Just so there's no confusion, if you were to search the internet for
references to the term BothAndia (as one Paint Brancher did after seeing
the newsletter blurb for this sermon), you would only find mention of it-so
far-in works associated with me, so I have to be accountable for whatever
fallout there is from this invented word. Barbara and I have used it in
a few previous sermons and will take it on the road next weekend when we
are theme speakers at another UU district's annual spring conference in
I find it to be a very handy and expressive tool, BothAndia, especially
as an adjective-"bothandian." But more than that, it helps me
clarify an important, maybe even essential liberal religious value: inclusion.
And today I will draw your attention to the early Eastern European roots
of the Unitarian side of our religion, and at least two pivotal moments
that are decidedly "bothandian."
I believe the arc of the universe is leading us, slowly, perhaps, but
inexorably toward BothAndia, where "both/and" solutions to group
dilemmas are eagerly utilized to strengthen the common good. And that, in
a nutshell, is where we come from, in small steps, and where we're going,
hopefully in leaps. This inclusive vision is in contrast to reliance on
more closed and often absolutist "either/or" responses to life's
My hope is that after listening to me this morning, any of you will be
able to better explain what we stand for and why our heritage matters, both
then and now. And if you want some good practice at this, take note
that a four-session class on "Articulating Your UU Faith" begins
this coming Wednesday evening.
To be able to adequately speak up for our religious perspective in the
current national climate is a challenge I hope none of you will shy away
from, since we are the latest generation of both caretakers and
innovators of a "freedom that reveres the past but trusts the dawning
Do not allow anyone to denigrate or minimize what we call our "living
tradition," which is a bothandian ideal itself. To the extent that
any of us know about and can speak to it, we are deeply grounded in a rich
history that is both a strong tradition and very much alive
and unfolding-thus a "living tradition." For we guard and uphold
the tradition of heresy, if you will. You may have heard that the word heresy
comes from the Greek, hairetikos, meaning "able to choose."
Often, our liberal religious ancestors chose to walk a path that was
inclusive, affirming liberty of belief, and I am now going to tell
you two highly abridged stories that put some flesh on this abstract skeleton.
If I do my job reasonably well, your job will be to try to
retell these stories later to someone who isn't among us right now. (The
text will soon be up on our web site, and you're allowed to refer to it,
The first scene unfolds in an unlikely region, made so only because today
it is such a dominantly Catholic country, Poland. But Poland wasn't always
the religious mono-culture that it seems to be now. Journey back with me
five hundred years, to the early 16th century, as the Protestant Reformation
is about to unleash sectarian diversity in Christendom.
In this era, Poland is the size of Texas and includes Prussia and Lithuania.
It's a long distance from Rome and thus on the fringes of Church influence,
having only been converted to Christianity a few centuries earlier. (And
remember there was only one Christian Church in Europe before the Reformation,
after which it had to be differentiated as the Roman Catholic Church. Before
that it was just "The Church.")
What Church authority was there in Poland 500 years ago had become
emblematic of why the Protest-ant Reformation was about to happen,
which was to "protest" the corruption of church officials who
frequently became rich men behaving badly. They had lots of power but little
credibility. For instance, the Bishop of Crakow of that time is on record
with this telling remark: "Believe in a goat if you like, provided
you pay me my tithes." (Hmmm. Note to self: Consider new slogans for
next year's pledge drive.)
The fiercely independent Poles did not take kindly to any foreign authority,
and, as a frontier state, had already learned to accept a variety of religious
practices, including those of Jews, Greek Orthodox and Moslems. Meanwhile,
there were many indigenous Slavic peasants working the land, with communities
of other European groups as artisans and merchants in the cities. Then the
Polish King married the daughter of an Italian duke, and she brought a large
entourage of other influential Italians with her, freshly inspired by the
So, we've got fiercely independent Poles, a long way from Rome, a weak
and corrupt Church, with lots of other Europeans around. It all makes fertile
ground for the Reformation-which the Church hierarchy fought, but unsuccessfully.
Various new groups sprang up quickly, including the suitably named Reformed
Church, through which the seed of anti-trinitarian thought was planted.
And that idea is at the root of our Unitarian heritage.
Most Protestants, including many within the Polish Reformed Church, still
affirmed the Doctrine of the Trinity-a three-part God: father, son, holy
ghost, all co-equally divine. (The Reformation was not so much a protest
against the theology of the church as it was an attempt to change the corrupt
practices of the church fathers. So doctrines such as the Trinity were not
at issue as much as, say, the selling of indulgences, whereby one could
purchase a stairway to heaven from the local bishop.)
But more and more people were reading the Bible for themselves-thanks
to the invention of the printing press not too many decades earlier. And
the more open-minded and curious among them were often unable to find any
justification for the Trinity in there. The most outrageous of these free-thinkers
began to suggest the full humanity of Jesus, who was also, therefore, not
to be an object of worship. All this was, of course, quite a challenge to
the Trinitarians, who still had the power to persecute such heretics, which
But 16th century Poland had enough of an open atmosphere that it became
a haven for heretics. Elsewhere in Europe the Church was relentlessly harsh
on these anti-trinitarians, including, certainly, in Italy, and many radical
thinkers fled to Poland to join the Reformed Church. The anti-trinitarians
among them became known as the Minor Church; also as the Polish Brethren.
