About Corazon

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Not All Unitarians Rejected a Divine Jesus

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Ok, I know what you are thinking. What is Brad doing quoting a Christmas song in March?

Hold your breaths, I am about to tell you....

As is evidenced from my blog, my favorite historical topic is early America and religion. I think it is one of the most interesting and important topics out there. Well, one of the most interesting aspects of early American religion is the rise of Unitarianism, which, in many cases, tended to reject many of the traditional (orthodox) concepts of Christianity. As a result, many "traditional" Christians saw Unitarianism as a "heresy." After all, many of these "heathen" disciples of the Unitarian faith were declaring that Jesus was not divine, not born of a virgin, etc., etc., etc.

But not all Unitarians of late 18th century/early 19th century America rejected the idea of a divine Jesus. Take for instance the famous Unitarian Julia Ward Howe, author of the song "Battle Hymn of the Republic." One quick glance at the lyrics of that song would be enough to convince anyone that she believed in a divine Jesus:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
And the same can be said of the famous Christmas song, "O Holy Night." Originally adapted from an 1847 French poem entitled "Minuit, chr├ętiens" (Midnight, Christians), "O Holy Night" has become a popular Christmas song throughout America. But it wasn't until one John Sullivan Dwight, a UNITARIAN preacher in the "heathen" Boston area, translated the song into a singing version in English that "O Holy Night" became so popular. Originally published in his extremely popular magazine, Dwight's Journal of Music "O Holy Night" became an overnight success that is now sung, without fail, during every Christmas, by every branch of Christianity (orthodox and "heathen") that exists.

Interesting that Dwight, a devout Unitarian, chose to use such "heathen" words for this song like, "Fall on your knees," "Oh night divine, the night when Christ was born," "Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease," and "Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, With all our hearts we praise His holy name."

"Heathen," anti-Jesus stuff if I ever saw it!

Now, I realize that Dwight wasn't around during the founding (he lived in the early to mid 1800s), nor does he represent a fair cross-section of all Unitarian beliefs, but I still think there is a small point here. Clearly Unitarianism (a religion I personally greatly admire for its devotion to reason and its relatively liberal acceptance of many points of faith) was not as hard-core "anti-divine Jesus" as many are lead to believe.

Just something quick to chew on. Maybe I am making a mountain out of a mole hill here but I still thought it would be worth tossing out there.

And for your listening pleasure here is Josh Groban's version of "O Holy Night." Enjoy the "rational" prose of the song for yourself. And keep in mind, only 288 days until Christmas!

And let us not forget Julia Ward Howe's epic song. Hopefully she wouldn't mind it being sung by "America's Choir":

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