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Vol II No. 5
History & Theology

The Reformed Context of Old High Churchmanship

by Peter D. Robinson

One of the things that one has to deal with is that an awful lot of clerics only get enough Church History at Seminary to be dangerous. In my self-deprecating moments, I often say that I am more of a case of being an historian with just enough theology to be dangerous, but that is as it may be. One area of Church History where this tends to apply is in the relationship between Puritanism and what, for want of a more accurate term, we call Laudianism, and Calvin and the Old High Churchmen.1I tend not to use the term High Churchman for the period before the Exclusion Crisis of 1672-77 when it gained currency.

On the first point, many people are inclined to see Puritanism and Laudianism as well-defined theological positions when in fact there was a spectrum of opinion within the English Church which ranged from the tiny minorities on either end that advocated for, on the one hand, a national Presbyterian Establishment, and on the other, for a Reformed Catholic Church which was based almost solely on the Patristic witness. The vast majority of ‘Puritans’ were in fact loyal churchmen who depreciated the emphasis placed on some external aspects of the Elizabeth Settlement in the interests of conformity. The majority of ‘Laudians’ emphasized the apostolicity of Episcopacy and advocated for dignified liturgical worship along the line of the Cathedrals and the Chapel Royal to be extended to parish churches. The real disaster of Charles I’s reign was that the king’s political mismanagement brought together the social, economic, and religious tensions of the time into the explosive brew that erupted into the First Bishops’ War and the English Civil War.

What often gets lost is that, apart from their very obvious devotion to the beauty of holiness and the apostolic origin of bishops, the Laudians were within the broad Reformed tradition. At Oxford and Cambridge, they studied the same theological curriculum, which featured the likes of Ursinus, Basingius, Calvin, and Vermigli, as the Puritans, but they came to emphasize different elements within the common doctrinal core. The center of the theological disagreement between Puritan and Laudian was the status of Predestination within the Reformed theological framework. The Laudians took a low view of Predestination, though in general their thinking on that point was more likely to be Lutheran than2Before they came up with the convenient epithet ‘Arminian’ the Puritan opponents of the Laudians stigmatized them as ‘Lutherans.’ Arminian. By contrast, the increasingly radicalized Puritans were inclined to make Predestination the cornerstone of their system, so much so that some Laudians stigmatized them as ‘the sect of Predestinarians.’3The difference between the two parties is perhaps best illustrated by the Articles of Religion, which places its very moderate discussion of Predestination after that on Justification and Sanctification as Article 17, whilst the Westminster Confession places it in Chapter 3 immediately after the discussion of God, and the Holy Trinity.

Because of all the noise made over bishops and eternal decrees folks often miss the fact that when it comes to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and many other theological issues the Laudians were in fact Reformed. Daniel Waterland, the early 18th century High Church theologian who was regarded as the theologian par excellence by the Hackney Phalanx,4The Hackney Phalanx was a group of churchmen, lay and ordained, who promoted High Church causes between about 1795 and 1840. Their name comes from the fact that the leadership of Joshua Watson and his brother, both lived in Hackney, and the former’s home acted as a sort of clubhouse for the Phalanx. Their circle of acquaintance reads like a role call of the High Church luminaries of the Regency period and includes three successive Archbishops of Canterbury – Moore, Manner-Sutton, and Howley. uses language about Baptismal Regeneration and the Real Presence which, when placed alongside Calvin’s is practically identical emphasizing the provisional nature of the first, and the spiritual nature of the second.

At the end of the day, the old Anglican High Churchmanship is not the sort of theological duck-billed platypus that Anglo-Catholicism became, but the moderate, Sacramentalist strain within English Reformed theology firmly rooted in the writings of the English and Continental Reformers. The religious disputes of the first half of the seventeenth century were not a war between different theological systems, but a battle within the English Reformed tradition for the heart and soul of the Church, and one that ended in the permanent division of the English Religious tradition into Anglicanism and Old Dissent.

Footnotes

  • 1
    I tend not to use the term High Churchman for the period before the Exclusion Crisis of 1672-77 when it gained currency.
  • 2
    Before they came up with the convenient epithet ‘Arminian’ the Puritan opponents of the Laudians stigmatized them as ‘Lutherans.’
  • 3
    The difference between the two parties is perhaps best illustrated by the Articles of Religion, which places its very moderate discussion of Predestination after that on Justification and Sanctification as Article 17, whilst the Westminster Confession places it in Chapter 3 immediately after the discussion of God, and the Holy Trinity.
  • 4
    The Hackney Phalanx was a group of churchmen, lay and ordained, who promoted High Church causes between about 1795 and 1840. Their name comes from the fact that the leadership of Joshua Watson and his brother, both lived in Hackney, and the former’s home acted as a sort of clubhouse for the Phalanx. Their circle of acquaintance reads like a role call of the High Church luminaries of the Regency period and includes three successive Archbishops of Canterbury – Moore, Manner-Sutton, and Howley.
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