But within this group of otherwise unified dissenters there arose a different
and very divisive issue: baptism, which brings me to the first BothAndian
moment I want to portray today. The radical members of the Minor Church
in the 1560s hotly debated whether infants should be baptized, an issue
which nowadays lacks controversial oomph, but back then it was huge.
I'm now going to quote my colleague David Bumbaugh, author of "A
Narrative History" of UUism [pg. 35] that we've been reading in the
history class, because I can't do a better job of portraying the path they
took in the face of this internal fight.
Some argued that since baptism was a sign of admission
into the Christian community, and since participation in that community
requires a conscious choice, baptism should be reserved for adults. Infant
baptism, they argued, is invalid, and therefore those who have been baptized
as infants must be rebaptized upon admission to the church. Others insisted
upon the necessity of their children being baptized so that they might grow
up within the Christian community.
There was much debate, and in the face of threatened
schism, [they met in a synod-a council-and] resolved thatno one should be
forced against conscience, and that all should dwell together in peace until
the next synod. Subsequent synods ended with the participants giving and
accepting forgiveness for any offense, and promising to live in peace together.
Thus, toleration of differences became an institutionalized
custom among the Polish Brethren. In time, infant baptism would die out
among them, without schism and without liberty of conscience being compromised.
So here we have a group of strong-minded free-thinkers, who had been
pushing hard against the boundaries of trinitarian doctrine, now facing
a significant disagreement among themselves regarding baptism. They probably
knew quite well what it felt like to be suppressed by dominant authority,
so they took a different route and modeled a bothandian resolution-to both
disagree and live in peace.
This approach was very unusual in an era of uncompromising passion and
oppressive power, but it characterized the proto-unitarian Polish Brethren
in the Minor Church of Poland. They patiently allowed competing positions
on baptism to each have some room, with respect for everyone's "liberty
of conscience." This is also our religious heritage-the "toleration
of differences [as] an institutionalized custom."
They even established a utopian town, called Raków, in which together
they could live out their beliefs, based primarily on the Sermon on the
Mount. For many decades, this town attracted anti-trinitarians and idealists
who both lived a simple, egalitarian lifestyle, imitating the early
Christian disciples, and created a rigorous intellectual climate.
Raków was called "a perpetual synod," with ongoing debates
and explorations of religious issues, plus well-respected educational institutions.
Residents there modeled how to both allow individual freedom and
promote the common good, which remains an elusive balancing act to this
day. Visitors came from all over Europe to witness this noble experiment
in action. The community had some bumpy periods, but flourished.
Raków also became a strong publishing center, producing, among
many other tracts, a very influential Racovian Catechism, in 1605. The spirit
of this notable document was the same that guided the community's emphasis
on tolerance: one can never be totally sure of exclusive truth claims, so
allowing for difference and change is essential. Unlike most other catechisms,
this one was designed to be updated. Sixty years after its first edition,
a new preface explained:
While we compose a catechism, we prescribe nothing to
any[one]; while we express our own views, we oppress no one. Let each be
free to express [their] own mind in religionWe do not think that we need
blush if our Church advances in some things.
It is difficult for me to adequately portray how revolutionary such attitudes
were in 16th and 17th century Europe. Never before had anyone dared to profess
such openness to change in religion, which was otherwise steadily authoritarian
and rigid, relying on closed systems of theology and practice that could
not afford to be questioned.
In fact, the sad end of the Minor Church in Poland reflects the threat
they were perceived to be. The more orthodox of the Protestants also perpetuated
their fair share of repression, but in just a few years around 1640, all
traces of Freedom, Reason and Tolerance were wiped out by the Jesuits, who
had been given a mission to rid the country of the anti-trinitarian heresy.
They were effective, brutally and rapidly crushing the entire culture of
the Polish Brethren, including the community at Raków, which was
scattered and taken over by Catholics.
By the 18th century, Poland was one of the least tolerant countries
in Europe, with nary a trace of the Minor Church. But this is not to say
that the liberal religious experiment in Raków was futile, oh no!
Their ideas-and their published documents-lived on in Western Europe and
considerably advanced the inexorable march toward BothAndia.
Now our journey takes us south from Poland, to another portion of Eastern
Europe, around the same period in time, for a perhaps surprisingly parallel
story that deepens our heritage. And this story will feature a main character.
We land in the Transylvanian region of what was then 16th century Hungary,
where, as in Poland, the hand of the Church was not very strong. In fact,
Hungarians had never paid any tithes to the church hierarchy. Furthermore,
the region's geography had also provided a lot of contact with non-Christian
peoples, especially Moslem Turks. In fact, the strategic location of Transylvania
between the Islamic east and the Christian west allowed it to experience
a short period of independence-brief, but significant, with a somewhat happier
ending than Poland's experiment.
