Sorry. I have been off-line recently due to a tragedy in my neighborhood that has taken a fair amount of my time in which to be of help and frankly, while I am anxious to pick up and continue, don’t quite know where to go first with the blog. So let’s go back to the Church of England series for an entry or two. We are on the brink of a fairly difficult period in the Church of England to write about—it was a low point in the Church for one thing and for another, it is not the period on which my own knowledge is strongest, but let’s continue.
Ironically I was at an Episcopalian Service on Friday evening and in the rector’s house for tea and desserts later, a number of people were talking about the blog without any idea that the author was standing there playing dumb. I kept by anonymity, even professed that “Anglican history has never really interested me…” which is, of course, a big, bold lie. And again, the irony is that the parish where the service was held was established in the very period we will be talking about—the end of the 17th and first decades of the 18th century—though the church itself was not built until the reign of George II (which is still pretty old). In this colonial church you knew you were in a Protestant church—there is none of the faux-catholicism of the Romantics and Oxford Movement—and that is important for us to remember. We look today on the Episcopal and Anglican Churches and see them as a sort of “Catholic Lite”—all the ritual, half the guilt, but in fact there was no mistaking in the 17th and 18th centuries that you were dealing with a Reformed Church. But enough about that, we will be talking plenty of the Protestant identity of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in the 18th century.
When we left off, King James II (a Catholic, along with his Catholic wife Mary of Modena and his Catholic heir, aka “the Old Pretender” [yes, he is just an infant but he would grow up and into the “Old Pretender”]) had been driven into exile by his Protestant daughter (by his first wife) Mary and her Calvinist husband, William of Orange whom Parliament had invited to wear the Crown in place of the Catholic James. This constitutionally established, once and for all, the ancient claim that while the Crown normally passed to the eldest son of the reigning monarch (or, be there no son, daughter), the Crown of England is indeed an elective crown. We forget that today but the King is whomever Parliament chooses to be King. Technically Parliament could bypass Charles for William (not a bad idea) or, for that matter, anybody else of its choice. Not likely, of course, but within its prerogative.
Well, not only was James out of a job, but Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft and eight other bishops were deprived of their sees for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary, declaring that it would violate the oath they had taken to James on his accession to the throne. These bishops were not happy at having a Catholic king in England, but they did not see how they could go back on their oaths once taken. This created a schism in the Church of England with the Established Church loyal to William and Mary and the “nonjuring” (non-swearing the oath) bishops who remained loyal to the Stuarts. About 400 priests and several thousand laity also remained loyal to James and his heirs. The nonjuring bishops chose and consecrated successors, keeping the schism alive. As the Jacobite cause (the efforts to restore the son and then the grandson of James II) waned after the middle of the 18th century, the nonjuring schism slowly waned. In Scotland the situation played out a bit differently. The Episcopal Church was disestablished and the Presbyterian Church established in its place. The nonjuring bishops in Scotland maintained the Scottish Episcopal Church though it was no longer the Established Church. The Scottish nonjuring bishops will be important in the history of the Episcopal Church in the United States as they consecrated the first American bishop, Samuel Seabury of Connecticut.
Archbishop Sancroft was replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury by John Tillotson. Tillotson came from a Puritan background and, though himself ordained by a bishop (Thomas Sydserf, Bishop of Orkney) had strong Presbyterian leanings. Actually Sydserf was quite High Church—so much so he was suspect of being a secret Catholic—but Tillotson was of the Latitudinarian persuasion, the so called “Broad Church.” He was no doctrinal rigorist—even suspect of Unitarian leanings—but saw the role of the Church more to advance a certain moral character upon the faithful. He had a background in science and was a member of the Royal Society.
In many ways Tillotson was typical of the leadership of the Church of England in the reign of William and Mary and afterward. The days of the High-Church theologically and liturgically minded Caroline Divines was past. The influence of the Enlightenment was on the Church. Traditional Christianity with its doctrines and rituals was tempered by Reason and science. Sacramental life faded more and more into the background in favor of sermons outlining how the human intellect can be rationally applied to the will in an effort to produce a morality rooted in the good ness of our nature rather than a product of Grace. This same liberalism was pervading European intelligentsia and shaping societies from the Marquis de Pombal in Portugal to Frederick the Great in Prussia. It would cross the Atlantic and find exponents in Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Catholic Church, and especially the Jesuits, would for the greater part resist it. The Church of England, for the greater part, would swallow it hook, line, and sinker. The antidote would be found in the First Great Awakening. But more on all that later.