Birthplace: Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: Fever
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Father of English Unitarianism
John Biddle, frequently called the father of English Unitarianism, was born on the 14th of January 1615, at Wotton-under-Edge, in Gloucestershire. He was educated at the grammar school of his native town and at Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He graduated B.A. in 1638 and proceeded M.A., in 1641, and was then appointed to the mastership of the free school in the city of Gloucester, where "he was much esteemed for his diligence in his profession, serenity of manners and sanctity of life." He also diligently prosecuted theological studies, and the results he arrived at were of such a nature as to draw down upon him the reprobation of the civic authorities. A treacherous friend obtained the manuscript of his Twelve Arguments drawn out of Scripture, wherein the commonly received opinion touching the deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly and fully refuted; and in December 1645 he was summoned before the parliamentary committee then sitting at Gloucester. By then he was committed to prison, though he was at the time laboring under a dangerous fever. He was released on bail after a short imprisonment, but was in July 1647 called before parliament, which desired to inquire into his views. After tedious proceedings, during which Sir Henry Vane befriended him, Biddle was committed to custody and his Twelve Arguments, which he had now published, was ordered by parliament to be seized and burned by the hangman. Notwithstanding this and the ordinance of the 2nd of May 1648, visiting denial of the doctrine of the Trinity with death, Biddle issued two tracts, one a Confession of Faith touching the Holy Trinity, and the other The Testimonies of Irenaeus, etc., concerning the one God and the Persons of the Trinity (1648). These were suppressed by government, and the Westminster assembly of divines eagerly pressed for the passing of an act by which heretics like Biddle could be put to death. This, however, was resisted by the army, and by many of the Independent parliamentarians; and after the death of the king, Biddle was allowed to reside in Staffordshire under surveillance. He engaged in preaching and in literary work, particularly an edition of the Septuagint, published by Roger Daniel. In February 1652 the general act of oblivion gave him complete freedom, and his adherents soon began to meet regularly for worship on Sundays. They were called Biddellians, or Socinians, or Unitarians, the name which has now become associated with their opinions. Biddle was not left long in peace. He translated some Socinian books, among others the Life of Socinus, and published two catechisms which excited a fury of indignation. He was summoned before the parliament in December 1654 and imprisoned. The dissolution of that body again set him at liberty for a short time, but he was presently brought up for some expressions used by him in a discussion with John Griffin, an illiterate Baptist pastor, who invoked the law against his superior opponent. He was put upon trial, and was only rescued by Cromwell, who sent him (October 1655) out of the way to one of the Scilly Islands, allowed him 100 crowns a year, and in 1658, on the solicitation of many friends, released him. For a few years he lived and taught quietly in the country, but returning to London he was in June 1662 again arrested, and fined £100. As he was unable to pay this sum, he was at once committed to prison, where fever, caused by the pestilential atmosphere, carried him off on the 22nd of September 1662.
University: BA, Magdalen Hall, Oxford University (1638)
University: MA, Magdalen Hall, Oxford University (1641)
Exiled to Scilly Isle (1653-58)
Heresy unauthorized worship (1660)
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