“The Poetic Expression of Unitarianism”

I’m going to meditate on the tradition of “lyric theism.” But first, some documents to give some context.

From Modern Words of Religion, edited by Carlyle Summerbell (1915)

THE POETIC EXPRESSION OF UNITARIANISM

The representative expressions of the Unitarian habit of mind are not to be sought in the fields of theological scholarship or Biblical learning, but in a lyric utterance of singular significance. “It is not an accident,” said one of the best interpreters of Unitarianism, “that out of a religious movement which is supposed to be a movement of sheer rationalism and dissent there has grown up the most clearly defined type of religious poetry which our country has produced. It is not an accident that the lyrics of Longfellow and Lowell and Holmes and Bryant and Emerson proceed from lives bred in the rational piety of the Unitarians. And when we pass from the great masters it is no surprise that from a group of minor poets of the same tradition — Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson and Hedge and Hosmer and Gannett and Chadwick — there has proceeded a strain of lyric theism whose music penetrates many a church, the doors of which are closed against the poets. That means that beneath the vigorous rationalism or the sincere dissents of the descendants of the Puritans there is this deep movement of religious life, a consciousness of God that only a poet can express, a spiritual lineage that unites this little fellowship of free people to the whole great company of the witnesses of the real presence of God.