UNITARIAN THOUGHT IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
A PRELIMINARY SURVEY
This article is the first part of a contribution based on the informal paper which I presented to the Unitarian Historical Society during the Annual Meetings of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (GA) at Imperial College London in April 2000. When I originally agreed (with a certain amount of reluctance) to produce for the Society in the year 2000 some general account of Unitarian Thought in the twentieth century, it soon became apparent that to do this adequately would be a very demanding undertaking, involving a considerable amount of research. As my available time was limited, I decided that the best I could do would be to attempt initially a preliminary survey of the last hundred years.
Andrew Hill, the former Secretary of the Society, who is always on the lookout for whimsical titles, suggested that my survey might be appropriately headed From James Martineau to Arthur Long! While it must be made clear that I certainly do not regard myself as being in any sense the equal of the great James Martineau, perhaps Andrew's quip was not entirely inappropriate, in so far as I begin with James Martineau and end with Arthur Long. I am, after all the one who has attempted this personal and very subjective survey. I suppose it is also true that at this point in time, both within and outside our Movement, I do seem to have acquired - much to my own surprise - some kind of representative status. However, perhaps a better overall title would be Unitarian Thought in Twentieth Century- a Long, Long Way from Martineau'!
At an early stage, I decided to confine myself to examining the content of some moderately substantial publications - Unitarian books (official and unofficial), together with a few GA Reports on specific topics or issues. I have not examined the booklets, pamphlets, publicity leaflets etc., issued by the GA Information Department or its predecessors.
If I ever get round to doing something more substantial, I will certainly try to look through what has been produced in the latter field. I assume that it will also be necessary to consult the back numbers of our periodicals - especially The Inquirer, The Hibbert Joumal, and Faith and Freedom. On the matter of small booklets and leaflets, there used to be some large boxes at the Unitarian College Manchester (UCM), containing a wide variety of such items. They have never been catalogued and are presumably now part of the Unitarian College Collection at the John Rylands University of Manchester Library. But I have my own list of the titles and many of them are very intriguing and probably highly relevant as a guide to twentieth century Unitarian thought.
But I would like to stress again that for the purpose of this present survey, I have consulted only a selection of Unitarian books, together with, in addition, some official Unitarian reports. My book list is set out below - in approximately chronological order - and except where otherwise stated, they were all published by the Lindsey Press. As will be apparent, 1 have confined my attention almost entirely to British Unitarianism.
Significant Books and Reports
W.G.Tarrant, Unitarianism, Constable & Co., 1912
J.Estlin Carpenter (Ed.), Freedom and Truth , (subtitled Modem Views of Unitarian Christianity), Lindsey Press, 1925
Alfred Hall, Beliefs of a Unitarian (several editions, originally 50 Points in Favour Unitarianism), Lindsey Press - first published 1910, last edition 1932
GA Commission Report, A Free Religious Faith, Lindsey Press, 1945
Kenneth Twinn (Ed.), Essays in Unitarian Theology, Lindsey Press, 1959
A.J.Long, Faith and Understanding, Lindsey Press, 1963
GA Faith and Action Commission Report (Theology Section), 1964
J.Rowland (Ed.), Point of Belief: Essays in Liberal Religion, Lindsey Press, 1968
H.J.McLachlan, The Divine Image, 1972
D.G.Wigmore-Beddoes (Ed.), Concerning Jesus, Lindsey Press,1975
John Hostler, Unitarianism, Hibbert Trust, 1981
GA Feminist Theology Report - Growing Together (probably mid-1980s)
Phillip Hewett, Understanding Unitarians, Hibbert Trust, 1992
A. Richard Kingston, God in One Person - The Case for Non-Incarnational Christianity, Macmillan Press, 1993
A.J.Long, Current Trends in British Unitarianism, Ulster Unitarian Christian Association, Belfast, 1997
G.Chryssides, Unitarian Perspectives on Contemporary Religious Thought, Element Books, 1999
I am aware that some other publications have probably been omitted which are equally important or relevant, such as for example Henry Gow's book The Unitarians (one in a series on The Faiths, edited by L.P.Jacks), some of Phillip Hewett's other publications (especially An Unfettered Faith), Estlin Carpenter's books on Comparative Religion, and Jeremy and Rosemary Goring's little book The Unitarians (for which I wrote a foreword) published by the Religious & Moral Education Press in 1984. (It was a contribution to a series called The Christian Denominations.)
