The Early Christian Unitarian Reformers

The following excerpt is from Earl Morse Wilbur’s book, Our Unitarian Heritage: An Introduction to the History of the Unitarian Movement. In the excerpt, Wilbur reviews the “scattered beginnings of Unitarianism in Europe,” meaning by “Unitarianism” nontrinitarian Christianity. The excerpt provides a glimpse into the bloody history of the trinity doctrine and erects a monument to the numerous Christian unitarian reformers-become-marytrs who escape any real notice in almost all church history books.

“We have reached the end of our survey of the first scattered beginnings of Unitarianism in Europe.  We have seen that during the first half-century after Luther, in all the countries in Western Europe where the Reformation took root (save England), there were independent spirits who were not satisfied to stop where the leading reformers had stopped in their reform of the Church, but who wished to carry it further and thoroughly to reform the doctrines of Christianity, so that they might be based only on the teachings of the Bible and might not give offense to reason. These were the earliest Unitarians in Europe; or rather, they were the first to take those steps away from the orthodox doctrines of Christianity about God, Christ, the atonement, and related doctrines, which led at length to modern Unitarianism.  Why did not their movement succeed better? The answer is plain to see.  None of them was long permitted to proclaim his views unmolested.  We have seen that in every instance thus far the penalty of denying the doctrine of the Trinity and of the Deity of Christ was bitter persecution — banishment, imprisonment, even death itself. One can hardly refrain from applying to these the words of the New Testament written of heroes of faith of an earlier time, “who through faith quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; while others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, of whom the world was not worthy.”  None of these was permitted to live a peaceful life, and not a few suffered tragic deaths.  The conscience and mind of man were not yet free in Protestant Europe, any more than in Catholic.  The laws of the State were used to repress freedom of thought and free speech within the Church.  Those that escaped death wandered over the face of Europe, happy if they might at last find somewhere a quiet corner to die in.  Is it any wonder that Unitarianism did not spread faster? Indeed Unitarian views of Christianity would have come to an end almost in the generation in which they arose, had there not been in eastern Europe two remote countries [Poland and Transylvania] where broader religious toleration prevailed, and where Unitarians might under the law in some measure enjoy equal rights with other Protestants.”

Earl Morse Wilbur, Our Unitarian Heritage, p. 119