The Protestant Reformation took hold there in Transylvania, first embodied
in a big way by the two dominant competing strains related to Luther and
Calvin. Gradually, mid-century, the anti-trinitarian notion began to catch
on, largely due to the expert preaching and debating of one Francis Dávid,
who had himself journeyed through both other Protestant theologies to become
convinced of the worth of a unitarian posture. His personal lineage was
also bothandian, in a way, with a shoemaker father and a mother from the
noble class, each from different ethnic groups, even. Such a polyglot background
was not at all common or favored in those days, but it never slowed him
Dávid's oratory skills gained him notice and he soon had the ear
of the young, but sickly King of Transylvania, who had also been questioning
the Trinity. His mother the Queen had slowly begun the liberalization of
the religious landscape earlier in the 1560s and he continued it, naming
Dávid as the official Court Preacher.
From that post, Francis Dávid and his allies used a crucial and
ingenious strategy to promote the anti-trinitarian view. They insisted that
only the language and concepts found between the covers of the Bible could
be used in debate. This was a righteous argument, hard to counter. It effectively
limited Trinitarian references, which only began to appear in Church documents
after the formative Council of Nicaea in the 4th century.
In those days in Transylvania and much of Europe, religious debates between
loud orators were high entertainment, lasting all day for weeks at a time,
with large audiences, which sometimes would finally vote one or another
of the partisans off the "island." Dávid and his allies
were gaining momentum at such events.
They were also able to take advantage of the royal printing press to
spread their views more widely, most notably in a 1567 broadside called
"False and True Knowledge of God." This direct attack on the Doctrine
of the Trinity raised the ante and the tensions, so the next year the King
called for a debate on the very issue: Unity or Trinity.
For a week and a half in early March, 1568, the arguments unfolded (beginning
at 5 am each morning!), with Dávid eventually carrying the day for
the unitarian position. (This is unitarian with a lower case "u.")
Reports of the aftermath tell of throngs mobbing the hero on his return
home. He climbed up on a big boulder and preached the Unity of God some
more, and that rock is a revered historical landmark.
But there was an ugly backlash from the other Protestant groups, who
abused and slandered the emerging unitarians. So the King was moved to issue
a formal and final decree that unequivocally declared freedom of conscience
in religion. The different groups could debate all they wanted but were
now ordered to not interfere in anyone's right to worship and believe as
they see fit.
This was the first full Edict of Toleration in history, providing that
both Catholic and Protestant groups would have protection
of the law. It launched a Unitarian Church-the first anywhere with a capital
"U"-that has been steadily active in Transylvania every since.
That's the good news, especially compared to what happened to the anti-trinitarians
of the Minor Church in Poland.
But the King of Transylvania died only a few years later and Catholics
took over. They immediately decreed that the religions that existed at that
time would still be protected, yes, but there could be no further doctrinal
development. All belief statements were to stay the same from then on. So
the Unitarians survived, but could not change, and didn't, really. Their
worship today is evidently very similar to what it was centuries ago.
Meanwhile, back in the 16th century, Francis Dávid was summarily
released from his post as Court Preacher, and chafed under the limitation
that theology couldn't advance. He continued to argue, trying to present
his evolving and often radical ideas as merely repair of previously wrong
doctrine, but the authorities-Jesuits again-would have none of it and were
happy to find him guilty of innovation and condemn him to "perpetual
Imagine that, guilty of "innovation"! Dávid sadly died
in the dungeon, discredited, but the movement he helped launch in Transylvania
flourished, with over 400 Unitarian churches there by the end of that 16th
century, despite continued persecution. In the mid-18th century, for instance,
the government actively funded the conversion of Unitarian children, prevented
any non-Unitarian from marrying a Unitarian, and refused permits for repair
of all Unitarian churches.
Transylvania, which is ethnically Hungarian, was unwisely ceded to Romania
at the Treaty of Versailles after WW I, which led to more persecution. You
may recall as recently as 1989, when the Romanian leader Ceaucesçu
was about to raze most of the Transylvanian villages to create a huge agri-business
industry on that fertile land. A people's revolution, led by a liberal minister,
prevented this near-tragedy, and our earliest Unitarian churches survived
These two brief stories I've offered describe important and deep roots
of ours in Eastern Europe. Things back then and over there looked very different
from what we know here today, so we might struggle to assess the meaning
of this part of our heritage. To me, it's about promoting inclusion when
that was a very dangerous attitude. Freedom, Reason and Tolerance might
not mean precisely the same things to us, but they are definitely open-minded,
inclusive values, which is where, I believe, we must be headed as a conscious
species on a crowded planet.
Practically, I advocate inserting into any discussion of any dilemma
the following suggestion: "Maybe there's a bothandian solution here."
My experience is that this opens up consideration of a wider selection of
choices-some of which might be heresies, perhaps, but so be it.
The forces of exclusion, especially in religion, are still very much
alive in our time, so we might take heart from our courageous ancestors,
and do our part to urge the arc of the universe toward the beacon of BothAndia.
Thus do we strengthen our Faith of the Larger Liberty (Hymn #287)
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