It would have been possible to include, as a separate list, significant books of a more general nature, written by Unitarians, but not specifically about Unitarianism. My tentative list would have been:-
L.A.Garrard, Athens or Jerusalem? - A Study in Christian Comprehension, Allen & Unwin,1965 G.Dawes Hicks, The Philosophical Bases of Theism (Hibbert Lectures 1931) , Allen & Unwin, 1937 E.G.Lee, Christianity and the New Situation, Allen & Unwin, 1953
Some of the writings of L.P.Jacks (described in the Everyman Encyclopaedia of Literary Biography as "the best known Unitarian author of his time.") could have been included. But for the purposes of the preliminary survey, books which fall into these categories have been left aside.
But returning to my original list, significant Unitarian books and reports, I have read most if not all of them at some time or other in the past,, though not all have been consulted for the purpose of this survey. Some have been gone through carefully, while the remainder have been skimmed, with the aim of refreshing my memory sufficiently to make appropriate comments. At some later stage I hope to be able to produce a fuller and more discriminating study of Unitarian thought in the twentieth century so in the present article detailed notes and references have been omitted in most cases.
The Importance of James Martineau
It is essential to begin with Martineau, even though he is not in fact featured in the above list. This is partly because of his vast output. Much of his most significant thought has to be unearthed from his innumerable sermons, essays and addresses (and even his hymns and prayers.) There is of course his magnum opus - The Seat of Authority in Religion, first published in 1890 when he was aged 85. Some years ago, I even attempted a summary and assessment of its 700 pages for a French Encyclopaedia! It still remains a work of prime importance and I shall return to it later. But my main reason for not including anything by Martineau in my book list was simply that I recognise that he belongs primarily to nineteenth century and not twentieth.
However, James Martineau did just manage to make it into the twentieth century (he died on 11 January 1900, aged 94). At the time of his death, he was very highly regarded within the Unitarian Movement, and also far beyond it. By that time he was a well-known figure of immense national importance, as Alan Ruston has stressed in an admirable article in The Inquirer (No. 7493, 8 April 2000). So it is strange in some ways that outside our own movement, he now seems to have been almost entirely forgotten.
Martineau was certainly enormously revered within Unitarianism at the beginning of the twentieth century. When he died, The Inquirer published an astonishing Memorial Issue, complete with wide black borders on every page. As Alan Ruston has suggested, there is a sense in which he dominated the Unitarian movement throughout the whole of the twentieth century. Martineau, says Ruston, was " Unitarian colossus, and we have produced nobody in twentieth century who has come remotely near him in terms of importance, depth and impact." There are those who see him as an undesirable and very conservative influence. But I am sure this is a mistake. We tend to forget that in his own day, he was a very controversial figure, often seen by some as a dangerous radical. In his book The Unitarian Contribution to the Religious Life of England, Herbert McLachlan quotes something which Martineau said in 1840 (source not given): "Descended as we are from John Locke, we have brought the understanding to do all our work for us, from the baking of bread to the worship of God." McLachlan says that this reflects Martineau's 'unconverted stage' when he was still a devoted disciple of the determinism of Priestley and Belsham. He claims that Martineau's later thought would have been more in line with that of Novalis, who said: "Philosophy can bake no bread, but she can procure for us God, Freedom, and Immortality."
