The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

III
RELIGIOUS HISTORY, 1603-40

IN many ways the church of England was in a more satisfactory condition at the end of the sixteenth century than at any previous time.1 The immediate dangers, from without that a foreign invasion might restore Roman catholicism, and from within that puritanism might wreck the Elizabethan settlement through substituting a presbyterian for an episcopal form of government, had been met and defeated. Roman catholicism had so declined that its acknowledged adherents no longer numbered more than a small percentage of the population, although there were probably many more who attended Anglican services so as to avoid persecution; but most Englishmen continued to believe that the restoration of popery was an ever present threat. Puritanism, which in the third quarter of the sixteenth century had seemed likely to prevail, had received a very definite set-back during the nineties. The reasons for its failure were varied. In the first place a new school of theologians had arisen (of which Hooker and Andrewes were the brightest ornaments), who no longer thought of the writings of Luther or Calvin as the last court of appeal but relied on the co-ordinated authority of Scripture and patristic literature. They supplied a learned and reasoned basis for the theological position of the church of England, and commended the via media, not as a convenient half-way house between Rome and Geneva, but as the true, if reformed, descendant of the primitive church. In the second place puritanism, with its strict and inquisitorial morality, was opposed to the spirit of the age that produced William Shakespeare. Thirdly the official view then prevalent, that church and state were one society in a twofold aspect and that to assail the former inevitably involved the latter, was not yet repugnant to the class with political power. At that time the theory of the divine right of kings was accepted, and the most damaging accusation brought against the oppo

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1
Much of this chapter is based on an article by the present writer, "'Arminian versus Puritan in England, ca. 1620-1640'", in Huntington Library Bulletin, No. 5 ( 1934), where full references are given. In order to secure continuity, Roman catholicism and independency are not treated here but in chap. viii.

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