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“The Unitarian Church Matures and Finds its Mission” By Earl Morse Wilbur

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Chapter XXIII: “The Unitarian Church Matures and Finds Its Mission”

Earl Morse Wilbur

in A History of Unitarianism in Transylvania, England, and America

(Harvard, 1952) pp. 467-87

Earl Morse Wilbur

Earl Morse Wilbur

Wilbur ends his second volume and 45 years of historical study of the Unitarian movement. The concluding paragraphs (p. 487) contain enough grist for a whole course of study. His observation that religious quarrels may be settled by imposing a conformity by the power of the church or by agreeing to unity in diversity and undertaking practical work is deemed important by all.

In view of how frequently Wilbur’s “freedom, reason, and tolerance” hallmarks are quoted, it is interesting to see that he writes that they “are not the final goals to be aimed at in religion,” and then he proceeds to call the elevation of the personal character and the perfecting of the social organism as the dual aims of religion. Part of that “perfecting,” Wilbur makes clear, is to create “institutions worthy of the Kingdom (sic) of Heaven,” and polity matters ever relate to that quest.

Wilbur notes that by 1900 Unitarianism had more than doubled the strength it held in 1865. Certainly the period until about 1890 was one of perennial controversy within organized Unitarianism.  Since theological divisions are often blamed for the failures of Unitarianism in the pre-Civil War period, why didn’t such issues blunt growth during this period?

Wilbur ends his history in 1900.  Is there any hint in his final chapter of the issues that were to dominate Unitarianism in the next half century?

The text of “The Unitarian Church Matures and Finds Its Mission” is available from Starr King School for the Ministry here.