I suspect nevertheless, that Martineau always remained in some respects a disciple of Locke, and it can almost be said that he has only come into his own in the twentieth century. His continuing importance for Unitarianism was underlined by fact that in 1950, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his death, the Lindsey Press published extensive extracts from his writings, compiled by Alfred Hall (which I might very well have included in my book list.) Alfred Hall's preface includes a good summary of Martineau's thought. There is also an excellent detailed study by Dr Ralph Waller (now acknowledged as one of the leading contemporary authorities on Martineau) in Truth, Liberty and Religion, the Bicentenary volume of Manchester College Oxford, published in 1986.
Before moving on from Martineau, it is necessary to return briefly to his Seat of Authority. In this book, Martineau attempts a complete and comprehensive defence of the theological and philosophical basis of the advanced radical Unitarianism which he had come to represent. Though it does perhaps lack the profundity and polish of some his earlier works, it is a fearless statement of the Unitarianism's central challenge to Christian orthodoxy. It is intriguing to note that in some concluding reflections, he characterises "modern religion" as "a triple cord, binding together Greek, Jewish and German elements." (the reference to German elements, of course, puts him firmly into his nineteenth century context.)
The book is primarily a well-argued defence of Martineau's central conviction that there is not, and never can be, any valid objective revelation of divine truth. He insists that the only seat of authority in religion is that provided by the enlightened conscience, guided by reason.
My contention is that this is Martineau's main legacy to Unitarianism. All Unitarians of whatever brand, now take Martineau's central principle for granted. But on a wider front, it is something which is accepted, implicitly (and sometimes even explicitly) by all intelligent contemporary religious thinkers, and all the major traditions. As John Hostler points out at the beginning of his little book on Unitarianism, there are even echoes of Martineau in one of the pronouncements of Vatican II, where we read: "All men are bound to seek the truth and to embrace the truth which they come to know.... In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully."
A more curious feature of the work is Martineau's insistence that the historic Jesus was not and never claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. This does not prevent him from showing a fervent personal devotion to Jesus, whom he almost always refers to as Christ, and whom he repeatedly describes as 'the Prince of Saints'. It is this, together with his well-known commitment to Free Christianity and not institutional Unitarianism, which for some, mark him out as a defender of a bygone tradition.
In some respects, of course, he was very conservative. In politics and social matters (unlike most of the great Unitarians of the past), he was certainly very much to the right of centre. He also had little use for other World Faiths (something which clearly distances him from his devoted disciple Estlin Carpenter.) But he could also be extraordinarily radical in his thinking - as is shown by the astonishingly vehement denunciation of orthodox Christianity contained in the closing pages of his Seat of Authority. The passage sounds, to those who have not previously encountered it, singularly unlike Martineau, and which is not as well-known nowadays as it ought to be. It was quoted in the tribute to Martineau in the 1999 Christmas Issue of The Unitarian Christian Herald, and interestingly enough it is also quoted by Frank Walker in his contribution to George Chryssides's Unitarian Perspectives, one of the most recent Lindsey Press, long the inprint of Unitarian denominational publications.
One of my own favourite Martineau quotations is something I found quite by chance in a passage from an address called The Transient and the Permanent in Religion, given as long ago as 1862 at Manchester New College London. After discoursing grandiloquently and at great length on the need for a Church to be based on unchanging tradition and continuity, Martineau concludes as follows:-
"But this is still but half the duty of a church...Without some provision for discharging from its terms what is perishable and obsolete, and permitting its indestructible truth to live into new forms, no church can permanently meet the conditions of human life. While affecting to represent the eternal counsel of God, it will slip away from the unresting intellect and affections of men... It is a lesson hard to learn, but sure to make itself felt at last, that a final church foregoes the future." [The emphasised words are Martineau's]
W. G. Tarrant Unitarianism
It is time to turn to my book list. The first title is W.G.Tarrant's Unitarianism (1912) The name of William George Tarrant (1853-1928) is still well-known amongst us. He is perhaps chiefly remembered nowadays for his much-loved hymns, many of them still in constant use, though they obviously did not commend themselves to the compilers of Hymns for Living. Torrent was a devoted minister, a well-read scholar, and the editor of The Inquirer, 1888-97 and 1918-1927. His book (called simply Unitarianism) is still an interesting little volume which deserves to be better known. It provides much useful information about the Unitarian movement at that time, in both the United Kingdom and in New England. (It is interesting that he suggests that American Unitarianism at that time was mainly confined to New England.) The book also contains a very good summary of the history of Unitarianism, and it has, in addition, a note on what he calls "modern tendencies."
