Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Activity 1: Francis David

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print out the story and prepare to read or tell it.
  • Print out Leader Resource 1, Francis David, Portrait.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:

Francis David's trial for "innovation" shows how historians often draw different conclusions about the same historical events by highlighting different aspects of the story and particular characteristics of those involved.

  • On another sheet of newsprint, write these questions, and set the newsprint aside:
    • What factors might contribute to differing views or conclusions?
    • What might be the impact of differing historical views?
    • Can you think of other instances where historical accounts have differed in motive, impact or meaning?
  • Optional: Download the portrait of Francis David (Leader Resource 1) and prepare the portrait, and the statement and questions above as digital slides. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Present the story "Francis David - Guilty of Innovation."


As our story indicates, what was once a close partnership between Francis David and Giorgio Biandrata, dedicated to the advancement of Unitarianism became an adversarial relationship that destroyed one man and lessened the other. While Biandrata lived another nine years following David's death, his influence in the church waned. He died largely unmourned by a movement he helped to found.

The history of the Unitarian movement in Transylvania and the relationship between these two men of ecclesiastical power played out amid many currents and countercurrents of political, national, and religious life. Historians have proposed several reasons for the break between Biandrata and David.

David Bumbaugh writes in Unitarian Universalism: a Narrative History:

"The great tragedy of David and Biandrata lies in the fact that each of them was committed to the salvation of the Unitarian cause. Biandarata acted to save the church from political peril. In a letter to Jacobus Palaeologus written in 1580, Biandrata suggested that he was less disturbed by David's ideas than by their possible consequences for the future of the church. David wanted to advance needed reform, even at the expense of constant and recurring conflict. This, he seemed to believe, was the mission of the church, and he was prepared to risk everything, his own well-being and the well-being of the church, in the pursuit of greater truth and purity of doctrine."

Thomas Rees, in his historical introduction to the Rakovian Catechism written in 1818, drew a very different picture, one of a malevolent and "Judas-like" Biandrata locked in a struggle of personal enmity with a man of superior talents and integrity. Rees described an unspecified falling out between the erstwhile friends in 1574 over an unspecified "gross offence" of Biandrata's. While Bumbaugh and other historians understand Biandrata's repeated attempts to get David to temper his outspoken nature in the best interest of the church, Rees saw it as Biandrata's plot to bring about David's ruin.

David Parke, in The Epic of Unitarianism, indicates that the persecution of David came wholly from outside the Unitarian fold. He is silent about any discord between Biandrata and David.

This one incident shows how historians often draw different conclusions about the same events by focusing on different aspects of a story or highlighting different traits of the people involved.

Post the prepared quote and questions where all participants can see them. Invite participants to reflect on the quote. Then, lead a large group discussion of the questions.