Avignon Manifesto (Manifeste d'Avignon) in English

I post here the English translation of the Manifeste d'Avignon. The photo here shows the Manifesto working party (left to right): Jean-Claude Barbier, Paola Zunino, Dr. Roberto Rosso, Susanna Brown and myself outside the Hotel Bristol in Avignon during August 2007.

The Avignon Manifesto, 17 August 2007, 
on behalf of Unitarian Christian associations
“ In order that Unitarianism preserves its position 
amongst Christians throughout the world ”

Since the 1990s, "Unitarian Christian associations have multiplied: the Unitarian Christian Association (UCA, founded in 1991), l’Assemblée fraternelle des chrétiens unitariens (AFCU, 1996), l’Assemblée des chrétiens unitariens du Burundi (ACUB, 2002), la Congregazione italiana cristiano unitariana (CICU, 2004), et l’Assemblée des chrétiens unitariens du Congo (ACUC, 2004). They are contributing to the growth of Unitarianism in countries where previously this tradition did not exist. The last four of these groups were recognised as ‘emerging groups’ by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) in April 2006.

This manifesto is neither a creed nor a confession of faith but the result of a process of reflection in order that these new associations can position themselves in relation to our historic churches and congregations which exist in Transylvania, Hungary, Great Britain and the United States of America on the one hand and, on the other, in relation to Unitarian-Universalism, which presents itself as a new religion detached from its Christian roots.

This positioning is made in a positive and constructive manner and is complementary to the forms of Unitarianism already in existence; in no way is it in opposition to them. But it should be explained clearly and distinctly in order to avoid being presented in a confusing, evasive, not to say ambiguous, way. We are perfectly aware that the diversity of contemporary Unitarianism is a valuable resource but this diversity should not, in any fashion, be confused or give the impression that it is lax theologically and without any points of reference.

Born out of the anti-Trintarian currents at the heart of the Protestant reforms of the sixteenth century, Unitarianism is a movement which has its origin in Christianity characterised by:

    • A radical monotheistic theology (God is One) which implies a rejection of the dogma of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation; even if we think that God dwelt fully in Jesus, a condition we are all invited to experience, Jesus remains a man like us all.
    • Jesus' teaching, as it has been transmitted to us by the evangelists, the other texts of the New Testament, and by the contribution of some of the apocryphal gospels, for example the Gospel of Thomas.
    • An acceptance of reason and scientific progress, notably modern exegesis and the discoveries of first-century archeology which have allowed us to understand better who Jesus really was.
    • An affirmation of freedom of thought and the rejection of all imposed dogma.
    • Episcopalian (found in presbyterian/synodical forms), congregational, or even associational styles of organisation in which each Church or local community is free to choose its own direction and develop relationships with other communities.

Unitarian Christians affirm their solidarity with their historic Churches which have maintained this faith. Notably, they have the greatest respect for the Hungarian-speaking Churches which they feel, are worthy of the same order of consideration as that accorded to the Jews by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (1:16) and John of Patmos in Revelation (7:4-9). The deep respect held for these churches' seniority is voluntary and filial; it is not at all subservient nor is it an obligatory duty. Moreover, these historic Churches demand no such deference.

Christian worship is not limited to discourse (sermons, preaching, meditations, etc.) even if it is very interesting and eloquent. Worship is neither a lecture nor a discussion club. The assembly addresses God (or uses an equivalent term); praises him as creator of the world; thanks him for the life which he has given us; it is in this sense a Thanksgiving.

Christian worship is also the opportunity to reproduce the precise actions of Jesus which are significant for our faith and which have been adopted by our tradition: baptism and the The Lord's Supper (in French le partage du pain et du vin), to which one can add the historic gestures of feet washing, anointment with oil, the laying on of hands, etc. On its own, the lighting of a candle cannot replace these rituals. Our ceremonies should not be diluted or rendered insipid under the pretext of modernisation or by attempting to make them accessible to the greatest number of people.

Because God has already given us life and all his grace we do not think that the sacraments will give us additional rewards. These acts simply connect us to our spiritual master, Jesus, whom we love and to whom we wish to be faithful. They establish a fraternal spirit amongst us and invite us to love all people.

Further to these Christian rites, it is well understood that each community will find other modes of spiritual expression which suit them.

When Unitarian Christians find themselves in multi-faith meetings (in French assemblées composite) where there are agnostics and non-believers for whom Christian rituals no longer have any significance, they can invite all to share in the spiritual traditions of those present. In this case, each person can present what is meaningful for them; Christians can offer bread and wine in the sense found in the Didache: the fruit of the earth and of the work of humankind.