He stresses the openness and the diversity of Unitarianism and says that "there has never been a leader or central council whose decisions on matters of faith and order have been accepted by Unitarians as final. Even when most closely organised, Unitarians have steadily resisted all attempts to fix the meaning of Unitarianism." It is because of this, he says, that there has always been room within the movement for a great variety of opinions, and it also explains why provision for growth and development cannot be excluded. But he argues that in spite of the complications resulting from its diversity, the movement has always had two basic characteristics - it is "both rationalist and mystic!".
In a section on Unitarian Christology, which some of us might still find very useful, he provides succinct information on Athanasianism, Arianism, Filioque, Homoousios and Homoiousios, Sabellianism, Socinianism- and Humanitarianism! (Humanitarianism in that context of course, was not what the term implies today. It was simply the name given to a fully developed Unitarian position. Tarrant himself emphasises that for Unitarians, Jesus is a 'mere man,' not essentially different from rest of humankind. But he also adds: "Modern Unitarianism usually avoids this kind of phrase."
He passes eventually to some reflections on what he calls "Ideas and Tendencies," in which he acknowledges the importance and influence of Emerson and Martineau. But he also notes that "more conservative tendencies still persist" - which he sees as a consequence of the continuing influence of such figures as H.W.Furness, J.Freeman Clarke, J.H.Thom and James Drummond (an interesting list.) In a note on the question of "Unitarian or Free Christian?" he stresses the dangers of Sectarianism, and is mildly critical of some new converts - those "ardent spirits" who repeatedly demand an "authoritative statement to keep the imprudent and advanced from going too far," or who mistakenly seek to rescue the movement from what they see as its "paralysing indefiniteness."
After commending some other characteristic features of Unitarianism, such as full congregational autonomy and a concern for 'social amelioration,' Tarrant reproduces, as an appropriate concluding statement of Unitarian teaching, some lengthy extracts from a summary of 'Unitarian Christianity' by Richard Acland Armstrong. The date and origin of the statement are not given, but Armstrong, of course, was a prominent nineteenth century figure, and in some ways, it seems strange that Tarrant should have felt that he needed to go back to the nineteenth century for his concluding reflections. Armstrong's statement, though worthy enough, is bland and simplistic, with much stress on the universal loving kindness of God, the Father of us all, and there is great concentration on the teaching of Jesus - who reminds us, says Armstrong, that 'the Kingdom of Heaven' does not depend on correct theology or the administration of outward sacraments, but simply "on being converted [sic] and becoming as little children - simple-hearted, loving, pure." On the whole, the faith which Armstrong presents and Tarrant commends is very sunny and optimistic. The possibility of sin is acknowledged, but there is little real awareness of the problem of evil.
S.H. Mellone Unitarian Christianity
The next book on my list is Freedom and Truth, a quite substantial volume edited by J.Estlin Carpenter, and subtitled Modern Views of Unitarian Christianity. It was published by the Lindsey Press in 1925 to celebrate the Centenary of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and the American Unitarian Association - both of which were founded, quite by chance, on almost the same day in May 1825. The book contains ten separate essays, almost half by American Unitarian scholars whose contributions deal mainly with the Unitarian approach to various aspects of academic theology, and it opens with a reprint of a famous sermon by James Martineau, The Three Stages of Unitarian Theology, which dates from 1869.
