Unitarian Historical Society


Arthur Long and Alan Ruston

It is not clear how and when the existence of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania first became known to British Unitarians. What is certain is that in January 1811 the Monthly Repository (MR) brought attention to a pamphlet published about a dozen years before entitled, A statistical Account of the Unitarian Churches in Transylvania which was followed up in later issues. An account of this early interest in central European Unitarianism by Dionysius Lorinczy is to be found in the TUHS Vol. III , Part 1, 1923 . 20-33.

There was a growing feeling amongst English Unitarians in the period up to 1820 that contact should be made with their co-religionists in Europe. The fifteenth anniversary meeting of the Unitarian Fund held on 13 June 1821 at Parliament Court Chapel in London had a report from the committee stating that among the principal items under consideration had been:

'The printing of a text in Latin, containing a brief view of the opinions, history and institutions of the Unitarians of this country, and intended to serve as an introduction to some communication with learned Unitarians on the Continent. Its translation into modern languages is contemplated for distribution' (MR, Vol. XVI, June 1821. 373-375)

The printed text had already been sent under the title, Unitariorum in Anglia Fidei, Historiae, Et Status Praesentis Brevis Exposito, accompanied by a letter signed by W.J. Fox and Robert Aspland, on 30 April 1821, directed to the Professor of Socinian Theology at Clausenburg (or Klausenberg, in Hungarian Kolozsvar). It is believed it may also have been sent to other appropriate centres of learning. It was 'brought to hand, safe and sealed, by the public post of Vienna' at Clausenburg on 31 August 1821, and quickly a positive response in Latin was sent by Lazarus Nagy, a member of the Unitarian Consistory. He gave a brief history of their Church and its position and pointing out that ' the term Unitarian, sanctioned by the laws of the country, is in such general use with the followers of every religious persuasion in Transylvania, that we do not even like to be addressed under any other title, such as Socinians, disciples of Servetus etc.' Stating that they had 120 churches in Transylvania with forty thousand adherents, he finishes by 'saluting with the most friendly affection and humble respect the very grateful intelligence which they have afforded us of the English Unitarian Religion.'(Christian Reformer, August 1822, Vol. VIII. 253- 256).

Lorinczy states this was read 'at the sixteenth anniversary meeting of the Unitarian Fund on 29 May 1822 as a 'highly interesting result' of the Fund's attempt to open up correspondence with Unitarians in different parts of the world. This is the beginning of the relationship between the English and Transylvanian Unitarian churches.'

The Text

While the facts associated with the first contacts have long been acknowledged, what has not been known is the content of the message sent from the Unitarian Fund to Transylvania. Indeed I have not seen the text in libraries in Britain and nor have those scholars I have consulted who do not recollect seeing this account in Latin, let alone in English. The Unitarian Fund did not seem willing, if it had occurred to them, to let their members see what they had written on their behalf although the text of the reply was translated and reproduced in full in the Christian Reformer. The original text may of course be located in Kolozsvar or other repositories in central Europe to which it was originally sent.

It was while examining the miscellaneous loose papers of the late Trevor Watkins of Worthing, Sussex (see TUHS, 2003.487) in 2002 that I realised I had come across a copy of the original text of Unitariorum in Anglia. Trevor's family asked me to go through his papers and books to determine which items which should be retained and lodged in libraries. The original contains some pencil markings not in Trevor Watkins hand, and there is no means of knowing how the thirteen page printed document (215cm by 130cm) had come into his possession.

We are much indebted to the Rev Dr Arthur Long who undertook the arduous task of translation into English. It needed to be carried forward by someone with a knowledge of the Unitarian terminology used at that time. Miss Ann Grosso, a Latin scholar, helpfully provided at my request an initial outline summary which Arthur Long found most useful; having no knowledge of Unitarianism she found the religious and contextual references and meanings difficult to follow but she provided the original impetus for the translation to be carried forward.

I think readers will agree that the following constitutes a unique statement of the English Unitarian theological position, with a view of its history as seen in 1820, made by the leading figures within the movement. How the content was put together and by whom is not known; neither Fox nor Aspland are likely to have been its main creators of the Latin text.

The original document has been lodged at Dr Williams's Library with this translation for those who wish to examine the Latin version. A photocopy will also been found in the library of Harris Manchester College Oxford.

Alan Ruston

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