Fracis David and the Debate at Nagyvarad

From The Epic Of Unitarianism, Compiled by David Parke (20-22)

The great prophet and spokesperson of Transylvanian Unitarianism was Francis David (1510-1579). Trained for the Catholic priesthood, he became successively a Lutheran, a Calvinist, and a Unitarian. So marked was his ability that he was elected superintendent of each of the Protestant confessions in which he held membership! Indeed, for many years the Transylvanian Unitarians were referred to as "of Francis David's religion."

David was an incomparable public speaker - one who, as a contemporary said of him, "seemed to have the Old and New Testaments at his tongue's end." He had been influenced by the writings of Servetus, and was an advocate of freedom of belief with each individual accountable only to God. The religious situation was ripe for a person of his talents, for the Reformed church had not yet adopted a fixed doctrine and there was room to think freely.

In 1566, on the recommendation of Biandrata, King John appointed David his court preacher. As such David became spokesperson for the Unitarian party in the national debates called by the king to clarify religious issues of the time.

The major debates during John's reign were at Gyualafehervar (pronounced gyoo'-lawfeh-hayr.var) in i566 and i568, and at Nagyvarad (nawdg'-vah-radw) in 1569. They attracted the same attention that American presidential nominating conventions attract now, for religion then was politics and was as important to the people as politics is today.

The first debate was inconclusive. The second, which immediately followed King John's decree of toleration, established Unitarianism as a popular faith and David as its champion. The third at Nagyvarad in 1569 was, in the judgment of one Hungarian historian, "the decisive debate" which produced the "final triumph of Unitarianism." Here are David's propositions which formed the basis of the debate.


I. The Trinity held by the pope of Rome is really a belief in four or five Cods; one substance, God, three separate persons each of which are Gods, and one man, Christ. According to Francis David God is only one, that Father from whom and by whom is everything, who is above everything, who created everything through the word of his wisdom and the breath of his mouth. Outside of this God there is no other God, neither three, neither four, neither in substance, neither in persons, because the Scripture nowhere teaches anything about a triple God.

II. One is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, God and man, of whom we cannot say either that he is first born or that he is the only begotten of God because such a person would not be both God and man.

III. The Scripture's God-son who was supposed to have been born of the substance of God from the beginning of eternity is no~ where mentioned, neither a God-son who would be the second person of the Trinity descended from heaven and become flesh. This is only human invention and superstition and as such is to be discarded.

IV. There is no other Son of God than the one who was be-gotten in the womb of the virgin by the Holy Spirit.

V. Jesus Christ is God and man but he did not create himself, the Father gave him his divinity, the Father had him begotten by the Holy Spirit, the Father sanctified him and sent him into the world.

VI. The equality of Christ with God is only of a kind which God gave him, God remaining in his divine sovereignty above everyone else.

VII. He [Francis David] does not deny that the Son of God was present in the eternal thought of God because there is no difference in time before God, for God everything is present tense; but the Scriptures nowhere teach that the Son of God would have been born from the beginning of eternity.

VIII. Christ is the Son of God, he was neither purely human nor purely God before the angel announced him to Mary and the she~ herds; he was the Son of David in flesh, he was the Son of God in spirit, anointed high priest, judge and Lord above everyone else, he is our hope and fulfillment.

IX. The Holy Spirit is not self-created God, not a third person in the Trinity, but the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, a seal of inheritance, life-giving strength, which the Father realizes in us through the Son, to be seen in ourselves and in our actions.

David summed up the debate afterward in these words: "I followed the line of Scripture but my opponents hid it in a bag, they turned light into darkness when they made three of the Father God and two of Christ. Their religion is self-contradictory to the extent that even they cannot present it in a whole. Nevertheless they will see that even against their will God will prove his truth."

In 1571 Unitarianism reached its zenith of popularity with almost five hundred congregations existing, and the Diet recognized it as one of four 'received' religions (i.e., those protected by law). However, King John died in the same year, and with his tolerant spirit absent the Calvinists shortly condemned David for innovations and curtailed the freedom of the Unitarians. David died in prison in 1579, a religious martyr and a national hero. His conviction that "God is One!" has continued to burn in the hearts of Transylvanian and Hungarian Unitarians down to the present day.

The name "Unitarian" itself is of Transylvanian origin, having been first used there in the year i6oo. Later, in the Agreement of Dees in 1638, it was employed to designate the most liberal of the four received religions. Scholars disagree concerning its derivation -whether the word comes from the Unitarian belief in the unity of God (in contrast to the term "Trinitarian"), or from the union of the four Protestant churches under the Decree of Religious Tolerance of I 568. In the eighteenth century the name came into widespread usage, gradually superseding "Antitrinitarian" and "Socinian" in the popular religious vocabulary.