But it also includes an important essay by Sydney Herbert Mellone: bearing the significant title of Unitarian Christianity in the 20th Century. Mellone, a former Principal of the Unitarian College Manchester (the immediate predecessor of Herbert McLachlan) was not only an eminent and much esteemed Unitarian scholar. He was also one of that small band (perhaps one of the last) to be well known in the academic world generally. He held University appointments at Edinburgh, Manchester and London, and he was a prolific author who published a wide variety of books on many different topics.
What makes his essay in Carpenter's Freedom and Truth particularly interesting is that in 1951, it was reproduced almost verbatim (apart from a few significant omissions) as a Lindsey Press booklet with an identical title: Unitarian Christianity in the 20th Century. So it certainly deserves close attention and I have made a complete summary of it for my own edification. There is not space for me to set this out in full, but I will try to pick out some of the more significant passages.
Few would want to disagree with his opening observations: "It is well known that we are in the midst of a vast movement of change in religious thought and life, a movement of mingled construction and destruction whose beginnings, if we can date them at all, are from the Reformation, and whose end no one can foresee." (If he had said "construction and deconstruction" perhaps we could have claimed him as the first Unitarian Post-Modernist!) He lists the leaders of the Reformation, linking them to specific parts of Europe - Luther in Germany, Calvin in Geneva, Knox in Scotland - and he adds (rather curiously) 'the Sozzini in Italy.' These, he says, were the ones "who broke and destroyed the all-embracing power and authority of the Catholic Church and proclaimed the Bible alone as a new and self-sufficient authority." But this led ultimately to a recognition that the only real authority (and there is a specific reference to Martineau) is Reason and Conscience. It is here that we find, he says, the origins of Unitarianism, with its acknowledgement that all the dogmas of the past have to be interpreted in light of our own life and experience.
At several points in the essay, Mellone is very critical of some of the pronouncements of Anglican Modernism, which at that time were often very dismissive of Unitarianism - something which is certainly no longer the case. My own close association with the Modern Churchpeople's Union suggests that most contemporary Anglican Liberals are very sympathetic towards Unitarianism. Interestingly enough, Mellone supports his own position with a useful quotation from the writings of Bishop Phillips Brooks, a famous nineteenth century American Liberal Churchman:-
"It is not conceivable that any Council, however constituted, should so pronounce on truth that its decrees should have any weight with thinking men, save what might seem legitimately to belong to the character and wisdom of the persons who composed the Council; personal judgment is on the throne and will remain there - personal judgment, enlightened by all the wisdom, past and present, which it can summon to its aid, but forming finally its own conclusions, and standing by them in the sight of God, whether it stands in a great company or stands alone."
In tracing further the origins of British Nonconformity and the emergence of Unitarianism (or Unitarian Christianity as he prefers to call it) Mellone shows strong approval for what Alexander Gordon called "the catholicity of the Old Dissent" and he has warm praise for Richard Baxter. He argues that two diverse characteristics shaped the later development of the Unitarian tradition - firstly a demand for personal spiritual freedom; and secondly a demand for clear, definite, and coherent religious thought and teaching. This is something which has been taken up by other Unitarian historians. Mellone sees the second of these demands as the source of criticisms of 'the Trinitarian Scheme' - which were not just a matter of the dogma of the Trinity and the deity of Christ, but an objection to the whole scheme of salvation and the doctrines derived from that dogma. This in turn, he says, not only paved the way for a more human Christ, a more rational view of Bible, and a larger hope of salvation for all mankind. It also resulted in increasing attacks from mainstream Christianity and exclusion from Christian fellowship.
