More Famous UUs
From time to time I've been known to lampoon our cultic tendency to worship the light of "Famous UU"s. In our enthusiasm to demonstrate our denominational influence and relevance, we seem eager to claim UU-hood for dozens of past and present celebrities who may have had the opportunity to participate in the Unitarian or Universalist communities of their time but in fact did not. Our criterion seems to be not whether they actually associated with us, but only whether they thought like us. We've even built kids' RE curricula around the biographies of some of them.
Well, if that's the criterion, I'd like to propose for the "Famous UUs" list the names of more of our predecessors in faith who thought like us, but never joined us -- not because they actually decided not to, but mainly because we weren't even around yet:
Peter Abelard and Thomas a Kempis. Abelard's exemplary theory of atonement and Kempis' Imitation of Christ laid the foundation for the development of our nineteenth-century doctrines of "self-culture" and "salvation by character", and our twenthieth-century commitment to social witness and social justice. In debates in his time, Abelard repeatedly bested advocates of St. Anselm's theory of blood sacrifice that still seems repugnant to most UUs today. (Abelard also exhibited some, ahem, unfortunate personal weaknesses that detracted significantly from the effectiveness of his advocacy and are not foreign to some of our contemporary UU communities.)
Pelagius. This fourth-century monk, condemned as a heretic for his emphasis on personal probity in the process of salvation, was another direct antecedent of our doctrine of "salvation by character". He also offers the archetypal example of how to do battle with the theological errors of St. Augustine, although not how to win such battles. If we would learn from his mistakes, we should take care not to let our detractors use straw man arguments to mischaracterize our theological positions -- an especially relevant lesson in this time when right-wing "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" heretics are trying to usurp the definition of "Christianity" and condemn others who don't meet their false definition.
John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (or John Huss). Early witnesses to the authority of direct personal discernment.
Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Three of the earliest advocates of the doctrine of apokatastasis, or as our own Universalist Church called it, "the final harmony of all souls with God".
St. Francis of Assisi. Universalist and nature boy. When criticized for praying with Muslims in a mosque during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he supposedly shrugged and said, "God is everywhere". Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Waldo.
St. Thomas Aquinas. The rational principle in religion starts here.
Arius. Of course.