This is a history not only of explicitly “Unitarian” groups and individuals, but of the essence of Unitarianism—the belief in a Unitary source of the universe—and the struggle of original, Unitarian Christianity against conflationist distortion.
1300s BCE – ATENISM
Pharaoh Akhenaten asserts a triumphalist religion of “The Aten” (Sun-Disk) in Egypt, often misinterpreted as monotheism but actually a form of henotheistic or monolatrist polytheism. Akhenaten’s authoritarian Atenism, was based on the persecution of dissident beliefs, not the recognition of One Source of all things.
c. 1200 BCE – MAGIANISM
Zarathustra preaches a Unitary God as Creator of the universe, who is represented in Creation through one “Bounteous Principle,” and served by six “Bounteous Immortals.”
700s BCE – EARLY ELOHISM
The Elohist of the kingdom of Israel writes accounts about the worship of God under the Semetic name El, אל, meaning “God.” At this same time, the Yahwist of the kingdom of Judah writes accounts about Yahweh, יהוה, or The Lord. As the patriarch Judah was son of Israel (Jacob), so was Judah’s Yahweh originally considered Son of Israel’s El.
600s BCE – JOSIAC CONFLATIONISM
Josiah‘s conflationist revisions (compiling the Torah, conflating Yahweh and El, suppressing the Heavenly Host, oppressing dissenters) and the consequent destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem.
500s BCE – TAOISM
Lao Tzu (老子, “The Old Master”), composes the Tao Te Ching, asserting a single Source for the universe: the Tao.
1st Century BCE – LATE ELOHISM
Philo of Alexandria writes of The God, El Elyon(עליון), and the agent of God, the Logos (λόγος).
The Age of Persecution (1 – 312 CE)
Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, the Anointed (Christ) of God, embodiment of the Logos/Lord, teaches a moral practice based on Unitarian Elohism.
The Ebyonim (אביונים, “poor ones”), believed by some to have been followers of John the Baptist who later converted to Christianity, teach the Oneness of God and subordinate role of Jesus. Some scholars believe a remnant of the Ebyonim influenced pre-Muslim Arabs.
100 – Probable birth of Justin Martyr, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology: that the Word is a secondary divine being subordinate to God the Creator. In A Dialogue with Trypho he says, “There is… another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things who is also called an Angel [i.e., “messenger”] because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, wishes to announce to them.” Justin was executed in Rome by the prefect Rusticus sometime between 162 and 168.
150 – Probable birth of Clement of Alexandria, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology: that God is uncreated and unqualified, while the Son and Spirit are “first-born powers and first-created.” He also teaches “apocatastatic” Universalism, the belief that all souls would eventually be reconciled to God.
Late 100s – Birth of Irenaeus, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology: that the Son and Spirit are “hands of God.” (Unfortunately, Irenaeus is also the father of much speculative apocalypticism that confuses and conflates various images from different scriptures.)
155 – Birth of Tertullian of Rome, a pagan Roman lawyer who converted to Christianity in his 40s and taught a conflationist theology. He introduced the word “trinity” into Christianity as well as inventing the concept (“three Persons, one substance”) using ideas borrowed from Greek philosophy, which he simultaneously attacked. Tertullian continued Irenaeus’s method of conflating various figures from different books of the Bible to create a highly speculative eschatology. He later joined the “anti-redemptionist” Montanist cult.
185 – Probable birth of Origen, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology, focusing on the Unity of God and subordinate nature of the Logos. He also teaches “apocatastatic” Universalism, the belief that all souls would eventually be redeemed.
200 – Around this time, Sabellius of Rome taught a modalist form of conflationist theology. Despite the close similarities with the conflationism of Roman lawyer Tertullian, Sabellianism was condemned by him.
240 – Probable birth of Lucian of Antioch, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology in which God is One and The Word is not eternal, for which he is martyred on 7 January 312. (After his execution, apologists dubiously tried to attribute Trinitarian ideas to Lucian.)
256 – Probable birth of Arius of Africa, a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, who taught a subordinationist Unitarian theology. He was likely murdered by conflationists in 336.
250 – The Decian Persecution by pagan Emperor Decius.
251 – Novatian begins teaching anti-redemptionist extremism against those who had committed apostasy during the Decian Persecution. This was the founding of the sect later called Novatianism.
299-311 – The Diocletian Persecution by pagan Emperor Diocletian, during which a schism broke out between laxists like Peter of Alexandria who felt that apostates should simply be accepted back into the church, rigorists of the Novatian sort like Donatus Magnus who taught that apostates could never be redeemed, and moderates like Melitius of Lycopolis who taught that apostates could be re-accepted into the fold but only after being re-baptised. [It is said that, during a prison debate with his cell-mate Melitius on this subject, Peter of Alexandria became flustered and put up a curtain down the middle of the cell to end the discussion.]