Mellone definitely sees these developments as a consequence of the demand, especially in the eighteenth century, for more lucid and definite religious teaching, which he traces back (in a rather curious judgment) to "the almost too logical and sharply reasoned theology of the famous Polish Unitarians" reflected in particular in the thought of Priestley and Lindsey. In seeking to spell out more clearly the meaning of Unitarian Christianity, he tends to revert to the old Presbyterian distinction between what is essential and what is nonessential. The one basic essential, he suggests is the idea of the Fatherhood of God, inevitably involving divine sonship and human brotherhood. (In those days, sexist language posed no problems.) This belief, he says "is not merely a Truth to be assented to, but an Ideal to be realised, and a task to be achieved."
But he admits that one basic question remains - "What think ye of Christ?" Whenever I hear those words, I am always reminded of an astute comment by that redoubtable and unrepentant Liberal Christian, the late C.J.Cadoux:-
I take this opportunity of entering a mild protests against the customary and repeated misuse of the inaccurate AV rendering: What think ye of Christ? whenever there is a Christological discussion and a good heading is required. The sentence, of course, means not what the innocent reader is led to suppose, namely 'What think ye of Jesus of Nazareth?' - but 'What think ye concerning the Jewish Messiah?
Mellone, of course, is amongst the guilty here! But we all know what he means - and it is indeed a basic question for all Unitarians - "that do we make of Jesus?"
Mellone himself offers some robust replies to mainstream critics who denounce the inadequacies of Unitarian Christology and he questions the whole idea of 'Incarnation' - which he calls "an awkward Latinism not used by Greek Fathers." He commends instead "the idea of the Logos Spermatikos found in Justin Martyr in the second century and Martineau in the nineteenth - the notion of the Divine Word scattered everywhere abroad and sown as a Seed of Life within the heart and intellect of mankind." (Significantly enough perhaps, the words Logos Spermatikos are omitted from the 1951 edition of Mellone's essay - and it is probably safe to assume that few contemporary Unitarians will be familiar with Greek terms!)
He admits that the liturgical worship of Jesus has always presented difficulties for Unitarians, and he expresses his own doubts on the matter. But he says that the veneration and admiration of Jesus do not necessarily need to be excluded. Mellone suggests that such questions are perhaps "among the nonessentials." In the end, he takes refuge in the famous words of Martineau: "The Incarnation is true, not of Christ exclusively, but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there; and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine." This, he suggests, could be the ultimate explanation "of how those who deny that Jesus was God, find in Jesus the supreme symbol of God" - a rather neat aphorism.
Melon feels that this could mean that anti-Trinitarianism is not the essence of Unitarianism, and that the doctrine of the Trinity itself could belong to the nonessentials. In an interesting anticipation of some contemporary mainstream criticisms of the Trinity, he argues that what the Trinity is meant to affirm is perhaps better expressed by the doctrine of Holy Spirit. He also has some interesting comments on the idea of the Atonement which Unitarians do still tend to shie away from. While we are right, he says, to reject the traditional idea of Original Sin, the concept does have the merit of reminding us that we inevitably share a common life, both for good and ill, and that human freedom is limited.
In his final comments, when he turns to the future prospects for Unitarianism, there is a passage which still has considerable contemporary relevance:- "The denominational defects of Unitarianism are many and are confessed, often with a frankness which puzzles those who do not know the movement from the inside. A denomination is not necessarily in a dying or decadent condition because it dares to discuss its difficulties in public." But surpassingly enough, like W.G.Tarrant, in the end, he goes back to the nineteenth century and commends a statement made to the British and Foreign Unitarian Association by James Martineau in 1838, the essence of which was the claim that there is indeed something greater than Unitarian Christianity and its spirit of fearless free enquiry - namely the spirit of deep and vital religion which may exist under many different forms of doctrinal belief.
This, apparently, was seen in 1925 as an appropriate statement of Unitarianism, suited to the needs of the twentieth century, and in 1951, when the essay was republished, some of our leading spirits still felt that it was highly relevant. Maybe there is a sense in which it is still not without some significance for the twenty-first century.