Likewise, they can offer the Flower Communion as created in 1923 by the Czech minister Norbert Čapek, or the lighting of our chalice (explaining its historic significance as a symbol of liberty and of resistance in the context of Nazism).

Unitarianism has at its disposal a theology, a history, a tradition both spiritual and cultural, and its own rituals (the flaming chalice and the Flower Communion). We are extremely proud of this and have no reason at all to abandon the field of Christianity which saw the birth of our movement. On the contrary, we should collaborate with all other Christians who wish to construct a modern Christianity with a liberal spirit more faithful to its origins. As such, we launch a pressing appeal to European Unitarian Christians to actively participate in the European Liberal Protestant Network (ELPN). In reaffirming a radical monotheism (God is One), Unitarian Christianity allows the establishment of theologically continuous relations with Judaism and Islam. The major obstacle to inter-religious dialogue with these religions lies, in effect, in the divinisation of Jesus.

During the twentieth century, some Unitarian congregations decided that a belief in Christianity (One God and reference to the teachings of Jesus) was no longer a prerequisite for the recruitment of new members. These assemblies have thus become progressively multi-faith (hétérogènes). It is because of this that Unitarians who remain faithful to their original tradition call themselves "Unitarian Christians." (Previously this was a tautology because all Unitarians were Christians.) In order to remove ambiguity about our faith and for clarity's sake, we recommend the use of this name.

Unitarian-Universalism presents itself as a new religion that concentrates on immediate universal approaches to the concept of religion. We share with it many things, notably the first part of our history (up to the American thinker William Ellery Channing), our reference to Michael Servetus (his work and his martyrdom), our solidarity with the Transylvanian Unitarian Church, the Unitarian rituals of the Flower Communion and the flaming chalice and our liberal conception of the Christian religion and other sources of religion, etc. We have to establish solid and friendly partner relationships with Unitarian-Universalists, as is already the case within the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). The same attitude advised in whichever country a UU community exists.

The ICUU was founded in 1995 from three spiritual families: Unitarianism (including our historic Churches and Unitarian Christian associations); Universalism (namely the sphere of influence which was that of the Universalist Church, a Christian Church in the United States between 1779 and 1961); and, lastly, Unitarian-Universalism (created in 1961 by the merger of American Unitarian congregations and the Universalist Church). Those Unitarian Christians and historic churches remaining faithful to the origins of Unitarianism in the sixteenth-century form an important part of this whole and intend to preserve their own identity. Respectful dialogue and fruitful exchange are conditional on the avoidance of any confusion and ambiguity as well as any cultural and religious imperialism. For this reason, we ask that ICUU should be written with an 'and' (i.e. Unitarians and Universalists), and not with a hyphen (in French), nor with an asterisk.

The ICUU is an entirely appropriate meeting space and Unitarian Christians intend to participate in it with complete loyalty. It would be a mistake to envisage a separate international organisation reserved solely for Unitarian Christians. Likewise, all our activities are open to Unitarians of all kinds.

As the ELPN has existed since 1998, it makes sense for European Unitarian Christians to make the most of this network so as to meet and consult with each other more easily and maintain close relations with their liberal Protestant friends.

We hope that all believers and humanists around the world will participate in the advent of inter-convictional societies where liberty of conscience prevails and not just a single system of thought, where the mutual benefits of engagement with each other rather than forced encounters are recognised, where laity and democracy (necessary for dialogue that is free from any kind of fanaticism) are found, and where respect for life and our environment exist so that we can pass on a better world to future generations. We Unitarian Christians can contribute joyfully to a creation, made by God at the beginning of time, still growing, ever progressing and moving towards greater fellowship, the bearer of understanding and love.

English translation by Susanna and Andrew Brown with Marie-Claire Lefeuvre


Anonymous said…
Andrew. I've read and I fully support the Avignon Manifesto posted on your site. It makes perfect reasonable sense to me.

Jonathan Chapman
Naomi said…
Andrew. I have read the Manifesto and I am much moved and encouraged by it. It certainly speaks to my condition and I am glad to have this opportunity to register my full support.
Dear Naomi,

Thanks for the note of support. Of course we got together to produce this in 2007 - astonishingly five and a half years ago - and though it remains a worthwhile document to have produced I have no way of knowing whether it made any meaningful impact. It seems to me looking back on our efforts that, at least in British terms, it was a document written more than a few years too late. The British U&FC churches are now so few and the movement itself as a whole is so thinned out that the document has no place to get any real traction except, as your reply reveals, in the hearts of a few people.

