Briefest on the Natural Jesus in Christian Thought


As we roll into the Christmas season, I find myself thinking about that holy day and its connection to Unitarianism.

As most people know Christmas came late to the Christian calendar, being in fact a Christianized version of a pagan Roman holiday. In Massachusetts, the Puritan theocracy, which what ever else might be said of them, were well read and smart, knew without any doubt Christmas was a pagan celebration and did all they could to suppress it. They did a pretty thorough job of it and Christmas faded from the New England imagination.

Until, that is the rise of New England Unitarianism. For a variety of reasons, most notably because of their frequent visits to nineteenth century Germany, the emergent Unitarians became attached to the form of Christmas and imported it back to New England.

It served a number of purposes, not least of which was shifting emphasis from the death and resurrection motif of Easter, to the birth of a child on Christmas.

And there is little more natural than birth.

I continue to find those theological speculations that turn on Jesus being human, Arianism, Ebionitism and Socinianism particularly compelling. The Arians gave what would come to be considered “orthodox” Christians a real run for the money. But they were the least radical of the anti-trinitarians. I personally strongly suspect that something along the lines of what is called Ebionitism was in fact the religion of Jesus, his family and the original Jewish church, and that “normative” authority didn’t flow to the Pauline school until the destruction of Jerusalem and with it the seat of what I believe to have been the original Christianity.

And since that time the first real articulation of a Christian school that advocated for the naturalness of Jesus would wait for a millennium and a half and would be called “Socinian.”

Today is the birthday of Fausto Paolo Sozzini. Fausto and his uncle Laelius would give their name to this movement.

A complicated figure, Fausto, gradually developed toward a view of Jesus as a completely natural creature, and played out many themes of what this might mean.

A true ancestor, one of the most important, of that thread of spiritual thought which would lead to our contemporary movement, Unitarian Universalism.

So, happy birthday, Fausto!

And, thanks!

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