Ongoing Notes on the Phylogeny of the English Church

What: No thesis yet, just some (very) light research into the religious tendencies of our forebears since Queen Elizabeth.

Why: (a) The “Progressivism is Crypto-Calvinism” hypothesis, of course. Empirically I think the evidence is quite bad, but conceptually there is something intriguing there and, as a WASP, it is my solemn duty to be more self-critical than anyone else could be. (b) Multiple theories of social decline which name slightly different culprits (“the Cathedral”, “cultural Marxism”, etc.) accept the basic idea that educational and cultural functions have been dispersed and then usurped by the left.  These functions were previously unified in the Church and understanding the decline of Christianity in the West is a necessary complement to any account of the rise of poz.  (c) We on the right are sometimes divided by our shared zeal for Christ, and an ever-better understanding of the public functions of the Church in a Christian commonwealth will bring us ever-closer to consensus, political if not theological.

Before the 1610s

(a) Per Apostolicae Curae and the twentieth-century research into the Marian Church it spurred, the papal legate was relatively happy with ecclesiastical institutions Mary inherited from Edward.  While the papists certainly burnt their share of martyrs, the legate kept nearly all the English priests in their parishes.  Some were re-anointed, with their earlier ordinations treated as valid; a smaller number were re-ordained.  (I did not note what happened to the bishops; return to sources.) Given that the differences with Rome were at this point mild enough that most Anglican priests were retained, it stands to reason there was not yet a great deal of internal variation.

(b) At the end of the Elizabethan period the term Puritan was coming into use; originally the connotation was simply intense religious faith.  All Englishmen were Protestants and Puritans were just particularly pious and sincere, perhaps with an attachment to preaching and a stronger allegiance to Calvin and Zwingli’s theological proposals as opposed to Melanchthon’s.

(c) In 1610 Ames publishes his three solae (first such formulation?)

(d) Completion of the KJV and the special status it acquired in nearly every branch of the English Church is a good metric of how hard the translators worked; this was a high point of Anglican unity.


(a) In the latter part of the reign of James I/VI, MA de Dominis reported back to Rome that the Anglican Church was at root as catholic as the Roman, but noted many bishops were strong Calvinists.

(b) Around this point people began to care about what the term “Puritan” actually meant.  Ulster asked James I to clarify the term (pursuant to royal instructions about Puritanism?); Mede defined three types of Puritanism concerned with three different levels of the Church in 1623; it is clear that at this point the Church of England was starting to polarize along the question of commitment to Calvinism. (Speculation: this is the period when the students of the ministers who had gone into exile, and many of whose friends had been martyred under Mary, inherited the Anglican Church.)  However, at this point Puritanism had nothing to do with Arminianism.

(c) In 1624 Laud began to push Arminianism.

(d) This was the approximate period when the Anglican Church began to develop its triangular internal structure: some of the Puritans were Separatists who did not wish to operate their congregations within the episcopal hierarchy (the bulk of Separatists eventually becoming Presbyterians) while others were Dissenters who had more serious concerns with Anglican theology and liturgy and in particular believed in the importance of personal conversion.  Within the formal orthodoxy of the Anglican Church, Latitudinarian ministers (later, “broad church”) wanted the Anglican Church to reach some sort of agreement with the Separatists and bring them back into the fold by meeting their objections, while “low church” ministers wanted to reach some sort of agreement with the Dissenters.  The Anglicans who were simply orthodox and did not wish to accommodate either the Separatists or the Dissenters were high church, a term that began to take on different meanings in different periods.

(e) N.b., British Puritans began to leave Britain for other parts of the Protestant world and, eventually, for America from the 1620s on.  Because the emigration started even before Puritanism became aligned with opposition to Laud’s Arminianism, many of the later developments in English Calvinism had no real effect on New England Calvinists.

(f) Charles I faced a complicated multi-level geopolitical balancing act.  First, he was the Defender of the Faith of three Churches (of England, of Scotland, and of Ireland) but the religious policy most acceptable to the hierarchy and laity of any one of the three would be unacceptable to the other two. (Cf. three-body problem.)  Second, British Protestants sympathized with embattled Protestants in both Hapsburg and Bourbon dominions; they wished to aid them, and also saw Charles’ willingness to aid them as an indicator of his faith; but they tended to be equally unsympathetic to the practical difficulties of these campaigns and to the simple reality that Charles could only oppose one of the two Catholic monarchs by allying with the other.