306 – Constantine, a henotheist worshipper of Sol Invictus, is declared Augustus in Eboracum (York) in Britain. His advisor, Bishop Hosius of Cordova, holds to a conflationist theology.
311 – Peter of Alexandria excommunicates Arius for agreeing with Melitius.
312, January 7 – Lucian of Antioch executed.
The Age of Apostasy (312 – 589 CE)
312, October 28 – Battle of Milvian Bridge: Constantine crushes Maxentius in power struggle over rulership of Rome, and claims to have seen a vision of a Christian symbol (either the Chi-Rho or a staurogram cross) with the words “In this sign you will conquer.” His advisor, the conflationist Hosius of Cordova, confirms that this is a valid Christian vision. Based on his bloody victory over his enemies, Constantine “converts” the Empire to Christianity and supports the Western sect of conflationists.
313 – Arius reinstated and made priest of the esteemed Church of Bucalis in Alexandria by Achillas, successor to Peter of Alexandria. He teaches a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
314 – First Council of Arles condemns Donatism.
Late 310s – The successor to Achillas, Alexander of Alexandria, begins teaching a conflationist theology, which Arius condemns as Sabellianism.
318 – Extermination of the Unitarian Desposyni (from δεσπόσυνος, “belonging to the Lord,” i.e., blood-relative of Jesus) begins.
319 – Alexander ordains Athanasius, his protégé, as deacon.
324 – Constantine crushes the final obstacle to his absolute power, Licinius.
325 – Hosian Council of Antioch condemns subordinationist Unitarian theology.
325 – Hosian Council of Nicaea establishes proto-Trinitarian conflationist dogma, with the help of a cohort of Roman troops under Constantine. Although Constantine had invited all 1,800 Christian bishops, only about one sixth decided to attend. The conservative Unitarian/subordinationist position of Lucian and Arius is rejected. Subordinationist Unitarian dissenters (notably Eusebius of Nicomedia, who later baptized Constantine) are forced to sign with the Council under duress.
326 – Alexander of Alexandria dies. Unable to win election of a full council of bishops, Athanasius gathers a few cronies in private and has himself declared Pope of Alexandria.
327 – First Council of Antioch condemns the conflationist theology (and criminal corruption) of Eustathius, and marks a return to traditional, subordinationist, Unitarian Christianity.
335 – Council of Tyre tries Athanasius on charges of sacrilege, assault, torture, and election fraud. The condemnation against him is almost unanimous among both subordinationist and conflationist bishops.
336 – First Council of Constantinople, called by Constantine, confirms a subordinationist Unitarian theology and demands Arius be accepted into communion. Before he can take communion however, Arius dies, likely poisoned by Nicene agents.
337 – Constantine baptized as a subordinationist Unitarian by Eusebius of Nicomedia, and dies. Constantius becomes Augustus.
340s – Wulfila, inventor of the Gothic alphabet, preaches a Unitarian theology to the Germans.
341 – Second (Dedication) Council of Antioch affirms a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
343 – Hosian Council of Serdica attempts to impose a conflationist theology. The subordinationist Unitarians, however, leave the council upon word that Constantius won his war against Persia.
344 – After a foolish stunt by subordinationist Bishop Stephanus, who tried to frame a rival for soliciting the services of prostitutes, the Third Council of Antioch deposes him and asserts a quasi-conflationist theology.
345 – First Council of Milan refuses to condemn Arius and the subordinationists, and ends without resolution.
351 – First Council of Sirmium asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology and condemns Athanasius.
353 – Second Council of Arles asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology, and condemns Athanasius.
353 – Council of Béziers asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
355 – Second Council of Milan asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology, and condemns Athanasius.
357 – Second Council of Sirmium asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
358 – Third Council of Sirmium asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
359 – Fourth Council of Sirmium asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
359 – Council of Ariminium (Rimini) reluctantly asserts a subordinationist Unitarian theology.
359 – Council of Seleucia confirms the theology of the Council of Ariminium.
360 – Second Council of Constantinople (often erroneously considered the First) confirms the subordinationist Unitarian theology of Ariminium-Seleucia.
362 – Athanasian Council of Alexandria called by Athanasius to support a Trinitarian theology.
370s – Unitarian Thervingi Goths, attacked by pagan Goths and Huns, appeal to the Romans for help, but are confined to concentration camps and allowed to starve. After their leader Fritigern appealed to Unitarian Emperor Valens, the Thervingi were allowed to march to Marcianople for help, but many died on the way and upon the arrival of the survivors the Romans attempted to assassinate their leaders. In response, the Thervingi rose up against the Romans, defeating them and killing the Emperor himself at the Battle of Adrianople on 9 August 378.
