Thursday, December 09, 2010

Unitarian Creation Myths

I made the mistake of giving those Transcendentalism lectures I referred to another chance.  In describing the early American celebrity Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (a less impressive Schleiermacher of sorts), I learned the unsurprising fact that he didn't believe in Trinitarian doctrine.  Of course, it wasn't "rational" enough.  Good news is this freed up his mind to focus on social justice.  In fact, Channing invented it.  To quote directly from the lecture:
We now take it for granted that part of denominational obligations is the idea that humans help others as part of their religious thinking, Channing - interestingly - is one of the first to draw this connection in formal terms.
I'll exercise great restraint to afford no responsive comment, other than to point out that while American Christianity may be historically ignorant, homegrown American heresy, and its heir known as Therapeutic Moralistic Deism, appears to be historically handicapped as well.

To be sure, brittle Calvinism has much to answer for in generating reactions such as Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, and Channing - who felt Emerson went too far - still wanted to hold on to Jesus Christ.  But interestingly (really this time), Gregory of Nyssa suggested that to confess Christ is to, like it or not, be a Trinitarian: "The confession of this name contains the teaching of the Holy Trinity, because in this name Each of the Persons in Whom we believe is respectively expressed... In this name we recognize the Anointing One, the Anointed One, and the One through He in anointed [that is, the oil itself]" The corroborating verse (Acts 10:38) shows that such an anointing is what lead to the good works that Channing so admired.

Channing, to be fair, had primitive tools.  Unless I'm mistaken, he had no edition of the Cappadocians in which to read of the Trinity's irresistible beauty, and he (obviously) could not have consulted Karl Barth where the problem of double predestination is fixed.   Channing must, no doubt, be measured with this in mind.  But we have Barth and the Cappadocians.  What's our excuse?