance, and I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.”

NEXT: Unitarians and Slavery: Lydia Maria Frances Child

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