Restoration, Reformation and Reform. 1660-1828: Archbishops of Canterbury and Their Diocese

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JEREMY GREGORY. Restoration, Reformation and Reform. 1660-1828: Archbishops of Canterbury and their Diocese. Oxford: Oxford Uinversity Press, 2000. Pp: xiii + 355, bibliography, index. $74.00.

"...another dull appointment was made to the primacy [Herring, 1747], to be followed by others over which we need not linger...these bishops, as they look out from their portraits, their faces florid under their wigs, often seem as if they have returned from a day's hunting in a vain attempt to shed the effects of the previous evening's drinking."

Jeremy Gregory's decision to quote this passage from D.L. Edwards's Christian England (1983) is both effective and appropriate. Effective, because it is startling to he reminded that such unreconstructed prejudice against the eighteenth-century Church of England could still pass as current scholarship less than twenty years ago, and appropriate, because Gregory's book is a distinguished addition to the growing number of diocesan and cathedral histories which now appear finally to have secured the reputation of the church in the long eighteenth century from the long-enduring denigration of its political and ecclesiastical rivals.

Gregory's deep knowledge of Canterbury diocesan structures, already applied to his valuable 1995 edition of the Speculum of Archbishop Seeker, is here given much wider range. Making full use for the first time of Canterbury's exceptionally rich archival resources (Dean and Chapter Act Books, Deans' Books, Archbishops' Registers and Visitation returns, together with the Wake MSS at Christ Church, Oxford, and the papers of Archbishops Sheldon and Sancroft in the Bodleian Library), and providing an excellent bibliographical apparatus, Gregory systematically examines his chosen themes of restoration, reformation and reform. His findings corroborate those of scholars such as Arthur Burns, Peter Nockles, James Obelkovich, and Mark Smith, modifying but largely reinforcing J.C.D. Clark's contention that the Church of England successfully maintained a central position in eighteenth-century society, and challenging those, like Peter Virgin in The Church in an Age of Negligence (1989), who would still adhere to a "reform perspective."

Gregory admits that Canterbury was not an altogether representative diocese, mainly because an unusually high proportion of ecclesiastical patronage remained in the hands of the archbishop and the dean and chapter. Nevertheless, his claim that this study offers some glimpse into national policy and concerns" (p. 11) is certainly justified. His evidence reveals a church for which "the upheaval of the mid seventeenth century was the main determinant in shaping...ideologies...(for a) century and a half" (p. 9). Possibly because of this, the clergy in general, and the cathedral chapter in particular, remained intellectually vigorous and pastorally conscientious. In a thorough survey of patterns of worship (chapter 6), Gregory demonstrates that standards of even public worship declined less badly than is often assumed. The Eucharist retained an important role, and the cathedral upheld "an unbroken tradition of high church devotion and spirituality from the Caroline Divines...to the Oxford Movement" (p. 272). Gregory also develops the important point that clerical energy could he deployed in ways other than the holding of frequent services: by regular catechizing, for example, using popular works such as The Church Catechism Explained, by John Lewis, incumbent at Minster in Thanet from 1708-46, which remained in print for nearly a century, reaching a 58th edition in 1820. …