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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Anthony Milton: Elizabethan and Jacobean Church

In his scholarly research of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church in England, Anthony Milton writes these comments about the climate of the day [1600-1640].
All groups in the Jacobean Church found it of value in justifying the break with Rome. It provided a powerful, self-evident condemnation of the pope and Church of Rome which could serve as a short-cut through the wearisome and hazardous labyrinth of Romanist/Protestant doctrinal controversies. 98

It had a central role to play in the Gospel message which must be brought to all Romanists, who must be told that it was acknowledged by their own papal divines that Rome is Babylon, 'and it is averred that this is the present Papall Monarchie, that out of this they must depart by the Commands of our Lord Jesus Christs owne Voyce, under paine of being an accessary to all her sinnes, and lyable to ail her punishments'. Not only was the argument clearer than on many other issues, but the words of Revelation stressed that all those living in Babylon were damned unless they could recognize that the pope was Antichrist and depart from him accordingly. 99

The notion that the pope was Antichrist, then, commanded the intellectual assent of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church, and the chronological, apocalyptic interpretation of church history which it spawned was widely accepted and was (in Christianson's words) 'embodied at presupposition level' in works on other issues. This is not to suggest, however, that this consensus amounted to a uniformity of belief regarding the details and importance of the doctrine, or concerning its implications for secular politics or for the formulation of other doctrines. 100

The apocalyptic framework confirmed the argument that relations with Rome could only ever be those of inevitable and perpetual conflict. 102

Puritan practical divinity sought to make dynamic use of the division of the world into the elect and the reprobate. Puritan devotional writers called upon the individual believer to make his election sure, and to join the purified ranks of the community of the fellow-godly, in opposition to the wickedness of the ungodly mass outside. The more that this dualistic doctrine of the Two Churches featured in apocalyptic thought, the more tempting it was to translate its stark antithesis of good and evil, true and false churches, directly into the division between the two earthly churches of Rome and Protestantism. 103

Thus, just as experimental predestinarians worked on the active assumption that the true church of the elect was coterminous with the community) of the godly (while formally accepting that the identities of the elect and reprobate are known only to God), so in the apocalyptic tradition the false church came increasingly to be identified more exclusively with the power of Rome. 104

The perception of Rome as the false church increased the pressure for a confessional foreign policy, and for a radical breach with the forces of Roman Catholicism. On the doctrinal plane, Rome's identity as Babylon was held to unchurch the Roman communion, leaving no possibility of salvation for those still within her. In social terms, it led to demands that Protestants refrain from all conversation and friendship with recusants, and even to avoid living in the same neighbourhood 104
Milton concludes,
Jacobean compromise - can be explained in part by the success of the Laudians determined attempt to force these groups apart, and to destroy the ideological cement of the English Church. In the process, the Laudians helped to tarnish the established Church of England, while their rewriting of the Reformation settlement helped to prompt a more urgent and sceptical review of the legislative basis on which the English Church rested. Nevertheless, if the Laudians ultimately achieved some success in forcing moderate puritans and conforming Calvinists apart, it was because this was a division that was already well underway. If the religious centre fell apart in the early 1640s, the reason lay partly in its own loss of coherence over the previous decades. 546
To argue that there was some sort of ecclesial coherence in the English Church's history is simply far-reaching. Some scholars have questioned why Andrewes was able to get by with his liturgical practices and ecclesial views and I believe it is due to the incoherence of the previous decades since the breaking of papal authority by Henry VIII. The reason why the Laudians were able to tarnish the "established Church of England" was due to the fact that there was yet to be an "established" liturgical and sacramental England. There is enough blame to go around for what followed in the 1640's and to put it all on the Laudians is only to show how one-sided England's ecclesial history has often been portrayed.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Becca said...

most interesting, as always ... I must admit that I have to think hard when reading your blog but have always loved it and never meant to leave you off the B&B blog roll ... did some updating a few weeks ago and lost a few sites by accident ... so thank you very much for commenting again on my blog so I can get you back on the list! Blessings!

8:39 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks Becca! I only thought that those of us so willing to have the size family that we do need to really stay together. ;-) I enjoy your blog very much as well. I was thinking, "I wonder what I've said." One never knows. I am sure your having to think hard is my often inability to be clear. I'll work on that!

all the best wishes...

8:53 pm  
Anonymous Becca said...

You are right about those of us with large families hanging in there together! Hope your family is doing well!

3:08 am  

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