September 5, 2023

David L. Holmes: Jefferson's Theology


David L. Holmes (August 28, 1932 – April 29, 2023) was an American church historian. He was Walter G. Mason Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary. 

Holmes held degrees in English from Michigan State and Columbia universities and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Religious Studies from Princeton University.

Holmes wrote the academic best-seller, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (1993), the best-selling The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (2006), and the highly regarded The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (2012).


Unitarianism (from Latin unitas 'unity, oneness') is a Nontrinitarian branch of Christianity. Unitarian Christians affirm the unitary nature of God as the singular and unique creator of the universe, believe that Jesus Christ was inspired by God in his moral teachings and that he is the savior of humankind, but he is not comparable or equal to God himself.

The birth of the Unitarian faith is proximate to the Radical Reformation, beginning almost simultaneously among the Protestant Polish Brethren in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and in the Principality of Transylvania in the mid-16th century; the first Unitarian Christian denomination known to have emerged during that time was the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, founded by the Unitarian preacher and theologian Ferenc Dávid (c. 1520–1579). Among its adherents were a significant number of Italians who took refuge in Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, and Transylvania in order to escape from the religious persecution perpetrated against them by the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. In the 17th century, significant repression in Poland led many Unitarians to flee or be killed for their faith. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Unitarians in Britain often faced significant political persecution, including John Biddle, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Theophilus Lindsey. In England, the first Unitarian Church was established in 1774 on Essex Street, London, where today's British Unitarian headquarters is still located.

. . .Unitarians charge that the Trinity, unlike unitarianism, fails to adhere to strict monotheism. Unitarians maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, perhaps even a supernatural being, but not God himself. They believe Jesus did not claim to be God and that his teachings did not suggest the existence of a triune God.

. . .Four presidents of the United States were Unitarians: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft. Adlai Stevenson II, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, was a Unitarian; he was the last Unitarian to be nominated by a major party for president as of 2020.[citation needed] Although a self-styled materialist, Thomas Jefferson was pro-Unitarian to the extent of suggesting that it would become the predominant religion in the United States.

Video Title: "I'm Arius of Alexandria, the talk of the town:" the Roots of Unitarianism. Source: TeachMonticello. Date Published: June 15, 2009. Description:

On June 21, 2005, David Holmes, Professor of Religion at The College of William and Mary, listed out key points of Jefferson's religious beliefs and practices and offered an answer to the oft-asked question of whether the Author of the Declaration of American Independence might have been a Unitarian.

Video Title: Michael Servetus and the Rebirth of "Anti-trinitarianism"
Video Title: Servetus, Calvin, Socinus, and the Spread of Unitarianism
Video Title: "A sect unto myself:" Three Points of Jefferson's Beliefs

Video Title: Jefferson, the Deist
Video Title: "The most sublime system of morals:" Jefferson's Jesus
Video Title: Was Jefferson a Unitarian?