Restoration and Aftermath

(a) The Restoration seemed to mark a permanent high-church victory over the discredited low/broad church, but after a short period of rebuilding the high-church faction was shattered by the Glorious Revolution; seven (Anglican?) bishops and hundreds of clergy refused to renounce their oaths of allegiance to James II after the Glorious revolution in 1688 and went into schism (until 1732).  In 1690 William and Mary formally deposed the non-juring bishops and turned the entire Church of Scotland over to the Presbyterians.  (What remained of the Church of Scotland remained loyal to the Stuart pretenders until 1788 when, faced with the inconvenience that the pretender was a Roman cardinal, they found reasons to reconcile with their fellow Protestants.)  The remainder of the high church which swore fealty to William and Mary (and then to Anne, and then to Hanover) was caught flat-footed by a need to distance themselves from the non-jurors, and by an emboldened low church.

(b) In this period the high church was known for being “high and dry”, i.e. rejecting the emotional appeal and rhetorical style of the preachers of low-church and Dissenter tendencies.

(c) But n.b.: over in New England, where the clerical establishment was already “Dissenter”, the same pattern emerged.  Lay preachers and unofficial revivals adopted an increasingly emotional, even hysterical tone, and the (Calvinist) establishment made sure to chart out a distinct, non-emotional approach to the sermons delivered from the pulpit.

(d) As a matter of nationalist/populist fervor, the defense of England against Jacobite insurrection and invasion by France or Spain continued to take a firmly Protestant tone over the course of the eighteenth century.  Popery was unpatriotic.  However, even while the Anglican Church was being tugged in the “low” direction by these forces, the bourgeois elite sought an elite-level rapprochement with the Catholic (and Jewish) elite.  (I need to take another look at the history of this.  I can’t figure out when Whigs were able to shift their party-line on this, and whether it is tied to their ideological center of gravity moving from low-church Anglicans to non-conconformists.)

(e) As attacks on the institution of the Church of England began to rise, high-church Tories/traditionalists began to mount a more robust defense of distinctively Anglican liturgical and theological positions.  This high-church faction was later labeled “Anglo-Catholic” and indeed some of them went on to become Roman Catholic, notably Newman; others became socialists and Laborites.  (I’m not entirely clear on what the affinity is; two anti-bourgeois movements? two contemporary Oxbridge fashions? ideological re-balancing?)


I’m still not very sharp on various post-Restoration low-chuch sects (Friends, Methodists, etc. – cf. James); who if anyone was setting Anglican policy under the Hanoverians; role of non-conforming churches in British intellectual life post-Enlightenment.  How different was the course of development in the Americas, how much cross-fertilization was there?  Was Scottish Pietism the major British export to Continental Protestants? Was Hanoverian England actually more devout than ancien régime France, or was this simply a story that suited the needs of both kingdoms after 1815?

Preliminary Conclusions

Most striking to me so far: the extent to which (a) the value of maintaining extra-scriptural liturgical traditions was called into question by the possibility that these symbols might be signs of loyalty to the Bishop of Rome, and (b) parallel developments in the religious establishments of England and New England were driven by non-establishment religious enthusiasm, despite the ostensibly opposed theological positions of the two camps.

2 thoughts on “Ongoing Notes on the Phylogeny of the English Church

  1. Not sure when the stereotypically English attribute of “fair play, muh boy” evolved. But that goes to explaining a lot I think. Why kill the dissenters when we can ship ’em off to Holland (or North America)? Not very sporting to kill the dissenters, when we can keep them here… they run such nice shops ya know? Not very sporting to kill the dissenters, not all of their ideas are wrong? Some of them are downright attractive…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting. You have me wondering if there wasn’t a sort of back-and-forth reinforcing dynamic between all the reversals in the English Church (think “Vicar of Bray”) and fair-play. If you’ve already been forced to switch allegiance multiple times you’re more likely to take the “let’s not be too hasty…” approach, right?

      Otoh France had something similar in the 19th century (Council of State, civil service – the original “deep state”, functioned continuously through seven revolutions) and didn’t develop a spirit of fair-play.

      Prolly HBD people would tell us it was all the manors and the out-breeding, anyway… (Or: clerical marriage? If clerics tend to be selected as disinterested arbitrators for community disputes, their kids could be more fair-minded… but then again many ppls have clerical marriage, and no sense of fair-play)

      Of course as an Anglo I think fair-play is great!

      Liked by 1 person

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