Do Unitarians Understand the Trinity?

Eclectic Orthodoxy

In 1819 William Ellery Channing delivered a homily that has since become famously known as the “Baltimore Sermon.” It is described by many as the most important address in the history of Unitarianism. What particularly interests me is Channing’s interpretation of “the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity”:

We object to the doctrine of the Trinity, that, whilst acknowledging in words, it subverts in effect, the unity of God. According to this doctrine, there are three infinite and equal persons, possessing supreme divinity, called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of these persons, as described by theologians, has his own particular consciousness, will, and perceptions. They love each other, converse with each other, and delight in each other’s society. They perform different parts in man’s redemption, each having his appropriate office, and neither doing the work of the other. The Son is mediator and not the…

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5 Responses to Do Unitarians Understand the Trinity?

  1. Deacon Nicholas says:

    What’s understanding got to do with it? Heck, I don’t understand the Trinity, but I worship the Triune God.


    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Deacon Nicholas,

      No one is claiming exhaustive knowledge about the Trinity, but to say we cannot have any knowledge about the Trinity, well that is just pure non-sense running against 2000 years of Church history. I recommend taking a class on the Seven Ecumenical Councils.


  2. David Kontur says:

    Father Kimel –
    In reading the excerpt from the homily delivered by Mr. Channing, it seems clear that one of the underlying assumptions that becomes a clear road block, was Mr. Channings understanding of what it means to be a “person.” This quote makes it clear that the understanding of person is primarily that of isolated, self-enclosed individual who “has” relationships. This seems to be the Western understanding of person that is critiqued in the writings of such illustrious theologians as John Zizalous and Christos Yannars.


  3. Mina says:

    As usual, I like to add another dimension to this with an aspect on deification. I find it interesting that Unitarians seem to be almost always deists who teach a moralistic religion. A Christian deist pretty much teaches God became man so that He might teach us true morality. But deification is denied, even the humanity of Christ itself. Therefore, the function of a unitarian is be moralistic, not necessarily “theistic”. It makes sense for them to be simplistic in making God a monad, but essentially, the monad is the Law-giver, not truly the Lover of Mankind who gives Himself to us. Essentially, a Unitarian is no different than an atheist. One can learn good morals without believing in God, or to be exact, one’s “god” can be morality, which makes deism and atheism one and the same.


  4. Fr Kimel,
    It almost had to be that his understanding of the Trinity was from his education at Harvard. This is what happens when you divorce the historic teachings of the Church for a favored definition of the Trinity. The Church has never historically settled a strict teaching on how to describe the Trinity as we see in the Evangelical Protestant world today that it should be three persons one being. Nor has the Church ever stated that by “person” and “being” is meant the same as many use it today. In fact, many Evangelical theologians (such as Millard Erickson and James White) erroneously describe the Trinity as “three who’s and one what” but the Trinity is not a “what” it is a “they that is a who” more precisely. As a Unitarian, when I would attack the Trinity, I would normally attack this version of the Trinity. Jesus is God because his nature is God? Read the fathers and one will see that Godhead (or theoites) is used when describing the nature or power of the members of the Trinity (e.g. St Gregory of Nyssa’s “Not Three Gods” where he defines Godhead as the “power”). When the fathers though describe Jesus as God, they are actually identifying him as God, not describing his nature yet if you read many Evangelical systematic theologians nowadays, they think that Jesus is not identified as God but only is described as having the full nature of God.

    Then we get the error of those such as Gordon Magee who misunderstands the historic usage of “godhead” by the church fathers to argue based on Col. 2:9 that Jesus is the Godhead, not in the Godhead. Again, if understood in light of the church fathers, it becomes clear–the Trinity is NOT the godhead but the members of the Trinity indeed possess the fullness of Godhead (deity, power, divine nature) such that in Jesus the fullness of Godhead (theoites, not theos) dwells in him bodily. Clearly, it is a failure of Harvard trying to teach the mystery divorced from the context of the entire church.


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