Unitarians, as far as I can tell, don’t believe in miracles. At least, they don’t believe in the kinds of miracles recorded in the Bible, including Christ’s Virgin Birth and resurrection.
However, while spending a bit of time exploring the beliefs and practices of Unitarians, I came across a rather extraordinary statement which, if true, would certainly have to be regarded as evidence for the miraculous.
I was reading the transcript of a sermon recently preached by Unitarian minister Rev Sarah Tinker. The sermon caught my eye, because its subject is ‘Unitarian Views of Jesus.’
In the course of her address, Rev Tinker played around with various ideas about the historical Jesus: maybe he didn’t even exist; or, if he did exist, maybe only 20% of the words attributed to him in the Gospels are actually authentic.
Rev Tinker went on to inform her hearers that modern Unitarianism has precursors in the teaching of Arius (3rd century CE) and Faustus Socinus (16th century). Regarding the latter,
Socinus ‘taught that Jesus was fully human and saved people, not through atonement through his death on the cross, but by teaching people how best to live through his life and example.’
Next comes the following assertion:-
Socinus lost his life for this heresy – burnt at the stake in Geneva by Calvin.
If this were true, it would constitute a rather remarkable miracle. Because Faustus Socinus died of ‘natural causes’, some 30 miles from Cracow in Poland, in 1604, forty years after Calvin died!
Seriously, though, such a careless factual error doesn’t incline me to take very seriously Rev Tinker’s opinions about the historicity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.
The person who was executed for heresy by the authorities in Geneva was, of course, Servetus, not Socinus. And although I wouldn’t care to minimise Calvin’s implication in his death, the notion that he was ‘burnt at the stake in Geneva by Calvin’ is itself rather wide of the mark.
[See the relevant entries in Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone), Hendrickson.]