Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources

Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources

Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources

Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources

Excerpt

A survey of this kind is not so easy to categorize as it may appear on first sight. Since it professes to deal with the religious controversies of the Elizabethan Age, one's first instinct may be to place it under the heading of Theology or Church History. It certainly falls into both these categories; but it is by no means circumscribed by them. It may claim to have no less important bearings on the political history and philosophy of the period; for this was an age when politics and religion were even more than usually interlocked. Hooker Laws, for instance, takes its immediate rise out of the religious controversies; and yet it is a document of fundamental importance in the history of English political thought. Behind this book stands the whole Puritan movement, as it developed out of the religious controversies and subsequently entered into the political structure of English life and thought. Or take Persons' Conference about the Next Succession: it belongs at least as much to the political as to the ecclesiastical history of the period, but hardly touches the theological issues at all.

Nor are the religious controversies unrelated to the philosophical movements that played so important a part in forming the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is not just that the issues they dealt with were theological, and therefore raised the perennial question of the relation between faith and reason. What is of more far-reaching consequence is that the controversialists on either side called in question the fundamental presuppositions of their opponents, and thus indirectly encouraged many thinkers to look elsewhere for a common basis of thought -- if not in theology, at least in ethics and natural philosophy -- on which at least men might agree.

There is, moreover, a deep but much neglected connection between the religious controversies and the secular literature of the Elizabethan Age. At most, histories of English literature will refer to the controversies by way of explaining the literary gap of fifty years between the rise of humanism under the early Tudor kings and the renaissance of poetry and drama that took place in the later years of Elizabeth's reign. Yet these controversies were but . . .

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