It is no secret that Unitarian Universalism has some occasional troubles in self-definition. Efforts to try stretch back to the beginning and range from theological wailing and gnashing of teeth to the more recent "elevator speech" movement. For the next few days, Charles Timothy Brooks' contribution to this great conversation given in two sermons, the first begun today and originally "preached as a review of the May Meeting of the American Unitarian Association in 1859"
"THE UNITARIAN IDEA."
TO US THERE IS BUT ONE GOD, THE FATHER. — 1 Cor. vlii.
For several years, at all our great gatherings, three questions have, under one or another name and form, more or less distinctly, always, I think, more deeply than any others, exercised the mind and heart of our denomination; and well may they do so, in my opinion, until we come to comprehend and feel, far more vividly than we yet do, the vantage-ground and place of responsibility, at once, which we hold before God and in relation to our fellow-men, by virtue of the simple and sublime, the soul-stirring and soul-satisfying faith committed to our branch of the Church of Christ.
The first of these three questions I am about to call your attention to is a question of name...
Every church must be built upon an idea. Of course, when I say idea, I do not mean merely a notion, nor merely an image of truth ; I mean a conviction of the mind, a judgment of the reason ; I mean, too, something which includes feeling; only, in this case, the feeling springs from faith, whereas, in the case of religious sentimentalism, the faith is a creature of feeling and fancy.
Now, then, what is this grand idea, this mighty source of the best feeling and the best works, if we truly have and believe it, this idea towards which the heart of humanity struggles, but which the prevailing creed of Christendom does so much to confuse, and obstruct, and keep in the background ? The very name Unitarian expresses it; Paul expresses it in our text. Interpret the name by the text. You will perceive that it designates no such narrow notion as those who have assailed, and perhaps many who have assumed it, have sometimes ascribed to it. Unitarianism means not merely the doctrine of the unity, but of the unities. It declares not merely the oneness of the Godhead, in the controversy touching the Divine existence, but, in the greater, moral question, the harmony and identity of so many sacred things which God has united, or rather which in God are united, but which man has put asunder."
(illustration: a classic album cover for the fascinating Jazz saxaphone player Albert Ayler)