379 – Nicene Theodosius becomes Emperor, and goes on to ban all dissenting religious belief, authorizes the destruction of pagan property including temples and libraries, and cancels the Olympic games.
380 – Unitarian riots in Constantinople, after Emperor Theodosius forcibly removes the Unitarian bishop and replaces him with the leader of a minority Nicene community. Theodosius and Gratian issue the Edict of Thessalonica enforcing Nicene theology and requiring dissenters to be turned over to authorities for punishment. Thus began the Theodosian Persecution.
381 – 1st Nicene Council of Constantinople, called by Theodosius, firmly establishes Trinitarianism in the Empire. Unitarianism persists in northern Europe among German tribes, however, and the succeeding centuries saw continued conflict between German Unitarians and southern Trinitarians.
451 – Council of Chalcedon, convened at the command of Emperor Marcian, establishes a quasi-Nestorian creed and cements bureaucratic control of church affairs. The result was the Oriental Orthodox schism.
454 – Birth of Theodoric the Great, the Unitarian Ostrogothic king who ruled Italy from 471 to 526.
500 – The famous “Arian” Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy, built by Theodoric.
510s – In response to the persecution of Unitarians by Byzantine Emperor Justin I, Theodoric begins persecuting Trinitarians under his reign.
531 – Nika Riots in which plutocratic supporters of Chalcedonian orthodoxy (known as Blues) betrayed their allies, the Monophysite Greens representing the common people. Imperial troops, on the orders of Justinian I, murdered 30 thousand.
553 – 2nd Nicene Council of Constantinople, during which Pope Vigilius was forcibly detained by the Emperor and later banished. The Council established absolute Imperial command over the church.
589 – The Council of Toledo establishes Trinitarianism in Gothic Spain, ending the original Unitarian Christianity tracing its roots through Wulfila to Lucian of Antioch and the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
The Age of Islám
610 – Muhammad begins receiving revelation from the angel Gabriel, teaching the strict Oneness of God.
615 – Muslims flee to Christian Axum to avoid persecution.
622 – Muslims flee to Jewish Yathrib (later renamed Medína, المدينة, “The City”) to avoid persecution.
656 – Constantine-Silvanus founds in Armenia the first congregation of Christians called “Paulicians” by outsiders. He taught a Unitarian belief that endorsed adults-only baptism.
661 – Alí, son-in-law of Muhammad, assassinated by “fundamentalist” bibliolaters, the Kharijites (خوارج, meaning “The Leavers”).
683 – Constantine-Silvanus executed by stoning by order of the emperor. The court official who executed the order, Simeon-Titus converts to Paulicianism.
690 – Simeon-Titus executed by burning.
Empress Theodora is claimed to have executed at least 100,000 Paulicians. Paulician leader Karbeas builds two fortified cities to protect the group, but the Paulician military power was exhausted by the 870s.
200,000 Paulicians moved from Armenia to Europe by Emperor Tzimsces as a buffer against the Bulgarians.
The Age of Revival
1499 – Nanak begins teaching Sikhism.
1522 – The Comma Johanneum is fraudulently inserted into the First Letter of John in order to prop up the Trinitarian theology.
Italian reformer Lelio Sozzini (who studied Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic to get a fuller understanding of Abrahamic scriptures) founds an anti-Trinitarian sect known as Socinians, who refer to themselves as Unitarians. Followers of Sozzini, unfortunately, also deny the omniscience of God on the grounds that it violates free will, and believe that the Son did not exist until the birth of Jesus.
1574 – Socinians issue A Catechism of the Unitarians, arguing for the perfection of a Unitary God.
1750 – On January 30th, Congregational minister Jonathan Mayhew delivers A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission And Non-Resistance To The Higher Powers in which he argued for the use of violence against authoritarian rule.
Jonathan Mayhew begins preaching that God is One and that the relationship of Jesus to God is subordinate, not equal. Mayhew also preaches on private moral judgment, salvation by character, and the evil of slavery.
British Socinian Unitarian Joseph Priestley invents soda water and discovers eight distinct gaseous component of air, including oxygen. The philosopher Schopenhauer later cites Priestley (along with Spinoza and Voltaire) as a major influence on his ideas about free will.
Benjamin Franklin, Unitarian in belief, suggests “Rebellion To Tyrants is Obedience To God” as the motto for the Great Seal of the United States. The saying was originally articulated by John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission who sentenced Charles I to death.
Congregationalist minister Charles Chauncy preaches in favor of Universalism, the doctrine of universal salvation.
Boston’s Episcopalian King’s Chapel converts to Unitarianism, ordaining a Unitarian minister and removing Trinitarian dogma from its prayer book.
Joseph Priestley immigrates to the United States and establishes Unitarian congregations in Philadelphia.