The Formation of the General Assembly
If we pass on now from 1925, we come to the struggles and controversy which led to formation of General Assembly in 1928, and there are certainly implications here for Unitarian Thought. It is difficult for those who came afterwards - and even for the small and now declining band who vaguely recall the happenings of those days - to realise the full extent of the controversy, which was essentially a reflection of the continuing influence of the Martineau line and the problems associated with the oft-mentioned 'Two Wings of Unitarianism.' Some thought a split inevitable, and the situation was aggravated to some extent by the Free Catholic Movement, led by Lloyd Thomas and others. Some detailed reference to the Free Catholics might perhaps have been appropriate. They were only a very small group, but they were pointing the way towards the 'Christian Myth' interpretation of Unitarianism, to which we will need to return later.
But the split did not happen. The formation of the General Assembly, appropriately named "The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches" was hailed as a great triumph for comprehension and toleration. Opposition to the development was minimal. Only a very few ministers refused to join GA roll (the most prominent were L.P.Jacks and Lloyd Thomas) and just one single congregation stayed outside - Birmingham Old Meeting, which after a somewhat chequered history, finally died out in World War II. But I suppose we have to admit that the disputes still continue. The old arguments are recognisable in some of the contemporary debates, often in a disguised form. It is the Unitarians who are now seen as the progressive radicals, while the Free Christians are dismissed as the misguided traditionalists. But for the present, I do not propose to pursue these particular issues, and must return instead to my original book list.
Alfred Hall, Beliefs of a Unitarian
Chronologically speaking, my next publication is that famous book The Beliefs of a Unitarian by Alfred Hall, at that time an eminent and much-loved Unitarian minister and scholar, still well remembered by many of us. The book was in effect a revised edition of an earlier manual of his entitled Fifty Points in Favour of Unitarianism. Originally published in 1910, it became very popular and ran to several editions. For the fourth and final edition, which appeared in 1932, Hall made a few changes and added some new material and he also changed the title because he wished to make the book less polemical.
There is perhaps some significance in the fact that he chose to call it The Beliefs of a Unitarian rather than 'Unitarian Beliefs Described' or some such title. Here again was a recognition of the diversity which had long characterised the movement. The book was presented primarily as an account of the personal beliefs of one individual Unitarian. But at the same time, the contents do seem to suggest that Alfred Hall felt he was speaking as a representative of Unitarianism in general, and he appears to take it for granted that Unitarianism could be rightly regarded as a form of Christianity.
At one time, the book was greatly appreciated, and there was a general feeling that it was a highly useful manual, an excellent introduction to Unitarianism, especially suited to the needs of interested enquirers. It is still revered by some of the older generation of birthright Unitarians, and I believe that some converts, or potential converts, do find it helpful. In many respects of course, it is now very much out of date. But it undoubtedly has some very good qualities, especially when it is set against the background of the 1930s. It is an admirable comprehensive manual, written in simple, non-technical language - a highly commendable exposition of the Unitarian approach to the whole field of traditional Christian thought, including some observations on topics often now neglected or ignored amongst us (such as Immortality, for example.) All the material is set out in short paragraphs, each under an appropriate heading - God, Man, the Trinity, Jesus, Revelation, the Bible, Miracles, the Resurrection, Sin and Salvation, Prayer and Worship, Other Religions. There is a closing section which gives a list of 'Eminent Unitarians.' (This was at one time a favourite device. Contemporary Unitarians are inclined to agree that the Unitarian commitment of some of those who appear in such lists is often highly dubious!).
I suspect that a detailed study of the content of Beliefs of a Unitarian would be a very useful exercise, especially if special attention were given to topics omitted by Hall, but now deemed highly relevant, and vice versa. But for the purposes of this present survey, I have not attempted to do this. I want to pass instead to one of our most important twentieth century documents, the 1945 GA Report, A Free Religious Faith. This will be the first topic in the second part of my article.
Rev Dr Arthur Long is a former Principal of the Unitarian College Manchester