v 6.20.00
20 Mar 2021
updated 20 Mar 2021


G K Chesterton once averred (and I can't remember quite where) that an Englishman is only totally at ease with talking about religion if it's in discussion with a perfect stranger in a railway carriage. You are that stranger, and this is our railway carriage.

But there's inevitably a difference between what one acknowledges in the public arena (let alone the market place or a social occasion, or even to one's nearest and dearest, not to mention the missus) and what one mulls over privately in the lectio locus, more commonly referred to within the family as Dad's man-cave.

In fact, though Jonathan Swift averred that a man thought most profoundly whilst sitting on the chamber pot (as per Gulliver's Travels, Voyage to Laputa; "men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool"), I do my best thinking in the morning bath. Or last thing at night, but the Great Thoughts rarely survive the arrival of dawn.

One sometimes has to take the plunge, and so, after moving to Manchester some years ago, I accepted the Unitarian shilling at the Cross Street Chapel, about which you may also read on the Home Page. This numinous gathering-place is to English Unitarianism as Rome or Canterbury or Mecca or Jerusalem or the Golden Temple are to other faiths.

My wife and I had been Attenders at the Friends Meeting House in Reading for rather more than thirty years previously, but although there were a great many very nice Quakers, there was very little evidence of what Hyman Kaplan would have described as Dip Tinking. Admin and consensus, process and procedures, were valued above all else.

And those Friends whose parents had also been Friends often liked to describe themselves as 'birth Quakers' (rather as people of Roman Catholic lineage are self-described as 'cradle Catholics'); I have since noticed a similar pride of ancestry in those who could correspondingly be described as 'uterine Unitarians'. In all such circumstances, one does wonder whether conviction or inertia has kept them on the strait and narrow, though dissenters are far more likely to keep the faith - one rarely hears of aboriginal Anglicans.

In fact, the Unitarians and the Society of Friends (of the Truth) have much in common - neither of them require their adherents to have any particular beliefs, and a tacit policy of Don't Ask and Don't Tell applies in both cases, though a basic belief in a Creator Mundi or Vitae is probably a common thread in Unitarianism. And it's true that such matters are said to vary very much from one Friends' Meeting House or Unitarian Church/Chapel to another.

And Unitarians are very nice people too, with a glorious tradition of musicality – in fact they are often described as Quakers With Hymns! So what's not to like – me and she are both very happy in the Unitarian fold.

The story of Cross Street Chapel from its earliest years in the seventeenth century is a vivid reflection of the religious turmoil of England from the Restoration (of Charles II) onwards – sometimes rather complicated but well worth the effort to gain even just the gist of it.

Please click here for facsimile The Act of Uniformity and Unitarian Dissent
(or here for single-sheet facsimile)
(or here for a transcription)

Please click here for facsimile Cross Street Chapel Manchester: A Brief History
(or here for single-sheet facsimile)
(or here for a transcription)

These aspects of Unitarianism as witnessed above, admirable as they are, reveal it mainly as an offshoot of Jacobean English anti-episcopal Presbyterianism and scarcely do any sort of justice to its mediaeval roots in Polish Socinianism and the Transylvanian Edict of Torda, let alone to the crucial fifth-century (first) Council of Nicea in which Athananius out-manoeuvred Arius, and sent Christianity into a theological swamp in which it's been mired ever since.

Paradoxically, the collective Christian tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinistic, etc) has managed very well without me all this time, and in so doing has been the wellspring of the world's greatest music, painting, sculpture, philosophy, literature and architecture, and the inspiration or solace of untold millions of people in almost every country for almost two thousand years.

But, as was once said of the US White House, despite its somewhat rickety fabric, it continued to stand by the Grace of God and the force of habit, so too does the edifice of conventional Christian Trinitarianism – (God the) Father, (God the) Son and (God the) Holy Spirit (aka Holy Ghost – as Isidore Rabi remarked about the neutrino, Who ordered that?)

To Be Continued