Naomi's Reviews > The Essential Faith of the Universal Church; Deduced from the Sacred Records

The Essential Faith of the Universal Church; Deduced from the... by Harriet Martineau
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Apr 15, 2012

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bookshelves: christianity, unitarian
Read on April 15, 2012

Controversial literature -- whereby faith is disputed, one against another -- excites each new age, but frequently languishes on the shelf as those ages pass. Converting literature is very often part of that body, as those texts put forth arguments for one faith over others.

One of the three essays Harriet Martineau wrote for a contest in 1830, _The Essential Faith_ sets forth tenets of Unitarian Christianity of the time in relationship to then-contemporary Roman Catholicism. Whether either or both comparisons hold up is a matter of reflection for the contemporary reader, a reflection to which Martineau herself exhorts her readers. _The Essential Faith_ argues that religious forms change over time and also that each person must wrestle their conscience and understanding. Martineau was inviting Catholics to consider Unitarianism, so she does not seek to alienate, but to welcome.

For the historian, Martineau's essays offers a window on British Unitarian thought in 1830, since it is not only the product of her pen, but won the prize given out by British Unitarians. It is a temperate essay, as controversial literature goes, seeking appreciative shared points, but it does not shrink from naming significant differences and disagreement. Historians familiar with anti-Catholic thought of the era will find Martineau refreshingly temperate, and ethnic/national slurs do not come into the essay, unlike other contemporaries' productions.

For adult Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist students reflecting upon their own beliefs, Martineau's essay raises questions to consider, including the differences in faith they may or may not have with Martineau's professed Unitarianism.

Written early in her career and remarkably straight-forward to read for the class of literature it is, Martineau's later writing is easier for current readers. This is a theological text, and a bit clunky, using complex sentence constructions she abandons in her later work.

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