Prelates and People: Ecclesiastical Social Thought in England, 1783-1852

Prelates and People: Ecclesiastical Social Thought in England, 1783-1852

Prelates and People: Ecclesiastical Social Thought in England, 1783-1852

Prelates and People: Ecclesiastical Social Thought in England, 1783-1852

Excerpt

The reform of the Church of England in the first half of the nineteenth century was moulded considerably by the same pressures of industrialization, urbanization, and population growth that rapidly altered English society and its institutions as a whole. As one of those institutions, legally established, whose bishops sat in Parliament, and whose clergy were expected to support the State in their parochial ministrations, the Anglican Church and its episcopal leadership were particularly sensitive to the transformation of the country that took place from the later eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. Already troubled by a spiritual revival that called attention to the secularity and neglect of their clergy, churchmen in the 1790's were staggered by the upheaval of European-wide revolution that seemed to threaten the very existence of Christian civilization. Even before recovering from that alarming experience, they were compelled to recognize very real institutional as well as clerical weaknesses in the Establishment. These weaknesses became increasingly obvious, and even dangerous, as decade after decade, English society rapidly expanded in ways that made the national Church often appear hopelessly archaic and irrelevant to the needs of an industrial, urban civilization.

This book examines the responses of the episcopal leadership of the Church in England and Wales to the transformation of the society to which they ministered. It considers primarily their social ideas and policies from the decade preceding the French Revolution to the middle of the nineteenth century; from that period when a few bishops began to worry about the effectiveness of their abuse-ridden Church to the time when the Establishment, ecclesiastically reformed and spiritually revitalized, looked forward to evangelizing the diverse multitudes who peopled the new age. By then the Church of England was more episcopal than at any time since the early eighteenth century. Convocation was . . .

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