Warmest wishes and a Happy New Year.

Unknown said…
Hello,Mr Brown!

Thank you for publishing the Manifesto -your blog was the only place where I managed to find it. My name is Mark and I am an "amateur scholar" of contemporary religious movements, Unitarian Christianity and Unitarian Universalism are my two interests among the other ones.If it is possible I would like to ask your permission to translate the Manifesto to Russian (which is my mothertongue) so Russian-speakers interested in Unitarianism can have an access to the document. There's a small online community dedicated to Unitarianism / UUism https://m.vk.com/uuism

Thank you!
Greetings Mark. Good to hear from you. Yes, please do feel free to translate it into Russian. I'd be glad to see a copy when it's finished. I don't speak/read Russian myself but occasionally we have people connected with the congregation who do.

My own religious connection with Russia is through a love of Tolstoy's "Gospel in Brief" and his late religious writings in general.

I'm very happy to keep in touch should you wish.

Warmest wishes, Andrew
Unknown said…
Thank you! I'll send you a copy of a translation by an e-mail or any other way which you find comfortable (if e-mail is ok you can send me a message to farvozdinov@gmail.com so I can see your address).

Yes, Tolstoy is sometimes called one of the first Russian Unitarians (although there was never a significant Unitarian presence in Russia - maybe because Reformation didn't have a big influence on our country), I think his heritage is very important.

Thanks again!

Best wishes, Mark
Splendid. I've just sent you an email to be in touch that way. I look forward to hearing more about all things Russian and Unitarian.

Warmest wishes, Andrew
Francis said…
Thank you for sharing this, Andrew. I've just come across it via the UK Unitarians Facebook group - it's exciting to read such a document. Perhaps Unitarian Christians like myself will find something in any statement they don't entirely agree with, but my own quibble would be that the statement extols the gospels, refers to the rest of the New Testament but makes no mention of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Unitarian Christians should be well placed to challenge notions of Replacement Theology, but this seems to echo some old ideas about the Jewish scriptures being savage compared to the Christian ones.
Greetings Francis.

Thanks for your comment. Thanks, too, for alerting me to the fact that some mention of it has gone up on Facebook. Not being a user of that platform I had not realised anyone was still interested in and/or even knew about the manifesto.

Your point about the non-mention of the Hebrew Bible and replacement theology in general is important - and they are things about which I'm acutely aware because my own master's degree is in Jewish/Christian relations. Anyway, given your points, I think a little bit of the wider Unitarian context prevailing at the time we wrote the manifesto can help here.

The document was drafted and written at a time when the Christian tradition within the Unitarian movement (especially in the UK and the USA) was being (or at the very least was felt by many Christians as being) marginalized. As far as I read it there were at least two major reasons for this fact and/or feeling.

The first is that many (most?) modern Unitarians were people who came from what were, generally speaking, Christian backgrounds and they had left them because of a profound dislike of the kind of Christianity they had found there. Consequently, many people came into the movement wanting to leave Christianity behind and this, naturally, helped, on occasions, to create a situation in which the Christian roots of the Unitarian movement were downplayed or, at worst, occasionally even rejected.

The second reason is that, particularly in the USA during the mid- to late-twentieth century, many people had come into the movement from Jewish backgrounds and, naturally, the Christian tradition was for many of them deeply problematic in all kinds of ways. Centuries of the most virulent Christian anti-semitism assured this. This, in turn, also sometimes contributed to voices wanting to downplay and/or even reject the Christian roots of the Unitarian movement.

When these two factors were put together you had a situation where some of us in the wider European Unitarian setting felt a general, gentle reassertion of the value of Jesus and the Christian (New Testament) tradition was required. The irony here was that within the modern Unitarian movement the theology that some people felt needed to be replaced was Christian and not Jewish.

Naturally, a well-rounded Unitarian Christian position is fully aware that Jesus was never a Christian but was always a faithful, if radical and reforming, first-century Jew and that the NT texts were not Christian texts at all but texts produced by Jewish-Christian communities. In short, our document was written believing that the Unitarian tradition should be open to faithful people from both liberal Jewish and Christian backgrounds, the two of them were complimentary and mutually self-informing and not conflicting.

Much more might be said about this manifesto but the above is, I hope, sufficient to indicate why the text is as it is.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said…
This is an useful document! FYI, I came across it on Wikipedia (it is highlighted under the subheading “history” for the UCA entry.